Teaching empathy through books is fun for the whole family.

Good Books to Teach Preschoolers Empathy

by Esther Carlstone

Helping children develop empathy is one of the most valuable lessons a parent can teach. Preschoolers are at the perfect age to start learning to walk in another person's shoes as they will soon be sitting in classrooms filled with all kinds of people -- some similar and some different. Reading books together that highlight compassionate characters, or sharing tales that model empathy, is an effective way to open up a discussion about this important trait and what it really means.

1. Good News, Bad News

"Good News, Bad News" by Jeff Mack uses only the four words in the title to illustrate the tale of a rabbit and a mouse who are attempting to have a picnic when bad things keep happening to them. Unfortunately, all of the "bad news" happens to Mouse until he gets fed up, yells at Rabbit and makes him cry. Mouse then feels bad, and by being empathetic, ends up sharing "good news" with Rabbit to make him feel better. By seeing how the Mouse reacts to his friend who is sad, kids will learn what it is to feel empathy for others.

2. Fly Away Home

"Fly Away Home" is a story by Eve Bunting that features a homeless family who lives in an airport. While the subject matter may be bleak for preschoolers, it's an effective way for them to practice empathy as you ask them how they would feel if they didn't have enough to eat or to imagine if this were their family. By thinking as if they were in someone else's shoes, both kids and parents will get to practice their empathetic skills.

3. Sumi's First Day of School Ever

"Sumi's First Day of School Ever" by Soyoung Park depicts the first day of school for a little girl who doesn't speak English. The children are not always nice to her, and she beings to feel that school is a scary and lonely place. Preschoolers will be able to exercise their own empathy when asked how they would feel in such a situation and what they would do to help Sumi feel more welcome.

4. Sam's New Friend

"Sam's New Friend" by Thierry Robberecht is the tale of Sam, who only befriends boys because he thinks they are strong. Then he meets Ellie, whose parents are getting divorced, and Sam learns just how tough girls can be and makes a friend for life. Kids will particularly relate to the scene in which Sam finds Ellie crying and comforts her. This illuminating book will help you initiate a talk about feelings and empathy with preschoolers.

5. Hey, Little Ant

Phillip and Hannah Hoose's "Hey, Little Ant" is an age-appropriate book to start teaching young children about perspective and empathy. Following in the tradition of Aesop's fables, this parable involves an ant about to be squished, and the child about to squish him. As readers follow the conversation between the ant, who pleads "You are very much like me," and the child, "But all my friends squish ants all day," they'll learn that not everything is as simple as it seems. The open-ended question at the end, "What do you think that kid should do?" is the perfect way to start a lively family discussion.

About the Author

Esther Carlstone is a writer and editor based in Los Angeles. She covers parenting, style, health, food and design and writes for sites such as Mom.me, Savvy Sassy Moms, Spoonful, BabyZone, iVillage, ModernMom and Weekly Sauce. She received a Bachelor of Arts in English from UCLA.

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