Have you ever read a book which has made you step back and see the world from another perspective, one you may not have even considered previously? In a new YouGov opinion poll commissioned by Amnesty International UK, parents were asked to select the pastime from a list of activities that they thought developed their child’s empathy the most - and reading has reached the top spot. More than half of 964 parents polled (53%) thought reading a book helped their children put themselves in someone else’s shoes, with just 12% saying TV and just 3% believing playing a computer game was the best way to develop empathy.
Although the poll has been conducted for parents, it’s no surprise that this research compares with previous academic findings linking empathy and reading amongst children and teens.
As books spotlight the psychology of the characters and often focus on complex relationships and situations they can be a key element in teaching the unwritten rules of social communication and understanding emotions.
Here is the full list of books which parents picked as helping children learn to identify with others:
1. The BFG by Roald Dahl (17%)
2. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee (16%)
3. The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett (14%)
4. Goodnight Mister Tom by Michelle Magorian (13%)
5. Charlotte’s Web by EB White
6. Winnie the Pooh by AA Milne and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain (9%)
7. Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone by JK Rowling (7%)
8. Noughts and Crosses by Malorie Blackman and Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry by Mildred D Taylor (2%)
Only a few of these I'm unfamiliar with.
You might be surprised that books such as RJ Palacio’s Wonder and Lisa Williamson’s The Art of Being Normal didn’t make the list of novels chosen parents. These stories are memorable, emotional and relevant, and although they may not have been the ones that parents had in mind whilst discussing empathy, they’re the books doing the job for a 2016 audience. We’d love you to tell us the books you think are the best for helping you empathise with other people and why.
These findings come as Amnesty UK are set to make a special book commendation in the Carnegie and Kate Greenaway awards shortlist, in a new partnership with the professional librarian’s body CILIP. The Amnesty CILIP Honour will be the first ever human rights commendation for children’s books, bestowing the award to the books which most distinctively demonstrate or celebrate freedom.
The Book Thief by Marcus Zusak: this book not only creates empathy for the direct victims of the Nazi regime, most particularly the Jews, but also allows us to see the good-hearted citizens of Germany at that time who were oppressed by the same regime. It basically gives a voice to goodness, purity and friendship. The bond between Max (the fugitive) and Liesel is especially moving.