Using Fiction to Teach Human Rights

By Amnesty International

Many children’s novels and even picture books possess great power to open up new worlds and inspire a capacity for empathy. Being able to empathize makes it easier to be kind, tolerant, and willing to consider other points of view. It makes it harder to adopt prejudiced stances, helps to guard against aggression and conflict, and may even encourage people to take positive action on behalf of others. It also helps young people to put their own problems in perspective. These are all values that lie at the heart of human rights – and we can find them in novels and picture books for children.

‘If, by reading … we are enabled to step, for one moment, into another person’s shoes, to get right under their skin, then that is already a great achievement. Through empathy, we overcome prejudice, develop tolerance, and ultimately understand love. Stories can bring understanding, healing, reconciliation, and unity.’
~ Archbishop Desmond Tutu

Stories, memoirs, and picture books are a great resource to help personalize human rights that may otherwise seem abstract. They can awaken students to new worlds and challenging situations. At the point of caring about Anne Frank’s fate, for example, young readers want to know what can be done to stop it happening again. Fiction, too, can be used to provoke discussion that permeates many areas of the school curriculum and creates different ways of working together and understanding each other.

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