Saving Manno by Spencer Sekyer (autobiographical, Canadian)
Spencer Sekyer is a Sherwood Park teacher who began “really travelling” at the age of 41 in order to gain a global perspective to share with his social studies students. On one of his overseas trips he became acquainted with a young chimpanzee, named Manno, who was living in a cramped cage in Iraqi Kurdistan. Thoughts of this young chimp stayed with Sekyer after he was back in Canada for another school year. When Jane Goodall was in Edmonton speaking in 2015, Spencer lined up with those seeking her autograph and to see what could be done to help this baby chimp. With Jane’s advice and connections, Sekyer set out to improve the life of his friend. This book demonstrates the difference that one person can make and that it’s never too late to achieve your goals.
To learn more, watch Spencer Sekyer in a March 2019 interview on Global News Edmonton.
The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein (fiction)
This book is told from the perspective of Enzo, the dog, alongside his race car driving owner. Although anthropomorphized (Enzo claims to have a near-human soul), the book does an incredible job of giving insight into the perspective of a companion animal. Enzo recounts life and its transitions; the shifting attention as new people enter the owner’s life, his subjection to a violent outburst and the good times spent with his owner visiting race tracks. I finished the book having a deeper appreciation of the profound impact of everyday actions on the lives of our pets, as well as new insight into the human condition.
Are We Smart Enough to Know How Smart Animals Are? By Frans de Waal (non-ficiton)
Dr. Frans de Waal is a primatologist and ethologist and makes the case that we should seek to understand the intelligence of animals through the context of that animal. Humans are notorious for interpreting animal intelligence through the lens of being human (devaluing traits and skills in other animals that we lack ourselves). This book looks at the complex and sophisticated lives of a variety of species of animals, some of which have been historically underappreciated. The book is a fascinating read (or listen – I enjoyed this as an audiobook), that will have you looking at animals in a new light.
Better With Books: 500 diverse books to ignite empathy and encourage self-acceptance in Tweens and Teens By Melissa Hart (non-fiction)
Better with Books discusses the power that literature yields at igniting empathy, and provides 500 books that address a variety of complex issues that are rife in the lives of young people. From exploring self-image to understanding newcomers to our connection with the natural world, not only can empathy to others be enhanced, the author suggests that when kids see their own worries and experiences reflected in a book, they can also become kinder to themselves.
In her introduction, Hart highlights how after reading The One and Only Ivan, her daughter took a passionate interest into the plight of homeless dogs and cats, and paid greater attention to the well-being of her own animals. With this type of positive change the author questions, “Why wouldn’t we encourage powerful epiphany through literature.”
Although not specific to animals, this is a great read to turn you on to other books that will foster empathy in your classroom.
*views in the books do not necessarily represent the views of the Alberta SPCA.