Let’s talk (or read) about kindness and empathy. My biggest defense of the importance of reading has always been that it teaches empathy and provides a safe place to experience the world around us. Children and young adults are in as much need of these types of stories as anyone, and access to stories which instill empathy and kindness is vital. If you’re in need of suggestions that inspire kindness or empathy, hopefully this will be a good starting place.
Below, there are recommendations for PICTURE BOOKS, MIDDLE GRADE, and YOUNG ADULT. Scroll to the section that best fits the recommendations you need.
• BE KIND by Pat Zietlow Miller, illustrated by Jen Hill
Publisher’s Summary: When Tanisha spills grape juice all over her new dress, her classmate wants to make her feel better, wondering: What does it mean to be kind? From asking the new girl to play to standing up for someone being bullied, this moving story explores what kindness is, and how any act, big or small, can make a difference—or at least help a friend.
Suggested Reading Age: PreK-Grade 2 | Roaring Brook Press / MacMillan
• THE BIG UMBRELLA by Amy June Bates, cowritten with Juniper Bates
Publisher’s Summary: By the door there is an umbrella. It is big. It is so big that when it starts to rain there is room for everyone underneath. It doesn’t matter if you are tall. Or plaid. Or hairy. It doesn’t matter how many legs you have. Don’t worry that there won’t be enough room under the umbrella. Because there will always be room. Lush illustrations and simple, lyrical text subtly address themes of inclusion and tolerance in this sweet story that accomplished illustrator Amy June Bates cowrote with her daughter, Juniper, while walking to school together in the rain.
Suggested Reading Age: PreK-Grade 2 | Paula Wiseman Books / Simon & Schuster
• BOO WHO by Ben Clanton
Publisher’s Summary: A shy little ghost who’s new to the group has trouble fitting in — until his special talent comes to the fore. Boo is new. And even if the other kids are welcoming, it can be scary being new, especially for a shy ghost who can’t play any of their games. (“You tagged me? Oh, sorry. I couldn’t feel it.”) Can Boo find a way to fit in and make friends with the rest of the group? From the creator of Rex Wrecks It! comes a funny story about feeling invisible — and finding a way to be seen and appreciated for who you are.
Suggested Reading Age: PreK-Grade 1 | Candlewick Press
• HORTON HEARS A WHO by Dr. Seuss
Publisher’s Summary: Everyone’s favorite elephant stars in this heartwarming and timeless story for readers of all ages. In the colorful Jungle of Nool, Horton discovers something that at first seems impossible: a tiny speck of dust contains an entire miniature world–Who-ville–complete with houses and grocery stores and even a mayor! But when no one will stand up for the Whos of Who-ville, Horton uses his elephant-sized heart to save the day. This tale of compassion and determination proves that any person, big or small, can choose to speak out for what is right.
Suggested Reading Age: K-Grade 2 | Random House Children’s Books
• I WALK WITH VANESSA by Kerascoët
Publisher’s Summary: This simple yet powerful picture book tells the story of one girl who inspires a community to stand up to bullying. Inspired by real events, I Walk with Vanessa explores the feelings of helplessness and anger that arise in the wake of seeing a classmate treated badly, and shows how a single act of kindness can lead to an entire community joining in to help. By choosing only pictures to tell their story, the creators underscore the idea that someone can be an ally without having to say a word. With themes of acceptance, kindness, and strength in numbers, this timeless and profound feel-good story will resonate with readers young and old.
Suggested Reading Age: PreK-Grade 2 | Schwartz & Wade / Penguin Random House
• LAST STOP ON MARKET STREET by Matt de la Pena, pictures by Christian Robinson
Publisher’s Summary: Every Sunday after church, CJ and his grandma ride the bus across town. But today, CJ wonders why they don’t own a car like his friend Colby. Why doesn’t he have an iPod like the boys on the bus? How come they always have to get off in the dirty part of town? Each question is met with an encouraging answer from grandma, who helps him see the beauty—and fun—in their routine and the world around them.
Suggested Reading Age: K-Grade 2 | G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers / Penguin Random House
• THE LION & THE MOUSE by Jerry Pinkney
Publisher’s Summary: In this wordless adaptation of one of Aesop’s most beloved fables by an award-winning artist, an unlikely pair learns that no act of kindness is ever wasted. With vivid depictions of the landscape of the African Serengeti and expressively drawn characters, Pinkney makes this a truly special retelling.
Suggested Reading Age: PreK-Grade 3 | Walker & Company Books
• PLANT A KISS by Amy Krouse Rosenthal, illustrated by Peter H. Reynolds
Publisher’s Summary: Little Miss planted a kiss… One small act of love blooms into something bigger and more dazzling than Little Miss could have ever imagined in this epic journey about life, kindness, and giving. Amy Krouse Rosenthal and Peter H. Reynolds team together to share a message of hope and to remind us all of the joys to be gained from being open and unselfish.
Suggested Reading Age: PreK-Grade 1 | HarperCollins
• THE RABBIT LISTENED by Cori Doerrfeld
Publisher’s Summary: When something sad happens, Taylor doesn’t know where to turn. All the animals are sure they have the answer. The chicken wants to talk it out, but Taylor doesn’t feel like chatting. The bear thinks Taylor should get angry, but that’s not quite right either. One by one, the animals try to tell Taylor how to act, and one by one they fail to offer comfort. Then the rabbit arrives. All the rabbit does is listen . . . which is just what Taylor needs. With its spare, poignant text and irresistibly sweet illustration, The Rabbit Listened is about how to comfort and heal the people in your life, by taking the time to carefully, lovingly, gently listen.
Suggested Reading Age: PreK-K | Dial Books / Penguin Random House
• A SICK DAY FOR AMOS MCGEE by Philip C. Stead, illustrated by Erin E. Stead
Publisher’s Summary: Friends come in all sorts of shapes and sizes. In Amos McGee’s case, all sorts of species, too! Every day he spends a little bit of time with each of his friends at the zoo, running races with the tortoise, keeping the shy penguin company, and even reading bedtime stories to the owl. But when Amos is too sick to make it to the zoo, his animal friends decide it’s time they returned the favor.
Suggested Reading Age: K-Grade 2 | Roaring Brook Press / MacMillan
• STICK AND STONE by Beth Ferry, illustrated by Tom Lichtenheld
Publisher’s Summary: When Stick rescues Stone from a prickly situation with a Pinecone, the pair becomes fast friends. But when Stick gets stuck, can Stone return the favor? Author Beth Ferry makes a memorable debut with a warm, rhyming text that includes a subtle anti-bullying message even the youngest reader will understand. New York Times bestselling illustrator Tom Lichtenheld imbues Stick and Stone with energy, emotion, and personality to spare.
Suggested Reading Age: PreK-Grade 1 | Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
• STRICTLY NO ELEPHANTS by Lisa Mantchev, illustrated by Taeeun Yoo
Publisher’s Summary: Today is Pet Club day. There will be cats and dogs and fish, but strictly no elephants are allowed. The Pet Club doesn’t understand that pets come in all shapes and sizes, just like friends. Now it is time for a boy and his tiny pet elephant to show them what it means to be a true friend. Imaginative and lyrical, this sweet story captures the magic of friendship and the joy of having a pet.
Suggested Reading Age: K-Grade 2 | Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers
• THE BFG by Roald Dahl
Publisher’s Summary: Kidsnatched from her orphange by a BFG (Big Friendly Giant), who spends his life blowing happy dreams to children, Sophie concocts a plan with him to save the world from nine other man-gobbling cannybull giants. The BFG is no ordinary bone-crushing giant; he is far too nice. How he and his tiny friend, Sophie, conspire to put an end to the loathsome activities of the other Giants is marvelously told by Roald Dahl.
Suggested Reading Age: Grades 3-5 | Scholastic
• EL DEAFO by Cece Bell
Publisher’s Summary: Going to school and making new friends can be tough. But going to school and making new friends while wearing a bulky hearing aid strapped to your chest? That requires superpowers! In this funny, poignant graphic novel memoir, author/illustrator Cece Bell chronicles her hearing loss at a young age and her subsequent experiences with the Phonic Ear, a very powerful—and very awkward—hearing aid. The Phonic Ear gives Cece the ability to hear—sometimes things she shouldn’t—but also isolates her from her classmates. She really just wants to fit in and find a true friend, someone who appreciates her as she is. After some trouble, she is finally able to harness the power of the Phonic Ear and become “El Deafo, Listener for All.” And more importantly, declare a place for herself in the world and find the friend she’s longed for.
Suggested Reading Age: Grades 3-6 | Abrams
• FEATHERS by Jacqueline Woodson
Publisher’s Summary: “Hope is the thing with feathers” starts the poem Frannie is reading in school. Frannie hasn’t thought much about hope. There are so many other things to think about. Each day, her friend Samantha seems a bit more “holy.” There is a new boy in class everyone is calling the Jesus Boy. And although the new boy looks like a white kid, he says he’s not white. Who is he? During a winter full of surprises, good and bad, Frannie starts seeing a lot of things in a new light—her brother Sean’s deafness, her mother’s fear, the class bully’s anger, her best friend’s faith and her own desire for “the thing with feathers.” Jacqueline Woodson once again takes readers on a journey into a young girl’s heart and reveals the pain and the joy of learning to look beneath the surface.
Suggested Reading Age: Grades 4-7 | G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers / Penguin Random House
• FRONT DESK by Kelly Yang
Publisher’s Summary: Mia Tang has a lot of secrets: Number 1: She lives in a motel, not a big house. Every day, while her immigrant parents clean the rooms, ten-year-old Mia manages the front desk of the Calivista Motel and tends to its guests. Number 2: Her parents hide immigrants. And if the mean motel owner, Mr. Yao, finds out they’ve been letting them stay in the empty rooms for free, the Tangs will be doomed. Number 3: She wants to be a writer. But how can she when her mom thinks she should stick to math because English is not her first language? It will take all of Mia’s courage, kindness, and hard work to get through this year. Will she be able to hold on to her job, help the immigrants and guests, escape Mr. Yao, and go for her dreams?
Suggested Reading Age: Grades 4-6 | Scholastic
• GENESIS BEGINS AGAIN by Alicia D. Williams
Publisher’s Summary: There are ninety-six things Genesis hates about herself. She knows the exact number because she keeps a list. And when your dad is a gambling addict and loses the rent money every month, eviction is a regular occurrence. What’s not so regular is that this time they all don’t have a place to crash, so Genesis and her mom have to stay with her grandma. But things aren’t all bad. Genesis actually likes her new school; she’s made a couple friends, her choir teacher says she has real talent, and she even encourages Genesis to join the talent show. But how can Genesis believe anything her teacher says when her dad tells her the exact opposite? How can she stand up in front of all those people with her dark, dark skin knowing even her own family thinks lesser of her because of it? Why, why, why won’t the lemon or yogurt or fancy creams lighten her skin like they’re supposed to? And when Genesis reaches #100 on the list of things she hates about herself, will she continue on, or can she find the strength to begin again?
Suggested Reading Age: Grades 5-8 | Simon & Schuster
• MS. BIXBY’S LAST DAY by John David Anderson
Publisher’s Summary: Everyone knows there are different kinds of teachers. The boring ones, the mean ones, the ones who try too hard, the ones who stopped trying long ago. The ones you’ll never remember, and the ones you want to forget. Ms. Bixby is none of these. She’s the sort of teacher who makes you feel like school is somehow worthwhile. Who recognizes something in you that sometimes you don’t even see in yourself. Who you never want to disappoint. What Ms. Bixby is, is one of a kind. Topher, Brand, and Steve know this better than anyone. And so when Ms. Bixby unexpectedly announces that she won’t be able to finish the school year, they come up with a risky plan—more of a quest, really—to give Ms. Bixby the last day she deserves. Through the three very different stories they tell, we begin to understand what Ms. Bixby means to each of them—and what the three of them mean to each other.
Suggested Reading Age: Grades 4-6 | Walden Pond / HarperCollins
• NUMBER THE STARS by Lois Lowry
Publisher’s Summary: As the German troops begin their campaign to “relocate” all the Jews of Denmark, Annemarie Johansen’s family takes in Annemarie’s best friend, Ellen Rosen, and conceals her as part of the family. Through the eyes of ten-year-old Annemarie, we watch as the Danish Resistance smuggles almost the entire Jewish population of Denmark, nearly seven thousand people, across the sea to Sweden. The heroism of an entire nation reminds us that there was pride and human decency in the world even during a time of terror and war.
Suggested Reading Age: Grades 4-7 | Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
• RAIN REIGN by Ann M. Martin
Publisher’s Summary: Rose Howard is obsessed with homonyms. She’s thrilled that her own name is a homonym, and she purposely gave her dog Rain a name with two homonyms (Reign, Rein), which, according to Rose’s rules of homonyms, is very special. Not everyone understands Rose’s obsessions, her rules, and the other things that make her different – not her teachers, not other kids, and not her single father. When a storm hits their rural town, rivers overflow, the roads are flooded, and Rain goes missing. Rose’s father shouldn’t have let Rain out. Now Rose has to find her dog, even if it means leaving her routines and safe places to search.
Suggested Reading Age: Grades 4-6 | Feiwel & Friends / MacMillan
• SAME SUN HERE by Silas House and Neela Vaswani
Publisher’s Summary: Pen pals Meena and River have a lot in common: fathers forced to work away from home to make ends meet, grandmothers who mean the world to them, and faithful dogs. But Meena is an Indian immigrant girl living in New York City’s Chinatown, while River is a Kentucky coal miner’s son. With honesty and humor, Meena and River (each voice distinctly articulated by a separate gifted author) bridge the miles between them, creating a friendship that inspires bravery and defeats cultural misconceptions.
Suggested Reading Age: Grades 4-7 | Candlewick
• THE WAR THAT SAVED MY LIFE by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley
Publisher’s Summary: Ten-year-old Ada has never left her one-room apartment. Her mother is too humiliated by Ada’s twisted foot to let her outside. So when her little brother Jamie is shipped out of London to escape the war, Ada doesn’t waste a minute—she sneaks out to join him. So begins a new adventure for Ada, and for Susan Smith, the woman who is forced to take the two kids in. As Ada teaches herself to ride a pony, learns to read, and watches for German spies, she begins to trust Susan—and Susan begins to love Ada and Jamie. But in the end, will their bond be enough to hold them together through wartime? Or will Ada and her brother fall back into the cruel hands of their mother?
Suggested Reading Age: Grades 4-6 | Dial Books / Penguin Random House
• WISHTREE by Katherine Applegate
Publisher’s Summary: Trees can’t tell jokes, but they can certainly tell stories. . . . Red is an oak tree who is many rings old. Red is the neighborhood “wishtree”—people write their wishes on pieces of cloth and tie them to Red’s branches. Along with a crow named Bongo and other animals who seek refuge in Red’s hollows, this wishtree watches over the neighborhood. You might say Red has seen it all. Until a new family moves in. Not everyone is welcoming, and Red’s experience as a wishtree is more important than ever. Funny, deep, warm, and nuanced, this is Katherine Applegate at her very best—writing from the heart, and from a completely unexpected point of view.
Suggested Reading Age: Grades 4-8 | Feiwel & Friends / MacMillan
• WONDER by R.J. Palacio
Publisher’s Summary: August Pullman was born with a facial difference that, up until now, has prevented him from going to a mainstream school. Starting 5th grade at Beecher Prep, he wants nothing more than to be treated as an ordinary kid—but his new classmates can’t get past Auggie’s extraordinary face. Wonder begins from Auggie’s point of view, but soon switches to include his classmates, his sister, her boyfriend, and others. These perspectives converge in a portrait of one community’s struggle with empathy, compassion, and acceptance.
Suggested Reading Age: Grades 4-7 | Penguin Random House
YOUNG ADULT + TEEN
• AMERICAN BORN CHINESE by Gene Luen Yang
Publisher’s Summary: Jin Wang starts at a new school where he’s the only Chinese-American student. When a boy from Taiwan joins his class, Jin doesn’t want to be associated with an FOB like him. Jin just wants to be an all-American boy, because he’s in love with an all-American girl. Danny is an all-American boy: great at basketball, popular with the girls. But his obnoxious Chinese cousin Chin-Kee’s annual visit is such a disaster that it ruins Danny’s reputation at school, leaving him with no choice but to transfer somewhere he can start all over again. The Monkey King has lived for thousands of years and mastered the arts of kung fu and the heavenly disciplines. He’s ready to join the ranks of the immortal gods in heaven. But there’s no place in heaven for a monkey. Each of these characters cannot help himself alone, but how can they possibly help each other? They’re going to have to find a way—if they want fix the disasters their lives have become.
Suggested Reading Age: Grades 7+ | First Second Books / Macmillan
• THE BOOK THIEF by Markus Zusak
Publisher’s Summary: When Death has a story to tell, you listen. It is 1939. Nazi Germany. The country is holding its breath. Death has never been busier, and will become busier still. Liesel Meminger is a foster girl living outside of Munich, who scratches out a meager existence for herself by stealing when she encounters something she can’t resist–books. With the help of her accordion-playing foster father, she learns to read and shares her stolen books with her neighbors during bombing raids as well as with the Jewish man hidden in her basement.
Suggested Reading Age: Grades 8+ | Random House Children’s Books
• CHALLENGER DEEP by Neal Shusterman
Publisher’s Summary: A captivating, National Book Award-winning novel about mental illness that lingers long beyond the last page. Caden Bosch is on a ship that’s headed for the deepest point on Earth: Challenger Deep, the southern part of the Marianas Trench.
Caden Bosch is a brilliant high school student whose friends are starting to notice his odd behavior.
Caden Bosch is designated the ship’s artist in residence to document the journey with images.
Caden Bosch pretends to join the school track team but spends his days walking for miles, absorbed by the thoughts in his head.
Caden Bosch is split between his allegiance to the captain and the allure of mutiny.
Caden Bosch is torn.
Suggested Reading Age: Grades 9+ | HarperCollins
• THE CURIOUS INCIDENT OF THE DOG IN THE NIGHT-TIME by Mark Haddon
Publisher’s Summary: Christopher John Francis Boone knows all the countries of the world and their capitals and every prime number up to 7,057. He relates well to animals but has no understanding of human emotions. He cannot stand to be touched. And he hates the color yellow. The improbable story of Christopher’s quest as he investigates the suspicious death of a neighborhood dog makes for one of the most captivating, unusual, and widely heralded novels in recent years.
Suggested Reading Age: Grades 9+ | Penguin Random House
• ELEANOR & PARK by Rainbow Rowell
Publisher’s Summary: Set over the course of one school year in 1986, this is the story of two star-crossed misfits-smart enough to know that first love almost never lasts, but brave and desperate enough to try. When Eleanor meets Park, you’ll remember your own first love-and just how hard it pulled you under.
Suggested Reading Age: Grades 9+ | St. Martin’s Press / MacMillan
• THE FAULT IN OUR STARS by John Green
Publisher’s Summary: Despite the tumor-shrinking medical miracle that has bought her a few years, Hazel has never been anything but terminal, her final chapter inscribed upon diagnosis. But when a gorgeous plot twist named Augustus Waters suddenly appears at Cancer Kid Support Group, Hazel’s story is about to be completely rewritten. Insightful, bold, irreverent, and raw, The Fault in Our Stars brilliantly explores the funny, thrilling, and tragic business of being alive and in love.
Suggested Reading Age: Grades 9+ | Dutton Books / Penguin Random House
• THE HATE U GIVE by Angie Thomas
Publisher’s Summary: Sixteen-year-old Starr Carter moves between two worlds: the poor neighborhood where she lives and the fancy suburban prep school she attends. The uneasy balance between these worlds is shattered when Starr witnesses the fatal shooting of her childhood best friend Khalil at the hands of a police officer. Khalil was unarmed. Soon afterward, his death is a national headline. Some are calling him a thug, maybe even a drug dealer and a gangbanger. Protesters are taking to the streets in Khalil’s name. Some cops and the local drug lord try to intimidate Starr and her family. What everyone wants to know is: what really went down that night? And the only person alive who can answer that is Starr.
Suggested Reading Age: Grades 8+ | HarperCollins
• TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD by Harper Lee
Publisher’s Summary: A gripping, heart-wrenching, and wholly remarkable tale of coming-of-age in a South poisoned by virulent prejudice, it views a world of great beauty and savage inequities through the eyes of a young girl, as her father—a crusading local lawyer—risks everything to defend a black man unjustly accused of a terrible crime.
Suggested Reading Age: Grades 8+ | HarperCollins
• THE LINES WE CROSS by Randa Abdel-Fattah
Publisher’s Summary: Michael likes to hang out with his friends and play with the latest graphic design software. His parents drag him to rallies held by their anti-immigrant group, which rails against the tide of refugees flooding the country. And it all makes sense to Michael. Until Mina, a beautiful girl from the other side of the protest lines, shows up at his school, and turns out to be funny, smart — and a Muslim refugee from Afghanistan. Suddenly, his parents’ politics seem much more complicated. Mina has had a long and dangerous journey fleeing her besieged home in Afghanistan, and now faces a frigid reception at her new prep school, where she is on scholarship. As tensions rise, lines are drawn. Michael has to decide where he stands. Mina has to protect herself and her family. Both have to choose what they want their world to look like.
Suggested Reading Age: Grades 9+ | Scholastic
• MARCH: BOOK ONE by John Lewis and Andrew Aydin, illustrated by Nate Powell
Publisher’s Summary: March is a vivid first-hand account of John Lewis’ lifelong struggle for civil and human rights, meditating in the modern age on the distance traveled since the days of Jim Crow and segregation. Rooted in Lewis’ personal story, it also reflects on the highs and lows of the broader civil rights movement. Book One spans John Lewis’ youth in rural Alabama, his life-changing meeting with Martin Luther King, Jr., the birth of the Nashville Student Movement, and their battle to tear down segregation through nonviolent lunch counter sit-ins, building to a stunning climax on the steps of City Hall.
Suggested Reading Age: Grades 8+ | Penguin Random House
• NIGHT by Elie Wiesel
Publisher’s Summary: Night is Elie Wiesel’s masterpiece, a candid, horrific, and deeply poignant autobiographical account of his survival as a teenager in the Nazi death camps. Night offers much more than a litany of the daily terrors, everyday perversions, and rampant sadism at Auschwitz and Buchenwald; it also eloquently addresses many of the philosophical as well as personal questions implicit in any serious consideration of what the Holocaust was, what it meant, and what its legacy is and will be.
Suggested Reading Age: Grade 8+ | MacMillan
• SPEAK by Laurie Halse Anderson
Publisher’s Summary: From the first moment of her freshman year at Merryweather High, Melinda knows this is a big fat lie, part of the nonsense of high school. She is friendless, outcast, because she busted an end-of-summer party by calling the cops, so now nobody will talk to her, let alone listen to her. As time passes, she becomes increasingly isolated and practically stops talking altogether. Only her art class offers any solace, and it is through her work on an art project that she is finally able to face what really happened at that terrible party: she was raped by an upperclassman, a guy who still attends Merryweather and is still a threat to her. Her healing process has just begun when she has another violent encounter with him. But this time Melinda fights back, refuses to be silent, and thereby achieves a measure of vindication.
Suggested Reading Age: Grades 9+ | Farrar, Straus and Giroux / MacMillan