One Little Book That Will Help You Have Conversations About Empathy

To start, this post really is meant to be about The Rabbit Listened, but I have to give the back story of how and why I came across this gem.

I’m sure you’ve heard of the Camp Fire that recently devastated the entire town of Paradise, California and has impacted communities across the U.S.  Although it happened in Northern California, it’s smoke actually reached all the way across to the country to the east coast. I live in the affected county, Butte County, and it’s been challenging to process the amount of loss that has occurred. 

I am so grateful that my home and school are safe, but our community has been forever changed. As an adult, the experiences I’ve encountered in the past month are hard to put into words and even when I find them, I’m not sure which ones are the most important. I’ll try to keep it as brief as possible. 

The smoke was already covering the sky at the start of the school day, ash was falling throughout the day so we had indoor recess, and many students were picked up early. I was receiving updates on evacuation from my apartment complex, and left school as soon as the day ended to go home and pack some clothes and our most valuable items. While packing, I remember getting a call from my school, around 4:30pm saying that school was canceled for the following day. We didn’t evacuate immediately, but we were ready. We ended up leaving about thirty minutes before the actual evacuation order went out because we could see the flames just over the ridge. 

We both had plans to be out of town for the weekend anyway, so were gone until Sunday. When we returned, our apartment was freezing cold, I think because there was so much smoke, the sun couldn’t shine through. Inevitably, there was tons of smoke and the air quality was so intensely poor, it was difficult to be outside for more than a few minutes–even with a mask on.

I took this picture on Thursday, November 8 around 5pm. These are the fields in front of our apartment complex. You can see how dark the sky was!

I took this picture in the same area about a week after the start of the fire. This was a part of the controlled burn in the field, but at 7am, you can see just how smoky it was.

School was cancelled for the following week due to hazardous air quality, and the following week was our Thanksgiving Break. Teachers returned the next week to learn more about trauma and take time to plan for the return of our students the week after. 

During that time back with teachers only, every classroom on our campus had to be cleaned. This entailed a LOT of work by an outside agency. Every single surface in our classroom was wiped clean–EVERYTHING. Every bulletin was taken down and every book on the shelves. Everything was even taken out of the closet and wiped down. It was and still is a puzzle putting it all back together, but I am still so grateful that our classroom, and more importantly the people in our classroom, are all safe! I was able to get a couple shots of the cleaning process–it looks crazy but they really left everything in nice neat stacks! That was a huge job to tackle.

Needless to say, my students experienced A LOT in the time away from school. Many students had family members who lost homes, and in turn had more people in their homes than usual. Some students even had extra animals and pets in their home that they were caring for! Kids were also hearing a lot of stories about their grandparents or friends driving through the flames while trying to evacuate. Scary stuff!

I wanted to be really respectful of everyone’s experiences–giving students a chance to talk if they wanted to, but also know that they (or others) might not be ready to talk. When I saw one student during the time off, she told me she couldn’t wait to ask every one of her classmates if their house burned down. At that moment, I realized that my students were curious, but that they might not have the communication tools to show their concern for one another yet. I also wanted to make it really clear to my students that it was ok to have different kinds of feelings as a reaction to an event. I knew I would need a picture book to help me get the conversation going.

Luckily, I came across this gem, The Rabbit Listened! The main character, Taylor, is building, and when birds unexpectedly knock it over, Taylor goes through what seem to be the stages of grief. No matter what others try to say or what advice they try to give, nothing feels right. That isn’t what Taylor wants or needs! That is, until the rabbit comes along. The rabbit doesn’t say anything. The rabbit’s presence is enough, and it is in that moment that Taylor feels ready to talk.

The author and illustrator, Cori Doerrfeld, brilliantly brings to life a story with relatable reactions that can truly start a larger conversation! I love being able to use a picture books into my classroom for this reason. Though seemingly simple, picture books often offer so much more than what they seem.

We were told not to ask students to process the fire in front of one another, so I used a few questions to get my students to think about some key lessons in this book for our Community Circle:

  • What does it mean to be a good listener? / How can you be a good listener?
  • Why didn’t Taylor talk the first time when the chicken said they should talk, talk talk, about what happened?
  • Talk about a good listener in your life. Why do you value them?
  • Talk about your reactions when something doesn’t go the way you expected.
  • How do you react when you see someone else experience something unexpected? How might that impact them?
Overall, this is such a sweet story that can be incorporated at any time of the year, but especially helped me and my students recognize the value of listening to show empathy towards one another during this tough time! 

For me, this was such an amazing addition to my personal collection. What are your favorite picture books? 

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