How Does Reading for Pleasure Cultivate Empathy?

Empathy is one of the fundamental traits that makes us human. In a world facing war, poverty, and climate change, empathy may be the quality our children need the most. Developing empathy in children is not only an essential life skill, but one of the best ways to build a better future for all of us. 

Empathy Day 2024 takes place on 6th June. This annual event created by charity Empathy Lab aims to celebrate and grow the power of empathy to create a better world. Their goal is to inspire children to learn more about empathy, have transformational experiences through stories, and put empathy into action in their everyday lives.

Having launched in 2015, Empathy Day is now established as a national day with widespread involvement from children’s authors, publishers, library services and schools.

Read for Good proudly partners with Empathy Lab whose mission to help children cultivate empathy through reading books closely aligns with Read for Good’s 40-year approach.

What is Empathy?

Empathy is defined as “the ability to share someone else’s feelings or experiences by imagining what it would be like to be in that person’s situation”. It is made up of 3 elements:

  1. Feeling – resonating with other people’s feelings. 
  2. Thinking – using reason and imagination to work out how someone else is feeling.
  3. Acting – being inspired to help others, having experienced what they are feeling.

Children are naturally caring and empathetic; and there is also scientific evidence showing that empathy is learnable and that books are a powerful tool to build it.

Reading for Empathy

Stories have the power to help us see the world from new perspectives, allowing us to walk in someone else’s shoes and understand their feelings and experiences. 

Having access to a wide variety of books enables children to flex their empathy muscles and develop compassion for people from all walks of life across the globe.

Each year, Empathy Lab launches a ‘Read for Empathy’ collection of books aimed at developing empathy in children. Read for Good currently features 10 books from this year’s collection included in our Brilliant Boxes of Books for schools.

These expertly curated boxes make an impact in schools and communities across the UK, giving children and young people access to a diverse range of brand new books – books which reflect their own lives and the lives of others.

Through these exciting and varied stories, children encounter a broad range of characters, settings, and experiences, helping them to understand different perspectives and build empathy. 

The Link Between Reading for Pleasure and Empathy

Children who read for fun are more likely to do well at school, have jobs they love and lead happier, fulfilled lives. 

A study by the National Literacy Trust (2021) supports this, showing that children who read for pleasure are more likely to perform well academically, develop a wider vocabulary, and have better mental health.

Research from the University of Roehampton (2022) also highlighted that reading for enjoyment enhances empathy, social skills, and mental well-being. 

Reading for pleasure is intrinsically linked to boosting empathy; Read for Good’s work supports this in 5 key ways:

  1. Readathon

Readathon inspires children and young people to choose and read books to raise money to buy books for children in hospital. Reading to raise money for those in need is empathy-centred and taps into children’s natural empathy. 

Readathon helps children develop their natural empathy by encouraging them to consider the experiences of children staying in hospital and take positive action which improves their wellbeing.

This year, Read for Good is delighted to promote Empathy Lab’s Read for Empathy Collection of titles directly to schools and pupils on 25,000 Readathon sponsor cards and Readathon bookmarks.

  1. Brilliant Box of Books

At Read for Good, our dream is for every child and young person in the UK to fall in love with reading for pleasure and to experience the life-long benefits it brings. 

We send our Brilliant Boxes of Books to schools and communities where children find it harder to access new, enticing books.

Our boxes include a fantastic range of books to suit all reading tastes, from the latest award-winning fiction and non-fiction, to bestselling graphic novels, providing instant excitement, escapism and adventure!

All of our boxes contain a selection of Empathy Lab books such as the brilliant We’ve Got This by Rashmi Sirdeshpande, a handbook for children to build their empathy superpower. With every box delivered, we encourage the recipients to sign up to participate in Empathy Day.

  1. Hospital bookcases

Read for Good’s hospital bookcases are stocked with a regular supply of brand new books and these, along with storyteller visits, brighten up the days of children staying in all of the UK’s 30 main children’s hospitals. 

These books are provided in part from pupils’ fundraising through Readathon. Not only has empathy been harnessed and boosted in the children who’ve raised money, but the books they’ve helped fund will then build empathy in the children in hospital who are reading them! 

Our next hospital book delivery will also contain Empathy Lab books and all our hospital partners are invited to join the Empathy Day celebrations.  

  1. Sharing socially

Read for Good regularly promotes the many benefits of reading for pleasure, encouraging schools and students to take part in our Readathons and reading challenges. We firmly believe that the more children love reading, the more their empathy skills are honed.

Communicating clearly with the schools we work with is key and each year we promote Empathy Day to get pupils involved and reap the rewards of reading books they love whilst nurturing empathy.

  1. Storytellers

The Read for Good Storytellers are the epitome of empathy! Our team of professional storytellers are an amazing bunch, bringing the power of stories to young patients and their families in UK children’s hospitals. 

Hospital stays for children and their caregivers can be lonely, boring, and often scary. Spending time with children, our storytellers inspire imaginations to run wild and bring laughter into places where a little distraction goes a long way.

Read for Good storytellers are naturally attuned to feelings of children and their caring adults from the moment they step into a hospital ward, bringing positive transformation, and boosting wellbeing through stories. 

As our society confronts a myriad of crises and the complex pros and cons of social media, we need children and young people with a strong sense of empathy to help us foster a kinder, more understanding world.

As Empathy Lab states, “Every child deserves the chance to be surrounded by empathetic adults, and to develop the crucial life skill of empathy”. 

At Read for Good, we couldn’t agree more! Empathy has always underpinned our mission to get more children to love reading and support children staying in hospital. 

Find out more about Empathy Day and how to get involved: 

Interested in running a Readathon to help children develop empathy? Learn more here: 

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