What is Empathy Day?

Founded by EmpathyLab, Empathy Day helps children learn about empathy’s importance, and have inspiring empathy experiences. The strategy is based on research showing that empathy is learnable and that identifying with book characters builds real-life understanding of others.

The books highlighted here are a selection from the Read for Empathy Collection 2021. 

When is Empathy Day?

Empathy Day is on 10 June, with a countdown week running from 3-9 June.

How can I get involved?

This year’s Empathy Day theme is ‘walking in someone else’s shoes’. Resources include:

  • Free toolkit – email primary@empathylab.uk
  • Family activities pack
  • Empathy Day Live – taking place on 10 June, this will see children’s authors go on Empathy Walks and demonstrate unique empathy-building games. Stream it into your classrooms live, or rewatch it at a later date
  • Empathy Shorts – brand-new 500-word stories from leading children’s authors
  • Empathy Read Alouds – hear authors and illustrators reading empathy boosting stories and poems
  • Illustrators’ Gallery – pictures by leading illustrators spreading the empathy message

Find out more here and follow Empathy Lab on Twitter at @empathylabuk

Once Upon a Dragon’s Fire by Beatrice Blue (Frances Lincoln)

What’s the story?

Rumours abound about a fearsome dragon and the village is terrified of him. But it takes two children with open hearts and minds to visit the dragon and recognise what he needs to combat his sorrow and loneliness. And the warmth the dragon feels when someone starts to care helps save the village from a terrible storm.

This is a gorgeous picture book about understanding others and the empathetic power of stories.

Try this…

  • Discuss how rumours can cause terrible harm. Talk about how misunderstandings can spread.
  • Characters Sylas and Freya instinctively know how to comfort the lonely dragon. He needs lots of stories. Make a big dragon and create a ‘dragon story shelf’ in the classroom. Everyone can choose books for the shelf that they would like to read to the dragon.
  • Freya and Sylas are also very sensitive to the needs of the dragon. They want to share stories that don’t hurt his feelings, so they make up their own. Write your own stories for a dragon and create a story book.
  • In the story, the children’s empathy is strengthened by meeting the dragon and they need to help the villagers to understand the dragon too. Imagine you are Freya or Sylas and create a magazine or podcast all about the dragon that could be shared with the village.

Too Small Tola by Atinuke, illustrated by Onyinye Iwu (Walker Books)

What’s the story?

Tola is the smallest member of the family and her abilities are often doubted by her siblings. However, ever surprising, Tola demonstrates that being small need not hold anyone back.

This book is great for expanding children’s world views, with insights into Tola’s Nigerian life, in which people with different religious beliefs live together. It will also help children recognise some of the universal themes and challenges of childhood – a fantastic early reader.

Try this…

  • Step into Tola’s shoes. What would it feel like to be Tola, always being told you’re too small? Discuss in pairs then write emotion words on the board.
  • Tola and her siblings must fetch all the water they need for the day before they go to school. Water is precious. In groups, imagine you are a member of Tola’s family and plan how to use the water carefully for the day ahead to ensure it doesn’t run out. How do pupils feel about some people having water on tap and others having to queue for it every day?
  • Explore the beautiful Nigerian fabrics that Mr Abdul uses to make clothes. Ask children to copy their favourite design onto a piece of paper or design their own.
  • The residents of Tola’s apartment celebrate Easter and Ramadan. Research these festivals, share experiences and present findings to classmates.

Windrush Child by Benjamin Zephaniah (Scholastic)

What’s the story?

Leonard has an idyllic childhood in Jamaica. However, at the age of ten he boards a ship with his mother to journey to England. Once there, he’s reunited with his father who has already been working in England for several years.

Leonard and his parents are part of the Windrush generation. As well as getting used to the cold weather and cramped living conditions, Leonard has to deal with daily prejudice and racism. The story follows Leonard up until 2018, when he is denied citizenship by the country that is his home.

Try this…

  • Imagine you are Leonard leaving home in order to live in another country. List three things that you would look forward to and three things you would worry about.
  • Listen to the poem Windrush by Denniston Stewart. Discuss how the experiences of the narrator compare to the experiences of Leonard and his family.
  • What would happen if Leonard joined your school? How would the class make him feel welcome? What would you want him to know about life at your school? What advice would you give him to help him settle in?
  • Listen to the Benjamin Zephaniah episode of the Author in your Classroom podcast to hear him talking about this book and his writing process. If you could ask him about his life, what would you want to know?

Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy by Bre Indigo and Rey Terciero (Little, Brown Young Readers US)

What’s the story?

This graphic novel reimagines the story of Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women and shifts its location to modern-day Brooklyn. With their father away at war, it’s up to the March sisters to occupy themselves while their mother works to make ends meet.

Letters and emails from each of the girls split up the chapters and provide insight into each character’s world.

With sensitive portrayals of illness, blended families, sexuality, class, and race, the text shines a light on a range of experiences, prompting readers to question what it might feel like to be in the characters’ position and reflect on their own lives.

Try this…

  • Which March sister do you most relate to? Write a diary extract about one of your favourite scenes in the book from their perspective. What might they be thinking?
  • One of the central themes of the text is family. People live in lots of different types of families. Can you illustrate your family or the people you live with in a similar style? How could you represent everyone’s personality, hobbies and interests? How does your family compare to that of the March family?
  • The text touches on some complex themes, ending with the girls at a Women’s March. Explore one of the more complex issues depicted in the graphic novel. Use websites such as CBBC’s Newsround to provide a child-friendly view of current affairs.

Belonging Street by Mandy Coe (Otter-Barry Books)

What’s the story?

Belonging Street is a wide-ranging collection of poems, all based on a loose theme of belonging. Poet and illustrator Mandy Coe has written about the natural world and why we are responsible for protecting it, the importance of family life and the power of connection.

The poems create wonderful discussion opportunities, as well as chances for students to write and be creative, and encourage empathy with our planet and its inhabitants.

Try this…

  • Read the poem Coming Home To You. Discuss what ‘home’ means. Does it mean the same to everyone? If you had to summarise home in five words, what would they be?
  • Explore the poem Hearing The Earth, Feeling The Earth. In groups discuss how you can help to care for the planet. Make posters for the classroom showing why it’s important to look after the world and what people can do to help.
  • Find out what your school is already doing to protect the environment and if there is more that can be done. Present ideas to the headteacher or school council.
  • Read and discuss the poem Take The Leap. Ask children to think about a time they did something that scared them. How did they feel before, during and after? What would they say to friends who are feeling scared? Can being scared sometimes be a good thing?

Thank you to contributors Jon Biddle (Moorlands Primary Academy), Richard Charlesworth (Springwell School) and Sarah Mears (EmpathyLab co-founder).