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How to be a Superhero

A publication project that was written and illustrated to facillitate conversation between a parent/ teacher/ guardian and a young child about important, sensitive issues that one might not be comfortable or might not know how to discuss.

Client: NA
Scope: Design Research,  Children's Book Design, Poetry writing & Illustration
Year: 2019

Read Time: 10 minutes

I began by looking into how we form opinions and thoughts that eventually influence our actions and how we perceive the world. During this phase of my research, I came across the Bobo Doll Experiment, which was a series of experiments conducted by Albert Bandura in 1961-63.

Bandura studied children’s behaviour after watching an adult model act aggressively towards a Bobo doll, a toy that gets up by itself to a standing or upright position after it has been knocked down as it has a low centre of mass. (shown alongside)

The experiment proved that children learn social behaviour through the process of observation learning - through watching the behaviour of another person. The children were divided into 3 groups - 1 with an aggressive role model, 1 with a non-aggressive role model, and a control group with no role model. It was noticed that the children in the 1st group tended to act aggressively towards the doll after observing the role model, the second group was playful with the doll, and the third group showed no real interest in the doll at all.

Issues concerning rasicm, sexism, classism, discrimination based on sexual orientation, etc still impact the lives of many, and sometimes, are disguised in ways which we might not even notice. And it all starts with a sense of perception and beliefs that each individual holds. Sometimes, these perceptions are taught, sometimes they're acquired through observation and the environment, but either way, they shape how we see the world and how we interact with the various elements in. These outlooks that we hold, translate into the things we say and do.


Discrimination arises from the primary perception that a particular group of people are better or superior than another group or that some groups are not as acceptable as is. I wanted to see how we could help build empathy and acceptance in people, so that we are all given the space to function at our highest and most authentic selves with kindness, respect, and a sensitivity towards the people around us.


(a summary)


- Children have a keen inborn sense of justice. They are built to protest loudly when they or someone else is being treated badly.

- We don’t have to teach children respect for people of other races and abilities. We simply need to preserve their trust in themselves and others, and their inborn sense of justice. If a child feel safe and strong, he will respond with indignation to racism, whether it’s directed at him or at someone else. He will know that the racist attitude he has witnessed is wrong, and won’t adopt

it as his own.

- If the child is hit, slapped, threatened, shamed, blamed etc, it most times leaves large emotional impacts on the child, and give them the notion that some people deserve to be called ‘bad’ or ‘lesser’ and mistreated. These children are more vulnerable to racism and discrimination in any form as they are made to feel less important and their feelings have less importance. The child develops feelings of being terrified, separate, helpless and unable to fight for them selves. These fears make them either withdraw or make them aggressive and angry

At this point, I realized that the foundation of most prejudies and opinions are formed in childhood. So I wanted an intervention that would situate itself in this space. I also realized that while many parents want to bring up and have healthy discussions around certain topics, there's a lot of uncertainty on how to initiate these discussions in the first place and how to do so in a child-friendly and age appropriate manner. 

I then decided to create something that would act as a conversation starter between a parent/guardian/teacher and a child - something that could help facilitate these difficult conversations in a fun, non-intimidating and child-appropriate manner. A game or a book were some initial ideas that came to mind.  I started looking into different mediums and decided on a picture book.


(a summary)


- It’s also fine to bring up people’s physical differences before your child does. A smart time to do this is when you’re playing with toys and already pointing out various physical attributes: “This doll has a hat on, that one doesn’t; this one has dark skin, that one doesn’t.”

- Kids are also more likely to be exposed to news about racial injustices and stereotypes, whether in the classroom or at home during evening broadcasts, so it’s critical to dispel cultural myths.

- When adults are silent about race or use “color-blind” rhetoric, they actually reinforce racial prejudice in children. Starting at a very young age, children see patterns — who seems to live where; what kinds of homes they see as they ride or walk through different neighbourhoods; who is the most desirable character in the movies they watch; who seems to have particular jobs or roles at the doctor’s office, at school, at the grocery store; and so on — and try to assign “rules” to explain what they see.


(a summary)


- Children rarely buy the “Do as I say, not as I do” approach. If you say something is important, but your children don’t see you behaving in a way that matches your assertion, they know it’s not actually very important to you.


- Very young children are prone to something developmental psychologists call “transductive reasoning,” which leads them to think that if people are alike in one way (e.g. skin color), then they must be alike in other ways (e.g. abilities). It’s easy to see how this pattern of thinking could lead to racial bias, so it’s important to disrupt this process by teaching young children to think in more complex ways. In fact, when children are taught to pay attention to multiple attributes of a person at once, research shows that their levels of bias are reduced. It helps to get young children to think about people in multiple dimensions.

- Research has shown just the opposite: talking about race can decrease prejudice, make people feel more comfortable and accepted. It helps to helps your child understand the differences he/she is seeing.


(a summary)


- Reading a picture book aloud prompts conversations about what’s happening in the story, what the characters are feeling, meanings of words, how what’s happening might relate to the child.

- Picture books help children connect what they observe with how they reason, linking concepts with words.


- Picture books force an analog way of thinking. From picture to picture, as the reader interacts with the book, their imagination is filling in the missing themes.

- Some even recommend using picture books for older children, to set the stage for introducing broader topics. With picture books, each child can access new information at his/her individual level of readiness,

I then looked into the different types of books for different age groups and their characteristics. This involved aspects like word length of the book, characteristics of the protagonist like age, writing styles, story structures, character archs, vocabulary and topics. At this point I decided to use poetry as the medium of story telling in my book.



Poetry has been chosen as the means of conveying the multiple messages throughout the book. Children’s books ideally follow through a particular story line. However, as this book was made with the intention to educate along with the help of a parent, and does not contain one particular plot, poetry would add an additional element of interest and fun to the children. Poetry would also help children with recall in terms of the messages discussed in the book as it uses a fun rhythmic pattern, improving recall value.

I also did some research into existing childrens books that tackle issues like race, gender-equality, stereotypes, and bullying  in a fun, child-friendly way. The books I read were Separate is Never Equal, As Good as Anybody, Harlem's Little Blackbird, Pearl Fairweather Pirate Captain, Ballerino Nate, My Princess Boy, Horton Hears a who, Something Else, and The Bully Blockers Club.

My key findings from reading these books were as follows:

- Most of these books tackle one particular issue.

- They incorporate the issue in focus into a story-line or plot to make the book more engaging to children.

- Many a times, the moral of the story is explained at the end of the book.

- A lot of books choose to depict these stories with the help of animals playing the protagonist so as to be more subtle in approach, especially while dealing with younger age groups.

- Illustrations used are bright and vivid and even surreal in many cases

- Story is written in a crisp, short manner, keeping vocabulary simple. Story is to the point, without incorporating too many descriptions.

I also decided to add some games and activities into my book along with the poetry.


(A Summary)


- Increases a child’s memory capacity.

- Helps develop strategic thinking

- Games are such a great escape from the real world and bad consequences are rarely serious or lasting, making it a perfect learning opportunity.

- Hold attention span longer than traditional teaching methods.

- Improves communication skills, strategic thinking abilities and memory.

- Helps reinforce teachings with visual, audio means



A book was created to aid parents of young children in starting conversations about some of these issues that are highly relevant in today’s day and age. The book is made with an intention to expose children to a wide range of people and human traits and instil a sense of tolerance and acceptance, in a fun, quirky manner. The book would also include strategically designed games in order to reinforce some aspects discussed in the book. I also took care to make sure that the book has more or less and equal representation of people of all races and genders in order to not show any kind or partiality, bias, or superiority. Every characer shows up in the book almost equal number of times. 

TITLE: How To Be A Superhero

The book talks about how kids can be better people for themselves and the people around them, it discusses how they can ‘find their own superhero within’

AGE GROUP: 4 - 7 y/o

SIZE: 9in x 9in (when closed)

This particular size was chosen as it would open into a wide enough horizontal layout, that would be big enough to be comfortably shared between a parent and child.


The stylization of the characters uses rounded, soft edges and depiction. The colours chosen are bright and playful, , to make the book more appealing to younger children. The depiction of characters is minimal with the hint of tiny details. All illustrations have been made using most basic shapes and techniques, so as to give kids a feeling that they themselves could draw illustrations like this, easily.

PAGES: 40 + Cover Page


The topics chosen to be talked about in the books are as follows:


Body Shaming

Judging Physical Appearances

Gender Equality / Roles


Religious Tolerance





Animal Love


Finding Your Voice



I then took to writing the poetry for my book. I wanted the poetry to be short, simple and child-friendly. I wanted it to be fun without sounding preachy and use simple vocabulary. I wrote short 4 line poems on each of the topics mentioned above. All the poems followed an ABCB rhyme scheme. The poems are as follows:

Game 1 aims to get kids to look at people beyond the colour of their skin or their physical appearances and gender.

The activity requires them to read a particular situation given to them, and the three character profiles that follow, and make a choice from the three characters based on who they think would fit best in the given situation.

This activity would get children to look at the skills of each person rather than the colour of their skin or physical appearances.

Game 2 aims at getting kids to question commonly heard prejudices and understand the complexity of a person lies beyond physical appearances.

The game requires them to read a couple of stereotypical statements and state whether they believe these statements are true of false. The card may then be flipped open to reveal answers and reasoning for the same.

The activity would get kids to look at people beyond their physical appearances and understand that each person is their own irrespective of origin or appearance.

Game 3 aims to get children thinking about the problem of bullying.

Kids are required to pick up a card from each of the pockets. Each card has a situation of bullying described on one side, and three possible courses of action on the other. The child is required to read the situation, and pick the action they find best suited for the situation.

This game sets out to highlight some consequences of bullying and what actions a child could take in such situations.

This activity aims to get children to start thinking about the tiny things they themselves could do everyday to be a little more environmentally conscious.

The activity requires the kids to come up with their own ideas of how they could help protect different natural resources of planet earth in their own little ways. Prompts have been provided to help them get started in writing their ideas down.

This last game is an extension of game no: 4. It aims to further educate children about the acts of recycling and composting.

The game requires children to peel off stickers of various wastes and sort them out as recyclable and compostable by sticking them in the right bin.

The game aims to motivate children to better handle waste by teaching them what they could do with it to be more sustainable.

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