“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.
I absolutely adore this book. Bat is a wonderful, developed character that can really help children reading understand and have empathy for those on the Autism spectrum.
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).
Such an important read, and a wonderful way to discuss safety and abuse with children by reading it together or talking about it afterwards. The story brings up this important topic in a very age-appropriate and gentle way, allowing children to learn important lessons while loving the adventures of Delly Pattison.
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
The charming rhyming text and sweet yet spunky illustrations of The Snatchabook were created by a husband and wife team—how cool! Together they weave a FANTASTIC story about a love of reading and friendship that teaches kindness, understanding, empathy, and forgiveness… all while being absolutely enjoyable! This is sure to become an all-time favorite—it is one of ours!
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.
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.
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.
Bernice Gets Carried Away - Mr. Staccato - This is a true hidden gem. The book cover is a little misleading, but this book has cute illustrations and an amusing story about a grumpy cat that gets fed up with getting the short end of the stick. She decides to take matters into her own hands and gets a little more than she bargained for. In the end, she learns to see things from a new perspective and the perks of sharing.
We're All Wonders - B is for Bookworm - This book is a picture book based off of the chapter book, “Wonder.” I love the message of this book, that when we look with kindness, we will notice we are all wonders. I think this is a fantastic book to use to talk about people that are different than us, whether that be because of a disability, race, color, religion, or personality, and how everyone is unique and special. This book also talks about bullying, and how it can be hurtful.
The Hundred Dresses - 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.
Stick and Stone (Board Book) - Stick and Stone are sticking together in this hilarious and heart-warming board book that proves once and for all why best friends ROCK!
I love the gentle rhyme scheme of this book and the beautiful lesson it teaches of what kindness really is. While the message of the words is broadly applicable across ages and situations, the illustrations help bring this book to board book level in a way that is understandable for little reader’s everyday situations.
Easy-to-read, rhyming text provides examples of how to show kindness that even a baby will want to try.
The best part about this book is the lesson on bullying. Not only do you have the characters witnessing bullying, one of the main characters takes part in bullying and walks through the feelings he has after, the empathy he gains, and what he does to try to make up for his actions.
This is a story about me, Lily. And me, Jake. We’re twins and we’re exactly alike. Not exactly! Whatever. This is a book we wrote about the summer we turned eleven and Jake ditched me. Please. I just started hanging out with some guys in the neighborhood. Right. So anyway, this is a book about goobers and supergoobers bullies clubhouses true friends things getting built and wrecked and rebuilt and about figuring out who we are. We wrote this together (sort of) so you’ll get to see both sides of our story. But you’ll probably agree with my side. You always have to have the last word, don’t you? Yes!
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.
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
Amazing Grace addresses some important topics. Grace’s classmates tell her that she can’t be Peter Pan in the school play because she is a girl and because she is black. Thankfully, Grace has a strong grandma and mother who encourage her to do anything she wants. Grace’s classmates don’t seem intentionally rude or unkind—just matter-of-fact—but their believable examples illustrate in a way that children can understand and empathize with the importance of acceptance and open-mindedness. The book can prompt important and meaningful discussions with children about the dangers of making assumptions, stereotyping or other insensitivities that can chip away at our societal fabric if we allow them to continue unchecked. This story can help children imagine what it’s like to have others tell them they can’t do something or be something because of the color of their skin, their gender, or a range of other imaginable distinctions and differences and think about how they can be inviting and encouraging.
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.
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.
When Your Elephant Has the Sniffles - The Book Snob Mom - Super cute book! The little girl’s antics trying to help her elephant feel better are adorable (and hilarious!) and the parody of the parent-child relationship may be lost on your toddler, but it won’t be on you :) I love that it creates empathy for the care giver and gives kids a framework for relating to how to take care of sick people (whether that’s them, a sibling, or a parent!) It’s a little long for my 18-month-old currently, and I have to read it pretty quickly or point out lots of things as we read to keep him engaged, but I’m holding out for the idea that it’s planting fantastic ideas in his subconscious, and he’ll enjoy it more as his attention span increases.
The Smallest Girl in the Smallest Grade - The Goodfather - A small book can share a big message, just like Sally McCabe, the smallest girl in the smallest grade. Rhyming can often be repetitive and predictable, but the rhyming in this story is fresh and original. I also love how the story gives voice to an introvert, little Sally, who though small and easy to miss, is always carefully observing and caring about the people and things around her.
I Am Human - B is for Bookworm - This book is full of meaningful truths and lessons suitable for every age. I love that it encourages kindness, love, empathy, equality, and hope. This book is all about being the best you! Plus, the illustrations are beautiful and whimsical.
This beautiful book talks about all the different feelings our heart has, and how we have the power to decide if our heart is open or closed. The illustrations are completely gorgeous—I love the simplicity and style. This book is great to use talk with kids about emotions, our power over them, and how better understanding emotions can help us empathize with others.
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.
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.
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.
This is a wonderful book to introduce or teach more about war heroes, memorials, and history. This book gives you a more personal look into the importance and honor for the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington DC. I especially think this book is a powerful teaching tool to talk about empathy.
A boy and his father come from far away to visit the Vietnam War Memorial in Washington and find the name of the boy’s grandfather, who was killed in the conflict.
Through Grandpa's Eyes - On John’s visits to Grandpa’s house, his blind grandfather shares with him the special way he sees and moves in the world.
Will Bear Share? - An exciting and hilarious new series all about early childhood milestones from debut US talent Hilary Leung! One ice cream cone. One bear. One timeless question: Will Bear Share? Meet Bear. Bear has so much to give . . . but will she share? Find out in this surprising and memorable storybook all about friendship, compromise, and of course, sharing. A fresh and funny book in a new series of animal question stories by creative talent Hilary Leung that will keep little ones laughing . . . and sharing (when it’s appropriate!).
Stand in My Shoes: Kids Learning About Empathy - When Emily asks her big sister what the word empathy means, Emily has no idea that knowing the answer will change how she looks at people. But does it really matter to others if Emily notices how they’re feeling? Stand in My Shoes shows kids how easy it is to develop empathy toward those around them. Empathy is the ability to notice what other people feel. Empathy leads to the social skills and personal relationships which make our lives rich and beautiful, and it is something we can help our children learn. This book teaches young children the value of noticing how other people feel. We’re hoping that many parents read it along with their children.
Each Kindness - WINNER OF A CORETTA SCOTT KING HONOR AND THE JANE ADDAMS PEACE AWARD! Each kindness makes the world a little better This unforgettable book is written and illustrated by the award-winning team that created The Other Side and the Caldecott Honor winner Coming On Home Soon. With its powerful anti-bullying message and striking art, it will resonate with readers long after they’ve put it down. Chloe and her friends won’t play with the new girl, Maya. Every time Maya tries to join Chloe and her friends, they reject her. Eventually Maya stops coming to school. When Chloe’s teacher gives a lesson about how even small acts of kindness can change the world, Chloe is stung by the lost opportunity for friendship, and thinks about how much better it could have been if she’d shown a little kindness toward Maya.
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.
“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
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!
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.”
Everyone feels mad sometimes, even Daniel Tiger! What helps him feel better? Find out in this chunky board book that’s part of a new Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood feelings subseries. When you feel so mad that you want to roar, take a deep breath and count to four! When Daniel Tiger feels MAD, he stomps his feet and roars. Then he remembers to take a deep breath and count to four. Soon he feels better. What do you do with the mad that you feel? Come along with Daniel as he and his friends learn how to handle feeling angry. This adorable book includes tips for parents and caregivers to help guide little ones through their emotions. Look for the companion title, I’m Feeling Happy. © 2016 The Fred Rogers Company
Inside Out and Back Again - 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Mira is a girl with big questions. She knows two different stories about the way the world came to be. Which story is right? Can they both be right? Is there room for more than one way to think about the world and our place in it? Follow her on an inspiring journey as she discovers a story big enough to include everyone. Along the way, Mira learns to respect and revere the traditions and beliefs of others. Teach children kindness and acceptance with this beautifully illustrated and compelling tale. It is sure to keep young ones enthralled.
Chamelia is a chameleon who loves to stand out in a crowd. She’s always the star of the show, especially at school. But when a new kid in class becomes the center of attention, Chamelia feels left out. Can she figure out how to beat her competition? Or will she learn to share the spotlight and make a new best friend? Join the fabulous Chamelia in this funny and charming story about friendship, school, and the true meaning of being a star!
The Boy and the Whale - A boy and his father discover a whale tangled in their only fishing net. Is the whale dead? While the man worries about losing their net, the boy worries about the whale. He remembers the fear he felt when, caught in a net himself in childhood, he almost drowned before being rescued by his father. When the whale blinks an enormous eye, the boy knows that he has to try to save the creature, no matter how dangerous doing so may be. Expressive and perfectly paced, this powerful story, The Boy and the Whale, by Caldecott Medal–winner Mordicai Gerstein was inspired in part by a real-life video of a whale’s rescue, and the creature’s joyful dance through the waves after being freed.
Cedric and the Dragon - Prince Cedric is slow to walk, has a tough time with reading and math, and fails miserably at dragon slaying school. But with kindness and bravery, and his love for hugs, Cedric saves the kingdom. This cheerful picture book teaches kids that there are many ways to solve a problem and reinforces the idea that everyone has something special to offer.
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.
The Very Very Very Long Dog - “Oh, Bartelby!” Bartelby is a very long and lovable dachshund who lives in a bookstore. He has a lovely set of friends who take him for walks through the city, but he has no idea that his bumbling backside leaves a trail of destruction and accidents behind him. Embarrassed that he has no control over his back end, Bartelby vows to never leave the cozy bookstore again. Can his friends help him find a way to help himself? This beautifully illustrated picture book features silly fun along with an important message: that we love our friends not in spite of their flaws, but because of them.
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.
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.
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.