by Farrah Serroukh
Literature is at the heart of all we do at the CLPE, this is fundamentally because through our work with schools in developing best practice across all aspects of literacy teaching, we know that books have the power to be transformative. Books provide opportunities for connection, affirmation, enlightenment and enrichment, all of which are crucial to our personal well-being and growth and are particularly invaluable in building resilience in the challenging times we find ourselves.
To understand and be understood is at the heart of the human experience. The space between what is written and what is read is a safe space in which we can make sense of our lives and the world around us and in doing so come to a place of understanding. It is as vital now as in any moment in our history that empathy should be at the core of any healthy society and explicitly explored in the school context. Books provide the space to ponder and nurture this core requirement. Empathy Lab’s specially curated book collection provides multiple entry points to explore this core. The debut collection last year set a great precedent and our deliberations of this year’s submissions were just as thought provoking
The submissions needed to be engaging titles with strong well-drawn characters that encouraged the reader to exercise their empathic muscles. We read some powerful titles that channelled deep-seated anxieties and support young readers to explore ways to develop the necessary resilience to navigate their world. Francesca Sanna’s Me and My Worry and Tom Percival’s Ruby’s Worry both do this in thoughtful and considered ways, neither unrealistically banishing the worries away forever but instead providing realistic and constructive resolutions. Victoria Jamieson’s coming of age graphic novel Roller Girl is just as formidable in terms of the ways in which it draws readers into Astrid’s world as she grapples with finding out who she is and carving out a place to be.Joseph Coelho’s moving If All the World Were offers hope and comfort in coming to terms with the loss of a loved one. The emotional rollercoaster ride that is Kate DiCamillo’s classic tale of The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane allows the reader to live many lives and in doing so grow more deeply empathetic at every turn.
Empathy Lab seeks to nurture empathy in all of the individuals who engage with their work, to feel it, think it and act on it. The book collection therefore features titles that do not shy away from the challenges prevalent in our society, from the value of having the integrity to be loyal to your friends, as playfully explored in Emily Gravett’s Cyril and Pat, to themes of hunger and homelessness cleverly depicted from a pigeon’s perspective in Duncan Beedie’s The Last Chip. We experience gut wrenching discrimination in Siobhan Dowd’s The Pavee and the Buffer Girl, as well as, the confronting inhumane suffering featured in Bessora and Barroux’s Alpha. Each title leaves a memorable mark in the reader to want better and sows the seed to inspire us to be better. Insights of the exemplary figures profiled in Winter and El Fathi’s Peace and Me showcase the best of our humanity and inspire readers to consider what can be if we collectively exercise more empathy in our daily lives, which at its heart is what Empathy Lab is all about. So, I hope you enjoy reading the collection as much as we enjoyed putting it together and that the roots of empathy that bind us grow deeper with every turn of the page.