Building empathy with JUST UNDER THE CLOUDS

By Shaughnessy Miller | June 5 2018 | All-School Reads

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 PERFECT SCORE by Rob Buyea
  • THE SECRET LIFE OF LINCOLN JONES by Wendelin Van Draanen
  • WONDER by R. J. Palacio
Because of Mr. Terupt
Debut author Rob Buyea has written an insightful and kid-friendly middle-grade novel in which seven fifth-graders narrate how a new teacher--and a nearly fatal accident--changes their lives. Will appeal to boys and girls, as well as reluctant readers.
Age 8-12 years
Grades 3-7

Lily and Dunkin
Award-winning author Donna Gephart crafts a compelling dual narrative about two remarkable young people. Lily and Dunkin's powerful story will shred your heart, then stitch it back together with kindness, humor, bravery, and love.
Age 10 and up
Grade 5 & Up

The Miscalculations of Lightning Girl
A lightning strike gave her a super power...but even a super genius can't solve the problem of middle school. This smart and funny novel is perfect for fans of The Fourteenth Goldfish, Rain Reign, and Counting by Sevens.
Age 8-12 years
Grades 3-7

The Perfect Score
From the beloved author of Because of Mr. Terupt and its sequels comes The Perfect Score, a middle-grade school story with a very special cast of unforgettable kids who discover that getting the perfect score--both on the test and in life--is perhaps not so perfect after all.
Age 9-12 years
Grades 4-7

An emotional and beautiful novel about being the new kid.
Age 8-12 years
Grades 3-7