Friday, February 10, 2012

Reviews: Team Spirit and The Trouble With Thor by Lucy Rosen

Team Spirit. Lucy Rosen. September 5, 2011. 32 pages. Little, Brown. ISBN: 9780316176293.

The Trouble with Thor. Lucy Rosen. September 5, 2011. 32 pages. Little Brown. ISBN: 9780316176309.


Team Spirit and The Trouble with Thor are two 2011 titles from Marvel’s Superhero Squad series, which is based on a cartoon television show and designed to bring superhero stories to beginning readers at their level. Both books are designated as Passport to Reading Level 2: Reading Out Loud, and on their back covers, there is a break-down of the word count, number of Dolch Sight Words, and the Guided Reading Level for each book. (Team Spirit has 571 words, a reading level of I and 102 Dolch Sight Words, and The Trouble with Thor has 526 words, a level of I, and 86 sight words.)

Both books have similar structures. They begin by introducing a set of words in a rebus style, showing both the word itself and an icon suggesting the word’s meaning. In Team Spirit, the chosen words are sentinel, statue, wings, and bird, and in Thor, they are slide, power lines, hammer, and lightning bolt. The text accompanying the word list asks readers to hunt for the new words as they read, thus introducing unfamiliar vocabulary and also encouraging kids to try and recognize and learn those new words.

The illustrations in this series are bright and colorful, and take up the entire page, with just a small white box carved out for the text. The pages have a glossy shine and feel, and the separated text is neat, clean, and easy to read. The characters themselves have the general characteristics associated with their superhero personas, but they appear more kid-friendly, with shortened bodies and cartoonish faces and features.

The writing itself, though easy enough to read, lacks artistry. I suspect because these books are based on cartoon shows that a lot is lost in translation from screen to text. Where there would be lots of action in an animated show, there are only still images in the book and there are a lot of gaps leftover for the text to fill in. By the time the story itself is told, there isn’t much room left to develop the characters or even to describe anything, and the effect is that there is a lot of telling and almost no showing.

In both books, the plot revolves around concepts that are relevant to the social and moral development of young kids. In Team Spirit, a few of the heroes have formed a little clique within the Superhero Squad, but when Sentinel attacks, they learn that each member of the entire squad is a valuable asset. In The Trouble with Thor, Thor’s half-brother Loki psychs him out by convincing him that he should really be a villain, not a hero. Thor is so preoccupied with this notion that it causes him to become distracted and wreak havoc when he’s supposed to be helping the Squad clean up a park. The comforting moral of the story becomes “Even superheroes have bad days.”

These books are fast-paced and interesting, and they do their best to adapt the action-packed superhero genre into an age-appropriate reading experience for very young kids. The books are free of serious violence, and include a lot of quick-moving dialogue which will keep the interest of reluctant readers and kids who have seen the TV show. Parents who are concerned about the appropriateness of regular comic books for their early elementary schoolers can feel confident handing these books to a five-year-old, knowing the stories are innocent and focused on doing good for the community.

As TV and film tie-ins go, these are among the best in my library’s collection, and I’m pleased to finally have something to offer five- and six- year-olds who aren’t ready for adult comic books just yet. Parents and kids can learn more about this series at the Marvel Superhero Squad website. 

I borrowed Team Spirit and The Trouble with Thor from my local public library.

For more about these books, visit Goodreads and Worldcat.

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