Using Literature to Address Bullying & Foster Empathy in Young Readers by Trudy Ludwig

As a children’s author, I don’t just write books. I build bridges. I carefully construct each of my stories to connect readers to the story itself, to the characters in the story, and to other readers. My goal is to build kids’ social-emotional learning skills to help foster healthy relationships and prevent peer cruelty. And since October is National Bullying Prevention Month, this is the perfect time to share with you, dear book lovers, how literature can be used as an effective supplemental tool to address intentional and unintentional hurtful behaviors.

confessions of a former bullyWhat I’m describing here is nothing new. For years, children’s literature has been used by counseling practitioners, parents, teachers, and librarians to address tough issues kids face in their everyday world. Researchers report that literature, with proper adult guidance and assistance in a safe social setting, can help foster perspective and empathy in young readers. And let’s face it: the more empathy and compassion kids have in their hearts, the less room there is for arrogance and contempt of others.

I love what Dr. Zipora Schectman, author of Treating Child and Adolescent Aggression Through Bibliotherapy, said about the power of children’s literature: “Through the imaginative process that reading involves, children have the opportunity to do what they often cannot do in real life—become thoroughly involved in the inner lives of others, better understand them, and eventually become more aware of themselves.”                                                                                                                                                   

invisible boySo what should you look for in books to generate thoughtful conversations about bullying in the classroom and at home? Here are some of my recommended tips:

Look for books that …

… are well written

… are developmentally age appropriate in terms of content and reading level

… honestly portray the human condition, with familiar language use and a relevant storyline

… illustrate different forms of bullying

… feature multi-dimensional, ethnically/culturally diverse characters that “hook” the reader

– focus is away from stereotypes

– emotions are realistically portrayed

… provide opportunities for exploring non-violent problem-solving strategies

… do not perpetuate bullying stereotypes/myths

.. show adults and peers taking a positive role in bullying intervention and providing support

Because the social world of today’s children is very complex and difficult to navigate, I try to include in my stories the wisdom and insights of young readers, so that my books resonate with the authenticity of their life experiences and views. There are also many other wonderful books that generate thoughtful conversations. Feel free to visit my website ( for a list of my top picks—from pre-school to young adult, fiction and non-fiction.

If you’re looking for ways to turn stories into teachable moments, visit authors’ or publishers’ websites for ready-made lesson plans. You can also do a Google search on the Internet by entering the title of the book, followed by the words “lessons,” “activities,” or “Teacher’s Guide.” With lessons in hand, you’re ready to open the hearts and minds of young readers to new perspectives and possibilities!

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Trudy Ludwig is a children’s advocate and bestselling author of eight books that help children cope with and thrive in their social world. Her newest Knopf/Random House release, The Invisible Boy, a Junior Library Guild Selection, is available October 8 wherever books are sold. For more information about Trudy and her books, visit