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Developing Reading for Pleasure: engaging young readers
Developing Reading for Pleasure: engaging young readers

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4 Dangers of the single story

The power of narrative is clear – yet author and cultural critic, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie warns of ‘the danger of a single story’. In her Ted Talk (2009), Adichie explains that everyone is vulnerable and impressionable in the face of a story. When the only story told of people from a cultural or ethnic group is one of poverty and catastrophe, or of war and migration, you construct distorted visions of people, their backgrounds and their histories. The single story becomes the only story. It does not tell of rich cultures and linguistic traditions, or of deep and lasting friendships, nor of the people who create art, literature and music, nor the stories of innovation, and of those who thrive and prosper. Single stories create stereotypes, and the problem is not that these stories are untrue, but that they are incomplete.

Adichie explains that stories can be used to dispossess and marginalise, but the same story told another way can be used to empower. She comments, ‘Stories can break the dignity of a people, but stories can also repair that broken dignity’ (2009). How a story is told, who tells it, when it is told, and how many stories are told, shape how you view the world.

Personal reflection 2

Think about a news story or an issue that has been prominent across your mainstream and social media recently.

Reflect upon how the narrative and the issues have been reported and how they represent a group of people. Have the narratives you have experienced on this issue told only a single story of these people, or multiple stories?


At the time of writing, during the Covid-19 pandemic, there are news reports that socio-economically disadvantaged children have suffered a greater ‘loss of learning’ than their better-off peers. It is reported that these pupils will require educational ‘catch-up’. The pandemic has undoubtedly had a detrimental effect on many students’ learning, however, it is difficult to generalise across any particular group. Every pupil is an individual, and it is important that we do not accept the single story as the only story.

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Optional resource

You can watch Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Ted Talk here

Video 1 (The Open University is not responsible for external content.)
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To enable children to develop broad perspectives of the world, it is crucial that they have access to a wide range of rich literature written by diverse authors. Reading widely offers children multiple stories, voices and perspectives, which enable them to reject the single story.

In the next section, you will explore how literature broadens children’s perspectives of the world, offering multiple stories and diverse insights into unfamiliar cultures and ways of life.