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11 Books to Help Encourage Empathy in Your Kid

My children are a gift to me, and I hope to raise them in such a way that they are also a gift to this world. At 2 and 10 they are exemplifying behaviors that reflect the values most important to my husband and me.

One of the things I've always tried to do is provide them with opportunities to see other people (including me) model kindness and show empathy. Sometimes these are real life people and other times they are characters in a movie or, even better, a book. Here are a few books that can support you in raising (more) empathetic children.

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1. "Baby Be Kind"

When someone falls down, help them up.

Whether it's saying "hi" or sharing a snack, this book helps teach our tiniest humans how to be kind by giving them concrete examples you can model to the tune of simple language and sweet images.

Memorable quote from the book: "When someone falls down, help them up."

2. "A Chair for My Mother"

This darling story is about a girl who diligently saves her coins, along with her mother and grandmother, so that they can purchase a chair after their family had lost everything they had in a fire. Although their neighbors, friends and family brought them replacement furniture (which speaks to the gift of community) they still wanted a comfortable chair to rest in.

Memorable quote from the book: "The family across the street brought a table and three kitchen chairs. The very old man next door gave us a bed from when his children were little. My other grandpa brought us his beautiful rug."

3. "Wonder" (one of my all-time favorites)

This is a wonderful book to read alongside your older child. The story is touching and allows the reader to see things through the eyes of the various characters beginning with August. August is a child with facial deformities, which resulted in him being home-schooled until fifth grade, the grade he begins public school. This story is a testament to the power of the human heart and its ability to, unlike our eyes, see beyond the surface.

Memorable quote from the book: " ... your deeds are like your monuments. Built with memories instead of stone."

4. "The Giving Tree"

I have mixed feelings about "The Giving Tree." I've heard both sides of the debate with regards to this book: how the boy took from the tree until there was nothing left and all the tree could offer was herself in the form of a stump. And maybe that's the beautiful part. The tree that loved a boy so much that she gave as if there were no limits like so many of us parents do even when it's difficult or hurts a little bit.

Memorable quote from the book: "'Well,' said the tree, straightening herself up as much as she could, 'well, an old stump is good for sitting and resting. Come, Boy, sit down. Sit down and rest.' And the boy did. And the tree was happy."

5. "The Invisible Boy"

Friendships have the ability to make us come alive.

This book is a reminder of the gift it can be to be seen. It can literally change the course of someone's day or even life to have someone acknowledge their existence. Friendships have the ability to make us come alive and flourish in a way that we might not have, should we remain isolated.

Memorable (and heartbreaking) quote from the book: "And the kids laugh. All of them, that is, except Brian. He sits there wondering which is worse—being laughed at or feeling invisible."

6. "The Story of Ferdinand"

Despite being the biggest bull, Ferdinand is most content being calm and smelling flowers, rather than engaging in the behaviors of the other bulls. His mother would sometimes worry about him but he was happy. And because of that, she didn't try to convince him to do or be something different.

Memorable quote from the book: "His mother saw that he was not lonesome, and because she was an understanding mother, even though she was just a cow, she let him just sit there and be happy."

7. "The One and Only Ivan"

A touching story about growth and seeing things differently, the book addresses concepts such as accountability to one another, being an agent of change and using your gifts to help you create it (for Ivan his art was a tool that helped shed light on the poor treatment the animals at the mall were subjected to.).

Memorable quote from the book: "A good zoo," Stella said, "is a large domain. A wild cage. A safe place to be. It has room to roam and humans who don't hurt." She pauses, considering her words. "A good zoo is how humans make amends."

8. "The Day the Crayons Quit"

Everyone has limits, even crayons. This book is hilarious but perhaps it will remind you to listen intently to both words and non verbal cues. The black crayon is perfect for outlining, but he longed to do more than that. And the red crayon was quite weary from all that coloring.

Memorable quote from the book: "I even work on holidays. I have to color all the Santas at Christmas and all the hearts on Valentine's Day! I need a rest! Your overworked friend, Red Crayon"

9. "Brown Girl Dreaming"

This memoir provides a glimpse into history for an African American girl growing up in the 1960s and '70s but it also tugs at the heart strings of the reader. "Brown Girl Dreaming" is so many things, including a beautiful reminder of the power of our stories and the universal feeling of wanting to belong.

Memorable quote from the book: "May, I am thinking, there is something hidden like this in all of us. A small gift from the universe waiting to be discovered."

10. "Inside Out and Back Again"

Shouldn't people share because there is hunger?

This beautifully written book covers various emotions and concepts ranging from grief and loss, hope, love, acceptance and resilience. It's about Hà's experience of immigrating due to war from the home that she knew and loved to Alabama.

Memorable quote from the book: "Mother says, People share when they know they have escaped hunger. Shouldn't people share because there is hunger?"

11. "Beautiful Oops!"

It's a visually appealing reminder that not only is it OK to make a mistake, but also that sometimes something quite wonderful can come from it.

Memorable quote from the book: "When you think you have made a mistake, think of it as an opportunity to make something beautiful!"

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There are so many amazing books that can help you cultivate a spirit of kindness and compassion in children. If you have any favorites please share them in the comments section.

Image via Krishann Briscoe

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