Books written for early readers are built with simple characters. This is good for emerging readers. They can come to appreciate running gags, as a character does the same thing in different scenes. The simple character can be described with few words, and takes does not take long to feel that the character is a friend.
These simple characters are perfect for early readers. But they are also often* built using the shorthand of stereotypes. It is fairly common, for example, for the running gag of a story to be that the boy is always dirty. That the girl is timid. That the Asian kid is smart. That old men are grumpy and old women almost never are. Young readers learn and reinforce these stereotypes in the absence of other characters, more vibrant ones, to capture their imaginations. These tropes are thus ingrained early into our children even as we work to instill a love of literature.
Lifting characters from stereotypes is not necessary, and in addition to often being offensive makes for rather bland literature for our children. We can do better.
I present: Four characters with running gags for early reader chapter books that don’t play into stereotypes. You will notice that these characters are complete but have no physical descriptors, including race or gender. Those descriptors can be filled in as the story progresses, and are not needed to get started. If you would like to use any of these characters in a story, please let me know. I’m open to co-authoring with you!
Enjoys: riding scooter, exploring, collecting
Signature moves: somersaults, saying “pizza” in answer to yes/no questions
Common motivation: desire to put things into the “correct” spot
Enjoys: racquetball, handball, thinking out loud
Signature moves: bouncing a ball, saying “yuppers”
Common motivation: Very very hungry
Enjoys: quiet, climbing trees, frosting cakes
Signature moves: running very quickly, popping up unexpectedly
Common motivation: Seeks out contemplative spaces
Enjoys: Music, debates, origami
Signature moves: spinning in slow circles, saying “incorrect!”
Common motivation: seeks understanding
*Not always! Stay tuned for a post on exceptions to this rule, and feel free to leave your favorites in the comments.