Do Strong Fictional Kids Need Help? Maybe.

Tea and treats—like this little Victoria sponge—are important for the kids in Secret of the Shadow Beasts. (Photo: Diane Magras)

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how we children’s authors depict the children in our books: almost always capable and independent (a combination that prepares them for the adventures we throw at them). For instance, the kids in Secret of the Shadow Beasts are especially capable, and the adults put a lot on their shoulders (by necessity for this world). But the adults also provide as much help as they can.

Early on, my editor wondered why the kids in my story don’t clean their own rooms and pack their own clothes when they’re about to go to battle. Each group of kids has their own staff (adults who, when they were young, did what these kids are doing), and that staff bends over backwards to provide for the kids: laundry, encouraging notes, special foods. I felt this was important. After all, these kids are risking their lives every night to destroy the deadly Umbrae. But they’re still kids, even though they’re capable and independent. And someone needed to show them tenderness, kindness, small parental gestures—something to remind them in this world without parents that they’re loved.

Yes, it’s a world without parents. It’s a common technique in middle grade fiction to get rid of parents (orphans, anyone?) and depict our protagonists out there alone. It puts a lot of tension on our characters (which is good for the story), and shows what kids can do.

But I’ve been thinking: In this pandemic world, tragically, many kids have lost parents, and there’s also copious evidence that some adults care more about individual “liberties” than the good of children. Do real life kids needs children’s authors to remind them that of the warm and supportive people who are doing all they can to help children? Such people are out there in force, but I know how easy is it to focus on the negative and be drawn down by that.

Here’s something I tried in Secret of the Shadow Beasts (which was a pandemic-written book), and am trying in my current secret WIP: Show communities of adults supporting kids, appreciating them, doing what they can to protect them, and loving them.

Maybe I’m turning into a mush here in the quiet, dark nights of mid-December. But these are scary, stressful times. I want my books to provide not just a friend to my readers, an escape, a host of questions to think about, but a comfort too.

(This post originally appeared, mostly like this, in Adventures from an Open Book, my monthly enewsletter. If you’d like to read my thoughts as an author in this strange and frightening world of ours, as well as updates regarding my next book, sign up here!)

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