"Where's Home?" by Gabrielle Israelievitch: a book for all foster children and those who care for them: an entry into empathy

Educational Use: Empathy for Others

We need to stop thinking about children’s books as child’s play and acknowledge that the body of children’s literature reflects contentious issues that reside at the core of our culture. Children deal with these issues seriously through their reading and learning.
(Burke, Carolyn L., Copenhaver, Joby G. 2004. Animals as People in Children's
Literature, Language Arts, 81:3.)

Talking about the story with school children: For Parents, Teachers, Librarians
(See also Content)

This story compels an emotional engagement with the characters and it must be reckoned with. Using this book, one can pursue with one’s child/students a greater depth of empathy and an opportunity for articulation of emotional life and how it comes into play, what some call social-emotional literacy.

Most children will not necessarily have suffered the kinds of family/relational insults the way Littleprints did, but they have certainly shared some of his fears, confusions, and curiosities. They may recognize fears of loss or abandonment, discomfort with parental fighting or drinking, or feeling alone. They will question what kittens deserve and need and what they can feel like sometimes, what they have a right to, and perhaps the child/ren will reflect on their own stories.

As a teaching tool, this book’s range is broad: This is the story of a young life-lived, a biography. Many topics and possibilities come to mind: Starting points could be as diverse as Rights of Children to Roots of Empathy and what helps children develop, to Different kinds of Families to the Importance of Stories in our Lives. Where’s Home? simply opens conversations-- in one’s mind, or with another. There are infinite possibilities as well for expressive arts activities growing out of the children’s responses.

The following suggestions suppose that one might go back and forth between talking about Littleprints, the children’s talking/thinking about themselves, and discussing more abstract ideas brought to the personal world. They are in no particular order at his point.

Promote discussions about the inner world of feeling. No feeling is right or wrong, but it’s important to be able to name them. Naming is important, helping us to delineate and note separate ways of feeling, giving us a power over impulse and confusion.

EXAMPLES: What does Littleprints mean by “filling up with sunshine”? Why didn’t he know the name for the way he felt? What does he do/other kittens do when he’s/they’re afraid/upset/confused. What did Littleprints do when he was afraid at the beginning of the story? What other things? What did he do at the end when he was afraid? Why didn’t he do this at the beginning?

Think about times you’ve been really scared. Who helped you in your fear? What did they do? What helped? What kinds of things do people do when they feel bad inside? How do you know the difference between different yucky feelings?

What do you do when you’re upset? Angry? Others in your family? What is okay and isn’t okay? How do people/kids learn these things? What do children need and deserve? What is a family? Why do people need to belong in a family of some sort?

What is EMPATHY? Where do you feel empathy in the story? Where in the story do characters show it for each other? Why does it make a difference? What about Bucky? What could help him?

Can you feel more than one thing at a time?

Conversations about how we can be empathic, when are we, when are we not? (Being empathic has been shown to reduce bullying, and foster children are often vulnerable to being bullied. Discuss bullying.

Why does the narrator keep reminding us that nobody “knew what to expect?” What is the purpose of expectation? What kind of expectations could the kittens form in their early lives? What are ways that the Cools give some structure and predictability to their kittens’ lives? Do you think this helped Littleprints? What did they do that was different from what he’d known?

Other questions arise: What is HOME? Where is home? What does Home mean to you? What does it mean to Littleprints?

Why does the story end the way it does (inviting participation of reader)?

What does belonging mean? Is it important? Why? What/whom do you belong to? Explore.

Is it important to feel special? How does Littleprints feel special? What’s enough? What's too little? What does being special mean? To you? Does it always involve an important Other person? Discuss.

What makes the Nice Mice think something ‘s wrong at the Bob Cats’?

What would it feel like to have your mother lock you in a closet? (Humiliation is a soul-damaging teaching tool.) Why was Ma Cat in such a bad mood? What is punishment? What’s the difference between punishment and discipline?

Many children have fantasized about living with someone else. Have you? What would this look like? Make up a story about how you would go somewhere else.

What is Littleprints’s dream? How are dreams important? What is it a fantasy?

Why do you think the characters have the names they do?

How can relationships get broken?

What does the green box symbolize? What does it mean to Littleprints?

What does the marble symbolize? Do you have a special object or treasure that feels magic to you
in some way?

Who am I and how do I know that? What is a story about me?


Exploring attachment and social-emotional development

For Members of, or Students in, the Compassionate Professions (prospective/current Foster parents, Teachers, Doctors, Clergy, Social welfare workers, therapists, psychologists, social workers, child welfare, police, interpersonal neurobiologists, etc.).

Exposing the emotional life of a child, this story can be used as a springboard into nearly any conversation with students about the centrality of an organized attachment relationship/s in being able to grow up and what can happen when it’s ruptured. What are ways of addressing trauma? What is a Self and how does it develop? How do Relationships promote or compromise that development?


Illustrations by JULIANA NEUFELD
© Gabrielle Israelievitch 2013-2018. All rights reserved.