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 emotions; identity; 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.