BLOGS  >  JUNE 24, 2021

Becoming an Empathy Creator


I have embarked on my second year of #ClassroomBookADay with such a different mindset than I had with the first. Last year, I was flying by the seat of my pants, buying picture books at my local indie, searching the stacks at my public library, and collaborating with my Twitter PLN, LRC Director and Library Assistant to find enough books to fill 183 days of school. It was beautiful chaos.

While my fifth graders declared it their favorite part of the day, it left me wanting more. How could I make #ClassroomBookADay a part of one of my chief goals: to help all of my students take a look at themselves and develop empathy for others? 

In 1990, Dr. Rudine Sims Bishop wrote, “Books are sometimes windows, offering views of worlds that may be real or imagined, familiar or strange. These windows are also sliding glass doors, and readers have only to walk through in imagination to become part of whatever world has been created or recreated by the author. When lighting conditions are just right, however, a window can also be a mirror. Literature transforms human experience and reflects it back to us, and in that reflection we can see our own lives and experiences as part of a larger human experience. Reading, then, becomes a means of self-affirmation, and readers often seek their mirrors in books.” This philosophy has been one of my reading touchstones, one I return to again and again, turning it inside out and upside down as I search for ALL of my students to both see themselves and develop empathy for others through reading books.

It turns out that, #ClassroomBookADay is an incredible vehicle for this work. Our first #ClassroomBookADay was The Day You Begin by the venerable Jacqueline Woodson. It starts with the beautiful line to which almost anyone can relate, “There will be times when you walk into a room and there is no one quite like you.” This picture book is one that both encourages students to share their stories, as well as listen to the stories of their peers.

It was an ideal launch into the new identity work with which we began the year (huge shouts to Sara K. Ahmed and her book, Being the Change.) Getting to know each other’s stories and identities creates empathy in my students because they have a deeper understanding of who they – and their peers – are as human beings.

Focusing on this work through #ClassroomBookADay has been an eye-opener for my students. Books like Trudy Ludwig’s The Invisible Boy, Juana Martinez-Neal's Alma and How She Got Her Name, Arree Chung’s Mixed and Yuyi Morales’ Dreamers are a few #ClassroomBookADay read alouds that highlighted the unique cultural identities we bring to our classroom community. Students felt both seen and affirmed, while making connections to other students and their identities through these books.

Exposing students to culturally diverse characters broadens their world. Some students take trips to places where they learn about cultural backgrounds and identities that are different from their own. Other students gain confidence, and may even feel a little less alone, as they see themselves in characters from our #ClassroomBookADay challenge.

We’re only about 40 days into the school year. So that means I have approximately 140 more opportunities for my students to see different identities and continue to develop their empathy through the careful selection of “window” and “sliding glass door” books, and for them to reflect on who they are and who they want to be through a thoughtful selection of “mirror” books. I can’t wait to see what these next 140 days bring us!

Lorie Barber
Fifth Grade Teacher
Lisle , IL

Lorie Barber is a fifth grade elementary educator who highlights cultural identity, empathy, and compassion in her classroom. Lorie has been an educator for nine years, the last six of which have been with her fifth grade students in Lisle, IL.  Lorie’s main goal is always to help her students cultivate a lifelong love of reading. This is her second year implementing Jillian Heise’s #classroombookaday after experiencing an overwhelmingly positive response from her students the previous year. Lorie is a voracious reader, a proud member of #bookexpedition, and has blogged for Nerdy Book Club. She tweets from @barberchicago and writes at

See #ClassroomBookADay blogs on Follett Learning listed here to see all of the articles written by our contributing classroom teachers. 

Follow Follett Learning's Pinterest board for great resources on the titles featured.

To view the full #ClassroomBookADay book list on Titlewave, click here

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