Kindness Matters: 11 Diverse Children’s Books that Teach Kindness and Empathy

Helping Kids Rise
Feb 27, 2018 · 8 min read
Illustration by E.B. Lewis from Jacqueline Woodson’s book “Each Kindness”

Kindness: the quality of being friendly, generous, and considerate.

Empathy: the ability to understand and share the feelings of another.

One small act of kindness can change the world and one book can be the spark that ignites that act of kindness. Kindness and empathy are one of the greatest needs in our world and thankfully these skills can be taught. These amazing books featuring diverse characters, teach children how being kind can really change the world.

“Try to be the rainbow in someone else’s cloud.” ~Dr. Maya Angelou

Those Shoes by Maribeth Boelts, Illustrated by Noah Z. Jones: All Jeremy wants is a pair of those shoes, the ones everyone at school seems to be wearing. Though Jeremy’s grandma says they don’t have room for “want,” just “need,” when his old shoes fall apart at school, he is more determined than ever to have those shoes, even a thrift-shop pair that are much too small.

But sore feet aren’t much fun, and Jeremy soon sees that the things he has — warm boots, a loving grandma, and the chance to help a friend — are worth more than the things he wants. (Ages 5–8)

Lost and Found Cat by Doug Kuntz & Amy Shrodes, Illustrated by Sue Cornelison: This heartwarming true story about one lost cat’s journey to be reunited with his refugee family gently introduces children to a difficult topic and shows how ordinary people can help with compassion and hope.

When an Iraqi family is forced to flee their home, they can’t bear to leave their beloved cat, Kunkush, behind. So they carry him with them from Iraq to Greece, keeping their secret passenger hidden away.

But during the crowded boat crossing to Greece, his carrier breaks and the frightened cat runs from the chaos. In one moment, he is gone. After an unsuccessful search, his family has to continue their journey, leaving brokenhearted.

A few days later, aid workers in Greece find the lost cat. Knowing how much his family has sacrificed already, they are desperate to reunite them with the cat they love so much. A worldwide community comes together to spread the word on the Internet and in the news media, and after several months the impossible happens — Kunkush’s family is found, and they finally get their happy ending in their new home.

This remarkable true story is told by the real people involved, with the full cooperation of Kunkush’s family. (Ages 4–8)

Stand Tall Molly Lou Mellon by Patty Lovell, Illustrated by David Catrow: Be yourself like Molly Lou Melon no matter what a bully may do.

Molly Lou Melon is short and clumsy, has buck teeth, and has a voice that sounds like a bullfrog being squeezed by a boa constrictor. She doesn’t mind. Her grandmother has always told her to walk proud, smile big, and sing loud, and she takes that advice to heart.

But then Molly Lou has to start in a new school. A horrible bully picks on her on the very first day, but Molly Lou Melon knows just what to do about that. (Ages 4–8)

Each Kindness by Jacqueline Woodson, Illustrated by E.B. Lewis: Each kindness makes the world a little better

This unforgettable book is written and illustrated by the award-winning team that created The Other Sideand the Caldecott Honor winner Coming On Home Soon. With its powerful anti-bullying message and striking art, it will resonate with readers long after they’ve put it down.

Chloe and her friends won’t play with the new girl, Maya. Every time Maya tries to join Chloe and her friends, they reject her. Eventually Maya stops coming to school. When Chloe’s teacher gives a lesson about how even small acts of kindness can change the world, Chloe is stung by the lost opportunity for friendship, and thinks about how much better it could have been if she’d shown a little kindness toward Maya. (Ages 5–8)

You Hold Me Up by Monique Gray Smith, Illustrated by Danielle Daniel: This vibrant picture book, beautifully illustrated by celebrated artist Danielle Daniel, encourages children to show love and support for each other and to consider each other’s well-being in their everyday actions.

Award-winning author Monique Gray Smith wrote You Hold Me Up to prompt a dialogue among young people, their care providers and educators about reconciliation and the importance of the connections children make with their friends, classmates and families. This is a foundational book about building relationships, fostering empathy and encouraging respect between peers, starting with our littlest citizens. (Ages 3–6)

Sumi’s Frist Day of School Ever by Soyung Pak , Illustrated by Joung Un Kim: The first day of school can be lonely and scary, especially when you don’t speak the same language as everyone else. Sumi only knows one phrase in English, “Hello, my name is Sumi.” This doesn’t seem nearly enough to prepare her for a big school with wide stairs, noisy children, and a mean classmate.

From the author of the Ezra Jack Keats Award winner Dear Juno comes this thoughtful picture book about a young Korean girl on her first day of school. Beautiful, expressive illustrations show how a considerate teacher and even a new friend help Sumi discover that school might not be so lonely after all. (Ages 3–5)

The Invisible Boy by Trudy Ludwig, Illustrated by Patrice Barton: A simple act of kindness can transform an invisible boy into a friend…

Meet Brian, the invisible boy. Nobody ever seems to notice him or think to include him in their group, game, or birthday party . . . until, that is, a new kid comes to class.

When Justin, the new boy, arrives, Brian is the first to make him feel welcome. And when Brian and Justin team up to work on a class project together, Brian finds a way to shine.

From esteemed author and speaker Trudy Ludwig and acclaimed illustrator Patrice Barton, this gentle story shows how small acts of kindness can help children feel included and allow them to flourish. Any parent, teacher, or counselor looking for material that sensitively addresses the needs of quieter children will find The Invisible Boy a valuable and important resource. Includes back matter with discussion questions and resources for further reading. (Ages 6–9)

Wonder by R.J. Palacio: I won’t describe what I look like. Whatever you’re thinking, it’s probably worse.

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, now a #1 New York Times bestseller and included on the Texas Bluebonnet Award master list, 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.

In a world where bullying among young people is an epidemic, this is a refreshing new narrative full of heart and hope. R.J. Palacio has called her debut novel “a meditation on kindness” — indeed, every reader will come away with a greater appreciation for the simple courage of friendship. Auggie is a hero to root for, a diamond in the rough who proves that you can’t blend in when you were born to stand out. (Ages 8–12)

Wishtree by Katherine Applegate: 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 her crow friend 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 (and “different”) family moves in. Not everyone is welcoming, and Red’s experiences as a wishtree are more important than ever. This story reminds readers that there comes a time when they must step out of their comfort zones and take action by standing up for what is right. (Ages 8–12)

Out of My Mind by Sharon Draper: Eleven-year-old Melody is not like most people. She can’t walk. She can’t talk. She can’t write. All because she has cerebral palsy. But she also has a photographic memory; she can remember every detail of everything she has ever experienced. She’s the smartest kid in her whole school, but NO ONE knows it. Most people — her teachers, her doctors, her classmates — dismiss her as mentally challenged because she can’t tell them otherwise. But Melody refuses to be defined by her disability. And she’s determined to let everyone know it…somehow.

From multiple award-winning author Sharon Draper comes a story that will forever change how we all look at anyone with a disability, perfect for fans of RJ Palacio’s Wonder. (Ages 10 and up)

Save Me a Seat by Sara Weeks, Illustrated by Gita Varadarajan: Joe and Ravi might be from very different places, but they’re both stuck in the same place: SCHOOL.
Joe’s lived in the same town all his life, and was doing just fine until his best friends moved away and left him on his own.

Ravi’s family just moved to America from India, and he’s finding it pretty hard to figure out where he fits in.
Joe and Ravi don’t think they have anything in common — but soon enough they have a common enemy (the biggest bully in their class) and a common mission: to take control of their lives over the course of a single crazy week. (Ages 9–12)


Helping Kids Rise is on a mission to improve the lives of children and the people who love them through literacy, education, and social justice awareness. We do this by highlighting diverse and inclusive children’s books and resources that promote education, literacy, and social justice awareness. We also partner with schools, families, and children’s advocacy organizations to promote access to children’s books for under-served and underrepresented communities. To learn more or to partner with us, connect with us on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook, and our website: www.helpingkidsrise.org.


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Diverse childrens books recommendations to encourage growth, inclusiveness, and understanding