EmpathyLab Announces 2019 Read For Empathy Guides

Welcome to the blog today where I have exciting news about the 2019 Read For Empathy Guides, and a special guest post from Jon Biddle, a Read for Empathy book collection judge, about the judging process, and why Read For Empathy Day is so important. So, over to Jon…


As a member of staff at one of EmpathyLab’s original pilot schools, Moorlands Primary Academy in Norfolk, and after being on the selection panel for 2018, I was absolutely thrilled when I was invited to help put together the Read For Empathy Guides for 2019. Over the past three years, we have worked hard at Moorlands to develop children’s empathy across our school, basing much of our work around the use of high quality books, and it was a great privilege to be able to support other schools in doing the same.

The first stage of the process involved reading approximately 70 nominated books over the summer and making notes about the suitability of each. Some books were discarded at this stage, not because they were badly written or enjoyable to read, but because they didn’t quite deliver the specific empathy criteria that we were looking for. These included whether each book contains characters that readers can empathise with, the insights into the lives of others that are provided, how emotional vocabulary is used and how the reader is motivated to put empathy into action.

The seven judges met in London in early December to come up with a list of 30 books for primary schools and 15 books for secondary schools. The final lists caused much discussion as the overall quality of the books were so impressive. Both lists include an exciting combination of picture books, novels, poetry and graphic novels.

Some books I read to myself; some I relished having the opportunity to share with my class. For example, Ella On The Outside, the debut novel from Cath Howe, was an absolute pleasure to read aloud with my Year 6 class. There were so many things about the book that the children could relate too and it led to several spontaneous discussionson a variety of subjects. The main character, Ella, suffers from psoriasis, as does a girl in my class, and every time we sat down to read the book, she would shuffle to the front and be literally hanging on to my leg as I read. Speaking to her after we finished reading, I asked her what she had enjoyed about it the most and she replied, “It could have been about me. I haven’t read any books like that before.”

As the above example shows, all children love to see themselves represented in what they read, which is why I am so delighted that of the 45 featured titles, 44% have a BAME protagonist or cast of characters. This figure is significantly higher than reported in the study from CLPE which found that only 1% of children’s books published had a lead BAME character. Read for Empathy titles with a BAME protagonist include the heartwarming Love From Anna Hibiscus! by Atinuke, the beautiful If All The World Were by Joseph Coelho and Allison Colpoys and the powerful Booked by Kwame Alexander.

I’m absolutely thrilled that the 2019 collection contains some ‘empathy classics’, including Elmer by David McKee, and one of my all-time favourites, The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane by Kate DiCamillo. I’ve read this book to almost every class I’ve taught over the past seven or eight years and it has been one of the highlights on our reading journey every time. After the first couple of chapters, the children decide that Edward is quite a dislikeable character but, by the end of the book, they all adore and empathise with him completely.

Every book in the 2019 Read for Empathy Guides has the potential to change a child’s attitude to the world and it’s so exciting to know that such a high quality collection of literature will be having such an impact in classrooms across the country. I’m already looking forward to finding out all the creative ways these books will be used in the run-up to Empathy Day which takes place on Tuesday 11 June 2019.


Thank you so much Jon for taking the time to write a brilliant guest post, explaining how books made it into this year’s guides, and highlighting why Read For Empathy books are so important in the classroom.

So now comes the really exciting bit; this year’s books for primary and secondary…

The 2019 Read For Empathy Guides

To combat the empathy draining effects of social media and new pressures caused by societal divisions – and inspired by scientific research about stories’ empathy-building effect – EmpathyLab is spearheading a new empathy movement with books at its core, aiming to develop children’s life skills and combat society’s empathy deficit. In 2019, this starts with today’s announcement of the titles chosen for the 2019 Read for Empathy Guides following publisher submissions of books with strong empathy angles.

An expert, cross-disciplinary panel has chosen 45 books to strengthen children’s empathy skills, and inspire them to put empathy into action in their communities. This year there is a new trial list of fifteen books for 11- 16 year olds (the Secondary Guide), in direct response to demand from adults living and working with young people. This is in addition to thirty books for 4-11 year olds (the Primary Guide).

The Primary Guide features 14 picture books, 14 novels, a graphic novel and a poetry collection. The Secondary Guide includes 2 graphic novels, 3 poetry books, 9 novels and a collection of short stories. Two linked book collections are available from Peters for parents, teachers and librarians to use in the run-up to Empathy Day on 11 June, and beyond.

Both guides will be available for free from 17 January by visiting EmpathyLab.

The Booklists…

Read For Empathy Primary Guide For Children Aged 4-11fa747e22-ceaf-482f-a24c-cf099f8576fa
Picture books and poetry
• Poetry: A Great Big Cuddle, Michael Rosen, illustrator Chris Riddell, Walker Books
• Empathy classic: Elmer, David McKee, Andersen Press
• The Last Chip, Duncan Beedie, Templar Publishing
• Odd Dog Out, Rob Biddulph, HarperCollins Children’s Books
• Joy, Corrinne Averiss, illustrator Isabelle Follath, Words & Pictures
• If All the World Were, Joseph Coelho, illustrator Allison Colpoys, Frances Lincoln Children’s Books
• The Day War Came, Nicola Davies, illustrator Rebecca Cobb, Walker Books
• Is it a Mermaid?, Candy Gourlay, illustrator Francesca Chessa, Otter-Barry Books
• Cyril and Pat, Emily Gravett, Two Hoots
• Sweep, Louise Greig, illustrator Júlia Sardà, Egmont Books
• Along Came a Different, Tom McLaughlin, Bloomsbury Children’s Books
• Ruby’s Worry, Tom Percival, Bloomsbury Children’s Books
• Me and My Fear, Francesca Sanna, Flying Eye Books
• How to be a Lion, Ed Vere, Puffin
• Peace and Me, Ali Winter, illustrator Mickaël El Fathi, Lantana Publishing
Novels and graphic novels
• Empathy classic: The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane, Kate DiCamillo, illustrator Bagram Ibatoulline, Walker Books
• Graphic novel: Roller Girl, Victoria Jamieson, Puffin
• The Tale of Angelino Brown, David Almond, illustrator Alex T. Smith, Walker Books
• Love from Anna Hibiscus, Atinuke, illustrator Lauren Tobia, Walker Books
• Not As We Know It, Tom Avery, illustrator Kate McKendrick Grove, Andersen Press
• Jelly, Jo Cotterill, Piccadilly Press
• The Bubble Boy, Stewart Foster, Simon & Schuster Children’s Books
• Ella on the Outside, Cath Howe, Nosy Crow
• Boy in the Tower, Polly Ho-Yen, Corgi Children’s
• The White Fox, Jackie Morris, Conkers, Barrington Stoke
• The Distance Between Me and the Cherry Tree, Paola Peretti, Translator Denise Muir, illustrator Carolina
Rabei, Hot Key Books
• The Boy at the Back of the Class, Onjali Q. Raúf, illustrator Pippa Curnick, Orion Children’s Books
• The Light Jar, Lisa Thompson, Scholastic
• The Fox Girl and the White Gazelle , Victoria Williamson, Floris Books
• Beyond the Bright Sea, Lauren Wolk, Corgi Children’s

Read For Empathy Secondary Guide For Young People Aged 11-16


Poetry, graphic novels, short stories
• Verse novel: Booked, Kwame Alexander, Andersen Press
• Poetry: Rising Stars, Ruth Awolola, Victoria Adukwei Bulley, Abigail Cook, Jay Hulme, Amina Jama, Otter-Barry
Books; Everything All at Once, Steven Camden aka Polar Bear, Macmillan Children’s Books
• Graphic novels: Alpha, Bessora, illustrator Barroux, translator Sarah Ardizzone, The Bucket List, Barrington
The Pavee and the Buffer Girl, Siobhan Dowd, illustrator Emma Shoard, The Bucket List, Barrington Stoke
• Short stories: A Change is Gonna Come, Mary Bello, Aisha Bushby, Tanya Byrne, Inua Ellams, Catherine
Johnson, Patrice Lawrence, Ayisha Malik, Irfan Master, Musa Okwonga, Yasmin Rahman, Phoebe Roy, Nikesh Shukla, Little Tiger

• Empathy classic: Noughts and Crosses, Malorie Blackman, Penguin
• Car Wash Wish, Sita Brahmachari, Barrington Stoke Teen
• Rosie Loves Jack, Mel Darbon, Usborne
• Running on Empty, S. E. Durrant, Nosy Crow
• Boy 87, Ele Fountain, Pushkin Children’s
• Indigo Donut, Patrice Lawrence, Hodder Children’s Books
• Turtles All the Way Down, John Green, Penguin
• No Fixed Address, Susin Nielsen, Andersen Press
• Mike, Andrew Norriss, David Fickling Books


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