Today I am delighted to welcome Maria Farrer to the blog today with a special guest post to celebrate the release of her wonderful new book, ‘Me and Mister P: Ruby’s Star,’ illustrated by Daniel Rieley. I just adored, ‘Me and Mister P,’ it is warm and funny in equal measures. Paddington Bear meets Nanny McPhee in a delightful story about acceptance with an unlikely but charming friendship and I’m so glad our loveable polar bear is back and about to get involved in more hilarious antics. This time Mister P comes crash bang into the life of Ruby, who since her Dad left finds herself increasingly responsible for looking after her brother Leo and her Mum. Maria captures brilliantly the frustration Ruby feels towards her Mum and the sadness she experiences about her Dad’s absence. With Mister P’s help she soon discovers that by sharing her problems and not hiding them it will make her life more manageable. Daniel Rieley’s glorious illustrations brilliantly highlight the incongruous situation that Ruby and Mister P find themselves and the emotions that they all experience throughout the story. Who could resist a tale featuring a skate boarding polar bear who is determined to be helpful even when you don’t want him to be! I was totally enchanted by this new adventure, this is such a wonderful series.
Living Many Lives – How stories help to teach us empathy – Maria Farrer
How many lives can you live in a day, a month, a year? That all rather depends on how many books you read. Every time we pick up a book and become absorbed in a story, we have the chance to live a different life and become part of a new world. You can go forward in time or back in history. You can journey to different places either at home or abroad or you can go into a fantasy world that exists nowhere else but in a book. Even more exciting is that no two readers read a book in exactly the same way. Our imaginations each do something different with the words on the page so every story becomes unique to ourselves. If 30 children read the same book, they will, in effect, read 30 slightly different stories. This makes the combination of story and reader very powerful, both individually or collectively when reading and discussing as a group.
In all good books, authors and illustrators work hard NOT to tell us everything. They like to leave space for readers to ‘insert’ themselves and interact with the text on various levels. Understanding goes way beyond the words or pictures on the page and the importance of inference cannot be understated for it is at the core of effective comprehension (both in spoken and written language). Empathy and inference are closely linked. Empathy often results from inferring how a person is feeling from their tone of voice or body language in addition to what they may or may not be saying. So when a writer says that a character blushes, sobs, slams the door or shrugs we infer that they may be embarrassed, sad, angry or couldn’t care less (or perhaps just pretending that they couldn’t care less). We relate this to information we have about the situation they are in and the decisions they need to make. Inference makes our imagination do an extra leap, forcing us to actively engage with the story and luring us into empathising more fully with characters and events. Precisely what we infer and how closely we empathise will depend, to some extent, on our own life experience. But this also works the other way round. Reading helps us to develop empathy and empathy, in turn, can help to develop inference. When a child becomes immersed in a story, they align themselves so closely with characters and events that they actively live the story as if it is their own and, in so doing, learn and develop new emotional competencies and resources on which they can draw in their own lives. Thus, stories can play an important part in helping children understand both themselves and others. The more we interact and engage with a story, the more strongly that story will make us FEEL and the more strongly we feel, the more we will interact and engage with the story. This is the power of story. This is how we can learn empathy.
(Illustrations ©Daniel Rieley 2018)
The Mister P series places a lot of emphasis on empathy. All children face challenges in their everyday life, both at home and at school. For some these challenges can become overwhelming. It is hard to see how the arrival of a polar bear will help … but then Mister P isn’t just any old polar bear—he has a natural capacity for empathy and also elicits empathy by being hilariously hopeless and hapless as he adapts to life in an alien environment. Empathy isn’t about being good or perfect. It is about being open-minded and non-judgemental, it’s about understanding and working things out. Mister P and the children he visits learn and make mistakes together and ultimately move towards finding solutions.
Chris Riddell says that “A good book is an empathy engine”. Stories drive the ability to see and understand things from many different perspectives in a variety of situations. Some children need more help than others in developing emotional literacy and shared or group reading and discussion are wonderful ways in which to explore why characters act or react in the way that they do and what we might do in the same situation. The more we can read and discuss and learn, the better our understanding and responses will be in every aspect of life. Empathy goes way beyond stories. It is a core life skill. It is what makes us better people and the world a better place.
(Illustrations © Daniel Rieley 2018)
Maria Farrer is just settling into a new life in the Yorkshire Dales. A keen lover of the outdoors and mountains, she is enjoying exploring the fells with her family and her ever-energetic black labrador. Her dog has played a vital role in the writing of the Mister P series as he been teaching Maria all she needs to know about how animals and humans communicate.
Maria writes for children and young adults. She loves to laugh and is usually up for a chal-lenge (which is lucky as life with Mister P is mostly quite funny and sometimes quite challenging). She studied Speech and Language Therapy at UCL and has an MA in writing for young people from Bath Spa. She started life as a speech and language therapist and specialised in working with children with language and literacy difficulties both in the UK and overseas.
In her work in schools, she likes to share interesting facts about polar bears and to raise awareness of their increasing fight for survival. One day she dreams of visiting polar bears in the wild.
Why not join in with the rest of the blog tour for more guest posts and reviews.
Thank you to Maria for her insightful guest post and to Hannah and OUP for inviting me to take part in the blog tour. ‘Me and Mister P: Ruby Star,’ is available to buy now online or from any good bookshop. If you want to win a copy of both books in this series simply comment on this blog post or head over to Twitter and RT my pinned tweet.