25 Picture Books That Promote Empathy and Respect

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Emma Nichols

Staff Writer

Emma Nichols is a career bookseller. Though she expected to grow up to be a librarian, or a witch, she's quite happy with how things are working out. Officially, she specializes in children's books and manages their book fairs; unofficially, she is passionate about short stories and spreadsheets. When not evangelizing her favorite books to unsuspecting customers, she can be heard discussing books and bookselling on her podcast Drunk Booksellers. Her other hobbies include organizing her books, taking pictures of her cat, and binge-re-watching her favorite TV shows. Blog: The Bibliot Twitter: @thebibliot

While we at the Riot take some time off to rest and catch up on our reading, we’re re-running some of our favorite posts from the last several months. Enjoy our highlight reel, and we’ll be back with new stuff on Tuesday, January 3rd.

This post originally ran November 18, 2016.

I had a lot of trouble writing this intro; there is at once so much and so little I feel like saying. A lot of people on the internet are voicing their opinions and fears, so I’m going to keep this short.

Like so many Americans, these past few days I have been working through a range of emotions—grief, anger, shame, hate, fear. I think one of the most important things we can do right now is promote and spread positive emotions: love, empathy, respect. This is the only way I can think to fight the hate and fear I see around me and within me. So here are some picture books that I, and some of my fellow Rioters, have found to be especially focused on love, empathy, and respect; they’re about embracing people’s differences and standing up for what you believe in. Now more than ever we need to share these books, especially with the children who are about to have an anti-role model sitting in the Oval Office.

Red by Michael HallRed: a Crayon’s Story by Michael Hall

Red is expected to draw fire trucks and strawberries, but he is a blue crayon in a red wrapper,  and everything he draws comes out blue. At first Red is misunderstood, but he is soon accepted and respected for who he really is. This simple story is so heartwarming; it teaches us not to judge by first impressions and expectations, but to accept and respect however a person wants to define their self.

All the World by Liz Garton Scanlon, ill. Marla Frazee

Chrysanthemum by Kevin Henkes

Happy In Our Skin by Fran Manushkin, ill. Lauren Tobia

My Princess Boy by Cheryl Kilodavis, ill. Suzanne DeSimone

answer-steven-universeThe Answer by Rebecca Sugar, ill. Tiffany Ford & Elle Michalka

Based on the Emmy-nominated Steven Universe episode of the same name, this picture book is just as delightful, lovely, and uplifting. It’s about making choices and taking chances based on what you think is right, even in the face of tyranny and hostility; it’s about falling in love despite everyone telling you it’s wrong. If you haven’t watched Steven Universe yet, I can’t recommend it enough—the picture book stands alone, but the TV show is so sweet; it feels essential, especially now. Steven Universe explores gender identity, queerness, diverse families, and it promotes love, empathy, and respect above all things.

The Name Jar by Yangsook Choi

A Color of His Own by Leo Lionni

Migrant by Maxine Trottier, ill. Isabelle Arsenault

The Boy & The Bindi by Vivek Shraya, ill. Rajni Perera

The Sneetches by Dr. SeussThe Sneetches by Dr. Seuss

A classic tale of discrimination; the Sneetches must learn the hard way that—no matter what their appearance—they are alike and should treat each other with kindness. For more than fifty years this books has tried to teach us to respect our fellow humans no matter how they may seem different from us; I think its well past time we listen.

Morris Micklewhite and the Tangerine Dress by Christine Baldacchino, ill. Isabelle Malenfant

Malala, a Brave Girl from Pakistan/Iqbal, a Brave Boy from Pakistan by Jeanette Winter

The Other Side and Each Kindness by Jacqueline Woodson, ill. E.B. Lewis

Spork by Kyo Maclear, ill. Isabelle Arsenault

One by Kathryn OtoshiOne by Kathryn Otoshi

You may recognize Red, the bully of this story, who picks on Blue for looking different; you may recognize the other colors, who stay quiet as red becomes more and more antagonistic. I hope you also recognize One, who finally stands up for Blue, and Blue itself who shows Red kindness and acceptance despite their past actions. And, bonus, this book is also a great intro to numbers and colors.

Last Stop On Market Street by Matt de la Pena, ill. Christian Robinson

Naked Mole Rat Gets Dressed by Mo Willems

The Arrival by Shaun Tan

A is for Activist and Counting On Community by Innosanto Nagara

Introducing Teddy by Jess Walton, ill. Dougal MacPherson

Families, Families, Families by Suzanne Lang, ill. Max Lang

smallest-girl-in-the-smallest-gradeThe Smallest Girl in the Smallest Grade by Justin Roberts, ill. Christian Robinson

Sally—the titular smallest girl—may be small, but she’s also very observant. She sees many things, but when she sees a bully and no one speaks up, she takes a stand. This rhyming story reminds us to stand up for one another and that anyone can make a difference, no matter their size.

I hope you will share these books with loved ones and strangers, children and adults. And please leave suggestions and favorites in the comments; there are so many I did not mention or do not know about, but there can never be too many.