Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Captain Awesome to the Rescue

Captain Awesome to the Rescue
Stan Kirby
George O'Connor Illust.
Simon and Schuster, 2012 105 pgs  
Grades 2-4

Eight-year-old Eugene McGillicudy moves to a new school midyear.  His fears are realized when he enters his new class and must stand in front of the room and "say a little bit about himself".  To make matters worse, a girl in the front of the room immediately makes fun of him.  Things get better as Eugene makes a new friend, Charlie, who shares his obsession with superheros.  Not the devil he first perceived her to be, his teacher allows him to take the class hamster home for the weekend, where Eugene bonds with the little guy and they have a misadventure with his baby sister.  When the hamster turns up missing from its cage on Monday, a mystery ensues, which Eugene quickly and neatly solves, disguising himself as his alter-ego "Captain Awesome".  The book ends neatly, with Eugene and Charlie forming a Superhero club of two with the promise of more adventures to follow.  A sample of the next adventure Captain Awesome vs. Nacho Cheese Man is included at the end of the book.

Captain Awesome to the Rescue delivers just what it intended; an easy to read transitional chapter book liberally illustrated to appeal to reluctant male readers.  The chapters are short, the font and margins are big and the silly humor abounds.  Illustrations are on every page and are cartoon-like in nature to appeal to the not-ready-for-Wimpy-Kid crowd.  The plot moves along quickly and delivers fun, mystery, and adventure.  The conflicts are relate-able to the audience and the main character is sympathetic.  That all said, its not great literature.  The characters are one-dimensional and there are stereotypical elements to the plot.  (do cafeteria still serve meatloaf aka "mystery meatloaf surprise").  Eugene walks himself to school on the first day and wanders into a classroom (which happens to be the right one).  Captain Awesome also suffers from the "Junie B syndrome": making up words to sound cute, but aren't real words, which is confusing to new readers.  The criticisms I have are all a bonus to young children.  They think made up words are hilarious and prefer a simplification of the plot.  They appreciate unrealistic independence in their main characters and feel secure and confident with formula-tic elements in their stories, which is why series are so popular at this age.  For a more realistic look at the life of a child at this age try The Year of Billy Miller by Keven Henkes, a much better book with much less circs than Captain Awesome.  This series flies off the shelf at my library, which is why I was encouraged to read it.  I would recommend Captain Awesome to new chapter book readers, especially boys who don't like to read.  There is certainly a place for Captain Awesome and I hope his adventures continue.

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