Book Review: God’s Superheroes
Written by Mary Badja and illustrated by Melinda Steffen, the God’s Superheroes books are divided into two volumes for boys and girls, subtitled “Amazing Catholic Men” and “Amazing Catholic Women.” Each book is about 165 pages long and geared for middle-school-aged children.
God’s Superheroes focuses on the saints as the heroes of God’s kingdom. Children may be accustomed to thinking of superheroes as fictional characters with special powers battling the forces of evil. This is exactly what we have in the real-life saints of the Catholic Church. The books nudge children to consider what truly constitutes a “hero,” emphasizing heroic virtue in the service of God as authentic heroism. The saints are the ultimate heroic role models.
While I describe these as “saint books,” there is actually more to them than that. The saints are the ultimate exemplars of Catholic heroism and yet one can still be a hero without being canonized. The books accordingly include not only saints, but blessed, venerables, and servants of God. Also profiled are Catholic heroes like Fulton Sheen, Jerome Lejeune, Nicholas Black Elk, Dorothy Day, and Satoko Kithara.
Every now and then I ran across a bio of someone who had no canonical cause whatsoever, for example, J.R.R. Tolkien. I liked the expanded idea of “hero” as reaching beyond officially canonized saints to include people like Tolkien (although the bulk of the books are individuals with varying levels of official veneration).
Like other saint books, the God’s Superheroes books are structured as a series of profiles. Each profile contains a lovely color illustration, a quote, and some other basic information about the saint set off in a side panel. There is also a page or two of text comprising a mini-biography of the saint’s life. I appreciated the length of the profiles.
In many older saint compilation books (I am thinking of the beloved books by Father Lawrence Lovasik), the information about the saint is brief, generally a half page in large font. This isn’t enough to give us anything but the bare details of a saint’s life. By contrast, the profiles in God’s Superheroes are lengthy and true mini-biographies, giving sufficient information to allow us to really get to know the saint, building affinity and admiration.
Perhaps because such a vast catalog of people could be overwhelming for a young reader, each hero is also assigned a “nickname” to aid memory. For example, St. Francis of Assisi is “The Animal Whisperer,” and St. Elizabeth Ann Seton is “The Educator.”
The illustrations by Melinda Steffen are a huge asset to the books. While I will always love the classic saint books by Fr. Lovasik, I find the illustrations are too hagiographical, like stained glass windows. Hagiographical is not bad; I love saint images displayed on icons and stained glass. However, I always felt hagiographical images should be saved for more pietistical or liturgical settings. For a book meant to get children interested in saints, they can seem a little dull.
This is why Melinda Steffen’s illustrations are such a benefit to the God’s Superheroes books. Here we see no stoic saints standing rigid in otherworldly imperturbability. These saints are lively and animated with vivid expressions on their faces. St. John Bosco is shown performing magic tricks for his boys with a grin. St. Clare is depicted boldly holding the monstrance aloft to frighten off the attackers of her convent.
Overall, I think these books are great and I have no real criticism of them. I can imagine that not everyone will appreciate the art. While vivid and dynamic, it may come across as “cartoonish” to some. However, these books are a welcomed addition to other saint collections on our homeschool bookshelves.
And (since I never miss an opportunity to plug my own work) if you like historical fiction on the lives of the saints, check out my two novellas, Wounds of Love: The Story of St. Padre Pio, and Matron of Paris: The Story of St. Genevieve.
For online classes on the lives of the saints for your 3rd to 12th grader, I invite you to check out Homeschool Connections’ Catholic homeschooling online curriculum.
What are your favorite saint biographies for children and teens? Join us at our Catholic homeschooling community and let’s get a conversation going!