being me, books, Literacy, Reading

10 Picture Books that Spark Empathy

To find more information about the August 10 for 10 Picture Book and see all of the amazing posts go to the hosts’ sites: Cathy Mere at Reflect & Refine and Mandy Robek at Enjoy and Embrace Learning.

I had a hard time picking which type of list to make today.  Should I do one on laugh out loud picture books?  One on wordless?  How about those that make us cry?  Yet, I kept coming back to this list; the one that stuck with me the longest; the picture books that spark empathy.  These are the ones that leave my students speechless at times, other times eager to discuss.  The ones that stick with us throughout the year that push us to think about our actions and become better people.  Those were the ones I wanted to highlight today.

I have long loved The Other Side by Jacqueline Woodson for its straightforward story of two girls living on either side of a fence and yet many miles apart.  For some of my students this is territory they have not gone into yet, so the conversations about race, our history, and even what is happening now in our world abound.

I don’t remember how I came upon The Invisible Boy by Trudy Ludwig.  My guess is that someone shared it on their blog, so thank you to them.  This story so beautifully encapsulates what it means to feel invisible and every time I have used it with students it has led to deep conversations.  We read this more than once so we can pay attention to the illustrations as well.

Students  immediately fall in love with Pete & Pickles by Berkeley Breathed for the illustrations  but then come back again and again for the story of an unlikely friendship between a pig and an elephant.  This is a must read aloud at any age.  (ANd truly they all are).

It has been established already that Peter H. Reynolds is a creative genius.  I have loved all of his books since the first time I read them.  This book, I’m Here, is one that doesn’t get a lot of attention standing next to The Creatrilogy, but it should.  It’s eloquent story about a boy who feels so all alone is one that will settle into the hearts of students.

Thea, my kindergartner, came home and told me that I had to get this book about a big red crayon.  Okay…. I thought.  But she was right, Red – A Crayon’s Story by Michael Hall was one that I had to read aloud to my 7th graders.  And then we had to discuss what it meant staying true to one’s own nature as well as facing the pressures of others.  I swear this book was written for middle schoolers and not young children secretly.

It is a celebration in my life whenever the talented Ame Dyckman comes out with a new picture book and Wolfie the Bunny was definitely a cause for celebration.  This book about assumptions and what they can lead to has not only made my students laugh outloud, but more importantly, has led us to question our own assumptions about others.

I have Bluebird by Bob Staake on many favorite picture book lists, and there is a reason for that.  The shock on my students faces when we get to that page.  The questions, the discussion when I step out of the way are priceless.  This is a wordless picture book which also means that my students love interpreting the ending.

I cried when I read aloud The One and Only Ivan so it only seems fitting that I cried when I read out loud Ivan:  The Remarkable True Story of the Shopping Mall Gorilla by Katherine Applegate.  My students love to ask questions after this book, they love to talk about their own animals, what they would do to save others.

I read this book out loud to all 5 of my 7th grade classrooms.  It was astounding how similar the reaction was; disbelief, outrage, questions and perhaps a tear or two shed by me.  This story Malala, A Brave Girl from Pakistan/Iqbal, A Brave Boy from Pakistan by Jeanette Winter is one that will stay with you for a long time.  This is sure to elicit conversations and calls for action.

I always seem to cheat on these posts and never stick to just 10, so for my 10th pick I will give you several instead.  All of these are worthy of being read aloud and discussed.  We need more empathy in this world, I am so glad these authors give us a chance to do just that.

Each Kindness by Jacqueline Woodson

The Name Jar by Yanksook Choi (Having a name that no one pronounces correctly in the USA really makes me love this book even more).

One by Kathryn Otoshi 

Zero by Kathryn Otoshi

Chrysanthemum by Kevin Henkes.

Which ones would you add to the list?

If you like what you read here, consider reading my book Passionate Learners – How to Engage and Empower Your Students.  The 2nd edition and actual book-book (not just e-book!) comes out September 22nd from Routledge.  

12 thoughts on “10 Picture Books that Spark Empathy”

  1. The power of a great read aloud is to evoke some type of response. These will do that. City Dog, Country Frog by Mo Willems touches the heart too. It is the circle of life.

  2. I do an EMPATHY unit in September, so I’m always looking for books to add to my text set. I use many of the titles you included! I don’t know The Name Jar or Pete & Pickles, so I’m going to look for those. Two nonfiction EMPATHY books I love are A Boy and a Jaguar and Mogie: The Heart of the House. Each Kindness was on my list, as well, which focused on Empathy and mini-lesson books.

  3. I discovered “The Invisible Boy” late in the school year; my first graders loved that story. I plan on using it the first day this year. We must make a goal that no one feels invisible in our class. Two other titles I think you will love, not necessarily for empathy, are “Maple” and “Maple and Willow Together” by Lori Nichols. My grandgirls are 2 yrs and 4 months and these heartwarming stories are so perfect for them. “Maple” is also good for Arbor Day! I discovered “Maple” in a children’s bookstore called Monkey See Monkey Do. I almost cried when I read it.

  4. All these are favorites. I’m currently doing a review, to come out next week, on You Look Yummy! by Tatsuya Miyanishi. Originally published in Japan, I consider it the year’s best book for boys! It’s so good, my review will never match the beauty of the story.
    Susan Roberts
    Picture Book Reviewer

  5. Thanks for this great list. There are a few on here that are new to me so I’ll check those out. You might like to have a look at the Talking with Trees books ( They use very emotive illustrations to help walk children through challenging real life situations, like when someone says something mean, or when they leave a friend out on purpose. They are a great way to help children see an issue from someone else’s perspective, and to feel what others’ feel.

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