Tag Archives: empathy

Reading Classics Makes You Nicer Too

I read The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas this summer on my Kobo. The e-reader took the physical weight off my hands and allowed me to absorb the mental weight by the hour. I loved it. I do enjoy classic fiction (I’m a huge Dickens fan) but this book stuck me hard with the complexity of the diabolical plot and Dumas’ ability to draw such wonderfully unique characters.

It turns out that I was engaging in some social therapy as I lounged in the sunshine.

Photo by Jennifer on Flickr

In a recent New York Times article, Pam Belluck discusses a study published in the Journal of Science that found a direct correlation between reading literary fiction and good social skills. It’s not the first study to have reached the conclusion that the development of empathy and sensitivity can be enhanced by reading, but this one compares literary fiction with nonfiction and popular novels.

“…after reading literary fiction, as opposed to popular fiction or serious nonfiction, people performed better on tests measuring empathy, social perception and emotional intelligence — skills that come in especially handy when you are trying to read someone’s body language or gauge what they might be thinking.

“…The researchers say the reason is that literary fiction often leaves more to the imagination, encouraging readers to make inferences about characters and be sensitive to emotional nuance and complexity.

“…The study’s authors and other academic psychologists said such findings should be considered by educators designing curriculums, particularly the Common Core standards adopted by most states, which assign students more nonfiction.” For Better Social Skills, Scientists Recommend a Little Chekhov

Enokson on Flickr

Enokson on Flickr

Luckily, we library people can do our bit to encourage such reading in our schools. The very generous digital artist Enokson on Flickr shares these “Booktalkers“.

“Cut apart these bookmarks and slip into books on display or on shelves, leaving them peeking out of the top of the pages or to attract attention to new books or books of specific genres. A black and white version is also available in my photostream.”

Her Creative Commons license only asks that they not be used for commercial purposes, that you give the artist credit, and that if you modify it, you share your work with the same generosity.

(I wonder if these generous people who share their work so freely read more literary fiction – empathy and sensitivity at work, wouldn’t you say?)

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Review: Out of My Mind by Sharon Draper

Out of My MindOut of My Mind by Sharon M. Draper

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Out of My Mind is a well-told story from the voice of Melody, an eleven year old girl with cerebral palsy, who cannot walk or talk, and at first has almost no means to communicate with those around her. Sharon Draper does a wonderful job of presenting a character, who could potentially inspire pity, as a strong and admirable, and ‘normal’ preteen girl, whose own determination to express herself eventually succeeds. Drama without pathos, humour without low comedy, and introspection without maudlinism move this story along at a steady and engaging pace.

Written in a natural, conversational style at about a mid-grade-four level, I will recommend this book to students of all ages. It will also make a great classroom read-aloud. Students will learn to see disabled people differently, teaching empathy. Supplemented by background media on Stephen Hawking (Melody’s inspiration) and technologies for the disabled, this novel could be related to health, science, language arts (‘words’ are at the heart of the story), and social studies.

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A Christmas Story About Empathy for the Older Students

I hesitated to write about this beautiful book because it is out of print like my previous recommendation. However it might be wasting away on a library shelf somewhere and fully deserves to be brought to light.

And light is the perfect symbol for this book. Telling a story of an ‘enlightening’ candle by that candle’s own light, it was the illustrations, reminiscent of Rembrandt, that first drew me to this book. Painter Jacob Collins is described on his website as, “…a leading figure in the contemporary revival of classical painting”.

Click on the image for the Goodreads page. (Different Cover)

Luminous and rich, the paintings demanded a story with equal depth, and Richard Paul Evans was equal to the task. This is a story of the awakening of empathy, told without reference to any deity and thus open to any receptive listener.

I wanted my students to get the full impact of the images, which I believe have the potential to open the heart in ways that words might not. Although I knew it would compromise the quality, I scanned the images and showed them on the Smart Board while I read the story to the Grades 4 & 5. I turned off some of the lights so the paintings would show up better and read by the scant light emanating from the board itself. If I dared, I would read this by candlelight.

The students were completely absorbed throughout the story and were highly appreciative of the message and of the art. I expect to have a chance to show this to Grades 6-9 before Christmas and although I expect the junior high students to demonstrate the obligatory ennui, I have confidence that it will touch them all and perhaps light a little candle of empathy within many of them.

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