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Books that teach empathy
What Is Given From the Heart photo courtesy Penguin Random House; Being Edie is Hard Today photo courtesy Little, Brown and Company; The Rabbit Listened photo courtesy Penguin Random House; How Do You Care for a Very Sick Bear? photo courtesy Macmillan; Nobody Hugs a Cactus photo courtesy Simon & Schuster; The Proudest Blue photo courtesy Little, Brown and Company

Books to Help Develop Empathy

Local librarians and book experts recommend these children's books.

People who possess empathy understand another individual’s condition, thoughts, or feelings from that person’s point of view, which can result in more compassion for others. Research suggests it’s possible to boost one’s capacity for empathic understanding, according to Psychology Today, and experts attest that reading about the experiences of others is one way to help build it. When you check out these books, may compassion abound.

Being Edie is Hard Today

by Ben Brashares; illustrated by Elizabeth
Bergeland (Little, Brown Books for Young Readers 2019)

Edie tries to escape her regular life by pretending to be different animals throughout the day—which sometimes appears strange and frustrating to the adults in her life. Through the animal characteristics Edie imagines, adult readers will get a glimpse into children’s minds and start to understand why they sometimes behave the way they do.

What is Given from the Heart

by Patricia C. McKissack; illustrated by April Harrison
(Schwartz & Wade 2019)

James Otis and his mama have always been poor, but their situation gets worse when his father dies, his dog disappears, and they lose their farm. One day, their pastor announces that the church is giving a love box to a family who lost everything in a fire. Despite their situation, Mama insists they should help out, too. James Otis doesn’t think he has anything to give, until he has an idea to create something that comes from his heart.

Nobody Hugs a Cactus

by Carter Goodrich (Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers 2019)

Hank the cactus wants to be left alone, but he soon finds out how isolating that can be. Hank comes up with a plan to get a hug from a friend. In order for this to happen, he has to learn how to make up for his past behavior and open himself up to change before others will want to be his friend. The story shows that even the prickliest people need love, too.

The Proudest Blue

by Ibtihaj Muhammad with S.K. Ali; illustrated by Hatem Aly
(Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, September 2019)

It’s the first day of school for Faizah, and the first day of wearing a hijab for her older sister Asiya. Faizah is excited for her sister’s new experience, but some kids at school say mean things about Asiya’s hijab. Written by the first Muslim American woman in hijab to compete for the United States in the Olympic Games, the story shows that the bond between sisters and staying true to your beliefs is stronger than unkind words.

How Do You Care for a Sick Bear?

by Vanessa Bayer; illustrated by Rosie Butcher
(Feiwel & Friends, June 4, 2019)

Actress and comedian Vanessa Bayer—well known as a former cast member of Saturday Night Live—launches her debut picture book, inspired by her personal experiences with childhood leukemia. Bayer wrote the book to teach kids and adults how to be a good friend to someone who is sick or going through a tough time, when they aren’t sure how to act or what to say.

I Walk With Vanessa

by Kerascoët (Random House 2018)

This wordless picture book has captured the attention of many book experts when it comes to demonstrating empathy. Inspired by real events, the illustrations show that someone can be an ally to a classmate who is treated badly without saying a word, and that an act of kindness can change a community.

The Rabbit Listened

by Cori Doerrfeld (Dial 2018)

Taylor builds an amazing block tower, then crows fly through and knock it over. Different animals offer unsolicited advice, but do nothing to assuage Taylor’s grief. It is the silent, empathetic rabbit coming only to listen that finally allows Taylor to express feelings and move forward in this top pick of many librarians and book experts. “This book is a wonderful choice for social emotional learning and supporting and validating children’s feelings,” says Denver Public Library children’s librarian Gigi Pagliarulo.

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