We wanted to give you some of our (and our podcast guest’s) favorite superhero books — along with some of the great themes you can focus on so there is less aggression/ fighting, and more super in your family’s super-duper superhero books.
First, if you missed it, head on over to listen to our episode with Dr. Sarah Coyne, professor of human development at Brigham Young University. We talk about how books that include some of your child’s (and maybe yours as well!) favorite characters can be powerful tools in conversations about some really great life lessons.
We realize not all superhero books are created equal, though. That’s why we compiled a list of great books for your little superhero to learn about loyalty, helping, making good choices, and more — mixed in with a lot of capes and spandex. We also included some books for your superhero who maybe isn’t so little anymore (or, you know, yourself)!
DC Superhero Bedtime (series, Batman pictured here) by Michael Dahl
One thing that can be problematic about superheroes is that the majority of them were not created with children in mind, yet they are incredibly popular with young people. Sometimes very young children. This series of books is licensed to use those classic DC comic superheroes that your kids know and love, but on the reading and content level appropriate for picture-book-age kids. Everybody wins!
What should Danny do? (Series) by Adir Levy
This great choose-your-own-adventure book helps guide an interactive discussion about the superpower to choose. This book (and What Should Danny Do? School Day) are a great way to show how consequences follow choices, for good or for bad.
Even Superheroes Have Bad Days by Shelly Becker shows up on The Book Report as a book to help teach values to our children. I can’t say it better than her, so I’ll just quote what Michelle says about this great picture book, “This is another great book for showing kids that we have to take responsibility for our own actions and emotions. We can’t blame others or take our problems out on others. We have to be problem solvers and take responsibility by making good choices.” See also: Even Superheroes Make Mistakes.
The Adventures of Sparrowboy by Brian Pinkney (black main character)
Part picture book, part comic book, this one follows a paperboy who, inspired by the comics he loves, becomes Sparrowboy, defender of his neighborhood!
Dex the Heart of a Hero by Caralyn Buehner is a great book to use if you’d like to focus on perseverance and the the payoff of hard work. Dex also gives a great foundation to talk about the power of friendship and helping others, even if they are your arch nemesis, the cat.
The Amazing Adventures of Bumblebee Boy by David Soman and Jacky Davis
You know the Lego Batman movie? How Batman is selfish/greedy/egotistical/insert-negative-attributes-of-lone-wolf-here? Well, Bumblebee Boy learns the same lesson Batman does: having a sidekick to help you out is a really good thing.
Ladybug Girl by David Soman and Jacky Davis
Ladybug girl is relatable to many kids. She is incredibly creative and uses her imagination when life just isn’t quite as amazing as we want it to be. Where many superhero books are set in a far-off world of fantasy, Ladybug girl needs to solve problems of being alone, an older brother who isn’t always nice, and other problems a child faces in an ordinary world. If you like this book for the creative play/imagination aspect, we also recommend Pretend by Jennifer Plecas.
Flora and Ulysses by Kate DiCamillo
I bet you’ve never read a superhero book where the superhero is a squirrel, have you?! Unless you’ve already read Flora and Ulysses, that is. Being a Newberry Medal winning book, it digs a bit deeper than your average children’s superhero stories and tackles some difficult feelings around family relationships and divorce.
Read upcoming podcast guest, Sara Easterly’s, review of Flora and Ulysses here.
Kung Pow Chicken by Cyndi Marko (series)
Part graphic novel, part chapter book, Kung Pow Chicken is recommended by Janssen at Everyday Reading on her list of beginner chapter books, and we know why! This series is known to entice reluctant readers to laugh so hard they can’t put the books down. It can be hard to find laugh-out-loud humor in books that appeal to parents and kids, and this sets a great stage for talking about what appropriate humor is for your family, since this is good, clean fun. Side benefit is the vocabulary building from all the puns and plays on words combined with the pictures!
A Princess who is ALSO a Superhero! Princess in Black (series) by Shannon Hale wins our hearts – no surprise from Hale. While we talked a bit about many of Shannon Hale’s other books in our Princess Book List, her Princess in Black series is amazing, because the protagonist, Princess Magnolia, is both a princess AND a superhero! The series was born when one of Hale’s young daughters insisted that, “princess don’t wear black” and Hale decided to prove her wrong. We are so glad she did, because the result, these books, are amazing!
Dangerous by Shannon Hale (Hispanic main character)
We promise we are not getting paid to advertise Hale’s books, we are just huge fans over here. Dangerous is definitely different from many of her other books, but also worth a read to visit a world where a girl can gain superpowers whilst away at summer astronaut camp!
Renegades (series) by Marissa Meyer
Marissa Meyer is a crowd pleaser, and we both love the Lunar Chronicles. Amanda started Renegades and it was a bit too dark for her taste, so proceed with this series after reading some reviews first. We couldn’t not include it on the list given its popularity, though.
Sidekicked by John David Anderson
This one came highly recommended by Jill’s nine-year-old nephew and we liked it just as much as he did! Middle-grade readers will relate to Andrew Bean’s life as an often-overlooked middle schooler and a sidekick- not superhero.
Lorien Legacy Reborn (series)
This is a series following the Lorien story line (that series begins with the book I am Number Four). We debated back and forth about whether to include this on the list, as it skirts a fine line between straight-up sci fi and superheroes. After multiple discussions debating what constitutes a superhero, Amanda decided that it should be included on the list because those who like superheroes will likely enjoy this series. There is some swearing, but overall the Pittacus Lore books are pretty clean, fast-paced, and potentials for getting your teen hooked on reading. The Legacy Reborn books are more of the superhero vein (the Lorien series is more clearly science fiction) and bring up quite a few conversation topics such as, “What should the world do with people of extraordinary abilities?” “What is freedom?” Additional topics include leadership, decision making, self-control, idealism, patriotism/nationalism, and global community. Think along the famous line, “with great power comes great responsibility” with this series.
Steelheart by Brandon Sanderson kicks off The Reckoners series and can be a gateway book into Brandon Sanderson’s extensive repertoire. If you like fantasy, Sanderson is one you’ll want to know. His writing is extremely clean, making it perfect for younger audiences as well. Steelheart flips the table and looks at a storyline where those with super powers are actually the supervillains and the superheroes fighting against them are ordinary people. In addition to that theme, there’s ample more discussion material to talk with your family about, including
Public School Superhero by Chris Tebbetts and James Patterson (black main character)
Set in Anacostia in metro Washington DC, Kenny Wright opens the door wide to discussions about race, poverty, education reform, and more. We love Stainless Steel, his superhero impersonation, though the book is mainly based on Kenny’s actual daily life. The super lessons from this may range from making good choices despite peer pressure, being genuine to yourself, communicating with your loved ones, standing up for yourself, integrity, and more. Amanda listened to this as an audiobook and loved it. Recommended for middle schoolers and above.
Babymouse: Our Hero by Jennifer Holm and Matthew Holm
There is a whole series of graphic novels with the feisty Babymouse, but in Our Hero, the feisty mouse finds the inner superhero she needs to get her through the evils of her school day…also known as: gym class.
If you want to laugh, really laugh, this is the book to do it. The characters in Hilo are diverse and everyone – especially the main character – is completely relatable. This is an excellent book to talk about our tendency to right wrongs and struggle to figure out our lives and ourselves, and most notably what we are good at when we feel like we aren’t good at anything at all.
You may also be interested in our post about princess books for all ages here