Thursday, 17 January 2019

2019 Read For Empathy selections

After thoroughly enjoying my experience of being on the selection panel for 2018's Read for Empathy guide, I was delighted to be invited again to help select the books that would appear on this year's lists. As one of EmpathyLab's twelve original pilot schools from 2015, we've invested a lot of time and effort into developing our children's empathy skills at Moorlands. Much of our work has been centred around the use of high quality books, which studies have shown can have a positive impact on developing empathy, and it was a privilege to be able to help provide other schools with a similar opportunity.

Along Came A Different
a delightfully appealing picturebook about friendship

The first stage of the judging process involved spending a significant chunk of the summer holidays reading approximately 70 books which had all been nominated by their publishers and making notes about the suitability of each. Several books were discarded at this stage, not because they were poorly written or weren't enjoyable to read, but because it was felt that they didn’t quite deliver the specific empathy criteria that we had been tasked with finding. Each book was judged on whether they contain characters that readers can empathise with, the insights into the lives of others that are provided, how emotional vocabulary is used and how the book motivates the reader to put empathy into action.

The seven judges (more information heremet at the CLPE in London in early December to finalise a list of 30 books for primary schools and a list of 15 books for secondary schools. The final lists caused much discussion and occasional (highly professional) disagreements but, as the overall quality of the books was so high, a consensus was reached on the majority quite quickly. Both lists include an exciting combination of picture books, novels, poetry and graphic novels and the panel feel confident that the books selected provide a broad appeal to a wide range of readers.

Ella On The Outside
a very popular read with Deer Class

Some books I read by myself, some I relished having the opportunity to share with my class or my own children. Ella On The Outside, the debut novel from Cath Howe, was an absolute pleasure to read aloud to my Year 6 pupils. There were so many things about the book that the children could relate to and it led to several spontaneous discussions on a variety of subjects. The main character, Ella, suffers from psoriasis, as does a girl in my class, and every time we sat down to enjoy the book, she would shuffle to the front of the carpet and literally hang on to the bottom of my leg as I read. Speaking to her after we finished reading, I asked what she'd enjoyed about it the most and she replied, “It could have been about me. I haven’t read any books like that before". As soon as it went on the class bookshelf, she immediately borrowed it to take home and reread. She's become a real advocate for the book, recommending it to her friends in other classes and always moving it to the display shelf in the school library.

The 2019 Read For Empathy Primary Guide selections

As the above example demonstrates, all children love to see themselves represented in what they read, which is why I'm so delighted that, of the 45 featured titles, 44% have a BAME protagonist or cast of characters. This is significantly more positive than the recent Reflecting Realities study from CLPE, which found that only 1% of children’s books published had a lead BAME character. The selected books include the heartwarming Love From Anna Hibiscus! by Atinuke, the beautifully engaging If All The World Were by Joseph Coelho and Allison Colpoys, and the powerful verse novel Booked by Kwame Alexander.

Love From Anna Hibiscus
a wonderful series to share with younger children

Another book that I really enjoyed, and which has been making its way around the class since September, is The Distance Between Me and the Cherry Tree by Paola Peretti. It's based on the author's own experiences of Stargardt's disease, a progressive illness which causes a gradual deterioration in eyesight, ultimately leading to complete blindness. It tells the story of Mafalda, who measures her failing vision by the distance from which she can see her favourite cherry tree on her morning journey to school. It's an emotionally powerful book and highly recommended. For my full review, please visit the Just Imagine website.

The Distance Between Me and the Cherry Tree
an optimistic book full of hope and joy

Each year, I try and read a couple of verse novels to my class, with Cloud BustingInside Out and Back Again and Love That Dog all being among the regulars. Everything All At Once by Steven Camden (aka Polarbear) is a verse novel about adjusting to life at secondary school, an experience common to us all. Every poem is a beautifully observed insight into school life, and the book provides numerous opportunities for discussions about empathy and understanding with students across Key Stage Three.

Everything All At Once
a poignant verse novel

I’m also absolutely thrilled that the collection also contains some well known ‘empathy classics’, including Elmer by David McKee, Noughts and Crosses by Malorie Blackman and one of my all-time favourites, The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane by Kate DiCamillo. I’ve read this book to almost every class I’ve taught over the past seven or eight years and it's been one of the highlights on our reading journey every time. After the first few chapters, the children tend to decide that Edward is a self-centred and dislikeable character but, by the end of the book, they all adore him and can fully empathise with his emotional experiences. It's an absolutely wonderful book that should be on the bookshelf in every Key Stage Two classroom, and I genuinely look forward to my annual read.

The 2019 Read For Empathy Secondary Guide selections

If I had the time, I'd happily sing the praises of each book on the 2019 Read for Empathy lists as they all deserve to be celebrated. They all have the potential to change a child’s outlook on the world, and it’s so exciting to know that such a high quality collection of literature will be having a positive impact in classrooms across the country. I’m looking forward to finding out all the creative ways that they'll be used in the run-up to National Empathy Day, which takes place on Tuesday 11th June 2019, and can't wait to read and enjoy even more of them with the pupils and staff at my school.

More information about the selections that make up the two lists can be found on the Empathy Lab website.

The combined lists

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