________________ CM . . . . Volume XXI Number 5. . . .October 3, 2014


Project Superhero.

E. Paul Zehr. Illustrated by Kris Pearn.
Toronto, ON: ECW Press, 2014.
254 pp., hardcover, $13.95.
ISBN 978-1-77041-180-7.

Grades 5-8 / Ages 10-13.

Review by Chris Laurie.

**** /4

Reviewed from Advance Reading Copy.



“This year we are going to explore what it means to be a hero. What characteristics do heroes have? What does it take to be a hero? Are heroes born, or are they made? What’s the difference between a hero and superhero? And why is our culture so interested in superheroes?”

To which I shot up my hand and answered, “Um…obviously because superheroes are way cool!” I didn’t say that actually, and I didn’t shoot up my hand. I just thought about doing it.

I was busy thinking about what I might have said that I almost missed the big announcement.

The big thing is this:



Jessie is a huge fan of comic books and spends endless hours imagining what it would be like to have superpowers like strength, bravery and wisdom. Or at least enough of these traits that she could overcome her shyness and put her hand up in class. When Jessie’s grade 8 home room teacher announces a research project so huge it will span the school year, Jessie groans inwardly.

internal art     When Ms. King reveals the topic, Jessie finds a focus for her boundless energy and insatiable curiosity. The ‘Superhero Slam’ project must contain work from across the students’ subject areas, specifically Science. The ‘Slam’? The students must choose a superhero and participate in a head-to-head debate battle. Uh oh, public speaking is not one of Jessie’s favourite things, but she decides to worry about that later, and the aspiring journalist dives into the assignment with both feet.

     To research what superpowers she will need, Jessie embarks on a training program with her Auntie G who has been doing martial arts since “Santa Claus was a young boy”. She also uses her journalism skills to write letters to real-life superheroes, including Hayley Wickenheiser, four-time Olympic medallist in ice hockey, Nicole Stott, NASA astronaut, and Clara Hughes, Canadian six-time Winter & Summer Olympic medallist in speed skating and cycling, and several others. The novel touches on topics including sports, diabetes, concussions, depression, life in the international space station and many more. Jessie’s curiosity is infectious, and her letter-writing campaign to real-life heroes is sure to inspire readers to do the same with their heroes.

     Secondary plots include a romance between two of Jessie’s best friends and a bit of romantic tension between Jessie and fellow classmate/superhero opponent Dylan. But it is Jessie’s journey that carries the novel. She gains inspiration from family, friends and others and also experiences increasing self-confidence as she solicits interviews, hones her martial arts skills, and progresses in the Superhero Slam.

     The result is an enjoyable journey where Jessie must confront her own fears and insecurities while discovering what makes regular people heroes. Jessie is a delightfully engaging 13-year-old with unending curiosity and humour. The novel is told in diary form with language that rings true to the ear and allows the reader to hear Jessie’s inner thoughts, fears and joys. Lively and detailed black and white illustrations by Kris Pearn are abundantly woven throughout, greatly complementing the action. Preteens are sure to enjoy Project Superhero and be motivated to learn along with Jessie.

     E. Paul Zehr is a professor at the University of Victoria, the author of Becoming Batman and Inventing Iron Man, and he writes for Psychology Today, Scientific American and Discover.

     Illustrator and animator Kris Pearn is known for his animation work on feature films like Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, Open Season, and Surf’s Up.

Highly Recommended.

Chris Laurie is an Outreach Librarian at Winnipeg Public Library.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

Copyright © the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.
Published by
The Manitoba Library Association
ISSN 1201-9364
Hosted by the University of Manitoba.

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