Today sees the launch of the first Empathy Day from Empathy Lab, a platform to emphasise the importance of empathy in our divided world, and raise awareness of the power of stories to develop it. Books allow children to step into the shoes of others and experience whole new worlds and circumstances, letting them understand their feelings and lives. Picture books help the very youngest readers access difficult topics and feel empathy and understanding for the characters in a way that wouldn’t be possible if we just talked to our children about the world. They help us to have important and meaningful conversations with children at home and in school. Today I have chosen picture books which address a wide range of social and emotional issues.
We’re All Wonders – R.J. Palacio
When my Year 6 teachers asked me to help them choose a class novel that would help teach the children empathy, my first thought was the fabulous ‘Wonder’ by R.J. Palacio the story of Auggie who is different from everyone and struggles to fit in. So I was thrilled to discover that our beloved Auggie was going to feature in a picture book that encourages children to accept that they are all different in their own way. A simple and poignant tale which highlights how damaging unkind words can be to any child and the hurt and pain that is felt when you don’t feel like you belong. Auggie is not only an ordinary boy, who does ordinary things like riding a bike, eating ice-cream and playing ball but because of how he looks he is seen to be extraordinary by the rest of the world but not in a positive way. A wonderful book to inspire children to be kind and to learn to understand and accept that we should embrace our differences. This book needs to be in every primary school library.
My Name Is Not Refugee – Kate Milner
As a parent it is sometimes difficult to explain complex situations in a way that children can comprehend. They have been bombarded by unhelpful and inaccurate images and information from the media about the ‘refugee crisis’ around the world and I often struggle to answer their questions. ‘My Name is Not Refuge’ takes the reader on a journey with a boy and his mother who are leaving their town because it is too dangerous. It invites them to become involved with the decision making allowing them to understand the tough choices they must make and the awfulness of the situation the boy and his mother find themselves in. What would you take with you, if you could only bring what you could carry? How would it feel to leave your possessions behind, or to sleep in and strange place and not understand their language when people tried to talk to you. A gentle and incredibly powerful story, a must have read .
The Lumberjack’s Beard – Duncan Beedie
In a world where some highly influential people insist that ‘climate change’ is a myth and that there is no need to protect the environment in which we live, how can we educate children about the dangers our planet faces? ‘The Lumberjack’s Beard is a humorous exploration of the consequences when we take our finite resources for granted. Jim Hickory chops drown trees all day not realising that he is making lots of woodland creatures homeless. When there are no trees left he is forced to house them all in his beard which inevitably causes him great annoyance and stress. When it gets too much for him to bear he needs to come up with a long-lasting solution. Bold and vivid illustrations bring this story to life and capture the chaos of the destruction of the forest wonderfully.
Under The Same Sky – Britta Teckentrupp
‘Under the Same Sky’ is a wonderful exploration of the animal kingdom celebrating the differences between them whilst embracing what unites them. Using beautiful, lyrical narration we travel across the world and see songs being sung, games being played and love being felt. It is the hopes and the dreams which they share that bring them together. Although this is told through the eyes of the animal kingdom this simplistic message can be applied to humanity as well. No matter who we are or where we are from we are intrinsically share the same thoughts. Britta’s lush, rich illustrations which burst with colour takes the reader on this voyage of discovery, encouraging children to peep through the pages to find out more. A wonderfully, poignant story which demands to be shared!
Welcome – Barroux
When Polar Bear and his friends are swept away from their icy home, they hope to find refuge in a new land. But when they are turned away from one new place after another, they start to doubt that they will ever find somewhere they will be made welcome. This book is extraordinary and Barroux has managed to convey a very powerful message about the plight of migrants and has created so many layers that it opens up a wide range of areas for discussion. Not only that but visually you will become totally engaged through the story as you see the contrast between the starkness of the Polar Bear’s situation trapped on this tiny bit of ice versus the outstanding beauty of the islands where they try to seek refuge. It really is a unique and powerful story which will appeal to children of all ages.
The Unexpected Visitor – Jessica Courtney-Tickle
We live in a world of excessive consumption where we can get whatever we need at the touch of a button, so much so that we often have too much, much more than we can ever actually need. In ‘The Unexpected Visitor’ we meet a fisherman who lives all alone on a rocky island catching and cooking buckets and buckets of fish in case anyone happened to stop by, but they never do. One day a whale visits him and the fisherman is delighted to share his fish but when he goes to catch them they are all gone! This beautiful story introduces the importance of friendship and sharing to children, whilst giving the opportunity to discuss sustainability and how we need to protect our planet and it’s finite resources. Exquisitely illustrated, this gorgeous story is filled with warmth and emotion an absolute gem of a book.
You can find out more about Empathy Day and Empathy Lab you can by visit the website for more information including a special selection of book recommendations. If you have any books that you would like to recommend head over to Twitter and share them using the hashtag #ReadForEmpathy
Thank you to Barrington Stoke, Egmont Publishing, Little Tiger and Templar Books for sending me these stunning books and to Whitchurch Library for the loan of ‘We’re All Wonders’