Hero was coined in English in the 1300's and is derived from the Greek ἥρως, hḗrōs which means protector or defender.
But what is a HERO (aside from a very big messy sandwich)?
While we all have variations in our definitions / opinions of "hero" Here are a few:
- "A hero is no braver than an ordinary man, but he is brave five minutes longer" - Ralph Waldo Emerson
- "The ordinary man is involved in action, the hero acts. An immense difference" - Henry Miller
- "A hero is someone who has given his or her life to something bigger than oneself" - Joseph Campbell
- "A real hero is always a hero by mistake; he dreams of being an honest coward like everybody else" - Umberto Eco (in Travels in Hyper reality)
- "A hero is an ordinary individual who finds the strength to persevere and endure in spite of overwhelming obstacles" - Christopher Reeve
- Heroes serve as role models to learn from and emulate;
- Heroes introduce values that are both universal and culture specific;
- Heroes inspire us tobe 'better' and set loftier goals and expectations for ourselves and others;
- Heroes teach us courage, compassion, resourcefulness, and perseverance to rise against our own weaknesses or against stifling oppression;
- Heroes often teach creative problem solving while fighting for unselfish goals.
Below, are some of my favorite children's picture book, prose and graphic novel heroes. I have passed over the obvious choices, hoping to introduce less-known gems to boost your treasure trove of heroes.
PICTURE BOOK AND EASY READING ILLUSTRATED CHAPTER BOOK HEROES:
Ping from The Empty Pot by Demi - is a Chinese boy who faces a stiff challenge set by the Emperor with honor, grace and courage.
Princess Elizabeth from The Paper Bag Princess by Robert Munsch - had planned to marry Prince Ronald, until a dragon arrives, kidnaps Ronald and burns everything in sight. Elizabeth challenges the dragon and saves the prince but on her journey she ends up doing a lot more than that...she saves herself.
Pippi from Pippi Longstocking by Astrid Lindgren, illustrated by Michael Chesworth - (an early reader chapter book this can be read aloud to younger children and savored by older ones as well). Pippi is a feisty, red-headed unconventional nine-year-old with superhuman strength (she can lift her horse) who lives in a small Swedish village with her monkey and horse - no adults, no relatives. She befriends the kids next door and together they have many adventures. Pippi, shows kids how to be alone and independent, how to embrace being different, and how to come to terms with what life has to offer.
PROSE BOOKS FOR AGES 9-12:
Cimorene from Patricia Wrede's Dealing With Dragons is sick of learning etiquette and would like to learn fencing, math, Latin, and the ways of the world. One morning an enchanted frog tells her she should seek help from the Dragons, and her life as an independent young woman begins. She ends up not only saving herself, but her kingdom as well.(Grades 3+)
Jonah from Lois Lowry's The Giver - lives in a dystopian society that has eliminated pain and suffering. Their collective societal pains and memories are entrusted to a Giver and in his twelfth year Jonas learns he is to be the next Giver. Jonas must incorporate societal memories, pains and fears and decide not only how to cope with them, but how to act for betterment of his culture.
Arnold Spirit, Jr., from The Absolutely True Story of a Part Time Indian by Sherman Alexie is a bright, motivated, budding cartoonist living on his impoverished reservation. His high school teacher encourages him to go to an off-reservation all-white school in the nearby town. Arnold must deal with racism (both from his reservation friends and his peers in his new school), poverty and how to follow his own path while keeping and following his family's traditions. (Grades 5+)
Johnny from Esther Forbes' Johnny Tremain is a budding silversmith apprentice in Colonial Boston when he suffers a debilitating accident. He tries to find his way in a series of odd jobs and finds himself by a twist of fate, working for The Observer, a Whig publication. As Johnny grows in strength and character he must wrestle with his fate and with his personal and political beliefs. On the way he meets and interacts with historical leaders including Samuel Adams, John Hancock, Doctor Joseph Warren, Paul Revere, James Otis, Jr., Governor Thomas Hutchinson, Thomas Gage, John Pitcairn, Francis Smith and Josiah Quincy II (lawyer and member of the Sons of Liberty). It is a powerful journey in history and of self-discovery. (Grades 5+)
Billie Jo from Out of the Dust by Karen Hesse lives with her mother and father who are struggling to keep their Oklahoma farm during the Dust Bowl years. After two tragic accidents, Billie Jo's remote father becomes unreachable and she must struggle to keep up the farm while learning to rehabilitate herself after a debilitating accident. This story is told completely in free verse and is an absolute gem. Billie Jo is a real, incredibly strong young woman who faces life's hardships with as much grace and courage her pre-teen years can give her. (Grades 4+)
Resistance (and the sequel Defiance) by Carla Jablonski and Leland Purvis are growing in World War II France as the Germans have just occupied it. Not only do they have to struggle for food and survival in war-torn France, they are faced with the dilemma of how to help their best friend Henri (a Jew) and whether to help the Germans, try to survive by being indifferent, or whether to join the Resistance forces and help as much as two young teens can. (Grades 4+)
Zita from Zita the Spacegirl by Ben Hatke. When her friend Joseph is reluctant to touch a "button" they found in a field, Zita just cant resist. The button, however, zaps Joseph into a black hole that whisks him off to another world. Zita, determined to find and return Joseph leaps to his rescue to find herself chasing his trail through a strange planet with humanoid chickens, neurotic robots and sweet-talking con-men. Before long the aliens and ancient prophecies don't seem to phase her. Zita scrambles to save her friend the the new world she finds herself in. Here is a link to Ben Hatke's web pages for more characters and glimpses at Zita. (Grades 2+)
Jack Long from The Silence of Our Friends by Mark Long, Jim Demonakos, and Nate Powell. Jack is a white male reporter living in Texas during the Civil Rights Movement who must make career and life choices while trying to do the 'right' thing. It is a powerful story about the pull of friendship and commitment to family values. It is based on a true story of Civil Rights Movement in 1967 Texas. (Grades 5+)
Amelia from Amelia Rules by Jimmy Gownley. Amelia McBride has to adjust to life in a new town after her parents' divorce. She and her new friends face adolescence, bullies, gym class, cheerleaders, clubs, cliques, and many other knocks life seems to hand them. Amelia has spunk and character which in times of stress are eased by her super-coo, famous aunt. Amelia and her friends are real life characters with real life problems and Jimmy Gownley tells their story with grace and humor. These are super-read books for kids of all ages.
Here is the trailer that introduces Amelia and her super-hero (almost, kinda') friends:
Barbara from I Kill Giants by Joe Kelly. Barbara is a fifth grader who tells anyone who will listen that she kills giants. Initially we're uncertain if she really kills giants, or lives in a world of her own out of touch with others, or if this is one giant metaphor for her having to face huge scary issues in her life. And, while I won't ruin this powerfully told story, Barbara is an awesome fifth grader who while uncertain about herself and her physical or mental strength, faces social and personal issues valiantly. (Recommended for Grade 5 +)
Be they cartoon, fictional, historical, or real people, heroes are truly inspirational and should have a regular place in your and your children's lives. Heroes and superheroes are important - for all of us not only to learn from, but to aspire to become. I hope you check out and enjoy my choices.
Here it is one more time (The Daly Show - Episode 7 -with Nathan Fillion - I just can't seem to get enough of this)... because... some superheroes just don't die (especially the geeky kinds)...nor should they:
Please share your heroes with us in the comment, and have a great week!