Tuesday Slice of Life Story Challenge

Today, June 30th, 2020, I’m participating in Two Writing Teachers’ Slice of Life Story Challenge.

“Oh no!  He lost his jacket!” Even with the rather noisy window air conditioner busily breathing cool air into the room, her words were clear, concise.  I shifted my gaze away from the illustrated pages of Beatrix Potter’s classic The Tale of Peter Rabbit to look upon the face of my four-year-old daughter.  Her eyes meet mine.  With her brows pulled downward, she pointed to Peter’s little blue jacket caught irretrievably in Mr. McGregor’s gooseberry net.  “Look!” she implored.

“Yes, honey,” I replied.  “I see it.”

Lying in bed later, I thought about that tiny moment of worry, the distress my little daughter exhibited for a character in a book.  A character, by the way, arguably undeserving of worry or distress.  After all, Peter does knowingly “disobey” the authority figure in the book, his mother.  And yet, my daughter expressed her fear for Peter’s fate anyway.

I recognized the emotion: Empathy.  And I thought about how reading is the way we build our capacity for this essential emotion. In my mind, Empathy might reside at the top of the emotional hierarchy. As author and scientist Maryanne Wolf writes and wonders in her book Reader Come Home (2018), “What will happen to young readers who never meet and begin to understand the thoughts and feelings of someone totally different?” She chronicles studies out of Stanford University that show a precipitous decline in empathy taking place over the last ten years or so in our country.  Wolf also describes a discussion between novelist Marilynne Robinson and then President Barack Obama during which Robinson expressed lamentation for what she perceived as a “political drift among many  people in the United States toward seeing those different than themselves as the ‘sinister other.'”

As I look around at what is happening in our country, I sometimes wonder what I can do to make a difference, especially as I watch the actions and repercussions of persons in power who exhibit no empathy for those different than them at all. But then I remember the young girl who was lying next to me earlier in the evening, her eyes glued to the pages of a book I was holding. And I remember I can make a difference for her.

Author: Lanny Ball

For more than 27 years, Lanny has taught, coached, presented, staff developed, and consulted within the exciting and enigmatic world of literacy. With unyielding passion and belief in the possibility of workshop teaching, Lanny has worked to support students, teachers, and school administrators around the country in outgrowing themselves as both writers and readers. Working first as a classroom teacher, then as a coach and TCRWP Staff Developer, Lanny is now a literacy specialist, working and living in the great state of Connecticut. Outside of literacy, he enjoys raising his three ambitious young daughters with his wife, and playing the piano. Find him on this blog, as well as on Twitter @LannyBall. Lanny is also a co-author of a blog dedicated to supporting teachers and coaches that maintain classroom writing workshops, twowritingteachers.org.

10 thoughts on “Tuesday Slice of Life Story Challenge”

  1. Empathy is one powerful emotion. Connecting to events and characters in books and talking about them definitely fosters empathy. I think empathy and respect, in this country could go along way for many people! I agree 110% with you, that you can make a difference with your daughter and that creates the ripple that can make a bigger difference.

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    1. Thank you! It’s my belief that we sometimes can’t powerfully connect with characters, but there is value in that, too. We need to learn to feel empathy for those not like us, too.

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  2. Lanny, how well you peg that emotion for what it is and the great need for it in our world. Being able to walk in someone’s shoes, to live momentarily inside someone else’s skin, to feel the suffering of others even if their experiences are very different from our own … those words, “a precipitous decline in empathy … in our country” are ominous and fateful. What begins in childhood, having concern for a little rabbit losing his jacket, can open chambers of the heart and condition them, eventually, for the real neighbor suffering a loss, for many suffering real injustices … and for seeking ways to alleviate it. Your post does several things on several levels. It’s a clarion call for developing empathy in our young ones, it emphasizes the value of reading (and fiction, at that – its power must not be underestimated), and reminds us that while children need to see themselves in books they also need to “meet and begin to understand the thoughts and feelings of someone totally different.” How else to broaden the capacity for change, for better, for reversing the regression of “other” as “sinister”? Empathy is vital to our coexistence – to our collective existence. We begin where we are … powerfully pointed out, Lanny.

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    1. Fran, as usual your feedback is in itself a work of art. You have such a unique talent for putting eloquent words to the subtext of what I write, and for that I feel so honored and grateful to have you reading my words. Thank you! 🙏

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  3. Lanny- tears at that last line. I love the description of your little 4 year old worrying for Peter Rabbit. It reminded me of when my son, Alex, who is almost 10 was distressed about Humpty Dumpty falling and not being put back together. I truly believe that we can learn to care about others by reading widely. This is a poignant piece.

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  4. Lanny, Your post is so valuable right now. Reading is so important. As you ended your story, making it clear to us all how you can make a difference, you reminded me of how teachers make an impact. How we value reading for our students gives us such powerful ability to change the lives that could change the world. Thank you for this wonderful piece.

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    1. Marina, thank you for your comment! I read your slice today and was bowled over by the craft and heart-wrenching content of what you wrote. I apologize I did not comment there, as time got away from me today.

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  5. Such a wonderful post about the power of reading to transform and teach us. I would have never thought of Peter Rabbit as a book about empathy but who knows what goes on in the minds of our audience e of listeners. You must be modeling care and love at home for sure!

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