Learning About Feelings and Empathy

One of my favorite things ever is reading to little people. Since the publication of our first book, I've had the incredible opportunity to not only read to my own littles, but also to large groups of very insightful, very honest kids.

I've said this before and I'll say it again, these children have taught me so much about my own books, the ones I wrote myself with clear purpose and intention. They have allowed me to see the story from their perspective which has been both highly educational and refreshing.

Over the Book Week period, I was invited to read All Too Much for Oliver to quite a few groups, and it surprises me that no matter how many times I read and discuss the story, I always walk away with something new.

When I first started writing these stories, I was convinced they weren't for everyone. After all, only 20% of children are highly sensitive, and while this number is not insignificant, it's far from representative of a majority. In a classroom of ten kids, one can expect to see between zero and two highly sensitive children who behave differently from the rest. So it doesn't surprise me that quite a few kids have openly expressed their confusion at Oliver's refusal to get in a crowded pool or his inability to enjoy the playground.

However, while some kids do leave the reading a little confused, most of those who make it a point to let me know how much they love noisy, crowded places when I start describing Oliver, towards the end of the story, will admit to feeling like Oliver sometimes. Some of them remember friends, family or classmates who are very much like Oliver. When that happens, my heart fills up with... well, with a lot of good things. For one, I feel like I may have done my job at showing these children that they are all different, and that that's okay. If they realize before they've left that they can be friends with others who are very much unlike them, that they can help kids like Oliver by being caring and supportive, that there's nothing wrong with kids like Oliver and that many of us can be like him at certain times, then I honestly couldn't ask for more.

One comment from a little girl will stay with me always, and I've brought it up at other readings because it's so deep and so clever and so beautiful. When I asked the children why they thought Oliver was feeling stronger at the end of the story, this incredible five-year-old answers:

"Because Odile doesn't make fun of Oliver's feelings."

I couldn't have said it better myself.

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