4 out of 4 stars
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Toni the Superhero by R.D. Base, is a superhero book that is unlike any other. It is geared toward 0-4 year olds who are learning to read. Throughout the book, Toni is depicted as doing several everyday things such as; playing with friends and helping his mother with the chores. It is the first book of its series and so it focuses on introducing readers to Toni as a person, and not necessarily as a crime fighting figure, therefore there is no true plot or storyline. It is clear though, that the author's intention is to redefine for the next generation, the traditional understanding of what a superhero is. The book presents a superhero as someone who is a superb human being before he is a super-human being.
In the description, the author indicates that the book is meant to help children to learn to read. From the language perspective, the literature is well equipped to facilitate this task. The sentences are short and contain simple, monosyllabic words in most instances. Furthermore, most of the sentences begin with the words "Toni likes to" which means that by the end of the book, children would be able to sight read those words with ease. The words that are not monosyllabic are easy to sound phonetically; for example, "Terrific" and the compound word, "superhero".
It is a cliché that pictures speak a thousand words but in this case it is absolutely true. Despite having very simplistic sentences and few words, the pictures teach very important moral lessons in a very subtle way. Firstly, it is especially significant that Toni is depicted as a young boy of African decent. Secondly, Toni playing with his friends can represent harmony despite their racial diversity, because of the various hair types and skin tones. Thirdly, it is also interesting that Toni is only pictured with his mother and not with a father. Although, it was not an absolutely obvious observation, it is very poignant. While it may stand out as a problem to a few sensitive readers, it also leaves room for parents to offer an explanation to an inquisitive child as to where Tony's father could be e.g. at work, while it gives a depiction of a healthy parent-child relationship even in the absence of a father. Other than these specific socio-cultural messages, the pictures also promote literacy, animal rescue, creativity, an active lifestyle and healthy eating, among other excellent qualities that parents and teachers relentlessly encourage children to emulate.
The illustrations are well done. The watercolour effect is very appealing and the brighter colours may grab the attention of curious little minds. However, there are a lot of earthy tones used which gives the illustration a more subdued, mature feel. For the sake of attention grabbing, a brighter, more playful colour palette could be used. Although, this may just be a personal stylistic preference because the existing colour scheme does not essentially take away from the impact of the book.
Toni the Superhero is an exceptional book. It is well edited, excellently illustrated and the language is perfect for children between the ages of 0-4 years old who are learning how to read. However, because it is essentially a picture book, it may not appeal to children who fancy stories with plot lines, especially if they are higher up in the author's target age range i.e. 3-4 years old. Nonetheless, based on meeting the criteria for the intent of its publication, it deserves a rating of 4 out of 4 stars.
Toni the Superhero
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