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.
They can be patient and understanding regarding difficult and emotional conversations. It opens the door to acceptance, respect, and appreciation for people from different backgrounds.
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
All Are Welcome by Alexandra Penfold
Send a message to your students that everyone is welcome, no matter their race, religion, gender, culture or background.
Use on the first day of school to discuss inclusion, kindness, empathy, acceptance and community.
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.
Promotes discussions on kindness, empathy, community, interconnectedness, compassion, and unity.
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.
Promotes compassion, empathy and responsible decision-making.
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.
Reinforces themes of empathy, relationship skills, thoughtfulness and kindness.
A Chair For My Mother by Vera B. Williams
Rosa, her mother and grandmother, are devastated when their home is destroyed by fire. The community helps them by donating items they will need.
Promotes community, generosity, responsible decision-making and perseverance.
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.
Read The Coat to promote discussions about homelessness, poverty, compassion, respect, acts of kindness and self-reflection.
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.
Read this translated book to discuss immigration, communication, open-mindedness, empathy, and respect.
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.
Reinforces themes of courage, fears, immigration, perseverance and tolerance.
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.
Read to promote discussions on empathy, identity, growth mindset, open-mindedness, relationship skills, self-awareness and self-esteem.
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.
This translated book promotes discussions on self-management, loneliness, empathy, depression, and dealing with negative thoughts and feelings.
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.
Read Freedom, We Sing to discuss social justice, civil rights, human rights, hope, and empathy.
Hey, Little Ant by Phillip M. Hoose
Before a boy squishes a tiny ant, the little insect speaks up. They begin a debate on why the boy shouldn’t kill the ant. With an open ending, the reader gets to decide what the boy should do.
Promotes persuasion, perspectives and bullying.
The Invisible Boy by Trudy Ludwig
Brian struggles to make himself stand out. When he befriends a new student from Korea, she helps him grow in confidence and feel less invisible.
Promotes themes of loneliness, kindness and relationship skills.
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.
Read The Island to promote discussions on empathy, immigration, belonging, open-mindedness, conformity, social awareness, kindness and tolerance.
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.
This wordless book reinforces themes of empathy, relationship skills, compassion and kindness.
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.
Use to promote friendships, asking questions, knowledge, self-awareness and kindness.
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.
Promotes discussions on empathy, kindness, loneliness and friendship.
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.
Use this translated book to discuss intergenerational relationships, illness, compassion, empathy and social awareness.
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.
Promotes discussions on confidence, self-awareness, empathy, self-expression, and overcoming fears and anxiety.
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.
Read The New Girl to discuss acceptance, bullying, making friends, moving home, starting school, point of view, empathy, and inclusion.
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.
Read this translated book to promote discussions on acts of kindness, homelessness, poverty, community, perspectives, and compassion.
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.
Read to promote discussions on resilience, love, empathy and compassion.
Red: A Crayon’s Story by Michael Hall
Red’s label says red, but he can only create blue no matter how hard he tries. Red’s new friend, Berry, suggests he casts aside his label, opening a whole new world to Red.
Promotes discussions on adaptability, identity, self-awareness and acceptance.
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.
Read Saving the Butterfly to promote discussions on empathy, resilience, siblings, anxiousness, refugees, feeling safe, and working through difficult 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.
Use to discuss the effects of conflict, tolerance, prejudice, and empathy.
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.
This wordless book promotes discussions on homelessness, poverty, kindness, honesty, empathy, and social awareness.
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.
Translated from French, Shelter promotes discussions on helping those in need, empathy, compassion, acceptance and immigration.
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
Use in the classroom to discuss immigration, kindness, empathy, trust, asking questions, and inference.
I Talk Like a River by Jordan Scott
A boy’s stutter makes him feel isolated. With the support of his father, he realises his speech is like a river which is sometimes smooth and glistening and other times stutters as it moves.
Promotes discussions on bullying, self-esteem, self-awareness and poetry.
Under the Love Umbrella by Davina Bell
Four children share their lives under the umbrella of love. It reminds us that our loved ones will always be there for us no matter the distance. The umbrella is a metaphor for love, acceptance, comfort, and safety.
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.
Read Victor to promote discussions on empathy, making amends, self-reflection, using illustrations, ethics, cruelty and prediction.
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.
Read Watercress to promote discussions on empathy, compassion, appreciation, memories, fitting in, poetry, inference, making connections and author’s purpose.
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.
Promotes a sense of community, friendship, compassion and different perspectives.
You Hold Me Up by Monique Gray Smith
You Hold Me Up illustrates the love and respect between intergeneration First Nations communities in Canada.
Use to discuss relationship skills, respect, a sense of community, empathy and resilience.
Do you have any suggestions for children’s books about empathy and accepting differences? Let me know in the comments.