Saturday, September 28, 2019

Well-Behaved Children Seldom Sell Books (or Win Pageants)

“Well-behaved women seldom make history.” --Laurel Thatcher Ulrich

As I was thinking about Kids' Good Manners Month, this quote sprang to mind. If you apply it to protagonists in middle grade literature, we might say, “Well-behaved children seldom make good protagonists.”

In fiction, only trouble is interesting. Children who do as they are told rarely get into trouble. Therefore, well-behaved children won’t do much to move a plot forward.

Of course, that’s not to say that troublemaking children can’t have good manners, but a bit of mischief is required for a strong, feisty main character. (Personally, I love how Junie B. Jones combines mischief and manners when she turns on the charm upon getting caught: “Hello, how are you today? I am fine, only….”)

When I was about five or six years old, my parents entered me in a beauty contest (I’m still incredulous). Part of the process involved an interview session with judges. I don’t remember much about it, but I do remember going into a room with a partner, another little girl in the pageant. When the adults spoke to me, I replied with “yes, ma’am” and “yes, sir” and did not fidget. My partner, however, bounced around in her chair, giggled, and talked out of turn. I remember thinking that she would probably be in big trouble with her parents for acting so bold and familiar with adults. She was not a “speak only when spoken to” child.

And guess what?

She won the pageant.

She also would’ve won the “who’s the better protagonist?” contest.

If I were writing the story of a little girl in a beauty pageant, I wouldn’t tell you about Ginger, the well-behaved, timid girl who minded her manners—unless she were there to serve as a foil to the main character. I’d tell you about Little Miss Personality, who had so much to say she was bubbling over, and so much energy that sitting still was not an option.

Or maybe a little girl who resented the whole thing and wasn’t afraid to engage in some interesting sabotage. Now there’s a premise.

I’ve often said that I hope my own life is too boring for a book. Trouble is fun only when it happens to fictional characters....

And beauty pageants are not for the faint of heart!

Ginger Rue is the author of the Aleca Zamm series from Aladdin and the Tig Ripley series from Sleeping Bear.


  1. Sabotage! That reminds me of Beverly Tapinski in RAYMIE NIGHTINGALE. You are so right about the characters we need in our books. (but you totally should have won the pageant) xo