A photo of several books that demonstrate empathy on a faded orange to yellow background with white stars and dots.

Image: Alicia Fernandes/Penguin

How to Change the World by Rashmi Sirdeshpande & Annabel Tempest (2021)

These 15 true stories of groups of humans doing amazing things around the world will show you that empathy is a force for change. From abolishing slavery and campaigning for equal voting rights, to saving the whales and the fair-trade movement, discover all the many ways we can work together to achieve great things and make a better world for each other. 

Clean Up! by Nathan Bryon & Dapo Adeola (2020)

Science-mad Rocket is super excited – she's off to the Caribbean with her family to visit her grandparents. She’s made all sorts of plans – she’s going to see turtles, swim with dolphins, and go surfing. But when Rocket arrives, she discovers there is a terrible plastic pollution problem that’s threatening all the local sea life. It’s up to Rocket to clean up the beach. This lovely tale will teach kids (and adults) to show compassion for sea creatures and the environment, and how empathetic children can make a big difference in the world.

The Seed of Compassion by His Holiness the Dalai Lama & Bao Luu (2020)

No one is better at demonstrating compassion and kindness towards others than the Dalai Lama himself. In The Seed of Compassion, you’ll not only learn a bit about the Dalai Lama and his childhood, but you’ll also learn how he came to cultivate empathy and the ways that you can too. ‘The seed of compassion is within every child. It is there from birth and is a part of our nature. And it flourishes because of love.’

Pass it On by Sophy Henn (2016)

This beautifully illustrated book offers up the sweet but powerful message that the little things in life can make a difference. When we laugh, pass that chuckle on; when we see something wonderful, pass the joy you feel on, and when you feel a smile, smile at someone to pass it on. You might just make that person’s day! Pass it On is a great reminder for children and adults about the importance of paying it forward. 

Charlie Changes into a Chicken by Sam Copeland and Sarah Horne (2019)

We will all experience stress and worry in our lifetime, some more so than others. Charlie has a lot on his plate; his brother is in hospital, his parents are beside themselves with worry, and Charlie is having to contend with a mean bully at school. Plus, Charlie inexplicably changes into animals whenever he gets anxious... As well as being a laugh-out-loud read, Charlie Changes into a Chicken explores what anxiety feels like, giving every reader a chance to better understanding and empathise with those who struggle with it.

What is a Refugee? by Elise Gravel (2019)

What is a refugee? Well, you might be surprised to know that they are just like you. They have a family and friends, they like to play video games and draw, and they all have their own dreams for the future. Unfortunately, someone becomes a refugee often due to a crisis in their home country that causes them to leave for their own safety and start a new life somewhere else. Elise Gravel’s gorgeous picture book not only encourages much-needed empathy for refugees but also breaks down the stigma that is so often associated with refugeeism.

Wonder by R.J. Palacio (2012)

“It’s okay, I know I’m weird-looking, take a look, I don’t bite.” August Pullman really wants to be an ordinary 10-year-old boy – except ordinary boys aren’t stared at wherever they go. Born with a facial difference that has prevented him from going to a mainstream school until now, this wonderful tale charts the journey of Auggie as he navigates his first year at school. An upbeat, life-affirming story that deserves to be read and one that reminds us all to choose to be kind instead of cruel.

Katy by Jacqueline Wilson & Nick Sharratt (2015)

Katy is a lively and active 11-year-old who loves nothing more than messing around outdoors and inventing imaginary games for her siblings. But when a terrible accident changes her life dramatically, Katy has to adapt to a completely different way of living. In the process, she gains a deeper understanding of what it is to be disabled, and learns new ways to love life and herself. Inspired by the classic What Katy Did, bestselling author Jacqueline Wilson catapults the story into the 21st Century to captivate a new generation.

Middle School: How I Survived Bullies, Broccoli and Snake Hill by James Patterson & Chris Tebbetts (2013)

Rafe Khatchadorian, the hero of the acclaimed series Middle School, is ready for a whole lot of fun at summer camp… until he realizes it’s a summer school camp. Not quite as cool. Bunked up under the stars, Rafe bonds with his cabin mates – even the boy known as Booger Eater – especially when they find themselves the target of the camp bullies. Rafe spends his summer making friends, making trouble, and taking a stand against getting picked on. This is an action-packed, hilariously honest take on friends and foes, as well as a helpful nudge to stop judging others.

Cloud Busting by Malorie Blackman (2004)

Sam and Davey go to the same school, and they’re in the same class, but Sam’s not too sure about Davey – he has holes in his jumper and strange ideas in his head. When the two boys are thrown together, Sam finds that Davey’s way of looking at the world makes life more exciting… if only he hadn’t been so mean to him when they first met! Cloud Busting is a compelling, sensitive, and uplifting exploration of identity and friendship told entirely through different forms of poetry.

The Guggenheim Mystery by Robin Stevens & Siobhan Dowd (2017)

Ted Spark is 12 years and 281 days old. He is also on the autistic spectrum and has already solved one mystery – now he’s on to his second! This time it’s the mystery of a stolen painting, taken from the Guggenheim Museum in NYC. Ted’s Aunt Gloria is under suspicion, but can he prove it wasn’t her and find the real culprit? A detective with a difference, Ted views the world through unusual eyes, making for a charming, entertaining, and unique whodunit. It’s also a lovely story of how Ted’s family values him for exactly who he is.

Charlotte’s Web by E. B. White & Garth Williams (1952)

Little pig Wilbur simply wants a friend. But when he’s moved to Homer Zuckerman’s farmyard, snubbed by the other animals and threatened with slaughter, it’s only barn spider Charlotte who wants to get to know him and fight for his survival. This timeless classic tells the heart-warming story of an unlikely friendship and the power of standing up for what you believe in.

The BFG by Roald Dahl & Quentin Blake (1982)

The BFG is no ordinary bone-crunching giant… he is far too nice and full of snozzcumbers! But when orphan Sophie meets the Big Friendly Giant in the witching hour, he has no choice but to snatch her from her orphanage. So begins their whizz-popping adventure in Giant Country, as they battle the other human-munching giants and wind up having tea with the Queen. The unlikely pair become the best of friends, with Sophie and the BFG showing extraordinary consideration for each other and those around them. A master of storytelling with a language all his own, this is a Dahl favourite that human beans will enjoy again and again.

A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle (1962)

Meg Murry and her little brother Charles are on the biggest, most dangerous adventure of their lives as they travel through ‘a wrinkle in time’ searching for their lost father. With everything stacked up against them, can they outwit the cosmic evil forces of darkness using love and empathy to save their family and make it home together? An out-of-this-world mix of fantasy and sci-fi, this is an exciting and empowering classic that encourages readers to see the world in a new way.

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