Reading children’s books about empathy shows the consequences of actions by thinking about other people's feelings, accepting differences and creating meaningful relationships. Having a good understanding of empathy and open-mindedness counteracts negativity.
What is Empathy?
Someone who is empathic is usually very understanding and supportive. They feel what others are feeling and can often relate to them on a deep level. They generally have a lot of compassion for others and can give comfort where needed.
Why Read Children’s Books About Empathy and Accepting Differences?
When teaching empathy, picture books are a great way to help your students understand the concept. The illustrations and narrative help your students see how others might feel and learn how to feel compassion for others.
Teaching empathy with picture books introduces your students to characters different from them and helps them understand what it might be like to experience life from a different perspective.
These children’s books about empathy show characters who:
- recognise the emotions of others
- understand how their actions may affect others
- understand the struggles of others
- are caring, thoughtful and respectful to others
- listen to what others have to say
- try to help others
- create meaningful relationships
They also show characters who use the empathy of others to get their own way.
Questions to Ask When Reading Children’s Books about Empathy
- What is empathy?
- How do you show empathy?
- How do you feel when someone shows empathy towards you? Why?
- How did [character] show more empathy as the story went on?
- Describe how [character] showed empathy.
- Why did [character] need to show empathy towards [character]?
- Why did [character] and [character] have different ways of showing empathy?
- How did [character's] empathy impact those around them?
- How did [character's] lack of empathy impact others?
- How did [characters'] empathy impact their community?
- Why do you think [character] was more empathetic than [character]?
- Why did [character] find it difficult to accept those different from themselves?
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Children’s Books about Empathy
I Am You: A Book About Ubuntu by Refiloe Moahloli
In southern Africa, there is a belief called ubuntu. It is the idea that we are all interconnected, and these connections are what gives us purpose. Showing kindness to others is showing kindness to ourselves; harming others hurts ourselves.
Babu's Song by Stephanie Stuve-Bodeen
Bernardi lives in Tanzania with his mute grandfather, Babu, who makes toys. He gives Bernardi a handmade music box. Sadly, when a tourist offers a lot of money for the box, he sells it. Bernardi hands over the money to his grandfather, who uses the money for his grandson to attend school.
Be Kind by Pat Zietlow Miller
Tanisha's classmate wants to help her feel better when she spills grape juice down her new dress. But what does it actually mean to be kind? Be Kind explores the different actions, big and small, that can make a difference, particularly to a friend.
The Coat by Séverine Vidal
Elise loves her big sister's beautiful red coat and can't wait to wear it when she is big enough. On that day, she proudly wears the coat to school. A chance encounter with a homeless mother and daughter shivering in the show makes Elise look at the coat differently and discover the joy of helping others.
The Day Saida Arrived by Susana Gómez Redondo
A girl befriends a new girl, Saida, who she thinks has lost her words because of her silence. She learns Saida speaks Arabic and has moved from her home in Morocco. They share their languages and learn about each other's culture, which helps Saida feel welcome in her new home.
The Day War Came by Nicola Davies
This is the first of two children’s books about empathy by Nicola Davies. A girl returns home to find a bombed-out hole. Alone, she follows a stream of refugees to an immigration camp.
She visits a school but is turned away because there is no chair for her. That evening she is visited by a boy who brings a chair with him – a chair to sit on and learn.
The Day You Begin by Jacqueline Woodson
The Day You Begin considers the difficulty of entering a room where you don’t know anyone. We are “an only” until we share our personal stories in these situations. Woodson reminds us that we are all outsiders, and it takes courage to be ourselves.
Dear Greenpeace by Simon James
Emily discovers a whale in her garden pond. Unsure what to do, she writes to Greenpeace to ask for advice. Greenpeace responds, telling Emily she must be wrong as whales live in salt waters. Emily writes back, saying she has added salt to the pond water. The letters continue with Greenpeace saying Emily must be mistaken until she writes and tells them the whale has left the pond. She tells them she saw it in the sea and how much she loved the whale.
Read Dear Greenpeace to promote discussions on taking action, persuasion, making your voice heard, compassion, gaining knowledge, writing letters, perseverance, inquiry, asking questions, author’s purpose and communication.
The Dog Who Found Sorrow by Rūta Briede
A black dog helps children understand negative emotions and thoughts. No matter how sad or angry we are, we can find happiness.
Freedom, We Sing by Amyra León
Amnesty International endorse this book about freedom. The poetic text tells the reader about the freedom to live without violence, be who we are, not experience fear and be protected and safe.
The Island by Judith Wisdom
Three friends feeling like they don't belong, set sail for a better life. Full of optimism, they see an island ahead, but angry islanders cage the three friends in a zoo. They escape with the other zoo animals and sail away as a massive storm begins.
The escapees see the island is flooding and turn back to save the residents. Relieved, the islanders clamber onto the boat. Soon any rules of conformity are gone, and everyone discovers the joys of being different.
The Lion and the Bird by Marianne Dubuc
A lion discovers an injured bird and nurses it back to health. The two become close, but the bird returns to its family as spring arrives, flying north. The lion continues on with its life, and as autumn comes around, the lion hears the familiar sound of the bird.
Little Wise Wolf by Gijs van der Hammen
Translated from Dutch. Little Wise Wolf has learned many things from the books he loves reading. But he learns a tough lesson when he finds he is unprepared for a long journey to help the sick king.
Lotus and Feather by Ji-li Jiang
Lonely Lotus cares for Feather, a crane injured by a bullet. They grow closer, and the crane follows Lotus everywhere. One day, the little girl knew she had to let Feather migrate with the other cranes.
Maia and What Matters by Tine Mortier
Told from Maia’s perspective, the reader explores her special relationship with her grandmother. After her grandmother falls from a stroke, the adults around Maia sugarcoat the situation to protect her. Maia tells us how she copes with the changes as her grandmother’s health declines.
My Beautiful Voice by Joseph Coelho
A shy girl is unable to speak up in class. With patience and compassion, a teacher helps and encourages her to write a poem. The girl builds her confidence and courage, finds her voice and reads her poem aloud.
The New Girl by Nicola Davies
This is the second of two children’s books about empathy by Nicola Davies. This is the second of two books about picture books about belonging by Nicola Davies. After moving, a girl finds her new classmates hostile.
She was different from them, spoke a different language and ate food that smelled different. Feeling lonely, she makes origami flowers, impressing her classmates. She teaches them to create the flowers, and they begin to see the new girl in a new, positive light.
The Old Man by Sarah V. Dubois
A homeless man’s day is brightened by a small girl’s kindness. She unknowingly treats him with compassion ad dignity when ignored by the rest of society. She gives him her sandwich and tells him he looks like a teddy bear.
The Perfect Shelter by Clare Helen Welsh
Two sisters love playing together and building shelters. One day, the older sister gets sick, and they can no longer play together. Despite her enthusiasm, the older sister needs to rest, and the puzzled younger sister feels confused. As the sister heals, she encourages the family to help her make a perfect shelter.
Saving the Butterfly by Helen Cooper
Two siblings are the only survivors of a boat wreck taking them to a new home. The people on the shore save them, but they experience their trauma differently.
The younger boy makes new friends, laughs and finds settling into his new life easier. His older sister struggles to settle because she remembers their life and family before the dangerous boat journey. They help each other work through their experiences.
A Scarf for Keiko by Ann Malaspina
Keiko’s classmates want nothing to do with her because she is Japanese-American, and the Japanese military has just bombed Pearl Harbor. The government forces her family to move to an internment camp, but one classmate reaches out the hand of friendship to Keiko.
I See You: A Story for Kids about Homelessness and Being Unhoused by Michael Genhart
A homeless woman is invisible to everyone around her. Over a year, a small boy sees what she has to endure. In the act of compassion, the boy acknowledges the lady and brings the community together to help her.
Shelter by Céline Claire
All the animals are safe in their home as a storm approaches. When two strangers appear asking for shelter, the animals are suspicious and turn them away. As the storm worsens, a family of foxes find themselves in need of shelter. The two strangers show the kindness the other animals wouldn’t give.
The Suitcase by Chris Naylor-Ballesteros
A tired stranger arrives in a new place with their suitcase. It is met with suspicion and curiosity from the local animals. The animals break open the suitcase when it falls asleep to find a broken teacup and an old photograph. The stranger wakes from a dream about finding safety to find the animals have fixed the teacup and recreated it
Victor by Jacques & Lise
Victor is a hunter. After killing a cheetah, Victor dreams about cheetahs who have lost their friend because of him. He wakes up wanting to make amends for his selfish and cruel behaviour. He no longer hunts and realises the sad and lonely life he has lived.
Watercress by Andrea Wang
A young girl is embarrassed when her parent stops their car to collect watercress growing wild in a ditch by the side of the road. Her resentment grows as she doesn’t understand why her parents can’t shop for food at a grocery store. Her mother shares with the girl how her family in China had to forage for food during a terrible famine, which claimed the life of her younger brother. The girl, filled with shame, eats the watercress and makes a new memory with her family.
What is Given from the Heart by Patricia C. McKissack
When a family loses everything in a fire, the community come together to help. James wonders how he can contribute as he doesn’t think he has anything worth giving. He makes the daughter, Sarah, a book all about her. She is so delighted with this precious gift she presses it to her heart.
Wilfrid Gordon McDonald Partridge by Mem Fox
A boy named Wilfrid Gordon McDonald Partridge lives next to an old people’s home. His favourite resident is Miss Nancy Alison Delacourt Cooper. When Wilfrid finds out she has lost her memory, Wilfrid goes on a journey to discover what memories are so he can help Miss Nancy find hers.
Do you have any suggestions for children’s books about empathy and accepting differences? Let me know in the comments.