Book: How To Be A Hero
Author: Florence Parry Heide
Illustrator: Chuck Groenink
Age Range: 4-8
How To Be A Hero, written by Florence Parry Heide and illustrated by Chuck Groenink is my new favorite picture book. To be honest, I didn't appreciate this one until my second read though, but now I think it's genius. How To Be A Hero is about a nice boy named Gideon who wants to be a hero. He feels initially that he should be brave and strong. But then he actually studies fairy tale heroes, and concludes that all that's really needed is to be in the right place at the right time (e.g. the Prince who happens by a sleeping Snow White and kisses her). Even his favorite hero, Jack (of Beanstalk fame), happens onto the magic beans, without any real effort.
So Gideon decides to keep his eyes open, and spot opportunities for heroism. And this is where the book gets great. Because Gideon misses out on a number of opportunities for helping people, had he but noticed them, and ends up becoming famous for ... being in the right place at the right time. I was prepared for Gideon to catch a falling baby or whatever, and that would have been ok, but the way the book actually ended was much better.
What we have here is satire in picture book form, without any mean-spiritedness. (Betsy Bird is going to love this one, too, I bet.) This book warms my sarcastic heart.
There is humor throughout How To Be A Hero, but it's mostly subtle - you have to look for it. In the first scene, where we learn about Gideon and his nice parents, we see his mom reading a newspaper that has a headline "Adults Do Boring Stuff." When Gideon is practicing with his sword to be a hero, we see one of his stuff animals with stuffing coming out. When Gideon is thinking about the story of Snow White, the prince looks just like him, and there's a sad-looking frog watching the scene. There's a bookstore called "Grimm's Books", located near "Andersen's Tearoom".
Or there's this:
"He noticed that some of them got to be heroes just by kissing someone. Gideon didn't much like the kissing part, but he'd probably do it if he could get to be a hero that way.
Once the babysitter fell asleep watching television and he wondered if that would count, if he kissed her, but he didn't think so and he didn't do it."
This is accompanied by images of a frowning Gideon approaching the elderly, sleeping babysitter.
In general, I think that the marriage of text and illustration is extremely well done in How To Be A Hero, particularly for a book with a separate author and illustrator. Groenink's pencil and Photoshop illustrations have a muted palette, a faintly stylized look, and an old-fashioned feel, like a dusty book of fairy tales. This is a book to reward close examination, and reading over and over again.
And there you have it, folks. How To Be A Hero is my new favorite picture book. While the satirical story may not be for everyone (and certainly not for the youngest of listeners), I think that it's witty, original, and thoughtfully produced. Highly recommended!
Publisher: Chronicle Kids (@ChronicleKids)
Publication Date: October 4, 2016
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher
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