Just Imagine


We Can Be Heroes

True heroes come in all different shapes, sizes and species in the books in this theme! From the greatest superheroes in the galaxy to heroic survivors of real-life adventures to stories, showing that not all heroes are human. Reading books from this theme  will encourage children to reflect on and refine their thinking about what it means to be a hero. For example:

  • Razia’s Ray of Hope by Elizabeth Suneby will deepen children’s thinking about ‘everyday heroes’ who face persistent challenges and take risks to make a positive change.
  • The protagonists in both The Astounding Broccoli Boy and The Bubble Boy will inspire children to consider the idea that everyone has a little bit of hero inside them.
  • The astonishing real-life stories in Survivors will stimulate discussion about heroic survival and what it takes to ‘survive against the odds’

Book introductions

Introduce a large version of a ‘Bubble Thinking Map’ with ‘hero’ in the middle, to explore children’s initial thoughts and ideas about what it means to be a hero.

  • Who is their fictional hero?
  • Who is their hero in real-life?
  • What characteristics does a hero have?
  • Record the children’s ideas in the outer circles, leaving room for additional bubbles to be added during and after reading.
  • Have this displayed throughout the theme.

Discuss different types of heroes from literature and real life. Use examples relevant to your class’s experience:

  • famous ‘save the day’ heroes e.g. Beowulf, Robin Hood, Dick Whittington.
  • unlikely heroes e.g. David (and Goliath), Lion and the Mouse, Hiccup, Percy Jackson
  • sporting heroes and heroes from the emergency services (you could reference 9/11 specifically). You could make reference to the ‘Pride of Britain’ awards – ordinary people doing heroic deeds.

Write the following characteristics on nine pieces of card:

imaginative adventurous ambitious
fearless self-confident caring
determined selfless patient

Alternatively, one of these pieces of card could be left blank for the children to add their own characteristic.

  • To complete the ‘Diamond-9’ activity, the children will work collaboratively in small groups to arrange these characteristics according to how important they think they are to the concept of ‘hero’.
  • The characteristic that they consider to be most important goes at the top of the diamond and the least important at the bottom and this should be decided as a group through discussion and justification of opinions.
  • You could repeat this activity at the end of the theme, without showing the children their initial arrangement, and reflect on how and why their opinions might have changed.

Do all heroes endure hardship, overcome trials and adversity?

Display a large world map, using string or thread to mark on the ‘stories of survival’. This could be used prior to introducing the book Survivors (or any other books featuring true life survival stories) For example, ‘The Girl Who Fell from the Sky’ linked to Brazil on the world map and ‘The Woman Who Froze to Death – Yet Lived’ linked to Norway.

  • What danger might the hero in each of these stories have faced?
  • How might they have survived this danger?
  • Invite the children to record their initial thoughts and predictions about any stories that capture their interest on Post-It notes and stick them up alongside the relevant story titles.

Book talk

Some questions to support group or class discussion around the books in this theme:

  • What would you rather be too bold or too afraid?
    • Consider the risks and merits of each position
    • What makes us afraid?
    • What helps us to conquer our fears?
  •  ‘Superheroes saved hundreds of people. And didn’t get scared.’ (quotation from Stormwalker)
    • To what extent do you agree with this statement?
    • Do you have to save hundreds of people to be a superhero?
    • Is it okay for superheroes to feel afraid or does feeling afraid stop them being a superhero?
  • Create a large continuum using a length of ribbon or similar, with ‘cowardice’ marked at one end and ‘fear’ marked at the other. As the children read, encourage them to reflect on the decisions that the characters they meet make and position these somewhere along the continuum.
    • What is the difference between cowardice and fear?
    • How might cowardice and fear play out differently in how different characters react to different situations?
    • Could somebody react to a situation with cowardice or fear and still be considered a hero?
  • Choose a real life hero from a nonfiction book.  
    • Make fact cards containing “vital statistics” (name, dates she/he lived, and primary accomplishment). Draw portraits and create a “Gallery of Heroes.” This activity can be extended using biographies that you have in school: Nelson Mandela, Mother Teresa, Florence Nightingale, Emmeline Pankhurst, Malala Yousafzai.
    • Add characters from fiction to your gallery?
  • In The Legend of Podkin One-Ear, a travelling bard tells the story of a rabbit hero, Podkin One-Ear, who becomes a mighty warrior in order to protect his family.  Do you know any other stories where animals are the heroes?
    • Can animals be heroes in real life?
    • As heroic as humans?
  • Create ‘Double Bubble’ thinking maps to compare and contrast two different heroes.(David Hyerle, 2008)
    • The names of the chosen characters are written in the two middle circles.
    • The circles that are linked to both the characters are then used to record similarities and those linked to only one character are used to record differences. This could be introduced as a large version to the class to compare and contrast two characters in books in this theme, such as Rory in The Astounding Broccoli Boy and Joe in The Bubble Boy.
    • One they have understood the structure, the children could work collaboratively in small groups to draw comparisons between heroes in the books in this theme and heroes in their wider reading.

Final thoughts

  • Should you seek out adventure and excitement if it puts you at risk?
  • Where does inner strength come from? What makes you believe in your own bravery?
  • Is it better to be too bold or too fearful?
  • Can anybody be a hero?

The Reading Journey: We Can Be Heroes (24 books)

The Reading Journey is Just Imagine's programme for supporting independent reading, to develop wider reading and make more productive use of book corners.  The Reading Journey is designed specifically to keep class book... Read more

Display ideas

Qualities of a Hero: Diamond Nine

Children discuss the importance of different qualities of a hero.

Qualities of a Hero

After discussing the relative strengths of each quality the children arrange them with the most important at the top and least important at the bottom.

Favourite Heroes

Children make posts about their favourite heroes from the books that they have read.

Compare and Contrast

Double Bubble Thinking Maps (David Hyerle, 2008) enable children to think about and compare heroes from different books.

Make Books Accessible

Display books alongside children’s work. Make sure they can access and borrow the books.


Claire Williams is the Year 4 teacher and Reading Lead at a primary school in Essex. She has recently completed an MEd in Children’s Literature at the University of Cambridge.





Jon Biddle has been a primary school teacher for the past twenty years. He helps coordinate the national Patron of Reading initiative, leads workshops about developing reading cultures in schools and writes a (worryingly irregular) blog about ways to get children reading. He recently won the Egmont Reading for Pleasure Experienced Teacher of the Year award.