SidekicksSidekicks, by Dan Santat
Published by Scholastic
ISBN: 9780-4-3929-819-3

Ashamed as I am to admit this, I must say that the word "sidekick" alone has always made me think very narrowly, only of Batman's Robin. In my mind, Robin is the best sidekick of comic book lore. Loyal, trustworthy, an apprentice in training - or a student determined to master his trade - Robin has always been driven by respect and passion, two ingredients that make for the perfect student-teacher relationship.

Today, however, Batman's Robin has some serious competition, and I am both surprised and horrified at myself for not thinking about the character of a "sidekick" any differently until now. Being a pet lover who treats my dogs like children, I myself have two sidekicks, which Webster's Dictionary refers to as "assistants" or "helpers." The most respectful (if you don't count the tendency to bark too much) and passionate sidekicks on the planet, both of my dogs are destined to become superheroes. Making a sad day happy, a discouraging day promising, or a frustrating day exhilarating, both dogs intuitively come to the rescue.

With a humble bow and a "thank you" to Dan Santat's Sidekicks teachers, librarians, and students can also broaden their understanding, familiarity, and schema about "sidekicks." Focused on a story within a story, Santat's Sidekicks moves readers away from a traditional focus on a superhero who alone saves the day. "Let's face it," Captain Amazing's character seems to tell himself, "I am getting older and need a sidekick. In fact, I think I should hold some auditions."

When they overhear news of Captain Amazing's sidekick auditions his pet dog, hamster, and chameleon each decide that they are the loyal and courageous pet-sidekick for the job. But there's a problem. A superhero's work is never done and Captain Amazing has been too busy saving the world each and every day. As a result, he hasn't been able to pay too much attention to his pets; he's been busy saving the world.

With each pet determined to prove that his or her superhero sidekick powers are just what Captain Amazing is looking for, some household, family drama ensues. But battling each other is not what the Captain needs, for Dr. Havoc has returned to town, and Captain Amazing needs the help of each of his sidekick companions. Can they team up? Will Captain Amazing realize just how valuable they are as a superhero team? Or should he just hang up the cape?

Sidekicks puts an entirely new spin on not only what makes a superhero, but also what makes a superhero team.

English Language Arts Elements of Story

Plot: Captain Amazing needs a sidekick, and, unbeknown to him, his very best friends - his pets - have developed superhero powers

Setting: Captain Amazing's home, Metro City

Major Characters: Captain Amazing (aka, Harrison "Harry" Blake), Dr. Havoc, Roscoe ("Metal Mutt"), Shifty ("The Chameleon"), Fluffy, The Claw ("Manny" or "Static Cat"), Wonder Man, Nummers

Themes: Family, Friendship, Loyalty, Trust, Good and Evil

Traditional and Contemporary Literary Pairing Suggestions: Animal Farm by George Orwell, The Little Mermaid by Hans Christian Andersen, Black Beauty by Anna Sewell, The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton, The Jungle Book by Rudyard Kipling, Peter Pan by J.M. Barrie, The Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum, Garfield by Jim Davis, Calvin and Hobbes by Bill Watterson, Peanuts by Charles M. Schulz, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen by Alan Moore, Fantastic Four by Stan Lee

Teaching Recommendations For Middle School Readers

Suggested Alignment to the IRA /NCTE Standard(s):*

- standard #s correspond to the numbers used by IRA/NCTE

1. Students read a wide range of print and nonprint texts to build an understanding of texts, of themselves, and of the cultures of the United States and the world; to acquire new information; to respond to the needs and demands of society and the workplace; and for personal fulfillment. Among these texts are fiction and nonfiction, classic and contemporary works.

2. Students read a wide range of literature from many periods in many genres to build an understanding of the many dimensions (e.g., philosophical, ethical, aesthetic) of human experience.

3. Students apply a wide range of strategies to comprehend, interpret, evaluate and appreciate texts.

Suggested Reading Lesson Plan

Santat's Sidekicks easily lends itself to a reading comprehension lesson plan focused on characterization. Structured as a stations activity, teachers and librarians can post character stations around the room; using large poster board or paper each station should have one of the character's names on it. Each station should also provide students with various writing utensils.

Following up on each night's reading assignment, students should be asked to visit each station and spend from 5 - 10 minutes recording what they know about that character, at that point in the story. Over several class periods, students will have created a running log of each character's traits.

For assessment, teachers and librarians can ask students to discuss and explain what they wrote about each character and why.

The following list outlines the main characters students should be asked to think about from station to station: Captain Amazing (aka, Harrison "Harry" Blake), Dr. Havoc, Roscoe ("Metal Mutt"), Shifty ("The Chameleon"), Fluffy, The Claw ("Manny" or "Static Cat"), Wonder Man, Nummers.

Katie Monnin, PhD, is an assistant professor of literacy at the University of North Florida and author of Teaching Graphic Novels: Practical Strategies for the Secondary ELA Classroom (2010) from Maupin House. To learn more about Teaching Graphic Novels or Katie Monnin, please go to this link: http://www.maupinhouse.com/monnin.php.