Today I am delighted to welcome Joseph Coelho to the blog for a special guest post about his brilliant new poetry book, ‘Overheard in a Tower Block,’ illustrated by Kate Milner. In celebration of Reading for Empathy Day on June 12th this year, this incredible book features in the 2018 Read for Empathy guide. A powerful poetry collection about growing up. The agonies of missing an absent Dad, the grief of a mother and the stresses of city life touch our emotions told brilliantly through Joseph’s potent but approachable voice. A must have addition for any primary or secondary library.
Want To Be An Astronaut Who Studies Animals In Space! – Joseph Coelho
The world has seen better days, fear seems to rule and ignorance is celebrated. We fear each other and are ignorant in our understanding of each others lives. We are becoming increasingly insular existing in tight little bubbles alongside digital ‘friend’s that believe what we believe, go where we go, have experienced what we have experienced. Anyone outside the bubble is wrong, dangerous, feared.
Our ability to empathise is lacking but maybe we can improve this ability for the children under our charge and restore a bit of our humanity. Empathylab’s Empathy day feels like a move in the right direction – a list of books that encourage us to see through the eyes of another to walk in their shoes.
Having worked closely with children for the past sixteen years I know that children have no problem empathising with one another – it’s natural to them it’s us adults that have the problem, something goes wrong as we grow, as we download cues from society but we can remedy this, we can celebrate each others differences and search for understanding of each others needs.
A little girl put up her hand at a book event I was running recently to tell me she will be an astronaut who studies animals in space when she is older. The adults laughed, she did not, she was serious. The fact is that as adults we have no idea of the jobs, challenges, opportunities young people will face in ten years time let alone twenty or thirty years time. They will meet people from all over the world (possibly all over the solar system!) brought up in all kinds of scenarios and circumstances with challenges we cannot even imagine.
But, we can gift them the tool of understanding, of listening first and responding (not reacting) later.
When writing my latest poetry collection ‘Overheard In A Tower Block’ I wanted to add depth to the ideas we have of family and tower blocks and working class kids, I guess I wanted readers to see me – not me personally but to see a kid like the kid I was, and to see that kid fully, someone with: thoughts, fears and worries, to see something other than the working class ‘estate’, ‘urban’ narrative that tends to be constant and everywhere and limiting and was never something I could fully identify with when growing up. I grew up on an estate but was never involved in drugs nor were my friends, there were no gangs, there was poverty and families struggling to get by, families that go upset and would laugh and feel joy like any other family in any other situation. I wanted my readers to find empathy with the humans that live on estates, with families that might look or be different from their own, to challenge the stereotypes that make judgement so easy.
Empathylab’s #ReadForEmpathy list has a host of books to broaden young minds and help us all see that there are far more things bringing us together than keeping us apart.
I very much hope you get to enjoy these wonderful books and to share your own #ReadForEmpathy recommendations.
Joseph Coelho is a children’s author and poet. His latest poetry collection ‘Overheard In A Tower Block’ (illustrated by Kate Milner and published by Otter-Barry Books) is featured on the Empathy Labs #ReadForEmpathy List and was long-listed for the 2018 Carnegie Medal and is currently shortlisted for the CLPE CLiPPA Poetry Award.
Empathy Day – June 12th 2018
Empathy Day was founded in 2017 by EmpathyLab. With hate crimes at their highest level since records began, it uses stories to help us understand each other better, and highlights empathy’s power in our divided world. (https://www.gov.uk/government/collections/hate-crime-statistics).
You can get involved in the following ways:
READ – because reading in itself can make us more empathetic
SHARE – because sharing perspectives through books can connect us in new ways
DO – put empathy into action and make a difference in your community
If you are a school or library that wants to become involved you can get a free toolkit from firstname.lastname@example.org or use the ideas and free downloadable resources at http://www.empathylab.uk/empathy-day-resources
Share ideas for empathy-boosting books on Twitter using #ReadForEmpathy @EmpathyLabUK
Why not join in with the rest of the blog tour to hear the powerful voices of the authors and illustrators involved.
Thank you to Joseph for his interesting blog post and thanks to Fritha and Miranda for inviting me to take part in this blog tour.