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Celebrate Empathy Day! 19 Books that Teach Empathy

in: Children's books

Today, we celebrate the first ever Empathy Day! And we are especially pleased because The Wooden Camel has been selected for the Read for Empathy Guide put together by Empathy Lab UK. Written by Wanuri Kahiu and Manuela Adreani, this is a story about the hopes and dreams of Etabo, a young boy who longs to be a camel racer. The Read for Empathy Guide lists 21 ‘must-reads’ endorsed by Nicolette Jones, the children’s book reviewer for The Sunday Times. You can download the Guide for free from the Empathy Lab’s website!

What is Empathy Day?

Empathy Day is ‘a platform to emphasise the importance of empathy in our divided world, and raise awareness of the power of stories to develop it.’ Books help children ‘lay strong foundations for resisting prejudice and intolerance,’ Miranda McKearney, founder of Empathy Day, states in a press release. These claims are supported by neuroscientific research that ‘shows that the emotions we feel for characters wires our brains to have the same sort of sensitivity towards real people.’

19 Books: Our favourite books that teach empathy

We were so inspired by Empathy Day that we created our own list! These books are close to the hearts of Lantana’s authors, illustrators, and staff.

Wanuri Kahiu recommends Tinga Tinga Tales: Why Giraffe Has a Long Neck by Claudia Lloyd and Edward Gakuya and Elmer by David McKee: ‘Why Giraffe Has a Long Neck is a beautiful story of friendship and how all animals of different sorts come together to help a friend in need. It is kind, compassionate and funny. We love reading it. We also love reading about Elmer who always seems a little different, but his difference is embraced and accepted. It is a beautiful book on friendship and love.’

Manuela Adreani recommends The Story of a Seagull and The Cat Who Taught Her to Fly by Luis Sepúlveda: ‘The sweet story of a cat that promises to care for the egg of a dying seagull. The empathy and love that the cat has for the baby seagull succeeds in engaging everyone – cats and humans – in teaching the little seagull how to fly.’

Abi Elphinstone recommends The Diddakoi by Rumer Godden: ‘Kizzy is a Diddakoi – a halfgypsy – and after her beloved grandmother dies, she finds herself victim to bullying, prejudice and hatred within the community. This is a book that champions outsiders, celebrates the beauty of vanishing cultures and upholds the values of compassion, courage and acceptance.’

Sharanya Manivannan recommends The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros: ‘Such a lovely book that encourages looking at people around you and seeing how we are interconnected.’

Gill Lewis recommends Small Finds a Home by Karin Celestine: ‘I love this book because it is about the power of simple acts of kindness. It is a story of how offering friendship without judgment or expectation enriches all our lives.’

Tutu Dutta recommends The Adventures of Beebo and Friends by Malaysian author Brigitte Rozario and Tan Vay Fern: ‘This is a series of five books (for ages 5-9) about a boisterous and fun-loving boy and his friends, who sometimes gets into scrapes. I chose these books because they teach young readers values such as empathy in a fun and engaging way.’

Mahtab Narsimhan recommends Last Stop on Market Street by Matt de la Peña: ‘I think it’s a wonderful story that shows readers how to appreciate what they have instead of wanting what they do not. Some lines in there are priceless, and are not just for kids. Adults can appreciate the subtle message, too!’

Joyce Chng recommends Accessing the Future edited by Djibril Al-Ayad and Kathryn Allan: ‘It is an anthology of speculative fiction that examines disability. Great for medical professionals and people who would want to learn more.’

Keilly Swift recommends Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White and Frog and the Stranger by Max Velthuijs: ‘Teaching my baby girl that friends come in all shapes, sizes and shade!’

Geraldine McCaughrean recommends 4 books!: The Girl in Between by Sarah Carroll takes us inside the life of a woman who has sunk as low as life can take you and the child she took there with her. Love That Dog by Sharon Creech made me weep for a little boy who has lost his dearest possession. Island by Nicky Singer is about empathy temporarily mislaid between mother and son and discovered between man and animals. Little Bits of Sky by S.E. Durrant lets a reader experience how it feels to have no one permanent in your life, the damage it does and the healing possible when someone comes along who is prepared to show unqualified tenderness.’

Nadine Kaadan recommends Sky Blue Accident by Piet Grobler: ‘Such a creative and poetic children’s book!’

Katrina Gutierrez recommends Migrant by Maxine Trottier and Isabelle Arsenault: ‘My pick is a sweet story about a family of harvest labourers – Menonnites from Mexico who travel to Canada every spring – that uses imaginative metaphors to express the migrant child’s feelings, longings and optimism. They are migratory geese, then a litter of kittens cuddling for warmth, then a hive of worker bees. A clever and gentle way to encourage compassion for labouring migrants.’

Alice Curry recommends Shine by Filipino author Candy Gourlay: ‘I picked Shine because it is a book about accepting difference in other people but more importantly in ourselves. A gentle, sensitive novel that acknowledges our limitations but above all celebrates our immense capacity to love.’

And of course, we recommend The Wooden Camel!

This is what Empathy Lab has to say about why they recommend this book: ‘Everyone has dreams, and this story of a Turkana boy who longs to be a camel racer will resonate with children everywhere. Readers will empathise with the kind-hearted siblings desperate to find a way to make their youngest brother happy.’ 

Happy Empathy Day, everyone! We hope you enjoy these books as much as we do.