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*Boys of Steel: The Creators of Superman* by Marc Tyler Nobleman, illustrated by Ross Macdonald
Boys of Steel: The Creators of Superman
by Marc Tyler Nobleman, illustrated by Ross Macdonald
Ages 8-12 40 pages Knopf July 2008 Hardcover    

Visually stunning, this picture book biography of Joe Shuster and Jerry Siegel is an inspiration to budding writers and illustrators. Many children will identify with Joe and Jerry, quiet misfits absorbed in pulp fiction, comic strips, and movies in a creative world of superheroes.

As shy, awkward high school students, the boys were a perfect pair with incredible imagination, Jerry gifted with writing and Joe with drawing. With similar dispositions, the two boys quickly became friends and created “a science fiction story in cartoons” starring a character who fought for justice. Finding it too similar to other heroes of the day, publishers rejected their story.

Nevertheless, the boys were not disheartened. You can feel the immediacy of Joe’s excitement when he first comes up with the idea behind Superman and runs over to Joe’s house to complete the inspiration with pictures. After three years of rejections, they boys finally got their big break when the publisher announced the creation of a new magazine format: the comic book.

Superman turned out to be a perfect fit for the imaginations of many in the Depression – an ordinary person (Clark Kent was much like Joe and Jerry) with extraordinary abilities. Instantly popular, Superman continued in comic strips, radio, books, animation, movies, and eventually television.

A detailed afterword supplements the story for older readers, providing additional detail behind the business arrangements of Joe and Jerry with their publisher and employer. In their excitement surrounding the prospect of getting published, Joe and Jerry signed over their rights to the first Superman story and the character for a mere $130. As a result of this and other settlements, the men never fully benefited from their idea and were never financially secure. Recent copyright law changes and lawsuits eventually resulted in monetary rights for their families.

Boys of Steel can be used on many levels with children – as a picture book biography, as an inspiration to young authors and illustrators, and as an introduction to the importance of copyright laws. There is a “period” feel to the illustrations which extends the simple text and accentuates the excitement of ideas and frustration with rejection. Children love stories of real people, like Joe and Jerry, with whom they can identify and relate.

Pair this book with a comic book to excite interest in this older genre celebrating 70 years of Superman (or the annual Free Comic Book Day). Compare with recent graphic novels to motivate even the most reluctant readers.

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  Kristine Wildner/2009 for curled up with a good kid's book  

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