Book review by
Andrea Beach, Common Sense Media
Hero Book Poster Image
True bravery, friendship in suspenseful tale for dog lovers.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Brief facts about meteors, the Roman god Jupiter, and the star Sirius. Ways in which building on top of past civilizations affects modern life.

Positive Messages

The secret ingredient of life is a good heart. Fights aren't always physical; sometimes you have to fight to keep being good. You have to live with what you've done, even if no one else knows about it. People want to believe in heroes and that good things happen: "The bravest thing is to be a true friend."

Positive Role Models & Representations

Leo, who's 11, wants others to think highly of him and so does things he knows are wrong to gain acceptance into a group. He feels remorse and shame but at first perpetuates others' wrong impression of events. He tires of living a lie, and that eventually gives him the courage to set things right. Leo's classmate Warren is a bad influence headed down the wrong path, but he takes an opportunity Leo offers him to turn things around. Leo's parents are strong models of responsibility and caring both for the family and the community. His sisters are sometimes mean or pesky but are loyal to the family and help Leo when the chips are down.

Violence & Scariness

Imaginary swordplay describes gladiator-style combat without gore. A dog is injured by a mean boy on a bike, but it's not clear if it was deliberate. Blood from an injury trickles and drips. A beloved pet dog is lost in a random disaster when a huge sinkhole opens in a busy town center. Leo's in danger of being buried alive by a collapsing building and later, in the sinkhole, makes his way through the scary, dark underground.


What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Hero is a dog-lover's story by Sarah Lean, the author of A Hundred Horses. Here Lean explores the human-animal bond through the relationship between 11-year-old Leo and his neighbor's dog, Jack Pepper, with lessons about honesty, true friendship, loyalty, and what it means to be a real hero. There's nothing of concern for bigger kids and tweens, but younger readers may be frightened by the random appearance of a sinkhole in the middle of town that collapses buildings. No one's injured, but Jack Pepper is lost, feared trapped in the bottom of the sinkhole and possibly dead. Younger kids may need extra reassurance that they're not in danger of falling into a sinkhole as they go about their daily lives.

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What's the story?

Leo spends most of his time imagining he's a gladiator of ancient Rome, until he meets a dog called Jack Pepper. Jack has a knack for making friends, and soon the whole town knows and loves him but none more than Leo. Jack even pulls Leo out of a pond, which Leo fell in while doing something he knew was wrong. Somehow the wrong version of the story gets out, and the whole town thinks it was the boy who saved the dog instead. Leo feels terrible about the lie but doesn't know how to set it straight. One day, a huge sinkhole opens in the middle of town, right where Jack Pepper was waiting for Leo. Can Leo, who's only 11, help find and rescue Jack before it's too late?

Is it any good?

HERO starts out slowly, with frequent repetition of Leo's desire to be, well, a hero, becoming a bit heavy-handed. It also takes a while to create a real sense of place with the confusing use of U.S. vocabulary such as "trash can" in what has to be a small town somewhere in Europe. Things pick up considerably when Jack Pepper appears, and eventually author Sarah Lean displays a more authentic ear for dialogue. These flaws are unlikely to bother kids and tweens, though, especially dog lovers. The final third builds nicely, and the pages will keep turning.

The happy ending shows kids what real friendship is and that growing up takes different kinds of heroism, not only bravery in battle.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about friendship between people and animals. Why do we love stories about them so much? What can they teach us?

  • Do you have a pet, or have you ever made friends with an animal even if it wasn't your own? Did you learn anything from each other, and if so what did you learn?

  • Jack likes to imagine he's a gladiator of ancient Rome. If you could time-travel, what era would you visit? What interests you about it?

Book details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love animal stories

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