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Making the Impossible Possible, a guest post by Ruth Freeman

A story about Superheroes? Really? I have to confess I know almost nothing about superheroes, or at least I didn’t before starting to write HOW TO SAVE A SUPERHERO. But this is how it happened.

A story idea for me begins with a little seed blowing in and getting stuck. Then another seed blows in, and another, and sometimes, if I’m lucky, they start growing together into a story. The first seed was this: after I finished writing my earlier middle-grade novel, ONE GOOD THING ABOUT AMERICA, about a Congolese girl’s first year in an American elementary school, I wondered what was something all kids know about no matter where they’re from? I was teaching English Language Learners who came from all over the world, but one thing they had in common was superheroes! They might have lived in the U.S. their entire lives or have just arrived from another country, but everyone seemed to know about Superman, Spiderman and Batman. In fact, they knew way more than I did.

The second little seed came from the trips I made to visit my parents at their retirement home in Pennsylvania. It was like a fancy hotel or maybe a cruise ship, one with restaurants, a hair salon, gift shop, pool, library, even a bank. There was a studio for those who liked to paint, a woodworking shop for those who worked with wood, and a room of miniature trains for those who loved trains.  Residents never needed to leave the place if they didn’t want to. It was an amazing, complete world for older people and, as you might imagine, there were all kinds of interesting people who lived there. So…

“What if”…that’s the question that starts a story idea moving for me. What if a resident of a retirement home was actually a real…no, I mean, a REAL superhero? Impossible? Ah, that’s the great thing about writing a story: anything is possible! Maybe an old guy (Mr. Norris) doesn’t want anyone to know he’s a superhero. Maybe he wants to keep his identity hidden. On the other hand, of course he could just have dementia and not be a superhero at all. We don’t find out until the very end which it is.

The last little seed came as I made up Mr. Norris, the newest and grumpiest resident of the Happy Valley Village retirement community. The more I described him and wrote down what he said, the more I could hear my uncle Mickey’s voice. Mickey was charming, funny and smart. He was also prickly, opinionated and complained a lot. He wore old clothes, smoked a pipe, never threw anything away, and lived by himself on an island in Maine for more than 50 years. He’s gone now but he would surely roll his eyes and laugh if he knew he was the inspiration for Mr. Norris.

Addie, the eleven-year old main character, knows without a doubt that it would be impossible for Mr. Norris to be a real superhero, even though her friends Dickson and Marwa try to convince her otherwise. It was fun to write about the possibility of a real superhero, because after all, superheroes have their human sides too, right? Wouldn’t they get tired of helping people? Of being good all the time? Wouldn’t they be afraid of making a mistake while everyone was watching?

As fun as the superhero part was to write, the real story in my mind is the transformation of Mr. Norris and Addie. Even though he is old and she is young, they’ve both suffered pain and loss in their lives. They don’t trust other people. They expect the worst. But as their friendship grows, they begin to open up again. The impossible becomes possible again. They make friends at the retirement community who end up helping them when some crazy scientists come to kidnap Mr. Norris. By the end of the story, at a wild Halloween party, Addie and Mr. Norris have become true friends who are willing to risk everything to save each other. 

I’ve always been drawn to stories where characters find themselves in impossible situations (as they are in so many stories). Think of being lost in the woods with only a hatchet (Gary Paulsen) or the impossible situations Harry Potter finds himself in, or being homeless in THE WAR THAT SAVED MY LIFE (Kimberly Brubaker Bradley). It’s in those dark and impossible situations that stories miraculously twist and turn until a pathway appears through to the possible.

Exciting? Heart-stopping? Emotional? Yes, absolutely. The stories that plunge us into impossible situations are all of these things, that’s why we love them. They also show us the way in our own lives. When things seem impossible in real life, it’s usually not superpowers that save the day, it’s human kindness, a brave stranger going out of their way, or something as simple as a caring, friendly smile that begin to make things possible again.

Meet the author

Ruth Freeman is the author of One Good Thing About America, which received a Golden Kite Honor Award and was called a “touching novel” by School Library Journal. Ruth grew up in rural Pennsylvania but now lives in Maine where she teaches English language learners in an elementary school.

About How to Save a Superhero

Ten-year-old Addie knows that Superheroes aren’t real, and that they certainly don’t hide out in retirement communities, but she may just have to change her mind.

Addie and her mom never stay in one place too long. They’ve been up and down and all around the country. When her mom, Tish, gets a new job at Happy Valley Village Retirement Community in Pennsylvania, Addie believes they’ll be on the road again in a month. But this time, something is different—make that, someone. Mr. Norris, a grumpy resident of Happy Valley and. . .a former superhero? 

Well, that’s what Marwa, whose mom also works at Happy Valley, would try and have Addie believe. Addie and her friend Dickson know better even if there are things they can’t explain. Like the time Mr. Norris was about to get hit by a car and was suddenly on the other side of the road or the way his stare seems to take root in Addie’s stomach. 

When a man starts prowling the Happy Valley grounds, claiming to be the great-nephew of a resident, Addie, Marwa, and Dickson soon stumble into a grand conspiracy involving the Manhattan Project, a shady weapons company, and the fate of the human race, in this smart, funny middle grade novel.

ISBN-13: 9780823447626
Publisher: Holiday House
Publication date: 10/19/2021
Age Range: 8 – 12 Years

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