4 out of 4 stars
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Toni the Superhero by R. D. Base introduces the youngest readers—and their parents—to a superhero like none other. When he isn’t out saving the world, Toni likes to do a lot of different things, including spending time with his friends and family and helping out around the house. And Toni is so terrific that he does everything with a smile.
This book is designed perfectly for early readers. There is one simple sentence per page and each sentence starts with the phrase “Toni likes…” This is important for new readers because keeping things simple helps them reach the goal of mastering the text and turning to the next page!
For those who are old enough to start reading on their own, the vibrant illustrations by Debbie Hefbe give readers a clue to what Toni is doing. For those reading along with a more advanced reader, the pictures provide interesting visuals to spark the kind of questions and observations that help children engage in discussions about what they’re reading. For instance, what game is Toni playing with his friends? What games do you like to play? What food is Toni eating? Do you like those foods?
I think one of the great things about this book is that Toni is African American. I believe every child should be able to read stories about people who look just like them. I also believe every child should read stories about people who are different from them. It is never too early—or too late—to learn that real-life superheroes come in all shapes, sizes, races, and genders.
In this book, we also see that Toni has friends of different genders and races. Even though this diversity is only seen through the illustrations—not the text—it’s wonderful that the author and illustrator decided to be so intentional about placing Toni in inclusive settings. Again, it’s never too early to learn how to play well with everyone.
There might be some confusion about exactly what Toni’s superpowers are. Toni seems to be flying in the picture on the back cover. And he’s wearing a spiffy superhero costume in most of the other illustrations. But he doesn’t display any typical superpowers. He isn’t faster than a speeding bullet or more powerful than a locomotive. He doesn’t seem to have any magical powers or a special utility belt full of gadgets that make it easier to do his chores. Toni seems to be just an ordinary boy doing ordinary things. But maybe that’s the best part of the story.
I think the author is subtly showing all readers that you don't need special powers to be a superhero. You can be a superhero to your family and friends by spending time with them and helping them out in ordinary ways. In fact, maybe the willingness to work and play and help others in need—with a great big smile on your face—is the greatest superpower of all. Or maybe Toni’s greatest superpower is that he likes to read!
I give this book 4 out of 4 stars with absolutely no reservations. It’s a wonderfully illustrated picture book that’s perfectly suited for early readers and whoever is lucky enough to sit down to read with them. There are no errors in the text. One might argue that the words Superhero and Terrific do not need to be capitalized, but one might also claim that the capitalization is simply used for emphasis. At the end of the book, the author lists other titles in the Toni series. I hope all of them find places in the homes and hands of many young readers.
Toni the Superhero
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