Read for empathy this Empathy Day

Empathy Day was started by Empathy Lab to harness the power of books to help children learn about, experience and practise empathy. This year, it’s taking place on 10th June, and the theme is walking in someone else’s shoes. 

Empathy is something that we learn – and keep on learning! – throughout our lives. It’s an essential life skill that helps us build strong relationships and is a key factor in our wellbeing. Stories are a great way to nurture empathy because they invite readers of all ages to step into the shoes of characters, and to understand and share their feelings.

To help you celebrate Empathy Day in your school, we’ve picked some of our favourite books that will help you inspire your children to take a walk in someone else’s shoes.

Key Stage 1

Picture books are a powerful way to introduce young children to big ideas and new perspectives. Here are our top empathy-boosting picture book picks:

Tibble and Grandpa cover

Tibble and Grandpa
Written by Wendy Meddour and illustrated by Daniel Egneus
Age 2+

Offering a way into talking about death with children without a religious framework, this is a reassuring intergenerational story of love and resilience. In the story, Grandad is grieving for Granny and hides away in his garden. He needs time, but he also needs love. Tibble is full of love and shows Grandad that remembering the people we love can be a wonderful, funny, and poignant thing.

Find out more about Tibble and Grandpa.

Bear Shaped cover

Bear Shaped
Written and illustrated by Dawn Coulter-Cruttenden
Age 2+

An inspiring story about learning to let go, Bear Shaped is inspired by the true story of Jack and his beloved best friend Bear. One day, Bear disappears and Jack suddenly feels all alone with a big Bear-shaped hole in his heart. Word soon gets around that Bear is missing and Jack starts to receive kind messages from strangers all over the world. Then toy bears start to arrive. Though the bears start to heal Jack’s sadness, none of them are his bear. Perhaps there is something he can do with them to help other people with bear-shaped holes?

Find out more about Bear Shaped.

Key Stage 2

Age-appropriate fiction is an accessible way to help children connect to diverse experiences and see things from other people’s perspectives. Here are some reading recommendations to help older primary readers build their real-life empathy skills:

Emmy Levels Up cover

Emmy Levels Up
Written by Helen Harvey
Age 8–12 

Lots of children will be able to connect to this sensitively-handled tale that tackles bullying through a positive story about gaming. Online, Emmy is a star gamer with fans who love to watch her videos. At school, she is friendless and bullied. Vanessa, AKA the Queen of Mean, has decided that Emmy is a weirdo with bad handwriting, horrible fashion sense, and no dad. Can Emmy level up, join forces with some new friends, and beat the bullies? 

Find out more about Emmy Levels Up.

TreeTops Reflect
Age 8–11

TreeTops Reflect is a thought-provoking series written by top children’s authors and developed by literacy expert and Series Editor Nikki Gamble. Packed full of positive moral values and role-models, it includes empathy-boosting stories about adapting to change, dealing with disappointment, family relationships, caring friendships, and more. Each story can be mapped to the Relationships Education guidance, and includes discussion and reflection points to help you start important empathy conversations in your classroom.

Here are our top three TreeTops Reflect recommendations: 

Geeks Can't Dance cover

Geeks Can’t Dance
Oxford Level 16

There are two things in life that Keisha gets completely head-over-heels-excited about: her favourite band and science facts. Incredibly, there’s a chance the band might visit her school, if she and her friends can raise the money. But there’s also a science competition that has just been announced, and the winner gets to visit NASA. There’s not enough time to do both. Faced with choosing between her friends and her passion, what is Keisha going to do? 

Sign up to receive a free kindness-themed lesson plan for Geeks Can’t Dance here.

Double Exposure cover

Double Exposure
Oxford Level 17 

Martin ends up partnered with spiky Sophia for a photography project, but it’s when he learns more about her life, and her role as a carer for her mum, that he discovers they can find a way to work together and he starts to see things from a different angle. 

Adam's Diary cover

Adam’s Diary: A Refugee’s Story
Oxford Level 19 

A powerful, uplifting and moving story that puts the reader in the shoes of Adam, a refugee struggling to adapt to his new life in England. This story will help children to understand and empathise with the experience of refugees living in the UK, as well as exploring developing respectful relationships. 

Find out more about the TreeTops Reflect series

You can read more about the power of reading for empathy and the importance of teaching empathy in the classroom in our earlier blog posts:

The power of reading for empathy

Exploring Empathy: the importance of teaching empathy in the classroom – Miranda Mckearney OBE