5 books to encourage empathy

Published on: 05 June 2024

Chibundu Onuzo recommends some favourite stories to channel emotions from.

Mayowa Althea Howard, the main character in Mayowa and the Sea of Words, has a very special gift. She is a logosalter, which means she can channel the emotions stored in books.

How do emotions get stored in books, you might ask? Well, every time a person reads a book and they feel angry, or happy, or sad, these emotions get trapped in the book. Special people like Mayowa can unleash these emotions by jumping on a book with their bare feet.

What use is this gift? Well, imagine if you could unleash courage on an army before a battle, or fear on a leader before they made an important speech? You just might be able to alter the course of history.

I'm not a logosalter but if I had this gift, here are five books I would channel emotions from.

Wonder from A Little Princess by Francis Hodgson Burnett

This is a riches, to rags, back to riches story that I loved as a child. Sarah Crewe is the only child of her father, Captain Ralph Crewe, a rich English widower stationed in India. Sarah is sent back to England to go to boarding school and is treated like a princess until her father dies suddenly and it is discovered that he is bankrupt. Things change drastically for Sarah and she becomes a maid in the school where she was once the princess. Despite her changed circumstances, she preserves a sense of wonder about the world. With her imagination, she transforms the drab attic she lives in into a place filled with wonder.

Strong sense of self from Yoruba Girl Dancing by Simi Bedford

Remi Bedford is having an idyllic childhood in Lagos when suddenly, at the age of six, she is uprooted from her home and sent to boarding school in England. Having been loved and cossetted in Nigeria, she is transplanted to an environment where people find her strange and have all sorts of outlandish assumptions about her. At first, she loses her confidence but by the end of the novel, she comes to be proud of her culture and heritage. The book ends with the line, "Is there a sight more beautiful ... than a Yoruba girl dancing?"

Resilience from Becoming by Michelle Obama

Michelle Obama grew up in humble circumstances and she rose to become the First Lady of the United States of America. Her autobiography starts with her childhood, where 'striving' was the norm. Striving to learn and acquire skills like playing the piano. Striving to overcome the boundaries society wished to place around her because of the colour of her skin. Refusing to accept that there was a room she didn't belong in. Her autobiography is a study in how to be resilient and overcome challenges.

Compassion from Black Beauty by Anna Sewell

This book is about a horse called Black Beauty who starts life in the countryside, works in London as a cab horse and then retires to the countryside. But it's also so much more than that. Through Black Beauty's story, you learn what it might feel like to be a horse torn from the countryside, and forced to work hard on grey, London streets. You learn about compassion for animals and human beings.

Fun from Five Children and It by E. Nesbit

Five children discover a magical creature called a Psammead that has the ability to grant wishes. It sounds rather exciting, doesn't it? Except what do you wish for when you can wish for anything? In each chapter, the children make a wish and discover the true meaning of the phrase, 'Be careful what you wish for.' It's told in a humorous style and is often laugh out loud funny.

Mayowa and the Sea of Words by Chibundu Onuzo is out now.

Topics: Features


Bookbuzz is a reading programme from BookTrust that aims to help schools inspire a love of reading in 11 to 13-year-olds. Participating schools give their students the opportunity to choose their own book to take home and keep from a list of 16 titles.

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