Lesson of the Day: ‘Kids Need Superheroes Now More Than Ever’

Lesson of the Day: ‘Kids Need Superheroes Now More Than Ever’

Students in U.S. high schools can get free digital access to The New York Times until Sept. 2021.

Featured Article: “Kids Need Superheroes Now More Than Ever” by Megan Margulies

In the featured article, Megan Margulies, granddaughter of the creator of Captain America, writes about how comic books and “magical thinking” can help children get through hard times.

In this lesson, you will learn more about the origin of Captain America and the power of comic books to offer relief, escape and hope during difficult times. In a Going Further activity, you will create your own superhero to help kids get through the pandemic.

Are you a fan of superheroes? Do you have a favorite?

Take a few minutes to write about a superhero that has made a lasting impression on you: What are the qualities that draw you to them? Is it their costume? Their superpowers? Their personality? Their origin story? The villains they fight?

If you aren’t a big fan of comics and superheroes, tell us why. What kinds of characters and stories are you drawn to instead?

Afterward, share your writing with a partner or the whole class and discuss the similarities and differences in the characteristics of your superhero choices.

Read the article, then answer the following questions:

1. How did Captain America help the author’s 4-year-old daughter join her preschool class on Zoom? What is her family’s connection to the famed red, white and blue costumed fictional character?

2. What is the story behind the creation of Captain America over 80 years ago? What was happening in the world at that time — and how was the shield-wielding character a response to those circumstances?

3. What is a talisman? How has one helped Ms. Margulies throughout her life? Have you ever had your own talisman?

4. Why does the author believe that superheroes can help provide children with comfort and strength through the pandemic? What evidence does she give? Does her argument resonate with your own life or current experiences?

5. What criticisms have comic books and superheroes faced over the years? How persuasive do you find these critiques? How does Ms. Margulies counter these arguments?

6. What is your reaction to the article? Which lines or ideas were most surprising, memorable or provocative? Does the article change your views on comic books and their positive role for readers — especially young children? Tell us why or why not.

Option 1: Share your thoughts.

  • The pandemic has upended our lives in ways that would have been unimaginable one year ago. How are you coping? What things are helping you to get through these tough times? Are you exercising? Baking? Meditating? Journaling? Tell us what you are doing to cope.

  • What role have comics or superheroes played in your life? What life lessons, if any, have you ever learned from a comic book or superhero?

  • After reading the article, do you think you might use a talisman, superhero or some form of magical thinking to help you now? If so, tell us how.

  • What advice or activities would you recommend to others who are struggling through these tough times? What lessons or resources, if any, have you discovered during the pandemic that might provide other students hope, strength or a beacon of light?

If you are interested in exploring your thoughts about life during the pandemic further, you can read and comment on our related Civil Conversation Challenge forum on the coronavirus.

Option 2: Create an original superhero.

Create an original superhero to help readers through the pandemic — including with a name, costume and of course, a superpower!

Your superhero can be a fairly literal take on the pandemic: Vaccine Man fights the Germ-Meister, or the masked Social Distance Woman tackles the dreaded Zoom Robot … (OK, we know you can do much better!). Or, you can create a metaphorical or allegorical story of fear or hope or resilience or quarantine, the way that Joe Simon and Jack Kirby created Captain America to make “little Jewish kids around the world feel safer in light of the rise of Nazism.”

Before you brainstorm ideas, consider the specific struggles children and teenagers might be dealing with. What kinds of talismans or special powers do you wish you had? Keep in mind some of the concepts you learned in the article, like “magical thinking” and “The Batman Effect.”

You can find some helpful general tips for creating a superhero here, or for coming up with specific aspects like: name, costume, superpower and origin story.

After your brainstorm, sketch and color your comic with paper and pen, or use an online tool like MakeBeliefsComix.com.

When you are done, share and celebrate your superhero and comic book with your class.

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