Children's fiction. Human Rights. What's the connection?

This is where people look confused. You can see the big stuff like torture and rape whirring through their brains. They may be thinking either (a) why is Amnesty unloading nightmarish stuff on children? or (b) why is Amnesty bothering with frivolous stories when we should be working on serious campaigns?

But Amnesty isn’t promoting nightmares. Nor do we think that children’s fiction is frivolous. Far from it. We believe that novels are important in developing values that underpin our human rights. And by ‘novels’ we mean picture books, humour and adventure, not just serious writing. 

‘It is through literature, not simply literacy, that we learn to understand and empathise ...

Through literature, we can find our place in the world, feel we belong and discover our sense of responsibility. Amnesty International understands this very well.’
Michael Morpurgo

Why we work on children's books

Book cover for Oliver by Birgitta Sif

Cover image from Oliver by Birgitta Sif one of our recommended reads

We’ve been collaborating with authors, publishers and other literary folk for some years. The thing we have in common is a passionate belief in fiction’s beneficial influence on human rights awareness.

And the impact is perhaps most marked if you look at children’s fiction – consider Harper Lee’s iconic To Kill A Mocking Bird, for example, which is regularly cited as a major influence by leading artists, thinkers, human and civil rights lawyers and campaigners (not to mention the Beckhams…).

Much of our work has grown out of a gut feeling that stories are a great way to develop empathy and compassion – which, after all, are counterweights to prejudice and abuse. But there’s new evidence to justify our involvement.

The psychology of fiction

Professor Keith Oatley, director of the Cognitive Science Program at the University of Toronto and his colleagues including Professor Raymond Mar are conducting ongoing research into the psychology of fiction. They’ve found that reading fiction increases empathy and social understanding.

‘In our research, we have employed psychological methods to investigate effects of fiction in readers …

We found that people who read mainly fiction had substantially greater empathy than those who read mainly non-fiction, and the more fiction people read the better they were at this test.’
Professor Keith Oatley

But empathy’s just the beginning. Books are also about personal transformation and taking responsibility – books encourage us to make a difference. Fiction helps us stand up and be counted. To quote author Jeanette Winterson – 'books are my freedom'.

Our work

We Are All Born Free

For years we have worked with the best authors, illustrators, playwrights and poets to publish, co-publish or endorse books aimed at children. 

To celebrate the 60th anniversary of Universal Declaration of Human Rights we published the magnificently illustrated in We are all born free, a picture book outlining all of the articles in the UDHR aimed at children from six years old.

We’ve endorsed the exquisitely beautiful picture book I have the right to be a child which turns the articles of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child into a language children can understand.

This exquisitely beautiful picture book takes the articles of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and translates them into a language children
can understand. It has been endorsed by Amnesty International.
Author: Alain Serres. Illustrator: Aurélia Fronty. Translator: Sarah Ardizzone - See more at: http://amnestyshop.org.uk/i-have-the-right-to-be-a-child.html#sthash.Ej…
This exquisitely beautiful picture book takes the articles of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and translates them into a language children
can understand. It has been endorsed by Amnesty International.
Author: Alain Serres. Illustrator: Aurélia Fronty. Translator: Sarah Ardizzone - See more at: http://amnestyshop.org.uk/i-have-the-right-to-be-a-child.html#sthash.Ej…

Browse our full range of children's books in our online shop

Fiction has real power to further human rights education. We produce a range of free, downloadable notes for teachers at primary and secondary schools to explore the values at the heart of human rights.

Find out more about using fiction to teach human rights