Where are the quiet, male heroes in children’s literature?


am going to put this post out there now, in my usual rush, and update it later.

I’m looking for a quite specific non-dramatic, male literary hero that I can use as an example when talking to my children. Does anyone have any ideas, please?

I was talking to my eldest son today about the kind of people we want to be – how do we build ourselves into being the MC in our real life narratives?

Specifically, he was talking about the dinner queue at school – and how older children sometimes push in, and I said, well OK, but you know not to push in, and there are two reasons why – firstly a culture of kindness helps everyone when they’re down, and at some point or other we all feel a bit down, so propagate that kindness whenever you can. But also, be the cool, decent person that people remember decades later.

And I couldn’t find the exact hero that I was trying to describe.

Where, in children’s literature, do we reward simple, enduring decency, with a prize that children might actually want?

The moment you say “hero”, the tropes spring to mind.

The superhero: Spiderman (Marvel), Batman, etc with their fantastic abilities – but that’s not what I’m talking about – I’m talking about the real life heroes.

The unlikely hero: the Neville Longbottoms (Harry Potter) of the world, who rise from being the slightly unfortunate child to becoming the sword-wielding hero of the day. But that’s not what I’m talking about: I want a hero who has never had to be the miserable child in order to blossom.

The forced hero: Katniss Everdeen (The Hunger Games), Torak (Wolf Brother), or Hazel (Watership Down) who are forged in misery and fear, and rise up on a tide of courage and desperation. Again, not quite what I’m after, unless his dinner queue is a lot darker and wilder than I’d assumed.

The flawed hero: Sherlock Holmes (of same) with his uncanny intelligence and stalwart friend, who brings solution and justice to criminal investigations… before snorting cocaine and abandoning his social skills. Well, he has his good points, but I’d rather not infer that they excuse other bad behaviour.

The deity hero: Aslan (Chronicles of Narnia), Percy Jackson (of the same series), or Skellig (Skellig) who are basically gods, demi-gods, or angels. These can be great and lovable, but I need a more relatable, mortal-type of character. Less flying and more shuffling up a bit. Again, this is lunch queue stuff.

The military hero: Millions of these. Nope. It’s lunch, not war.

The humble hero: Bilbo, Frodo, Sam et al (The Hobbit, LOTR) – these, particularly Sam, are ideal in the sense that they value normal, daily life and good living; they’re decent people thrown into turbulent situations, and they have a relatable courage and humour. And they drink beer and enjoy a party… all good, but they’re hobbits. Be a hobbit in your lunch queue…? Sigh.

The quiet, daily hero: Cedric Diggory (Harry Potter), who grows up to be popular and good-looking, with a gorgeous girlfriend, mostly from being decent and fair to people and doing a lot of sport. Yes! This is what I’m talking about… until Cedric dies a violent, magical death in a distant graveyard, and becomes exactly what I’m NOT talking about, no, definitely NOT. Worst example ever.

The tragic hero: Conor (A Monster Calls) faces his fears and overcomes his challenges, but his mother dies. Not really relevant to lunch unless I expire unexpectedly while my child is eating his lasagne. I’ll be trying not to do this.

The unsung hero: Professor Snape (Potter again) – we love him, but he spends his life being miserable and then he dies. This is not motivational stuff.

The ancient hero: all the Greek myths or Aesop’s Fables are fine but I’m looking for something modern, relatable, and not overly didactic.

I want to find the decent, relatable, daily hero that I can quote to my children. It can be any gender, although a male would be most useful because I think males still live in a culture of relative privilege and power, and it would be nice to show decency within that position. I’m trying to remember if Tom Brown (Tom Brown’s Schooldays) was any good but it’s so long since I read it…

Where is the strong, popular, decent bloke who does strong, popular, decent stuff and, in the end, reaps his reward by gaining a nice prize, a lovely partner, or a brilliant job?  

The Cedric Diggory who didn’t die, but instead ended up being head of Hufflepuff and marrying Cho?

Where is this person in children’s or young adults’ literature? Because I need him.


5/4/2021 – I found him – Benjamin Mee, in We Bought a Zoo


Image attribution


  1. This may not be quite what you’re looking for (because it’s not contemporary fiction) but my press published a middle-grade/crossover book called ‘Oy Yew’ which features many wonderful gentle (but resourceful) young protagonists. If you’re interested in reviewing it please do let me know. https://www.mothersmilkbooks.com/index.php/shop/product/206-oy-yew-by-ana-salote
    (By the way, I find your site via Jonathan Pinnock, who I am a fan of.)
    All the best.

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