How villains are actually GOOD at getting children reading

Published on: 28 February 2023 Author: Ryan Hammond

Villains Academy author Ryan Hammond explains why a little bit of badness is a good thing...

The front cover of Villains Academy and a photo of author Ryan Hammond

Are you ever worried that a terrible supervillain from a book will brainwash your child into the naughtiest being on the planet? Well, don't worry, because baddies and supervillains can actually teach children a lot more than we think – and not just to take over the world...

We all remember our favourite baddies from books growing up. A few of my favourites were Count Olaf, the White Witch and Miss Trunchbull. I knew that a teacher wouldn't ever be allowed to lock me in the chokey (I hoped), but I loved that a villain could do whatever they wanted and be as BAD as they wanted.

There's something about fear of a villain that drives you on through a book, hoping that they don't win. Because without an incredible baddie, there's no room for a tremendous heroine or a plot to guide us through - it would just be everyone being hunky-dory with each other. Which sounds incredibly boring.

As a child, one of my favourite naughty heroes was Horrid Henry. I knew that I wasn't allowed to behave as he does in real life, but that didn't stop me from living my villainous life through him and the stories.

The rule-breaking excited me – and it was one of the only things that could get me into books and stories, as I'm sure was the case with many other children. To see a character who isn't perfect, who has flaws and is curious as to what they can get away with was really exciting.

The power of a good villain can get your child engrossed in the words, world and characters of a story. Whether they're rooting for the good guy or the bad guy, they have an opportunity to learn right from wrong.

Horrid Henry

Pic: Tony Ross

As I was writing Villains Academy, I often thought about how far I could push the villainy and naughty antics. Would it be acceptable for a child to set the school on fire? Probably not (and I would not want that on my conscience if anyone decided it would be fun to recreate this). But my characters are young themselves, and are still learning, so it was totally acceptable for them to shout made-up insults at one another, start food fights and prank each other constantly.

It's all a part of growing up – and sometimes being a little bit bad can be tremendous fun!

And that is the main point of Villains Academy and a good villain in a story – FUN! Villains are fun! Badness and rule-breaking are fun! 99% of the time it's not going to make children act out; if anything, they're going to live their naughty lives through a good baddie.

Encourage children to think about what they like and don't like about a villain in stories. They're going to learn to push boundaries and break rules through the characters as they develop on the page because a good villain is really appealing to children - they bring action, drama and different dynamics to a story, everything that makes adults and children excited about reading. And that is something that is worth celebrating.

So embrace your inner villain, be BAD and go read!

Top questions to get your class excited about villains (without them being bad...)

  • Which superpower would you have if you were a villain?
  • What traits do you like about your favourite villains?
  • Re-tell your favourite story from the villain's perspective.
  • How far could you push a villain's actions – what could they get away with?
  • Make a mood board of all of your favourite villains – would any of them be friends if their paths crossed?

Villains Academy is out now.

BookTrust HomeTime

Looking for something fun as a family? Enjoy storytime with our free online books and videos, play games, win prizes, test your knowledge in our book-themed quizzes, or even learn how to draw some of your favourite characters.

Go to the HomeTime hub