8 Children’s Books that Teach Empathy

By Haley Nelson

Developing empathy is one of the most important skills a child can learn. It’s that ability to imagine how someone else is feeling in a particular situation and respond with kindness. To encourage empathy, look for those teachable moments where you can help your child see the world through someone else’s eyes. Consider reading books together that illustrate how badly others feel when they are left out, teased and bullied.

Here are eight children’s books that not only share the importance of empathy but are also enjoyable stories kids will love.

Giraffes Can’t Dance

by Giles Andreae (author) and Guy Parker-Rees (illustrator)

Gerald the giraffe longs to dance, but his legs are too skinny and his neck is too long. His knees buckle whenever he tries to twirl. At the Jungle Dance, the warthogs waltz, the chimps cha-cha, and the lions tango. “Giraffes can’t dance,” they all jeer when it’s Gerald’s turn to prance. But there is one little creature, the cricket, who believes in Gerald, and Gerald begins swaying to his own sweet tune. With light-footed rhymes and high-stepping illustrations, this tale is gentle inspiration for every child with dreams of greatness.

Ages 3-6

Hey, Little Ant

By Phillip M. Hoose and Hannah Hoose (authors), and Debbie Tilley (illustrator)

As a boy considers squishing a tiny ant with his shoe, the ant makes the case that he deserves to live. He asks the boy “If you were me and I were you, what would you want me to do?” It can be difficult for young kids to understand the concept of “standing in someone’s shoes” and this book does a good job of showing just what this means.

Ages 3-7


By Kathryn Otoshi

Using colors, the story One shows how a strong personality can impose beliefs and opinions onto others through force and fear. In this case, Red has decided that it is better than Blue, Yellow, Green, Purple and Orange. That is until One comes along and stands up to Red. What happens next illustrates how a band of people (or kids) can stand up to negativity and intimidation.

Ages 4+


We’re All Wonders

By R.J. Palacio

We’re All Wonders presents Auggie, the facially disfigured main character from the award-winning middle-grade novel Wonder, to the younger picture book audience. Here Auggie tells readers how it feels to be treated badly because he looks different. He says that when kids point at him and stare and say unkind things behind his back that he can hear, it hurts his feelings. He encourages kids to acknowledge that we’re all different. His mom says he’s a “wonder,” and he wants people to see they’re wonders, too.

Ages 4-8

Chocolate Milk, Por Favor: Celebrating Diversity with Empathy

By Maria Dismondy and Donna Farrell (illustrator)

It’s Gabe’s first day of school in America, and he doesn’t speak English. Johnny goes out of his way to be unkind to Gabe, but what will he do when Gabe starts to make new friends? Will he join in the fun of making a new friend or turn the other way? Chocolate milk (Gabe’s favorite drink) is a recurring symbol in this heartwarming story about the power of kindness.

Ages 4-11

My Secret Bully

By Trudy Ludwig (author) and Abigail Marble (illustrator)

Monica and Katie have been friends since kindergarten. Monica loves being around Katie when she’s nice, but there are times when Katie can be just plain mean. And Monica doesn’t understand why. Monica is a target of relational aggression, emotional bullying among friends who will use name-calling and manipulation to humiliate and exclude. But with a little help from a supportive adult – her mother – Monica learns to cope and thrive by facing her fears and reclaiming power from her bully.

Ages 5-11


The Hundred Dresses

By Eleanor Estes (author), and Louis Slobodkin (illustrator)

Wanda wears the same blue dress to school every day but tells her classmates she has one hundred beautiful dresses at home. Her classmates don’t believe her and begin to tease her. Meanwhile, Maddie, who goes along with the teasing, secretly wonders if she should speak up in Wanda’s defense. It’s not until Wanda doesn’t show up to school one day that everyone learns the truth about the one hundred dresses.

Ages 6-9

The War that Saved My Life

By Kimberly Brubaker Bradley

Nine-year-old Ada has never been outside of her family's one-room apartment because her mother is too ashamed of Ada's twisted foot. She was born with a clubfoot and her mother uses her disability as an excuse to abuse her both emotionally and physically. When her younger brother is shipped out of London to flee the bombing of World War II, Ada escapes with him. Readers will cheer for steadfast Ada as she triumphs over despair. Winner of the Newberry Honor Award and the Schneider Family Book Award.

Ages 9-12