Monday, 10 June 2019

Empathy Day 2019

As a result of being involved with the Patron of Reading movement, I was privileged to hear Miranda McKearney OBE talk about her new EmpathyLab project at one of our early conferences. Since then, I've been delighted to see their fantastic work gain real momentum over the past three years. The EmpathyLab approach is based around using books and reading to help children develop empathy skills. My school, Moorlands Primary Academy, was one of the original twelve pioneer schools and the work that we've done on empathy has made a significant difference to our pupils. A full evaluation report, published earlier this year, goes into detail about the impact that the initiative has had.

With the third national Empathy Day taking place on Tuesday 11th June, I felt it would be an appropriate time to share some favourite recent reads that have an empathy focus. Most have been published over the last year or so but there are a couple that are significantly older. To find even more suggestions, please check out the #ReadForEmpathy and #EmpathyDay hashtags on Twitter which will hopefully be trending on the day. The shortlist of books selected for the 2019 Read For Empathy collection is another useful place to look.

Recent empathy favourites

The Butterfly Circus by Francesca Armour-Chelu
A beautifully written story, very engaging, with a strong female lead character. The relationship between the two sisters in the story is absolutely key, as is the emphasis on belief and self-confidence. Enjoyed the vivid descriptions of the circus setting and also how the book touches on animal welfare.

When Sadness Is At Your Door by Eva Eland
Charming picturebook which treats sadness as an inevitable occasional visitor into people's lives. Sensitively and comfortingly done. Loved the subdued colour scheme and how the endpapers are an integral part of the book. Perfect introduction to dealing with difficult times for children in KS1.

New Kid by Jerry Craft
Probably one of my top three graphic novels of the year. Starting at a new school on the other side of the city and away from your friends is hard, but when you are one of very few people of colour attending the school, it's even harder. An engrossing read and provides so much to think about and discuss. This has been doing the rounds in my classroom from the minute it came through the door.

Runaway Robot by Frank Cottrell-Boyce
Everything FCB has ever written has been full of opportunities to think about and discuss empathy, and this is no different. The revelation in the final third of the book genuinely threw me and brought a tear to my eye. I had to stop reading for five minutes and regroup. Just wonderful.

Not My Fault by Cath Howe
Ella On The Outside, Cath Howe's debut book, has been one of our favourite class reads of the school year. This story about two siblings who are struggling to cope with each other on a residential trip is also excellent. Sibling rivalry, the never-ending power struggles that are the basis of many school friendships and the challenges faced by becoming more independent are all covered. Also a great way to introduce dual and unreliable narrators.

Click by Kayla Miller
Another sparkling and vibrant graphic novel, about children finding the courage to make their own choices during their time at school. A student faces up to not being chosen to be in any of the groups for her school talent show and has to find ways to deal with it. Many children will empathise immediately. I did.

The Sea Saw by Tom Percival
Highly atmospheric and engaging picturebook, ostensibly about a girl losing her teddy bear. Our Key Stage One classes have used this as the basis for much of their empathy work over the past few weeks. Exquisitely designed collages just add greater depth to the emotional journey. So many parallels with Kate DiCamillo's joyous The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane, one of my favourite children's books.

Ghost by Jason Reynolds
On the surface, a story about a boy's experiences when joining his school athletics team, but really about so much more. First in the Track series, with the second book, Patina, coming out in the summer (and I can't wait). Family, guilt, fear and the importance of strong relationships. An absolute delight, packs a hugely powerful punch.

Inside Out And Back Again by Thanhha Lai
Although this book has been out for several years, I've only recently read it. An enormously moving verse novel about a family from Vietnam being forced to flee to the USA when war approaches their home town. Demonstrates how relationships need to evolve as circumstances change. Provides many opportunities to talk about the different reasons why people are forced to migrate around the world.

The Busker by Paul Jennings
Paul Jennings is one of the unrivalled masters of writing short stories for children and The Busker, despite being published over thirty years ago, is perhaps his best. A thought-provoking tale that touches on the nature of friendship, the importance of kindness and the necessity to stand up for your beliefs. Have read it to most of the classes I've taught over the past twenty years and it has brought tears and cries of disbelief every time.

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