Looking for children's books about empathy for your elementary classroom? This is the list for you! Showing empathy and kindness to others is an important part of everyone's life. This is why it is so important to teach to kids. I use children’s books about empathy as a gateway for opening up discussions in the learning environment. Whether you are a teacher, counselor, or parent, using books to help illustrate a topic is a great way for kids to learn. As you are reading, ask questions and engage the reader.
I often cover empathy in my lessons, I use these Character Education: Empathy activities that reinforce empathy in school, home, and in the community. I also use this (most popular!) Walk in my Shoes activity where students think about how the other person must feel in given scenarios. Here is a list of some of the awesome children’s books about empathy out there that I use to help teach this topic to students.
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THE RABBIT LISTENED
Title of Book and Author: The Rabbit Listened by Cori Doerrfeld
A short summary of the book: Taylor decides to build something amazing out of blocks. Suddenly, out of nowhere, his creation comes crashing down. A friendly chicken notices and says “I’m sorry,” but it doesn’t make Taylor feel better. A bear encourages Taylor to shout out with anger, but Taylor doesn’t feel like doing that. Next, an elephant says Taylor can fix his creation if he remembers, but Taylor doesn’t want to. One by one, different animals come along, but Taylor never wants to follow their suggestions. That is, until he meets a friendly rabbit who is different than all of the other animals in a big way: he listens.
Why I like the book: Not only are the animal's loveable characters in this book, but this short and sweet book has a feel-good message that will resonate with your students. We have all experienced a time when we just wanted someone to listen.
The moral of the story: So much of having empathy is listening. When we listen to people, they feel appreciated and understood.
Topics covered: Listening; Understanding; Kindness
Where can I purchase this book (affiliate link): The Rabbit Listened on Amazon
I AM HUMAN
Title of Book and Author: I am Human: Book of Empathy by Susan Verde
A short summary of the book: “I am always learning. I see possibility. I make discoveries.” I am Human’s main character realizes that because he is human, he can make choices. For example, he can change a bad day into a great day. He can treat others with kindness and fairness. At the end of the day, he can choose to be the best version of himself.
Why I like the book: The story’s main character has incredible self-awareness. As he says, he is not perfect. He understands his best qualities and limitations. The story’s message is a wonderful reminder that developing self-awareness is essential to developing empathy.
The morale of the story: To have empathy, we must have self-awareness, which includes understanding our strengths and weaknesses. Only then can we understand how to treat others with respect.
Topics covered: Choices; Self-Awareness; Kindness
Where can I purchase this book (affiliate link): I am Human on Amazon
WE DON'T EAT OUR CLASSMATES
Title of Book and Author: We Don’t Eat Our Classmates by Ryan T. Higgins
A short summary of the book: Penelope is a young T-Rex who gets into trouble on her first day of school because she cannot fight her desire to eat other kids. Her teacher gets onto her for eating them and makes her spit them out. Penelope does not understand why it is not acceptable for her to eat her classmates. After the class goldfish bites Penelope’s finger, Penelope begins to change her tune about eating her classmates and realizes that some rules are there to keep everyone safe.
Why I like the book: Ryan Higgins creates a hilarious story to address unwanted behaviors like biting, hitting, or pulling that you are trying to stop in the classroom. Penelope is relatable to most students as she just wants to make friends. The illustrations in this book keep the reader intrigued as well.
The moral of the story: Following rules keep everyone safe and helps you make friends.
Topics covered: Boundaries; Bravery; Friendships; Empathy; Following Rules
Where can I purchase this book (affiliate link): We Don't Eat our Classmates on Amazon
STAND IN MY SHOES
Title of Book and Author: Stand in my Shoes by Bob Sornson
A short summary of the book: When Emily’s sister teaches her about the meaning of empathy, Emily begins helping others around her. She helps her dad get ready for work. When she sees a girl who falls on the playground, she helps her up. She asks how her teacher is doing. When Emily decides to act with compassion and empathy, her entire mindset changes, creating a ripple effect of kindness around her.
Why I like the book: Many students wonder what it means to “stand in someone’s shoes.” Sornson encapsulates the meaning with this poignant quote: “Empathy is when you understand how someone is feeling because you imagine what it’s like to be there.” Emily’s thoughtful nature and optimistic spirit will make her a role model that your students can aspire to be.
The moral of the story: When we stand in someone’s shoes, we can become more thoughtful, understanding people who help others. When we practice empathy, our entire mindset
Topics covered: Understanding; Kindness
Where can I purchase this book (affiliate link): Stand in my Shoes on Amazon
HEY, LITTLE ANT
Title of Book and Author: Hey Little Ant by Phillip M. Hoose
A short summary of the book: Hey Little Ant tells the classic tale of boy versus ant. A young boy wants to stomp a tiny ant. The little ant pleads with the boy not to stomp him. He has a home and a family, too! The ending asks readers to decide: what should the boy do?
Why I like the book: Your students will be on the edge of their seats as they wait to hear what happens to the little ant. This book encourages children to consider the perspective of others, especially those we tend to pass over, like the school custodian, an old woman crossing the street, and even the tiniest ant. The ending leaves the decision up to the readers, which can spark great classroom discussions.
The moral of the story: We all have feelings and deserve to be treated with empathy - no matter who we are.
Topics covered: Compassion; Understanding; Animals
Where can I purchase this book (affiliate link): Hey Little Ant on Amazon
LAST STOP ON MARKET STREET
Title of Book and Author: Last Stop on Market Street by Matt de la Peña
A short summary of the book: On their way to the soup kitchen, a Sunday tradition, young CJ learns about the meaning of life from his grandma, a woman wise beyond her years. During their journey, CJ begins wondering why he is different from others. Why doesn’t he own an iPod? Why does he have to take the bus? As they travel, CJ’s grandma teaches CJ to appreciate the beauty around him, shifting his mindset. When they arrive at the soup kitchen, CJ has a change of heart and begins seeing the world differently.
Why I like the book: I love how CJ’s grandma educates CJ about the world around him in a gentle manner. When CJ doesn’t understand why he’s different from others, his grandma teaches him what is important in life. Her wisdom, especially about socio-economic differences, is so poignant and would be a wonderful message to share with your students.
The moral of the story: When we view life through an optimistic lens, our worldview changes. We can find beauty in the everyday.
Topics covered: Beauty; Socioeconomic Status; Inequality
Where can I purchase this book (affiliate link): Last stop on Market Street on Amazon
Title of Book and Author: Those Shoes by Maribeth Boelts
A short summary of the book: A young boy, Jeremy, sees his classmates wearing a popular type of shoe. When Jeremy asks his grandma if he can get the new shoes, she replies that there’s no money for new shoes, only things that they need. The guidance counselor helps Jeremy find a new pair of shoes with velcro and cartoons - which is very different from the popular shoes. When he returns to school, Jeremy’s classmates make fun of him for the guidance counselor’s kind gesture.
Jeremy’s grandma tries to get Jeremy the new shoes, but the price is too expensive. When Jeremy finds the shoes at the thrift store, they are perfect except for one thing - they don’t fit! Jeremy ultimately learns a lesson in generosity when he observes a boy named Anthony needing a new pair of shoes. His prized, too-small shoes become something much greater in the end.
Why I like the book: This feel-good story about the power of generosity will be sure to make you and your students smile. Like Last Stop on Market Street, the grandma is a central reason why Jeremy learns why empathy is so important. Jeremy learns that it’s much better to give than to receive.
The moral of the story: Giving is so much more fulfilling than buying.
Topics covered: Generosity; Compassion; Socio-economic Status
Where can I purchase this book (affiliate link): Those Shoes on Amazon
YOU, ME AND EMPATHY
Title of Book and Author: You, Me, and Empathy by Jayneen Sanders
A short summary of the book: Jayneen Sanders’ book covers a range of topics: emotions, differences, sickness, and loneliness, to name a few. The main character, Quinn, learns about the meaning of empathy by interacting with people around him. When his mom gets sick, he takes care of her. When he gets sick, his mom says “I understand.” His mom’s kindness and care helps him feel better. When Quinn sits alone, a girl comes over to play with him, showing him true compassion.
Why I like the book: I love that there are questions (“Who shows you kindness? How do you show kindness to others?”) sprinkled through the book that encourage readers to think deeply about the meaning of empathy. This interactive style would lend itself well to a whole-class read-aloud.
The moral of the story: When someone is sad or mad, remember a time that you have felt that way and tell them that you understand. This is true empathy.
Topics covered: Kindness; Friendship; Shared Experiences; Compassion
Where can I purchase this book (affiliate link): You, Me, and Empathy on Amazon
Title of Book and Author: One by Kathryn Otoshi
A short summary of the book: Blue wishes he was like the other colors, who in his opinion, are much more brilliant. Unfortunately, Red bullies Blue, and the other colors don’t stand up for Blue. When the colors don’t speak up, Red grows bigger and bigger so that everyone is afraid of him. When One comes along, he stands up to Red, which makes Red very angry.
Throughout the book, One teaches the other colors to stand up for one another. With a surprise ending, this book will be sure to make you smile.
Why I like the book: One shares a simple but powerful message about the meaning of empathy and kindness. I love that the characters are colors and numbers, which is helpful for pre-readers and young students. This book would be a great way to tie in social-emotional learning into learning about colors and numbers.
The moral of the story: Sometimes, it just takes one voice to make a difference.
Topics covered: Bullying; Kindness; Bravery
Where can I purchase this book (affiliate link): One on Amazon
Title of Book and Author: Each Kindness by Jacqueline Woodson
A short summary of the book: One day at school, Chloe meets her new classmate, Maya. Maya arrives at school with ragged clothing. No one wants to play with Maya, and her classmates keep their distance. They laugh at her clothes, her shoes, and her food. When Maya brings small toys to school, no one plays with her. Sadly, Maya’s classmates start calling her “Never New” because “everything she has comes from a secondhand store.”
When Maya doesn’t show up to school for several days, their teacher gives them a kindness lesson that changes the students’ minds - and hearts.
Why I like the book: With beautiful illustrations reminiscent of a Patricia Polacco book, Each Kindness tells the story of how Maya teaches her classmates about empathy. The story’s ending isn’t wrapped up in a bow like most children’s books, but instead, leaves readers with something to ponder. The book motivates readers to be kind, understanding, and inclusive.
The moral of the story: Every small act of kindness counts. We must act with kindness before it’s too late.
Topics covered: Kindness; Socioeconomic Status; Inclusion
Where can I purchase this book (affiliate link): Each Kindness on Amazon
ADRIAN SIMCOX DOES NOT HAVE A HORSE
Title of Book and Author: Adrian Simcox does NOT have a Horse by Marcy Campbell
A short summary of the book: Adrian Simcox sits alone at lunch everyday. He also tells his classmates that he has a horse, but many classmates doubt that he owns a horse. In fact, his classmate Chloe is certain that Adrian Simcox does NOT have a horse. After all, he gets free lunch at school, has a small house, and holes in his shoes, she describes.
Determined to open her daughter’s eyes, Chloe’s mom takes Chloe on a walk to Adrian’s house. Right as Chloe is about to tell Adrian that he does NOT have a horse, the sadness on his face makes her think twice about her words. Instead, she concludes that Adrian has an amazing imagination and decides to be nice to him.
Why I like the book: Chloe is like many students we teach: determined to prove a point, sometimes at the expense of others. This book teaches that it’s better to be nice than to be right. We never know where people are coming from; their backgrounds and experiences shape how they act.
The moral of the story: Instead of trying to be right, be kind instead. You can make a difference in someone’s life by being kind and empathetic.
Topics covered: Socioeconomic Status; Kindness
Where can I purchase this book (affiliate link): Adrian Simcox does not have a Horse on Amazon
Pair your favorite children’s books about empathy with these engaging activities to make the perfect classroom lesson.