Recently we were fortunate enough to sit down with Dr. Madeleine Sherak*, author of Superheroes Club, a book series to help young children recognize their unique potential — and to inspire them to build “sharing and caring” communities in the complex world in which they are growing up. Dr. Sherak addresses important themes in her book that are fun, entertaining, and easily understood by children.
GPL: Please tell us… what motivated you to write the Superheroes Club?
Dr. Sherak: Just to clarify, although there are three books in the Superheroes Club series, only the first one titled, Superheroes Club, was recently published. I hope to get the next one, Superheroes Club: A Celebration of Uniqueness, out sometime next year, followed by the third, Superheroes Club: A Sharing and Caring Community.
To answer your question about what motivated me – once a parent, always a parent, once a grandparent, always a grandparent, and once an educator, always an educator –
I’ve always seen the world through the lens of a child. What I mean by that is that I always ask myself, how does what I do or what kids are exposed to, affect them?
In today’s world, kids are overexposed to so much of what goes on in society, and so much of it is filled with negativity, despair, hopelessness, and hate.
I wanted to contribute something that would have a positive message and have a positive impact on their lives.
The specific story came out of an experience one of my granddaughters had when she was in Pre-K. Lily was in a class in which half the students were typically developing and the other half of the class was filled with special needs students. Lily befriended a little girl who didn’t speak. But it didn’t matter to Lily because she loved to talk, and she spoke for the both of them. Wherever Lily went, her friend went. They found a way to communicate and play together. What I realized is that young children don’t see differences as a negative; they aren’t afraid of kids who are different; they are curious and find a way to focus on the things that they have in common and celebrate that.
I also wanted to build on the theme that young children have an innate goodness within them and use the Lily character as the inspiration to help all children find the heroic potential each of them possesses to help others.
GPL: We know you have taught children at multiple grade levels. Are there any particular issues that you felt could be addressed by writing these books?
Dr. S: When I decided to write the Superheroes Club book series, I wanted it to include characters that kids could relate to and also address issues that were relevant to their lives.
Therefore, in the development of the characters, I hoped that kids, parents, grandparents, teachers, and other adults would read the book and have meaningful discussions about specific issues.
So, what are these issues?
When writing about the Lily character, I wanted to highlight the issue of how kids feel about themselves – are they confident and resilient, are they happy most of the time or do they suffer from depression?
So many kids today are stressed and feel despair. I wanted to make sure that those of us who are around kids recognize the signs of depression and address it.
Because there are so many kids on the spectrum, as well as others who may be different than what we sometimes describe as the norm, I wanted to include a character like Alex. I wanted to give adults and kids the opportunity to discuss that everyone is different and that it’s important to understand those difference, accept those who are different, and celebrate all kids for what they can do and not what they can’t do.
Another important issue that I tried to address was through Mia and her unwavering determination to succeed at something. Although persevering is admirable and something we all seem to value, the bigger issue for me is the concept of success and failure.
Mia did persevere and finally accomplished her goal after hard work and dedication, but success is not always defined by accomplishing a goal, and, conversely, failure is not defined by not being successful. For me, failure is defined by not trying your best.
Finally, I wanted to address the issue of kids helping other kids at school and in their communities. I wanted kids and adults to discuss that, no matter the age, we can all do something to be kind and help make the world a better place. We all have that heroic potential to help others in a way that is appropriate to our age and our ability.
Like the character, Joaquin, sometimes we just need to be reminded and provided with opportunities to help others. Lily had to convince Joaquin that he has the ability to help others, and she made him understand the importance and significance of that.
When I do author readings in classrooms, I finish my presentation by asking the kids to turn around and smile at each other. They do so and immediately start giggling. I then acknowledge how everyone feels good about a simple smile and remind the kids that sometimes all it takes is a friendly smile to make someone else feel good and have a happy day.
Superheroes Club certainly provides a perfect segue for all adults to have meaningful discussions with kids about all of these issues.
GPL: As a grandparent of 10 (wow!), how do you incorporate your thoughts and feelings to your grandchildren? How do they inspire you?
Dr. S.: The first thing I do is to listen, to watch, and to observe them. Even as a parent, I always volunteered to drive to school and events and to have my kids and their friends come to the house after school, to have snacks and do homework. I was a fly on the wall and listened.
So, now, with my grandchildren, I also want to know what they’re thinking about, what’s going on in their lives, what they are concerned about, what kinds of challenges they are facing, what they’re afraid of, and what brings them joy and happiness. I watch how they interact with their parents, their friends, and their siblings. I listen to how they react and respond to what they see on social media, on TV and in the news.
Unless we, as grandparents, understand our grandchildren’s lives, we can’t really communicate with them in a meaningful way. I also remind my grandchildren that I am always there for them to talk about anything or to help them in any way that I can.
Fortunately for me, I can help them with their math homework since I am a former math teacher. So, my grandchildren call me, text me, or facetime me to work out problems and do study sessions on a regular basis.
The point is to find that which can connect you to your grandchildren in such a way that they feel comfortable talking to you and being with you.
With regard to my grandchildren inspiring me, they openly and freely give me their love and support. I am also the first one to acknowledge my own limitations, challenges, and achievements. So, we laugh and cry together and share what’s going on in my life as well. My grandchildren are open to giving me advice and help in any way I need. As with most of our generation, social media and technology is a great place to start. Our grandchildren are not only knowledgeable but also willing to share that which they are so much more advanced than most of us. I will even text my grandson at college for some advice.
Since my husband of 46+ years, and their papa, died a number of years ago, they have been a source of comfort and strength to me by their sensitivity, kindness, and caring for what I have been going through. I have been blessed by their ability to see beyond their own grief and their busy schedules to inspire me to live my life and make each day a blessing for all of us.
GPL: Are there any activities that you would suggest to our readers, that grandparents could incorporate with their own grandchildren?
Dr. S.: The most important activity to share with grandchildren is getting to know each other’s stories and lives. I believe sharing family history, through photographs, personal stories, family heirlooms and keepsakes, and even online references, are invaluable to the role that grandparents play in their grandchildren’s lives.
We are the link to their past, and we have a responsibility to share that with them. Our grandchildren need to know and understand not only our experiences but also how our past helped form the ideologies we have and how we became the kinds of people we are. It will also help them understand what helped shape the kinds of people their parents became. We are also the “carriers of wisdom” in that we have lived a specific lifetime filled with experiences that have made us wise to the pitfalls of life and the successes we have achieved. Whether our grandchildren learn from our failures and our successes will be up to them. But it behooves us to share it with them, nonetheless.
It’s equally important for us to embrace what is important in our grandchildren’s lives. I have to admit that with ten grandchildren, I can’t possibly go to all their sporting events, school plays, and other activities in which they’re involved. So, I select those that are most meaningful and participate in ways that I can. We are open and honest about my ability to be at an event, and they understand my limitations. But I always make sure to acknowledge accomplishments and lend support when there are disappointments.
Having relationships with grandchildren is of course also limited by geography. I am fortunate to have all of my ten grandchildren within 10 miles of me, with four down the street. Obviously, it becomes a challenge to incorporate activities when distance is an issue or perhaps when there are physical limitations.
Fortunately, with social media, it is possible to always stay connected with children and grandchildren. So, grandparents need to, at least, minimally educate themselves and set a time to connect with their grandchildren on a regular basis. As grandparents, we have to communicate how and where our grandchildren are and embrace their mode of communication as much as possible.
I remember going on Facebook just so I could find out what my kids and grandchildren were doing. Now I need to also embrace Instagram and Twitter to be more fully involved in their lives. I am constantly asking them to keep me up to date on the newest and latest technological advances so I can continue to be a part of their technological world and whatever else they are into.
Although embracing our grandchildren’s technological world is important, it is equally important for us, as grandparents, to not abandon more traditional forms of communication. We can provide significant modeling to our grandchildren and help them develop both verbal and written communication skills. We can, for example, encourage and involve our grandchildren in one-on-one discussions on various topics. We can help them discover the joy of actually sending handwritten thank you notes or other forms of correspondence, all of which will be helpful for their growth and development.
It is incumbent on us to share, with hope and love and support.
*Author Madeleine Sherak earned her PhD in Comparative Education studying school systems around the world. She is a former math teacher and Department Chair at A.E.Wright Middle School in the Las Virgenes Unified School District, and continues to stay current and involved in education as a University Field Supervisor, at Pepperdine University, working with student teachers to help guide the next generation of educators. As a parent of three, grandparent of ten, and longtime educator, Dr. Sherak has a unique understanding of children, all of whom are her greatest source of fascination and inspiration. For more information on Superheroes Club or to purchase the book, go to: https://www.superheroesclubbooks.com/