Blog Tour: SuperJoe Does Not Do Cuddles by Michael Catchpool, illustrated by Emma Proctor

I'm super stoked to kick off the blog tour for this delightful, new picture book, SuperJoe Does Not Do Cuddles, from inclusive publisher Lantana. I truly love working with Lantana not just because of their gorgeous books but they also make a genuine effort to support book reviewers of colour.

In addition, my son Adam was thrilled to pose some questions to Michael Catchpool and Emma Proctor, the book's creators, the answers to which I've included at the end of this post. But first, here's my review:

SuperJoe has no time for Mum's hugs, not when folk need rescuing from terrible tigers, runaway trains and collapsing bridges. By day, SuperJoe is a brave saviour but, by night, how will he fare when the lights are out and his mask is off?

Most children love exciting, superhero-adventure stories and this adorable tale, featuring an imaginative Black boy lead with gorgeous Afro twists, will be no exception.

Perfect for Reception and Year 1, each page spread is colourful and engaging with a sweet, parent-child relationship — plus the inevitable bargaining — at the heart of the story.

Experienced author and former, primary headteacher Michael Catchpool captures perfectly, in a lighthearted way, the delicate dance between headstrong, superhero-obsessed Joe and his ever-patient mum. Catchpool's rich, descriptive language and gently repetitive story structure are supported effortlessly by Emma Proctor's lively and varied comic-style illustrations.

Proctor cleverly blends mundane reality with fantasy in various ways, for example, items of SuperJoe's clothing — his scarf, vest and belt — become life-saving gadgets during his three superhero escapades. And, the everyday events that spark Joe's imagination — reading a newspaper, playing with a train set and having a bath — are also deliberately incorporated, as clues, within specific scenes. Throughout the action-packed, imaginary sequences, SuperJoe's 'enemy' Grey Shadow never speaks, ensuring Joe is at the forefront throughout. This mystery element, in turn, will inspire discussions with young readers as to whether Grey Shadow is friend or foe in real life.

Though not an explicit topic in the book, Joe's moments of resistance reminded me of children who display tactile defensiveness through avoidance of certain items of clothing or close human contact. I reflected on how, sometimes, adults expect these children to conform because they literally cannot feel what they [the children] feel. Having to navigate a sensory minefield, day after day, can be a super-heroic effort for a child with tactile differences, and this deserves much wider recognition and understanding.

Super fun, super playful, this stunning picture book captures the youthful imagination and burgeoning independence of lovable, caped crusader SuperJoe. Warm-hearted and humourous, it’s a timely reminder that sometimes everyone needs a reassuring hug from Mum.

Six-year-old Adam's mini-interview with Michael Catchpool and Emma Proctor

Michael, what inspired you to write this story?
What actually inspired the story was the question, 'what if..?'. I thought, 'what if you had a superhero who, whilst doing all the things a superhero can do, was also thinking about or worried about something like being cuddled?'.

That’s not what we usually think a superhero would be thinking about, so it seemed a fun thing to write about and explore — it was playing around with our thoughts and expectations of how people are or what we think they are supposed to be like.

Emma, how did you create all of those fantastic illustrations?
The first read of the story is the most important. The narrative paints a picture in my mind as most stories do. I have to remember what pops into my head initially and then translate it into an illustration.

How did you decide what the characters looked like?
When I thought about the main character, SuperJoe, I imagined a young boy with appeal and a mop of hair that I could add movement to when he's jumping and moving (even though it's under his superhero mask most of the time!). I wanted Joe's mother to look sensible. She is always the practical member of the family — mothering Joe. Her hair needed to be neat but still making a slight statement.

SuperJoe Does NOT Do Cuddles is now available in all good bookshops! OR, buy your copy from Lantana’s online shop and donate a book to children who need books the most with your purchase:

Thank you Lantana for inviting me and Adam on this super-duper blog tour!

Check out my Black Children's Books directory for suggested suitability of all the books I review. All the books that I read are also checked against my Jericho Benchmark.