“What is Empathy: A Bullying Storybook for Kids” is Amanda Morin, Scarborough author’s, first children’s book. The story takes children ages 5-7 into the minds of two students as they learn how to see problems in each other’s eyes. Courtesy photo of Amanda Morin

SCARBOROUGH — Local author and former educator Amanda Morin has released her first children’s book the goal of which is to teach young students how to be empathetic.

“What is Empathy? A Bullying Storybook for Kids” follows best friends Sofia and Ava, as they reach a potentially friendship-ending situation and learn how to see the problem through each other’s eyes. Written in both of the girls’ perspectives, the first half of the story follows Sofia and then switches to Ava’s point of view.

Children ages 5-7 are Morin’s target audience, she said, but parents or teachers should help their children read through the story in order to ensure they understand what is happening. The feeling of empathy can be difficult to grasp.

“Empathy is such a developed concept,” she said. “We develop it over time. Even adults are working on it. It’s important to be explaining it and developing compassion and realizing that other kids have different thoughts in their head.”

With everything going on in the world right now, empathy is a necessary tool, especially for children, who may not understand what is happening or why they would need to be social distancing, said Morin. Stepping back to ask questions and taking time to understand where others are coming from are critical.

“I have a friend who is in New York on lock-down, who has a daughter and another friend living there,” she said. “They’ve been having challenges. (The daughter) read my book and said she never thought about how the other friend may be feeling to be stuck in the home.”

Morin said that she found the story a bit of a challenge at first, not entirely sure how to explain the concept of empathy or write characters that could be likable. In her first drafts, the story was only told in one of the girl’s perspectives.

“I came to it as I was writing it,” Morin said. “I started telling the story through the perspective of a third friend, but it didn’t work and I realized that in order to teach kids empathy, I needed to take them through the journey. It was sort of a eureka moment, like this is how it has to be written.”

Bullying drives the story, so Morin said she did research on the subject and at what ages certain types of bullying were more prevalent.

In the story, Sofia and Ava are pulled away from each other when a third student begins to attach herself to Ava and force Sofia away.

“This kind of leaving kids out is pushed down to lower ages, which we were used to seeing in middle school,” said Morin. “We’re now seeing it in third and fourth grade.”

When asked why this is the case, she explained, “Some of it’s around their distance from each other. I don’t mean social distancing. Social media’s made it easier to exclude other kids because they see people doing that online. Kids are much more conscious of differences now. They see people dressing or acting differently and they’re feeling threatened. They’re trying to create their own self-identity. So differences might make them uncomfortable — they sort of shy away from it.”

Morin said that she worked with her illustrator, John Joseph, to create characters who were diverse and conveyed emotions that Morin was writing about.

“We’re more alike than we are different,” she said. “It’s a topic that I’m passionate about. Kids need to be taught that there’s more than one side to a story.”

Morin has 10 years of teaching experience and a background in early childhood education and psychology, she said. She has written three books prior that were aimed at teachers and parents.

“This was the first time I wrote a kid’s book,” Morin said. “I didn’t know I could do it.”

Michele Borba, EdD, NBC contributor, educational psychologist, parenting expert, and author of “UnSelfie: Why Empathetic Kids Succeed in Our All-About-Me World” praised Morin’s work.

“Amanda Morin has written a wonderful, realistic book that teachers, parents ― and kids ― will love,” she said. “In showing both sides, ‘What Is Empathy?’ takes kids through the journey of perspective-taking that is so necessary to develop empathy in our all-about-me world.”

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