Books for young people to help change the world
To celebrate World Book Day today, we’ve put together a list of empathy-building books for the budding readers in your sections. They’re perfect for Beavers practising their reading, Cubs working towards their Book Reader Activity Badge, to inspire Scouts to work towards their Writer Activity Badge, or to inspire a piece of artwork for Explorers to earn their Creative Arts Activity Badge.
A book can be a lifeboat. When we’re lonely reading makes us feel closer to the world; when we’re overwhelmed it’s a way to escape it. Books give us knowledge, entertainment, comfort, inspiration. Best of all, they help us understand how people feel.
Climb into a story and find yourself orphaned on the streets of Calcutta; surfing on the roof of a runaway train; a medieval jester under the guillotine for telling a bad joke; a man in love and sold into slavery just moments before joining his bride.
In the fictional world of a stranger we slip into their shoes. Which is why study after study reveals powerful links between reading fiction and developing empathy. So in a movement that’s all about friendship and inclusion (not to mention exploring!), maybe reading could make us better Scouts?
… For Beavers
- The Sneetches by Dr Seuss
In a world where plain-bellied Sneetches are weighed up against star-bellied ones, Dr Seuss cleverly illustrates the dangers of discrimination. The story shows the injustice of holding any group superior to another and the importance of accepting people who are different to us (as well as ourselves).
- The Watcher: Jane Goodall’s Life with the Chimps by Jeanette Winter
Journeying alongside Jane Goodall from childhood to her heroic crusade to save chimps nearing extinction, we see how saving the world depends on activating our empathy for the most vulnerable.
To work towards their Creative Activity Badge, get your Beavers to do some art based on these stories. Those who want to practise their reading could do this as one of their challenges for their Personal Challenge Award.
… For Cubs
- Freak the Mighty by Rodman Philbrick
Freak the Mighty takes us into the lives of two bullied boys banding together against the odds. The book offers a moving perspective of young people facing prejudice as a result of physical disability or social stigma.
- Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White
As a gentle Pig nears his slaughter date, his friend Charlotte the spider writes messages in her web to try and convince a farmer not to kill her friend Pig. Cubs reading this touching tale of friendship, might find their hearts growing a size.
Using these stories as inspiration, ask your Cubs to write a short story for their Skills Challenge Award. To make the activity even more creative, get them to draw characters from the story to work towards their Artist Activity Badge with a range of activities, or they could act out the tale for their Entertainer Activity Badge.
… For Scouts
- The Boy in the Dress by David Walliams
This hilarious story of a 12-year-old boy who enjoys cross-dressing, tackles gender stereotypes. It provides a light-hearted platform from which to discuss issues of prejudice and bullying.
- The Diary of Anne Frank by Anne Frank
Written from a concentration camp in Nazi Germany, Anne Frank’s diary is a heartening example of courage and dignity in the face of prejudice and adversity.
- Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry by Mildred D. Taylor
Told from the perspective of nine-year-old Cassie, this heartrending story gives us insight into the racism the writer and her family faced during the depression. The book emphasises the importance of hope and the power of family sticking together even as an unjust society tries to tear their world apart.
Other books Scouts might like: Wonder by R.J. Palacio, The Very Persistent Gappers of Frip by George Saunders
They say you can’t write unless you read. With this in mind reading is an ideal stepping-stone for Scouts working towards their Writer Activity Badge. Encourage your Scouts to read a book and consider how the book made them think about experiences in their own lives. Challenge them to write a story about those experiences, either from their perspective or from the perspective of a made-up character.
… For Explorers
- I am Malala: How One Girl Stood Up for Education and Changed the World by Malala Yousafzai
This memoir of a young woman shot on her way home from school for fighting for the right to education is a powerful tale of courage. The story shows us the difference young people can make in the fight for the rights of all people.
- Noughts & Crosses by Malorie Blackman
Inviting readers to imagine an alternative history where Pangaea never split, this novel takes us to a single supercontinent where the roles of slavery are reversed. The story gives us insight into historical oppression and the cruelty of discrimination.
Other books Explorers might enjoy: The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz, White Teeth by Zadie Smith, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie.
Reading books from around the world is a good way to develop a deeper understanding of issues from around the globe. Encourage Explorers working towards their Global Issues Activity Badge to read I am Malala, to think about and compare access to education in different countries.
Using empathy to help combat bullying
Because stories help us think about other people’s feelings and perspectives, a book can be a springboard to talk about bullying. For further support on preventing and addressing bullying, take a look at our Anti-Bullying resources.
For support when it comes to dealing with bullying online and in the real world, our Stay Safe leaflets are a helpful resource. Give them to the young people in your section to empower them with the necessary knowledge and signposts to support.
For more empathy-building book ideas, visit The Empathy Library.
Bonus! Books for adventure-lovers…
… For Beavers
- The Gruffalo by Julia Donaldson, and The Gruffalo Explorer Nature Trail books are perfect to pair with activities specially created for Beavers to achieve their My Outdoor Challenge Award.
… For Cubs
- Take your Cubs on a wild and wonderful journey with The Treehouse Books by Andy Griffiths and Terry Denton. They’re a perfect complement to our Treehouse Activity Sheets.
… For Scouts
- Bear Grylls' Mission Survival series is jam-packed with heart-racing adventures to delight and inspire your Scouts’ appetites for expedition.
Here’s to your reading adventures!