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March 14, 2006 > Who's a hero?

Who's a hero?

Joyce Peters and Dominique Hutches

On the one hand I applaud the notion that anyone can overcome obstacles and just do the right thing; on the other hand, the title HERO is devalued when it is overused. Sometimes the difference between being cast as a hero or a "dog" depends on whether you are at the right place at the right time, or how your story is told incessantly on cable news. Real-life heroes today have their lives and motivations dissected in public.

Today's children learn very early that people are complex, that sometimes "bad people" do good things, while "good people" make mistakes. Also, heroes come from different backgrounds and are real people. They don't always know the answers and yet they meet their challenges.

The children's book heroes I remember were Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys - uncomplicated characters for a simpler time. Compare them to the ones below:

"Superdog: The Heart of a Hero" by Caralyn Buehner, Illustrated by Mark Buehner, Harper Collins hardback, $15.99 (2004)
Dexter the dachshund has always been teased, especially about his shortness. Dexter has a secret wish - to be a hero and help people. Researching all sorts of super heroes at the library, he begins to work towards his goal. He runs longer and longer distances, he lifts weights and he practices climbing and leaping. When he at last thinks he's ready, he dons his costume and cape and heads out. Will Dexter fulfill his dreams? A fun book with a lot of heart and hope, with great illustrations (the pictures of Dexter flexing his new muscles in front of his mirror are a riot!). Picture book recommended for kindergarten-1st grade.

"Night of the New Magicians, Magic Treehouse #35" by Mary Pope Osborne, Illustrated by Sol Murdocca. Random House hardback, $11.95. March 2006.
Merlin sends Jack and Annie on a mysterious mission to Paris, France, over 100 years ago. There they must find four magicians and give them an urgent message from Merlin himself. When Jack and Annie land in Paris, they make their way to the 1889 World's Fair. Below the Eiffel Tower, built especially for the fair, there are thousands of exhibits from all over the world. But how will Jack and Annie find the magicians in the crowds of people? And who are the magicians anyway? Osborne has a rare talent for telling complicated stories with simple vocabulary, mixing in history, magic and myth. Recommended for second to third graders.

"Percy Jackson and the Olympians, The Lightning Thief - Book One," by Rick Riordan, Miramax hardback, $17.95 (2005)
Middle school teacher Rick Riordan created this new adventure series from a bedtime story told to his eldest son and then tested on his students, a tough audience. It passed!
Percy is a 12 year-old dyslexic with ADHD. Good grades are always outside his reach. There's a bully picking on him and his best friend, Grover. Worst, he's being expelled again for something that wasn't even his fault. When his miserable stepfather starts picking on him, his mother sensing that Percy has reached his limit takes him to their favorite place - a cabin by the shore - for a few days of peace and quiet. As a storm blows in, there's a frantic banging on the door. Grover shows up warning that Percy's mother has risked everything! Clueless, Percy is soon bundled back into the car, with his mom driving like a maniac.

Boom! Blast of Light! And the car is upside down and skidding to a stop. Mom urges him to run for the upcoming hill, but he refuses to leave them behind. Together they manage to wrangle out of the car and flee. When they hear a stomping and roaring behind them, they find a HUGE bull is chasing them.

Grover is pushed aside. "Run!" yells Percy's mother. He looks back in time to see her caught by the bull. Instead of guts and gore, she dissolves into golden sparkles. If he could only make it to the lone pine tree, he would be safe. But as he feels the Minotaur smoking at his heels he realizes he's not going to make it.

"Percy Jackson and the Olympians" is a fabulous adventure tale, full of Greek mythology sure to hook modern readers. Ares, God of War, rides a motor cycle! Zeus is still throwing lightening bolts, and for some odd reason, is throwing them at Percy. There is mystery surrounding the identity of Percy's birth father. He'd better find out soon, or he's going to be a footnote in history! Recommended for 10 years and up.

Watch for Book 2, "Sea of Monsters" due out in April.

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