15 Children’s Books That Teach Empathy and Kindness

Just in time for World Kindness Day on November 13.

Nov 12, 2019

 (Syda Productions / Shutterstock.com)

You can never underdeliver and undersell the importance of teaching young minds kindness and empathy. For many parents, part of their job in raising their kids means teaching them how to make the world better, to believe that they’re capable of spreading goodwill just as much as anyone else. As everyone needs a little refresher now and then, we rounded up some great reads to inspire your young ones. Add these 15 children’s books to your reading list for a memorable bonding and learning experience. 

Those Shoes
Everyone at school has the same pair of shoes, so naturally, Jeremy wants them too. Unfortunately, his grandma tells him there’s only room for ‘needs’ and he needs winter boots. Though he receives what he thought he wanted, he soon realizes that what he already has – a loving grandmother, winter boots, and the capacity to help a friend – means more than trendy shoes. Those shoes was written by Maribeth Boelts and illustrated by Noah Z. Jones.

Most People
This beautifully illustrated book  by Michael Leannah and illustrated by Jennifer E. Morris is an amazing lesson for kids that most people want to do good in the world and that there are plenty of good people out there. Told in third person, the book tells the story of two pairs of siblings and the people they meet.

Little Blue Truck
Little ones are introduced to Blue, a little pick-up truck that gets stuck pushing a dump truck out of the mud in this board book. Thankfully, Blue made a group of animal friends along the way that are happy to do whatever they can to help him get back on the road. The main themes are Kindness and the benefits of helping others. Little blue Truck was written by Alice Schertle.

Save Me a Seat
Joe lived in the same town all his life and felt perfectly content until his best friend moved away. Ravi’s family recently moved from India to the US and he’s struggling to find where he belongs. Even though Joe and Ravi initially believe they don’t have much in common, they both realize they have a common enemy – the biggest bully in their class – and a mutual mission. Save Me a Seat by Sarah Weeks and Gita Varadarajan is a story about the true meaning of friendship and understanding.

One
In this tale about colors, Blue is quiet, while Red is a “hothead who likes to pick on Blue.” As Blue is teased and the other colors can’t stick up for Blue, One comes along and shows the colors how to stand together and count. Young readers learn about primary colors, secondary colors, numbers, and how to accept one another’s differences in Kathryn Otoshi's enchanting story.

The Monster Who Lost His Mean
All monsters know that the M in monster stands for mean. This is a story about a monster who decided he could no longer treat others badly. As he questions whether he’s still a monster, his friends and your little one realizes it’s not what people call you; it’s who you are that truly matters. Written by Tiffany Strelitz and illustrated by Kristie Edmunds.

The Invisible Boy
No one at school seems to notice Brian or include him in their games, birthday parties, or groups until a new kid comes to school and makes Brian feel seen. And when Justin and Brian work together on a school project, Brian is able to shine. The Invisible Boy, written by Trudy Ludwig and illustrated by Patrice Barton, teaches the valuable lesson of what can happen when someone performs an act of kindness and how that can help quieter children feel good about themselves.

All Are Welcome
Children can celebrate diversity with this New York Times bestselling picture book by Alexandra Penfold and illustrator Suzanne Kaufman. Children can experience diversity when they experience a full day with the children of this welcoming school. Here, kids with hijabs, patkas, yarmulkes, and baseball hats grow and learn from each other’s traditions while celebrating the Lunar New Year. 

If You Plant a Seed
A mouse and a rabbit teach children how to plant and grow food, while also passing along some valuable lessons. After learning that a carrot seed will grow a carrot, and a cabbage seed will result in a cabbage, children also learn the value of thoughtfulness and how a “seed of kindness can bear sweet fruit.” This award-winning book was written and illustrated by Kadir Nelson.

I Am Enough
This New York Times bestseller and Goodreads Choice Awards picture book winner is all about celebrating and loving yourself just as you are, respecting others, and being kind to one another. Activist and Empire actor, Grace Byers created this uplifting book to remind children that like the sun, they’re here to shine. It was beautifully illustrated by Keturah A. Bobo.

How Kind!
A tale by Mary Murphy all about the lasting powers of kindness. When Hen gifts an egg to Pig, she starts a kindness chain that inspires those across the barnyard. Young children will learn the importance of treating others with respect in an entertaining, board book.

A Sick Day for Amos McGee
Friendships come in all shapes and sizes and this is especially true for Amos McGee. Amos makes it a point to spend quality time with each of his friends at the zoo--keeping his shy penguin pal company, reading bedtime stories to the owl and more. When Amos is sick, his friends make sure he knows they’re happy to be there for him, too. A Sick Day for Amos McGee was written  by Philip C. Stead and illustrated by Erin E. Stead.

Horton Hears a Who
A classic by Dr. Seuss book that’s as fun to read as it is wise. When Horton hears a Who, the other jungle animals don’t understand what he’s talking about. The Who, after all, is just a tiny speck and Horton’s big ears can pick up even the smallest noise. This story is an effortless way to teach kids that standing up for those who can’t defend themselves is kind.

I Walk with Vanessa: A Story About a Simple Act of Kindness
Looking for a powerful way to teach kids about the power of a single act of kindness? This book, written by Kerascoët, a husband and wife team, dive into how bullying can leave a lasting impression. Though there aren’t any words, the pictures send a strong message about acceptance, kindness, and the wonders of having a good friend.

Everybody’s Welcome
This adorable book – that has peek-through holes – by Patricia Hegarty and illustrated by Greg Abbot teaches about opening a door to those in need. The tale begins with a frog who's pond home has dried up and he now has nowhere to live. He runs into a mouse who is building a new house. "Everybody's welcome, no matter who they are," says the mouse. "Wherever they may come from, whether near or far." They meet other animals who are also searching for a place to live and together they build a beautiful house where all the animals are welcome.

As many parents know, reading to your children is more than a bonding experience. It’s about helping children learn life lessons in a way that’s accessible to them. And while these books teach important values such as kindness, just reading can help your little one become more empathetic. Imparting such important values isn’t always easy; thankfully these 15 books make it just a little bit easier to teach young ones how to make the world a better place.

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REBECCA WOJNO, CONTRIBUTOR
Rebecca is passionate about reading, cooking, and learning about people doing good in the world. She especially loves writing about wellness, personal growth, and relationships.