Tia Fisher’s sublime verse novel Crossing The Line and Jaspreet Kaur and Manjit Thapp’s illustrated tribute to human connection The Spaces In Between have both been chosen for the 2024 Read for Empathy Collection, an expert-curated selection of titles devoted to fostering empathy in young readers.
While their subject matter and delivery may appear to be worlds apart, both books are united through a shared compassion for the characters they portray and a desire to dig beneath the surface to examine the emotions, motivations, fears and uncertainties that all of us face.
To celebrate Empathy Day 2024, we spoke to Tia and Jaspreet about their books, inspiration and the importance of empathy on their work.

Tia Fisher

What do you hope young readers will take from Crossing The Line this Empathy Day?

I would love young people to read Erik’s story and think, What would I have done in his place? at every moment when Erik makes a decision, and understand that sometimes we do the wrong thing for good reasons. It’s so easy to judge people before we have stood in their shoes.

How important an attribute is empathy for you as a storyteller?

I think it’s possibly the most important skill for a storyteller. It’s a kind of imagination, isn’t it? Every time I try to express what a character does or thinks or feels, I’m saying to myself: if this happened to me, if I was this kind of personality, how would I react, what would I feel, how would I express it? I laugh with my characters and cry with them too. I feel them.

Were there any books you enjoyed growing up that helped cultivate your own empathy?

I absolutely loved Penelope Farmer’s Charlotte Sometimes (a middle-grade timeslip about a girl who wakes up in the past and everybody thinks she’s someone else). It’s about how fragile identity can be, and it really fascinated and frightened me at the time. I could really imagine how lost and alone Charlotte was, how she felt her sense of self slipping away. As an adult, I can understand how someone might feel like that if they were being gaslit, told something was true when they knew it wasn’t.

What have the reader reactions to your book been like? 

Amazing!!! I’m completely blown away by the positive response to Crossing the Line. It’s all I could ever have hoped for when I wrote it. I’m so happy that it’s being read widely in schools because it shows how easy it is to get sucked into county lines (the criminal exploitation of children by organised drug gangs), and how hard it is to get out.

Some of the readers I’ve spoken to have been so mature and perceptive, especially about characters like Erik’s mum. I hadn’t expected the depth of understanding that they’ve shown. I think a lot of young people have chaos, loneliness, poverty and grief in their lives and they have used these experiences to empathise with, not judge her.

Reading the book, the form – with its immersive, physical, textural nature – transported me into Erik’s skin! A shortcut straight into his mindset at any given moment. What is it that you love most about writing in narrative verse?   

I think you just said it, actually. I love going straight to the jugular of a scene, stripping away the excess flesh – but without being too on-the-nose, either. With verse, we’re trying to suggest. We leave big gaps where the reader can insert their imaginations and experiences into the text and by doing that, become more engaged. I love playing with the text so that the meaning isn’t only in the semantics but also in the shape; the sound; the rhythm of the sentence; the placement on the page. Verse novelists have so many toys to play with – it’s a marvellous freedom!

Crossing The Line is published by Hot Key Books. Buy here.

Jaspreet Kaur

What do you hope young readers will take from The Spaces In Between this Empathy Day?

Spaces offers a multitude of relatable experiences, inviting readers to navigate the complexities of a big and bustling city. It acknowledges the potential overwhelmed feeling that can arise (which is something that I’m sure both adults and young people and young people can relate to!) and guides us towards self-compassion and understanding for ourselves and others in those moments.

How important an attribute is empathy for you as a storyteller?

Empathy and compassion are at the root of my storytelling. They have the power to transform, to build connections, and to make the world a better place. We all possess the capacity to empathize with ourselves and others, and I believe stories and poetry are potent tools to unlock that potential!

Were there any books you enjoyed growing up that helped cultivate your own empathy?

One of my favourite books growing up was Charlotte’s Web by E. B. White. It’s a beautiful story about a pig named Wilbur and his friendship with a spider named Spider. It taught me a lot about understanding what it might feel like to be in someone else’s shoes and how to be there for one another in times of need. 

What have the reader reactions to your book been like? 

It’s been such a blessing to receive wonderful messages, emails and reviews from readers of all ages from across the world about how much they connected with this book. For those of us who feel a bit nervous in busy spaces, this book made us feel seen and heard and provided really important tools on how to navigate those difficult moments. My 14th-month-old is probably the biggest fan of the book; she loves looking through beautiful illustrations crafted by Manjit and shouting, “Apple! Dog! Bus!”

Your book shows us how to find those moments of peace when the world threatens to overwhelm you. Where do you like to go when the hustle and bustle of the day gets too much?

One of my favourite “spaces in between” when I need to find a little peace and solace is to be surrounded by books! So that might be my local library, a book shop or cosying up with a book and a cup of tea in bed! I find a real sense of calm hidden between those pages!

The Spaces In Between is published by Big Picture Press. Buy here.

Find out more about Empathy Day and check out our staff picks to celebrate the occasion here.