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Today I am excited to share some books that fall in the superhero genre of books, perfect for those Marvel-loving readers. The class I am working with in the South Bronx is full of superhero fans, but most of them only follow the famous characters like Spider-Man and Batman and Wonder Woman. So for one of our recent reading hours, I pulled together a pile of books that all had superhero themes. We read another chapter book, but this one is much shorter and full of illustrations as well, making it possible for us to read the whole thing within our hour as well as a couple short picture books. I’m going to split up my review again so that I can share details about the chapter book in Part 1 and in Part 2 I will share all the picture books we read as well as a few suggestions for other books that we ran out of time for.

Let’s read some superhero books, starting with awesomeness from The Princess in Black by Shannon Hale & Dean Hale, illustrated by LeUyen Pham, 2014.

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This chapter books is fantastic in so many different ways. If you aren’t familiar with Shannon Hale, I think you’ll quickly become a fan. While I know and love her most for her adult fiction books, she has some excellent young adult literature that is well worth getting acquainted with.

The storyline here is about Princess Magnolia, a perfectly prim and proper princess, always adorned in pink and keeping all the rules of being a princess.

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Well, almost all the rules. While she does appear prim and proper most of the time, she has a secret identity which transports her into The Princess in Black – a protector of the land, fighting monsters with ninja-like moves.

The story opens with Princess Magnolia having tea with an uppity, busy-body who would love nothing more than to scope out the Princess’ secrets. During the tea, Princess Magnolia’s monster alarm goes off and she has to figure out a way to sneak out and save the day, leaving the nosy duchess unaware.

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She quickly changes into her non-pink, all-black ensemble and goes to meet her trusty horse sidekick. There is a monster on the loose who has forgotten the rules to stay in Monster Land. He has become hungry and decides to snack on goats.

The goat boy is unable to protect his flock on his own, so he is thrilled and highly entertained when The Princess in Black arrives. He loves watching her in action, but cannot help but be curious about her real identity. He speculates that she could be none other than Princess Magnolia, but realizes that would be silly because princesses do not wear black or fight monsters. Ha!

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In the end, The Princess in Black defeats the monster and sends him back to Monster Land. The goats are safe and she skedaddles back to the castle and tries to resume her normal appearance and behavior. The Duchess is suspicious, as is the goat boy, but everyone knows that princesses never do any of those crime-fighting actions, so all continue on their merry way, leaving Princess Magnolia exhausted, but with her secret in tact.

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Reading this book aloud to very literal kids is hysterical. Every time the narrator proclaims that princesses do not wear black, or do not fight monsters, or some other supposedly outrageous statement, the kids would go crazy countering it and arguing the opposite. It is a great book for probing discussion around social constructs, for girls as well as boys. There is an unfortunate tendency in our culture to assume that boys wouldn’t like a book such as this. In fact, the author herself has written a great piece about the many times that boys are excluded from her school talks because her books just wouldn’t interest them. I can tell you from experience that boys love The Princess in Black. And we should not shame any kid for wanting to read good things. Just like princesses can wear other colors besides pink and kick butt in a fight, kids should be allowed to read books that interest them, whether the protagonist looks like them or not. As far as I’m concerned, let kids read the books that interest them. The more we try to push agendas and force-feed what we want or think they need, the less reading they do altogether.

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Another thing I want to note is the excellent vocabulary that pops up in this book. There are some great words sprinkled throughout that add depth and maturity to the story and challenge the reader/listener without talking down to them. I love when authors add words that even I, as an adult, am surprised to read in a story. And the Hales have done it here in such a way that it feels seamless, while also leaving room for conversing about their meaning if so desired.

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My very favorite thing about this book is the illustrations, which should surprise no one who reads here often. I am a major fan of LeUyen Pham’s work. Her style is always charming, whimsical, and incredibly delightful. I love the shape of her characters and the thoughtfully deep color palettes. Her monsters (as seen in the spread above) are positively fabulous. I am thrilled with how many illustrations are sprinkled throughout and especially the use of color!

I am not always drawn to “princess books” as I am not a fan of the princess craze caused by the Disney princess movement; but I love how this book counters all the things I disdain about the princess obsession in the little girl market. This is a book to give to princess-loving girls. This is a book for monster-loving boys. This is a book for the recent flux of ninja books. This is a book to spur conversation about being well-rounded individuals who can like and do a myriad of things. This is a superhero I can get behind.

Stay tuned for Part 2 with superhero picture books of all kinds and shapes!