Why it’s important for children to read about different heroes
Published on: 16 January 2023 Author: Ravena Guron
Author Ravena Guron shares her thoughts on giving children the confidence to believe they can be the hero.
As a child, I was aware of the fact that the characters I was reading didn't look like me.
To get around that, I would rewrite books in my head, changing descriptions of pale, porcelain, creamy skin to golden brown. It was nice, sometimes, to think I could be the hero, too. Even if the world didn't see me that way, because people like me were normally relegated to the role of the best friend, or poorly-portrayed side characters.
That is not to say I never felt represented at all in the books I read – I could sometimes relate to the main character's problems, for example. But these characters never looked like me, nor did they share any of the same cultural background as me – and that's important too.
Which is why I loved the film Bend it Like Beckham so much when I was younger – how great to see a brown teenager learning how to make aloo gobi, wearing a sari, navigating a big family wedding. I saw so many things I recognised in my own childhood. I saw me, without having to reimagine the character to fit.
Allowing everyone to explore different experiences
Despite the occasional joy of seeing myself represented, characters almost always being white was simply an accepted fact for me. Of course they were. I couldn't expect characters to look like me. I was the minority – and it's minor characters for the minorities. Books must have heroes who look like the majority.
As I got older, I started wondering why this was.
If we can accept the idea that children in the minority can read about characters who don't look like them – and we do accept this, we expect this – why not the other way around?
Isn't it a disservice, really, to the children in the majority, to never let them explore the world through the eyes of a character who doesn't look like them? Or has a different background to them? To never allow them to see a perspective different from their own? And at the same time, isn't it a great thing to allow all children to see themselves represented in books?
We all deserve to see ourselves reflected in the stories we read. And, expanding on this idea, we all deserve our spaces, for our voices to be heard.
Believing you can be the hero of a story
That is one of the key themes in my book This Book Kills. This idea that your voice matters, regardless of your skin colour, or your background. It took me a long time to understand that I deserved my space, that I could be the main character too.
This Book Kills features a British-Indian protagonist, Jess Choudhary, who is on a scholarship at an elite boarding school. Jess fades into the background, she flies under the radar – in short, she sees herself how I used to see myself. Not as someone who is the hero, but someone who should be creeping through life in the background – a side character.
There's a passage in This Book Kills which felt really cathartic to write. It talks about how when you're constantly told you do belong in a certain space, you end up developing the confidence to believe that space is yours.
But it's about more than being told this – if you're shown this as well by the world around you, that helps that confidence develop too.
If you see, for example, characters in books who look like you, who are the hero, you go ahead and start to think you can be the hero too.
This Book Kills isn't a story about Jess being British-Indian. It's a fun murder mystery with a main character who just happens to be brown. Jess is not the most confident person in the world, she's not the most eloquent – she feels like a bit of an outsider... which, ironically, is an incredibly common feeling. So, I hope lots of teenagers can relate to Jess.
And I hope lots of teenagers see Jess looks like them too.
This Book Kills is out now.