Bibliotherapy, or the therapeutic use of literature, can support students as they develop empathy and a deeper understanding of themselves and each other. Reading engaging and timely books in one classroom, one school, or one entire community can help educators in their mission to build a culture free from stigma and bias.
JUST UNDER THE CLOUDS by Melissa Sarno is a moving debut novel with themes of homelessness and disability that Kirkus Reviews calls “troubling, affecting, and ultimately uplifting.” Readers meet Cora, who is a middle schooler, a big sister, and homeless. Her mother is trying to hold the family together after her father’s death, and Cora must look after her sister, Adare, who their mother insists is just different. Quick to smile, Adare hates wearing shoes, rarely speaks, and appears untroubled by the question Cora can’t help but ask: How will she find a place to call home?
After their room at the shelter is ransacked, Cora’s mother looks to an old friend for help, and Cora finally finds what she has been looking for: Ailanthus altissima, the “tree of heaven,” which can grow in even the worst conditions. It sets her on a path to discover a deeper truth about where she belongs.
Laura Barbour, a school counselor, has developed the “Building Empathy with Books” Guide, complete with journal activities, games, and discussion questions to get the conversation started. JUST UNDER THE CLOUDS is featured, along with other books that explore such important themes as neurodiversity, cultural diversity, gender identity, mental health, homelessness, poverty, grief, trauma, domestic violence, and bullying.
Other books to build empathy:
- AUGGIE & ME by R. J. Palacio
- BEAUTIFUL BLUE WORLD by Suzanne LaFleur
- BECAUSE OF MR. TERUPT by Rob Buyea
- GOODBYE STRANGER by Rebecca Stead
- LEMONS by Melissa Savage
- LILY AND DUNKIN by Donna Gephart
- PAPERBOY by Vince Vawter
- THE HOUSE THAT LOU BUILT by Mae Respicio
- THE MISCALCULATIONS OF LIGHTNING GIRL by Stacy McAnulty
- THE PERFECT SCORE by Rob Buyea
- THE SECRET LIFE OF LINCOLN JONES by Wendelin Van Draanen
- WONDER by R. J. Palacio