When I found out that a friend of mine was writing and illustrating a children's book series, of course I had to get my hands on a copy. This week, I thought I'd share a little about that book, "Super Sophia: You Can't Handle the Tooth," and the author, Mike Mabrey.
Mike and I have known each other for years, since we both made brief attempts at going to college in Carbondale in the late '90s. Remarkably, we found that we had even grown up in the same area of Southern Illinois -- myself in a tiny town near Carmi and Mike in a tiny town near Albion. Mike's a gifted artist who now lives in Florida but sometimes makes it back to Illinois when roaming the country; you'll most likely find him at a booth in a comic convention's artist alley.
Mike got the idea to write the Super Sophia series from the main character's namesake -- his daughter Sophia. He says that by the time she was a year-and-a-half old, she had created her own superhero, complete with a costume she constructed, and would run around the house "beating up bad guys."
After writing and illustrating the book, he convinced DC Comics and Heavy Metal magazine artist Simon Bisley to illustrate the cover -- Bisley's first children's book cover -- and printed it at a local print shop after raising the funds needed to print it on a Kickstarter campaign.
The book series will star child superhero Super Sophia battling "beasties" and "monsters" with a themed lesson. This particular book sees Super Sophia taking on Ginger Vitus, a giant monstrous girl with green teeth and foul breath.
I thought that the book was funny and quirky, with a memorable rhyming pattern and cute turns of phrase that gave me a chuckle. However, since I'm fairly sure I'm well above the target age range, I passed the book around to some friends with children to get their opinions.
My first test readers, brothers ages 7 and 8, are really into zombies, according to their mom, so they were excited that Super Sophia fought a giant monster. They thought it was funny, and liked the ending. They didn't understand at first that it was about taking care of your teeth but thought that it told a really good story about not being a bully -- which may not have been the intended main lesson but shows they're thinking about what the story has to say about real life.
My next set of test readers, also siblings, are an 11-year-old girl and 6-year-old boy. The girl thought that the book might have been for just under her age range, but she still really enjoyed it. She said it made her feel guilty about not doing a better job of brushing her teeth. The boy asked a lot of questions at the beginning of the story, but his dad said he got really into it a few pages in and listened quietly. After the story was done, he said he thinks he needs to brush his teeth better.
The third set of readers, a 9-year-old boy and a 6-year-old girl, were split. The boy liked that our heroine had superpowers, and said that it reminded him to brush his teeth every day. The girl didn't quite understand what the book was about, but she thought that the beast was gross but kind of cool.
My takeaway? Six or 7 seems to be about the cutoff age between those kids who understood the moral of the story and those who didn't. Perhaps most importantly: Boys and girls of all ages think that gross monsters are cool.
Aside from his superhero daughter as inspiration, Mike told me he wanted to write stories with lessons for kids (brush your teeth, don't litter, etc.) but without taking a condescending tone. He wanted to give them a whimsical feeling without being too serious about the message. I would say that he succeeded; this book gets kids to think about the right thing to do without preaching or lecturing at them.
If you're interested in snagging a copy of this book, currently the only way to get it is by contacting Mike to purchase it. It's $15 plus shipping, and he can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or www.facebook.com/mikemabreyartist. (Added bonus surprise: Most copies are autographed by Sophia herself!) He plans to release the next book in the series in March.