Girl looking in mirror

Writing for Every Child: Avoiding the Pitfalls of ‘The Chosen One’ in Children’s Literature

Girl looking in mirror
Image courtesy of Pixabay

When I was a child, oh, nine or ten years old, I desperately wanted to believe that I was adopted. It wasn’t because my parents were horrible or cruel; they were pretty normal. No, I wanted to be adopted so that I could be secretly a princess, or a lost scion of some magical family, or a changeling elf, or an alien from another world who had been left here for her own protection from mysterious dark forces. Anything but normal. I wanted to be a Chosen One, a person with a Destiny and Purpose in life that would take me on grand adventures. After all, those were the protagonists in the books I read.

Looking back, I have a bone to pick with Chosen One plots. Popular Disney movies involved princesses and princes. The Elfstones of Shannara featured the scion of a lost bloodline. In Marion Zimmer Bradley’s Darkover series, you needed to be one of the Comyn to be anything interesting. I can’t count the hours I spent staring into a mirror, wishing I had red hair and green eyes like Eilonwy, the feisty princess in Lloyd Alexander’s Prydain Chronicles.

Current children’s fantasy is rife with Chosen One plots, too: Harry Potter, whose role in Voldemort’s downfall was foretold before his birth. Percy Jackson, demigod. Sophie in the Keeper of the Lost Cities series, who was literally created to be the savior of her people. They’re all fun, rollicking adventures and well-told stories, but they set up an impossible expectation for their readers: to be a hero, you must have a noble lineage and/or heroic destiny. And that’s leaving aside the fact that every one of these Chosen Heroes is white.

Most of our readers aren’t royalty. I’m guessing most don’t have a hidden destiny. They’re ordinary kids trying to figure out how to make a difference in a large, increasingly unfriendly world. So when I go looking for books for my own children, I look for protagonists who are ordinary kids rising to meet the challenges that find them. Grace Lin’s Where the Mountain Meets the Moon and Daniel Jose Older’s Dactyl Hill Squad are two great examples. I love the Wings of Fire series, in which the protagonists are raised believing they are destined to save their world, only to discover that the prophecy was entirely manufactured, and they were just the most readily available candidates (one was a hasty substitution that doesn’t even fit the prophecy), but they choose to try to save the world anyway.

The protagonist of The Lord of the Rings could easily have been Aragorn, the lost King of Gondor. No one would have blinked if Tolkien had written the whole epic from his perspective. Instead, he chose Frodo as his protagonist, an ordinary hobbit with just a slight taste for adventure. Ged in Ursula LeGuin’s Earthsea series starts out life as a goatherd and the son of the village blacksmith. Rey in the latest Star Wars movies is literally nobody, and Finn started out a lowly foot soldier and janitor. They’re everymen, people we can relate to and empathize with. Protagonists who could be me, or you, or the shy kid who sits in the corner reading books.

Cover for A Pixie's PromiseWhen I started writing my second novel, A Pixie’s Promise, I chose the most ordinary, overlooked character possible to be my protagonist. Petunia is a pixie, about six inches tall, smack in the middle of twelve siblings, and literally overlooked by most people. Even her parents keep forgetting her name. In the Enchanted Forest, “pixie” is synonymous with “lazy” because pixies can use their pixie dust to get pretty much whatever they need. No one expects Petunia to excel at anything or distinguish herself in any way.

But then, not even Petunia expected that she would befriend a young witch, Millie, just coming into her power (the protagonist of my first novel, A Witch’s Kitchen). And Petunia definitely doesn’t expect to end up staying at Millie’s house during school vacation to take care of Thea, a baby sentient cacao tree. And she really didn’t expect to become fascinated by the art of potion making, which is the specialty of Millie’s cranky, witchy mother, Bogdana. And she absolutely doesn’t expect to have to save the entire Enchanted Forest when a spickle pox epidemic breaks out and Bogdana becomes too ill from her own mysterious malady to make the cures.

A Pixie’s Promise is the story of an absolutely ordinary person in an extraordinary situation pushing herself to her limits to meet her obligations and save the people she loves. Using her newfound fascination with potions and her unique understanding of Millie’s magic, Petunia manages to improve the cure through sheer, stubborn determination. Persistence and resilience are traits that anyone can develop and use, not to mention compassion and a sense of responsibility to your community. No princess or destined champion required, just people willing to roll up their sleeves and make a difference.


A Pixie’s Promise is available on Amazon.com, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, and iTunes. Even better, you can order a copy from your local independent bookstore through Ingram. If you are in the Boston area, stop by Porter Square Books, 7-9pm on Tuesday, November 6th to meet the author and get a signed copy. But first, VOTE. You, too, can make a difference.

Dianna Sanchez is the not-so-secret identity of Jenise Aminoff, whose superpower is cooking with small children. She is the author of the Enchanted Kitchen series, including A Witch’s Kitchen and A Pixie’s Promise. A Latina geek originally from New Mexico, she now lives in the Boston area with her husband and two daughters. For more information, visit www.diannasanchez.com or follow her on Facebook.

5 comments

  1. Interesting perspective. I think there are readers for both types of stories. Some kids prefer a real fantasy, an escape, a chance to live vicariously through the Chosen One. Congrats on your book launch!

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  2. Ordinary heroes are the best kind. But that doesn’t preclude us small folk from dreaming about possessing a little pixie dust of our own now and then. Best of luck with A Pixie’s Promise…look for my review next week.

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