We all know that books can inspire children and foster their love of reading, can help them learn new facts, explore or come to terms with situations they are dealing with in their lives and support their growth and development. On June 10th we will again be celebrating Empathy Day https://www.empathylab.uk/empathy-day. Empathy Day aims to spark a national conversation about building a more empathetic society, and help young people learn more about empathy and put it into practice. This first Book Talking piece focuses on picture books that support empathy, are ideal for sharing with children and that aim to help the reader validate their own emotions, understand what is like to be a child in a war torn city, celebrate love, friendship and community and also just experience the joy of being a child.
Never Grow Up
Inspired by Roald Dahl
Illustrated by Quentin Blake
Puffin £12.99 2021
This full-colour picture book is Inspired by the magic and mischief of Roald Dahl stories and features wonderful new illustrations by Quentin Blake, whose pictures have always captured the humorous essence of Roald Dahl’s stories. Written in rhyme ’This book is for the kind of child – Who’s SILLY, mischievous and WILD – Who wants to grow to TEN FEET TALL – Without GROWING UP at all’ It celebrates mischief – makers and rule – breakers and tells children right from the front cover ’Are you a child who’s good as gold? – Do you do everything you’re told? Then this is not the book for you…’ What it is really doing is encouraging children to think outside the box and to grow up to be curious, inventive, daring, creative and to never lose that sense of wonder, playfulness and fun that we experience as children. Quentin Blake says in his introduction to the book, that Roald Dahl always said ‘never grow up, always down’ which in essence means that as we grow into adults, we should always remember what it is like to be a child. There is much enjoyment to be had in the story and through the pictures, but the book offers lots to talk about with children and can also lead them into exploring Roald Dahl’s books if they haven’t already done so. It is a book to remind every grown up to throw off their sensible shawl and re-discover their inner child and to let children know – not to lose theirs as they grow up!
For ages 6+
A Shelter for Sadness
Written by Anne Booth
Illustrated by David Litchfield
Templar £12.99 2021
Sadness comes to live with a small boy and he creates a safe space for his sadness. He builds a shelter for it and sometimes it is big, sometimes small, sometimes quiet and still and sometimes very loud and noisy. There are times when the boy will visit the shelter when he needs to and can talk to it or cry or say nothing at all. The boy knows that one day Sadness may come out of the shelter, and together they will look out at the world, and see how beautiful it is. Anne Booth was inspired to write the book by the words of Esther ‘Etty’ Hillesum, a Holocaust victim, who wrote: ‘Give your sorrow all the space and shelter in yourself that is its due, for if everyone bears grief honestly and courageously, the sorrow that now fills the world will abate. But if you do instead reserve most of the space inside you for hatred and thoughts of revenge – from which new sorrows will be born for others – then sorrow will never cease in this world. And if you have given sorrow the space it demands, then you may truly say: life is beautiful and so rich.’ This is an extraordinary picture book. David Litchfield’s illustrations are stunning and work in perfect harmony with Anne Booth’s text, creating an outstanding book, exploring both the nature of sadness and helping children understand the importance of making time and space for their own sadness. This is particularly important in our current times when many children may have experienced sadness and loss. The underpinning message of the book is that sadness is part of being human and can exist alongside happiness. It is a book that can open up difficult conversations with young and older children and a useful tool to support empathy, emotional literacy and mental health.
For ages 5+
How Do You Make A Rainbow
Written by Caroline Crowe
Illustrated by Cally Johnson – Isaacs
Macmillan Children’s Books £6.99 2021
A small child asks her Grandfather on a grey gloomy day how you make a rainbow and whether you paint them on the sky. He tells her that you make them grow out of kindness and hope – it’s your friends, jam on toast, the glow you feel inside when you make someone proud and a hundred and one other small things. The last message of the book is ‘Find the sunshine that’s inside you and a rainbow starts to grow’ and then you’ll see your rainbow. A delightful rhyming picture book that reads aloud well and offers a warm re-assuring message for young children at a time when it is most needed. The warmth of the relationship between child and grandparent shines through the story, highlighting its own rainbow. Bright colourful illustrations work well with the text as does the colour palette chosen for each double page spread. The last few pages encourage children to make their own rainbows of the things they love.
For ages 3+
The Last Garden
Written by Rachel Ip
Illustrated by Anneli Bray
Hodder £12.99 2020
In a war-torn country, Zara tends her garden – the last one that hasn’t been destroyed by bombs. All the local children play in it and help tend it, until the day comes when the violence of war has escalated, it isn’t safe in the city anymore and the community has to leave. Eventually the war ends, and the community can return to their homes. Although fearful of what they might find, to their joy they discover that through all the time they were gone, Zara’s garden continued to grow. With their love and care they are able to bring the garden and their city back to life. The message of the book is really powerful and will give children hope that even in the darkest of times, things can get better – a message that is very appropriate today. It is also perfect to help children develop empathy and understanding for those children experiencing living in a war or having to leave their homes. The illustrations work in great harmony with the text and their visual depiction of children and a community experiencing war is very moving. Design, layout, text and illustrations combine to provide an outstanding book, one that opens up many opportunities for conversations with children and one that deserves a wide audience.
For ages 5+
Annie Everall OBE
Director, Authors Aloud UK, www.authorsalouduk.co.uk