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6 Awesome, Original Superheroes from Children’s Literature

by Tom Burns

Superheroes are having “a moment” in pop culture right now. They’re not a particularly new concept — kids have been fantasizing about costumed do-gooders and nefarious bad guys for a very long time — but it’s hard to ignore that superheroes are everywhere lately. They’re all over movies, TV shows, video games, and, yes, even children’s books.

And I don’t just mean comic books. Over the past few years, there has been a big uptick in the number of original children’s books featuring superheroes as the main characters. Fortunately, they’re not just recycling the big heroes from comics and movies. These are new creations with fantastical powers, dreamt up by some seriously talented authors.

If you want to introduce your Avenger- or Batman-loving kids to some “new” heroes with awesome literary pedigrees, suggest these funny, original superfriends from the world of kids’ books.

  • The Astonishing Secret of Awesome Man

    by Michael Chabon, illustrated by Jake Parker

    Michael Chabon knows superheroes. His 2000 novel, The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay, all about two cousins in the 1940s who created a Superman-esque comic book hero, won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. So you can see why Chabon writing a children’s picture book about superheroes is an exciting proposition. His sweet story about a fascinating superhero — who fights crime with Moskowitz the Awesome Dog — is a brilliant piece of childhood wish-fulfillment, astonishingly brought to life by Jake Parker’s tremendously dynamic visuals.

  • Diary of a Fly

    by Doreen Cronin, illustrated by Harry Bliss

    Cronin’s 2003 Diary of a Worm was a charming gem of a picture book, collecting the day-to-day thoughts of a young worm dealing with school, family, and, well, being a worm. It was followed up by Diary of a Fly, shifting the focus over to one of Worm’s best friends, and what’s remarkable about Fly’s story is that it is all about her secret desire to become a superhero. It’s a bold dream, reinforced by her friends’ opinions that she’s already pretty heroic, but Fly’s story is insightful and funny. A great, smile-inspiring read.

  • The Adventures of Sparrowboy

    by Brian Pinkney

    Caldecott Honor artist Pinkney creates a wonderfully “super” tale about a boy’s quest to make his neighborhood “just a little bit better” in this charming picture book. Paperboy Henry feels anxious after reading some of the headlines in the newspapers he delivers, but, thanks to near-miss accident with a bird, he finds that he now has the power of flight — just like his favorite superhero Falconman. Henry uses his new powers (calling himself “Sparrowboy”) to improve his local community and, once his powers disappear, he revels in his small accomplishments. An engaging tale about the occasionally fantastic impact of small, selfless acts.

  • Awesome Dawson

    by Chris Gall

    In this homemade superhero story from the creator of the wonderful picture book Substitute Creacher, we’re introduced to Dawson, a remarkable grade-school-aged inventor who believes that “Everything can be used again!” He repurposes junk from all over town to create his spectacular inventions, until something goes wrong with his new chore-finishing robot — The Vacu-Maniac — and Dawson has to tap into his inner superhero and team up with a talking cow (no, really) to save his town from the out-of-control robot. This picture book teaches kids about the value of recycling, inventing, and being a civics-minded superhero. What’s not to like?

  • Almost Super

    by Marion Jensen

    This novel for young readers has a lot of fun with traditional superhero clichés — fans of Pixar’s "The Incredibles" will find much to enjoy in this book. The story follows the Bailey family, a legendary superhero clan, and what happens when their newest generation of heroes inexplicably inherits really, really useless superpowers. (One Bailey kid has the “amazing” ability to turn his innie belly button into an outie.) But who caused them to inherit such lame powers? Was it their rivals, the villainous Johnson family? And why do the Johnsons think they’re the heroes and the Baileys are the villains? Elementary and middle school readers will love learning more about the Baileys’ particular form of familial superheroics.

  • Sidekicked

    by John David Anderson

    Ever wonder what life was really like for Batman’s sidekick, Robin? How do you deal with being a middle school hero-in-training, always standing in the shadow of your mentor? Anderson answers that question in Sidekicked, a sly comic thriller for tweens, all about Andrew Bean, a professional sidekick who quickly realizes that being a sidekick isn’t a particularly glamorous job for a kid (especially when you have enhanced senses and can feel EVERYTHING). But, when all of the “Supers” in the town of Justicia disappear, Andrew and the other sidekicks find themselves forced to step into the power vacuum and save the day. If your kid loved Spider-Man’s boundless, hilarious enthusiasm in “Captain America: Civil War,” they will really enjoy Sidekicked’s take on superheroes.

Do you know another great literary superhero for kids that we need to add to our list? If so, let us know in the comments below.