I have recently been given the challenge of addressing my Oldest son’s growing curiosity of all things “Batman”, “good guys”, “bad guys” and even a little bit of “booming” and “shooting”. I don’t necessarily take issue with the general idea of superheroes but I am concerned about and am considering the idea of my 4 year old being able to appropriately process and identify the emotions and actions that go along with this subject matter. At this young age, it is natural to be curious and want to experiment with the feelings of being scared or powerful, the contradiction of good vs evil and the fantasy of things like flying and dragons and of course the importance of wearing a cape. But, they are not mature enough to fully understand and appropriately assign all of those intense emotions or comprehend the all the possible ramifications of acting out the physical behavior that they may see when watching superhero shows or reading the books.
After briefly talking to my Oldest about this new language, it was clear that he was confused and not really making any sense of it all in his head. I knew that we needed to address the topic in a way that explained things clearly to him while allowing him to explore his interest, but also in a gentle way so as not to promote or show that we approve of aggression or violence. In addition, we typically try to steer clear of commercialized characters but his interest, very specifically, began with Batman, so I felt that character had to be included on this journey.
I began my process by looking for books that I felt are age appropriate and meaningful – there were many things to consider. I did not want there to be any physical fighting, weapons or death. What I was looking for was history and facts about the commercial characters and superheroes in general, the idea of helping others and a brief introduction to social and emotional concepts such as good vs. evil, confidence, power, fear, anger and bravery. So far, I’ve found a pretty good selection to choose from, starting with the DC Comic board book series by David Bar Katz.
My First Batman Book is a very basic introduction to the character such as his alter ego, his pal Robin and some of his unique tricks like swinging from buildings and driving the Batmobile. The short book has provided us with plenty of material to begin talking about real vs pretend, helpful friends, asking for help, tools and wardrobe required to be a super hero . It has prompted many questions as well and since neither my husband nor I are superhero experts, this is a learning process for all of us.
The second book that I ordered in the series is Super Heroes Book of Opposites and again, this book has provided plenty of opportunity to begin talking about things like good guys and bad guys, facial expressions, anger, fear and other emotions, and a variety of super powers.
In addition to the two character specific books, I also ordered Eliot Jones, Midnight Superhero by Anne Cottringer, on the recommendation of a blog post on superhero books over at No Time for Flashcards. I had a gut feeling that this would be a good book for us after reading the review. And now after reading it half a dozen times, I am positive that my Oldest is more intrigued by this book then the two about the commercial superheroes. Eliot is a quiet boy by day and at midnight he turns into a superhero that saves the day in many different situations. My son can completely relate to Eliot’s day time persona and I can see that the idea of this ordinary boy being able to do superhero things is fascinating and empowering. There have been numerous rich conversations about courage, strength and bravery, during and after each reading. I highly recommend this book.
Interestingly, at the end of My First Batman Book, a question is posed to the reader about being able to help Batman. The first time we read the story, my son quickly said that he could not help him and I believe his answer came out of fear and insecurity. We talked briefly about how Batman is just pretend so maybe he could just pretend to help. “But, I need a belt like this one” he said, as he turned the page and pointed to his belt. So, we proceeded to make a list of all the things he needs to consider the idea of helping Batman.
With supplies ready, I asked if he wanted to start by making the cuffs. He was excited about the idea and as usual, excited about getting out the markers and scissors. While we were making the cuffs we talked about the idea of him having a superpower and he couldn’t come up with anything at that time. He did say that the stickers and colors he chose were superhero colors and “Batman” stickers, so he was starting to relate a tiny bit. I hope to use his interest in art and creating to make some more of the items on the list but I also am not going to push him as he seems to be slightly uncomfortable with the idea of being a superhero himself.
As an Ed Director, I advised teachers who had classes interested in superheroes to read the book SuperHero ABC by Bob McLeod. It is another good book to use as an introduction to the idea of superheroes and super powers. The book itself lacks the social/emotional piece that I look for but often after reading the book, the children in the classes I supervised would use the first letter of their name to create an alter ego for him or herself and then decide on a super power. I saw this empower children who were shy and reserved as well as give meaning to the actions of those who were more physical in their superhero play. My Oldest has had this book in his library for some time but I am curious to see his reaction to it now that we’ve been talking more about the topic and I hope that he is interested in creating an alter ego for himself. It might have to be a family project!
I also want to use this opportunity to encourage a healthy and appropriate understanding of princesses and female superheroes. I believe in being somewhat gender neutral as we raise our boys but also to have them grow knowing that girls are strong and powerful. I have a few books on the way to help with this tangent, I will review them as they come in and share our princess adventures.
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