Books are a wonderful tool for building children's empathy. Reading builds our real-life sensitivity towards other people. They all...

Books for Building Children's Empathy

Tuesday, June 12, 2018 BookBairn Blog 1 Comments


Books are a wonderful tool for building children's empathy. Reading builds our real-life sensitivity towards other people. They allow us to explore situations and scenarios with children that in real world can seem daunting or intimidating in a way that they can understand. Stories help us challenge prejudices and misconceptions, they help us to build connections and they help us to become more attuned to the people around us. New research has shown that books are a powerful tool to develop empathy, because by identifying with book characters, children learn to see things from other points of view.*

I wanted to share some books that I think are great for building empathy with little ones. This is just a short list and there are so many good ones out there as well as those listed in the 'Read for Empathy Guide' produced by Empathy Lab. I have not included books that focus on children's being true to themselves or accepting themselves as I wrote a post of books that help children celebrate their uniqueness already. (You can find it here!) So without further ado...

Any books written by Duncan Beedie


Duncan Beedie is an expert in wiriting books that will help children empathise with characters who are facing challenges. In 'The Last Chip', it tells the story of a pigeon who is hungry and cannot find food until a homeless person gives away their last chip. It's s story about even when you don't have much, there is often someone worse off who needs our help. It's about looking around you and spotting the pigeon who is hungry. It's about not hoarding. It's simply about sharing. In 'The Lumberjack's Beard', the Lumberjack is so busy chopping down trees that he doesn't notice the animals going homeless as he destroys their homes. But when the come to him and explain their plight he offers them a home in his beard and he begins to replant the trees. In ' The Bear Who Stared', Bear isn't very good at making friends. He doesn't know what to say and he just stares at people making them uncomfortable. But with the help of a little frog he learns to share his lovely smile as he meets new people, breaking the ice, and giving him time to formulate his thoughts to say hello. This is such a great story that shows us the importance of a smile. In all three books Duncan's illustrations are witty and characters expressive which for younger readers will help build their empathy as they learn to recognise and read facial expressions. Any of these books would be a great choice for reading to build empathy. And of course, they are just great stories.

We Are Family by Patricia Hegarty and Ryan Wheatcroft


Every child should be able to see themselves in the pages of the books they read. And every book should show children that they are part of the world around them. Featuring illustrations of families of all shapes, colours and sizes, this book shows the many different families that exist in our society. Not so much a story book, more an illustrated poem about love, family and diversity it is a beautiful reflection of modern society. Seeing ourselves as part of a wider society is a perfect way to build empathy in children and help them to recognise that all our experiences are unique. I did a full review on this book over a year ago but you can find the old post here.

Lionel and the Lion's Share by Lou Peacock and Lisa Sheenan


Lionel was a lion who did not share. And whenever he sees something he wants he simply takes it: "I am a lion and I get the lion's share" he roars, much to the disappointment of the other creatures. When they finally confront him about his selfish behaviour he storms off in a huff soon to realise that if he continues the way he is he will not have any friends and he makes things up again by surprising his friends. This is a lovely story about sharing, kindness and not taking our friends for granted. The illustrations are lovely and if you enjoy listening to your favourite books on audiobook you can download this one for free from the Nosy Crow podcast or using the QR code inside the book. 

Words and Your Heart by Kate Jane Neal


This book is a very simple but powerful narrative about how your words (and others' words) can affect your heart. The book then tells you all the wonderful things that words can do such as: describing things, explaining stuff, make you happy, make you cry (even pierce someone's heart). Because your words have power! Isn't this so empowering for children? Especially ones like BookBairn who are just learning to speak and finding their own voice.

"Your words can actually change the way someone's heart feels."

The illustrations are very simple with only a black and red colour palette against a white page. Again this plays to the fact that this book is about the words being important. This book is perfect for helping children see how their words affect others. You can read an old blog post about this one too if you want to find out more!

Hugless Douglas by David Melling


Douglas just wants to find a hug. Pure and simple. This is a funny tale for very little ones about feeling lonely and just needing a cuddle from a loved one. The illustrations are adorable and by the end you'll just want to give Douglas a hug too!

Hug Me by Simona Ciraolo


In a similar way to the book I mentioned previously, this is a story about just needing a hug. Felipe is a little cactus who comes from a very prim and proper family who firmly believe that you should never trespass into another's personal space. But Felipe thinks they are worried about all the wrong things and they don't notice that he just needs a hug. He sets off on an adventure to find one. This is a story about recognising other's needs. And the illustrations are so adorable too and little Felipe has certainly made me want to hug a cactus which lets face it, isn't exactly the most appealing thing to do with all their spikes and prickles. 

Everybody's Welcome by Patricia Hegarty and Greg Abbott


We shared this book last year when Empathy Lab launched their campaign to 'Read for Empathy'. The story promotes the ideals of refuge, inclusivity and friendship at a level even the littlest readers will understand. Mouse is building a house in the middle of the wood. When Frog's pond dries up and he has no where to live, Mouse suggests that they build a home together:

"Everybody's welcome,
no matter who they are, 
Wherever they may come from,
whether near or far."

Accompanied by beautiful illustrations that BookBairn loves to pore over, spotting all her favourite creatures, this magical book really teaches little ones about acceptance, generosity and to empathise with others.


Under the Same Sky by Britta Teckntrup


We all live under the same sky and we experience many of the same hopes and dreams and emotions wherever we are. We feel the same love. We face the same storms. In this beautiful lyrical text, Britta Teckentrup celebrates and cherishes all that we have and share. Despite different colours, environments and experiences as depicted in her stunning illustrations of animal families all around the world. This is a magical story that will help you feel close as you read together and should help your little one develop their empathy skills.


I hope you have found something useful in this list for your children and that you add some great empathy building books to your library. We will continually add to our collection of empathy building books so please do let us know of any good ones you discover!


You can find out more about Empathy Day and Empathy Lab you can by visit the website for more information including a special selection of book recommendations. If you have any books that you would like to recommend head over to Twitter and share them using the hashtag #ReadForEmpathy 

"Read stories. Build empathy. Make a better world."
Happy Reading,
Mummy and the bairns xx

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*From Empathy Lab's 'Read for Empathy Guide'

DISCLAIMER These are a mix of books that we have bought or been given by publishers for review - many of them we have now had for several years and I cannot be certain which we bought ourselves and which we were sent. But they all remain on our bookshelves because they are wonderful books! Words and opinions are as always my own.

1 comment:

  1. A great set of books for BookBairn and the Wee Page Turner to learn to empathise with others in a nice, gentle, children-friendly way.

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