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Discussion and Development 2020 1: Read for Empathy

15 January 2020 Share


I read quickly. I don’t always remember as much detail as I would like, but that doesn’t mean to say that I completely miss the messages in books or can’t get into the minds of the characters. I have tried to slow down my reading, but how can you when you desperately need to find out what happens to a friend of yours as that book character has become in a short time?

So, when I was asked to read quite a few books (– AS WORK!!!!) for the Read for Empathy 2020 booklists I wasn’t about to turn down that opportunity. Empathy Lab - @EmpathyLabUK and https://www.empathylab.uk/ produce annually, two booklists of diverse books, specially chosen to enhance children's empathy skills. Designed to encourage a dialogue in schools and libraries around feelings as empathy can be learned and hence increased, books are a powerful tool to develop it, because in identifying with book characters, young people learn to see things from other points of view. 
In the event, the timings meant it was a good job I read fast. I was allocated the Young Adult (YA) list of potential Empathy books – this was great as I enjoy YA, but they are longer than those for the younger age booklist. The first batch of titles arrived during the Summer. As I was going away for two weeks, I wanted to read these before I left the country. No way was I taking hard copy books with me, but relying on my very old, but still working e-reader, full of titles I will get time to read one day! I knew there would be a second batch of titles to fill any gaps. I hadn’t quite legislated for the fact that in this batch there would be more books than in the first. So having deleted my email alerts which came into my inbox everyday with news of new books to read, I worked my way through this second round of titles. I did have an advantage in that some books I had previously read, and apart from skim reading them to remind myself of the characters, I didn’t have the luxury of rereading.I then had a (long) list of titles I had enjoyed. 
That’s when I asked the question of how many we were aiming for. So – you have all these children, who will you throw out of the hot air balloon, and who to retain because you can’t lose them?  This was a question quite impossible to answer on my own, but it was surprising how much easier it was when discussing with others working alongside books and young people.  Although we had to move quickly, our book talk around the titles enabled us to end up with a list of books we felt met more than one of the criteria set. Our discussion centred on how the characters made us feel, if we experienced their world, if we felt them to be well developed characters readers wanted to triumph. We did not need to change the list in any way to be seen as ‘politically correct’. Although it was checked at the end for diversity, it had happened naturally.  We did however end up with more books than we’d been asked for. For those among us who objected to an odd number of titles on the list, when we met with the primary group to compare notes, their equally odd number meant we had 50 books in total – we couldn’t have planned for such a round number! 

All the books on the YA list allow readers to feel and understand other perspectives and emotions. All are immensely readable and enjoyable stories in their own right. All are well written by some established authors and some by newer talent to watch out for. A favourite of mine is a verse novel with two very strong protagonists. A novel new to me and one of the last I read proved an unexpected treasure as I sat there at night sobbing at the ending. We hope for the younger readers it will widen their vocabulary around being able to express their feelings and for all ages to know they are not alone in experiencing situations which may be difficult to deal with helps enormously with feelings of isolation. For adults and children, these books allow us to reflect on what we have just read and on our attitude towards the characters and situations. Even as adults we can learn something about ourselves from these books. 

So check the lists at https://www.empathylab.uk/ on 22nd Jan, let us know your choices to #ReadforEmpathy and listen to the judges’ comments here