Smart Characters and Emotional Intelligence, a guest post by Shawn Peters
You don’t have to be a genius to find smart kids in Middle Grade fiction, whether you’re looking back 100+ years to the title character JD Fitzgerald’s The Great Brain or are reading the latest installment in Chris Grabenstein’s The Smartest Kid in the Universe series. Artemis Fowl is about as clever as they come and several debuts from 2022 featured big-brained female leads, like the title character in Katryn Bury’s Get a Clue, Drew LeClair and Mira, the STEM-smart MC in Sonja Thomas’ Sir Fig Newton and the Science of Persistence. Of course, I also put my own debut and sequel, The Unforgettable Logan Foster and The Unforgettable Logan Foster and the Shadow of Doubt in the same category of MG heroes who use their wits, their memories, and their amazing minds to get out of scrapes or even save the world.
But rarely are these stories really about these kids’ “book smarts” at their core. Instead, most of these characters’ journey have a lot more to do with their evolving and growing emotional intelligence; the ability to recognize and navigate the feelings that come with being human.
Nearly 40 years ago, the psychologist Howard Gardner proposed the concept of Multiple Intelligences, suggesting that all people have at least some percentage of eight different intelligences that help them understand and move through the world. They included musical-rhythmic, visual-spatial, verbal-linguistic, logical-mathematical, bodily-kinesthetic, naturalistic, interpersonal, and intrapersonal. So, instead of labeling a child as “intelligent” or “not-so-intelligent,” this framework allows us to look at where a person’s intelligence is concentrated while acknowledging that all have worth. But it’s those last two categories—interpersonal and intrapersonal—that are most associated with emotional intelligence.
My main character, Logan Foster, has an eidetic memory that allows him to retain and recall everything he’s ever seen, read and heard since he was found at age three, abandoned in Los Angeles International Airport. When it comes to traditional measures of intelligence, he’s off the charts. But as a 12-year-old on the autism spectrum, who was raised among a rotating group of other orphans and endured multiple failed foster attempts with families who weren’t accepting of his neurodivergence and personality quirks, the reader first meets Logan at a time when his emotional intelligence is lagging far behind the other categories.
It isn’t until Logan is fostered by a new couple, Gil and Margie– who are secretly superheroes—and befriended by an athletic and totally accepting older neighbor, Elena, that he’s given a reason to work on his interpersonal and intrapersonal intelligence. These people care for Logan and he cares for them, but those bonds stir up conflicts in him that he never had to deal with when he felt he was truly on his own, only responsible for his own well-being. On top of that, Logan contends with Alexithymia, which is an inability to identify emotions in himself and others.
But in reality, it is not just neurodivergent kids who struggle with their own emotions and the emotions of the people around them. Every child has times where they aren’t sure what they’re feeling, or more importantly, why they’re feeling that way. And while it’s easy to write it off as a “maturity” issue that resolves itself with age, there’s real value for young readers to encounter smart characters, especially ones considered mature for their age, who are also struggling to build their emotional intelligence. Seeing a protagonist learn to choose empathy or forgiveness is powerful stuff. Reading about friends who fight and make up or family who withstand tough times by supporting each other can show the value of feelings when they’re shared instead of feared or locked away.
This may seem like an odd message coming from an author who writes about superheroes. After all, many superheroes get their powers all at once, literally waking up one day to find they can do impossible things. But emotional intelligence is a superpower in its own way, opening the door to a lifetime of authentic relationships and valuable introspection, and unlike mutant eye beams or superstrength, it cannot appear at all at once. It’s a journey. More importantly, it’s the main journey I wanted to write about when I first imagined a book about a neurodivergent orphan who moves in with family of superheroes, making him the most “typical” person in the house.
Smart kids will always have a place in literature for teens and tweens, especially since many of the most enthusiastic readers in those age groups self-identify as “smart kids” too. And there’s nothing wrong with celebrating those “great brains,” just as long the reader gets the message that everyone is smart in different ways, and emotional intelligence is a crucial, lifelong skill that anyone can grow over time. That is a fact!
Meet the author
Shawn Peters has written professionally for television and advertising for more than two decades. His debut middle grade novel, “The Unforgettable Logan Foster,” was published by HarperCollins in January 2022. The highly anticipated sequel, “The Unforgettable Logan Foster and the Shadow of Doubt,” was released on January 3, 2023. Shawn is married to a superhero public school teacher and is also a father of two kids who are now both too old for his books or his jokes. Basically, he’s a suburban-dad trope-fest. After years of coaching his kids’ teams and playing old-man softball, he now spends his spare time jogging slowly, comparing IPAs with other dads, and making ultra-nerdy Dungeons and Dragons puns. Follow him @shawntweeters.
About The Unforgettable Logan Foster and the Shadow of Doubt
Sometimes, it’s not so easy to tell the differences between good guys and the bad ones. Filled with superheroes, supervillains, and epic showdowns, The Unforgettable Logan Foster and the Shadow of Doubt is the thrilling second book in the acclaimed Logan Foster series from super-author Shawn Peters.
After using his photographic memory to defeat Necros and her minions, Logan has seen his life change completely. Now, the Multinational Authority for Superhuman Control (MASC) is keeping a close eye on everything he does in order to keep him out of Necros’s clutches.
But when Logan stumbles upon the fact that Necros was in the area on the very same day he became an orphan, he can’t help but wonder—is MASC hiding the truth about who his parents really are?
When superheroes mysteriously start going missing, all signs point to the same supervillain who also may hold the clues to Logan’s past. Only Logan—along with his super-strong best friend, Elena, and their new bestie, Connie—can uncover the truth, find the missing superheroes, and stop Necros. Will Logan be able to save the day and uncover the truth about his birth parents before it’s too late? It’s another action-packed Logan Foster adventure from super-author Shawn Peters.
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 01/03/2023
Age Range: 8 – 12 Years
Filed under: Guest Post
About Amanda MacGregor
Amanda MacGregor works in an elementary library, loves dogs, and can be found on Twitter @CiteSomething.
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