Review

“A deftly crafted and thoroughly fun read … especially and unreservedly recommended for elementary school, middle school, and community library Fantasy Fiction collections.” —MBR Midwest Book Review

8 MORE Common Tropes in Children’s Literature and How to Subvert Them

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In this post we will discuss eight more ways children’s literature can be more inclusive and imaginative by breaking away from common tropes. Let’s empower young readers with a fresh perspective! This is part of a series on How to Write Children’s Books.

9. The Unexpected Ally: This trope involves the introduction of an unexpected character who initially appears to be an antagonist or obstacle to the protagonist but later becomes a valuable ally. While this can create surprising plot twists and dynamic character relationships, it’s important to avoid making these alliances too convenient or predictable. Writers should establish believable reasons for the character’s change of heart and explore their growth and development throughout the story. By delving into their motivations and providing a compelling arc, writers can create complex and multi-dimensional characters that challenge readers’ assumptions.

Examples of unexpected allies include Severus Snape in Harry Potter, Edmund Pevensie in The Chronicles of Narnia, and Loki in Norse mythology.

10. The Hidden Power: This trope centers around a protagonist who discovers hidden powers or abilities within themselves. While this can be exciting and empowering for readers, it’s crucial for writers to avoid making these powers feel too convenient or overly dominant. Instead, the discovery of the hidden power should come with challenges and consequences. Writers can explore the protagonist’s struggle to control and understand their newfound abilities, as well as the impact it has on their relationships and sense of self. By grounding the hidden power in the protagonist’s personal growth and development, it becomes a source of complexity rather than a mere plot device. Examples of characters who discover hidden powers include Harry Potter in the Harry Potter series, Lucy Pevensie in The Chronicles of Narnia, and Percy Jackson in the Percy Jackson and the Olympians series.

11. The Forbidden Love: Forbidden love is a timeless trope that adds an element of romance and longing to children’s literature, creating a sense of tension and longing between two characters who are not allowed to be together. While this can add excitement and drama to the story, it’s important to portray the consequences and challenges that come with such a relationship. By exploring the societal norms and prejudices that prevent their love, writers can shed light on important themes such as acceptance, prejudice, and the power of love to overcome obstacles. It’s crucial to ensure that the characters’ love is based on genuine connection and shared values rather than superficial or shallow attraction. By delving into their emotions, struggles, and sacrifices, writers can create a poignant and meaningful portrayal of forbidden love that resonates with young readers. However, it is crucial to handle this trope with care, especially when targeting younger readers. Rather than romanticizing unhealthy relationships or toxic dynamics, writers can focus on the emotional journey and growth of the characters involved. By highlighting the challenges they face and the internal conflicts they experience, the story can delve into themes of self-discovery, acceptance, and the power of love in all its forms. It is important to provide a nuanced portrayal that emphasizes mutual respect, consent, and healthy boundaries, creating a narrative that encourages young readers to prioritize their own well-being and happiness. Examples of forbidden love in children’s literature include Romeo and Juliet, West Side Story, and Twilight.

12. The Quest: A staple in fantasy literature, the quest trope takes young readers on an exciting journey filled with adventure and self-discovery. From defeating a great evil to finding a powerful artifact, the quest trope presents characters with challenges and obstacles that they must overcome to accomplish their goal. While this trope can be exhilarating and fantastical, it may also perpetuate harmful narratives, such as the idea that success is solely dependent on one’s strength and determination.

To effectively utilize the quest trope, writers can add depth to their story by exploring the internal struggles and personal growth of the protagonist. This can be achieved by delving into their emotions, fears, and doubts throughout their journey. By humanizing the character and highlighting their vulnerabilities, writers create a more relatable hero who goes through personal growth and development rather than being solely defined by external achievements.

Additionally, it’s essential to avoid falling into predictable tropes such as having a chosen one as the protagonist or relying too heavily on fate or destiny. Instead of simply being thrust into a quest due to a predetermined fate or prophecy, writers can establish clear stakes for why the protagonist chooses to embark on this journey. This adds agency and motivation to their actions rather than relying on external forces.

Another important aspect of utilizing the quest trope is creating nuanced antagonists or obstacles for the protagonist to face. Instead of a one-dimensional villain seeking ultimate power or control, writers can explore complex motivations for their actions. Perhaps they have valid reasons for wanting what they desire, but go about it in harmful ways. This adds depth to the conflict and allows readers to see things from different perspectives.

Highlighting the impact of the quest on not only the protagonist but also those around them is crucial. As they encounter various challenges and form relationships with other characters along their journey, these experiences should have lasting effects on them and their relationships with others.

Ultimately, incorporating emotional depth, agency, and complex antagonists can elevate the quest trope from a simple adventure to a profound exploration of the human experience. Rather than relying solely on external achievements, the quest trope can become a vehicle for personal growth, introspection, and the exploration of moral dilemmas.

Examples of quest stories include the Lord of the Rings trilogy, the Percy Jackson and the Olympians series, and Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.

13. The Journey of Self-Discovery: In many children’s stories, the protagonist embarks on a journey of self-discovery, where they learn valuable lessons about themselves and the world around them. While this common trope can be empowering and inspiring, it is important to avoid oversimplification and clichés. To make this journey meaningful, writers can introduce challenges and obstacles that force the protagonist to confront their fears, prejudices, and insecurities. By providing opportunities for growth and introspection, the journey of self-discovery becomes a transformative experience that resonates with young readers. Additionally, highlighting the importance of relationships and connection can emphasize the idea that self-discovery does not happen in isolation but through interactions with others.

Examples include A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle, where Meg Murray goes on a journey to rescue her father and discovers her own inner strength and resilience along the way. The Chronicles of Narnia, where the Pevensie children embark on a journey through a magical wardrobe, discovering not only a fantastical world but also their own courage and resilience. As they face challenges and make sacrifices, they learn valuable lessons about bravery, loyalty, and the power of love.

14. The Power of Friendship: The trope of friendship is a staple in children’s literature, as it showcases the strength and value of interpersonal relationships. While this can be heartwarming, it is crucial to avoid falling into stereotypes or simplistic portrayals of friendship. Instead, writers can explore the complexities and nuances of friendships, showcasing the ups and downs, the challenges and growth that come with these relationships.

To effectively utilize the power of friendship trope, writers can delve into the motivations and dynamics between characters. Instead of creating perfect friendships where everyone always gets along, writers can explore conflicts and disagreements that arise, highlighting the importance of communication and compromise in maintaining strong bonds.

Furthermore, it is important to depict friendships that go beyond surface-level connections. By delving into the shared history, shared experiences, and deep emotional connection between characters, writers can portray friendships that withstand the test of time and adversity.

It’s essential to showcase the transformative power of friendships. Through their interactions and support, friends can inspire growth, encourage each other to overcome obstacles, and provide comfort during difficult times. By highlighting these aspects, writers can demonstrate the positive impact friendships can have on an individual’s life.

In addition, writers should strive for diversity within friendships. By including characters from different backgrounds, cultures, and ethnicities, writers can emphasize the importance of inclusivity and acceptance. This allows young readers to see themselves represented in literature and fosters empathy and understanding towards others.

To avoid the cliché of a perfect friendship group, writers can also explore the idea that friendships evolve and change over time. By introducing conflicts or challenges that test the bonds between characters, writers can depict the ups and downs that occur in real-life friendships. These moments of tension can lead to growth and deeper connections between friends, ultimately making the friendship more realistic and relatable.

It is important for writers to showcase the individuality of each character within a friendship group. While they may share a strong bond, each character should have their own unique personality, interests, and goals. This not only adds depth to the characters but also highlights the idea that true friendship accepts and celebrates individuality.

Examples of stories about the power of friendship include:

Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White, where a friendship between a spider named Charlotte and a pig named Wilbur teaches readers about love, compassion, and the beauty of true friendship. In this story, Charlotte initially appears as an obstacle to Wilbur’s happiness, however, as the story progresses, it becomes clear that Charlotte’s intentions are pure and she becomes a valuable ally to Wilbur, saving him from being slaughtered.

The Harry Potter series where Harry and his friends Ron and Hermione form an unbreakable bond as they navigate the challenges of Hogwarts and fight against Lord Voldemort. Through their loyalty, support, and unwavering friendship, they overcome numerous obstacles and ultimately save the wizarding world.

Another example is “Bridge to Terabithia” by Katherine Paterson, where Jess and Leslie form an unlikely friendship that helps both of them navigate the challenges of their personal lives. Their friendship provides them with solace, imagination, and a safe space where they can be themselves. However, tragedy strikes, highlighting the fragility of life and the power of friendship to heal and persevere in the face of loss.

15. The Unexpected Friendship: A common trope in children’s literature is the unlikely friendship between two characters who come from different worlds or have conflicting personalities. This trope showcases the power of acceptance, empathy, and understanding. However, it’s important to avoid falling into clichés by giving these friendships depth and complexity. Writers can explore the struggles and conflicts that arise within these friendships, highlighting the growth and transformation of both characters. By depicting authentic challenges and obstacles, writers can create a more dynamic and memorable relationship that resonates with readers. Examples of this trope include Charlotte and Wilbur from Charlotte’s Web, Harry Potter and Draco Malfoy from Harry Potter (albeit a complicated friendship), and Mowgli and Baloo from The Jungle Book.

16. The Secret World: This trope involves a hidden or parallel world that exists alongside our own, often filled with magic, fantastical creatures, or extraordinary phenomena. This allows young readers to escape into a world of wonder and imagination. However, it is crucial to establish rules and boundaries within this secret world to avoid inconsistencies or plot holes. By creating a well-defined and coherent setting, writers can enhance the sense of immersion for readers. Furthermore, it is important to explore the consequences and implications of the protagonist’s interactions with this secret world, as they navigate the complexities of balancing their ordinary life with their extraordinary one. This can provide opportunities for character growth and introspection. Examples of this trope include Narnia from The Chronicles of Narnia, Wonderland from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, and Neverland from Peter Pan.


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