Book Review: Stan & the Four Fantastic Powers
Stan and the Four Fantastic Powers is a richly dynamic book with a powerful and inspiring message, and it is the first book to be written based on the concepts, practice, and research behind Appreciative Inquiry (AI), a system of intervention shown to have a direct impact on well-being. It was written by children for children with input from Appreciative Inquiry expert Marge Schiller, her two grandchildren, Sarah and Max Schiller, school psychologist and positive psychology practitioner Shira Levy, and artist Stefanie Rudolph.
The book weaves together traditional storytelling and reader engagement by first creating a strong, clear problem and protagonist: Lincoln Elementary School’s swing set has crashed and can’t be used. A shy student and unlikely hero gets the nod to figure out how to mobilize social capital and resources to get the thing rebuilt.
It’s a simple enough story, but with a twist that delivers a dynamically powerful message. The book offers the reader a way of understanding what is possible when we combine our strengths with the strengths of others. Stan not only learns how to work with the unique powers (strengths) of others, he learns how to discover his own (natural) powers in the combined effort to get this swing set back. Stan’s grandmother, wise and wonderful Nonna, helps reveal the secrets to him of:
- ME Power: discovering strengths
- SEE Power: dreaming future possibilities
- WE Power: working as a team to develop goals and a plan
- DO Power: delivering the plan
The net result here is a book (and a beautifully illustrated and helpful workbook called The Great Question Guide) that invites discussion, understanding, and a touch of wonderment for students. By using the principles of Appreciative Inquiry, this book provides proven methods to facilitate positive and productive changes. AI is an award-winning method used to help improve productivity in businesses and schools, often resulting in increased curiosity, creativity, questioning, collaboration, empowerment, self-esteem, confidence, sense of identity, and hope. It does all this by fostering better relationships, social skills, and community connectedness. Stan and the Four Fantastic Powers takes the principles behind this success methodology and creates a story and workbook that brings to life AI’s core principles. For more information from the publisher, check here.
But can a children’s book provide transformational inspiration that will last a lifetime?
As I write this I can see over my right shoulder my favorite children’s book: Doctor Dan: The Bandage Man (Western Publishing Company, Inc., Racine, Wisconsin). This 20-page Golden Book was issued in 1950, and it was the very first children’s book I owned. I carried it around with me as a child, asked my parents to read it to me repeatedly, and saw it as a sort of compass, although I didn’t know it at the time. That was more than six decades ago. The inspiration, no doubt, came from the fact it had my name in the title. But, like the protagonist in the story, I too wanted to be called “Dr. Dan.” I wanted to help people and make things better. Although I didn’t become a medical doctor, I did become a psychologist, and the nickname came along with it.
Did that one book early on provide such a serious push in my life? I don’t know. But I do know that the story, the title, and the resonance with some yet unformed desire sparked me in a way that I am not sure would have happened otherwise.
We need stories of hope and transformation for young people to relate to, learn from, and be inspired by. Stan and the Four Fantastic Powers is such a book, and I highly recommend this for parents, educators, coaches, counselors, and therapist who work with children. It is based on solid research about how people can best tap into their strengths and the strengths of others and is accompanied by a thoughtful workbook that helps to guide engagement and instruction. You would be hard-pressed to find something so well put together, so timely, and so necessary.
Stan and the Four Fantastic Powers: The First Ever Appreciative Inquiry Book for Kids
Tao Institute Publications, June 2018
Paperback, 40 pages