Summer Reading for Children: A Great Time to Build Empathy

School’s out! And that means that hordes of children (they come in hordes, right?) will be running free for the eight (or more) hours a day they used to spend in school.

There are lots of things to do with kids at this time. You can send them away to camp, if you can afford it, or enroll them in some day camps in your area that have them do arts and crafts. The older kids can get jobs, and the younger kids can be those babysitting jobs the older kids get.

I know on my summer break, coming from a socioeconomically deprived family, I never experienced any sort of children’s camp myself. Instead, I watched a lot of T.V. and read a lot of books. One of those was probably better for me than the other.

A recent study came out that found that reading helps build empathy. This isn’t anything new to us humanities majors and graduates, but this study by Stanford University tested that hypothesis and gave quantifiable evidence to what was a qualitative observation.

One great service we can do for our hordes of children is to help them build empathy. Empathy is not only the ability to recognize, respect, and reciprocate the emotions of others, but it’s what psychologists call a “pro-social” behavior that helps our society, overall, because a society that cares for and about each other is the way a society is supposed to function. Just look at the roots of the word: soci, Latin for us, partner, or comrade and ity, a Latin suffix that is used to abstract nouns to express a state or condition. So, by that breakdown of the word, society is the state of being us – partners or comrades.

There are many great books out there that will help kids build empathy. What I’m listing today would be great for 8-12 year old kids. Instead of watching strange things on YouTube (which is what my 9 year old Godchild does constantly) or Netflixing (yes, it’s a verb now), kids can pick up these books (hopefully willingly, but if not, bribery is always an option) and build their empathy skills up instead.

Freak the Mighty

I remember reading this book in either the fourth or fifth grade, and it made me cry. This book is the story of two boys – one, a slow learning giant and one, an extremely bright child in leg braces. These boys become unlikely friends, and, well, darn it. I’m going to tear up again. This book shows the power of unlikely friendships and the value we each have as a person – big, strong, and slow or small, weak, and smart as well as everyone in the middle.

Esperanza Rising

Esperanza is used to the nicer things in life. She’s lived on a nice ranch with her rich family in Mexico until she has to flee to California with her mother during the Great Depression and becomes a migrant farm worker. Esperanza isn’t ready for this new life, but she must learn how to deal with hard labor, financial hardships, and find friendship among her peers – especially when all that she has is threatened.

Becoming Naomi Leon

Naomi is no one special at school. She wears homemade clothing, sewn by her Gram. She has difficulty speaking up and prefers to remain quiet in class. She lives with her Gram who constantly tells her that most problems can be overcome with positive thinking and her little brother Owen. Naomi’s life is plain but peaceful until her mother comes back into her life after being gone for seven years. Now Naomi is left to explore who she really is.

A Wrinkle in Time: The Graphic Novel

Everyone’s favorite book from childhood now comes in graphic novel form. I think the reading level on this might be a little higher than 12, but the graphic nature of this makes it a lot easier for younger children to comprehend. This is the story of Meg, Charles, Calvin, and Mrs. Who, Whatsit, and Which. They come together to defend the universe from the dark forces that would plague it. This story might be 50 years old, but it’s still a tale children can relate to and learn empathy from, and the graphic novel form just makes it extra fun.

Got any more books you’d like to add? Leave them listed in the comments below!

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