5 Children’s Books for Encouraging Empathy

Empathy is a crucial skill for students to develop, helping them to understand and connect with others in meaningful ways. Often children are our best examples of empathy and draw on this superpower in even the most difficult times. We have selected a few children’s books that not only explain and demonstrate empathy but also encourage children to use their empathy to make a positive impact in the world.


“Last Stop on Market Street” by Matt de la Peña

This story follows a young boy named CJ and his grandmother as they ride the bus across town. Along the way, CJ learns to appreciate the beauty in everyday moments and the importance of community.

Author Matt de la Peña encourages children to see the world through different perspectives, fostering empathy by highlighting the experiences and struggles of others. It teaches them to find beauty and value in diversity and community service.


“The Invisible Boy” by Trudy Ludwig

Brian feels invisible at school until a new student, Justin, arrives. Justin’s kindness helps Brian feel seen and included.

This book addresses common feelings of loneliness and exclusion, showing children the impact of simple acts of kindness and the importance of including others. It builds on children’s innate sense of fairness and compassion, encouraging them to reach out to those who may feel left out.


“Have You Filled a Bucket Today? A Guide to Daily Happiness for Kids” by Carol McCloud

This book introduces the popular concept of “bucket filling,” a metaphor for expressing kindness and appreciation. It explains how positive actions can fill others’ emotional buckets, as well as their own.

The guide teaches children that their actions have a direct impact on the happiness of others, promoting empathetic behavior as a path to personal and communal well-being. Children are excited by the idea of taking charge and being proactive rather than reactive when being kind and building relationships with others.


“Each Kindness” by Jacqueline Woodson

Chloe and her friends refuse to play with the new girl, Maya. When Maya stops coming to school, Chloe regrets her actions and attitude and learns a valuable lesson about missed opportunities to show kindness.

This book deals with the consequences of unkind behavior and the importance of empathy and inclusion in a familiar situation. It helps children understand the lasting impact of their actions and encourages them to be kind and inclusive, even when it’s difficult.


“Those Shoes” by Maribeth Boelts

Jeremy really wants a pair of trendy shoes that his family can’t afford. He eventually finds a thrift store pair, but they are too small. Jeremy decides to give the shoes to his friend who needs them more.

The story teaches children about generosity, selflessness, and the joy of giving. Children appreciate that Boelts does not “speak down” to them with a happily ever after ending, but allows Jeremy to find a practical solution to the situation. “Those Shoes” emphasizes understanding others’ needs and finding happiness in helping them, reinforcing the value of empathy in everyday decisions.


These books build on children’s natural asset of empathy and inspire them to use their understanding of others to make a positive impact in the world. Sharing these books helps create a more compassionate, understanding, and inclusive classroom environment in which students put their kindness and compassion into action.


You can continue to honor the contributions of all people by bringing Youth Equity Stewardship to your school. Youth Equity Stewardship (YES) is an innovative and experiential learning process. YES activates and sustains authentic partnerships between adults and students leading to compelling, sustainable, vibrant communities. Facilitators foster multi-generational collaboration through music, movement, and visual arts to address complex educational challenges. Drive continuous improvement with this asset-based, solution-oriented process.
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