Reading for Empathy

Books are springboards into conversations about life. Especially for children. Whether it is about going to a new school or having a sibling, books help children put themselves in the characters’ shoes and evaluate their own feelings.

Therefore it’s no doubt that empathy can be built with stories. Understanding another person’s viewpoint, albeit a fictional character, builds those empathy muscles in children’s minds.

Today is celebrated as National Empathy Day in the UK where we bring books that build empathy into the focus of every reader – young or old.

As a reader first and then a writer, most of my emotional skills were developed through reading. My aspirations for the future came from stories I listened to and read. Books opened up subjects like history, politics to me without becoming an academic class. Today I see that in the children I visit with my books. They recognise themselves often in the characters of my books, even though many of my stories are set in a faraway continent.

So I’ve put together a list of books that you can read on Empathy Day from my portfolio that will help create the space for difficult conversations, understanding a different point of view and even taking action to help someone else.

Each book is different – some characters are human and others are animals. And yet, in each story, we learn something about our own emotions and of others. We also see how each character acted to demonstrate their empathy.

In Sona Sharma - Very Best Big Sister, Sona needs to love her little sister despite her anxiety of not being loved anymore. She takes action to become the Very Best Big Sister she aims to be. 

In Tiger Troubles, the Sloth Bear must accept his mistakes to avoid getting his friends into trouble. Every child I've read this book to, understands why the Sloth Bear must be brave enough to confess despite being terrified. 

In the Prince Veera Series of books, each case that comes before Prince Veera and his friend Suku requires understanding two sides of the problem. It requires not just clever thinking but compassionate evaluation of the people involved, and what's at stake.

In the Manju series of books, you will see Manju understand why shortcuts don't actually lead to satisfactory conclusions. In the first book, she is wishing for someone else and in the second book, she realises that helping someone else's wish come true and understanding the plight of the genie, is far better than focussing on her own problem. Of course, the universe rewards her too. 

Check out the other books in the Read for Empathy list too!

The Empathy of Friends

When I started writing Tiger Troubles (soon to be out in bookshops, so brilliantly illustrated by Hannah Marks and wonderfully produced by Bloomsbury Education), I first of all wanted to write a circular story. I had listened to my grandmother tell stories that formed a chain – the story went from one character to another and coming back a full circle.

Then that story slowly transformed into a story of friendship – especially about friends who don’t let down each other.

When Sloth Bear falls on Tiger in this story, he blames the Elephant. But Elephant needn’t have shown his face or accepted his mistake. But he did, because he didn’t want his friend to get into trouble.

As the story unravels, we find that every friend in this forest has the courage to own up, not to let their friends down and look at the situation from their friend’s point of view.

They not only felt bad about what had happened, but also acted on their feelings and owned their mistake despite knowing that Tiger loved to eat.

For me, this story is about unconscious empathy that children have – they know what they are feeling and they don’t want their friends to be in trouble. But the story doesn’t teach a lesson by schooling the kids, but by hilarious accidents, alliterative food and the little tiger solving the puzzle one step at a time!

Empathy is the jam inside this story doughnut. Empathy is the jam that makes us all sweet. If we can’t be filled with jam, what kind of doughnuts are we really?