Gregor and the Curse of the Warmbloods is the third book in the Underland Chronicles by Suzanne Collins.
It’s rare to have prominent toddlers in fantasy books, especially when there’s a quest involved. 99.9% of the time, it’s unrealistic to have them there. After all, who would take a toddler on a dangerous journey? But having such a dependant character along adds an interesting dynamic. (Spoilers ahead)
In Underland Chronicles, Gregor often has a good reason to bring his two year old sister along on his quests, like he doesn’t trust Regalia or Boots is needed for the crawlers.
This sets Gregor apart from most middle grade (and even young adult) protagonists. In retrospect, it was actually a surprising choice for Collins to give Gregor an almost parental role. I never minded it, not when I was the target age or now, but I could see why an adult would think a kid wouldn’t want to see a peer in such a role.
I’m glad that the decision went through, though. Boots adds a side to life that quest books usually don’t incorporate, and gave the audience an opportunity to see a protective side to Gregor that would normally be dormant.
Of course, a writer can’t just say a toddler is along on a quest and hope that magical character development happens. The toddler can’t appear and disappear conveniently, they need to be like real toddlers- messy and annoying and cute enough to make up for it all.
In Gregor and the Curse of the Warmbloods, Boots is needed for the crawlers. But once the group reaches the jungle, she’s often a pain to have around- she tries to play with poison dart frogs, she cries when she’s becoming dehydrated, and she annoys the others in the group.
But in the end, she gives both Lapblood and Gregor a chance to show their protective sides and she (inadvertently) interprets the Prophecy of Blood.
I waited until this book to talk about Boots because of Hazard. Not only is one child along, but there are two. Hazard is six, so old enough to not pet poison dart frogs but young enough to spend most of his time playing with Boots and Temp. He helps Ripred and Hamnet identify the carnivorous flowers before it was too late for them, by being affected earlier than they would have. Although not as big of a role as Boots, he still adds something unique to the story.
This variety of ages is pretty cool to see, especially in a genre that usually demands a certain maturity in the characters. It’s fun reading about cute little kids, it gives more opportunities for peril, and it can show multiple sides to the older characters. Don’t be afraid to include little kids in your stories- they’re a great part of life!
What are some other stories with cute little kids in unexpected places?