Empathy begins with the self. We need to feel empathy for ourselves before we can feel it for each other. The protagonists of these stories typically are dealing with issues that any student in a particularly grade level can relate to. Some of those issues may be “hidden,” such as a young child’s need for a security blanket and the internal struggle over letting it go. A story that evokes self-empathy also offers a good starting point for exploring these hidden issues out in the open and dissipating any associated shame. Books in this category inevitably focus on celebrating our common ground as human beings having a common experience.
Empathy for Others
This is by far the largest category, offering stories that feature protagonists who may appear different than what our society or culture would consider “normal” or “average.” Or, the protagonist may be having an experience that is out of the ordinary or not something that happens every day—like having a brother with autism or being relocated by the government under the witness protection program. Many of these stories are told from the first-person point of view, inviting the reader to walk in the protagonist’s shoes, see life from their perspective, and to feel what it’s like to encounter the obstacles and judgments their differences or experiences may cause. Any book chosen will also show the protagonist’s own growth and development, as well as that of the others in their community (school, friends, and family). Priority will be given to those stories that show the gifts that come with perceived differences for both the individual and his or her community, as well as what a supportive, compassionate community looks like.
These stories are centered on the elements of a compassionate community and may include situations where the characters eventually realize and express collaboration, acceptance, support, kindness, and lending a helping hand.