“When people talk, listen completely. Most people never listen.” ― Ernest Hemingway
Empathy can seem like an abstract idea to explain to a child. However, children are certain to understand what it means to be empathetic when they see it in action and feel it. It’s instinctive to them. Have you ever had a child, maybe your own child, come up and comfort you when she or he could sense you were sad? Even toddlers seem to be naturally inclined to this reaction.
Children’s literature offers an incomparable medium through which we can help children understand and develop empathy. One of the many wonderful things about books is that they let you see a story through someone else’s eyes. You get to step into other people’s shoes and understand their thoughts, feelings, and ideas. Whether a book character models empathy and compassion, explicitly talks about empathy, or simply helps you understand another person’s point-of-view, books are a powerful tool to help teach kids of all ages, from toddlers through high school and beyond, to nurture and demonstrate their natural instincts to be empathetic.
Our list focuses specifically on board books, picture books, and early chapter books, a range perfect for babies through kids elementary and early middle school age. It highlights some of the best children’s books with characters and stories that show, demonstrate, and teach empathy. From little books about empathy to chapter books, these different and wonderful books will teach your children about empathy and help them develop it themselves.
You can limit our list to board, picture, or chapter books, or see the entire list. You can also use the table of contents to jump to narrower topics that fit what you’re searching for.
A classic in the making, this heartwarming story about empathy and imagination is one that families will treasure for years to come.
Adrian Simcox tells anyone who will listen that he has a horse–the best and most beautiful horse anywhere.
But Chloe does NOT believe him. Adrian Simcox lives in a tiny house. Where would he keep a horse? He has holes in his shoes. How would he pay for a horse?
The more Adrian talks about his horse, the angrier Chloe gets. But when she calls him out at school and even complains about him to her mom, Chloe doesn’t get the vindication she craves. She gets something far more important.
Written with tenderness and poignancy and gorgeously illustrated, this book will show readers that kindness is always rewarding, understanding is sweeter than judgment, and friendship is the best gift one can give.
Born with a facial deformity that initially prevented his attendance at public school, Auggie Pullman enters the fifth grade at Beecher Prep and struggles with the dynamics of being both new and different, in a sparsely written tale about acceptance and self-esteem.
THE BEST SICK DAY EVER and the animals in the zoo feature in this striking picture book debut. Friends come in all sorts of shapes and sizes. In Amos McGee’s case, all sorts of species, too! Every day he spends a little bit of time with each of his friends at the zoo, running races with the tortoise, keeping the shy penguin company, and even reading bedtime stories to the owl. But when Amos is too sick to make it to the zoo, his animal friends decide it’s time they returned the favor. A Sick Day for Amos McGee is a 2011 Bank Street - Best Children’s Book of the Year and the winner of the 2011 Caldecott Medal. This title has Common Core connections.
Eleanor Estes’s The Hundred Dresses won a Newbery Honor in 1945 and has never been out of print since. At the heart of the story is Wanda Petronski, a Polish girl in a Connecticut school who is ridiculed by her classmates for wearing the same faded blue dress every day. Wanda claims she has one hundred dresses at home, but everyone knows she doesn’t and bullies her mercilessly. The class feels terrible when Wanda is pulled out of the school, but by that time it’s too late for apologies. Maddie, one of Wanda’s classmates, ultimately decides that she is “never going to stand by and say nothing again.” This powerful, timeless story has been reissued with a new letter from the author’s daughter Helena Estes, and with the Caldecott artist Louis Slobodkin’s original artwork in beautifully restored color.
Traces the story of Holocaust survivor Leon Leyson, who was the youngest child in his family and possibly the youngest of the hundreds of Jews rescued by Oskar Schindler.
Mockingbird - Ten-year-old Caitlin, who has Asperger’s Syndrome, struggles to understand emotions, show empathy, and make friends at school, while at home she seeks closure by working on a project with her father.
Fish in a Tree - “Fans of R.J. Palacio’s Wonder will appreciate this feel-good story of friendship and unconventional smarts.” —Kirkus Reviews Ally has been smart enough to fool a lot of smart people. Every time she lands in a new school, she is able to hide her inability to read by creating clever yet disruptive distractions. She is afraid to ask for help; after all, how can you cure dumb? However, her newest teacher Mr. Daniels sees the bright, creative kid underneath the trouble maker. With his help, Ally learns not to be so hard on herself and that dyslexia is nothing to be ashamed of. As her confidence grows, Ally feels free to be herself and the world starts opening up with possibilities. She discovers that there’s a lot more to her—and to everyone—than a label, and that great minds don’t always think alike. The author of the beloved One for the Murphys gives readers an emotionally-charged, uplifting novel that will speak to anyone who’s ever thought there was something wrong with them because they didn’t fit in. This paperback edition includes The Sketchbook of Impossible Things and discussion questions. A New York Times Bestseller! “Unforgettable and uplifting.”—School Library Connection, starred review “Offering hope to those who struggle academically and demonstrating that a disability does not equal stupidity, this is as unique as its heroine.”—Booklist, starred review “Mullaly Hunt again paints a nuanced portrayal of a sensitive, smart girl struggling with circumstances beyond her control.” —School Library Journal, starred review
El Deafo - The author recounts in graphic novel format her experiences with hearing loss at a young age, including using a bulky hearing aid, learning how to lip read, and determining her “superpower.”
It Will Be Ok: A Story of Empathy, Kindness, and Friendship - Sometimes the best thing we can do for our loved ones is listen and be present as long as they need us.Giraffe and Zebra meet every day under their favorite tree to walk to the watering hole. But today, Giraffe isn’t there! Where could he be? Zebra spots him hiding in the tree; Giraffe has seen a spider and is scared silly. Zebra patiently talks to Giraffe and does the very best thing: supports Giraffe for as long as Giraffe needs it.A sweet story about the power of friendship, kindness, and empathy that helps us face our fears no matter how silly they may seem.
Meet a boy with feelings so big that they glow from his cheeks, spill out of his eyes, and jump up and down on his chest. When a loud truck drives by, he cries. When he hears a joke, he bursts with joy. When his loved ones are having a hard day, he feels their emotions as if they were his own. The boy tries to cope by stuffing down his feelings, but with a little help and artistic inspiration, the boy realizes his feelings are something to be celebrated. Written by debut picture book author Britney Winn Lee and boldly illustrated by Jacob Souva, The Boy with Big, Big Feelings is relatable for any child, but especially for children experiencing anxiety and extreme emotions, or who have been diagnosed with autism or as a Highly Sensitive Person.
The first book in a funny, heartfelt, and irresistible young middle grade series starring an unforgettable young boy on the autism spectrum, from acclaimed author Elana K. Arnold and with illustrations by Charles Santoso. For Bixby Alexander Tam (nicknamed Bat), life tends to be full of surprises—some of them good, some not so good. Today, though, is a good-surprise day. Bat’s mom, a veterinarian, has brought home a baby skunk, which she needs to take care of until she can hand him over to a wild-animal shelter. But the minute Bat meets the kit, he knows they belong together. And he’s got one month to show his mom that a baby skunk might just make a pretty terrific pet. “This sweet and thoughtful novel chronicles Bat’s experiences and challenges at school with friends and teachers and at home with his sister and divorced parents. Approachable for younger or reluctant readers while still delivering a powerful and thoughtful story” (from the review by Brightly.com, which named A Boy Called Bat a best book of 2017).
Can friendship save you? The day Ferris Boyd moves to town, Delly Pattison is sure a special surpresent (a present that is a surprise) is on its way. Instead, Delly ends up in even more trouble than usual. The Boyds’ arrival in River Bluffs means big changes for Brud Kinney, too. He can’t believe who he’s hanging around with. Ferris Boyd isn’t like anyone Delly or Brud have ever known. Ferris is a mystery and a wonder. Through friendship, though, Delly, Brud, and Ferris discover truths that will change their lives. And bring them the best surpresent of all. Includes an all-new afterword featuring a short story, photographs by the author, and more
Where have all the bedtime stories gone? A delightful addition to the picture book canon about the love of reading One dark, dark night in Burrow Down, a rabbit named Eliza Brown found a book and settled down…when a Snatchabook flew into town. It’s bedtime in the woods of Burrow Down, and all the animals are ready for their bedtime story. But books are mysteriously disappearing. Eliza Brown decides to to stay awake and catch the book thief. It turns out to be a little creature called the Snatchabook who has no one to read him a bedtime story. All turns out well when the books are returned and the animals take turns reading bedtime stories to the Snatchabook.
Soon to be a major motion picture! This Harper Classic edition of the Newbery Medal winner and #1 New York Times bestseller includes an author’s note, a letter from the real Ivan’s caretaker at Zoo Atlanta, Ivan’s “signature,” discussion questions, and more. This unforgettable novel from renowned author Katherine Applegate celebrates the transformative power of unexpected friendship. Inspired by the true story of a captive gorilla known as Ivan, this illustrated book is told from the point of view of Ivan himself. Having spent twenty-seven years behind the glass walls of his enclosure in a shopping mall, Ivan has grown accustomed to humans watching him. He hardly ever thinks about his life in the jungle. Instead, Ivan occupies himself with television, his friends Stella and Bob, and painting. But when he meets Ruby, a baby elephant taken from the wild, he is forced to see their home, and his art, through new eyes. In the tradition of timeless classics such as Charlotte’s Web and Stuart Little. Katherine Applegate’s novel blends humor and poignancy to create this incredible tale of friendship, art, and hope. The One and Only Ivan was named to multiple state lists, received three starred reviews, and was hailed as a best book of the year by Kirkus, School Library Journal, and Amazon. Plus don’t miss Katherine Applegate’s Endling series!
Manjhi Moves a Mountain - Dashrath Manjhi used a hammer and chisel, grit, determination, and twenty years to carve a path through the mountain separating his poor village from the nearby village with schools, markets, and a hospital. Manjhi Moves a Mountain shows how everyone can make a difference if your heart is big enough.
Baby Be Kind - -
Who is Madame Badobedah? Mabel sets out to prove that an eccentric new hotel guest is really a supervillain in this witty storybook about an intergenerational friendship.
There’s a strange new guest at the Mermaid Hotel – a very old lady with a growly voice, bags stuffed with jewelry and coins and curiosities, and a beady-eyed pet tortoise. Mabel, whose parents run the hotel, is suspicious. Who is this “Madame Badobedah” (it rhymes with “Oo la la”) who has come to stay indefinitely and never has any visitors? To find out, Mabel puts on her spy costume and observes the new guest. Conclusion? She must be a secret supervillain hiding out from the law. The grown-ups think Madame Badobedah is a bit rude – and sad – but when she invites “dahlink” Mabel for a cup of forbidden tea and a game of pirates, the two begin a series of imaginary adventures together, and Mabel realizes that first impressions can sometimes be very wrong. Conjuring two quirky heroines that young readers will love, Sophie Dahl adds her talented voice to a grand tradition of books that celebrate the alliance of the old and young in the face of humdrum adults, while Lauren O’Hara’s illustrations are as packed with intriguing details as Madame Badobedah’s suitcases.
From the author of Strictly No Elephants comes a sweet picture book that explores themes of selflessness and empathy when a girl has the chance to make just one wish.
In the grass, a girl finds an extraordinary thing that gives her…just…one…wish.
She asks her those around her what they would wish for in her shoes, but nothing seems quite right. What will her perfect wish be?
In this pitch-perfect picture book, Lisa Mantchev takes the concept of a magic wish and uses it to explore real world empathy, kindness, and good will.
When Taylor’s block castle is destroyed, all the animals think they know just what to do, but only the rabbit quietly listens to how Taylor is feeling
Although a classmate says that she cannot play Peter Pan in the school play because she is black, Grace discovers that she can do anything she sets her mind to do.
From the author-illustrator of The Book of Mistakes comes a gorgeous picture book about caring for your own heart and living with kindness and empathy. My heart is a window. My heart is a slide. My heart can be closed…or opened up wide. Some days your heart is a puddle or a fence to keep the world out. But some days it is wide open to the love that surrounds you. With lyrical text and breathtaking art, My Heart, My Heart empowers all readers to listen to the guide within in this ode to love and self-acceptance.
We Don't Eat Our Classmates - It’s the first day of school for Penelope Rex, and she can’t wait to meet her classmates. But it’s hard to make human friends when they’re so darn delicious! That is, until Penelope gets a taste of her own medicine and finds she may not be at the top of the food chain after all. . . . Readers will gobble up this hilarious new story from award-winning author-illustrator Ryan T. Higgins.
Brown Girl Dreaming - In vivid poems that reflect the joy of finding her voice through writing stories, an award-winning author shares what it was like to grow up in the 1960s and 1970s in both the North and the South.
Be Kind - A thoughtful picture book illustrating the power of small acts of kindness, from the award-winning author of Sophie’s Squash.
Sally McCabe is a very little girl, and nobody notices her, although she notices everything that goes on around her–but when she speaks out about the unkindness she sees, people start to pay attention.
A child recognizes his own humanity, his capacity for doing harm and being harmed, his ability to feel joy and sadness, and his belief in hope and promise to keep learning.
A simple act of kindness can transform an invisible boy into a friend…
Meet Brian, the invisible boy. Nobody ever seems to notice him or think to include him in their group, game, or birthday party . . . until, that is, a new kid comes to class.
When Justin, the new boy, arrives, Brian is the first to make him feel welcome. And when Brian and Justin team up to work on a class project together, Brian finds a way to shine.
From esteemed author and speaker Trudy Ludwig and acclaimed illustrator Patrice Barton, this gentle story shows how small acts of kindness can help children feel included and allow them to flourish. Any parent, teacher, or counselor looking for material that sensitively addresses the needs of quieter children will find The Invisible Boy a valuable and important resource.
Kayla Miller, the New York Times best-selling author-illustrator of Click, Camp, and Act, returns with the next chapter of Olive’s story, tackling new friendships, middle school conflicts, and the importance of empathy. Olive, meet Natasha. There’s a new kid in town! From the moment Natasha sets foot in class, it’s clear she’s one of the coolest kids in sixth grade. Everyone wants to be her friend, including Olive . . . but things might not be so easy. Olive tries her best to befriend Nat, but it seems like the only thing they have in common is that they both want to hang out with Olive’s friends! Watching as Natasha gets closer with some of her best buds, Olive can’t help but worry that they’re starting to like Nat more than they like her . . . and who could blame them? Nat is just that cool . . . and Olive is, well, just Olive. The New York Times best-selling author-illustrator Kayla Miller delivers a nuanced look at navigating middle school friendships and the importance of both empathy and respect.
Maybe Tomorrow? - A heartwarming story about loss, healing, and how to be a friend during hard times.[Offers] hope that the world can be beautiful place…an excellent purchase. –School Library Journal Demonstrate[s] the power of patience, listening, and simply showing up. –Kirkus Reviews Elba has a big block. She’s been dragging it around for a long time.Norris dances everywhere he goes, even uphill. He is always surrounded by a happy cloud of butterflies.Can Norris and his butterflies help ease Elba’s sadness and convince her to join them on a trip to the ocean? This tender exploration of loss illuminates the sustaining power of kindness, empathy, and friendship. It will resonate with anyone who has experienced hardship or grief, from the death of a loved one or a pet, to the transition to a new home, family situation, or learning environment. It is especially comforting during this time of social distancing and the uncertainty around what the future holds, sensitively demonstrating that together we can make it through anything if we take care of one another.
Jake and Lily - -
The Eleventh Trade - From debut author Alyssa Hollingsworth comes a story about living with fear, being a friend, and finding a new place to call home. They say you can’t get something for nothing, but nothing is all Sami has. When his grandfather’s most-prized possession—a traditional Afghan instrument called a rebab—is stolen, Sami resolves to get it back. He finds it at a music store, but it costs $700, and Sami doesn’t have even one penny. What he does have is a keychain that has caught the eye of his classmate. If he trades the keychain for something more valuable, could he keep trading until he has $700? Sami is about to find out. The Eleventh Trade is both a classic middle school story and a story about being a refugee. Like Katherine Applegate, author of Wishtree, Alyssa Hollingsworth tackles a big issue with a light touch.
Stormy: A Story about Finding a Forever Home - From the creator of the New York Times best-illustrated children’s book award winner The Only Child, comes a gorgeous and moving wordless picture book that’s perfect for dog lovers. In this heartwarming, wordless picture book that’s perfect for dog lovers, a woman visits a park and discovers a pup hiding under a bench–scruffy, scared, and alone. With gentle coaxing, the woman tries to befriend the animal, but the dog is too scared to let her near. Day after day, the woman tries–and day after day, the dog runs away. With perseverance and patience–and help from an enticing tennis ball–a tentative friendship begins. But it’s not until a raging storm forces the two together that a joyous and satisfying friendship takes hold. Guojing poignantly explores how trust doesn’t always come easily, but how, over time, and with kindness and determination, forever love can grow. Praise for Stormy “Guojing amplifies the suspense and sentiment of her story with the skill – and mercilessness – of a great Disney or Pixar director…. Masterful.” –New York Times Book Review”A touching tale about the strong emotional connection between dog and human.” –Kirkus Reviews, starred review “Guojing paces the story to rock emotionally between the dog’s lonely existence and the woman’s offer of love, building all the way to a joyful conclusion.” –Publishers Weekly, starred review “ Adults should be prepared for some serious pet pleading after kids get a look at our scruffy hero and its happy ending.”–Bulletin, starred review “Brimming with golden-hued love, this is a book that successfully appeals to our most basic human sentiment, perfect for anyone who appreciates Guojing’s accomplished visual style as well as dog lovers of all ages.” –Booklist, starred review “This beautifully illustrated book will appeal to a wide range of ages, can spark conversations around houselessness and insecurity, or just be enjoyed as a tale of a dog finding a “-forever home.” –School Library Journal
A young girl learns bittersweet life lessons on the family farm after her sister gets polio, in this poignant and funny novel set in the heartland in the 1940s. Pixie’s defenses are up, and it’s no wonder. She’s been uprooted, the chickens seem to have it in for her, and now her beloved sister, Charlotte, has been stricken with polio and whisked away into quarantine. So it’s not surprising Pixie lashes out. But her habit of making snap judgements–and giving her classmates nicknames like “Rotten Ricky” and “Big-Mouth Berta”–hasn’t won her any friends. At least life on the farm is getting better with the delivery of its newest resident–a runt baby lamb. Raising Buster takes patience and understanding–and this slowing down helps Pixie put things in better perspective. So too does paying attention to her neighbors, and finding that with the war on she’s not the only one missing someone. As Pixie pushes past her own pain to become a bigger person, she’s finally able to make friends; and to laugh about the fact that it is in places where she least expected it. “Pixie is full of heart! A laugh-out-loud book that also wades into poignant life lessons. A must read!”–Lynda Mullaly Hunt, author of Fish in a Tree “Pixie has bad luck–and is bad luck if you ask her. But she also has grit and gumption, so when her bad luck doesn’t let go, she opens her eyes and her heart wider. Her world changes when she changes how she looks at her world. I loved Pixie and her story–a story filled with humor, hope, and everyday heroes.”–Lynn Plourde, author of Maxi’s Secrets
A young girl and her mother have a loving, passionate conversation with each other. The girl is torn between her desire to stay home with her family and the familiarity of their village, and her desire to go to school and discover the world beyond the mountains that surround them. Every time the girl insists that she will stay, her mother repeats that she must go, that there is more to life than the labor in the coffee trees.
Pandora lives alone, in a world of broken things. She makes herself a handsome home, but no one ever comes to visit. Then one day something falls from the sky . . . a bird with a broken wing. Little by little, Pandora helps the bird grow stronger. Little by little, the bird helps Pandora feel less lonely. The bird begins to fly again, and always comes back–bringing seeds and flowers and other small gifts. But then one day, it flies away and doesn’t return. Pandora is heartbroken. Until things begin to grow . . . Here is a stunningly illustrated celebration of connection and renewal.
Through a series of poems, a young girl chronicles the life-changing year of 1975, when she, her mother, and her brothers leave Vietnam and resettle in Alabama.
Introduces young readers to numbers, counting, and primary and secondary colors by offering the story of ill-tempered Red who got too powerful for his own good and had to be brought down to size by One–a single entity with the courage to stand up for what was right.
Last Stop on Market Street - A young boy rides the bus across town with his grandmother and learns to appreciate the beauty in everyday things. By the author of the celebrated picture book A Nation’s Hope: The Story of Boxing Legend Joe Louis.
Lubna and Pebble - In an unforgettable story that subtly addresses the refugee crisis, a young girl must decide if friendship means giving up the one item that gives her comfort during a time of utter uncertainty. Lubna’s best friend is a pebble. Pebble always listens to her stories. Pebble always smiles when she feels scared. But when a lost little boy arrives in the World of Tents, Lubna realizes that he needs Pebble even more than she does. This emotionally stirring and stunningly illustrated picture book explores one girl’s powerful act of friendship in the midst of an unknown situation.
The Wall - -
Paperboy - When an eleven-year-old boy takes over a friend’s newspaper route in July, 1959, in Memphis, his debilitating stutter makes for a memorable month.
A twelve-year-old Indian immigrant in New York City and a Kentucky coal miner’s son become pen pals, and eventually best friends, through a series of revealing letters exploring such topics as environmental activism, immigration, and racism.
Nine celebrated children’s picture book illustrators, including Rebecca Bender, Wallace Edwards, and Suzanne Del Rizzo, unite to illustrate an empowering text that celebrates the ways young children can show kindness. Are you kind? In a series of simple yet evocative questions, this impactful book asks children how they will show kindness and consideration for others. Written by the editors of Pajama Press, and illustrated by celebrated Pajama Press artists, these stunning pages inspire meaningful discussion and storytelling about the understated yet powerful ways in which children might influence the world around them. A World of Kindess goes beyond mere rhetoric to examine, in a child-friendly way, everyday social interactions where a kind word or act could have a transformative affect on others. Many of the original images in this book have been donated by the artists. The cover art was created and donated by award-winning author-illustrator Suzanne Del Rizzo.
A sparkling debut that celebrates friendship and encourages empathy, starring a lovable dog. Kate and Frank are best friends. To celebrate Frank’s birthday, Kate throws him a party with all her favorite things: lots of friends, dancing in circles, loud singing, and sparkly confetti everywhere. But best friends don’t always have the same taste in parties. Frank prefers quiet, sun-drenched naps on his favorite rug. So he hides. Kate must find a way to bring Frank back to the party–on his terms. This tender debut picture book by Mikela Prevost is a fresh take on the classic birthday-party story and one that encourages empathy and the art of listening.
From New York Times-bestselling author Deborah Underwood comes Finding Kindness, a heartfelt picture book illustrated by Irene Chan.Celebrate kindness in all its many forms. This is a powerful story of community, compassion, and generosity of spirit–perfect for sharing!Kindness is sometimes a cup and a card, or a ladder, a truck, and a tree. A scritch and a cuddle. A rake and a yard.
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