Join 13-year-old Jessie as she keeps a diary of her class’s yearlong research project on superheroes, which culminates in the Superhero Slam: a head-to-head debate battle! It’s shy, comics-obsessed Jessie’s dream come true . . . and worst nightmare. She decides to champion Batgirl, a regular person (albeit with major talent and training under her utility belt), and soon Jessie wonders what it would take to be Batgirl. Will she prove to her best friends, Cade and Audrey, that she’s more than a sidekick? Can she take down archenemy Dylan at the Slam?
Combining science facts, lively illustrations, and comic-book trivia with actual correspondence from superhumans such as NYPD Sergeant Mike Bruen, Olympian Clara Hughes, and Captain Marvel writer Kelly Sue DeConnick, Project Superhero is a celebration of the heroes among us and of one girl’s super-secret identity: herself.
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About the Author
Read an Excerpt
By E. Paul Zehr, Kris Pearn, Patricia Ocampo
ECW PRESSCopyright © 2014 E. Paul Zehr
All rights reserved.
MONDAY, SEPTEMBER 8
The first day of my diary.
Or first entry. Or whatever.
Grade 8 is already crazier than I imagined it would be. That's why I started this diary — to keep track of all the craziness. But I think it's going to be fun. I really like writing: it's like thinking out loud but in a quiet way. I think maybe I'll be an author or a journalist when I get older. Or maybe a scientist. Something where I can ask questions and get answers!
But of all the questions I have, my main one is this: why are all the homework assignments and projects coming up already? Didn't the teachers get the memo that it's still only the first week of school?
I wish we were kind of "easing into" the year. Maybe gradually introduce some homework as we go along. Like, say, after Halloween or perhaps even later. I'm very flexible on the "later," just as long as it IS later. It could be as late as March break.
Lots of questions are being asked, and asked too soon, in my humble opinion. (Which I guess isn't all that humble, since I think I'm right.) But seriously, this early into the year should we really have expected questions like, "Who are you anyway?" and "Who do you want to be?"
Here's an example from Socials today. Which again, just in case it was unclear, was day 1 of grade 8.
Ms. King, my friendly neighborhood homeroom supervisor and Socials teacher, was giving us some "food for thought" (her words).
"This year we are going to explore what it means to be a hero. What characteristics do heroes have? What does it take to be a hero? Are heroes born, or are they made? What's the difference between a hero and superhero? And why is our culture so interested in superheroes?"
To which I shot up my hand and answered, "Um ... obviously because superheroes are way cool!" I didn't say that actually, and I didn't shoot up my hand. I just thought about doing it.
I was so busy thinking about what I might have said that I almost missed the big announcement.
The big thing is this:
WE ARE DOING A PROJECT ABOUT SUPERHEROES!
She called it the "Superhero Slam"! And guess who's into superheroes and superhero comics — me! How awesome is grade 8 going to be? Really awesome ... except for all the homework.
Ms. King went on for quite some time. She was in that teacher-on-a-roll mode. She's pretty great so far, and I actually like her. But I had gone off daydreaming about superheroes. I've read just about every superhero comic book and seen all the movies. But I've never really thought about why I like them in the first place. And why they might be important.
I started to think about superheroes in a new way. Like I always wondered if Spider-Man would have still been a hero without his Spidey sense. And although I think he's a great character, is Batman really a superhero? He doesn't actually have any superpowers. I guess I'll get a chance to look into this in detail because we all have to choose a superhero and then argue that our superhero is the best! Cool!
Ms. King promised to tell us more about the project tomorrow.
I was still super excited when I walked home from the bus stop with my little sister, Shay. But I didn't call her "little sister" today. I wanted to walk home in peace. And in one piece. We go to different schools but we sometimes wind up on the same bus.
After we got home, we both went to our rooms and closed our doors for homework time. Not sure why we close the doors all the time, but we get our own space that way, I guess! Since nobody else was home, we got along fine. We try to save our sisterly fights for an appreciative audience.
That's not to say Shay didn't try to provoke me. I finally told her about the Superhero Slam and how excited I was. All she did was give me that look that sisters give sisters when they are trying to annoy them and kind of mumbled "whatever." Today I was in such a good mood I just ignored her. Then when Mom and Dad both got home from work, I didn't want to waste any time on fighting with Shay.
I was so eager to tell my parents about the Superhero Slam that I almost couldn't talk when I went running into the kitchen to give them the lowdown.
Me: "Mom, Dad!
School was awesome today. We have a big project that is all about superheroes. It's called the Superhero-Slam. I cannot believe it. Superheroes are my thing. How cool is that?!"
Dad: "Um. What did you say?"
Mom: "Did you say something about superheroes?"
Dad: "And slamming something?"
Me (after taking a big breath and sitting down): "OK. Mom. Dad. School was awesome today. We have a big project that is all about superheroes! It's called the Superhero Slam. I cannot believe it! Superheroes are my thing! How cool is that!"
While I was getting that all out, I couldn't help noticing Shay — Little Miss Whatever — peeking around the corner listening in and looking very interested.
After hearing me ramble on a bit more, Mom and Dad suggested I try to organize my thoughts somehow. Dad said this diary would be a good place to write down my plan and what might be needed to get things done. Since he's a writer and I think I got the "details gene" from him, this seems like a good idea! Mom said she could help me with anything science-y that I need. Helps to have a physiology professor for a mom!
This whole plan is right up my alley! It's also good practice for trying out the whole journalist thing. When I think about it, lots of superhero stories and superhero alter egos involve reporters and writers.
Clark Kent is a journalist when he isn't busy being Superman. Or even when he is, really. And, with Spider-Man, Peter Parker isn't a journalist exactly, but he does take pictures that writers use in theirDAILY BUGLE stories.
I just finished reading this cool story arc in DAREDEVIL: END OF DAYS where Ben Urich, a writer for the DAILY BUGLE, riffs on some classic SPIDER-MAN.
Ben is talking to his son. When his son says, "You're a reporter," Ben replies, "A journalist. There is a lot of power in that. I write something about someone ... those words have power ... with that power comes a lot of ... of ... of ..." and then his son chimes in with "responsibility."
Classic SPIDER-MAN: "With great power comes great responsibility."
Like I said, I'm pretty sure I want to be a writer or journalist. Being a journalist means having lots of power, since you can influence people's opinions with what you report, and that comes with responsibility too, for sure, which seems so cool. But the biggest reason I want to be a journalist is I really like listening to people's stories. (Probably that's why I loved to listen to Gramma so much! She told stories like no one else.)
The tricky part for me is you have to ask questions as a journalist in order to get the stories. And I'm kind of scared to talk to people a lot of the time. What this journalist needs to figure out is how do I go about getting all the skills and abilities of a real superhero?
WEDNESDAY, SEPTEMBER 10
Today Ms. King said that in addition to her grading the Superhero Slam projects, we will also have a bonus mark component. The bonus marks will come from how well we can include work from our other classes — she specifically pointed out Science — in our Superhero Slam.
My heart soared at the thought of getting bonus marks for reading comics! And being able to work on this project across a bunch of different classes. Then my heart plummeted when Ms. King made a very startling announcement ... I was surprised and by the looks of my classmates, they were too. But in hindsight we shouldn't have been because the name says it all: a "slam" is a competition. All of us were too excited about choosing superheroes to think about the competition part. But just like in every comic, there has to be a challenge, and this one's mondo. We will have a debating tournament that pits each of our superheroes against each other!
A debating tournament means talking in front of everyone — the whole class!
Great!? My excitement is definitely down a notch. I am not a big fan of talking or presenting in front of people. Maybe I can be an invisible superhero and talk from outside the room.
Ms. King said she wants us to really think about making a difference in the world. She wants us to use superheroes because she calls them "modern-day mythologies of heroes."
In the written part of our Superhero Slam projects, Ms. King told us we are supposed to:
* Define what a hero is and why our society created superheroes.
* Choose a superhero and explain the superpowers that define that hero.
* Explain why we'd like to be that superhero or have those powers.
* Decide what we would do to make the world a better place using that power. Would it be all good? Is there a downside to being a superhero?
I wrote down exactly what Ms. King said about the project so I could include it here: "Since we're using a tournament format, your grade on the Superhero Slam will be based on how well you do in debates against your classmates. For each round of the competition you will have two minutes to explain why your superhero is great and how she or he can help the world. You will each then have one more minute to explain how your superhero beats the other superhero on one of eight superhero categories. You will have to do a lot of research and thinking because you will randomly draw a card with one of the categories on it. You must always expect the unexpected!"
Here are the categories, or, as I like to call them "The Superhero Slam Great 8":
* Wisdom and experience
* Physical strength and agility
* Perseverance and determination
* Critical thinking
My head was swirling from all this. Can we say "project made for Jessie"? That wasn't the only exciting news of the day. Ms. King got everyone's attention when she said, "To help kick off our projects on heroes, a friend of mine is coming by on Thursday when we'll be talking about September 11, 2001. Mike is a retired sergeant in the New York City Police Department. He was at Ground Zero that day when the Twin Towers fell in Manhattan. He has quite a story to tell us about his life and experiences. He is going to help provide some 'inspiration for the perspiration' you will put into your projects!"
Ms. King explained that those September 11 attacks were a series of four coordinated terrorist attacks. The terrorists hijacked the planes and then used them as bombs to fly into buildings. Two of the jets crashed into the World Trade Center in New York City, one was going to the White House in Washington but crashed on the way, and one slammed into the Pentagon in Washington. Very scary.
To meet someone who was really at such an event (and did something to help) will be really amazing.
While I was thinking about what it will be like to meet this police guy (one thing it means is less homework that night because special guests always mean lots of talk and very little homework), I was sort of zoning out — and starting to obsess a little bit about the debate.
Suddenly I heard, "Jessie, is there a hero in there somewhere?" Ms. King was, of course, standing right in front of my desk and looking down at me. She definitely looked friendly, but still it freaked me out. I did that jerky-yikes thing you do when somebody sort of sneaks up on you and you had no idea they were there.
Or like when I fall asleep sometimes. Maybe I was dozing off, but not on purpose. This back-to-school thing means getting up REALLY EARLY again. And it's messing with my schedule. Where is the 10 a.m. start time I requested?
Ms. King smiled at me and continued, "Do you think you have what it takes? Do you think you know what a hero is?"
Now, in case it isn't clear already from the daydreaming and the not-putting-up-my- hand, I don't like to talk much in class. I'm pretty shy in bigger groups. So the best I managed when I regained my senses was to stammer out an "Er, um." Of course, later, like now when it doesn't help, I have an answer: "What is a real hero anyway? How should I know? I'm in grade 8!"
But I didn't say that in class and managed only to quickly add, "Uh ... heroes do ... heroic things, I guess ... err, when you need them to ... do stuff?"
UGH! SO. EMBARRASSING.
But I guess heroes would be able to tackle heavy questions, even with sleepy brains. We're having an assembly this week all about heroes and heroic actions on 9/11 and after. It got us all thinking. And it got me thinking more and more about superheroes.
Cade — my best guy friend — is really excited by the whole idea of heroes. He likes to play the hero, and he's done some pretty heroic stuff on the basketball court and in the pool for our school teams. Along with Audrey — my best girl friend — the three of us generally hang out together after class and sit near each other in class.
Or try to.
We often get separated so we don't get too goofy. It's not like we're troublemakers like Dylan — my NOT best guy friend — we just make each other laugh and giggle a lot.
Actually Cade and Audrey do and say most of the stuff that's funny and I do most of the giggling. But we all wind up viewing the class from different seats.
Which might not be such a bad thing this year. Superhero Slam sounds awesome, but it's also going to be a lot of work.
Good thing a lot of that work will include reading comic books and thinking about superheroes!
THURSDAY, SEPTEMBER 11
It's been a long time since September 11, 2001, but all the news coverage still seems so creepy. Lots of images on TV and online today about 9/11. Pretty freaky. And we had that special visitor friend of Ms. King.
This guy was an incredible speaker. His name is Mike Bruen and he was a sergeant — he's retired now — in the New York City Police Department.
So he was pretty important and saw a lot of crazy stuff. Wow, the stuff he saw and did. He was, like, right there at Ground Zero. Lots of dust and smoke made it hard to see and to breathe even.
Ms. King asked Mike a bunch of questions, so we could learn about his experiences. He was so amazing that I wrote a lot of what he said down even though we didn't have to take notes.
Ms. King: "Did 9/11 seem real to you when it was happening? You were actually there. But every time we all look at videos and TV shows about it each year, it just seems like we're watching a movie or something that's just not real."
Mike Bruen: "That's some question ... did 9/11 seem real to me? Well, let me tell you kids, it was so real — it was overwhelming. You looked up and around at places that you have seen a million times and they were just ... gone.
"People around me were walking around in shock. At times like these, you have to be careful to not take in too much. I forgot all about tomorrow or next week and just thought about now. And how I was going to deal with the next few minutes or how I could take the next few steps.
"I tried to make each step a focused step because, the truth is, I realized they could be my last. Sorry! I've gotten pretty serious here — but you did ask, right?
"I tried to think for the people who couldn't. Because they were in shock and scared. That kind of thing is something I saw a lot in my career as a police officer. It gets easier to do with practice.
"People who depend on you kind of feed your ability to take charge. And the cool thing is they somehow become more confident because of your confidence.
"So I just focused on the tasks at hand — the little things, the little steps that I saw in front of me. That's how I did it.
"Occasionally, me and my friends, when time allowed, we lifted our heads to look at the big picture. And it was unbelievable. You cannot understand the level of destruction.
"About a week or so later, my group of detectives in the NYPD left the hole (or kind of a pile) that used to be the World Trade Center and spent 12 hours at the Staten Island dump sifting through wreckage and remains.
"We did a hundred-yard field at a time. Standing shoulder to shoulder with other officers, looking for something we could recognize as anything but pulverized rubble.
"After a few passes, we found nothing. So I got my line together and said, 'The first person who finds anything recognizable of any life being present, bring it to me.'
"About six hours later, the line was stopped by a detective. As he came towards me, he held up a green and white highlighter pen. This image remains seared into my memory. This was the first thing that showed us we weren't on the barren landscape of another planet. This was the only thing remotely human we found.
"That is devastation."
Before he came into our class, Ms. King had showed us a couple of news videos and summaries of what happened. Almost 3,000 people died in this tragedy. It is hard to even understand what that number means.
And to hear from somebody who was actually there and trying to help everyone was pretty mind-blowing. Mike said it was total mayhem with dust everywhere and people going every which way. The police and fire service people weren't just going every which way. They were all going to the World Trade Center.
Excerpted from Project Superhero by E. Paul Zehr, Kris Pearn, Patricia Ocampo. Copyright © 2014 E. Paul Zehr. Excerpted by permission of ECW PRESS.
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