Pam Allyn is the Executive Director of LitLife, a nationally recognized organization specializing in transformative school improvement through literacy education. Pam is the author of an inspirational and practical book for parents, teachers, and caregivers entitled What to Read When, which was published by Penguin in April 2009. She lives in Hastings on Hudson, New York with her husband Jim and two daughters Katie and Charlotte, as well as their dog Emily Dickinson and cat Eleanor Roosevelt.
Reading Helps Cultivate Empathy
Reading a book is a unique opportunity to see the world from another person or thing’s perspective. When a child reads a book, whether it is a fantastical story about an object come to life or a very real article about a neighboring country, he or she becomes a part of that world and sees life, however briefly, through the eyes of another. Children are uniquely able to accept and invest in the reality created in what they are reading. Chicken Sunday by Patricia Polacco is one book that can help cultivate empathy. In this book, Polacco shows how friendship can cross racial and generational lines, as she reminds us to always strive for truth and justice for ourselves and others.
By reading varied stories and texts from diverse authors, our children are exposed to the unique points of view of many different people and learn to empathize with people in situations contrasting greatly from their own. Another wonderful book for thinking about empathy is Roni Schotter’s Mama, I’ll Give You the World. In this lovely story a girl wants to give her mother a very special gift. As stories like this one demonstrate, empathetic people are kinder to others and listen more carefully to those around them. It is a wonderful gift books can give.
Reading Gives Children a Sense of Community
Great children’s book authors recognize that children have extraordinary power to shape their own worlds. Through reading, you can give your child a sense of his or her own power in shaping and creating a powerfully loving community. A Chair for My Mother by Vera B. Williams can help children to think about how important kindness and generosity are in a community.
Whether it is in the family, at school, in the larger communities of sports or friendship, stories show your child that he or she does not have to wait to become a grown-up to impact the world. Amber on the Mountain by Tony Johnston shares the story of two little girls who become friends and how one teaches the other to read. This small gift makes a big difference in both their worlds. There are so many wonderful stories that help our children understand their own capabilities and also appreciate the communities of which they are a part.
Books Indulge Children’s Imaginations
Imagination is a powerful force. It can give our children the power to transcend their environments, invent new ideas, develop breakthroughs, and believe in miracles. Books invite us to indulge our imaginations. They help us to cultivate them and they allow imagination to take a place of esteem and respect. Dream Carver by Diana Cohn, a story of a little boy who is inspired to create new toys based on what he imagines, will encourage children to be inspired by their imaginations and not let others discourage them.
As a child reads a truly remarkable story, they are picturing that world in their mind’s eye and flexing their imaginative muscles to create a world of their own. Harold and the Purple Crayon by Crockett Johnson allows children to enter another child’s imaginative world, while reinforcing the value of their own creativity. Imaginative books nurture our children to grow into people who invent and innovate, who conceive and create.