I love the feeling of being consumed by a good book, of being so deeply invested in the lives of characters and how their experiences unfold that the physical world around me fades to a blurry silence. Without a doubt, books are powerful. Compelling stories can make my pulse quicken, invoke laughter and tears, and leave me a different person for having read them.
Teachers with good books support our education goals for children
The Global Partnership for Education vision for educating children aligns with the sustainable development goal, SDG 4, to “ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all”. Improved literacy outcomes are important for this vision. SDG target 4.7 elaborates: all learners should acquire “knowledge and skills…to promote sustainable development” including an education for “human rights, gender equality, promotion of a culture of peace and non-violence, global citizenship and appreciation of cultural diversity”.
Children’s literature can support all of this. A good book in the hands of a skilled teacher has limitless potential for developing children as voracious readers and enthusiastic, lifelong learners. Teachers can also use stories to support the development of a wide range of emotional and social capacities, including greater empathy, an appreciation of diversity, and skills that promote peace. In other words, books support the development of both literacy and the social and emotional skills that promote global citizenship.
Children’s literature enriches social and emotional development
Social and emotional skills allow people to “understand and manage their emotions, set and achieve positive goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain positive relationships, and make responsible decisions” (CASEL). These human capacities in children lead to improved academic outcomes and wellbeing (CASEL).
There is evidence that our brains treat interactions between fictional characters similarly to real-life social experiences. This makes stories a wonderful medium with which to explore human social and emotional life as we identify with characters’ desires, challenges, motives and feelings. Fictional stories allow children to learn from experiences they have never had--including those that arouse difficult emotions--within the safety of a contained world that is not real. Literature also serves as a point of reference for children as characters model coping strategies, creative problem-solving, and the acceptance of differences (Roberts and Crawford, 2008). Not surprisingly, frequent readers are better able to empathize with others and see the world from different perspectives (Paul, 2012).