The books we’ve chosen for the first Girl & Grown-Up Book Club meetings of the 2017-2018 school year feature characters who are struggling to develop new friendships and dealing with change in their existing friendships. We chose to think about these books with a focus on inclusion and empathy.
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Empathy is the ability to understand, and even vicariously feel, another’s feelings.
Some call this walking in someone else’s shoes or seeing things from another person’s perspective. Children develop empathy as they mature.
For the youngest readers:
- Introduce the concept by asking them what they already know about empathy.
- Discuss the definition, and examples of when you or they felt empathy for someone else.
- When reading, ask children to infer what a character is feeling, and to think about a time when they felt that way themselves.
- At home, use a diverse emotional vocabulary so that children can start to identify their own feelings, and the feelings of others.
This Girls Leadership poster offers a visual aid to discuss a variety of feeling words.
For older readers:
- Discuss the difference between empathy and sympathy. Grown-ups can preview this wonderful animation narrated by Brené Brown, and consider sharing it with kids.
- Promote empathy at home by sharing your own experiences and feelings.
- When children talk about conflict with a friend, ask questions like, “What are you feeling about that?” (urge them to go beyond vague words like “mad”) or “How do you imagine your friend is feeling?”
- When we can imagine others having a full range of human emotions, we are likely to treat them with understanding rather than judgement.
If your girl is new to her school, she might be feeling anxious about finding friends, like Peppi from Awkward. Even if she is in a familiar school, changing friendships might make her feel unbalanced and unsure, like Amina in Amina’s Voice, or cause her to withdraw into shyness, like Anna in The Year of the Book. Read on below for more details about each of this month’s book selections.
The Year of the Book by Andrea Cheng
About the book
4th-grader Anna Wang turns to books for comfort and company. Books are friends to her, sometimes even better friends than people. They’re certainly less complicated, especially when it comes to her friend Laura, who seems to have left Anna behind in favor of new friends. On top of that, Anna feels embarrassed about her mom’s cleaning job, and reluctant about attending Chinese school on the weekends. As Anna develops confidence and empathy, she finds happiness and fulfillment in her real relationships. This sweet illustrated novel examines the subtle complexities that even young children deal with in their friendships.
The Year of the Book was published in 2012. It was Junior Library Guild Selection, as well as a nominee for the Bluebonnet Award and the Beverly Cleary Award. This is the first book in the Anna Wang series.
*Note to Parents: In this story, Anna’s friend Laura goes through a difficult family situation. Her parents split up, and the father continues to try to contact his ex-wife and daughter, even showing up at Anna’s house when Laura is spending the night. If this situation seems too mature for your young reader, consider reading Andrea Cheng’s book The Year of the Garden, instead. Published in 2017, this book is the prequel to The Year of the Book, and it features younger versions of Anna and Laura getting to know each other and learning valuable lessons about friendship as they plant a garden together.
About the author
Andrea Cheng was born and raised in Cincinnati, Ohio. She spoke several languages and taught English as a Second Language. Ms Cheng wrote The Year of the Book in 2012, and subsequently published three sequels and one prequel. She wrote books for children of all ages, from picture books to young adult novels. To learn more about her, visit andreacheng.com.
Amina’s Voice by Hena Khan
About the book
Amina has just started middle school, and already things feel different. And not in the good way. Her best friend wants to change her name from Soojin to a more American sounding name, and, even worse, she wants to include Emily, a girl that Amina distrusts, in their friendship. Amina’s feeling jealous and insecure, and she can’t even turn to her music for comfort because her strict Muslim uncle disapproves. When her mosque is vandalized, she finds that she has a strength that she didn’t realize she had – inner strength, a strength that comes from the support of others.
Amina’s Voice was published in 2017. It received starred reviews from Kirkus, School Library Journal, and Booklist.
About the author
Hena Khan was born and lives in Maryland. She has written several other books for children. Amina’s Voice is her first middle-grade novel. Learn more about her at henakhan.com.
Awkward by Svetlana Chmakova
About the book
The first book ever for our middle school book club is a funny graphic novel about Peppi, a girl who is just starting a new school and wants to make a good impression. Unfortunately, her chances of that are ruined by the middle of the first page, when she trips in the school hallway, and her books go flying. Jamie, a quiet science student, helps her up but Peppi is so embarrassed when bullies call her his “nerder girlfriend” that she pushes him away. Tormented by her mistake, and not sure how to apologize, Peppi ignores Jamie until her science teacher pairs them for a tutoring session. The more she gets to know him, the more she realizes what a good friend he is. When the rivalry between Peppi’s art club and Jamie’s science club reaches new lows, Peppi and Jamie join forces to bring the groups together.
Awkward was published in 2015. It was a nominee for the Dorothy Canfield Fisher Children’s Book Award and the Wil Eisner Comic Industry Award. It also won the Rocky Mountain Book Award Gold Medal and is an Honour Book of the Silver Birch Fiction Award.
About the author
Svetlana Chmakova was born in Russia and emigrated to Canada when she was sixteen years old. She’s published more than ten books, and her work has been translated into many languages. She followed Awkward with Brave, a graphic novel set in the same school as Awkward, and featuring many of the same characters. Her next graphic novel, Crush, will also be set in this school and will be released in fall of 2018. For more information about Ms Chmakova, visit svetlania.com.