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The Astonishing Secret of Awesome Man Hardcover – September 6, 2011
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“The depiction of a showdown between Awesome Man and his nemesis—the Flaming Eyeball—is priceless. Readers may notice that there’s a moral peeking out from Awesome Man’s cape, but they’ll still grab this story in their ‘ginormous Awesome Power Grip’ and not let go.” (School Library Journal (starred review))
“Young caped crusaders and Chabon’s adult fans alike will grin at this self-consciously witty portrait.” (Publishers Weekly)
“Awesome indeed.” (Kirkus Reviews)
“It’s a wonderful celebration of tough-guy fantasies and down-to-earth boyness, perfectly matched with the retro stylings of animated film artist and comic book illustrator Parker.” (San Francisco Chronicle)
“Chabon’s first-person narrative is that of a boy-zealous, goofy, and antisister-and the story reads like the play-by-play antics of an action figure in a kid’s game.” (ALA Booklist)
Praise for SUMMERLAND: “Chabon hits a high-flying home run.” (Publishers Weekly)
Praise for SUMMERLAND: “Packed with magic, adventure, myth, and America’s favorite pastime, this book will enchant its audience. (School Library Journal)
Praise for THE AMAZING ADVENTURES OF KAVALIER AND CLAY: “The depth of Chabon’s thought, his sharp language, his inventiveness and his ambition make this a novel of towering achievement.” (New York Times Book Review)
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And its true. I have several friends and co-workers with kids who ask me to recommend a comic book for their younglings, and it is hard to make a recommendation. There just isn't much out there appropriate for kids.
Which is one of the reasons I loved "The Astonishing Secret of Awesome Man" so much. Instead of wringing his hands and whinging that there was no comic-related material for young kids, Michael Chabon (The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay) went out and wrote something. Now, all parents have a superhero book big enough to put into little hands.
The book looks beautiful. Jake Parker's illustrations are iconic and bold. I can see the influence of Pixar's The Incredibles in the character design, and this book could have easily been written about Mr. Incredible instead of Awesome Man. There are some very clever visual bits, my favorite being the underwater Fortress of Awesome which is a classic 1950s white picket fence house under and Atlantis-bubble, complete with separately bubbled doghouse.
The story is very simple and suitable. There is no recommended age group, but the text is usually single and double sentence paragraphs with easy English flavored with a couple of big words. The story mostly pits Awesome Man against single page battles with his villains like Professor Von Evil in his Antimatter Slimebot and the Flaming Eyeball. Unlike "Kavalier & Clay" which was full of winks and nods for comic fans, "The Astonishing Secret of Awesome Man" plays it straight. And of course, the final panel is a sweet little scene where, no matter how awesome Awesome Man's powers are, nothing can compete for awesomeness with a hug from mom.
If I have any complaints about "The Astonishing Secret of Awesome Man", it is that the story and illustrations are too simple. I wish Chabon and Parker had thrown in a few more "Easter eggs" to keep adult attention as well as kids. I remember my favorite books from childhood were the ones that I could pour over again and again, always finding something new. That is not the case here. You get everything on the first read.
And what is Awesome Man's astonishing secret? Chabon put in an ongoing gag of "Can you spot my secret identity?" with the final punch line being that Awesome Man has more in common with Captain Marvel than Superman. If you get my drift.
I had expected there to be a bit more to it but there just wasn't. My daughter (4.5) liked the secret and it was fun for her to guess along the way. The art was very well done and vibrant. So I'm averaging our reviews together for three stars.
If we are to assume The Little Prince is 5 stars, then most other books are 4 or lower.
If your kids' libraries are bursting with classics that you are bored of, and you have $13 burning a hole in your pocket, or if you have some superhero themed bedroom that needs one more piece of functional decor, then I would suggest purchasing it. Otherwise, read it to your kid at the little picnic table at B&N and forget it quickly but the lesson should be remembered not to blindly purchase products seconds after you see them referenced in an old interview of the singer of a great post-rock band.
Now, the bad: the story is not good. It's got a goofy tone that I appreciate, but it's mostly just Awesome Man talking about his powers and hinting at his secret identity while he fights random bad guys for no discernible reason. In case you don't figure out what his secret identity is on your first read-through (which you will - my three-year-old nephew got it right away), you will definitely know every other time you read through. And that's the worst bit right there. This book has no re-reading value. You'll know the punchline before you start every time. There's no payoff. My nephew read it once, but I'm pretty sure he hasn't read it again. And that's a real shame.
The story was so bad that I started reading ahead and skipping sentences that were just stupid, random nonsense. This book is a series of random events, random superpowers, random dialog. Nothing makes any sense whatsoever and any child with half a brain will be saying 'why' at every sentence BUT YOU WON'T HAVE AN ANSWER. You won't even be able to make one up. You will be embarrassed to be reading it.
I sincerely believe this book will make your child just a little bit stupider for having read it.
Sad waste of the illustrators talent, paper, and my time and money.
The publisher should be ashamed and the author - I'm sure you could write better than this. My 3 year old tells better stories than this. I don't want this book to hold anyone's development back. Do not buy it.
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