Can Reading Teach Young People Empathy and Tolerance?

Reading for Self-Esteem

“I am what I am an’ I’m not ashamed. ‘Never be ashamed,’ my ol’ dad used ter say, ‘there’s some who’ll hold it against you, but they’re not worth bothern’ with.”

The Reading Agency have also suggested that reading for pleasure in general could help improve self-esteem. Reading could potentially be a way to help children feel more confident in tackling bullying and intolerance at school, and even among their own friends.

What the Harry Potter series, and books in general, have to offer for children is not just enjoyment but a sustained dialogue on justice, friendship and respect.

Highly imaginative acts of reading play a vital function in allowing children to rehearse social choices and negotiate their personal value systems.

It is crucial for the development of emotionally sensitive and considerate children to be able to access the kind of fiction that provides opportunities for them to imagine who they could be and who they want to be.

Reading On

“If you want to know what a man’s like, take a good look at how he treats his inferiors, not his equals.”

Whilst the study used only the Harry Potter texts, other children’s authors like Roald Dahl, Jacqueline Wilson, and C. S. Lewis have much to offer young minds. These authors create expansive texts and characters that help children to think through and organize their own moral compasses.

Indeed, a lot of what Roald Dahl expressed in his books still resonates with me today. They are values that I have kept close to myself; they managed to impress upon me something poignant and profound in their value. They offered me perspectives that helped make me a better person.

Roald Dahl teaches children:

“A person who has good thoughts cannot ever be ugly. You can have a wonky nose and a crooked mouth a double chin and stick-out teeth, but if you have good thoughts they will shine out of your face like sunbeams and you will always look lovely.”

Other young adult authors like Jacqueline Wilson embrace issues like mental health and domestic abuse with an impressive sensitivity. “The Illustrated Mum” is even recommended by the Royal College of Psychiatrists. So are a number of her other books including “Bad Girls,” which is recommended for children who are being bullied.

Jacqueline Wilson claims that she always tries to have “happy endings because I would hate any child to be cast down in gloom and despair; I want to show them you can find a way out of it.”

Books can be an amazing way to provide comfort to children. Even if the content of the book is serious, difficult or tragic. Indeed, Roald Dahl’s “Matilda” is all about how books can be deeply comforting to children in difficult situations.

In the absence of loving parents, Dahl describes Matilda as being “nurtured by the voices of all those authors who had sent their books out into the world like ships on the sea. These books gave Matilda a hopeful and comforting message: You are not alone.”

“So please, oh please, we beg, we pray
Go throw your TV set away
And in its place you can install
A lovely bookshelf on the wall…”

Reading Resources

If you would like more information on books for tough times, the following are a few sites that provide really helpful guides of are age appropriate books for children and young adults.

The Partnership for Children
The Partnership for Children has created “Good Books for Tough Times.” This is a reading list for children who are experiencing hard times or could simply do with seeing the world through someone else’s eyes.

They even have two age specific sections that covers fiction on the theme of bullying!

The Royal College of Psychiatrists

The RCPSYCH has a comprehensive list of reading materials for teenagers, younger children, and even adults. These are categorised by theme to make it easier to find the content you want.

The Book Trust

The Book Trust helps you find the perfect book through their ‘Bookfinder’ tool. The Bookfinder helps you find books through filters like age and theme.

Perspectives for a Diverse America

This scheme is run by Tolerance, an organization that seeks to promote tolerance and inclusiveness in America through literature. You can access their carefully compiled anthology of texts online.

Hannah Spruce is an editorial assistant at the empathy and arts publication “VoiceIn Journal” and has a Master’s in Contemporary Literatures. She is a published poet and a strong advocate of books, literacy, and their ability to empower. She currently works as an in-house writer for High Speed Training, that provides a variety of online safeguarding training courses.

Kids reading photo available from Shutterstock

Can Reading Teach Young People Empathy and Tolerance?


APA Reference
Spruce, H. (2019). Can Reading Teach Young People Empathy and Tolerance?. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 17, 2019, from


Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 21 Sep 2019
Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 21 Sep 2019
Published on All rights reserved.