Empathy Day – Books for Empathy

What is Empathy Day?

Empathy Day was founded in 2017 by EmpathyLab. With hate crimes at their highest level since records began, it uses stories to help us understand each other better, and highlights empathy’s power in our divided world.

Empathy Day’s calls to action

READ – because reading in itself can make us more empathetic

SHARE – because sharing perspectives through books can connect us in new ways

DO – put empathy into action and make a difference in your community


Reading For Empathy Guide

As part of Empathy Day, a Reading For Empathy guide has been produced. This includes 30 books, aimed at building empathy, which are suitable for 4-11 year olds. They offer powerful insights into other people’s feelings, and develop understanding of different ways of life and issues people face, like being bereaved or becoming a refugee. Below is a short selection of my favourite books from the list.

King of The Sky – Nicola Davies
Illustrator Laura Carlin

“A lonely boy in a new country meets an old man, and they start to share a passion for racing pigeons. Superb
book, exploring inter-generational understanding and what helps people to feel less alone.”

A fantastic, evocative picture book about an unusual friendship. Upon moving to a Welsh coal town, a young Italian boy finds himself alone, desperately trying to settle down and find his feet in a new country. Then a chance meeting with an ageing coal miner brings about a friendship that spans generations.  It will prompt discussions about immigration, fitting in and what constitutes a ‘normal’ friendship. This is a book to read and re-read – the illustrations are incredible too.

My Name is Not Refugee – Kate Milner

“A boy describes his experience of having to leave his town, asking very direct questions of the reader that invite reflection about how we would cope in his situation. Ends with the powerful message that Refugee is just a label – not a name.”

Another thought-provoking picture book, this time telling the story a refugee’s journey through the eyes of a child. Quite rightly this book has gained much praise over the last few years. It will open children’s eyes to the current situation of refugees, as well as directly raising so many questions.  Just when you think it can’t get any better, there’s a final hard-hitting statement ‘You’ll be called Refugee, but remember, Refugee is not your name.” Incredibly moving.

The Wild Robot – Peter Brown

“What does it mean to be human? That’s the question raised by this tale of a shipwrecked robot. The robot (Roz) is inadvertently activated and gradually learns to feel, to care and to love. The ability to feel empathy is at the heart of Roz’s journey.”

Take a look at science-fiction in books and films and one thing is clear. Robots are often used as a metaphor for humanity. They mirror our thoughts, language and sometimes develop feelings. Yet for some reasons there is a distinct lack of children’s fiction about human-like robots. Step forward The Wild Robot. Seeing Roz develop the ability to feel and more importantly to empathise will prompt so many discussions. An absolutely fantastic read.

The Song from Somewhere Else – AF Harrold
Illustrator Levi Pinfold

“Francesca (Frank) is bullied but finds courage through an unlikely friendship. A magical story with an ethereal quality, yet firmly rooted in gritty reality.”

There aren’t many books that I would describe as a masterpiece, yet here is one of them. I fell in love with The Song From Somewhere Else the first time I read it. On the surface it is a tale about an unlikely friendship, yet delve deeper and the layers of meaning peel away. You are taken on an emotional rollercoaster ride from humurous to heartbreaking to sinister. This is a skilfully and beautifully written book that can’t be missed.

Illegal – Eoin Colfer and Andrew Donkin
Illustrator Giovanni Rigano

“A young boy makes a terrifying journey from Africa to Europe. Upsetting, important graphic novel with illuminating insights into the experiences of refugees and migrants and their resilience.”

I don’t know what to say about this graphic novel that hasn’t already been said. Once again we see the turmoil and tragedy of refugee migration through the eyes of children. The full horror of the refugee crisis is laid bare for us to see. It will open eyes and lead you to question your own values. This hard-hitting graphic novel is definitely one to get your hands on.

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