‘Some people are born to be heroes. Others stumble upon their hero status.”
Eric Appleby: Zero to Hero.
Written by Dan Worsley and illustrated by Martin Spore.
It is easy to feel sorry for Eric Appleby; the kid is down on his luck and doesn’t have any success at school – aside from being a brilliant light-switcher-outer! Nevertheless, Dan Worsley has managed to create a brilliant, multi-faceted character who will really appeal to younger readers or reluctant older children. The book is also quite fast paced – fortunate for those readers whose attention may sometimes wander – and combines a school setting with an action-based storyline. This allows it to grab attention straight away, and it benefits from a wealth of descriptive vocabulary for children to learn from and hopefully incorporate into their own writing.
There is a tragic element to Eric, first evident in his physical description but later developed in his personality and the story itself. The physical description is far from the hero archetype expected in stories, yet it adds an endearing charm to Eric. After his mother passed away, Eric’s father struggled to find a job and provide for them and Eric is lucky if he comes home to food on the table. Despite their hardship and bad luck, Eric and his father are positive and genuine characters who make a small yet united family pair. It would be all too easy to dislike Eric’s father but again Worsley manages to create a likeable character with whom the reader empathises with, and his relationship with his son Eric is superbly written. You really want something good to finally happen to them!
Unfortunately, not everyone in the story is as likeable and we are introduced to Rodney Mason, the school’s slightly crooked headmaster, who it is difficult to warm to at first. He sacks the school’s cleaners and, after a meeting with the beautiful Ivana Da Cash (you really can’t make this up!), he accepts a bribe and installs some robotic cleaners. Again, Worsley’s characterisation is excellent and the reader is able to get a feel for the characters quickly and even the younger readers will get the measure of each person.
The robots – another exciting addition to the story – do a pretty good job at tidying the school and everyone apart from Eric seems to like them. However, all is not what it appears and soon Eric finds himself the unlikely hero in a predictable, yet amusing nevertheless, chain of events that culminates in Eric rising from zero to hero!
How can it be used in school?
The story offers many different opportunities and subjects for a discussion, particularly with the Lower KS2. Questions can be used to facilitate discussions, such as: Do you think Eric is brave? Would you take on the robots? What could be the danger?
Drama games: This book is excellent for drama games and short activities. Drama activities like: Conscience Alley, Hot Seating, creating a tableau from a chapter or Reader’s Theatre, whereby the children are given a part or chapter of the book each to act out in groups.
The idea of a Conscience Alley can also be used in RE lessons to consider morals, and the children can look at Rodney Mason, the headmaster, and whether he was right to take Ivana’s bribe? The children could even look at whether he regretted it or wished he hadn’t done it.
For English/Literacy lessons the challenge could be to write an alternate ending to the book, either with the robots staying at the school or even a completely different ending. The wonderful description of Eric could also be used to inspire similar descriptions for the children’s own characters. Alternatively, the idea of robotic cleaners can be used for a writing activity whereby the children create and describe their own robots and consider what they could be used for. Likewise, this same idea can be used for an Art lesson, where the children can draw a robot from the story or devise their own.
Worsley’s book can be used to inspire Science lessons; Upper KS2 can build circuits to make those crystal blue eyes of the robots light up or even devise some systems to trap the robots. In PE lessons featuring Multiskills (or equivalent), the children could complete an obstacle course similar to the one faced by Eric in his school. In other lessons, the book can be used for themed lessons, such as robot subtraction in Maths for Year 3 and 4, or more complex word problems in Years 5 and 6.
Finally, for those schools promoting a positive Growth Mindset approach to learning, look no further than Eric Appleby! He is often called a failure, and readily admits it himself, yet he never gives up and eventually wins through. With Worsley’s wonderful writing and Martin Spore’s fantastic illustrations, the resilience and growth mindset of Eric is really captured in full. (In fact, there are little illustrative snippets dotted throughout the story, which adds a nice little snapshot of the scenes.)
I genuinely enjoyed reading about Eric’s rise from obscurity to the hero and found it to be quite heart-warming. I couldn’t help but reflect on the children in my class, wondering which quiet and shy ones among them will develop their confidence and rise to meet the challenges of life in the same way as Eric. After all, it’s every teacher’s wish to see their class transform throughout the year and become heroes in their own, unique little ways! (Although I sincerely hope mine won’t be a swarm of robotic cleaners taking over the school!)
I have also created a ‘Book trailer’ for the book: