Today I am delighted to introduce Kate Milner onto the blog. As it is Empathy Day today, she is here to tell you about the books that she finds inspires her empathy.
And before we introduce those books, let me also tell you about her book My Name is Not Refugee which is an incredible book for inspiring empathy.
About the Book
A young boy discusses the journey he is about to make with his mother. They will leave their town, she explains, and it will be sad but also a little bit exciting. They will have to say goodbye to friends and loved ones, and that will be difficult. They will have to walk and walk and walk, and although they will see many new and interesting things, it will be difficult at times too. A powerful and moving exploration that draws the young reader into each stage of the journey, inviting the chance to imagine the decisions he or she would make.
The Illustrated Mum, Jacqueline Wilson
This is my favourite Jacqueline Wilson book. It has stayed with me long after reading it. The heroine, Dolphin lives with her older sister and her mother who has manic depression. Her mother’s mental health problems mean she’s not really capable of looking after her daughters so Dolphin has to grow up quickly and learn to look after herself. She has to work out who she can trust. It’s a really powerful evocation of living with mental illness. There are no goodies and badies here just ordinary people with very real problems who are trying to do the right thing but failing. This is a wonderful book.
Slam by Nick Hornby
The story of 16 year old Sam who makes his girlfriend Alicia pregnant. Sam is an ordinary boy who is very far from ready for parenthood. Initially he runs away and we follow his fear, anger and denial; he is a child with some really adult problems who has to work out what he ought to do. I have never been a teenage boy in this situation but I really feel I can empathise a bit more because of going on this journey with him.
The Heart and the Bottle by Jeffers, Oliver
This is beautiful and touching book about loss. I love the subtlety and the space this book gives you to work out what is going on and what, in the end, needs to be done about it. He is so brilliant at expressing feelings in a double page spread.
Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon
There is not much new to be said about this brilliant book. It offers the reader an insight into the world of Christopher a boy with autism who is trying to deal with his parents failing marriage. He doesn’t understand why they do what they do, and they don’t always understand him. Being in his head while he tries to get himself across London to his mother’s new house is terrifying and exhausting. I think everyone who reads this book has to become more sympathetic and understanding towards people with autism.
Holes by Louis Sachar
This may not seem an obvious choice of a book which inspires empathy but it works for me. I have read it a number of times and every time I’m with Stanley. There is something about his plight; locked up for something he didn’t do, while mean minded adults make him perform hard, menial work which has no purpose. Anyone who has been stuck in school or work doing something meaningless and boring, knows what he feels like.
Not now, Bernard by David McKee
This is one of my favourite Picture books, a delight to read with small children. I love the rather flat quality of the illustrations and the 1970s interior of the house. It’s about being ignored, about not being listened too, getting cross about it and being eaten by a monster. We have all felt like Bernard at some time or other and this story absolutely makes you remember, as an adult, what it’s like to be a child with no power.
Goodnight Mister Tom by Michelle Magorian
The growing understanding and affection between Willie, an abused evacuee from London and Tom, a lonely old man who takes him in, is heart breaking and deeply touching. The story shows how it is the small acts of caring for one another which builds bonds. Everyone should read this book.
The Lost Thing by Shaun Tan
The Lost thing doesn’t fit anywhere and no one comes to claim him so the boy rescues it and, after taking it home, find away for the Thing to escape the city. That is a very hum drum description of what happens in this wonderful book. For me it makes you feel what it’s like to be in a huge, complicated, interesting, polluted, hard ,sunless city where your needs are not considered and you don’t fit.
The Uncommon Reader by Alan Bennett
This is not a children’s book but it is short and funny and I think lots of older children would it enjoy it. I’ve included it because it is all about the effect of reading. How it can expand your view of the world and help you understand other people with different experiences. It is a delight and a manifesto for writers and illustrators everywhere.
Winnie the Pooh. by A.A. Milner
I was going to pick one story from Winnie-The-Pooh and The House At Pooh Corner to talk about how it promotes empathy. Perhaps the one where Piglet and Pooh try to cheer up the endlessly miserable Eeyore by giving him a birthday present; or perhaps the one where Piglet finds the courage to meet the terrifying Teffalump. I think it’s easy as an adult to find the charm and humour in these stories and forget how much they teach about friendship. Rabbit and Pooh and Piglet and Tiger are all rather flawed characters. If Tiger came to my house I would probably hide and pretend I wasn’t in and I would certainly loose my temper with the fuss pot Rabbit but Pooh, in his dreamy way, finds a way of rubbing along with them.
About the Author
Kate Milner studied illustration at Central St Martin’s before completing an MA in Children’s Book Illustration at Anglia Ruskin University. Her work has been published in magazines, and her illustrations and prints have been shown in London galleries and national touring exhibitions. Kate won a V&A Illustration Award in 2016 for My name is not Refugee.