“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
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 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!
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.
The Boy on the Wooden Box - 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.
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!
The One and Only Ivan - 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!
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.”
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.
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.
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.