Read For Empathy

Yesterday was Empathy Day – a day which celebrates a superpower everyone can learn. Empathy is our ability to understand and share someone else’s feelings. It builds stronger, kinder communities. It’s a crucial life skill that children need to learn, thrive and make a positive difference. Books provide a safe way to explore different situations and experience other lives, and when children identify with book characters, they
learn to see things from other people’s point of view. As they read, they are building their empathy skills.

This year, 40 books were selected for primary schools, with each book exploring timely, powerful themes, including food poverty and homelessness; handling and sharing emotionsidentity; understanding different cultures and changing society for the better. This week, I am sharing four of my favourites from the list, 

Expanding children’s vocabulary for feelings has a profound effect on understanding self, and building empathy. Everybody Has Feelings by Jon Burgerman is the perfect book to help our younger children do this.

It covers feeling joyful, anxious, brave, jealous, embarrassed and 17 other emotions. The illustrations help explain how each emotion might look bodily.

Nikhil And Jay: The Star Birthday by Chitra Soundar, illustrated by Soofiya is a fabulous collection of four interlinked stories about Nikhil and Jay and their family: Grandad and Granny come to visit from Chennai; there’s a Star Birthday with a special Indian feast; the family go for a banana picnic in the park; and the time comes for Grandad and Granny to go home.  From them the brothers learn practical things about life in India, like cooking. And the grandparents lovingly pass on wisdom about handling emotions.

Everyday interactions with family at their heart make Nikhil and Jay instantly relatable to young children, while opening a window into another culture. The huge Indian feast for Nikhil’s birthday, the family picnic in the park, the sadness at saying goodbye to family who live far away, and the joy at finding a way to stay in touch all give opportunities for discussion beyond the story and a chance for children to work their empathy engines.

The Good Turn by Sharna Jackson is brimming with good-hearted characters. This pacy adventure focuses on how children can make a difference in the world. Josie, Margot and Wesley form a troop called the Copseys and set about challenging racism and social injustice in their community.

Josephine Williams is definitely a leader – and her teachers know it! What other eleven-year-old is desperate for MORE schoolwork? Looking for more challenging tasks, Josie enlists her friends Wesley and Margot into her very own Scout troop, the Copseys, named after the street they all live on. Together they start their quest for their camping badge by sleeping out near to the abandoned factory behind their houses. But that night they stumble across something strange. Someone seems to be living in the derelict building! The Copseys have to solve the mystery… and perhaps earn their bravery and activism badges along the way…

Perfect for readers who love Robin Stevens and Katherine Woodfine, and full of fast-paced adventure, brilliant characters and snappy dialogue with themes of real-life activism and how to help others.

Frankie’s World by Aoife Dooley is a graphic novel offering a unique perspective on autism told with humour and heart. We meet Frankie, who is autistic, as she tries to work out if she’s an alien and why her dad left when she was a baby. A funny, dynamic read full of warmth and heart; a realistic representation of neurodivergence.

Frankie knows she’s not like anyone else in her class: she’s different, but she can’t quite figure out why. Is it the new freckle on her nose, or the fact she’s small for her age? Or that she has to go to the hospital sometimes? Everyone else seems to think she’s weird too, and they make fun of her at school.

Frankie’s dad left when she was a baby – maybe he was different too? It would explain why she always feels like an alien. So she and her best-friend Sam, embark on a mission to track him down. 

And I’m sneaking in a fifth book this week – We’ve Got This: Six Steps To Build Your Empathy Super Power by Rashmi Sirdeshpande & EmpathyLab is the essential empathy handbook for young readers. In just SIX simple steps readers will be taught how to harness empathy as their human SUPERPOWER, and discover how using this power can change their lives and the world around them for the better.

The emotional well-being of children is just as important as their physical health but it’s not something that all children are taught about or are offered support for. Harnessing empathy and growing their emotional intelligence allows children and young people to develop the resilience to cope with life’s ups and downs as well as understand and experience other people’s emotions, feelings and points of view.

Happy reading!

Year 3 Challenge Miss Cleveland: Nature

This week, Year 3 have challenged me to choose books based on the theme of nature, just in time for the weather to be good enough to enjoy books outside!

For our younger children, I have chosen Mrs Noah’s Garden by Jackie Morris and James Mayhew.

The flood is over – but while Mr Noah builds a house out of the ark, Mrs Noah creates a garden. Luckily her famous pockets contain seeds and she has some help from the children – and the creatures. Midsummer morning brings some very special surprises! This magical story from the creators of Mrs Noah’s Pockets explores new beginnings, care for nature and, above all, home.

James Mayhew’s vibrant spreads are the perfect backdrop for Jackie Morris’s lyrical tale which touches on themes of refugees and migration, but my biggest take away from Mrs Noah’s Garden was a new found love for the outdoors, and the creativity it inspires, which leads perfectly onto my next choice…

The Big Book Of Nature Art by Yuval Zommer is packed with twenty-two easy art activities inspired by nature. Each of the activities can be achieved in four simple steps using natural materials combined with recycled or found materials from around the home. Drawing on Zommer’s years of experience running art workshops for children, The Big Book of Nature Art includes his tips for stress-free ways to get creative with kids.

Each nature art activity requires no more than five minutes set-up and five minutes clean-up, making them easy to achieve and fun for everyone involved. The book also encourages children to see the creative potential in the natural and everyday treasures all around us – from twigs, seed pods, petals and leaves through to loo rolls, pencil shavings, takeaway cutlery and kitchen string.

Little nature artists will enjoy making paper-plate birds; leaf bugs; coffee-cup owls; tree bark bats; and seed pod creepy crawlies, as well as scenes for their creatures to dwell in, from watery worlds to underground tunnels.

For our older children, I have picked Witchstorm by Tim Tilley.

Will believes in witches and the stories he’s grown up with – of mythical storm-lions, disappearing villages, and secret songs. Most of all, he believes the tales of magical treasure hidden in the Fens centuries ago. Treasure that he has to find, to solve the mystery of his Ma’s disappearance. Then, in the eye of a storm, a witch arrives. She holds the key to finding the lost treasure – a powerful magical object that can summon storms. But someone else is searching for it too. If it falls into the wrong hands, Will’s beloved home could be destroyed, and with it, his chances of ever finding his ma. Join Will on an epic quest filled with riddles, ruined towers, cloud cities and broomstick chases, on a journey to save everything he loves before time runs out.

An astonishingly atmospheric adventure, that feels timeless. Once you start, you will not want to put it down. Tim Tilley’s keen observations about the flora and fauna transport the reader to Will’s world, a time of rapid industrial growth, where motor cars are in their infancy. A strong environmental message about living in harmony with the natural world is woven effortlessly into this story of witches, wildlife, courage and hope. I’ll definitely be paying more attention to the clouds from now on.

And finally, I Am The Seed That Grew A Treenamed after the first line of Judith Nicholls’ poem ‘Windsong’, is a lavishly illustrated collection of 366 nature poems selected by Fiona Waters. There is one for every day of the year, including leap years and is filled with familiar favourites and new discoveries, written by a wide variety of poets, including – John Agard, Roger McGough, Christina Rossetti, William Shakespeare, and many more. There are in fact 185 named poets and many anonymous poems to explore and enjoy including much-loved classics, contemporary favourites, traditional rhymes and poetry in translation.

Published in collaboration with the National Trust, this anthology is a brilliant introduction to a wide range of nature poetry, through which you can explore the wonderful world of animals, plants, trees, weather and much more with each carefully selected poem. Stunning original artwork lets you travel through the changing seasons and immerse yourself in the beauty and wonder of the natural world. This is the perfect book for children (and grown-ups!) to share at the beginning or the end of the day, or just to dip into.

Happy reading!


Year 4 Challenge Miss Cleveland: Dystopian Worlds

This week, Year 4 have challenged me to recommend books set in ‘Dystopian Worlds’. Dystopian fiction, in all of its forms, shows a world in decline or collapse. Regardless of the root cause, the common person is labouring under some form of oppressive control, the most common culprits being government, technology, and social conditioning. Disaster can strike without much—or any—warning; an environmental collapse, a world war, a robotic uprising, a global pandemic…

Flooded by Mariajo Ilustrajo

The flood comes gradually at first.  All the animals ignore the obvious and go about their busy lives, disjointed from one another and preoccupied by their own problems. Eventually, the flood water reaches a height that they can no longer ignore and they have to work together to save their city. All the animals join together in a line and pull out the plug that is drowning the city.

This is an exceptionally illustrated story that teaches a message not to let problems fester and with a little team work and community spirit, no problem is insurmountable. 

The King Who Banned The Dark by Emily Haworth-Booth

There was once a little boy who was afraid of the dark. There’s nothing unusual about that. Most children are afraid of the dark at one time of another. But this little boy was a Prince, and he decided that when he became King, he would do something about the dark. He would ban it. When a King bans the dark completely, installing an artificial sun, and enforcing “anti-dark” laws, it seems like a good idea. The citizens don’t need to worry about monsters, crime, or any of the other scary things that might live in the dark. But what happens when nobody can sleep, and the citizens revolt? Will the King face his fears and turn the lights off?

The King Who Banned the Dark is a beautiful story about how we need the dark in order to enjoy the light.

It’s The End Of The World And I’m In My Bathing Suit by Jason A.Reynolds

What happens when five unsupervised kids face the apocalypse under outrageously silly circumstances? Twelve-year-old Eddie Gordon Holloway has concocted his most genius plan ever to avoid chores … especially the dreaded L-A-U-N-D-R-Y. If he can wears every item of clothing in his wardrobe, summer will be halfway over before he has to do laundry! On the day of the highly anticipated Beach Bash, Eddie ends up grounded until he can get his clothes clean. While left home alone to do his laundry, the power goes out mid-cycle. With his first load of laundry soaking wet and the rest still filthy, Eddie sets out to explore the seemingly empty neighborhood in just his swim trunks and flip-flops. As he meets up with other neighborhood kids to find out what happened, they realize that their families aren’t coming back anytime soon. And as night falls, the crew realizes they aren’t just the only people left in the neighborhood – they might be the only people left . . . anywhere.

Laugh out loud funny,and the first in the series, this is perfect for fans of The Last Kids On Earth (read the books before watching it on Netflix though).

Day Of The Whale by Rachel Delahaye

Cam’s quest to understand Big Blue leads him to new friends and shared adventures – but the truth, when he finds it, is more dangerous than ever he could have imagined. ‘Follow the big blue’. That was the last thing Cam’s father said to him. Cam follows Big Blue – everybody does on the island of Cetacea. Their lives take place within his rules, delivered to them by enigmatic whale-talker, Byron Vos. Byron was once a marine scientist but is now organizing an epic clean-up operation to revive the ocean after centuries of human greed and neglect. And yet Cam wonders if there is a more complex truth. A truth that may be connected to his father’s disappearance. Cam’s quest to understand Big Blue leads him to new friends and shared adventures – but the truth, when he finds it, is more dangerous than ever he could have imagined.

This is a captivating read that is as unsettling as it is insightful into the way that power can corrupt, and what life in a world devastated by global warming might be like. I loved the links to First Nation art and beliefs that flowed through the story, and the importance of family, friends and community to support us all when life is difficult.

And finally, this weekend, Kenilworth Books are celebrating their 55th birthday with music, crafts, cake, and alpacas! The party begins at 11am so pop down and join in the fun.

Happy reading!


Eurovision, this is Cannon Park calling…

My favourite event of the year – Eurovision – is this weekend and I cannot wait! Here are some books linked to the Song Contest for you to enjoy while you wait for the musical extravaganza to begin on Saturday night.

First up is The Music In Me by Sophie Henn, a rousing rhyming text that’s sure to get those toes tapping, accompanied by Sophy’s signature bold, bright and stylish illustrations. It is the perfect way to get to know all kinds of emotions!

Hey! Have you ever stopped to think about all the different kinds of music that make you, you? There are happy tunes and slow beats, a marching stomp and a sleepy swoon. Maybe, some days, you can’t find your rhythm and you feel all out of sorts, and then on other days your music will come together and you’ll march to the beat of your own drum. All this music and more is celebrated here.

Next, we have The Unofficial Guide To The Eurovision Song Contest by Malcolm MacKenzie, the must-have guide for Eurovision fans! Packed full of trivia, party games, high scores and nil points.

Hello, bonjour, Hola! It’s Eurovision calling and what better way to celebrate the flamboyant show than with this ultimate (and unofficial) guide to the biggest singing contest in the world!

How well do you know the Eurovision Song Contest? With this unofficial guide you’ll know your Conchita Wurst’s from your Alexander Rybanks, why we all love Kalush Orchestra, what made Sam Ryder the nation’s sweetheart and which band takes top of the polls – Abba vs. Måneskin – or could it even be Scooch?

This ultimate guide recaps the highs and lows of the decades old contest including its bangers and ballads, most shocking moments, photos of the worst dressed acts, top scoring countries – and those who score nil points, and plenty of games to play at your Eurovision party. Eurovision bingo anyone?

The costumes are as unique as the entries each year, so for the fashionistas among us, try The Culture Of Clothes: A Celebration Of World Dress by Giovanna Alessio and Chaaya Prabhat.

A colourful celebration of costumes and cultures from around the world. Celebrate world dress with this beautifully illustrated compendium of clothing. From colourful kimonos to dazzling flamenco dresses, this book takes you on a journey through the continents to discover the incredible variety of traditional dress. With vibrant artwork by Chaaya Prabhat, this is a colourful celebration of clothing and cultures around the world.

And finally, I can’t let this year go without recommending The Moon Of Kyiv by Gianni Rodari, illustrated by Beatrice Alemagna. The Eurovision Song contest should be beaming to us from the Ukrainian capital this year following Kalush Orchestra’s amazing win last year, but due to the ongoing conflict, it is being hosted on their behalf in Liverpool.

In 1955, beloved Italian poet Gianni Rodari penned a nursery rhyme called “The Moon of Kyiv”. It is a poem about our shared humanity reminding us that, no matter where we’re from, or where we live, we all exist under the same moon. Gianni’s words are a call for peace and compassion towards everyone, and The Moon of Kyiv is for anyone who has been displaced from their home for any reason.

Happy reading, and if you’re watching Eurovision, why not pop on the subtitles and sing along!

Year 5 Challenge Miss Cleveland

This week, Year 5 have challenged me to recommend books based on the theme of Magic.

The Bad Bunnies Magic Show by Mini Grey is a magical book full of beautiful illustrations and quirky characters.

When the great magician, Hypno, goes missing just before a show, his rabbits Abra and Cadabra step in to save the day. But are they all that they seem? Or is there more to their sleight of paw than meets the eye?
An exciting new novelty book from British author and illustrator Mini Grey that will have children and parents laughing out loud.

Small Change For Stuart by Lissa Evans is a puzzle filled, fast paced adventure full of mystery and magic!

Stuart Horten, ten years old and small for his age, is about to have the strangest adventure of his life. After moving to the boring town of Beeton, he finds himself swept up in an incredible quest to find his great-uncle’s lost legacy: a magician’s workshop stuffed with trickery and magic. There are clues to follow, unbearable neighbours to avoid and puzzles to solve, but what starts as fun ends up as danger, and Stuart begins to realise that he can’t finish the task on his own…

The Extraordinary Adventures Of Alice Tonks by Emily Kenny; with plenty of plot twists to keep you guessing, this is a fantastically fun mystery that grips from beginning to end.

Alice Tonks would love to make friends at boarding school. And, being autistic, she just wants people to accept her for who she is. But after a rather strange encounter with a talking seagull on her first day, she suddenly has a new challenge and a lot of questions.

Animals are going missing and Alice can’t solve the mystery alone. With new friends behind her, can Alice harness her magic powers and become the hero she never imagined?

Everyday Magic For Kids: 30 Amazing Magic Tricks That You Can Do Anywhere by Justin Flom

Using every day objects, daring magician Justin Flom will teach children (and their grown-ups) all they need to know to perform 30 amazing and how-did-you-do-that magic tricks at the turn of a hat. Featuring step-by-step instructions and illustrations, Everyday Magic for Kids will give budding magicians all the tips they need in order to wow their friends and family, whether at home, at school, or on the go. Tricks will vary from card tricks to tricks with coins and other small objects to tricks that can be done with friends/family members. The book also includes introductory material about how to act like a magician and the basics of performing magic in front of an audience (be it a friend or a room of people).

Happy reading!

Coronation Crowns

This week, the children have been designing and creating their very own crowns to celebrate the coronation of King Charles III. Miss Bullock and Mrs Kailey put up a display at Cannon Park Shopping Centre today so please do pop down to take a look at the creative designs.