Just before Minnesota’s governor closed school campuses in March, RCLS's School Counselor, Ms. Sarah Pease, submitted this article and book list for the blog. We had earlier talked about what resources she might provide to help parents facilitate the development of empathy in their students. When we talked, we could not have imagined that our nation would be in such a circumstance as we are now, when empathy, camaraderie, and a sense of collective effort are the tools that might help us navigate through our days. We hope this time––and these recommendations––encourage your efforts to develop empathy in your children.
This year, students at RCLS have learned about empathy as part of the Second Step curriculum. They have learned that empathy is feeling or understanding what someone else is feeling. Teaching children empathy is important because it is an essential piece to building stronger relationships with others.
You can teach empathy to others at any age. Here are a few activities your family can do to teach empathy at home:
- Volunteer as a family. Compassion is empathy in action. (Consider: how might we practice compassion from home?)
- Model perspective taking in your conversations (ex: “I wonder how your grandma felt when I helped her get to the doctor’s office today? She said “thank you” and looked relieved and happy to have the company).
- Encourage perspective taking from your children. Empathy can be built at any age through encouraging perspective taking! If your child is sharing a story from their day, encourage your child to pause and think about how the other children involved in their story were feeling (ex: “I wonder how your friend felt when you told her that her shirt was weird. Has this ever happened to you before?; “What would it be like to walk in their shoes?”).
- Implement a “kindness challenge” and challenge everyone in your family to do something nice for someone else every day for a week or month.
Another way that children and adolescents can learn about empathy is through books. Most parents will recognize the value of giving a child the opportunity to "practice" seeing the world through another's eyes through the power of fiction. Stories inherently do that, but Second Step recommends these titles for their explicit message of or opportunity for empathy, a foundational element of healthy human relationship.
Be Kind, Pat Zietlow Miller
“Be kind” is nice advice, but how do you do it? A child navigates her school day trying, and sometimes failing, to be as kind as possible.
Come with Me, Holly McGee
A little girl, frightened by what she sees in the news, asks her parents what she can do. Their simple, perfect solution is to say, “Come with me.” Hand-in-hand, they face the world.
The Invisible Boy, Trudy Ludwig
Brian is a quiet kid, and he feels invisible. But the new kid in class might have it worse—he gets teased on his first day. Brian draws him a picture, and that little act of kindness changes everything.
Old Turtle and the Broken Truth, Douglas Wood
In a place where people have only part of the truth, life becomes very difficult. A little girl goes on a journey to see her friend, Old Turtle, who helps her replace the missing piece, and bring peace back to the community.
A Sick Day for Amos McGee, Philip C. Stead
Amos takes the bus to the zoo every day to spend time with his friends, Elephant, Tortoise, Penguin, Rhinoceros, and Owl. One day he wakes up with a cold and can’t make the trip, so his friends return his kindness—and leave the zoo to go check on him.
Big Nate Lives it Up, Lincoln Pierce
Principal Nichols asks Nate—you may recognize him from the Big Nate comic strip—to look after the new kid. Breckenridge Puffington III is no fun at all. But there seems to be something strange and familiar about him.
Charlie Bumpers vs. the Teacher of the Year, Bill Harley
Charlie starts fourth grade convinced his teacher is just waiting for him to fail: His new teacher has a reputation for being strict—and is the same one he accidentally hit with a shoe the year before.
Ms. Bixby's Last Day, John David Anderson
Topher, Brand, and Steve are stunned to learn their favorite teacher is seriously ill and leaving school right away. They go to extraordinary lengths to give her the best possible last day, and learn a valuable lesson about cherishing ordinary joys in the process.
The One and Only Ivan, Katherine Applegate
Ivan, a gorilla, was captured in a jungle he barely remembers, and has been plodding through his lonely life in a glass cage in a shopping mall for 27 years. When he finds himself charged with caring for a baby elephant, he’s finally inspired to make a change.
Same Sun Here, Neela Vaswani & Silas House
An Indian immigrant girl and the son of a Kentucky coal miner become pen pals—and forge an extraordinary, empathetic relationship across the miles. This powerful story is told in two distinct voices.
Wings, Christopher Myers
It’s hard enough to be the new kid in school, but Ikarus also is the only one with wings. When the other kids make fun of him, one girl speaks up for him, changing her life, too.
Wish, Barbara O’Connor
Charlie’s dad is in jail and her mom is sick. The secret wish she makes every day isn’t to go live with relatives in the Blue Ridge Mountains. But things change when she meets a stray dog and friendly neighbor.
Wonder, R. J. Palacio
Augie has some very noticeable facial deformities and has been home-schooled all his life—until fifth grade, when he starts his sister’s school. Immediately, he’s bullied. He struggles, and eventually finds a way to stand out apart from his appearance.
Mockingbird, Kathryn Erskine
Caitlin, a fifth grader and gifted artist with Asperger's, is struggling without the help of her brother, who died in a school shooting. When she comes to understand the word “closure” and seeks it out, she begins to understand the world from a new perspective.
The Watsons Go to Birmingham––1963, Christopher Paul Curtis
In this humorous yet tragic novel, ten-year-old Kenny tells the story of his family, the Weird Watsons. When the Watsons visit their grandma in the segregated South, they find themselves dealing with some of the darkest moments of the Civil Rights Movement.
American Born Chinese, Gene Luen Yang
This graphic novel tells three interrelated stories of young Chinese Americans trying to find acceptance. The Christian reader will appreciate the thread of the Gospel in this smart narrative, which is ultimately a consideration of identity and the confidence that may be found by rooting a sense of self and purpose in someone greater.
The Book Thief, Markus Zusak
Liesel is a nine-year-old girl living in Nazi Germany in 1939. As she learns about the power of words through her foster father, Liesel finds that books can be a refuge from the war. She begins stealing books and sharing them with the Jewish man hiding in their basement.
Answering the Cry for Freedom: Stories of African Americans and the American Revolution, Gretchen Woelfle
While Americans fought for their independence during the Revolutionary War, thousands of enslaved and free African Americans lived under oppressive conditions. This book includes thirteen stories of brave African Americans who fought for their right to liberty.
The Diary of a Young Girl, Anne Frank
In 1942, after the Nazis occupied Holland, thirteen-year-old Anne Frank and her family went into hiding. Her diary provides a detailed account of her life during that time. RCLS 8th graders read this book in Literature, so you may want to save this one, but all good books are worth reading more than once, so we’ll leave it on this recommended list.
Outcasts United, Warren St. John
This book tells the inspirational story of a group of refugees from all over the world who form a youth soccer team in a small town in Georgia. With the guidance of their coach, the members of the Fugees soccer team learn to adjust to life in the United States and overcome prejudice in the town that has become their home.
I am Malala: The Girl Who Stood Up for Education and Was Shot by the Taliban, Malala Yousafzai
In her memoir, Malala Yousafzai shares her remarkable story and inspires other to be the voice of change. When the Taliban took control of the Swat Valley in Pakistan, they restricted the education of girls, but Malala fought for her right to learn. When Malala was just fifteen years old, the Taliban shot her. Miraculously, she survived, and she continues to advocate for the right of all girls to receive an education.
Want to add these titles to your home library? You'll find some of them at the RCLS Scholastic Book Fair, open through May 19, and all of them are available from other major booksellers.