TEACHERS and LIBRARIANS!
Child Hero article below is designed especially for you. This
article was previously published in the Chinook and in
Medium Journal of the Washington Library Media
Association The Child Hero
workshop has also been presented to teachers as a part of the Language
Arts Extension and to librarians at the Washington Library Media Conference.
THE CHILD HERO
As a child I loved books like
A Wrinkle in Time, The
Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe, Island
of the Blue Dolphins , and My Side of the Mountain. These
represent different forms of fiction but they all have one thing in common; all
are stories about ordinary children doing heroic deeds.
My hunger for tales featuring heroic children never
ceased: I still read them, and endeavor to write them. Why do I write these
types of tales? I have always felt the need to know a hero, one who moves beyond
their comfort zone, faces fears, and takes life on. I believe I am not alone in
this. Many children need to know a hero: not a grown-up hero who is
accomplished, intelligent and strong, but an ordinary child hero who discovers
courage by overcoming a difficult situation. Children feel this need because
they are facing a great journey, and they know it.
School-age children are in the process of packing for the arduous road to
adulthood. Into their knapsacks go the tools they will need for survival. All
manner of helpful tools are provided in school: language tools, math tools,
science tools and more. School introduces children to these tools and provides a
place for them to practice their skills. But all the tools in the world can't
help a child move into a successful adulthood if the child lacks courage.
a sense of purpose.
a belief that what I do matters.
a willingness to sacrifice.
the strength to fail and still keep going.
Can Courage be taught?
believe courage can be taught in two ways, through example and through stories.
Realistic picture books that place young protagonists in
challenging situations can show small children how to step out and overcome
Fiction such as My Side of the Mountain,
Hatchet and Island of the Blue Dolphins teach children that a
child can find the strength and ingenuity it takes to survive.
Novels like The Fall of the Red Star by Peggy King
Anderson and Helen Szablya, teach children that they can make a significant
difference even in a time of war.
My novels Molly's Fire, and Wenny Has Wings
both affirm a child’s to see beyond the ordinary, and thus offer hope in
Fantasy books that show animals or Hobbits battling evil
also teach courage. In these stories talking animals and Hobbits are child
heroes in disguise. They are childlike in their powerlessness and in their
hopeful natures. Children recognize these vulnerable characters as one of them.
Fairy tales such as Jack and the Beanstalk, teach
children that a bit of wit can sometimes be the best weapon against a scary
Creating the Child Hero
the genre, there are two simple rules authors must to follow when creating a
The first rule
for creating a child hero is - provide a plot that tests the child's mettle. Put
central characters in challenging situations, then show them relying on their
own inner resources to do the difficult task before them.
The second rule is - remove the adult. The protagonist
must be left on her own at some time in the tale to face the story problem. For
example, in Beauty and the Beast, Beauty must live alone in the magic
castle with the beast. In Hatchet, Brian is the sole survivor of a plane crash
and must survive alone the woods. In The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe,
Peter has to kill the witch without the help of a grown-up.
The Hero's Journey
Campbell's books on the universality of the hero myth, outline the three basic
steps of the hero's journey.
Step 1) The call to adventure.
Step 2) The hero faces obstacles on the quest.
Step 3) The hero overcomes the obstacles and returns with
These three steps of the hero's adventure are seen in
stories for all ages and across all genres. The hero's journey can be told again
and again. Give us new characters and new situations and we will happily read
(or watch a movie) about another hero's journey.
As young readers travel beside the hero in the story, they witness the
character's mistakes, feel their fears, and still see them acting courageously.
By closely identifying with the child hero, young readers are given a
place to practice their courage. They come to understand that courage is not a
state of fearlessness, but a decision to face one's fears.
Whether you recommend fiction or non-fiction, fairy tales, picture books,
or novels, to your students, you can help young readers to learn courage by
offering stories of ordinary children who:
face and overcome their fears.
fail and try again.
choose to go forward even when the path is difficult.
change themselves and change the world around them.
The Golden Key
When you give a child a book, you pass on a golden key
that unlocks the door to the story world. Thank you for passing on the key.
The questions below were designed to help you focus in a child hero in
the book of your choice. The format fits many stories from picture books such as
Horton Hears a Who through YA novels like Hatchet
Title and author.
Who is the hero? (Name, age, sex.)
What is the role of the adults in the story? Describe how the author removes the
adults from the story at the crucial time so the child is left to act on her
How is the child hero tested in the book? List obstacles.
What is the final test? How does the hero handle the challenge?
How has the hero changed from the beginning of the story?
Has the hero changed his/her society? How?
Book Discussion Questions for THE DOUBLE LIFE OF ZOE FLYNN