A Mighty Girl's top picks of empathy-building picture books for kids!
Many parents find themselves worrying about the state of the world today: it seems all to easy to find stories about cruelty, prejudice, and selfishness. But the truth is that small acts of kindness happen around us every day — and anyone, no matter how young, can help make the world a better place through their thoughtful actions. In fact, when children are encouraged to see things from another's point of view, and shown how their actions can help lift others up, they are often the most compassionate of all. So if you want a more empathetic world in the future, the best way to achieve it is by teaching our kids how much you value being kind!
To help instill this important value in children, in this blog post, we've collected a variety of picture books that explore compassion and empathy from many perspectives. These books capture the power of a moment of kindness to change a life for the better, as well as the sense of purpose and pride that can come from helping someone. Most importantly, these books teach kids that you don't have to perform a heroic act to make the world a better place: even small acts of kindness ripple across the world in ways that no one could expect. They're an excellent way to show young children that their empathy and compassion really can make a difference!
For more empathy-building Mighty Girl books for all ages, visit our Kindness & Compassion Book Collection.
Mighty Girl Books About Kindness and Empathy
After seeing a classmate spill grape juice all over her new dress — and struggling to find the words that will help her feel better — the young narrator wonders: what does it really mean to be kind? She realizes that it means many things, from being welcoming to a new child to standing up when someone is being bullied. She also discovers that even small acts of kindness can make a difference and contemplates how kindness can spread, envisioning a chain of kind acts that stretch "all the way... around the world." This contemplative look at kindness encourages kids to explore the meaning of kindness along with her narrator and gives children many concrete ideas of how they can be kind in their day-to-day lives.
Beloved author Amy Krouse Rosenthal takes the phrase “to plant a kiss” and makes it literal when the Little Miss of this book plants a real kiss in the ground. After tending it carefully — lots of sunshine and water — a glittering sprout grows. Now Little Miss is going to share the kiss she planted with the whole wide world! This beautiful conceptual book about kindness, generosity, and love is a reminder that simple gestures can grow far beyond the giver — and that anyone can be the one to start something that leads to “eternal bliss.”
Anna and her grandmother have been working on a very special surprise. Day after day, in secret, they’ve been curled up together with a book in hand, puzzling out the letters and words... all so that, on Anna’s father’s birthday, Grandma can stand up and read a story to her son for the very first time. While Eve Bunting's story communicates a powerful message about literacy, the stronger theme is the power of Anna's relationship with her grandmother — and the empathy that allows her to understand that teaching Grandma to read will be the greatest gift she can give to both her father and her grandmother.
A tiny sea snail is stuck on a rock, wishing she could travel to amazing places. When a humpback whale passes, he offers her a spot on his tail — the perfect vantage point for a journey of adventure! But when the whale gets stranded on a beach after being distracted by speedboats, what is a snail to do? Write a message on a blackboard so that everyone comes to help her friend! This celebration of an unusual friendship also serves as a reminder that kindness is often repaid with kindness — and that someone small can start a big movement for change.
When Stellaluna the fruit bat is knocked out of her mother's protective embrace during an owl's attack, she finds herself in a bird's nest — and her world is turned upside down. The mother bird and her babies are happy to take Stellaluna in, but no matter how hard she tries, she can't get used to sleeping right-side-up or eating bugs. When she is reunited with her mother, she excitedly tries to show her bird friends what it's like to be a bat — and now it's their turn to feel out of place. But in the end, it doesn't matter, Stellaluna says: "We're friends. And that's a fact." This charming story encourages kids to see things from another's point of view and reminds them to be accepting of differences.
A little girl becomes a hero to a vulnerable wolf cub in this touching wordless picture book. When a blizzard whips up on her way home from school, the girl is concentrating on getting home... until she spots the cub, who is far to little to survive alone. So, fearlessly, the girl takes the cub over streams and past other dangers to return it to its mother. And when it turns out that the long walk has left the girl in her own predicament, the wolf pack comes together to return the favor. Fascinating details in the expressive illustrations provide enticement to reread this charming story over and over.
Vanessa's first day at a new school is a little lonely, but on the way home, things get worse. A boy shouts at her, and she runs home upset — and one of her classmates sees the whole thing. Both girls are heartbroken, but the bystander realizes there are ways she can help... and the next morning, she invites Vanessa to walk to school alongside her. This wordless picture book's expressive images capture the helplessness that kids can feel when they see someone being bullied, as well as the power of simple acts of kindness and the strength that comes from standing together.
A little girl's father is distracted by errands and pays her little attention as she finds colorful wildflowers nestled into the cracks and crevices of the pavement. Her hands are soon bursting with flowers, and she starts to give her treasured blooms away — to a man sleeping on a bench, to a friendly dog, and to her mother and siblings when they finally arrive home. By the time the story ends, her small acts of kindness have brought color and joy to the whole neighborhood. This gorgeous, emotionally powerful wordless picture book celebrates how a girl's quiet observations of those around her motivates her kind act.
Mrs. Goldman and Sophia make a great team: Mrs. Goldman knits hats for everyone in the neighborhood, and Sophie helps out by making the pom-poms. But then Sophia realizes that winter is here — and Mrs. Goldman doesn't have a hat herself! No matter how hard Sophia tries to knit a hat for her friend, she ends up with lumpy, uneven stitches and a hat full of holes. Fortunately, Sophia finds a creative solution so she can still return Mrs. Goldman's many kindnesses with one of her own. Kids will smile as Sophia dedicates herself to finding a way thank you to her beloved friend.
Young Tashi has a problem “like a snake with its tail in its mouth.” Her mother, who supports the family by picking tea leaves under the eye of a cruel overseer, has fallen ill and is too sick to work — but they can’t afford a doctor because her mother isn’t working. Tashi tries to pick tea herself, but she’s too small to reach the tender leaves. But when Tashi retreats to the place where she feeds the local monkeys, something extraordinary happens — and Tashi discovers that her kindness toward the monkeys has been reciprocated beyond her wildest dreams. This lovely fable stars a Mighty Girl who is both compassionate and resilient.
In Sally's neighborhood, there is an old lady who has a knack for making everyone feel special. She says hello when she meets you walking your dog; she admires your costumes at Halloween; and at Christmas she invites you in to see her beautiful Christmas tree (and maybe have a Christmas treat!) And every season, she has a gift to give: a flower from her carefully tended garden. This beautiful tale of an intergenerational friendship celebrates the strong relationships that kindness helps to grow.
This popular book uses the metaphor of invisible buckets to describe self-esteem. Author Carol McCloud teaches kids that people feel good when the bucket is full and sad or angry when it’s empty. By showing how you can “fill” a bucket (through kindness, compassion, and appreciation of others) or “dip” from a bucket (by being mean or exclusionary), kids can easily understand how their actions affect others’ emotions. Younger kids can learn about bucket filling in Fill A Bucket: A Guide to Daily Happiness for Young Children for ages 2 to 6, while older kids can expand on the lessons with Growing Up With A Bucket Full of Happiness: Three Rules for a Happier Life for ages 8 and up.
Young Annabelle's box of extra yarn seems never ending: her monochrome town ends up colorful and bright as she knits clothing for everyone around her — people, pets, and even objects get a warm new coat and a new outlook! In fact, the town has never been so happy. But when a greedy archduke tries to buy — and then steal — the box of extra yarn for himself, he may discover that the magic of the extra yarn isn't in what it can do for; it's what it lets you do for others. This quirky story, with its expressive and hilarious illustrations which won a Caldecott Honor, celebrates the power of how one person's kindness can transform a community.
The most amazing thing about kindness is how it ripples out beyond the original act! Mary finds a patch of blueberries on her way home, and decides to pick some for Mrs. Bishop. Mrs. Bishop in turn makes blueberry muffins that she gives to five people — one of whom helps five more, and then one of those helps five more... Before long, a variety of kindnesses, some with a small impact and some with a huge one, are creating a change that extends worldwide. It's a lovely testament to how little acts of compassion and kindness have big potential for the entire world.
The Depression has made money tight, so Lydia Grace Finch is sent to the city to stay with her cantankerous Uncle Jim as a way to ease her family's burdens. When she comes, though, she brings something unusual: a suitcase full of seeds. With them, she brightens Uncle Jim's bakery and delights neighbors with the bright flowers she grows. But her masterpiece — one she hopes might even get a smile from Uncle Jim — is an ambitious rooftop garden, full of blooms. Lydia Grace tells her story in a series of letters, which give kids a window into how she's feeling, and kids will enjoy seeing how her simple but powerful good deed transforms those around her.
In a tiny village in the American Southwest, Doña Flor is a beloved neighbor: the giant woman lets children use her flowers as trumpets and her leftover tortillas as rafts! She also loves to read, and often gathers the children around for a story. When a terrible noise like a bellowing animal scares the villagers, Doña Flor is determined to protect her friends — so with the help of her animal companions, she sets off to solve the mystery of the terrifying sound. This original tall tale, full of beautiful watercolor illustrations, celebrates a giant woman with an even bigger heart!
It's the midst of the Great Depression, and Hannah's father has lost his job, so the family has moved to rural Minnesota. But in her new school, Hannah is the only Jewish child in her class — which poses an immediate obstacle when the class picnic is scheduled for Saturday. Hannah can't ride in a car on the Sabbath, but how can she miss this chance to form some desperately needed friendships? Fortunately, when Hannah tells her teacher her dilemma, she discovers that her class is more than happy to do whatever it takes to make sure she can attend! This sweet, empathetic story will inspire young readers to consider how they can help new arrivals in their own community feel accepted.
Best friends Sofia and Maddi live in the same neighborhood and attend the same school, but when Sofia looks for a snack in Maddi's fridge one day, she is shocked to discover that her friend Maddi spends many of her days hungry. Maddi makes Sofia promise not to tell, but it's hard for Sofia to enjoy all the good food on her own family's table when she knows Maddi's family has none. It turns out, sometimes the kindest thing to do is to break a promise. This book about food insecurity provides a model for empathetic and compassionate friendship with a person in need.
After seeing stories full of hate and fear on the news, a little girl wonders what she can do to make the world a better place. "Come with me," says her father, and shows her how friendly greetings on that subway can make people feel happy and welcome on their commute; "come with me," says her mother, and shows her how their diverse community comes together at the local grocers. Finally, the little girl is ready to try herself: "come with me," she says to the boy next door while walking the family dog, and together, the two kids see how small actions make a big difference. This hopeful book provides a powerful reminder that each of us can do our part to create a kinder, more accepting world.
Chloe and her friends won’t play with Maya, who wears hand-me-down clothes and plays with old toys; eventually, Maya stops asking, and soon after, Maya moves away. But when Chloe’s teacher invites her students to think about how small kindnesses might affect the world in unexpected ways, Chloe has a revelation — she can’t think of a single time that she was kind to Maya, and now that Maya is gone, the opportunity to offer her even a small kindness is gone forever. However, the book also ends with a positive implication: if everyone resolves to extend kindness to everyone they meet, the ripples will extend around the world. For a powerful chapter book for ages 6 to 10 that addresses similar themes, we also recommend the beloved classic The Hundred Dresses.
Hattie McFadden loves paddling her canoe out on the lake every morning, singing a song as she goes. One day, though, a huge mysterious beast emerges to listen to her song! Hattie looks into the creature's friendly, curious eyes and knows that this is no monster, even if the town is terrified. How can she make the frightened, hostile townspeople see that Hudson isn't scary or dangerous at all? Chris Van Dusen brings his colorful, perspective-bending artwork to this satisfying story about acceptance, friendship, and sticking up for those who are different.
Miss Wichelman’s fifth grade class is all about turning life’s lemons into lemonade. But when Traci learns that her best friend Marilyn has leukemia, and will have to undergo chemotherapy, it’s hard to see how to make the best of that. When Marilyn is ready to return to class, she’s nervous about how everyone will react to her now-bald head — until she learns that Traci, and every other student in the class, have done something to make sure Marilyn won’t stick out. This touching story will remind kids that hair is just hair, but understanding and supporting a friend is precious.
Additional Recommended Resources
- For more books for all ages about the importance of helping others, visit our Kindness & Compassion Collection.
- For an excellent parenting book about how to raise empathetic kids, check out UnSelfie: Why Empathetic Kids Succeed in Our All-About-Me World.
- For books that encourage acceptance of differences, visit our blog post Standing Together: Mighty Girl Books Celebrating Diversity and Acceptance.