Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Superman Versus the Ku Klux Klan Review

Book talk: Today Superman is best known for battling Lex Luthor, General Zod, and other super villains.  But before Superman came to stand for "Truth, Justice, and the American Way" he was known as the "Champion of the Oppressed"and he regularly battled dictators, terrorists, and spies.   In the summer of 1946 the Man of Steel even took on the Ku Klux Klan.  Attacking the infamous organization was a dangerous affair for the creators of the show, and it that required careful planning.  Intelligence was gathered from actual spies who had infiltrated the organization so that the details would be accurate.  This is the true story of two outcast kids who grew up to create an iconic American hero, an activist and spy who wasn't afraid to fight for what he believed in, an infamous organization that used hate-filled rhetoric to feed its greed, and an alien separated from his own people who uses his powers to defend the powerless.

Rocks my socks:  This book was a quick and easy read yet  it contained a trove of interesting information and skillfully balanced multiple threads.  In the spirit of full disclosure I've always been a Batman girl myself, but I was pleasantly surprised to learn about Superman's early role as champion of the oppressed before he turned into the purveyor of the American Way that I'm accustomed to thinking of him as.  I enjoyed reading about the real-life people associated with the character as well, including his creators.  I found the part detailing how the influence of their Jewish faith can be seen in Superman particularly fascinating.  Another narrative thread followed Stetson Kennedy who was friends with Woody Guthrie and infiltrated the KKK.  As an educator I found the section detailing how the radio program revolutionized educational programming compelling.  Bowers doesn't shy away from talking about the history of the KKK either and he makes a good point about how avoiding the subject can add mystery to it and make it more attractive.  By detailing how the organization used this incredibly harmful rhetoric to fill their coffers he helps readers recognize how other organizations use these same techniques and teaches them to be skeptical of anyone promoting hate for profit.

Rocks in my socks: There were so many interesting threads and I wished there was more time spent on each of them.  Still, I suppose I shouldn't complain that a book left me wanting to read more.

Every book its reader: This has a little something for everyone and is so informative and quick to read that there's little excuse not to read it.  Naturally it has some appeal for superhero comic fans, but a love or even knowledge of superhero comics isn't necessary to enjoy the book.  I've never read a superman comic and I loved it.  Stetson Kennedy was a folklorist as well as a spy and his connections to Woody Guthrie should be enough to sell those with an interest in folklore and grassroots activism.  The creators represent a classic outsider storyline that is easy for most people to relate to, and anyone interested in American history would certainly enjoy this well-researched book.  It does deal with some intense issues and doesn't pull any punches so I wouldn't give it to young children, but it is something that I think is important for students to learn about.  It depends on the maturity of the child naturally but I wouldn't hesitate giving it to middle schoolers.


You can listen to the radio series at the heart of this book on YouTube.

You can also listen to the song Woody Guthrie wrote about Stetson Kennedy.

You can easily find interviews with the author online.

Source: School Library

Superman Versus the Ku Klux Klan by Rick Bowers

Buy it or check it out today!

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