Q. How did you decide on Nico’s character development in House of Hades? (SPOILER)
A. Here’s my statement concerning Nico in The House of Hades:
I’ve taken the same approach with my writing. It’s essential to me that young readers find a variety of relatable, positive role models in my books. Every child can be a hero. No child should be shamed or shunned for being different.
Nico’s sexual orientation became clear to me the longer I wrote about his character. It was not something I planned. I had no agenda. But when I realized this was a major part of his life experience and the reason for so many of his difficulties with the other characters, it would have been a disservice to his character, the plot of the books, and all my readers simply to sweep the issue under the rug and pretend it didn’t exist. Turning a blind eye to children’s needs is never an acceptable answer.
I’ve been lucky enough to teach all sorts of students – fifth grade to twelfth grade, rich and poor, from numerous ethnic backgrounds, with diverse religious traditions and a variety of learning differences. I’ve also taught gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender students. Some self-identified as early as elementary school. Some came to terms with their sexual orientation later in high school. Most had a hard time during the middle grades, which are tough years for any child. All my middle school students enriched my classroom. They made me a better teacher and a better writer for children, and they all deserve my support.
I am committed to writing appropriate books for the middle grades. This means no bad language, no gratuitous or explicit violence, and no sexual content beyond what you might find in a PG-rated movie – expressions of who likes whom, holding hands, and perhaps the occasional kiss. The idea that we should treat sexual orientation itself as an adults-only topic, however, is absurd. Non-heterosexual children exist. To pretend they do not, to fail to recognize that they have needs for support and validation like any child, would be bad teaching, bad writing, and bad citizenship.
Having said that, a good book, like a good classroom, should raise questions, not insist on a particular set of answers. It certainly should not ignore difficult questions. Whatever a family’s moral and religious beliefs on the topic of sexual orientation, I hope The House of Hades will provide an opportunity for parents to talk to their kids about what they believe, and why they believe it. Most importantly, I hope the story continues to entertain and keeps kids reading!
One of the most important reasons I became a teacher was to advocate for marginalized children – those who are bullied or misunderstood, those who feel lost and alone. As a middle school student myself, I certainly felt that anguish. As a middle school teacher, it was critical to me that all my students saw my classroom as a safe, supportive environment where they could be honored for who they were and express themselves without fear.