“Doing something even when you are afraid.”
“Standing up for someone.”
Words of wisdom from fifth and sixth graders when asked what it means to be brave. I had spent the day visiting with them in their classrooms. We talked books, characters, secrets we keep, and then we talked bravery and courage and strength. The truth, kids know what bravery is. The other truth, they often don’t see it in themselves. When asked to share a time of bravery, they pointed to the travails of Firefighter Dad, Rosa Parks, their very smart teacher, Martin Luther King, Roller-Coaster Riding Big Brother, The Flash, Dog-fearing Mailman, and Captain America. Even Spiderman and Superman got a lot of love.
Inward, however, was the last place they identified as brave.
When I asked this same group of kids the traits of someone who was brave, they said that person was smart, fearless, fierce, empathetic, kind, dependable. So now, let’s consider this. What if these kids saw bravery within? What if these kids saw themselves as brave? Would they also then see themselves as smart, fearless, fierce, empathetic, kind, and dependable?
After reading Finding Perfect, a reader reached out to me. Tragedy had happened in his world and he connected with Molly. He was scared and lonely. He said that reading helped. And that in the midst of all the chaos, he wished he had been brave.
I didn’t understand how this young reader did not see himself as brave? For just showing up. For getting to school. For beginning each day. What if we could provide that mirror for him to see himself as brave. For him to feel in that place that is real and raw and can’t hide, that he is brave. And if he believed he was brave, would he also then believe he was strong and smart? Would he find the confidence that’s tucked away down deep to find his voice? Use his voice?
To me, kids are the real heroes. They do the hard stuff even when the hard stuff is small and invisible. Like speaking out when the last thing you want to do is hear your voice echo through the classroom or asking for help when you don’t understand what everyone else seems to get or sitting next to someone when you feel only-one-in-the-world lonely. Sometimes just speaking is hard. Sometimes just being is hard.
Bravery is what gives you the strength to stand up for yourself and others. It gives you the sass to be curious. The freedom to make mistakes. And the resilience to get back up. It gives you the room to grow and the patience you need to get there.
Bravery is the foundation upon which so much of ourselves is built.
I want kids to see the bravery they possess. To feel the power and kindness and strength that comes from it.
I want them to look inside.
And see the superhero I see.
Elly Swartz loves writing for kids, Twizzlers, and anything with her family. Her debut novel, FINDING PERFECT (FSG 2016), is about twelve-year-old Molly, friendship, family, OCD, and a slam poetry competition that will determine everything. In her second book, SMART COOKIE (Scholastic, 2018), you meet the spunky and big-hearted Frankie. Frankie’s all about family with a dash of mischief and mystery! And then in 2019, say hello to Maggie in GIVE AND TAKE (FSG). Elly lives in Massachusetts with her family and beagle named Lucy. If you want to connect with Elly, you can find her at ellyswartz.com, on Twitter @ellyswartz or on Instagram @ellyswartzbooks.