Patron of Reading

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Empathy Lab

Empathy Reads – recommendations from Patron of Reading conference, September 2016 

We asked delegates at the September 2016 Patron of Reading conference: “which books have helped you understand someone else better (adult or children’s)?”

This is what they said - verbatim and in no particular order!

Books recommended more than once 

  1. A library of lemons, Jo Cotterill (3 people)
  2. Out of my mind, Sharon Draper (2 people)
  3. Introducing Teddy – picture book about a transgender teddy (2 people)
  4. Wonder, R J Palacio (6 people)
  5. Boy in the girls’ bathroom (2 people)
  6. The curious incident of the dog in the night-time, Mark Haddon (5 people)
  7. The Savage, David Almond (2 people)
  8. A monster calls, Patrick Ness (2 people)
  9. Noughts and Crosses, Malorie Blackman (3 people)


  1. Us mins Mum, Heather Butler 
  2. Looking at the stars, Jo Cotterill
  3. Two weeks with the Queen, Morris Gleitzman
  4. Cats eye, Margaret Atwood
  5. After tomorrow, Gillian Cross
  6. Into the forest, Anthony Browne
  7. Only the dogs, Ian McGregor
  8. Jessica’s Ghost, Andrew Norris
  9. Refugee Boy, Benjamin Zephaniah
  10. Ruby Holler, Sharon Creech
  11. Up on cloud nine, Anne Fine 
  12. Bear in the chair, Ross Collins
  13. Ethan’s voice
  14. Isis, my journey into the centre of terror, Jurgen Todenhofer
  15. Any books by Elizabeth Laird and Beverley Naidoo 
  16. The Happy Prince
  17. Ways to live, Sally Nicholls
  18. Kes, Barry Hines
  19. A boy made of blocks: about a boy with autism – uses Minecraft to communicate with his dad
  20. The Wizard of Oz
  21. The Snow Goose
  22. Flight behaviour: Barbara Kingsolver
  23. Linda’s lie: Bernard Ashley
  24. Dinner Ladies don’t count, Bernard Ashley
  25. Rani and Sukh, Bali Rai
  26. Leila Aboulela: Minaret
  27. Dear Nobody, Berlie Doherty
  28. Unlikely hero of Room 13b, Teresa Toten - OCD
  29. Tulip, Anne Fine
  30. Grace, Mary Hoffman
  31. The power of positive thinking, Norman Vincent Peal 
  32. One Dog and his boy, Eva Ibbotson
  33. The Way Home
  34. Super Stan, Matt Robertson 
  35. Catching falling stars, Karen McCombie’s (empathy for brother with learning difficulties and with evacuees)
  36. A sense of freedom,  Jimmy Boyle
  37. Colour of home, Karen Littlewood
  38. Cloud busting, Malorie Blackman
  39. Beegu, Alexis Deacon
  40. Mumnesia, Katie Dale
  41. Time travel with a hamster
  42. One dollar horse, Lauren St John
  43. Extremely loud and incredibly close
  44. A thousand splendid suns
  45. The Elmer series
  46. The tunnel, Anthony Browne
  47. If, Anthony Browne
  48. The Arrival, Shaun Tan
  49. Troll Swap
  50. The Island
  51. Susan Laughs
  52. A bus called heaven, Bob Graham
  53. Auggie and me
  54. But Martin
  55. Holes, Louis Sachar
  56. Malala + me
  57. When my dog bites, Brian Mc?
  58. The odd egg
  59. The London Eye mystery
  60. Anti Cutbill (cow stories)
  61. Mum and Dad glue
  62. Bugs in a blanket
  63. Heart in a bottle
  64. Something Else, Kathryn Cave and Chris Riddell
  65. My sister lives on the mantelpiece
  66. Code name Verity, Elizabeth Wein - is it ever OK to shoot your best friend dead? 
  67. Dogger, Shirley Hughes (2 people’s recommendation)
  68. Pride and Prejudice
  69. Bog baby
  70. Bad mood bear
  71. Goldilocks 
  72. Once, Morris Gleitzman
  73. Dipping Dumpty, Bob Graham
  74. Lovely old lion, Julia Jarman
  75. Lob, Linda Newberry
  76. The boy in the tower, Polly Ho-Yen
  77. Charlotte’s Web – lots of characters to empathise with. Non-human characters are “safe” characters?
  78. Growth mindset, Carol Dweck
  79. Bounce, Matthew Syed
  80. Brace mouth, false teeth, Sita Brahmachari – dementia
  81. Millions, Frank Cottrell Boyce   
  82. Giraffes can’t dance
  83. Long walk to freedom
  84. Guernica
  85. Apache, Tanya Landman
  86. Before I die, Jenny Downham 
  87. A swift pure cry, Siobhan O’Dowd
  88. Am I normal, Holly Bourne
  89. Speak
  90. We were lions
  91. Love that dog
  92. Kite runner
  93. I want my hat back
  94. Shh! We have a plan
  95. Ways to live forever, Sally Nichols – child cancer sufferers and how those around them are affected

Schools development group


  1. To become a trailblazing EmpathyLab school
  2. Helping test resources, ideas and training from September 2015 to May 2016
  3. Sharing the learning with other UK and international schools


  1. EmpathyLab is a new catalyst organisation, passionate about the creative power of words and stories to build empathy, and the power of empathy to make the world a better place.
  2. Equipping teachers and parents to help children develop empathy skills, and put them into action
  3. A small team of experts led by Miranda McKearney OBE, founder of The Reading Agency.
  4. At the early stage of building plans to weave a more focused emotional literacy/empathy element into work with children- across schools, libraries, nurseries and health/wellbeing settings.
  5. From 2016 we will offer resources, training and links to authors and publishers. We will run national campaigns, including a new Empathy Day.
  6. Our main focus is working with primary schools. Children aged 0-12 are our main target audience.
  7. We will work with secondary schools to develop empathy buddies for younger children.


Why empathy, and why stories? 

  1. Educating children for social and emotional skills is increasingly being recognised as vital for their life chances and wellbeing. There is evidence that social and emotional competencies are more significant for academic attainment than IQ.
  2. Empathy is a particularly important skill, the bedrock for sound relationships and classroom climate and deeply relevant at a time of rapid demographic change and rising religious intolerance. 
  3. Empathy education can reduce bullying and improve behaviour, peer relationships and the learning environment. 
  4. Stories can help children handle feelings- their own and other people’s. Neuroscientists say that fiction tricks our brains into thinking we are genuinely part of the story. The empathy we feel for characters wires our brains to have the same sensitivity towards real people. 


Why a Schools Development Group?

We are forming a time limited development group of pioneering schools to test ideas and approaches.

What’s in it for you

  1. CPD opportunities to develop new approaches to building social and emotional skills
  2. Insight into new teaching and learning opportunities using words and stories differently across the school and curriculum
  3. Insight into relevant policy and research
  4. Links to authors
  5. Credited as a trailblazing EmpathyLab school on our website and at events

Who will be involved in the Group

  1. Mixture of UK schools- in terms of geography, intake and motivation for being involved
  2. International schools from Canada, Holland, USA, Israel and Australia
  3. Education partners on our reference group, including United Kingdom Literacy Association; Centre for Literacy in Primary Education

What you will be testing and feeding back on 

We will send a menu of options and you can work on as much or as little as you like. Ideally we’re aiming for whole school approaches, but as long as the Headteacher is aware and involved, elements could be trialled just by one class. Examples:

  1. Developing a whole school approach- cross curriculum plans
  2. Training ideas (empathy: theory/neuroscience; child development; listening; deep conversation; book talking; book knowledge; mapping/planning)
  3. Approaches to working with authors
  4. Peer reviewed resources, including digital approaches (Storykits; immersive activities; book lists; book groups; lesson plans)
  5. Models for secondary school pupils acting as empathy buddies to younger children
  6. Advising on when to hold Empathy Day and what schools could do on it
  7. Identifying any policy gaps
  8. Feeding back on our proposed impact measurements- on skills, behaviours, classroom climate etc. 


  1. Mostly virtually- by email and Skype
  2. But if it would be helpful, EmpathyLab staff are happy to visit you (free) 
  3. If there is an appetite, we can arrange a free development day in London   
  4. If there an appetite is we could set up a telephone action learning set


  1. Time limited:  September 2015- May/June 2016
  2. Review July 2016 for action the following academic year  
  3. But we are happy to start sending Storykit material now