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Blog Tour: Empathy Day

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Empathy is a vital human force. One that creates happier children, stronger communities and a better world. It’s come into sharp focus during the pandemic and right now, we’ve never needed it more. Empathy is being able to imagine and share someone else’s feelings.

The good news is that it’s a skill you can learn, and Empathy Day on 9 June aims to help everyone understand and experience its transformational power. Empathy Day focuses on how we can use books to step into someone else’s shoes. Scientists say that we can train our brain with stories – the more you empathise with characters, the more you understand other people’s feelings.

Empathy Day was established by not-for-profit EmpathyLab, who are on a mission to inspire the rising generation to drive a new empathy movement. On 9 June they will host a day of brilliant online events and home-based celebrations to help children READ, CONNECT AND ACTusing empathy. Children can join in whether they’re at home or at school, and authors, illustrators, schools and libraries across the country will all be taking part.

To mark the countdown to Empathy Day, Richard O’Neill, whose book Polonius the Pit Pony is included in EmpathyLab’s Read for Empathy Collection, has written about the real-life inspiration for his book and how it encourages us all to show more empathy.


Guest Blog Post

by Richard O’Neill, author of Polonius the Pit Pony

‘I’m stronger than I look,’ Polonius argued. ‘You should see the heavy tubs of coal I pull down the pit.’ ‘If you say so, said Thor. ‘But you’ve never had to sleep outside or pull a big wagon on the drom. Those coal tubs are on rails. You barely have to take any of the weight, all you have to do is pull.’ It’s now or never, thought Polonius. In the commotion of the round up, he escaped through a gap he’d found in the fence.

When I was five years old and living in the North East of England next to a large coal mine, I went with my cousins to a field that we’d played in a number of times before, the field had always been empty, but this day it was full (and I mean full) of ponies all different colours, but pretty much all the same size. I had never seen so many ponies at one time, it was like a horse fair without any people. When we walked amongst the ponies they didn’t move. We jumped on their backs and rode them around the field; they moved slowly and seemingly without much interest – they were the opposite of our horses, who were very spirited.

It was only when we got back home and told our grandmother about our adventure that we learned that these ponies were pit ponies, and that they were only above ground for a holiday and would soon again be spending most of their lives hundreds of feet below ground in stables and they had been so used to a rigid working life that they generally had no inclination that, like our horses, they could run away if they chose. She told us about the skills and courage the ponies needed to work safely and efficiently in the mine and how some of the coal miners believed they had a sixth sense and owed their life to them, I saw those ponies in a completely different light, not just as slow and unspirited creatures but as hard-working animals who had very different skills. When she told me about how some would try to escape, I wanted to honour those ponies with the story of Polonius. I wanted to show that sometimes we all feel trapped by our circumstances but we will have opportunities to move on from them and share our talents and skills at some point in the future, this is as true for me as a storyteller as it is for Polonius as the hero of the book. It needs courage and it needs empathy from others just as Lucretia and Dad showed to the little pony.

Despite the fact that the bigger horses hadn’t shown empathy to Polonius he showed that he didn’t hold a grudge against the big horses and showed empathy to them.

Polonius shows us that we really need to show more empathy to each other and the animals in our lives and in the world, to hold off judgement until we know more. I would like people to think about Polonius and his lovely spirit and ask;

What would Polonius do?

Richard O’Neill

Twitter @therroneill


You can order Polonius the Pit Pony online.



More on Empathy Day 2020

For the first time this year, EmpathyLab will host its Empathy Day programme online to support families at home. Schools and libraries across the country will also be offering a wide range of home learning and story-time activities.

Prior to the big day, EmpathyLab are hosting a Countdown Fortnight on their social media channels (26 May-8 June). Highlights include brand-new empathy-themed illustrations from leading artists, short stories from favourite authors and video readings of empathy-boosting books and poems from the writers themselves. Families can also download a new Family Activities Pack, featuring 14 writing, drawing, crafting, listening and reading activities to do at home.

Events on 9 June will begin at 9:30am with Children’s Laureate and best-selling author Cressida Cowell, who will introduce Empathy Day. The day’s activities, designed to introduce children to the concept and importance of empathy and how to put it into action, include a draw-along with Rob Biddulph, a poetry challenge with Sarah Crossan, Empathy Charades with Joseph Coelho, exercises on listening with Jo Cotterill and Robin Stevens, before rounding up the day with an activity on putting empathy into action with Onjali Rauf and Sita Brahmachari. Finally, an evening event with Cressida Cowell, Muhammad Khan and psychologist Professor Robin Banerjee aimed at parents, teachers and librarians will address the science that drives EmpathyLab.


Join in with the #EmpathyDay social media campaign and share your #ReadforEmpathy book recommendations.

Follow along with the EmpathyDay blog tour to find out more about the other books on the Empathy Day booklist.


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