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Empathy – and where to read about it

Today is Empathy Day, and what better way to learn about what it is and why it is important than through children’s books?

What I love about children’s books is that they can convey very important messages and morals without sounding preachy or authoritarian. That’s a pretty impressive skill and one that perhaps isn’t always celebrated when considering the impact and effect children’s literature can have on its readers. I know of many examples of books that portray difficult emotions and conditions exceptionally well, from grief and sadness to anger and frustration. These needn’t be ‘special’ books either – ones that have been written for children dealing with bereavement or social anxiety, for example. Their strength lies in their ability to inspire or soothe, explain or question. Children learn through osmosis – they understand what’s in front of them without it having to be made explicit.

For today’s post, I will concentrate on Empathy since it’s celebrating its own special day! But I will return to other emotions soon!

Great  books for talking/learning about empathy:

The Lumberjack’s Beard and The Bear Who Stared

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Duncan Beedie’s recent creations deal with empathy in a humorous yet effective way. In The Lumberjack’s Beard, the titular lumberjack suddenly realises what effect his tree-unfriendly actions have on the environment and tries to put it right. In The Bear Who Stares, the bear doesn’t understand why everyone he meets gets angry with him… until a friendly frog sets him straight and tells him that staring isn’t the best idea when trying to get on with others. Both books have wonderful illustrations that enhance the story and which children never tire of seeing.

Dave’s Rock

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Frann Preston-Gannon’s second book featuring caveman Dave is a great look at the importance of sharing and getting along with others. In it, Dave is competing with Jon to see whose rock is better, but all it leads to is frustration and annoyance. However, in the end, the two find a way for them both to be happy, by understanding how each other feels. This makes them feel better than winning any competition.

The Cow Who Fell to Earth

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Nadia Shireen’s new book, The Cow Who Fell to Earth, takes a very bizarre situation and makes a heartwarming comedy from it. Poor Woo has landed on Earth and no one can understand a word she says. To make matters worse, the sheep assume she is a he and call her Dave. When Woo starts crying tears of sadness and frustration, the sheep work hard to make her feel better and get her back home. A hilarious and sweet book about the importance of helping others, even if they speak a different language!

Odd Dog Out

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In Rob Biddulph’s humorous story, being out of place seems like the worst thing in the world, until Odd Dog discovers that it’s kind of cool to be different. When she decides to be true to herself, she realises that plenty more dogs want to be their own dog and sets a trend. This is great for teaching children acceptance of other people’s differences and to be happy in themselves.

Mr Stink

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It’s not very nice to be stinky but there’s often a reason behind it, as Chloe discovers in David Walliams’s Mr Stink. The two characters soon forge a firm friendship based on their experiences of being bullied and misunderstood, and find ways to help each other out of sadness andloneliness.

Matilda

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On a similar theme of not belonging, Roald Dahl introduces us to Matilda, a clever young girl who seems to have been born into the wrong family. Preferring books to television and education to laziness, Matilda finally finds a kindred spirit in Miss Honey, who turns out to be the niece of the very wicked Miss Trunchbull. Even though life becomes very difficult for the two, the fact that they have found each other makes it much more bearable.

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Congratulations, Lauren Child!

While the country heads out to vote today, yesterday a huge announcement was made in the world of children’s literature: Lauren Child became the new (and tenth!) Children’s Laureate, taking over from illustrator and writer Chris Riddell, who held the post for the last two years.

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What is the Children’s Laureate?

According to the Children’s Laureate website:

The idea for the Children’s Laureate originated from a conversation between (the then) Poet Laureate Ted Hughes and children’s writer Michael Morpurgo. They considered it an appropriate and timely way to combine the celebration of excellence in writing and illustration for children with honouring individuals who have made a significant and lasting contribution to the world of children’s books.

Quentin Blake was the first Children’s Laureate (1999-2001), followed by Anne Fine (2001-2003), Michael Morpurgo (2003-2005), Jacqueline Wilson (2005-2007), Michael Rosen (2007-2009), Anthony Browne (2009-2011), Julia Donaldson (2011-2013), Malorie Blackman (2013-2015), Chris Riddell (2015-2017) and now Lauren Child (2017-19).

Each Children’s Laureate has taken the opportunity to promote particular aspects of children’s books. These have included visual literacy, readers with disabilities, poetry, storytelling, illustration, drama, writing for young adults and more.

You can read about the history of the Children’s Laureate in theis article from the Guardian.

Supporting school libraries

I think it’s wonderful that children’s literature is celebrated in this way and that we have such fantastic ambassadors championing the importance of all aspects of reading for the youngest members of society. Chris Riddell in particular made school libraries a focus for his work in a time when many schools do not have the money, space or resources for this area of school life. This drawing sums up his beliefs well:

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Chris Riddell

We are lucky…

Here at St Michael’s we are so lucky to have the amazing resources that we do. Our library is, in comparison to many schools, huge and very well stocked, thanks to provision made in our budget and generous donations by parents – past and present. We are also incredibly fortunate to have all you wonderful parents, family and friends supporting everything we do, from book fairs (which raise money so we can buy even more books for the library!) to our weird and wacky competitions to celebrate reading for pleasure. We are truly grateful for everything that you do for us.

Read the Laureates!

We are fortunate to have books by all the Children’s Laureates in the Library, so please do check them out:

Quentin Blake (1999-2001) – we have several of his picture books and, of course, most if not all of the Roald Dahl books he illustrated

Anne Fine (2001-2003) – we have her novels for younger and older children, including the famous Madame Doubtfire and Killer Cat

Michael Morpurgo (2003-2005) and Jacqueline Wilson (2005-2007) – we have entire bookshelves devoted to each of these writers and, needless to say, they are amongst the most frequently borrowed books in the library!

Michael Rosen (2007-2009) – we have books of his poetry to browse through as well as the old favourite We’re Going on a Bear Hunt

Anthony Browne (2009-2011) – we have a selection of Anthony Browne’s picture books, including Willy the Wizard, which is one of our children’s favourites for storytime

Julia Donaldson (2011-2013) – one of our most borrowed authors, I think we have almost everything written by this popular lady!

Malorie Blackman (2013-2015) – her books live in our special section for Years 5 and 6

Chris Riddell (2015-2017) -we have the Ottoline and Goth Girl books and of course plenty of other authors’ books Chris has illustrated

Lauren Child (2017-19) – the children at school know all about Charlie and Lola of course and Clarice Bean and they are still popular for storytimes. We have a large selection of these books in the library.

This week we will be dedicating our Library Lunchtimes to creating a display on Lauren Child’s work. Watch this space for pictures!

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We’re getting ready for the LOLLIES!

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Yesterday, this year’s shortlisted books for Scholastic’s LOLLIES awards were announced, and I am delighted to say that we will be shadowing them in the Library!

Last year, we voted for ourfavourite title in the picture book category – the ever-popular I Need a Wee by Sue Hendra, which won overall in its category. This book is still rarely on our shelves which is proof of how children love it.

This year, we have a range of different books to choose from, as follows:

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Picture book category:

  • The Prince of Pants – by Alan MacDonald and Sarah McIntyre
  • Eat Your People! – by Lou Kuenzler and David Wojtowycz
  • Oi Dog! – by Kes and Claire Gray and Jim Field
  • Danny McGee – by Andy Stanton and Neal Layton

You can watch Michael Rosen announcing the shortlist here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xV_GkxOemIs

6-8 category:

  • Future Ratboy and the Invasion of the Nom Noms – by Jim Smith
  • Eddy Stone and the Epic Holiday Mash-Up – by Simon Cherry
  • Thimble Monkey Superstar – by Jon Blake and Martin Chatterton
  • Hamish and the Neverpeople – by Danny Wallace and Jamie Littler

You can watch Katie Thistleton announcing the shortlist here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GKkUpsBNxXs

9-13 category:

  • AniMalcom – by David Baddiel and Jim Field
  • I Don’t Like Poetry – by Joshua Seigal
  • The Best Medicine – by Christine Hamill
  • My Gym Teacher is an Alien Overlord – by David Solomons

You can watch Nicolette Jones announcing the shortlist here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Qsd5_mgxMZo

We are waiting for the titles to be delivered so watch this space! I’d love as many people as possible to get involved so I’ll look at arranging some lunchtime sessions where we can take a look at them altogether.

If you’ve already read some of these – or maybe ALL of these – come to see me and tell me what you thought!