Guest Post by Sara Pennypacker
One of the problems with/great things about blogs is that you get drawn into conversations. The past couple of weeks I’ve been visiting lots of them to get ready for my blog tour, and one post I can’t stop thinking about was titled “Can You teach Empathy?” This seems like the right place to have a say about that, and a Clementine post seems the right occasion, since Clementine herself is known for her empathy, so...
No, I don’t think empathy can be taught. But - a HUGE but - empathy can be learned...through experience and practice. And there is nothing on the planet better for practicing empathy than a novel. All media forms connect us to other humans: photos, news articles, paintings, music, TV shows, films – these can be tremendously moving, and are responsible for untold good in the world. But a long piece of fiction, which asks a reader to feel what someone else feels, for substantial stretches of time, is the ultimate empathy practice.
I try to remember this about the power of books: A book connects a reader to the rest of his tribe, through time and space. The first time this happens for a child can be a transformative experience: You are not the only one! a book says. And there are other paths possible.
|Author Sara Pennypacker|
And now, segue to Clementine! Whenever anyone describes her, “empathetic” is the adjective I hear most right after funny and creative. Some backstory: Clementine is modeled after my son Caleb, who as a kid struggled with attention issues (which, okay fine, he got from me...) What I cherished about him, and came to learn is true about a lot of kids with attention issues, was that he was artistic, a creative thinker, and extremely empathetic, so these are the traits that shine in Clementine.
In this newest book in the series, CLEMENTINE AND THE SPRING TRIP, Clementine’s empathy expands to animals. In it, she has an encounter with a chicken which challenges her sense of justice – people eat animals! – and decides she must become a vegetarian. As with all the books, I had a blast writing the funny scenes, and at the same time, I’m just so proud of this little girl.
Sara Pennypacker was a painter before becoming a writer, and has two absolutely fabulous children who are now grown. She has written several books, including the Clementine series, all illustrated by Marla Frazee, The Amazing World of Stuart, Sparrow Girl, and Summer of the Gypsy Moths. She grew up in Massachusetts and splits her time between Cape Cod and Florida.