There are lots more superheroes out there saving the day for the entertainment of young readers than just the standard comic book good guys. Here are some excellent adventures for picture book readers through middle grade that feed the imagination and inspire heroic dreams!
The Astonishing Secret of Awesome Man, by Michael Chabon and Jake Parker
Awesome Man lives up to his name, rushing through the air to zap villains with the positronic rays he can shoot from his eyeballs. Accompanied by Moskowitz the Awesome Dog, he’s an unstoppable force for good, though his real identity is a closely guarded secret. But even the strongest superhero has to take time in his fortress to recharge….which is when his mom serves him tasty snacks. His power grip comes in handy when he gives her the most awesome hug of all. A must for any young superhero in disguise!
Lucía the Luchadora, by Cynthia Leonor Garza and Alyssa Bermudez
Lucía enjoys being a superhero during recess, performing daring feats of playground athleticism with her cape streaming behind her, but then the boys tell her that girls can’t be superheroes. Lucía won’t give up her dreams, and with her grandmother’s help, she is transformed into a luchadora, a Mexican masked wrestler with super skills and quick thinking. With her silver cloak and mask, her bravery and skill, Lucía triumphs in the playground, and when she’s won the respect of all the other kids (including the boys) she unmasks to prove that girls can be just as super-awesome as boys. It’s lots of fun, with bright illustrations and a heroine to cheer for!
The Adventures of Sparrowboy, by Brian Pinkney
Henry’s a young paperboy who always reads the front page of the newspaper, and then the comics. Sometimes after reading the news he wishes his favorite superhero, Falcon Man, were real and could come to the rescue. One day a sparrow lands in the path of his bike, and when he brakes hard, he goes over the handlebars and into the sky. He becomes Sparrowboy, able to take on a bully and his dog, and to rescue the little sparrow, who now is unable to fly. But when the sparrow lands on the comic page about Falcon Man, zap! Henry’s an ordinary kid again. It’s a charming, magical story that will delight older picture book readers who dream of being superheroes themselves.
Super Narwhal and Jelly Jolt, by Ben Clanton
Narwhal decides he will become a superhero. He has his costume, his secret identity, and the best sidekick ever, his jellyfish pal, now Jelly Jolt! All he needs is a super power, and with Jelly’s help, he finds it—being the best friend ever, and helping others find their own super powers. This story is really sweet and funny (Narwhal is utterly adorable zipping around his cape), and there’s an added bonus of sea creature non-fiction facts sprinkled into the story. A great pick for kids just becoming independent readers!
Wedgie and Gizmo, by Suzanne Selfors and Barbara Fisinger
A corgi who thinks he has super powers (Wedgie) and a guinea pig who really is an “evil” genius (Gizmo) must learn to coexist when their two families blend. Super Wedgie, running around in his superhero cape, is thrilled when his pack is enlarged with the arrival of Elliot and his dad and a furry potato! He will protect them all! Gizmo is less thrilled. His habitat broke in the move, and now he’s ensconced in a Barbie Dreamhouse. Deeply suspicious of Wedgie, he plots dark plots in true evil nemesis fashion. Wedgie is very doggy, Gizmo is very un-guinea-piggy, and in the meantime, the human members of the new family are learning to co-exist themselves. It’s a fun riff on the superhero theme that animal lovers in particular will adore!
Bug Girl, by Benjamin Harper and Sarah Hines Stephen
Amanda loves bugs, making her an easy target for mean girls, including her ex-best friend, Emily. Then a more serious problem arrives, when her town is attacked by the Exterminator, an old supervillain who captures Mantis and Megawoman, the two superheroes who used to keep the town safe, and Amanda unexpectedly finds her own superpowers emerging to take on the challenge. She becomes Bug Girl, with an incredible range of insect abilities! But she needs a partner. When she finds that Mantis is her mom, and Megawoman is Emily’s, she must find a way to work with Emily and help her develop her own powers before the Exterminator squashes their whole town. This fun story celebrates all things insect, with little fact sections to accompany Amanda’s buggy powers, and the middle school drama is a nice realistic accompaniment to the superhero hijinks.
Geeks, Girls, and Secret Identities, by Mike Jung
When a Stupendous Alert sounds in Copperplate City, its residents know Captain Stupendous is fighting yet another bad guy and the streets fill with his fans. Vincent Wu and his friends are thrilled to see the brave Captain battling Professor Mayhem’s monster robot. But something seems off about the hero…and something is. Polly, the girl Vincent has a crush on, has unwillingly assumed the superhero’s mantle. She’s not interested in fighting bad guys, doesn’t know how to control her new abilities, and doesn’t like her new muscular, male superhero persona. Vincent and his friends learn her secret, and help Polly become the hero their city needs. This is a great one for any younger middle school kid, boy or girl. Vincent’s an engaging narrator and the superhero shenanigans are fun, but the best part is watching Polly adjusting to her superhero status, and claiming the role for her own (yay girl power!).
Battling Boy, by Paul Pope
Here’s a graphic novel for older middle grade readers who enjoy science fiction! An alternate Earth is infested with monsters, and the one hero who stood against them with his high tech inventions has been defeated. Then a new superhero from a clan of god-like beings dedicated to fighting the monsters of the universe is sent to Earth. Battling Boy is young and inexperienced, and though he has magical powers, he has no clue how to do his job. When faced with his first monster he calls in his supremely powerful dad for help. The people of Earth assume they are saved; he himself knows it’s not going to be so easy. But Aurora, daughter of Earth’s former hero, is training herself to take on her father’s role. Working together, they can save Earth. This story of two kids trying to be a team is beautifully relatable, and this is one for all readers who love graphic novels full of brightly illustrated panels of mayhem.
School for Sidekicks, Kelly McCollough
Evan’s an ordinary kid who dreams about becoming a superhero. In Evan’s version of earth, that’s actually possible because a strange bomb a generation back gave a bunch of people superpowers (killing a considerably larger number), and some kids still acquire powers. When Evan’s dream comes true, he’s taken to a special school on Mars for training. He’s apprenticed as a Sidekick to Foxman, whose superpower is technological enhancement, and who isn’t a rule-follower, so Evan gets more excitement than most super-powered kids his age. His skills, and those of his classmates, will be tested, because both superheroes and supervillains are going to be needed to fight a new enemy in the future. Young sci -fi fans will love this one.
Sidekicked, by John David Anderson
The Highview Environmental Revitalization Organization (H.E.R.O.) is not your typical school club, and its members are not ordinary kids. They are Sidekicks, the superheroes of the future. Each has a unique talent, and each is matched with a Superhero mentor. Andrew has a fine superpower—reternaturally enhanced senses—but his mentor, the legendary Titan, has zero interest in training him. When a dastardly villain from the past, thought to have been annihilated by the Titan long ago, re-emerges, will the superheroes of the present be enough to stop him? Though Andrew doubts his own powers, he isn’t ready to give up on the Titan…and the bad guys haven’t given up on revenge. This one mixes interesting questions about obligations, and what it means to be a hero, into the adventures, making it much more than just a book about middle school angst with superpowers.
What superhero books would you recommend to young readers?