A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this book.
Lots of information (and opportunity for further investigation) packed into this fast-moving tale, about WWII and how it affected daily lives of people on the home front (e.g., Josie's Irish-immigrant mom is struggling to support the family while dad's fighting the Nazis; Akiko's whole family is in an internment camp because they're of Japanese ancestry, except for her brother who's also in the army fighting Nazis; the neighborhood bully's dad seems to be doing just fine). Lots about mathematical puzzles and solving them, especially by the women "computers" whose work was foundation of ENIAC, the first electronic computer.
Using your talents to protect your loved ones and do your bit to save the world is a strong theme. Plentiful positive messages about family, friendship, teamwork, community, inclusion, and using your brain instead of just reacting. Also strong messages against stereotyping and prejudice.
Positive Role Models
Fledgling superheroes Josie, Mae, and Akiko are highly relatable as they struggle to use their superpowers to help rescue people and folk villains, while also dealing with everyday issues like bullies, prejudice, and worrying about their families. Akiko is a Japanese American girl whose family was forced from its San Francisco home and imprisoned in an internment camp. From the mysterious Mrs. Boudica to assorted kindly neighbors, Josie discovers, "Superheroes exist all around us, every day. Only, their costuming might not look so obvious."
Violence & Scariness
A superhero gets vaporized, others are wounded. Lots of superhero combat involving shape-shifting, fire, storms, other powers pitted against Nazi villain who morphs into colossal rattlesnake. Creepy detail like dynamite-stuffed dead rats that are part of his fiendish plot. On non-fantasy side, many characters are worried about loved ones in harm's way during the war, and after some foreshadowing, it's revealed that one's dad has been killed; a neighborhood bully and his gang of goons terrorize adults and kids, steal the bikes of Josie's brother, generally add to the misery of a stressed community. At several points the girls (with and without superpowers) get embroiled in physical fights with them. Mae, who's black, and Akiko, who's Japanese American, as well as minor characters of German ancestry, face a lot of discrimination. So do girls and women in general, often being blocked from recognition for their work and capabilities.
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Kids use insults like "dumbbell," "dopes."
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Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that Cape is the first book in The League of Secret Heroes, a new series by author Kate Hannigan featuring three tween girls in Philadelphia during World War II who love solving math puzzles, codes, and ciphers -- and who suddenly find themselves able to transform into superheroes with superpowers. That's a lucky thing, because a supervillain known as the Hisser, who transforms into a giant rattlesnake, is trying to do a lot of damage and steal technology for Hitler. In words and comics-panel illustrations, there's a lot of violence -- some cartoonish, like vaporized superhero combatants, and some very real, like dangers to family members, some of whom are killed in the war. There are strong messages of inclusion and avoiding stereotypes, as our heroes are a recent immigrant from Ireland, a Black girl whose grandmother is a librarian, and a Japanese American girl whose family was forced from their San Francisco home and imprisoned in a camp. And, for example, not all German characters are Nazis. The women "computers" who were instrumental in building the first electronic computer are important to the story. Determination, courage, love of friends and family, and devotion to the examples of '40s-era superheroes help the girls and their allies as they battle overwhelming evil, and also neighborhood bullies. There's a lot to like about where this series seems to be going: history, girl power, loads of positive messages, and lots of fun.
Is It Any Good?
Author Kate Hannigan's lively words and illustrator Patrick Spaziante's even livelier comic book pages combine to deliver a tale of tween superheroes rising to the challenges of World War II. Whether they're coping with day-to-day evils like neighborhood bullies, discrimination, or their families being in concentration camps, or deploying their powers against Nazis and supervillains, there's lots to like about Josie, Mae, and Akiko, the mysterious Mrs. Boudica, and her little dog, Astra, in this lively, heart-filled tale, and lots to look forward to as the series unfolds. As one of the people they rescue (unaware that Josie's actually one of his rescuers) exclaims:
"I wish my friend Josie were here to see this! She doesn't shut up about superheroes! Josie's never going to believe me when I tell her that some kids saved us.
"And not just any kids. Girls!"
Did we miss something on diversity?
Research shows a connection between kids' healthy self-esteem and positive portrayals in media. That's why we've added a new "Diverse Representations" section to our reviews that will be rolling out on an ongoing basis. You can help us help kids by suggesting a diversity update.