Books build empathy. Research shows that well–written narratives work in an amazing way to transport the reader into the story. When we read, we believe we know the characters and we respond almost as if they were real. We can step outside ourselves to see the world from their perspective, and we understand what they are thinking and feeling. And the empathy we feel for characters helps build our empathy skills to respond to real life situations. At EmpathyLab we harness the power of books to boost children’s empathy supporting our mission to raise an empathy-educated generation.
EmpathyLab works with schools, libraries, and publishers. We run an annual and each year we publish a Read for Empathy collection of 60 books for primary and secondary aged readers. In 2022 we also published a Welsh collection. The titles are selected by a panel of children’s book experts.
The Read for Empathy collection ranges from picture books to young adult novels. The panel assess the books against key empathy angles, for example, books that challenge tribal thinking. We are looking for great reads that allow readers’ empathy to flow.
The list for 2022 addresses contemporary empathy issues, for example, prejudice and racism is reflected through The Proudest Blue by Ibtihaj Muhammad, S.K. Ali and Hatem Aly, a charming picture book where a young girl expresses her pride and anxiety when her older sister wears her hijab for the first time and Black and British by David Olusoga providing insight into a hidden history. There are stories confronting environmental concerns, Amara and the bats by Emma Reynolds, a little girl takes action in her community and The Last Bear by Hannah Gold, a moving story about the relationship between a girl and an endangered polar bear .
Emotional well-being is a theme that runs through the collection. A shelter for sadness is a reassuring picture book. The year I didn’t eat is a young adult novel focusing unusually on a boy with Anorexia . LGBTQ+ issues are addressed in the fantastical, lyrical Nen and the lonely fisherman by Ian Eagleton and James Mayhew and the irrepressible Felix ever after by Kacen Callender.
The experience of deprivation is also represented in the collections for example, The Invisible by Tom Percival and The Soup Movement by Ben Davis.
A focus on refugees has been an ongoing strand in the collections. This year for example, Manjeet Mann’s novel of different perspectives The Crossing is on the list, and we also have the perspective of a Welsh Family leaving the UK shores to find a better life overseas in The Quilt by Valériane Leblond
By chance war has emerged powerfully as a theme in 2022. The heart–stopping Bali Rai’s Mohinder’s War; Phil Earle’s When the sky falls; and Liz Kessler’s When the world was ours describe the inhumanity of war. I have reflected much upon these recently.
The list also contains characters who are wonderful empathy role models and positive situations are joyously conveyed in the stories. My favourite must be My beautiful voice by Joseph Coelho and Fiona Lumbers celebrating the empathetic and exuberant Miss Flotasam who helps a child find her voice.
We are very proud of our rich and diverse Read for Empathy collection. To find out more about them go to https://www.empathylab.uk/2022-book-collections-and-guides. Many of the authors and illustrators who are featured on the list are contributing to our on 9 June . We hope you will be able to join us.
Co-founder and co-director Empathy Lab, and Programme Manager Libraries Connected
i Oatley, K. Fiction: Simulation of Social Worlds, Trends in Cognitive Science, August 2016, Vol.20 No.8