Written by Florence Parry Heide, Illustrated by Chuck Groenink
Chronicle Books, 2016
Once upon a time, there was a nice boy and his name was Gideon.
Gideon wants to be a hero, with his name and picture in the newspaper. But he doesn’t think of himself as brave, strong or clever. He notices, from reading fairy tales, that lots of people become heroes simply by being in the right place at the right time. (He also notices a lot of kissing, but isn’t prepared to go to those lengths.) So he tries to pay attention to everything around him to look for opportunities to be a hero. He goes to the supermarket and picks out a candy bar and as he pays for it, he is suddenly surrounded by people congratulating him. Without knowing it, he has become the 10,000th person to shop at the store and because he was in the right place at the right time, he gets his name and picture in the paper for it, just like he always wanted.
Author Florence Parry Heide passed away in 2011 and from the dedication page, it appears that this book was put forth for publication by her children. It’s definitely one of those in which the illustrations tell the larger and more important part of the story. The summary above doesn’t show the fact that, on his way to the store and even in the store itself, there are multiple opportunities for Gideon to do real heroic things. Over and over again, he keeps missing them. This makes the actual story ironic and leaning into satire, which will merit a lot of discussion with your kids.
Chuck Groenink’s pencil and digital illustrations use muted colors and softer colors in the depiction of Gideon’s real world and fuller, richer colors in his imagination. There are lots of little funny moments in the artwork as well, such as the headlines in the newspaper his mother is reading (‘Adults do boring stuff’) or the names of the neighboring shops, which all reference fairy tale authors. If you’re so inclined, you could definitely make a case for a political or social message at the end, when the African-American girl who saves the falling baby at the grocery store gets less recognition than the white boy who lucks into a meaningless award. This story offers a lot of opportunities for good conversation.
And what did we learn? What I take away from this book is that if you spend all your time focusing on your own greater glory, you can miss real opportunities to do genuine good.