by Sam Juliano
Might-E is a story about an introverted Indian-American girl since birth who needs no more than some symbolic prodding to break through her shell and develop some much needed social skills. The author, Jordan J. Scavone equates those with dynamic personalities to superheros like the Man of Steel, who can “leap buildings in a single bound,” are “faster than trains” and possess the strength to lift an elephant over their heads. The book’s illustrator Caitlyn Knepka showcases three adolescents who possess these skills, with each boasting one of these propensities. As a young girl who wasn’t even able to negotiate someone looking at her without bursting into tears, Emma dreamed of herself as a cape wearing superhero, the very antithesis of what she was, an easily frightened toddler reduced to sucking on a pacifier in a toy room. Emma’s father gave much studied thought at finding a solution to this lamentable impasse, finally exclaiming Eureka! to a sudden jolt of imagination he referred to as “brilliant.” The time to launch the new strategy was set at Emma’s fourth-birthday, when she is given a blue box with a purple ribbon as a present. She is a bit suspicious at first, but soon enough unwraps the paper and box to find a purple mask and pink garment that when worn will enable her to transform into “the mightiest superhero the world has ever seen!” The illustration where she first dons the elastic mask and the one when she is sen confidently in full garb in a double page spread projected in streamer laden celebratory mode represents Knepka’s finest work in the book. Emma, arms to hips, cape extended exudes a defining air of confidence.
But playing the role of a person with special powers and extraordinary self-confidence in the confines of one’s home and attempted to parlay this special endowment in a school is quite another matter, especially since it was the debut appearance at Pre-School a level where crying for departed parents is all the rage. Emma initially stands at the door, and can only imagine her father’s smiley-faced later-in-the-day arrival to bring her home in his red pick-up. After being approached by twin boys, a dark haired boy named Gregory, the red headed girl with the yellow bows named Jenny and the blonde, pony-tailed Bree. This charismatic entourage did little to bring out the Might-E side of Emma, but she was modesty enamored with her teacher, Mrs Madeline, mainly because her yellow dressed with purple polka dots, a design that bore similarities with her own dress.
Without the prime motivational apparatus, Emma showed no interest in classroom interaction, in fact she resumed her old ways and didn’t even look at the other kids. She stared at her crackers and held her pack pack tight. When she and the others fell asleep during nap time the teacher phoned Emma’s father to appraise him of her reticent ways. The father of course was only too eager to appraise Mrs. Madeline of a personality-changing devise that would even make Robert Louis Stevenson green with envy. The teacher follows the father’s suggestion and brings over the now opened backpack, and presto, the wimpy girl is turned into a model of confidence, one Scavone asserts is “bold, brave, fierce, powerful, but most of all mighty.” The real proof that the change in Emma would be a lasting one is the potentially crushing episode when her cape and mask fly off as she is in the act of taking charge with her friends. She is so immersed in her world-altering activities that she “forgets” to return to her compromised self. The metamorphosis is then complete. She then proclaims herself as Might-E to her delighted father who tests this ultimate measure of confidence by standing her in front of a mirror. Emma sees herself, but one now permanently altered for the better. When times get rough in the future she’s become Might-E to help make the world a better place.
Scavone and Knepka have collaborated on a stirring book of confidence-building. Might-E is proof parcel that role-playing is a potent device to shape lives. A “mighty” one at that.