What makes a Reading Hero?

This week is National Bookstart Week. 


Book-based events are planned up and down the country, in libraries, children's centres and more, with a range of storytimes, rhymetimes, craft sessions, fancy dress parades and a host of other fun activities for the whole family - all to get everyone stuck into the magic of books.


The week is Hero-themed. That set me thinking.


Bookstart asked me to tell them who my reading hero was. They have a Wall of Reading Heroes where you can post your very own hero, the person who inspired you to love books. I said my mum. She read me loads of great stories and poems when I was little. She inspired me so much I now write them myself! You can find her photo on the Wall.



Whilst browsing, I noticed several people had cited one or other particular author as their hero. (Roald Dahl crops up a fair bit!) The most popular reason given being that they so loved the authors' stories when they were kids they couldn't help but read lots more.


Some have even named a certain book character as their hero. And that's what really made me think.




Thinking hard.
Thinking hard.


What is it that makes a children's book character rise up to the level of 'hero' in the reader's eyes? Not just well-loved, but a true hero. What is it that makes a child put that character on a pedestal?


If anything has universal appeal among children it's a good story with a great hero or heroine. Through them, children develop an understanding of society and what it can mean to live in a particular region, in a certain time period, even what it's like to be male or female.


Heroes and heroines often stand out because they have distinctive strengths. Think of Matilda Wormwood, a six year old of formidable intellect. Unappreciated by her parents she finds an outlet in telekinetic powers which she uses to get her own back on them and her brutal headmistress. She also demonstrates fearless loyalty to the one person who shows her sympathy.


Some heroic characters are strong role models because they rise above their negative traits to overcome challenges. Lyra, in His Dark Materials is unruly, cunning and a downright liar, but she is still willing, after all her adventures, to sacrifice her alter ego in order to keep a promise to rescue a friend.

So how do we, as writers, go about creating a character that will stand the test of time and be raised to the level of hero? 


I'm not sure. I think sometimes a writer just gets lucky! But there are certain aspects to consider.


As well as having a positive strength and possibly the ability to rise above any negativity, children's book characters must be believable. They need to be original, but with a good amount of relatability. If a child doesn't empathise in some way with the character and situation then you run the risk of losing them. They should be courageous, resourceful and persevere when all seems lost. They need to have, or develop, a strong belief in themselves. Quite a list!


So who are my favourite book heroes? That's hard. 


As a child I adored The Cat in the Hat, probably for all the wrong reasons.


Petrova Fossil (Ballet Shoes) is a heroine of mine. Brought up as one of three abandoned babies she is the only one not naturally drawn to the arts, yet she makes herself take to the stage with her two 'sisters' in order to supplement their family's dwindling income. She is honest and giving and does what she has to with good humour, all the while nurturing her real ambition to be a pilot.


More recently I've enjoyed the way Polly, in the Mr Gum stories by Andy Stanton, stands up to the dreadful Mr Gum.


There are lots more. All my literary heroes have the same requirement in each of their stories to be courageous in some way, to overcome that obstacle. It's the way their story is written that makes them heroes in my eyes.


I'd love to know who your reading heroes are - be they a real person who inspired you to get into books, an author who did the same through their work, or a character who you still look up to.


In the mean time, while you have a think, please don't forget what inspired me to write this...


National Bookstart Week. You can find out more at www.bookstart.org.uk


There may well be an event in a library or centre near you!


And if you'd like to add your very own Reading Hero to their Wall please visit - 



Write a comment

Comments: 2
  • #1

    Jenny (Monday, 09 June 2014 13:59)

    Very interesting blog, Julie. You've really got me thinking about memorable heroes in books and they tend to be the books that I 'lived' and read again and again. Here's a few:

    1) The Naughtiest Girl (I can't remember her name, but she went to a boarding school and Enid Blyton wrote the books)
    2) Lucy Pevensie (The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe and other Narnia books)
    3) Lucy-Anne (more Enid Blyton from The Island of Adventure and rest of the series)
    4) Anne Shirley (of Green Gables of course)
    5) Elizabeth Bennett (Pride and Prejudice)
    6) Petronella (from Malcolm Saville's Lone Pine series)

    Obviously it's easier to identify with the girls, but there were a couple of male heroes too:
    7) D'artagnon (The Three Musketeers)
    8) Frodo Baggins (The Lord of the Rings)

    Then these days I'd add a couple more
    9) Lyra (His Dark Materials trilogy)
    and last but very far from least:
    10) Katniss Everdene (the magnificent heroine of The Hunger Games)

    Thank you, Julie - that was fun!

  • #2

    Julie (Monday, 09 June 2014 14:46)

    Thanks for those, Jenny. Some great heroes of literature. I remember Petronella - used to love the Lone Pine series. Always wanted to do the things she did.