Great Books for Teaching Students About Empathy
Just last week, the 317th mass shooting took place this year in the United States. A gunman in California drove through a locked gate. He then shot through the windows of the elementary school killing four people. Teaching students empathy is more important than ever in this time we live in. If students better understand diversified populations some of this violence may be curtailed. Health problems, learning challenges, and racial or cultural differences are just a few of the topics children’s authors have tackled in literature. Here are some great books for today’s classroom.
Characters with Health Problems
The movie based on the book Wonder by R.J. Palacio hit the big screen this week. The main character, Auggie Pullman, suffers from a rare genetic disorder, Treacher Collins syndrome. Auggie starts public school for the first time in fifth grade. At first, the students think if they touch Auggie, they too will be infected. As the year progresses, not only do the students learn to accept Auggie but he becomes a friend to all.
Out of My Mind by Sharon Draper is another great book in this genre. Melody has Cerebral Palsy. When she is placed in inclusion classes, the students first think she is stupid. Melody proves them all wrong when her new communication board arrives. By answering multiple-choice questions by touching her communication board, Melody scores the highest of anyone in the class on the qualifying exam to be a member of the trivia team heading to Washington, D.C. for the national competition.
Other books that provide students with a better understanding of health problems include Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes by Eleanor Coerr and Freak the Mighty by Rodman Philbrick.
Characters with Learning Differences
Learning differences is another topic students need to better understand. Rules by Cynthia Lord and Al Capone Does My Shirts by Gennifer Choldenko both tell stories from the perspective of siblings living with a brother or sister with autism.
Fish in a Tree by Lynda Mullaly Hunt tells the story of Ally who has difficulty reading due to dyslexia. By the end of the novel, some of the students wish they too were dyslexic when they learn that some of the greatest minds in history such as Albert Einstein, Alexander Graham Bell, and Henry Ford also had dyslexia.
The Goldfish Boy by Lisa Thompson engages the reader with a story about Matthew who suffers from severe obsessive-compulsive disorder. He hasn’t been to school in weeks because he fears going outside. Author Rick Riordan, in his novel The Lightning Thief, decided his protagonist would have a learning disability. Each of these novels helps promote a better understanding of learning differences.
Characters who Deal with Prejudice
Many hate crimes center on prejudice. Katherine Applegate tackles this issue in her newest novel, Wishtree. Told from the perspective of an oak tree named Red that has lived for centuries, this story tells of a Muslim family who moves into the house shaded by Red. Exasperated with intolerance, Red manipulates events so that ten-year-old Samar and her family are accepted by those in the neighborhood.
In his classic, The Cay, Theodore Taylor encourages students to “see” beyond the color of skin. Set during World War II, Phillip is blinded shortly after his ship is torpedoed by Germans. Phillip and Timothy survive the explosion by climbing on a raft and floating to a nearby island. Phillip, a Caucasian, and Timothy, of African descent, bond as Timothy helps Phillip learn to survive without sight and tells stories rich with his Caribbean Island culture. Soon Phillip grows to admire and befriend Timothy.
Number the Stars by Lois Lowry, also set during World War II, helps students see how Jewish populations were treated by the Germans.
Other novels that help students understand prejudice include Maniac Magee by Jerry Spinelli, Echo by Pam Munoz Ryan, and The Watsons Go to Birmingham-1963 by Christopher Paul Curtis.
Teaching students to emphasize is an important job of teachers. Don’t delay. Select a book that celebrates diversity and get started.
Novel studies are available for each of these titles at Teachers Pay Teachers.