Monday, October 1, 2012

Nonfiction Monday: Superman Versus the Ku Klux Klan

Nonfiction Monday is a weekly meme in the Kidlitosphere that invites bloggers to read and review a nonfiction book on Monday as a way to promote high-quality nonfiction titles.  Each week, a different blogger "hosts" Nonfiction Monday and provides a roundup of all the posts.

Superman Versus the Ku Klux Klan: The True Story of How the Iconic Superhero Battled the Men of Hate by Rick Bowers

 "Faster than a speeding bullet. More powerful than a locomotive.  Able to leap tall buildings in a single bound...It's a bird! It's a plane! It's Superman!" So went the introduction to the Superman Radio Show, which debuted in 1947 and featured the Man of Steel taking on villains from crooked politicians to the hooded Ku Klux Klan.  Born of the geeky genius of Jewish teenagers Jerry Siegel and his friend Joe Shuster, Superman went from his debut as an all-powerful alien from another planet in 1933 to comic book hero.  In alternating chapters, Superman Versus the Ku Klux Klan traces the evolution of Superman alongside the evolution of the nation's largest and most notorious hate group: the Ku Klux Klan.

The title of this slim volume had me expecting to dive right into the meat of a head-on collision between Superman and Ku Klux Klan.  Instead, Bowers starts at the very beginning, detailing the origin of Superman as a character created by two teenagers in suburban Cleveland and that of the Ku Klux Klan as a secret society of pranksters in Reconstruction-era Tennessee.  Bowers tight writing moves the story along at a smooth and steady pace, providing the requisite context necessary to understand both the importance of Superman as a living symbol of the American Dream and how the Ku Klux Klan adapted throughout its history to appeal to the fears and insecurities of (primarily Southern Protestant) white Christians who felt their American Dream slipping away in the face of immigration and integration.  As chapters shift between the two histories, Superman takes on crooked politicians and then Nazis. The Ku Klux Klan waxes, wanes and waxes again, peaking at times of social unrest (Reconstruction, waves of immigration, isolationism, World War, and civil rights struggles). The story builds to the climactic radio show in show in which Superman comes face to face with the KKK and, as usual, triumphs. A concise and engaging read, Superman Versus the Ku Klux Klan is a great primer for those interested in learning about Superman, the KKK and/or pop culture's influence on popular opinion.  Black and white images of comic book covers and the Klan introduce each chapter and break up the text within, helping to keep more distracted readers in focus. Highly recommended for reluctant middle school readers.

Rick Bowers is also the author of Spies of Mississippi: The True Story of the Spy Network That Tried to Destroy the Civil Rights Movement, another slim, riveting nonfiction volume that was a finalist for the 2010 YALSA Award for Excellence in Nonfiction for Young Adults.

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1 comment:

  1. Thanks for joining in Nonfiction Monday. See you next week.