5 Books to Encourage Empathy

Each book featured here is written about children triumphing in harsh circumstances. I was moved deeply by each and every story. If you are a teacher or parent, read them with your children, they make for thoughtful discussion. If you are an avid reader, add them to your list, they are powerful stories worth every moment of your time.

The War That Saved My Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley

The War that saved my lifeThis book pierced my heart. I ached with the characters, cried for their pain, and rejoiced in their victories. Ada and her brother Jamie have lived with their mother void of all care and love for their entire existence. Ada was born with a clubfoot and has never left her small flat in London. The best thing to happen to these two children was World War II. The children are sent away from London for fear of bombing, and their life opens up great and wide.  They land on the doorstep of a kind woman, not at all prepared for tending to children.  They are all rescued through love. This is a story that proves the people you choose to love are your family. It is tender and full of redemption. It teaches children history, and a heaping serving of empathy and compassion.

To purchase this book on Amazon, click here: The War That Saved My Life

Esperanza Rising by Pam Munoz Ryan

esperanza risingEsperanza has only known luxury, comfort, and love on her large ranch in Mexico. Her father is a good boss, providing well for the workers in his vineyards. When an uprising tears Esperanza’s family apart, her life of luxury is taken, and her world is forever changed.  Their family boards a train for the United States, hopeful to find work harvesting crops. I was reminded of The Secret Garden reading Esperanza’s first experiences with class differences and hunger. This book is imperative, it shows children the human side of immigration, and can be a perfect tool to discuss the issues facing our country right now. Esperanza learns to work hard, to humble herself, and that the power of a loving family can sustain you through very rough circumstances. The chapters follow the seasons as they harvest crops. I loved the framework it gave the story. If you teach middle grade novels, add this to your list of must reads. It can open up important discussions about immigration, refugees, and social justice. It is a superb book.

To Purchase this book on Amazon click here: Esperanza Rising

Fish in a Tree by Linda Mullaly Hunt

Fish in a treeSixth grade is hard; and even harder when reading seems impossible and bullies are a constant. For Ally Nickerson, school is grim, like living under a raincloud without a sunbreak in sight. However, a teacher named Mr. Daniels and two off beat characters come into Ally’s life, and become the sunbreak she has needed. Hunt writes about dyslexia with a pen of empathy, she brings understanding and compassion to a problem that many students face in school. Many themes resonate through this book, accepting yourself, and standing up for your friends, persevering through struggles, and looking at the world through someone else’s eyes.  If I taught intermediate students I would add this to a summer reading list. If I have a voracious reader who enjoys realistic fiction, I would feed it to them. If I knew a child with dyslexia I would read it out loud to them, so they could enjoy a story and cheer with Ally as she finds her courage, faces her challenges, and triumphs.

To purchase this book on Amazon, click here: Fish in a Tree

The Hundred Dresses by Eleanor Estes

The Hundred DressesThe_Hundred_DressesWritten over sixty years ago, this classic story is powerful. Sadly, the themes are still relevant in present day struggles. This simple story exemplifies the pain of bullying and the regret of staying silent instead standing up for another person. Wanda is the child with a single parent lacking resources, a child learning English only at school, a child struggling to read, or any immigrant or oppressed people group. Wanda, the poor immigrant from Poland could be any child. This books shows bullying is wrong and hurtful, but passively letting it happen is equally as wrong. An affecting book to start a discussion.

To Purchase this book on amazon, click here: The Hundred Dresses

Counting by 7’s by Holly Goldberg Sloan

counting by 7Living inside a truly brilliant mind is a gift and a trial.  For 12 year old willow Chance, both of these are true.  Willow is gifted beyond measure with a love of horticulture.  If you are my soulmate you read that sentence and thought, you had me at love of horticulture.  If you are not my soul mate, I will press on to sell you on this middle grade novel.  Willow does not fit in at school but is deeply loved by her parents, this grounds her and gives her the footing she needs in the world, until she enters 7th grade.  Her fashion choices, odd interests, and obsessions work against her.  Tragic strikes Willow and she is unmoored.  This is a story about unlikely heroes, how people change, and taking care of those around you, family or not.  This is a sweet and simple story and a quick read, but it will move you.  I loved seeing the world through Willow’s detailed and quirky mind.  I adored her knowledge of the natural world and the kinship she feels towards plants.  My own heart runs green with love for the science of growing things.  I hope you give Willow a Chance, it will be time well spent.

To Purchase this book on Amazon, click here: Counting by 7s

 

 

Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline

I was humbled to learn I was completely unaware of the history of the Orphan Trains in the US. In 1850, there were 30,000 homeless children in New York City. In an effort to help these children, they were put on trains and taken to live on farms in the midwest. From 1853 to the early 1900’s thousands of children were relocated, this movement is credited with starting the Foster Care System. You can read more about the history here:

Childrens Aid Society

orphan-train

Photo credit to the Childrens Aid Society Website

orphan train book coverOrphan Train, the historical fiction novel set in this time period is outstanding. We meet three characters, Neeve, an orphan in 1929, Molly, aging out of the modern day foster system, and Vivian, a 90 year old woman who Molly is placed to serve community service.  Their stories fit together perfectly, their struggles are different, but also a mirror image of one another. Each womans life is rich with emotion, perseverance, and redemption. A perfect historical fiction novel. The Audiobook was fantastic, I think it added to the book because of the characterization through different voices.

To Purchase this book on Amazon, click here: Orphan Train

To Purchase the Audiobook, click here: Orphan Train: A Novel

The Nest by Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney

 

the nest 2A father’s small, wise, and calculated investment has grown into a large sum of cash. For the Plumb siblings, this cash is the security blanket to cover up a multitude of mistakes. Bea, Leo, Jack, and Melody Plumb are all in different states of upheaval in their lives. Their fathers nest egg is about to be distributed equally to all four of them, and they are counting on that money to fix their problems. Sadly, money cannot fix all problems. The siblings are all forced to examine their lives and relationships with each other. The Nest makes a fantastic book club choice because the characters are outrageous, frustrating, relatable, and sometimes horrid people. However, some characters transform into better versions of themselves, and the story comes full circle in a satisfying ending. Read it with a friend so you can talk about it, it is book that lends itself to discussion. Our book club agreed we all liked it better after we had talked it through

To Purchase this book on Amazon, click here: The Nest

 

 

The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender by Leslye Walton

avalavender__spanAva Lavender is born with a set of wings. This peculiar feature leads her to ponder her family roots. The is the premise of the magical and tragic story of Ava’s heritage. I loved the rich language and the odd events which marked each person’s life in the Lavender family. I am a lover of Seattle history and stories set in our rain soaked city. The story follows generations of Ava’s ancestors, and what lead them to carve out a living in early Seattle. Love lost and found is the thread that follows all of Ava’s ancestors through their lives. This book makes you feel the rich beauty of green mossy landscapes, seasons of bright daffodils, and the relentless Northwest grey sky. Ava’s story is sad, redemptive, and lovely. Its core message reflects upon what we do for love, the cage of heartache, and learning to fly free again. I loved this story, the magical realism is perfection, and the story is whimsically beautiful.

To Purchase this book on Amazon, click here:

The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender

I Love You More by Jennifer Murphy

I love you moreA man with a closet full of secrets can only keep them hidden so long.  Sooner or later your wife finds out a secret, discovers things don’t add up, and your house of cards comes falling down piece by piece. Unless you don’t let it fall.  In this fast paced, story we first meet Diane, beautiful and put together, mother of a daughter named Picasso. She is married to Oliver, desperately in love, yet desperately unhappy. You cannot quite figure out what is going in her marriage, and either can Diane. The story is told from the perspective of Diane, Picasso, and a small town detective.  If you liked Gone Girl you will love the twists and turns and psychological layers. However, I thought this book far surpassed Gone Girl in writing, character development, and depth. The writing is fresh, beautiful, and creative. The pacing and plot are impeccable.  The story is told by different characters, the reader gains the perspective of the story from many different angles. This is the best murder mystery I have read in a long time, I could not walk away from it until it was over. It is haunting, masterful, and a stunning success.

To Purchase this book on Amazon, click here: I Love You More

If You Liked ‘The Help’, Here is Your Next Read

Calling Me Home by Julie Kibler

calling me homeDory has washed and set Ms. Isabelle’s hair every week for years. They know each other as most people know their regular stylist, sharing just the surface bits and pieces of their lives. This distance is eradicated, and their cordial friendship is taken to a new level when Isabelle asks Dory to drive her to a funeral across the country. Dory accepts with a bit of hesitation, and so begins a journey of friendship which travels across lines of race, generation, and social standing. The miles and hours pass by, as Isabelle tells Dory of her first love. Dory’s present struggles and Isabelle’s past agony unfold as they drive and share their stories.  Isabelle dredges up the past, bit by bit, and Dory compassionately wades through the memories with her.  Dory is fighting battles of her own, with teenage children and new relationships.  Isabelle pushes Dory to live a courageous life in the present, as she reconciles her past. The story is touching, well told, and a good read.  If you like strong women’s fiction, you will enjoy this book.

To Order this Book on Amazon, click here:

Calling Me Home: A Novel

A Life Forgotten: 2 Books, 2 Alices, No Memories

The two books waiting for me at the library last week just happened to both be about women named Alice, and coping with memory loss. Coincidence I suppose, but they were perfect, simple spring break reads.  Here is what I thought of each book:

What Alice Forgot by Liane Moriarty

what alice forgotImagine you lose 10 years of your memory, ten years of relationships, technological innovations, and major life changes, instantly disappeared.  Alice hits her head at the gym and loses ten years of her memory.  What she remembers is she is pregnant with her first child, happily married, hates exercise, and owns a fixer house with her loving husband.  She wakes up a woman with a body sculpted by exercise, 3 grown children, and a vastly altered marriage.  The story unfolds bit by bit as Alice regains pieces of her memory a little at a time.  It is like a huge map of her life with ten years of journey taken out.  This book was simple, well told, and with just enough intrigue to keep you happily hooked.  There were hard moments; however the end note was redemptive and hopeful.  This is a great plane or vacation read.  As I have said before about Liane Moriarty’s books, if you liked The Husband’s Secret, you will like this book more.  If you did not like The Husband’s Secret, try What Alice Forgot, it is worth the time.

Still Alice by Lisa Genova

still alice_Alice is a Harvard Professor, intelligent, active, and at the top of her career. She begins to forget small details, and her capabilities begin to lapse.  Alice has early onset Alzheimer’s disease.  Lisa Genova has worked in the medical field, so her books always have a strong thread of medicinal knowledge woven throughout. Alice, her husband and her grown children begin to cope with her mental demise.   It is difficult to read about her failing to recognize her familiar surroundings, thinking her area rug is a hole in the floor, and ultimately feeling that life is not worth living without memory.  You root for Alice and hope that the exercise, medicines, or a miracle will cure her.  The plot flows well, but the writing is a bit cliché, and the characters seem to follow a formula that one has read many times over.  The movie was recently released of Still Alice; I can honestly say I might like the movie better than the book in this instance.  The story was strong, but the telling was a bit flat.