Did you know that empathy can be learned? In fact, only 10 per cent of our empathic ability is genetic, so there is huge scope to improve, and one way that we can think more about ‘we’ rather than about ‘me’ is through reading. And the earlier in life we do it, the better.
What is empathy? Well, quite simply, it’s the ability to see things from a different person’s point of view. This makes us kinder, more accepting, and helps us to advocate for a broader world view. All traits much needed in today’s times. And identifying with a character in a book and their emotions makes us more empathetic. We can learn empathy through reading.
For example, children can learn the consequences of ‘acting out’ through Horrid Henry, the strengths of exhibiting kindness through the actions of Miss Honey in Matilda, the courage and bravery of doing what’s right and standing up for your friends in The Boy at the Back of the Class. And we can turn what we read into acting for good.
The Empathy Lab, started in 2014, promotes an Empathy Day every year (June 10, 2021), but also promotes two empathy book collections each year, one for primary age children and one secondary. The aim of these books, as well as to entertain, is to promote empathy. They are specially chosen by a panel of expert judges to be books that encompass the following: they have great characterisation so that readers can really empathise with the characters; they challenge tribal thinking and enable the reader to see themselves as part of a community; they invoke key empathic skills; they address topical issues; and they provide an insight into others’ challenging life circumstances.
And here are the 2021 collections:
The books aim to not only provoke feelings of empathy, but also to spur the reader to social action. Reading also teaches us to listen, and to understand vocabulary about feelings. Forty-two percent of this year’s collection is from writers and illustrators from diverse backgrounds.
Free downloadable guides, with tips on how to use the books with children and young people in the home or learning settings, are available online for free at empathylab.uk/2021-read-for-empathy-collections.