What kind of fictional role models do kids look for in stories? And do their parents look for the same thing? A recent survey by Scholastic (Our Diverse World) found that a huge amount of kids (36%) want to read about characters they want to be like because they are smart, brave or strong. Characters that face and overcome challenges came in a close second at 30%.
Fictional characters that are smart, brave or strong were even more popular with parents. 50% of those questioned wanted more characters like this in stories. Meanwhile, 47% desired characters that face and overcome a challenge.
So kids and parents are looking for the same fictional role models. They want characters that are tested and come out on top thanks to their own intelligence, courage and strength (inner or outer).
It sounds like our kind of stories. However, the truly exciting finding is that fiction like this isn’t just fun to read in the moment – the effect of reading about inspirational fictional characters is lasting. In the survey, 40% of children revealed they have learned a lesson from a fictional character. Incidentally, this is something we’ve known for a long time from talking to our readers.
So you could say that reading about inspirational, confident, problem-solving kids breeds a generation of… inspirational, confident, problem-solving kids. At the risk of sounding like a self-help manual, it turns out you can read yourself smart, brave and strong. That’s the undisputable power of stories!
Read Yourself Smart, Brave and Strong
With that in mind, we’ve selected some of our favourite Storytime stories with smart, brave or strong characters. These are the kind of fictional role models that can help you inspire your kids!
- There are a large number of fairy tales and stories from all over the world in which an underdog uses intelligence to outwit a baddie. Three Little Pigs (Storytime Issue 6) and Hansel and Gretel (Storytime Issue 13) are both classic examples. From further afield, the African tale How the Jackal Fooled the Lion (Storytime Issue 18), Wolf Lullaby (Storytime Issue 25) from the Caribbean and Romania’s Stan and the Dragon (Storytime Issue 55) all feature savvy characters overcoming the impossible.
- Being smart isn’t just about beating bad guys – it can improve your life too. As the Indian rags-to-riches story The Mouse Merchant (Storytime Issue 8) demonstrates. Or, in Puss in Boots (Storytime issue 18), a cat’s cunning transforms his owner from a pauper into a prince. Meanwhile, The Crow and the Pitcher (Storytime Issue 19) deploys its intelligence to save its own life.
- Then there are those clever characters who use their smarts to prove themselves and assert their place in the world. For example, in the Cambodian tale Clever Amaradevi (Storytime Issue 44), a princess proves her worth to her father with the help of some skilful engineering. In the Greek story, The Clever Queen, a queen does the same to her king. Finally, in Harry the Narwhal (Storytime Issue 48), Harry shows his bullying cousins just how quick-thinking and clever he is.
- Is there any better example of bravery (and kindness) than the classic fable The Lion and the Mouse (Storytime Issue 2)? There’s a reason this fable has endured – it speaks to children who have their own lions to face, and it brings hope.
- Then there’s the straightforward brand of bravery – or is it bravado? In these tales a hero or heroine takes on and overcomes a monster. See giant-slaying Jack and the Beanstalk (Storytime Issue 5) and also Odysseus and the Cyclops (Storytime Issue 18). Plus there’s the unusual Japanese hero Momotaro the Peach Boy (Storytime Issue 26) and demon-battling Indian hero Rama in Rama and Sita (Storytime Issue 50). Oh, and look out for Little Billy Goat Brave in upcoming Storytime Issue 58. (And the original Billy Goats Gruff in Storyime Issue 10.)
- Let’s bring on the girls. Courageous and devoted friend Gerda saves her best friend in The Snow Queen (Storytime Issue 4). Molly Whuppie (Storytime Issue 54) whups a giant and the Ecuadorian heroine in The Magic Lake (Storytime Issue 55) saves a prince and her brothers after facing fierce animals.
- Lastly, we love the quietly, brilliantly brave character in Eszter Molnar’s story I Want to Be a Pencil Sharpener (Storytime Issue 35). She proves that not all acts of bravery involve wielding swords. Sometimes bravery is found in daring to be different.
- Strong characters can sometimes feel a little one-dimensional. They need a good dose of bravery or a decent back story to make them interesting. Greek hero Hercules in Hercules and the Lion (Storytime Issue 24) has immense strength, but it’s what got him there that makes him engaging. Theseus was powerful enough to defeat the Minotaur, but it’s Princess Ariadne’s smarts that led him to success (Storytime Issue 12).
- Yes, St George and the Dragon (Storytime Issue 2) is a story of strength, but it’s also one of bravery and chivalry. Likewise Robin Hood, who has three appearances in Storytime (Issues 8, 38 and upcoming 58) is strong and skilled with a bow, but he’s also defiantly brave.
- In the Polynesian tale Maui Tames the Sun (Storytime Issue 48), Maui uses sheer force to stop the sun in its tracks. However, it’s bravery that got him there in the first place.
- For a great combination of wit, bravery and strength, you can’t beat Nana Miriam and the Hippo (Storytime Issue 34). She actually flings a hippo into space!
- And let’s not forget inner strength. Cap o’ Rushes (Storytime Issue 57) demonstrates mental fortitude when her father forces her out of her home and she is forced to become a servant. Cinderella (Storytime Issue 2) also shows great resilience when she is bullied. There are many more fairy tales with similar themes of staying positive and hopeful in the face of adversity. A true display of strength.
That’s just a small selection of great fictional role models featured in Storytime. There are many more smart, brave and strong characters in our issues and we always hope to inspire our readers. You can pick up any of the issues mentioned above in our Storytime Back Issue Shop.
What kind of character speaks to you most? Smart, brave or strong? Most importantly, what kind of characters do you want your child to be inspired by in Storytime? We’re always ready to take on board your feedback, so let us know on any of our social media channels (Twitter, Facebook or Instagram).
Until next time… be smart, brave and strong.