Raising a child to be kind, empathetic, and emotionally intelligent is no easy feat. Given how many of the opportunities for socialization that have gone away during the pandemic, I imagine these are particularly tricky times. These ten children’s books about empathy are great additions to your bookshelf if you’re trying to teach your child to be mindful of the feelings of others.
Picture Books About Empathy for Young Readers
These children’s books about empathy are great for kids in preschool and elementary school.
Kindness Rocks by Sonica Ellis
Clara is a young nature enthusiast who loves to collect beautiful rocks. Instead of keeping them for herself, she paints uplifting messages on them and returns them to the woods for others to find.
Sheldon the turtle is having a lousy day until he finds two of Clara’s creations. The kind words on his new rocks make him feel much better. Soon, Sheldon and his friends are telling all the animals in the forest about the kindness rocks so that everyone can enjoy them. They start to make a habit of searching out new ones.
When Clara moves away, the animals stop finding the stones. Sheldon soon realizes that he, too, can find ways to make his friends and neighbors happy. He goes to work making his own messages to inspire others.
How fun would it be to read this book with a little one before helping them paint their own kindness rocks? After, you could distribute them in friend’s and neighbor’s yards for some socially distanced fun.
The Rabbit Listened by Cori Doerrfeld
Taylor is having a hard time. When he tries to explain the source of his sadness to his animal friends, they’re all full of opinions about what Taylor should do. What Taylor really needs is someone to lend a listening ear and try to understand his feelings instead of giving solutions.
This is a wonderful story for helping your little one understand the importance of giving others room to voice their thoughts and feelings.
Empathy Is Your Superpower: A Book About Understanding the Feelings of Others by Cori Bussolari and Zach Greszkowiak
This book introduces examples of empathetic behaviors to children that they can replicate in their own lives. Bussolari challenges readers to make inferences about someone’s feelings based on situations, facial expressions, and other indicators. From there, she has them process through how to provide comfort and encouragement. Comforting sick or hurt loved ones, making people feel included, and sharing resources with those in need are all covered in scenarios children will likely face at home or at school. This book about empathy for children is full of thoughtful questions that will help you engage with your young reader in meaningful ways. There’s also a section for parents and educators in the back with activities for building empathy that were developed by a credentialed school psychologist.
Inspire Kindness : A Rhyming Read Aloud Story Book for Kids About Kindness and Empathy by Lily Lopez
Lily is nervous about starting at a new school. She doesn’t look like her classmates and she’s still learning English, so she’s afraid that she won’t fit in. It doesn’t help that everything seems to go wrong on the morning of her first day. The people that acknowledge her at all don’t seem to have anything nice to say until she meets Tilly. It turns out all she needed to face the afternoon ahead was a smile and kind words from a brand new friend.
After talking to your little reader about ways they can help others feel included like Tilly helped Lily, there are 25 acts of kindness you can practice together in the back of the book.
Those Shoes by Maribeth Boelts and Noah Z. Jones
Jeremy has been wanting the cool new shoes everyone else at school has, but his grandmother can’t afford them. To make things worse, his classmates make fun of him when his own shoes fall apart and have to be replaced with free ones from the guidance counselor.
Jeremy finally finds a pair of the cool shoes at a thrift shop. Soon, though, he realizes a friend’s shoes are taped together. He decides to pass the cool shoes along to his friend that needs them more than he does.
This is a sweet book about friendship, selflessness, the difference between needs and wants.
This book is about how one act of kindness can lead to many more. On the way to school, Dot tries to cheer up a sick neighbor and helps a mail carrier who dropped their mail bag. Making others smile makes Dot smile too, so he decides to be kind all day. At school, he has another opportunity when he asks a new student named Bonnie if she wants to play.
Knowing how good it made her feel to be included, Bonnie begins passing on acts of kindness the first chance she gets. Eventually, someone that she helped shares an act of kindness with Dot, making things come full circle.
Children’s Books About Empathy for Older Kids
If you’re catering to the reading tastes of older elementary schoolers, give these children’s books about empathy a try.
Inside Out and Back Again by Thanhhà Lai
When the Vietnam War causes Hà and her family to leave her home, the transition is a difficult one. Suddenly, everything she’s known is gone. Through verse, Hà shares the deep sadness that she experiences as she adjusts to a new life in the United States. Bullies and homesickness both take their toll.
This book is a great vehicle for discussing how to be there for people as they experience grief, uncertainty, and change.
Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson
Fifth grader Jess Aarons doesn’t get along with his new neighbor Leslie. He spent the entire summer working on his run time so he could be faster than his peers, but she still manages to beat him.
Over time, they shift from being competitors to friends. She’s the new kid in town and he’s the school misfit, but together, they find comfort from their loneliness.
When Leslie dies unexpectedly, Jess experiences deep loss. Others in his life, like his younger sister, help him make it through his mourning with empathy and love.
Junonia by Kevin Henkes
Every year, Alice goes to the same cottage in Florida to celebrate her birthday. On the year she turns 10, she’s excited to see familiar faces from her annual trips and celebrate her birthday in a big way. Alice quickly finds that her reality doesn’t match her expectations.
This book shows how empathy from others can help you navigate disappointment and change.
Children’s Graphic Novels About Empathy and Friendship
Real Friends by Shannon Hale
As far back as Shannon can remember, Adrienne has been her best friend. That is, until Adrienne became more interested in being popular than being her bestie. Jen’s the coolest girl in school, and staying on her good side often means being cruel to people outside their clique. In trying to maintain her friendship with Adrienne, Shannon often finds herself in the line of fire.
This book is a reminder that being a real friend is much more important than being in the in crowd.
For more books for kids about making the world a better place, check out these children’s books about activism.