This project focuses on how children learn about and understand their own rights and their responsibilities to respect the rights of others. If children, and the adults who care for them, are to secure their rights, they have to know what rights children have. The project draws upon children's rights law, human rights theory, human rights education research, and literary theory to explore these questions.
A number of the existing resources address children’s rights education—such as child-friendly versions of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights—but many children do not have access to these materials. Organizations such as UNICEF, Amnesty International, and the Peace Education Program at Columbia University have published creative curricula to teach children about their rights and responsibilities. The results from the implementation of these programs in various locales has been very encouraging. In addition to these programs, there is another resource—which children frequently engage already—that offers children opportunities to learn about their rights and the rights of others: children's literature. Many of the books children read and have read to them at home and at school are a source of rights discourse.
This project explores the human rights discourses in children's literature.
For details on the project, please see the following resources:
THE BOOK: Jonathan Todres & Sarah Higinbotham, Human Rights in Children's Literature: Imagination and the Narrative of Law (Oxford University Press, 2016).
"Jonathan Todres and Sarah Higinbotham reveal in this remarkable and long overdue book [that] the content of children's literature is crucial. It matters for the children concerned and, by extension, for the very nature of the societies in which they grow up. It helps children to understand that they have rights, and that these rights are important. Children's literature has a pivotal role to play in forging that early sense of self-worth, and Jonathan and Sarah are to be congratulated for shining a new light on a role that has, until now, been under-appreciated". (From the Foreword) -- Carol Bellamy, Former Executive Director of UNICEF
"In this wonderful and wonder-filled book, two gifted scholars take the abstract concept of rights for children and bring it to life through the books children love. It is much more than a scholarly study. It is a roadmap for action. Not your grandmother's two dimensional paper roadmap, but a 21st century navigator speaking in voices that are funny, frightened, angry, sad, brave, and joyful to guide us on the path to implementation of children's rights as human rights." -- Barbara Bennett Woodhouse, L. Q. C. Lamar Professor of Law, Director Child Rights Project, Emory University School of Law
"Human Rights in Children's Literature: Imagination and the Narrative of Law serves as an important guide and inspiration as parents, teachers, and advocates work together to develop a constructive vision for developing a human rights consciousness based on learning theory, literature review, and human rights legal analysis." - Sarah H. Paoletti, Professor of Law, University of Pennsylvania Law School, reviewed in International Journal of Children's Rights (November 2017).
"The authors have embarked upon a unique and thought-provoking exploration of children’s literature through which readers gain new insights into how stories influence children’s awareness of their rights. This groundbreaking inquiry is a must read for all those interested in learning how literature serves as a vehicle for human rights education." -- Diane Whitehead, Executive Director, Association for Childhood Education International.
"Incredibly educational and informative....an excellent entry into the complex interweaving between the literary and legal discussions of human rights through children’s literature" -- Rebekah Fitzsimmons, Fellow, Georgia Tech School of Literature, Media, and Communication. Reviewed in The Lion and the Unicorn (Johns Hopkins University Press, Sept 2016).
"[T]his book should be a valuable resource to educators, librarians, psychologists and other specialists who are actively involved in maintaining the
well-being of children." -- Anastasia Ulanowicz, Associate Professor, Department of English, University of Florida. Reviewed in International Research in Children's Literature (June 2017)
"[Todres and Higinbotham] reveal the enormous potential of considering children’s literature’s constructive contributions to human rights culture....The authors make connections to fields such as education, social work, history, law, literary analysis, child development, and psychology, but
scholars of dozens of other fields would find this work to be compelling and encouraging of future research." -- Ricki Ginsberg, Assistant Professor, Department of English, Colorado State University. Reviewed in Journal of Human Rights (July 2017)
"For those working to bring human rights home, the book offers important and unique insights on the role that children’s literature can play in shaping a culture of human rights, near and far." -- Risa Kaufman, Executive Director, Columbia Law School Human Rights Institute. Click here for the full review.
Selected News Coverage:
Video: Human Rights in Children’s Literature (March 23, 2018)
Share My Lesson blog profile (October 16, 2017)
Podcast of interview with Susan Raab for New Books Network (October 18, 2016)
Interview on WABE, Atlanta's NPR Station (City Lights with Lois Reitzes, September 28, 2016)
Life, Liberty, and Literature: Our Q&A with Law Professor Jonathan Todres (by Laura Lavelle, Newswhistle)
Jonathan Todres, "The Trump Effect, Children, and the Value of Human Rights Education," Family Court Review, 56(2): 331-343 (2018).
Jonathan Todres, "The Importance of Human Rights Education," April 6, 2016
Jonathan Todres, "Building a Culture of Human Rights" OUPBlog, December 15, 2015
Jonathan Todres, "The Portrayal of Rights in Children's Literature Teaches Important Lessons" New York Times, July 9, 2014
Jonathan Todres and Sarah Higinbotham, "A Person's a Person: Children's Rights in Children's Literature" Columbia Human Rights Law Review (Fall 2013) 45(1): 1-56.
I welcome your ideas and invite you to share suggestions and resources. Please tell me about your or your children's favorite children's books that discuss human rights themes, ways you have used children's literature to facilitate children's learning about rights and duties, or other ideas you have. I'm interested in stories from all countries and cultures, both written and oral storytelling traditions.
Please click here to contact me and share your ideas. Thank you.
Related articles and resources:
Cindy Long, Diversity in Children's Literature Key to Understanding Today's Civil Rights Issues, NEA Today, October 24, 2016
Stefano Montanari, Children's Book Teaches Human Rights and Democratic Values, The Chronicle of Social Change, September 22, 2016
Peggy Albers, "Why Stories Matter for Children's Learning" The Conversation, January 5, 2016
New human rights books prize: the Amnesty CILIP Honour announced (via The Guardian) October 15, 2015
SF Said, "Can Children's Books Help Build a Better World?" The Guardian, September 29, 2015
Abie Longstaff, "A History of Human Rights Abuses in Fairytales" The Guardian, May 22, 2015
Julia Eccleshare, "What Are the Best Political Books for Kids?" The Guardian, April 7, 2015
Walter Dean Myers, "Where Are the People of Color in Children's Books" New York Times, March 15, 2014
Katy Guest, Gender-specific books demean all our children. So the Independent on Sunday will no longer review anything marketed to exclude either sex, The Independent, March 15, 2014
Amnesty International UK, "Children's Fiction. Human Rights. What's the Connection?" September 11, 2012
Ideas and guides for using children's literature to explore human rights:
Teaching resources to accompany the 2016 shortlisted books for the Amnesty CILIP Honour for Human Rights in Children's Literature.
Natalie Bernstein, Reflections on Refugees, The Paideia Elementary Library, September 28, 2015
Related resources on human rights education: