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What draws you to a character?

It’s 10.30pm here in the UK so it’s Sam and not Holly posting now. But, like Holly last week, I have a question for all you lovely readers:

What draws you to a character?

I ask this because I am in week 5 of my Writing for Children module, which is part of my MA in Children’s Literature. The study materials ask us first of all to think of a children’s character that we are drawn to, either because we admire them or because they have qualities that intrigue us. We don’t have to like them – they just have to engage so that we want to read about them throughout the entirety of a book. What is it about their personality and their progress through the story that keeps us hooked?

The first character that sprung to my mind was the wonderful Matilda from the book of the same name by Roald Dahl. She is one of my literary heroines (the other being the fantastically eccentric and powerful Pippi Longstocking) because she overcomes the worst possible start in life and redraws her own destiny.

image courtesy of, showing Matilda doing what she loves best. Illustrated by Quentin Blake

Born into a family that is as alien to her as, well, a family of aliens, Matilda becomes the saddest possible orphan – she has a family, but one that will not accept her and in fact openly reject her. However, she’s not a weepy victim. As soon as she is able, she’s off to the library to read the work of Dickens, she tries to disobey the family tradition of eating TV dinners in front of the telly and, when her conman father really gets her goat, she turns his hair a hideous peroxide blonde and then superglues his hat to his head. The comedy in these actions prevents the book from descending into tragedy and makes Matilda a more rounded character – as well as being a person who prizes justice and free thought, she also has a very healthy appetite (and talent!) for revenge.

These acts of defiance help Matilda to be more attractive (in my opinion) to the child reader, who roots for her because they see that she will not stand for being disempowered. After all, it would make for very boring and frustrating reading if she just whimpered in a corner and waited to be rescued like some well-known princesses, whose names I shall not mention. Instead, she manages to get herself enrolled in the local school, where she comes upon another tyrant to be overcome – the hideous Miss Trunchbull – through the use of paranormal/supernatural powers.


image courtesy of, from the film Matilda, featuring the fantastic Pam Ferris


At school Matilda also meets the person who will eventually become her true family – the kind but downtrodden Miss Honey. Interestingly, Miss Honey symbolizes the child Matilda could have been had she not rebelled against her parents, and it is Matilda who helps her break free from her life of misery. By the end of the book Matilda has not just saved herself but also her future ‘foster’ parent and created the life she knows she deserves for herself.

In short, Matilda is my character of choice because she:

  • is true to herself, despite what others (mainly her natural family) would prefer her to be
  • follows her dreams, whether this means walking to the library on her own as a toddler or persuading her parents to let Miss Honey adopt her
  • has a strong sense of justice and will always fight for the underdog
  • fearlessly will stand up to bullies (most of whom are adults!)
  • breaks the rules when necessary
  • invents some truly fantastic revenge ideas!

But that’s enough about my character of choice from children’s literature. Who would you pick as a fantastic protagonist and why?