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Bibliotherapy: How reading can support pupils' social and emotional wellbeing

Books have an important role to play in providing comfort and support, believes St Benedict's Librarian, Emma Wallace. The school's new eBook collection of over 1250+ titles is an invaluable resource for pupils during the current pandemic.

St Benedict's: Bibliotherapy

With the arrival of the pandemic, our lives have changed dramatically in a short space of time, not least seeing pupils’ lessons moving online and embarking on home learning – something that was unthinkable even just a year ago!  For many of us, our increased time at home and the need to socially distance, has resulted in us living increasingly fractured and isolated lives.  There has consequently never been a more important time for pupils to find activities that support their mental health and maintain a sense of connection to others, even whilst not physically being able to meet up.  I believe that books and reading are one of those activities that can provide a sense of comfort and support, helping to sustain our wellbeing during this most difficult and uncertain time.   

A novel can transport us to an exotic island or magical land, allowing us to escape into our imagination, away from the day to day worries and stresses of our lives."

The Benefits of Reading

The academic benefits of reading, from boosting intelligence, to improving language and vocabulary skills have been much cited, but there are the equally important softer skills, such as developing our imagination, helping us to view the world from another’s perspective, understanding relationships better and developing empathy skills.  There are also real-life health benefits, including helping to improve sleep and reduce depression, anxiety and stress, all of which have been reported in The Reading Agency’s ‘The impact of reading for pleasure and empowerment’ report.

There are consequently a multitude of social and emotional benefits that can come from reading and something that pupils can easily take advantage of whilst at home.  We have a new eBook collection containing over 1250+ titles to assist with this, available online through Bennies Library ePlatform. (Pupils can login using their school email address and enter the password Library, allowing them to borrow up to five eBooks, for a period of two weeks.) 

St Benedict's: Bibliotherapy

Bibliotherapy – Books to Help You

Self-help books now dominate best-seller lists and can be found in proliferation in book shops, and at St Benedict’s we have our very own range of non-fiction book recommendations to help pupils with their social and emotional wellbeing.  The ‘Bibliotherapy – Books to Help You’ library guide includes topics such as managing stress and anxiety, building self-esteem, dealing with body image, understanding depression, dealing with bullies and providing support through grief.  These books can help pupils gain a deeper understanding of their issues, help them develop the skills to resolve their problems and also develop the language to express how they are feeling more accurately. (Our Bibliotherapy booklet is available to download from the Firefly Library Reading Lists page.)

St Benedict's: Bibliotherapy

Reading for Pleasure

It is through reading fiction books that the unique, wonderful and transformative experiences can occur, helping pupils feel happier and more connected in their lives.  A novel can transport us to an exotic island or magical land, allowing us to escape into our imagination, away from the day to day worries and stresses of our lives.  We may discover a character who is going through a similar experience to us, something that is life affirming and makes us feel a little less alone and isolated.  We may also read about a character that we don’t often come across in real life, such as a dastardly villain or a historical figure, connecting us to people who may express different beliefs or thoughts to us.  As we enter the character’s world, we experience their different reactions or emotions, allowing us to compare our own responses and, in effect, help to enhance our own emotional intelligence.   This is important during a time that many are going through very difficult experiences, from NHS staff, public transport workers, to people accessing food banks. It is more vital than ever that we continue to develop our empathy skills and carry out acts of kindness whenever possible.

Empathy and Book Characters

The power of book characters to help us imagine and share someone else’s feelings and perspectives is something that we have been exploring in Library lessons during lockdown.  Form 3 and Lower 4 have been thinking about books that have provoked big emotions and made them feel empathy and compassion for a character.  Pupils have mentioned books such as, The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas by John Boyne, Wonder by R.J. Palacio, Pig Heart Boy by Malorie Blackman and The Goldfish Boy by Lisa Thompson.  Read below some of our Year 8 pupils’ responses to their chosen book characters, the situations they have empathised with and how they would respond if they met the character in real life:

“I empathised with the character Auggie from the book Wonder by RJ Palacio. The situation that made me feel empathy for Auggie was when he started a new school and a few students were walking him around the school, with others being nasty to him and asking horrible questions about his skin condition. This situation honestly made me tear up as I know this happens in real life and I really would do anything to stop it. To help Auggie, I would just try and be his friend and be by his side to help him whenever needed.  Auggie also likes Xbox like me so we could play together.”


“I empathised with Lily from the book Gloves Off by Louisa Reid.  She is severely bullied for being overweight, both at school and around the neighbourhood. She is bullied so badly, she is beaten up, mugged and relentlessly teased. I felt heartbroken and angry at the way she had been treated - no one deserves to be treated the way she was. If I was watching that happen I would comfort Lily and tell the bullies to back off, as in the book her suffering was clearly illustrated.  I would tell her that things will get better, and teach her how to fight back to the bullies. I would comfort her and be there for her, when no one else was. I’d help her to understand that she was perfect just the way she was and not to listen to the bullies.”


“I felt empathy for the main character Josef in the book Refugee by Alan Gratz.  Josef is a Jewish refugee who is trying to escape Germany in WW2, experiencing a profound amount of racial abuse and receives numerous death threats on his journey.  I felt grief and sorrow for him and felt that no one should discriminate against someone else because of their race. Additionally, I linked the book back to reality, thinking about the racial abuse and discrimination that many people suffer from. The book and character Josef gave me a new perspective on the world, in that we should not let any discrimination or racial abuse happen in any way shape or form. It is a common problem that needs to be solved promptly.”


St Benedict's: Bibliotherapy





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