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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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Forget the Oscars – Here Come the Michaels!

The awards world is full of hype about the Oscars and the BAFTAs and all sorts of cinematic glory but here at St Michael’s we are celebrating something a little different – the Michaels!

the michaels

We asked the children to draw a picture of their favourite character from a book and explain why they are so brilliant. The children had a fantastic time doing this and these are some of the results (please excuse the poor photo quality – we’re trying to do this on an iPad with no flash on a dark day!):

Mr Stink

Fums up for David Walliams’ Mr Stink – especially at the possibility of a Scratch ‘n’ Sniff book!

Stinkbomb and Ketchup Face

John Dougherty’s Stinkbomb and Ketchup-Face (and their noble steed, the shopping trolley) have fantastic adventures.

Harry Potter

JK Rowling’s Harry Potter deserves a star for being clever!

Mr Meldrue

Liz Pichon’s Mr Meldrue makes Lily laugh aloud, especially because his son, Marcus, ‘is an idiot’.

Jessie

Jonia loves Jessie because she reminds her of her own dog, Jessie.

Supertato

Elisabeth loves Sue Hendra’s Supertato, simply because he is Super. That’s a good enough reason for us!

 

Mr Meldrue

Sorry to repeat this photo – this time please look above Mr Meldrue to Star Cat, from The Phoenix weekly comic. Alfie and Solomon love this character because he’s a great cat. Purrfect.

Tim Peake

Rebecca chose a non-fiction ‘star’ (geddit?), which is great! She has been really inspired by Tim Peake’s journey into space and drew a picture of him. He wrote the forward to the Usborne Astronaut’s Handbook.

Granny

Leo has a chuckle at Granny in Roald Dahl’s George’s Marvellous Medicine. He thinks she’s great because she’s funny.

FairyFinja loves Sophia, one of the fairies from the Daisy Meadows series. What an amazing ponytail she has!

Tracey Beaker

Hiba loves the mischief Tracy Beaker gets into, in Jacqueline Wilson’s popular books.

Ninja turtle and Fairy

Manny can’t get enough of the Ninja Mutant Hero Turtles, who he thinks are cool and like to party!

Opal Plumstead

Finally, Ana has chosen Jacqueline Wilson’s Opal Plumstead for her daring nature and her ability to stand up for herself.

We’ve loved doing these portraits and I think it’s great how the children have identified admirable and humorous qualities in their choices.

Who would YOUR star be? Please tell us!