I recently completed the grueling requirements to receive my black belt in Taekwondo. Along the way, I drew strength from the “Tenets of Taekwondo”: courtesy, integrity, perseverance, self-control and indomitable spirit. It occurred to me that these same values show up in a lot of tween literature~and they should!
When a young person actually reads our stories, we have been given a gift: their focused attention. What we do with that should be our gift back: life skills and inspiration. Oh, sure. Entertain them. But if we can change them, too?
Let’s break down why those Tenets of Taekwondo are so perfectly applicable to tween literature. Courtesy. We’ve all seen teen TV shows nowadays. Snark and sass are glorified. (And then we wonder why kids today can be so disrespectful?) When we write stories with tween characters that are polite and well-mannered, we leave an impression. I’m not saying the young heroes have to hold their pinkies up while wielding their wands/phazers/swords. It doesn’t need to be a Victorian garden party. But if we can depict the benefits of courtesy, we’re doing society a favor.
Integrity. This one shows up a lot in tween lit. Despite stereotypes of kids cheating or lying, I think honesty in word and action is a core value that resonates with kids. They want people to believe in them, and they know deep down that means they have to be worthy of trust. They have to tell the truth and follow what they believe. Any time we can give them literary role models in that effort, we’re on the right track.
Perseverance. We all love the stories where the hero never gave up. We pant and groan and crawl with them across the literary finish line and rejoice that they kept going to see victory. One of the biggest problems I see for youth today is that they are largely programmed by the media to want instant results, but the best things in life don’t come after a sprint. They come after a marathon. An uphill marathon. An uphill marathon in the snow. Tales of the hero who finishes can truly inspire readers of all ages. We close the book and think, “I want to be like that!”
Self-control. This isn’t one most people like to talk about in an era of “free to be me” and “no rules”, and yet anyone who has ever accomplished something really tough knows that a certain amount of self-mastery is required. Any time we can weave the idea that controlling our words, emotions and actions is a true demonstration of strength, we encourage a self-awareness that ultimately leads to an awareness of others and their needs. Whether a heroine controls her temper and doesn’t clobber her bumbling sidekick, or stills a nervous fidget that will alert the enemy, she’ll show her readers the importance of mind power.
Indomitable Spirit. This is the one that gets the gold medal stickers put onto the front cover and the tear stains on the last page. This is when the hero has done the right thing despite all the odds. It implies courage, tenacity, and a strong moral compass. Kids and adults alike feel that heart-pounding, fist-pumping victory when a character triumphs over all the adversities and stays true.
Tweens (and most of the rest of us) don’t like to be told how to be or how to act, but when someone just goes out there and shows how awesome it is to be or do something good… well, that’s another story. And a good one, too! So let’s write that story!
Lia London has authored three tween sci-fi and fantasy novels which all reflect these core values in her main characters. Find out about those books and more at LiaLondonBooks.com