Read For Empathy - Empathy Day 2019

Welcome to Empathy Day 2019.
Empathy Day is an incentive founded by EmpathyLab UK to address the increasing divisiveness and limited experience we have of other cultures, other people in our world. Seems strange, doesn't it, that in a world where we are spending so much time online, on social media that our experiences of the world would be considered limited. After all, online we have access to the entire planet quite easily. But social media is rife with algorithms that funnel us into what it perceives to be 'people like us' and areas that match our most common interests. This does not allow us to build understanding and development; to learn that most important quality we need in the world today with all its' conflict and divisiveness....empathy; the understanding of what others feel, how other cultures do things, what is happening in the world outside our circle, be it our immediate area of our online circle, which we believe to be vast. And, of course, it is the children and young people (the future) that get caught in this most of all. So how do we address this?
In 2017, a clever group of people noticed something really interesting...that reading books builds empathy, build understanding and allows children to experience people, places and circumstances through the eyes of others that addresses this. I'm just going to quote EmpathyLabUK here, because they say it best:
"This year’s Empathy Day is on 11 June and is a lightning rod for a new story-driven empathy movement. A wide range of organisations are joining forces to harness books’ empathy-building power, inspired by scientific evidence that in identifying with book characters, we learn to see things from other points of view. 
Schools, libraries, young people’s organisations, publishers, prisons, booksellers, TV producers are working with EmpathyLab to emphasise empathy’s importance and create story-based activities which help us all understand each other better."
There have been quite a number of online posts on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook that hopefully, many of you have already seen and are participating in the conversation. But if not, what you are being asked to do this Empathy Day is very simple....READ. "Because stories and book characters build our real-life empathy." They really do. And the stories we experience when we are young stick with us for the rest of our lives; they teach us, inform us and keep open the pace in our hearts and minds that allow us to consider....everything, really.
Here's a few of the wonderful books that EmpathyLabUk (and the people at World Book Day) are suggesting as brilliant reads to teach empathy...and then, a few of my own:


ELMER by David McKee (and the whole Elmer series) was first published in 1968 by Dobson Books; and was the re-issued by Andersen Press in 1989. Elmer is a patchwork elephant who really stands out from the crowd. He is cheerful helpful and loves a good practical joke. The nature of his relationship with the rest of the herd; his understanding and kindness towards others make it a perfect introduction to an understanding of diversity and compassion for young children. Gentle, funny and full of delight; such wonderful books!

THE DAY WAR CAME by Nicola Davies and Rebecca Hobb is one of the most powerful, most meaningful picture books I have come across in a long time. Here you can really sense the full range of feeling and the cycle of emotions of one small child, displayed by war and journeying to a far away place and ultimately, the relief and simple joy that can be accomplished through one ordinary act of kindness. It helps explain this all-too-present crisis to young children and really begin to look with open eyes. An important and beautiful book for our times.

THE STORY OF FERDINAND by Munro Leaf and Robert Lawson was republished in 2017. This gentle tale of growing up, mistaken identity, being true to yourself and, finally acceptance is a gentle, peaceful story filled with humour and drama. And it is one of the most touching stories, leading to a sense of quiet joy and comfort. The most touching line for me, and one that expresses the entire 'moral' of the story relates how Ferdinands' mother saw him for who he truly is and "just let him sit there and be happy." Who could ask for anything more?


THE BOY AT THE BACK OF THE CLASS by Onjali Q. Raúf  This book covers many difficult issues (bullying, diversity, racism), but of course, at the heart is Ahmets' story; that of a boy refugee facing an uncertain future. Empathetic and compassionate, it is honest and direct as his new friends uncover, piece by piece, the complex set of circumstances that led Ahmet to where he is now. With an earnest depiction of being uncertain of people you don't know, the difficulties children face when approaching the adult world for help and of the openness and curiosity of children in that non-judgmental, concerned way they have, it is truly eye-opening and completely delightful. This is one of my personal favourites, and is highly recommended by EmpathyLabsUK.

JELLY by Jo Cotterill An open and heart-warming book about learning to believe in who you really are,  Jelly deals with a lot of issues; friendship, family, bullying, self-acceptance; but is never heavy-handed. The story is honest, expressive, filled with joy and laughs while delivering a powerful message. The relationship between how Jelly sees herself and how others see her adds a revealing layer.  Jelly is such a warm, wonderful character, full of life and kindness, but also full of confusion and deeper feelings. Inspiring, reassuring and completely lovable.

NO BALLET SHOES IN SYRIA by Catherine Bruton Filled with empathy, struggle and understanding, No Ballet Shoes in Syria shows a situation facing so many young people today. A consuming, gripping story of Aya, not only a refugee possibly facing deportation, but acting at this point as very much a 'care-giver' to er mother and baby brother while her own life is put on hold. There is an fascinating back-story balanced with Ayas' own, creating an important juxtaposition between past and present and allows for a thought-provoking comparison. Deeply personal, extremely insightful, well-written and simply...kind; an important and beautiful book filled with adversity, friendship and triumph.

THE WILD ROBOT ESCAPES by Peter Brown The Wild Robot and The Wild Robot Escapes both bring a lot of issues to the table for consideration.A moving, compassionate tale of friendship and belonging, it acts as a "fable for our age" (Piers Torday). At the same time, it is funny, action-packed and dramatic.  Environment and nature, technology, migration, along with a gentle tale of responsibility to others, are all woven into a story that grips from the very beginning with its' gentle humour, imagination and adventure. Quiet, considerate, poignant, fascinating and one I think everybody should experience.

NO FIXED ADDRESS by Susin Neilsen A tale of what happens to those who simply 'slip through the cracks' of society, this book is just marvellous. It captures the reality of living with someone who has mental health issues; the helpless and yet determination of being in that circumstance. And of being homeless and young and not knowing what you should do. Told with humour and hope (and some very witty dialogue), Felix' story unfolds with a clarity of vision and honesty. A very poignant and timely book, this one transcends age boundaries and should be read by everyone.

THE DISTANCE BETWEEN ME AND THE CHERRY TREE by Paula Peretti Narrated by Malfalda (the central character) herself, this is a beautifully written story that gives an intimate view of what it is like to being slowly going blind. It addresses the fears and anxiety with great compassion, while being quite upfront and direct. And it is filled with feeling, insight, courage and moments of heart-breaking realism offset with gentle humour and real joy. A story of hope and light in the darkness, this is a very special book.

THE DEEPEST BREATH by Meg Grehan Incredibly expressive of the emotionally complex journey of a young girl, Stevie, on the brink of moving from childhood to that confusing time of her teenage years. As a 'coming-out' story, it is so powerful and revealing, yet so nuanced.  It touches on that sense of anxiety about many things in Stevie's world with such delicacy as matches her age. We see the wheels turn in her head as she tries to imagine what things will actually mean to her life; will she be a disappointment, will she be rejected? The overwhelming sense of love and acceptance by the end is so very relieving, not just to Stevie, but to the reader. This book is gentling amazing and utterly compassionate. 


BEHIND CLOSED DOORS by Miriam Halahmy This exceptional, gripping novel opens your eyes to how easy it is for young people today to slip between the cracks. The characters and their lives are laid out on the page with openness; frankness. It is easy to enter their world, understand their point of view and hear their voices which ring with emotion, making it so easy to identify with them. Dealing with very difficult issues in a sensitive way, homelessness, metal illness, grooming, sexual abuse and the dangers of an unstable home life for young people, it also deals with them with honesty . Powerfully revealing with a quietly triumphant ending.

ARE WE ALL LEMMINGS AND SNOWFLAKES by Holly Bourne This is a book that reveals, in a cold clear light, the struggles of a number of young people to come to grips with their personal mental health issues; what caused them, how it happened to them and what they can actually do about it. It calls on us all to examine our relationship with "kindness"; to tap into our own strengths and do something...anything to be more kind. It posits a theory as what kindness can actually do, whether a small, seemingly insignificant act or a grand gesture. Perhaps it is a lack of kindness and compassion that is creating a world that makes people sick in the first place. Moving, thought-provoking and important.

LOVE, HATE AND OTHER FILTERS by Samira Ahmed A very topical novel that gives true insight into what it means to grow up Muslim in the current contemporary western world, this was a powerful, engaging read. With themes of multiculturalism, politics, bullying and diversity, it packs quite a punch. An empathetic, thought-provoking view allows the reader time to absorb and understand how truly multi-layered society and family life can be and how this provokes dilemmas, and in some cases, tragedies that fray at the threads of social structure and political agenda . 

These are just a few books to open up the wider world for you; to help you think about things from a different perspective and to enrich and engage. 
What will you read for Empathy Day?
If you want to know more about Empathy Day and EmpathyLabUK, the link to their website is at the bottom of this page. You'll find much information here; EmpathyLab abd authors, Empathy and Stories, events, online conversations, activities, what the schools are do and how EmpathyLabUK is working with them, how you can participate and create even more impact and much, much more.
It's Empathy Day! Get involved!


  1. Thank you so much for sharing that amazing post with us. We will stay connected with your blogs for the future posts.


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