Can a protagonist in a book dissuade a reader from reading a book?
An enthusiastic reader on the Young Readers' Club shared that Iqbal's character in the book Iqbal and His Ingenious Idea reminds her of Disney's characters and therefore she doesn't like the character.
The personality of the protagonist is the key to entice a reader to develop a positive association with a book. When the character is someone that a reader does not relate to, then interest levels tend to dip especially when a child is reading the book independently.
However, in a group situation where a book is being read together and being discussed, there is leeway to open up to newer perspectives.
We had chosen to read Iqbal and His Ingenious Idea by Liz Suneby. Initially there was the young readers were skeptical about the book while they observed the cover. But, when they read the blurb, interest grew and majority voted to read this book together. The concept of cooking over open fire was alien to all of them, being used to seeing clean cooking systems in their own homes. They were keen on knowing why Iqbal's mother was cooking on the open fire inside that was leading to a lot of smoke filling up indoors and causing her to cough continuously. Realising that it was raining outside and that she had little choice but to cook inside, they tried coming up with solutions to help her. They came up with design ideas for a tiny kitchen outside in the veranda that had a sloping roof. When someone pointed out that rain water might come in, the group began brainstorming to prevent that and make an easy solution.
When we started to read more and accumulated more information about Iqbal, we decided to pause and reflect on his character. Most young readers agreed that he was probably smart, intelligent, kind and perhaps even resourceful, one young reader had a complete contrary perspective. She compared him to Disney characters and said that she found the character boring. Confused how a character who is being compared to Disney characters, can be described as 'boring', I asked her to help me understand her perspective better. Listening to her, it occurred to me that she finds Disney characters as perfect. They are generally caring and do whatever it takes for a family or a special friendship etc. While that's a great trait that I look forward to in characters in any story as a reader, this young reader, I realised does not want to connect with stereotype & perfect characters but rather connect with characters that have flaws. She made me realise that characters with flaws are far more interesting and reassuring too. No one is perfect, we all have flaws. Which is perhaps why several young readers relish Greg's character in Diary of the Wimpy Kid Series. Greg's character is easy to relate to. He is not perfect. It's possible to list his flaws yet, that's what makes him interesting and funny. He is not real. Nobody in real life can be completely like him and that's what makes him even more fascinating. The same is true of Geronimo Stilton. He is a scared mouse. Does not fit into the description of a typical hero ever and yet by chance he ends up saving someone or something important in the end.
Growing up amidst a variety of expectations all around is hard enough. To be expected to relate to perfect characters even while unwinding with a book probably becomes a tall ask.