4 out of 4 stars
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The increasing need for diversity in literature, children's books on up, is something that echoes through me each and every day. For the majority who can afford books, this need is often overlooked, unbeknownst to them, because their needs have been met. The characters they read about and the events that take place in their books of choice are easily relatable, allowing for self-reflection and growth. Unfortunately, everyone is not as lucky. The word diversity has many different meanings to many different people. When I refer to our need for diversity in literature, I'm referring to our need for books that include (but are not limited to) characters of various ethnicities, backgrounds, genders, races, and cultures to whom readers can relate or use as a means to better understand their place in our world. I'm a white female teacher in a predominately black high school, the same school which I've worked the last 19 years. I grew up reading books with characters who looked like me, acted like me, and lived similar lives as me. As a result, I fell in love with reading. Many people ask why so many of my students reading skills do not match their grade-level. Usually responding back with questions, I ask them, “Would you want to read books about people you don't understand? Who grew up totally different than you? With different motives, prior knowledge, and views of our world?” An avid reader would answer yes, and that makes total sense to me because they are ready to expand their world and grow as individuals. Someone who has yet to fall in love with reading would answer no, and that also makes total sense to me. To become true readers, we must first fall in love with reading, and in order for that to happen, we have to see a reflection of ourselves and our own lives - the good and the bad - in the characters and books we read. Our need for books that include characters who are minorities is high. It's concerning to me, and while it is slowly changing, we still need more. Because I teach high school, I am most familiar with teen and young adult books. Nevertheless, the call for diverse literature runs much deeper than my own personal experience. If we want our kids to grow up having a global perspective, while at the same time learning to love, appreciate, and accept people of all cultures, ethnicities, backgrounds, races, sexual orientations, and genders, we need to provide them with a means to get there. It begins with books; we need to be more aware of and support the ever-growing need for diversity in literature. It is necessary to our survival, growth, and connectedness as a human race.
Author R.D. Base has taken a step, a very successful step, in the right direction. With three young boys at home, I'm sure the need to provide books for her emergent readers is similar to that of many mothers, which is to find books that are engaging, educational, and relevant to the lives of their children. Written specifically for emergent readers, R.D. Base’s Toni the Superhero is a children's book that will be enjoyed time and time again by anyone who reads it! It is Book 1 in what appears to be an entire collection of books focused on Toni, a young boy whose day-to-day activities are just like those of many other children his age.
Throughout the book, we see Toni as a well-balanced child, having both fun and responsible sides to his personality. There are a variety of people he interacts with throughout the pages, from his mom and friends to a kitty that needs rescuing. Toni’s positive modeling of behavior - kindness to animals, socialization with adults and children, being helpful to others and himself - are all important behaviors to teach kids at a young age. Seeing others model behavior is a main ingredient in how kids to learn to act, making Toni a top-notch role model who knows how to make time for his responsibilities, yet still have fun.
The whole book is written in the present tense with the vocabulary focus being basic action verbs. The intended audience for Toni the Superhero should already know, understand, and be familiar with the meanings of these verbs, making it easy to spark a discussion with readers at any time throughout book. Each page contains no more than one sentence, with all sentences (except two at the beginning and one at the end) being structured as such: Toni + likes (3rd person conjugated form of the infinitive “to like”) + infinitive. For example, Toni likes to swim. This repetitive structure is a proven strategy that successfully increases fluency overtime, moving learners from beginner to intermediate. There are zero grammar and editing errors, making this book even more appealing to both parents and teachers of young children.
The illustrations by Debbie Hefke are wonderful! Immediately, I was drawn to the bright colors and fun drawings on the cover. This definitely would spark the curiosity of many children, making them want to find out more about Toni and the life he leads. Everything from the appealing, healthy foods on Toni’s plate to the cozy, warm bed he snuggles into at night is to pleasing to the eye, keeping me 100% engaged and smiling from start to finish. She did an outstanding job bringing Toni’s world to life!
If I had to criticize any part of the book, it would be that Toni is called a Superhero. We didn't necessarily see him act in any way that resembled a that of a Superhero. A hero, perhaps, but a Superhero, no. In the description, it states that Toni is a Superhero, a boy with extraordinary powers who likes to also do ordinary things. Truthfully, I like Toni just how he is now - a normal boy who is kind, courteous, well-behaved, helpful, and fun. Book 2, Toni the Superhero Loves Vegetables, has been released, so I'll have to find out if Toni’s Superhero powers shine brightly in this next installment, or if he is just called a Superhero for the amazing qualities he possesses as a normal boy.
Without hesitation, Toni the Superhero written by R.D. Base, illustrated by Debbie Hefke, deserves a rating of 4 out of 4 stars. This book would make a great addition to any home or classroom library for beginning readers. It appeals to a diverse population and acts as a means to start discussions about specific behaviors and actions of children as they grow up. The colorful, vivid illustrations are a perfect match for the text, and with the next installment already released, I can't wait to find out more about Toni’s world!
Toni the Superhero
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