Best Kids Books About Empathy

The Ultimate List of Books to Read with Your Child to Foster Empathy

Updated Feb. 19, 2019

As parents, there are moments when you look around in the world and worry for your children because of all the "bad" out there. We want our children to make a difference in the world for good, and one huge way they can do that is by gaining 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 someone else'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 inspire empathy in our children.

We've sifted through so many books to find the best of the best, all sorts of different and wonderful books that will teach your children about empathy and help them develop it themselves.

The Snatchabook book
#1
The Snatchabook
Written by Helen Docherty and illustrated by Thomas Docherty
picture book
Recommend Ages: 3-6
Thoughts from The Book Snob Mom

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.

Adrian Simcox Does NOT Have a Horse book
#2
Adrian Simcox Does NOT Have a Horse
Written by Marcy Campbell and illustrated by Corinna Luyken
picture book
Recommend Ages: 3-5

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 book
#3
Bernice Gets Carried Away
Written and illustrated by Hannah Harrison
picture book
Recommend Ages: 4-8
Thoughts from Mr. Stacatto

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.

Having missed out on the other treats at a friend's birthday party, a grumpy cat grabs all of the balloons and floats into the sky, where she sees that her problems are not so big, after all.

We're All Wonders book
#4
We're All Wonders
Written and illustrated by R. J. Palacio
picture book
Recommend Ages: 4-8
Thoughts from 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.

Auggie knows he is a wonder, but he wants everybody to realize they are all wonders, too.

The Hundred Dresses book
#5
The Hundred Dresses
Written by Eleanor Estes and illustrated by Louis Slobodkin
picture book
Recommend Ages: 6-9

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.

The Rabbit Listened book
#6
The Rabbit Listened
Written and illustrated by Cori Doerffeld
picture book
Recommend Ages: 4-8

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 book
#7
Amazing Grace
Written by Mary Hoffman and illustrated by Caroline Binch
picture book
Recommend Ages: 4-8
Thoughts from Lemony Snickers

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.

The Smallest Girl in the Smallest Grade book
#8
The Smallest Girl in the Smallest Grade
Written by Justin Roberts and illustrated by Christian Robinson
picture book
Recommend Ages: 3-5
Thoughts from 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.

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.

My Heart book
#9
My Heart
Written and illustrated by Corinna Luyken
picture book
Recommend Ages: 4-8
Thoughts from B is for Bookworm

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.

I Am Human book
#10
I Am Human
Written by Susan Verde and illustrated by Peter H Reynolds
picture book
Recommend Ages: 4-8
Thoughts from 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.

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.

The Invisible Boy book
#11
The Invisible Boy
Written by Trudy Ludwig and illustrated by Patrice Barton
picture book
Recommend Ages: 6-9

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.

Last Stop on Market Street book
#12
Last Stop on Market Street
Written by Matt De La Pena and illustrated by Christian Robinson
picture book
Recommend Ages: 3-5

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.

The Wall book
#13
The Wall
Written by Eve Bunting
picture book
Recommend Ages: 4-7
Thoughts from B is for Bookworm

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.

Hey Little Ant book
#14
Hey Little Ant
Written by Hannah Hoose, Phillip M. Hoose and illustrated by Debbie Tilley
picture book
Recommend Ages: 3-7

A song in which an ant pleads with the kid who is tempted to squish it.

Through Grandpa's Eyes book
#15
Through Grandpa's Eyes
Written by Patricia MacLachlan and illustrated by Deborah Kogan Ray
picture book
Recommend Ages: 4-8

On John's visits to Grandpa's house, his blind grandfather shares with him the special way he sees and moves in the world.

Each Kindness book
#16
Each Kindness
Written by Jacqueline Woodson and illustrated by E.B. Lewis
picture book
Recommend Ages: 5-8

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.

Stand in My Shoes book
#17
Stand in My Shoes
Written and illustrated by Bob Sornson
picture book
Recommend Ages: 8-9

After her sister explains the meaning of empathy to her, Emily decides to pay closer attention to the struggles those closest to her endure.

One book
#18
One
Written and illustrated by Kathryn Otoshi
picture book
Recommend Ages: 4-6

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.

Be Kind book
#19
Be Kind
Written by Pat Zietlow Miller and illustrated by Jen Hill
picture book
Recommend Ages: 3-6

A thoughtful picture book illustrating the power of small acts of kindness, from the award-winning author of Sophie's Squash.

Chamelia and the New Kid in Class book
#20
Chamelia and the New Kid in Class
Written and illustrated by Ethan Long
picture book
Recommend Ages: 3-6

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!

We Don't Eat Our Classmates book
#21
We Don't Eat Our Classmates
Written and illustrated by Ryan T. Higgins
picture book
Recommend Ages: 3-5

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.

Cedric and the Dragon book
#22
Cedric and the Dragon
Written by Elizabeth Raum and illustrated by Nina Victor Crittenden
picture book
Recommend Ages: 4-8

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 Very Very Very Long Dog book
#23
The Very Very Very Long Dog
Written and illustrated by Julia Patton
picture book
Recommend Ages: 3-8

"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.

One  book
#24
One
Written and illustrated by Katherine Otoshi
picture book
Recommend Ages: 4-6

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.

Have a suggestion for a book to add to this list? Send an email to [email protected] with your book and list suggestion.