Introduction

“Children of today face a society that is increasingly global in focus and are profoundly affected by decisions and events occurring beyond their own shores, whether they are World Trade Organisation agreements, terrorism in Pakistan, deforestation in the world’s largest rainforest, genetic engineering innovations, or a simple sneeze in China that evolves into a global influenza epidemic” – Debbie Bradbery

“The power of literature to effectively convey complex ideas should not be surprising”
– Lewis, Rogers and Woolcock, 2005

Atticus Finch, the fictional character in Harper Lee’s legendary 1961 novel ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ famously said: “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view … until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.”

In today’s globalised society where we are all increasingly becoming more interconnected at every level, it is ever more important to understand and be sensitive to the unique realities, experiences, perceptions and behaviours of lives and realities of others near and far. Everything we do has an impact or a consequence to something or someone else around the world. We need to know and appreciate this. We need to be aware of the climatic implications of, for example our overconsumption; the direct impact of buying unfairly traded food or the use of child labour in the clothes we buy; the neglect of the brutality and consequences of war throughout the world and our unwelcome of the refugee or asylum seeker.

But how can we know for example what it’s really like to have been a child soldier kidnapped and abused under the Lord’s Resistance Army in Uganda? Or the brutality of everyday life under apartheid in South Africa? Or life today for a teenager in war-torn Afghanistan or Syria?

Back from Africa (October 31, 2011) by Brian Wolfe via Flickr. CC-BY-NC-2.0.
Back from Africa (October 31, 2011) by Brian Wolfe via Flickr. CC-BY-NC-2.0.

Our exposure to world literature (and, in particular fiction) through novels and poetry can support exploration, understanding and active engagement in today’s global realities and interconnections (cultural, economic, environmental, geographical, political, religious, social and technological). Using novels and poetry to learn more about global issues can be a powerful tool; according to Amnesty International, even the story of Paddington Bear can support a discussion about refugees and the resilience of the human spirit.

“…novels and even picture books possess great power to open up new worlds and inspire a capacity for empathy. Being able to empathise makes it easier to be kind, tolerant and willing to consider other points of view. It makes it harder to adopt prejudiced stances, helps to guard against aggression and conflict and may even encourage people to take positive action on behalf of others. It also helps young people to put their own problems in perspective. These are all values that lie at the heart of human rights – and we can find them in novels and picture books for children.” – Amnesty International

Reading a variety of novels and literature through fictional characters from all over the world can open up a space that encourages people to begin to understand some of the increasingly complex issues that surround global injustices and the denial of human rights such as poverty, inequality, prejudice, racism, etc., that continues to plague the past, present and potentially the future.

World literature and novels can enrich our understanding of not only differences, but also parallels, hared experiences, needs, wants and hopes, which demonstrate that what divides us may not be as extensive as we routinely think. For example, how else would we have been exposed to the similarities between German and Jew during World War II without being immersed in the lives of Bruno and Shmuel who met in a concentration camp in the acclaimed novel ‘The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas’ written by Irish novelist John Boyne?

Welcome to our introductory guide to fiction and development.

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