9th June is Empathy Day - and this year the theme is empathy, our human superpower – a special skill you can develop to transform your life, your relationships and the world itself. Books are a great way to encourage and develop empathy and to support this brilliant initiative we have chosen a selection of our favourite books to inspire empathy in young readers.
Following the success of All Are Welcome, this author/illustrator team have returned with Big Feelings - an uplifting picture book to inspire discussion. I have big feelings. You have them too. How can I help? What can we do? These are big questions about BIG feelings - and a great way for young people to examine their feelings and give them tools to cope with them when things go wrong. There is great emphasis on the importance of working together, understanding one another and accepting differences. BT 3+
The Invisible is a powerful picture book about the effects of poverty, inspired by the author's own experience. Tom Percival said, "The Invisible is a very personal book for me. I grew up in poverty, living in a caravan in rural Shropshire and often felt overlooked and out of place with my jumble-sale clothes and hand-me-down shoes. I’m thrilled that Simon & Schuster are willing to explore topics like this in their picture book list. It’s testament to our shared belief that books can help make the world a better place." And this one certainly does. 3+ 5+ 7+
A sincere, and in no way saccharine, picture book that looks at feelings, loss and empathy through a young child's eyes. Karl Newson's text is simple yet carries a profound message of acceptance and how we all react and display our feelings differently. There are also ideas on how children might be able to support a friend who is feeling sad or worried - all beautifully illustrated by Clara Anganuzzi who has a wonderful talent for drawing animals. 3+ 5+ 7+
The New Girl tackles strong themes of bullying and acceptance in a way young children will understand and empathise with. The children in the new girl's class are unfriendly; they exclude her from their games and are cruel about her unusual clothes, strange lunches and her poor English. Then exquistite paper flowers start appearing in the classroom and in the playground...and the children slowly realise that these things of great skill and beauty are created by the new girl, transforming their attitude towards her. Cathy Fisher's illustrations are beguiling. 5+ 7+
As author Lisa Thompson said, "this year, more than ever, many of us have begun to appreciate the small things in our lives. This is what is at the heart of my story – a reminder to take a moment to appreciate that sometimes the little things are enough." In The Small Things, Anna is asked to befriend the new girl in her class - a child called Ellie, ill at home and using a robot to communicate with her classmates and join in the lessons. No Isolation is an incredible initiative, allowing long-term sick children to attend school - and inspired this story which is oozing with empathy and honesty. 7+ and perfect for dyslexic readers aged 7-9
Based upon the author's own childhood experience of moving to a new land where everything is scary and confusing. Shirley Marr said: “When I arrived in mainland Australia in the 1980s, at the age of seven, I experienced that culture shock of those worlds colliding – both the good, and the bad. I want to see these experiences in books, these Chinese-Australian immigrant voices expressed..." This imaginative novel conveys the emotional and bewildering experience that many migrants meet, especially when language barriers pose further challenges. 9+ 11+
This is a heart-warming and funny debut about families and love in all its forms. Archie is keen to support his father's coming out but struggling with the resulting family split. He wants everyone to be happy! Luckily his friends are there, and their resulting efforts to fix the family are genuinely funny. A wonderfully rewarding book about empathy, compassion and tolerance. 11+
Recently shortlisted for the prestigious CILIP Carnegie Medal, Echo Mountain is celebration of tolerance, acceptance and the power of kindness. Having lost their home in the Great Depression Ellie and her family move to the mountains to begin a new life, a life of challenge and hardship. Following a family trauma Ellie finds friendship in the wild people of the mountain - and a support and love that helps her through adversity. 11+ 13+
George Butler is an award-winning artist and correspondent with a special interest in the war in Syria and the plight of refugees fleeing conflict across the world. Drawn Across Borders is his collection of personal stories and experiences of migrants and refugees he has met on the front line; of migrant camps, what it takes to feel you have no option but leave your home and the hope that a new land will bring you safety and security. This is an excellent resource for exploring the issues of migration - and you can get further insight as George discusses his book on the LoveReading LitFest channel. Key Stage 3 Key Stage 4
This is an absolutely stunning book, part graphic novel, part prose and poetry - it is a feast for the senses. It is also an important portrayal of life for a deaf teenager told through the journal entries of 16 year old Piper as she struggles to fit in at school. Her mum wants her to appear 'normal' and, until she meets Marley, she hasn't learnt sign language. Through her friendship with him she learns Auslan, an Australian sign language - and starts to see a new future for herself. An uplifting coming-of-age story, written and illustrated by Asphyxia, a Deaf artist and an activist and campaigner the rights of Deaf people. 13+ YA
Through a powerful and often heart wrenching poem, Manjeet Mann conveys the story of two teenagers, both struggling with great personal stress. One, Sammy, a refugee recently arrived in the UK - fleeing from forced conscription to the Eritrean army. The other, Natalie, who has just lost her mum to cancer and her world is imploding. The lives of these two lost souls are brought together in an emotional tale of hope and resilience. As the author said “I wanted to make sense of what I was seeing, I wanted to do something that would help build empathy and understanding.” 13+ YA
Sander suffers from a rare syndrome which means he will always be short and, in a school where the loudest and the biggest kids get all the attention, he resigns himself to a life on the periphery. But in a moving story of friendship, and accepting who you are, Sander discovers that life isn't about conforming to stereotypes - and in coming to terms with who you are, life has endless possibilities. You can read some excellent reviews from our Kids Reader Review Panel on the book page. 13+ YA
Visit empathylab.uk for a family activity pack and resources and toolkits for schools and libraries.
And streaming on Thursday 9 June is Empathy Day LIVE! - an amazing online festival starring lots of your favourite authors and illustrators, and is free and open to all. Check out the full line up here.
Read on for a full collection of books to inspire empathy.