As I reflected last month on my favorite books of 2018 (Can you come up with a better way to wrap-up the year than thinking back on all the glorious time you got to spend reading?? Because I can’t!), one commonality of many of the books I read was their ability to teach empathy and perspective, specifically, taking on the perspective of others. So many of the books I read helped me to learn more about where people are coming from. They helped me to find out what influences the decisions people make and the things people do.
Books Are a GREAT Way to Learn Where Others Are Coming From
I think books that teach empathy and perspective interest me so much because of everything going on in the world today. It is so easy to retreat to my own little corner. To stay in places where everyone around me believes the exact same things I believe and feels the exact same way I do about the state of our country, our government, and our future. I need to push myself to see things from as many different perspectives as I can. Books are a powerful way to do just that.
I would venture to say that every book I have ever read in which a character faces some sort of problem (which is at least 90% of them) has shown me something about another person’s perspective. This is also true of children’s books. And that truth makes reading to your kids (just about regardless of what books you read) a great way to teach them empathy and taking another person’s perspective. Books are one of the best ways to truly see the inner-workings of another person’s mind. Even if that person is fictional. Even if that person is actually a dinosaur instead of a person. Of course, teaching empathy and perspective taking is easier to do with some books than others, and of course … as a mom who also happens to be a high school English teacher and absolutely addicted to books … I have some to share!
My boys are four and seven, and while they both enjoyed both of these books, each of them definitely has a favorite.
The four-year-old recently went through an intense obsession with dinosaurs. (Don’t worry, he moved on to Star Wars about three days before his dino-tastic birthday party and prompted a mad dash to the party store so we could AT LEAST have a dinosaur/Star Wars party. But would we really expect anything else?!) One of the MANY dinosaur books (see more in this post) we collected during this obsession was, We Don’t Eat Our Classmates by Ryan T. Higgins, and it is perfect for teaching the “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view …” lesson.
In We Don’t Eat Our Classmates, Penelope Rex is excited and a little nervous to start going to school. She is curious about what her classmates will be like. She is, however, excited about her new pony backpack (because ponies are delicious). When she gets to school and discovers that all her classmates are children, she just can’t help herself … she eats them (because children are also delicious)!
Penelope Learns Her Lesson … The Hard Way
After a scolding by her teacher, she spits her classmates out and struggles the rest of the day to avoid eating them again. At home, she and her dad discuss how “children are just the same as [dinosaurs] on the inside. Just tastier.” After eating and spitting out a few more of her classmates the second day, Penelope realizes that all the kids are afraid of her and tries to make friends with Walter, the class goldfish. But then Walter tries to eat Penelope! Now that she sees what being eaten by someone is like, Penelope understands why her classmates are so scared. She vows to never try to eat them again, and actually starts to make some new friends.
This book is a perfect way to teach the preschool set about empathy and taking the perspective of their friends. The drama of being eaten by a dinosaur is just what they need to read in order to deal with the drama of a friend daring to play with the toy they were finished playing with ten minutes ago. Penelope’s realization is clear and concise, just the way four-year-olds like it.
The seven-year-old has gone through so many different obsessions in his short lifetime that I’ve actually lost track. Unless you count YouTube as an obsession because … ugh. But even through all the videos of other people playing video games HE COULD BE PLAYING HIMSELF, he still loves a good book. One of our recent favorites is A Tale of Two Beasts by Fiona Roberton.
In A Tale of Two Beasts, a young girl finds a “strange little beast” while walking through the woods. She “rescues” him, dresses him up, takes him on lots of “walkies,” and shows him off to all her friends. Later he escapes through an open window, and she cannot understand why he would leave. Then the book switches perspectives, and we get the creature’s point of view. He just so happened to think that he was actually the one being “AMBUSHED by a horrible beast.” In the end, both characters start to see things from the other’s point of view. While there are many books that teach empathy and perspective, there are not many that teach our kids to see things from the other side as well as this one.
What?! YouTube Can Help Teach Empathy and Perspective (Aka – Awesome Books I Found Online)
In fact, A Tale of Two Beasts is such a perfect book for teaching the “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view …” lesson that I am actually planning a lesson around it for my English 9 To Kill a Mockingbird unit! And, as I planned, I found this AMAZING video of a reading of it by Sarah Silverman!!
Apparently this site is called Storyline Online. It is produced by the SAG-AFTRA Foundation and “streams videos featuring celebrated actors reading children’s books alongside creatively produced illustrations. Readers include Viola Davis, Chris Pine, Lily Tomlin, Kevin Costner, Annette Bening, James Earl Jones, Betty White” and many more. It is ABSOLUTELY great! I love it as an educator and as a mom. Maybe I can even get my oldest hooked on YouTube videos of books read by wonderful actors with way better character voices than mine … maybe??
Even if I can’t, the lessons of these books are so great that I will continue to read them over and over. I love having books like this on hand. They are perfect to get out anytime my boys need a specific reminder about some life lesson. Do you have books you keep on the shelves to teach empathy and perspective taking? Or books to teach some other important life lesson? If so, share them in the comments below or on social media. We moms need to help each other find resources whenever we can!
As always, thanks for reading! If you haven’t found us on social media yet, we would love to hear from you there as well. You can find us on Instagram at https://www.instagram.com/raisingboyswithbooks/, on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/raisingboyswithbooks/, or on Twitter at https://twitter.com/boyswithbooks.