Empathy is an important characteristic to foster in your children, especially given that it is not typically innate. Adults should teach and reinforce it to children as early as they can. Early childhood is the period when children are particularly receptive to learning and understanding various concepts, making it easy to teach empathy.
Here are 13 books that can help foster the ideas of kindness and empathy that you can read to your children.
This touching narrative by Marcy Campbell tells the story of classmates, Adrian and Chloe. Adrian tells anyone who will listen to him that he has a pet horse, the most beautiful horse ever, and Chloe is convinced that he is full of it. Chloe is angry that nobody will listen to her when she tries to complain about Adrian’s tall tale. When she goes looking for vindication, she ends up with something much more precious.
In Amos and Boris, William Steig tells us about an unlikely pair of friends: a mouse and a whale. They demonstrate unwavering kindness and save each other’s life without ever expecting anything from the other.
Written by Philip C. Stead, this is an absolute must-read for teaching empathy. This Caldecott Medal-winning classic demonstrates that friendships come in many different shapes and sizes. When a very special zookeeper is out sick from work, all his special animal friends take the time to show him how special he really is.
4. Come With Me
Written by Holly McGhee, this story focuses on a little girl. She wants to know how she can make the world a better place after feeling sad at the distressing news on television. In response, her father shows her how to spread small acts of kindness through the city.
Written by Carol McCloud and illustrated by David Messing, this book introduces the idea of invisible buckets, filled with feelings and good thoughts, to children. Teaching the importance of kindness, this story demonstrates that whenever you do something kind, you are helping to fill another person’s bucket as well as your own. It shows that social interactions can both positively and negatively influence other people.
Ed Vere writes this touching and compassionate friendship story. It’s about a gentle, caring lion named Leonard. He teaches that there isn’t just one “way to be” even when the other lions try to convince him that he needs to be ferocious and more “lion-like.”
Written by Amber Housey, this book focuses on the value of being thankful and giving. It demonstrates empathy for others, and above all else, seeing someone else’s point of view other than your own.
In Last Stop on Market Street, Matt de la Peña tells readers about a curious little boy. He is interested in the people around him.
His grandmother patiently answered all his questions, eliciting empathy and understanding as they travel by bus on their way to volunteer at a soup kitchen.
This colorful book by Jess Hong explores all the many differences that people embody while adding up to the same thing: We are all lovely! The visuals in this children’s story really add to the narrative, which demonstrates that all people are beautiful in their own way.
Bob Sornson’s touching family story follows Emily, whose perceptions change after she asks her big sister about the word empathy. This story demonstrates how easily children can foster an understanding of empathy.
Cori Doerrfeld writes this simple yet poignant story about a broken-hearted boy. He is surrounded by animals that try to advise him on dealing with his grief. When he is unwilling to take their advice, no animal wants to stay. However, it is the rabbit who decides to simply listen.
12. Those Shoes
Maribeth Boelts weaves a beautiful story about a young boy. He dreams of buying the ‘cool shoes’ everyone at school is wearing, but his family cannot afford them. The boy eventually finds and purchases a pair that is too small for him, but in near-perfect condition in a thrift shop.
He ends up finding a better home for them with another classmate who also cannot afford new shoes and to whom they are a better fit.
In this Dr. Seuss classic, Horton, an elephant who finds an entire community bustling on a tiny little speck of dust. Horton doesn’t give up even when everyone around him is pressuring him too. This book is a classic for teaching children to stand by what you believe in despite what adversity you are facing and to advocate for others when they lack their own voice.
There are many excellent books available for teaching your children the principles of kindness, empathy, friendship, and caring. These thirteen provide an excellent foundation because you can read them to your children while they are young and begin to instill these essential virtues in your children early and reinforce them often.