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What would you do if your best friend died in a car accident? Suppose you were just a kid and right there when it suddenly happened. It's Jacqueline Wilson to the rescue for children who're wise enough to be this gifted writer's devotees. In Vicky Angel, the story of a girl forced to find her own path in life, Wilson makes a hero out of the class clown, Fatboy Sam, who is sensitive to feminine needs. He is a listener, the only person who understands what Jade is feeling. Yet, he makes her realise that she relied too much on dead Vicky Angel and needed now to develop her individuality. He dependably sticks around Jade, even though she is mean to him in those initially distraught days.
Classics as far back as Oscar Wilde's The Selfish Giant and The Happy Prince have awed us with the gentle, egoless ways of the boy characters. Another life-changing example beloved by young and old is The Little Prince, French aviator Antoine de Saint-Exupery's profound novella. Ostensibly for children but rich in wisdom, the story is an idealistic look at human nature, its loveliest truth distilled in words the fox says to our eponymous hero: "It is only with the heart that one can see rightly. What is essential is invisible to the eye. "
Elsewhere, equally mystic young men manage to make meaningful journeys, their sense of wonder intact. They triumph through inner conflicts and war zones. In Anne Holm's I Am David and John Boyne's The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas, little boys tug at expectations of justice in an unfair world, one ending happily, the other more tragically.
Child heroes subjected to tribulation are enjoying a soaring popularity. Not long ago, Philip Pullman's stirring trilogy, His Dark Materials, outsold competitors like JK Rowling's Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. Figures from BBC's Big Read Top 100 then placed Pullman's fantasy universe, with witches and armoured polar bears, some 2, 000 copies ahead of Harry's escapades.
Never mind polls, 11-year-old Kabir Karamchandani is a Potter fan for interesting reasons. "Harry is the kind of boy who respects girls like Hermione and Ginny, not because they're pretty but they're so smart. " The Mumbai boy's other favourite, Eragon from the pen of Christopher Paolini, "is a guy who always asks the opinion of women" !
Young voices like Shibumi Desai explain their choices. Applauding boldness over fear, her vote in Eva Ibbotson's Journey to the River Sea goes to homesick troupe actor Clovis "for daring to help a friend even when he's scared of the consequences".
All of eight, Karun Krishnamurthy points out how so-called "boy books", like the Alex Rider series, have a deplorable lack of girls. Tintin comics suffer similarly. Shunning their sexist slant, Karun is the proud author of Death on Christmas Night. Santa may be bumped off here, but Basanti, his strong girl character, is inspired by her spirited film namesake from Sholay.
A few good men like that could keep us steadily turning the pages.
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