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Big Picture
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The Bulletin
of the Center for Children's Books

The Big Picture, a regular Bulletin feature both on-line and off, is an in-depth look at selected new titles and trends. See the archive for selections from previous months.

Dan Danko and Tom Mason; illus. by Barry Gott. Sidekicks.
Little, 2003 97p
Trade ed. ISBN 0-316-16845-9 $10.95
Paper ed. ISBN 0-316-16844-0 $4.99
Gr. 3-7

Thirteen-year-old Guy Martin wants to be a superhero (as his sidekick name of Speedy suggests, he’s now the fastest person alive, beating out the former Fastest Man Alive Man), but right now he’s serving his apprenticeship as a sidekick to Pumpkin Pete, hanging out in the Sidekick Clubhouse and waiting for the call to aid the League of Big Justice in the fight against evil. After three weeks, however, he’s finding that he’s mostly aiding them in the fight against household and personal untidiness as he listens to the complaints of his fellow sidekicks (“That’s what I was thinking. Smash evil and be popular. I had no idea I’d be doing laundry and listening to people whine all the time”), and he’s getting a bit restless. He’s got more than soapsuds on his hands soon enough, though, when the League of Big Justice Headquarters of Big Justice (there’s a lot of redundancy in good) is blown up by the Brotherhood of Rottenness, and the League members—from King Justice to Captain Haggis, the Librarian to Ms. Mime—have been captured by the Brotherhood. Sidekicking being something less than a rigorously screened calling (Spelling Beatrice has “been a sidekick for almost three years, but what she really wants to do is act”), it’s a rather motley and disunited crew that’s left to save the abducted superheroes and foil Rottenness’ plan. Fortunately, Guy’s stalwart efforts are rewarded (and his noble willingness to sacrifice himself proven superfluous), and the world is saved (except for Ohio, whose inhabitants were unfortunately all turned into puppets).

Pastiche is nothing new in children’s literature these days, but let’s face it—it’s a hard genre to sustain for the length of a novel. Sidekicks pulls off that difficult task, with lull-free pacing and relentless humor that makes this suitable as a readaloud or an enticement for reluctant readers (an easygoing format, topped by Gott’s slickly comic black-and-white chapter headpieces, keeps the look unthreatening but sophisticated) as well as kids just looking for an enjoyable literary romp. Danko and Mason evince the unflagging energy of The Naked Gun’s Zuckers and Abraham—or, rather, an energy that is funny even when it flags, as when the chapter titles career off into commentary (“Chapter Seven: These Chapter Titles Make No Sense”; “Chapter Nine: The Ninth Chapter”); another obvious forerunner here is the loving mockery of Get Smart or, more recently, The Tick. Here also is that same blend of genuine intelligence and lovable dorkiness (a mixture likely to be found in this book’s readers as well). On the intelligence side, it’s got a collection of quips larger than a superhero’s tights wardrobe and a viewpoint of the proceedings that’s comfortably cynical (“There isn’t much science to being a superhero sidekick. You have to have a legal waiver from your parent or guardian unless you’re eighteen. Ever since that ugly court battle with UnderAge Albert and the child labor laws, it’s just plain impossible to become a sidekick without a bundle of legal paperwork”); what’s more, it even keeps touch with the actual, if somewhat peripheral, plot throughout. On the other hand, the authors are smart enough to understand that elevation can be the enemy of enjoyment: the book understands the importance of cheap laughs (there’s a villain, Le Poop, whose powers are ferocious bodily odors, so that when he unleashes his particular variety of gas attack “Spice Girl fell before its stinky awesomeness”), and it’s also got an endless supply of dumb jokes about various lame superhero/sidekick names (Bar-of-Soap Boy “had to move someplace where it didn’t rain so much”).

Underneath the scoffing and the goofing, however, is some real, if still humorous, heart. The book nicely plays Guy’s daily life at school and home against his other existence (his parents insist on secrecy about his superpowers, saying “We don’t want some supervillain blowing up our house because you foiled his plan to rule the world, young man”), and his longing to display his secret brilliance in order to impress the beauteous Prudence Cane will ring true with every kid, sidekick or not, who’s yearned for the object of his affection to have her eyes opened to his true worth. Guy’s loving mom provides him and another sidekick with a ride to the Brotherhood of Rottenness (after seeing her son and his colleague safely belted into the seats of the family Oldsmobile, she warmly demonstrates herself as an in-touch parent by informing Exact Change Kid that “Guy tells me you throw pennies”), and in fact she’s still patiently waiting in the parking lot for her son at the end of the book. Amid all the jokes about the embarrassing aspects of superheroism is genuine appreciation of the phenomenon of bravery, fictional or real: “And maybe that’s what really makes them heroes—because they’re not perfect or superhuman; because they bleed and break like everyone else; because they might die, but they still rush into danger.” And whether they admit it or not, that’s what draws a lot of would-be sidekicks, who’ll be gratified that the book truly appreciates their pleasures. (Imprint information appears on p. 56.)

Deborah Stevenson, Editor

Big Picture Image

Cover illustration by Barry Gott from Sidekicks ©2003. Used by permission of Little, Brown and Company.

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This page was last updated on October 1, 2003.