Supervillains, Superheroes, and Middle School . . . the perfect combination

Joshua Dread by Lee Bacon sports a dazzling, electrifying cover that strikes, well, dread in the heart of the average 3rd to 5th grader. Inspired as I was by this bright, beckoning cover, I chose the book to see if I liked it enough for recommendation. And surprisingly, I did.

With movies such as Iron Man, Thor, Captain America, and the Green Lantern, to name a few, the superhero is alive and well. Kids are fascinated with superheroes, and our requests are abundant from younger and younger ages. But unlike Maximum Boy by Dan Greenburg, who obtained his superpower by touching some radioactive space rocks in a museum, Joshua has been born with a "gyft" although he doesn't know it when the book first begins.

We begin with Joshua's class getting out of sixth period early that day due to catastrophic weather that "will destroy civilization as we know it". And what luck, Mrs. Lange was about to give a quiz. On the bus heading home the extreme weather becomes increasingly more deadly: trees are shaking, power lines are snapping loose, then suddenly all is quiet when they reach the center of town. The Dread Duo are hovering in the air on their hovercrafts  demanding a private jet full of $100 dollar bills or else they will inflict devastating weather causing world annihilation. Then . . . in swoops Captain Justice to save the day. It seems clear doesn't it: good guy Captain Justice; bad guys The Dread Duo. But here's the twist--what happens when the supervillains are your parents. Interested now?

We are first introduced to Joshua as a weakling who is mercilessly bullied by the brain dead thugs Brick and Joey. Segue to an average cafeteria setting where Joshua and his best friend Milton are sitting at the table listening to the ever catty cafeteria girls (as they are coined for their endless gossiping) discussing the "new girl" Sophie Smith. There is something secretive about Sophie, but what is it? After Joshua's parents are taken by the smoke monster that also broke into the Vile Fair and caused the supervillain leader Phineas Vex to disappear, Joshua and Milton decide to look into the new girl a little more closely. All these events began after she and her father moved into town; she must be in on it . . .

At first I thought, what on earth is Bacon going to do with this, but he manages to spin an amusing but suspenseful tale that will subtly encourage the reader to examine the sometimes blurred lines between the idea of good and evil. Here's Bacon's second book: Joshua Dread: The Nameless Hero.

Bacon does nod at Rick Riordan's Percy Jackson and the Olympians. But Percy is an XFICU which is an upper read suitable for 6th to 9th graders. Joshua is an XFICI Intermediate read, producing a gentler treatment of the "I've been born with superpowers" theme. So here's my challenge to all of you reading this blog: read both the first and second Joshua Dread books and weigh in: thumbs up for the treatment of this theme for the younger crowd or, boo, thumbs down. For me, I liked it, and will definitely read The Nameless Hero. So let me know what you think, does it go on the Staff Picks wall or not? And parents reading this blog, most certainly have your kids read this book because I think they will like it (no matter what the others say).

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