The following article comes from primary consultant Kate Heap, who shares five fantastic books both teachers and parents can use to teach empathy.

In 2017, Empathy Lab founded Empathy Day. This year, developing empathy is more important than ever as the entire world is living through incredibly challenging times. In order to support and care for each other, we need to build up our empathy skills.

Empathy is being able to understand or imagine the feelings of others when we haven’t actually had the same experiences ourselves. We don’t have to have gone through something to know how it might feel and to respond in a caring, sensitive manner.

Empathy Day is all about helping children to develop their empathy for others and gain understanding of different experiences and situations. The day focuses on using books to step into someone else’s shoes.  The more we empathise with characters, the more we understand the world around us and can empathise with other people.

On 9 June, Empathy Lab is running online events and activities to help children read, connect and act using empathy.  You can find the full programme of events here:

There is a whole host of Empathy Day Family Activities for children to complete at home, including using art, music and observation skills to explore empathy:

Visit the website for amazing read-alouds by authors of books that help to build empathy!

You can also find guides for a huge collection of books that can be used to develop empathy in children.

Five Fantastic Empathy Books

It’s a No Money Day by Kate Milner

Barrington Stoke

This honest, poignant picture book imparts an important message about the reality of poverty in the UK.

Centred on a little girl and her mother, the reader experiences a “no money day” with them. The daughter shares her happy innocence as she enjoys library books, singing and imaginative play while, in the background, her mother’s sacrifice and hardship is clear. Maybe one day things will get better but, for now, they rely on the kindness of strangers.

The Great Telephone Mix-Up by Sally Nichols & illustrated by Sheena Dempsey

Barrington Stoke

In this funny story of mix-ups for age 5+, the town is in chaos after a storm. The damaged telephone wires have been repaired incorrectly and everyone is receiving the wrong phone calls!

Neighbours find they have to work together to sort it out and, in the process, they learn a lot about the people around them. The result is a community that understands, cares about and helps each other in good times and bad.

This story is incredibly similar to neighbours coming together during lockdown to look after each other and spread happiness.

Owen and the Soldier by Lisa Thompson & illustrated by Mike Lowery

Barrington Stoke

I was drawn in by the very first line, “Everyone has a secret, don’t they?” This beautiful story of friendship, loss and hope brings home the message that we might not know what people are going through.

11-year-old Owen is quiet and doesn’t like to share what he’s thinking. Then, one day, he makes an unlikely friend – the First World War stone soldier in the Remembrance Garden in the park. Everyday, Owen sits with the soldier and begins to find his voice.

Written for age 8+, this touching story is very accessible and suitable for both primary and secondary readers.

Race to the Frozen North by Catherine Johnson & illustrated by Katie Hickey

Barrington Stoke

Race to the Frozen North is the inspiring true story of Matthew Henson. In 1909, he was the first American to reach the North Pole. However, because of the colour of his skin, this great achievement was not recognised for over thirty years.

Readers travel with 11-year-old Matthew as he escapes his abusive childhood in 1909, across seas as he finds work on numerous ships, to when he is given a position with Officer Peary and is invited to join him on his great expeditions to the frozen north. The autobiographical style of this incredible story for age 8+ shows the importance of perseverance and following your dreams. It also demonstrates that just because you achieve something, it may not always be valued.

The importance of respect and equality hits home and readers gain insight into the injustices that exist in our world.

Sequin and Stitch by Laura Dockrill

Barrington Stoke – August 2020

Sequin and Stitch is a wonderful story of family, dreams and home. It is overflowing with empathy for the struggles and joys faced by so many children.

9-year-old Sequin’s mum is her hero and inspiration. She is fiercely loyal to her mum and immensely proud of all she does as a seamstress. Partly inspired by the Grenfell Tower tragedy, readers are taken on an emotional journey with Sequin’s family as they find a way forward together.

This beautiful story has a reading age of 8 but an interest level of 8-12. Laura Dockrill has not shied away from challenging, age-appropriate themes and is respectful of her readers’ ability to deal with issues such as poverty, bullying and loss.

This Empathy Day, and every day, take time to share these wonderful stories with the children in your life. Challenge them to try to step into someone else’s shoes and see things from a new point of view. This is the first step in building a community of understanding, caring and respect.


Kate Heap

Kate Heap is an experienced Primary English Consultant from Leeds. She is passionate about helping children to be inspired in their learning through adventure and imagination. Kate is also an author for teachers with her book, Reading the Classics at Key Stage Two, to be published in 2020.

Read more from Kate on her blog, Scope for Imagination, and follow her on Twitter –  @KateHeap1.

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