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What is empathy; why is it important; and how can books help? #ReadForEmpathy

Today is Empathy Day; a day founded by EmpathyLab to focus on the importance of building real life empathy skills in children and young people through literature. But what is empathy; why is it such an important skill for children to develop; and how can books help?

What is empathy?

Often confused with sympathy, empathy is the ability to understand and accept someone's thoughts, feelings and emotions. Whereas sympathy is to commiserate or perhaps feel bad about someone else's loss or misfortune, empathy goes further than this; it is to take another perspective as if stepping into their shoes. 

In order to empathise, a child must not only learn to accept and understand but also to place value on other people and their perspectives. And to do so they must first feel accepted and understood themselves. 

Why is empathy important?

Today's young people are growing up in a society largely lacking in empathy. The population of the UK is becoming increasingly diverse, yet hate crimes are on the up. It is crucial that future generations hone these skills as, not only is empathy important for a healthy society to function, it is also central to being human.

12 books about empathy

Here are our top reading choices for championing diversity and helping young readers develop empathy:

  1. I am Human: A Book of Empathy by Susan Verde and Peter H Reynolds, published by Abrams Books for Young Readers. We love the series of books from this team: I am Yoga; I am Peace; and I am Human. This book beautifully affirms that with empathy and compassion comes hope for a better future.
  2. The Last Chip by Duncan Beedie, published by Templar.
  3. Super Duper You by Sophy Henn and published by Puffin Books. This bold, colourful, rhyming story aimed at children around 3-5 years old is a celebration of all the things that make us unique. A must read for preschoolers.
  4.  Elmer by David Mckee and published by 
  5. Wonder by R.J Palacio and published by Puffin.
  6. We're All Wonders by R.J Palacio and published by Puffin.
  7. Freddie & the Fairy by Julia Donaldson and Karen George, published by Macmillan. A story of a little fairy who can't hear very well and how her friend Freddie learns to help her. This has been read over and over again in our house as two of the Mini Reviewers have had hearing difficulties.
  8. The Smartest Giant in Town by Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler, published by Macmillan. The story of a kind giant who goes out of his way to help others.
  9. Odd Dog Out by Rob Biddulph and published by Harper Collins. A bright picture book aimed at children around 3 years old and upwards about a little sausage dog who doesn't fit in. But she soon comes to realise that standing out is perhaps better!
  10. How to be a Lion by Ed Vere and published by Puffin Books.
  11. It's a No-Money Day by Kate Milner and published by Barrington Stoke. With the increasing need of foodbanks to feed society's most vulnerable here in the UK, this book is an essential read for all children.
  12. My name is not refugee by Kate Milner and published by Barrington Stoke. Written from the perspective of a child refugee, this book is another important read for all children.
All 12 of these books can be found in our online Amazon Store here.*

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<img src="Empathy Day Images.png" alt="empathy day illustrations">


EmpathyLab founded in 2014, is a not-for-profit CIC and the organiser of Empathy Day. It produces annual reading lists suggesting the best literature for helping children develop their empathy skills together with resources to be used together. You can find out more about Empathy Day here.

Until next time... HAPPY READING!
Kate & the Mini Reviewers xx

<img src="Books for Empathy.png" alt="wonders empathy childrens books">

*Please note that this post contains Amazon Affiliate links, you can find out more about what this means here.


  1. So many get sympathy and empathy confused. This is a lovely selection of books to help explain those feelings. Thanks for coming back to #readwithme

  2. I've had Wonder on my TBR list for a while since my son read it at school, but not got round to it yet, but we re-read The Smartest Giat in Town and the Elmer books lots of times when my boys were small #readwithme

  3. Empathy is definitely important for children, but it is something that takes them a long time to learn. How lovely that there are so many books that can help children to learn from such a young age. We used to love The Smartest Giant in Town when my kids were little.

  4. These sound like awesome books! I can definitely see how these can help children build empathy. #readwithme

  5. Empathy helps to build a new world together!