Last year I published a post on 10 picture books that spark empathy. It turns there are many more than the original 10 highlighted. With the world we live in, we all need a little more empathy in our lives and in our classrooms. Picture books offer us a way to start the conversations and to plant the seeds. So today I offer you an updated list, the original 10 can still be found toward the bottom. Remember; picture books are for all ages and the power of these cannot be disputed.
Penguin Problems by Jory John and Lane Smith follows a little penguin that just wants to be understood. He doesn’t want to follow the crowd of the other penguins and in fact, constantly complains, until someone puts things into perspective for him.
Big Bob, Little Bob by James Howe and Laura Ellen Anderson is a great stry of what happens when a new boy moves into the neighborhood and doesn’t quite understand the boy who shares his name.
Everyone Loves Cupcake by Kelly DiPucchio and Eric Wight is the story of Cupcake who just wants to be perfect. Yet being perfect is exhausting. Will her friends accept her for who she is?
Little Bot and Sparrow by Jape Parker follows Robot in his quest forfriendship after being discarded as old. What a great tale of how we do not have to be the same to be friends.
The Mouse and the Moon by Gabriel Alborozo follows Mouse who is very lonely. One day he starts to speak to the Moon and makes a surprise friend in the process.
Samson in the Snow by Phillip C. Stead follows a woolly mammoth after his chance encounter with a little bird. Even though they are so different, Samson cannot stop worrying about the bird when a snowstorm hits and he sets out to find him.
For all the kids who identify as being extremely shy, Shy by Deborah Freedman is a beautiful tale of finding a friend and finding courage.
The Uncorker of Ocean Bottles by Michelle Cuevas and Erin E. Stead is a tale that speaks of loneliness, of taking a chance, and of finding your place. How many of us cannot relate to the feeling of being lonely?
School’s First Day of School by Adam Rex and Christian Robinson is all about a school and how nervous it is before the kids show up. What a great way to discuss how we can make newcomers feel welcome.
Hello, My Name is Octicorn by Kevin Diller and Justin Lowe who feels just a little bit different. So is being different a good thing or a bad thing?
The Lonely Book by Kate Bernheimer and Chris Sheban talks about loneliness as well. When a new book no longer is new, who will read it any more? Great way to use metaphors to get kids to talk about being lonely.
Dear Dragon by Josh Funk and Rodolfo Montalvo speaks of an unlikely friendship between two different species. It begs the question; must we be the same to be friends?
The Heart and the Bottle by Oliver Jeffers is about grief and locking your heart up when it is too hard to have it vulnerable. Yet is that really the way to experience life?
My Friend Maggie by Hannah E. Harrison is a favorite of mine for many reasons. It is such a stellar book for talking about what being true friends really means and how we can stand up for the people we care about.
Grandfather Gandhi by Ann Gandhi, Bethany Hegedus and Evan Turk takes the teachings of Gandhi and makes them kid friendly. In this book the message is how to turn moments of darkness into light instead.
Jack’s Worry by Sam Zuppardi is a fantastic book to start discussion of anxiety and worry. With anxiety on the rise in our classrooms, this book is one that many kids (and adults) can relate to.
Be A Friend by Salina Yoon is the story of Dennis and how he does not find a friend who accepts him for who he is until he meet Joy. I love the message of how being different does not mean you have to change to find a friend.
Bully by Laura Vaccaro Seeger is a fantastic illustration of what happens when we bully. This is a book that is sure to spark discussion no matter the age group.
Unicorn Thinks He’s Pretty Great by Bob Shea is a must-add to any picture book collection. The tale of Goat and how he thinks Unicorn is a braggart until he finally gets to know him is one that kids will love.
Strictly No Elephants by Lisa Mantchev and Taeeun Yoo is one that I think many kids can relate to. With the story of a child who is excluded and how he finds his own group, we can use this to open up discussion about accepting others.
Better than You by Trudy Ludwig is the story of the friend that brags all of the time, in the process putting his neighbor Tyler down. It explores friendship dynamics and how we can make each other feel bad or good.
My Two Blankets by Irena Kobald and Freya Blackwood speaks to how hard moving is, but also about finding a new friend.
The Original Ten:
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?