Empathy Day 2020 – Reading for Empathy

Gina Murphy / Categories: News

Empathy Day 2020 – Reading for Empathy

Tuesday, 9 June 2020

Tuesday, 9 June is ‘Empathy Day’ and in recognition of this important event, we are bringing together links to a host of family activities, with recommendations for a selection of stories that are told through a variety of voices, explore a range of issues and experiences and offer insight into differing lives.

Empathy Day was established in 2017 by EmpathyLab, an organisation chaired by former Reading Agency director, Miranda McKearney, with the purpose of highlighting the importance of reading for empathy and acknowledging the power of stories in harnessing emotions.  

Our ability to understand, interpret and share in the feelings of others is what makes us human.  Placing ourselves in another person’s shoes and viewing the world from their own position in life does not always come naturally, however.

Imagining ourselves in a situation we are unfamiliar with may seem difficult, but now more than ever, it is important to consider the thoughts and emotions of those around us.  In an uncertain, ever-changing world, empathy not only helps us to connect, it can help us overcome some truly challenging times.

Increasing our levels of empathy is a skill we can learn and that skill can be developed further with the help of books and reading.  Stories have the potential to allow us access to other lives, other worlds and in doing so, put us in the place of characters who behave in a variety of ways, some of which may be familiar, some not:  

"In reading, you get to feel things, visit places and worlds you would never otherwise know.  You learn that everyone else out there is a me, as well." Neil Gaiman, author of Coraline and The Graveyard Book

Manchester Libraries

Our partners at Manchester Libraries have a full programme of events for Empathy Day, which you can find via their blog: Empathy Day with Manchester Libraries.

They have also produced a video especially for the day itself, with a wonderful reading of It’s a No-Money Day by the author, Kate Milner.  

‘Mum works really hard, but today there is no money left and no food in thecupboards.’  The family resort to using the local foodbank, which leaves Mum feeling ashamed, but her daughter helps her to see things from a different perspective.

Empathy Lab

You can take part in a range of simple family activities designed by Empathy Lab, which can be found by clicking on the link below – all you need is some scrap paper and a pen or pencil: Empathy Lab Family Activities Pack

For more information on Empathy Lab and the work they do in promoting empathy through stories, visit their website: www.empathylab.uk.

WHGS Learning Resource Centre (LRC) ‘Read for Empathy’ Collection

We have a range of titles in the LRC that encourage and develop empathy, some of which are highlighted below.  View the Read for Empathy LRC List.

Our favourite ‘Read for Empathy’ books include…

Overheard in a Tower Block by Joseph Coelho
A series of poems that span the life of a young boy, from childhood to adulthood, and deal with family breakdown, bullying and becoming a parent. 

Smart by Kim Slater                 
Kieran sees the world differently.  He notices things that other people ignore.  Bullied at school and living with an abusive stepfather, he has several challenges to contend with, but he is clever, resourceful and determined to solve a crime that no one else is interested in.

The Bubble Boy by Stewart Foster 
Eleven-year-old Joe has a condition which means he is unable to leave his hospital room and can only stare through the window from his ‘bubble’ at the world outside.  Visitors to his room put him at risk of germs, but when someone new enters the bubble, his life is changed forever

The Journey by Francesca Sanna
Stunning picture book that tells the story of the perilous journey of a refugee family, dealing with themes of conflict, courage and compassion. Visually appealing and immensely powerful.

The Boy at the Back of the Class by Onjali Q Rauf
‘There used to be an empty chair at the back of my class, but now a boy called Ahmet is sitting in it.’  Ahmet is a refugee, from Syria, and as he finds his way around a new school and unfamiliar world, faced with uncertainty, four classmates reach out with friendship and demonstrate the power of kindness.

Not Now, Bernard by David McKee   
This classic picture book tells of Bernard, a little boy whose parents are so distracted by their busy lives, they fail to realise that their son is about to be eaten and replaced by a monster.  A sad tale of neglect is delivered with humour in a very relatable way.  Watch and listen to a very funny reading of ‘Not Now, Bernard’.

Booked by Kwame Alexander
Written in energetic free verse and telling the story of Nick, a football-mad teen, who lives his life on the pitch.  Sudden injury, followed by news of his parents' separation, cause frustrations to run high and Nick begins to find unexpected comfort in books.

Big Bones by Laura Dockrill
Introducing Bluebelle, aka BB, aka Big Bones.  Follow BB in this hilarious take on teenage life that deals with food, body image and family expectations.  A heart-warming book that encourages the reader to think about how they look after themselves and those around them.

A Storm of Strawberries by Jo Cotterill
Darby is looking forward to the annual family chocolate hunt, but everyone else seems distracted and she doesn’t understand why.  Darby is twelve and has Down’s syndrome.  Her favourite things are music – especially The Beatles – chocolate and big sister, Kaydee.  But when a storm threatens the future of her parent’s strawberry farm and Kaydee’s best friend comes to stay, everything that made Darby feel secure seems to be slipping away. 

Aubrey and the Terrible Yoot by Horatio Clare
Aubrey is happy and adventurous and loves exploring the vast forests of his imagination and talking to the the animals that live there.  But when a sadness – the ‘Terrible Yoot’ - takes over his father, Aubrey turns to the imaginary creatures of Rushing Wood to find a solution.  A brave book the explores themes of depression, family and childhood. 

Boy Underwater by Adam Baron
‘Cymbeline Igloo (yes, really!) has never been swimming.  Not ever. Not once. But how hard can it be?  He’s Googled front crawl and he’s found his dad’s old pair of trunks. He’s totally ready. What he’s not ready for is the accident at the pool – or how it leads his mum to a sudden breakdown.’  A tale of love, loss and secrets, as Cym discovers the reason behind his mum’s desperate attempt to keep him away from water and keep him safe.


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