To celebrate EmpathyLab’s first Empathy Day, which highlights books as a way to help us better understand and connect to each other, authors have picked the books they have found to be empathy-boosting.
Lauren Child, Waterstones Children’s Laureate, picked The Eighteenth Emergency by Betsy Byars (Red Fox):
"I have read The Eighteenth Emergency many times over the years, and it remains to me wholly contemporary and not dated in any way. A funny and poignant story, we see through the eyes of Mouse what it feels like to be in fear of a bully and how he copes with that. I still think this is one of the best children’s books ever written."
Author Bali Rai picked Where Monsters Lie by Alan Gibbons (Corgi Children's):
"A wonderful story that deals with parental loss, fear and hope, yet still manages to be warm and gentle and encourage oodles of empathy in readers. A delight!"
Author and illustrator Liz Pichon picked Wonder by R J Palacio (Corgi Children's):
“I read this on holiday, couldn't stop reading it and got pink holiday legs – a sign of a good book, after staying in one place for too long. Everyone can remember how anxious you feel starting a new school but for Auggie (August), who has a facial deformity, it's agonising. You really get to see what life is like from his point of view, his friends and family too. And there's some nice touches of humour throughout which I loved.”
Author Fleur Hitchcock picked The Silver Sword by Ian Serraillier (Red Fox):
“I first read The Silver Sword by Ian Serraillier when I was nine or 10 and it opened a door into other people’s lives. It showed me what fear really was, and war and made me into a political animal. I remembered finishing the book and running into my parents’ bedroom to show them. I wanted them to read it, to feel what I felt. I read it again, years later – obviously it couldn’t have the same effect again, but it was still a remarkable and powerful story.”
Author Cressida Cowell picked Wonder by R J Palacio (Corgi Children's) and To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee (Arrow):
“Wonder is a thoughtful joy of a book, written from multiple viewpoints, so that the child-reader can get inside the heads of all the characters. It pulls you into August Pullman’s life and beautifully illustrates the transformative power of empathy and kindness. I urge everyone to read it. And also To Kill a Mockingbird – this has one of my favourite quotes: ‘You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view…until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.'”
Author Cas Lester picked A Bear Called Paddington by Michael Bond (HarperCollins Children's Books):
“A Bear Called Paddington by Michael Bond is a heartwarming, timeless classic reminds us to welcome migrants to our country - especially the young and vulnerable.”
Author Cathy Cassidy picked The Unforgotten Coat by Frank Cottrell Boyce (Walker), The Sky Is Everywhere by Jandy Nelson (Walker), The Daring Young Man On The Flying Trapeze by William Saroyan (New Directions) and Hunger by Knut Hamson (Canongate):
“The Unforgotten Coat is one of the most perfect and heartbreaking books written on the subject of refugees - wonderful, warm and brimful of empathy. I love this book and kids love it too... it's a real must-read. Jandy Nelson, author of The Sky is Everywhere, has a way of pulling you right into the heart of her characters so that you see things through their eyes and feel things the way they do. The poetic style seems to open up a hotline to the soul. She is my absolute favourite YA author currently. William Saroyan is my all-time favourite author and his short stories taught me so much about writing - and about empathy too. The title story in The Daring Young Man On The Flying Trapeze had a huge impact on me. The protagonist is a young man literally starving to death in the New York of the Great Depression, told through stream of consciousness narrative that is all about feeling and empathy. Hunger is the story of a man in 19th century Kristiania, down on his luck and struggling to survive. I read the novel as a teenager and loved it, and I defy any reader not to be moved by it.”
Roman Krznaric, founder of The Empathy Museum and author of Empathy, a Handbook for Revolution (Rider), picked The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula Le Guin (Ace):
“The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula Le Guin is undoubtedly one of the great empathy novels, especially around gender issues.”
Author Robin Stevens picked The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas (Walker):
“Hero, Starr, has a teenage life that couldn't be more different from mine, but reading The Hate U Give made me understand, deeply and absolutely, what it's like to be Starr. Stories like THUG have the power to bring people together, to open their eyes and to make them feel, not just know about, the pain of others”.
Author Jo Cotterill picked The Secrets of Sam and Sam by Susie Day (Puffin):
"The Secrets of Sam and Sam by Susie Day is a really great read for KS2-aged children and total inside-the-characters'-heads stuff. It's about twins, a boy and a girl, both called Sam - and about the girl Sam dealing with frenemies, and the boy Sam trying to find some courage.”
Author Sita Brahmachari picked The Pomegranate Tree by Vanessa Altin (Blanket Press):
“Traces the story of a refugee child from his life in normality to leaving his homeland and surviving. It made me weep, but also I was in awe of the strength of characters to survive and adapt to change”.
Author Elizabeth Laird picked Scarlet Ibis by Gill Lewis (OUP Children's):
"This is one of my favourite books ever. Gill Lewis takes you by the hand and leads you right into the heart of her story. I’d really like to meet Scarlet, who has to care for her little brother Red. I’d like to meet Red, too, and see precious feathers he keeps and the birds he loves through his own eyes. The story of Scarlet Ibis and its characters will stay with me for a long time."
Miranda McKearney OBE, founder of EmpathyLab, picked Stone Cold by Robert Swindells (Penguin):
“Feeling Link’s terror and despair as he tried to live on the streets changed my feelings about homeless people for good, and made me donate regularly to homeless charities.”
Author Tamsyn Murray picked The Pirates Next Door by Jonny Duddle (Templar Publishing):
“The Pirates Next Door by Jonny Duddle is great for making you think about your own prejudices and how you see others.”