Is there a little superhero in your life? Someone with an itch to save the world… and read? If so, Downtown Bookworks has you covered with their series of DC superheroes board books.
Some of these have been out for a while; some are more recent. Since they’re board books with a minimal word count, these books are obviously targeting babies and toddlers. Each has a simple and familiar focus, but they all use the DC superhero lineup to make their point.
In short, don’t expect these books to take a deep dive into superhero history or even to be entirely appropriate for kids over the age of about 3. These are chunky board books that range from 5-9 pages and are intended to reinforce basic concepts that many board books tackle: ABCs, 1-10, primary colors, simple shapes, and so on. In other words, keep your expectations in check.
However, if you have fond memories of the 1970s and ’80s styles for these characters, you’ll find a lot to love here. Even though all of these books were published within the last three years, all of the character designs are pulled straight out of the Super Friends playbook.
I think it’s important to remember that these books are mostly targeting parents who will read them aloud to their very young kids. Parents who might not necessarily be comic book geeks. Therefore, it makes sense why these books are dominated by Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, Green Lantern, and Flash. They’re the characters everyone knows.
A book filled with seemingly obscure characters would go over like a lead balloon with a general audience. I address the issue of gender representation below, but I should also point out that just one brief appearance by Cyborg is the sum total of non-white representation across the line. To be fair, though, this is as much DC’s problem as it is this publisher’s.
You and me? We’re geeks. Of course we could point to dozens of valid omissions and perceived oversights. Sure, I’d love to see board books filled with Black Lightning, John Stewart, Steel, Cassandra Cain, Renee Montoya, and Talia al Ghul. Maybe someday. But I don’t think that necessarily negates the awesomeness of reading a Wonder Woman board book to your toddler today.
Despite the relatively narrow goggles these books have, I find them all to be great for the little world-saving heroes scampering around your house. And they make great gift ideas and stocking stuffers!
The newest series are the “My First Book Of” books. They avoid some of the unfortunate missteps made in earlier books, and they’ve done an admirable job of giving equal representation to female characters. Nevertheless, My First Book of Superpowers fares the poorest in this respect and is definitely weighted toward male characters, but that also has to do with the fact that there are so few widely known female DC characters.
To complement the superpowers book, My First Book of Girl Power focuses exclusively on female characters and their actual superhero powers (e.g., sonic scream, magical ability), along with legitimate traits non-superheroes can relate to: bravery, strength, and intelligence. This title casts a wider net, character-wise, and we get to see Black Canary, Mera, Raven, and Mary Marvel, in addition to those on the cover. Still, please don’t expect this book to reinforce your daughter’s “true potential.” That’s not its aim. It’s only nine pages long. The book introduces the words brave, smart, and strong. I think you can fill in the blanks.
My First Book of Super-Villains strives to contrast villains with heroes and help children recognize the difference between right and wrong. For example, the Joker plays nasty tricks on people, but Batman makes everyone feel safe. Villains make bad choices, kids. Let’s all learn from their poor life choices.
Kids who already have a favorite character might be drawn to My First Batman Book, My First Superman Book, and My First Wonder Woman Book (if they’re one of these three, obviously). These books are also “touch and feel” books with cool interactive elements. Embossed pages, sliding frames, reflective pages, and various textures enhance each page. The Superman book sets the bar, though, with its presentation of X-ray vision (sliding panels so you can “see through” a brick wall), the Fortress of Solitude (rough, sparkly “ice”), and Krypto (soft fur).
The youngest readers are covered with ABC 123, Colors, Shapes, and More!, and Opposites. All are pretty much what you probably expect. For the ABC book, A is for Aquaman, B is for Batman, C is for Cape, and so on. Colors and shapes? Superman’s cape is red. Martian Manhunter is green. The bat signal is a circle. And for opposites, we learn–among other things–that Superman flies up, up, and away while Aquaman dives down into the ocean. It should be noted that female representation in these three comes mostly in the form of brief appearances by Wonder Woman.
Busy Bodies uses superheroes’ physical traits to teach kids about their own bodies. What can superheroes (and you!) do with their eyes, ears, hands, arms, and legs? This book also contains an unfortunately cringe-worthy description where we learn that Superman’s eyes have X-ray vision so he can see through walls (cool), whereas Wonder Woman has blue eyes (d’oh).
Finally, Even Super Heroes Sleep is the bedtime entry in the series. Each page focuses on one character and why he or she needs sleep after a hard day fighting crime. “Wonder Woman uses a lot of energy fighting villains. All of that running, jumping, and throwing make her very tired. Goodnight, Wonder Woman.”
As long as you keep your expectations in check and realize what it is you’re buying, these books are all super-cool additions to your baby’s bookshelf. Listen, I get it. Reading the same board books again and again can be mind-numbing for parents. If those books can be about Hawkman and Hawkgirl? That’s a win in my book.