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Empathy Day is here! Created by Empathy Lab, Empathy Day is an annual event focusing on using books to build empathy. Tiny Owl’s very own The Parrot and the Merchant was selected as part of the 2018 Read for Empathy Guide. Some of the other fab books that were included are: Lulu Gets a Cat (Anna McQuinn, Alanna Max), You’re Safe With Me (Chitra Soundar, Lantana Books), and My Name is Not Refugee (Kate Milner, Barrrington Stoke) among many many others. The guide is a brilliant source for finding fantastic empathy reads. Empathy Day is a great chance to take the time to think about others and how all of us, big and small, can make an impact.  To celebrate Empathy Day, and to ensure that together our voices come across loud and clear, four independent children’s publishers (Lantana Publishing, Alanna Max, Barrington Stoke and us, Tiny Owl) are joining together with messages of love and acceptance. As small (but mighty) publishing companies created by immigrants and/or publishing work by immigrants, we’re using the hashtags #ImmigrantVoices and #ReadforEmpathy to celebrate immigrant books and voices. We are choosing one book which we believe perfectly represents our ‘home’ country. These books can be beacons of hope and tolerance in an increasingly divided world. So follow the hashtags to find out more and join in!

Keep reading to see the books we all chose:

1) Katrina Gutierrez: Mang Andoy’s Signs 

From my home country the Philippines, I recommend Mang Andoy’s Signs (Mr. Andoy’s Signs), a Filipino/English dual language picture book written by Mailin Paterno and illustrated by Isabel Roxas. The story begins when the town’s mayor bursts into Mang Andoy the sign maker’s shop, angry and frustrated that no one was following the rules. Mang Andoy takes on the challenge to create signs that would turn their willful community into law-abiding citizens, and more importantly, inspire them to become considerate and thoughtful. I love how this story brings to life the Manila I know and love – a city of organized chaos. Paterno’s prose is simple yet witty. Roxas’s playful signs and amusing street scenes complete this delightful and gentle reminder that it is easy to be kind, to think of others, and to care for the environment. A great empathy read! Get it from the website of the publisher Tahanan Books.

A spread from Mang Andoy’s Signs

Katrina Gutierrez is the Communications & Projects Director at Lantana Publishing 

2) Anna McQuinn: The Silent People and Tangleweed and Brine 

Image: Abe Books

People don’t really think of you as an immigrant if you’re Irish. But I came to the UK as an economic migrant (the worst kind!) in 1988 – along with many other young people.

Being an outsider makes you sensitive to the needs of outsiders. Already committed to ensuring girls were represented in children’s books (not just as the pretty ones, the vulnerable or the rescued but also as the strong ones or as agents of their own destinies), I became interested in also including others who are excluded or invisible: black and Asian children, especially those living here in the UK. And in the years since 1988, we’ve seemed to make progress…

However, the narratives that started in the run-up to the Brexit referendum have been horrible – divisive rhetoric has pitted people against each other and often cast anyone from somewhere else, anyone who is not white as a problem to be gotten rid of. As someone who has spent almost 30 years writing, editing, and publishing and promoting stories that encourage understanding and empathy, this has made me me feel particularly defeated.

On the other hand, stories like these have never been more important and the Empathy Lab project gives me hope that books can change attitudes and lives. I love the project’s emphasis not just on growing empathetic feelings but also on promoting action. I love its emphasis on the three major aspects of empathy: emotional (reacting to other people’s distress); cognitive (developing accurate and deep insight into other people’s thoughts and feelings) and, crucially, action (what you actually do with those emotional and cognitive reactions – things like comforting, helping and supporting others).

Image: Little Island

I have been moved beyond words that my story about little Lulu getting a cat made it onto the recommended list – alongside SO many amazing books all working hard to encourage understanding and empathy towards others and to encourage children to translate those empathetic thoughts and feelings into actions.

I would like to encourage everyone involved with Empathy Lab to act on what they learn from these powerful stories.

Our group of #ImmigrantVoices have decided to chose a book from our country of origin which gives readers wishing to understand that country an insight. I’m going to cheat and have two: Walter Macken’s The Silent People (and old classic dealing with a period in Irish history which shaped all Irish people, The Famine) and Tangleweed and Brine by Deirdre Sullivan (illustrated by Karen Vaughan) – recent winner of the CBI Children’s Book of the Year Awards and a modern masterpiece by an amazing independent Irish publishing company, Little Island.

Read – then take action!

Anna McQuinn is a publisher at Alanna Max 

3) Tiny Owl: The Mermaid of Warsaw and Sa’di in Love

Image: Kobo

In an interview we conducted with Miranda McKearney, founder of Empathy Lab, she stressed the importance of building empathy skills in ‘increasingly diverse classrooms’ and embracing people ‘who may hold very different beliefs and have very different home cultures’. What better way to do this than to encourage children to read widely about other cultures and countries, and to have pride in the books which come from the countries that we call home.

So we’ve got two books which represent two different home countries; just like Anna we’re also cheating. Sophie chose The Mermaid of Warsaw by Richard Monte and Karim chose Sa’di in Love: The Lyrical Verses of Persia’s Master Poet collected by Homa Katouzian. The Mermaid of Warsaw is a collection of eight colourful Polish folk tales, including the eponymous story ‘The Mermaid of Warsaw’. It perfectly encapsulates the spirit of Poland, and the beautiful tapestry that is Polish folklore. Sa’di in Love is a collection of poems by Sa’di a classical Persian poet, and contemporary of Rumi. His poems are a huge part of Iranian literature and culture, and beautifully explore themes of passion, wisdom and what it means to be human.

Image: Amazon

Sophie Hallam is the Commissioning Editor at Tiny Owl, and Karim Arghandehpour is the Director of Tiny Owl

So go on! Get reading for Empathy!

  • Read an interview with Miranda McKearney the founder of Empathy Lab
  • Check out The Parrot and the Merchant chosen for 2018 Read for Empathy Collection

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