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Build your children's empathy with the 2020 Read for Empathy book collection

I Do Not Like Books Anymore!, Lubna and Pebble, Pie in the Sky

EmpathyLab's annual book collection is specially selected by an expert panel to help children aged 4-11 develop an understanding of different life experiences and issues. Empathy Day is on 9 June 2020, so there's plenty of time to give them a read.

Picture books and poetry

Julian is a Mermaid, by Jessica Love

"While riding the subway home with his Nana one day, Julian notices three women spectacularly dressed up. Their hair billows in brilliant hues, their dresses end in fishtails, and their joy fills the train carriage.

"When Julian gets home, daydreaming of the magic he's seen, all he can think about is dressing up just like the ladies and making his own fabulous mermaid costume. But what will Nana think about the mess he makes - and even more importantly - what will she think about how Julian sees himself?"

Lubna and Pebble, by Wendy Meddour & Daniel Egnéus

"Lubna's best friend is a pebble. Lubna tells Pebble everything. About home. About the war. Pebble always listens to her stories and smiles when she feels afraid. But one day, when a little boy arrives, alone in a world of tents, Lubna poignantly understands that he needs Pebble even more than she does."

Super Duper You, by Sophy Henn

"I've known you since you started. I've seen a thing or two - or three or four or five or six! In fact, I've seen a few.

"Sometimes we are loud, sometimes we are quiet, sometimes bold and clanky, sometimes soft and cuddly. Sophy Henn celebrates all the different, extraordinary and sometimes contradictory things we are in this joyful and colourful rhyming picture book. Perfect to read aloud - and then read again, and again!"

Polonius the Pit Pony, by Richard O'Neill & Feronia Parker Thomas

"In this tale by Romani storyteller Richard O'Neill, a pit pony meets a group of horses who pull caravans for Travellers. Enchanted by their way of life, he escapes from the mine and joins them. Due to his small size, Polonius struggles to adjust to his new job. He is determined not to let down his new family. Can he find a use for the skills he learned from his past in the pits?

"A heartwarming story about respect and new starts."

The Rabbit Listened, by Cori Doerrfeld

"When something terrible happens, Taylor doesn't know where to turn. All the animals are sure they have the answer. The chicken wants to talk it out, but Taylor doesn't feel like chatting. The bear thinks Taylor should get angry, but that's not quite right either. One by one, the animals try to tell Taylor how to process this loss, and one by one they fail. Then the rabbit arrives. All the rabbit does is listen, which is just what Taylor needs.

"Whether read in the wake of tragedy or as a primer for comforting others, this is a deeply moving and unforgettable story sure to soothe heartache of all sizes."

The Truth About Old People, by Elina Ellis

"When you're small, everybody bigger than you seems really old. But does being older have to mean being boring, or slow, or quiet? NO! Elina Ellis' wonderful illustrations reveal that the age you are makes no difference to how amazing you can be.

When Sadness Comes to Call, by Eva Eland

"When Sadness arrives, try not to be afraid: give it a name, listen to it and spend some time together. Maybe all it wants is to know that it's welcome.

"This beautiful debut by new author-illustrator talent Eva Eland takes a poignant but uplifting look at dealing with uncomfortable emotions."

All About Feelings, by Felicity Brooks, Frankie Allen & Mar Ferrero

"How are you feeling today? This lively and engaging exploration of emotions helps young children learn to answer this important question. Topics covered include learning to describe feelings, how your feelings can change, and being kind to yourself. There are helpful notes for grown-ups at the back too and links to websites for more advice."

It's a No-Money Day, by Kate Milner

"Mum works really hard, but today there is no money left and no food in the cupboards. Forced to visit the local foodbank, Mum feels ashamed that they have to rely on the kindness of others, but her young daughter can still see all the good in her day like reading and drawing, and even the foodbank. Maybe one day things will be different but for now together they brighten up even the darkest of days."

The Noisy Classroom, by Ieva Flamingo & Vivianna Meria Staņislavska

Translated by Žanete Vēvere Pasqualini, Sara Smith & Richard O'Brien.

"It isn't easy being a kid, especially not in the noisiest class in the school. Some days, you struggle with algebra, or too much homework. Sometimes, one of your fellow pupils just won't SHUT UP. And sometimes, the hardest thing is just trying to fit in.

"When the class feels like a many-headed dragon, how can you find a place for yourself? Would you feel less lonely if you could smuggle a cat in? And when your parents are fighting, don't you find yourself looking into other people's windows on the walk back home?"

Hopscotch in the Sky, by Lucinda Jacob & Lauren O'Neill

"Full colour, illustrated and hardback poetry book containing poetry on all the seasons for young readers. It includes poems about nature, the landscape, the weather and children's experiences of the seasons from ice-creams to Christmas trees."

I Do Not Like Books Anymore!, by Daisy Hirst

"Natalie is learning to read. 'Now I can read all the stories in the world,' she says. 'And you can read them to me!' adds little brother Alphonse. But when Natalie tries to read all by herself for the first time, the letters look like squiggles, and she isn't so sure any more."

Mum's Jumper, by Jayde Perkin

"If Mum has gone, how do you carry on? Missing her feels like a dark cloud that follows you around, or like swimming to a shore that never comes any nearer. But memories are like a jumper that you can cuddle and wear. And Mum’s jumper might be a way to keep her close.

"A simple, heartfelt and ultimately uplifting book for anyone coping with loss."

The Steves, by Morag Hood

"When Steve meets Steve, neither can believe it. Surely one of them must be the first Steve, the best Steve, the Stevest Steve... The claims of each puffin become sillier and sillier as the argument descends into name-calling – until both Steves realise there’s really no need to fall out over a name.

"The feuding puffins perfectly reflect the sort of silly arguments children have – and The Steves shows just how pointless they are."

Ravi's Roar, by Tom Percival

"Most of the time Ravi can control his temper but, one day, he lets out the tiger within. Being a tiger is great fun at first - tigers can do ANYTHING they want! But who wants to play with a growling, roaring, noisy, wild tiger who won't share or play nicely? Ravi is about to discover something very important about expressing his feelings and making amends.

"A clever and engaging book about temper tantrums, dealing with emotions and learning to express and understand your feelings. The perfect book for helping with bad days and noisy outbursts."

No Longer Alone, by Joseph Coelho & Robyn Wilson-Owen

"Told through the voice of a little girl who is lavelled as quiet and shy, No Longer Alone follows her tumult of emotions as she navigates the world around her. But when she finally shares her feelings and tells her dad all the things that are worrying her, she no longer feels so alone.

"This touching picture book subtly deals with big emotions such as loss, with an uplifting and hopeful message about being yourself and the importance of family and talking about worries."

Novels and graphic novels

Pie in the Sky, by Remy Lai

"When Jingwen moves to Australia, he feels like he’s landed on Mars. School is torture, making friends is impossible, since he doesn’t speak English, and he's stuck looking after his (extremely irritating) little brother, Yanghao.

"To distract himself from the loneliness, Jingwen daydreams about making all the cakes on the menu of the bakery his father had planned to open before he unexpectedly passed away. The only problem is his mother's rule: no using the oven while she's at work.

"As Jingwen and Yanghao bake more elaborate cakes, they'll have to cook up more elaborate excuses to keep their baking a secret - and continue the dream their father started."

Me and Mrs Moon, by Helen Bate

"Maisie and Dylan love Mrs Moon. She picks them up from school every day and they have great fun together. But then things start to get strange: a coat without sleeves, old socks as Christmas decorations, a missing dog, an imaginary folk band... The children want to help, but what should they do for the best?

"Love, loyalty and resilience shine through this powerful graphic story of two children determined to help their friend."

The Last Human, by Lee Bacon

"In the future, robots have eliminated humans, and 12-year-old robot XR_935 is just fine with that. Without humans around, there is no war, no pollution, no crime. Every member of society has a purpose. Everything runs smoothly and efficiently. Until the day XR discovers something impossible: a human girl named Emma.

"Now, Emma must embark on a dangerous voyage with XR and two other robots in search of a mysterious point on a map. But how will they survive in a place where rules are never broken and humans aren't supposed to exist? And what will they find at the end of their journey?

"Humorous, action-packed, and poignant, The Last Human tells a story about friendship, technology, and challenging the status quo no matter the consequences."

Ghost, by Jason Reynolds

"Running. That's all Ghost (real name Castle Cranshaw) has ever known. But Ghost has been running for the wrong reasons - until he meets Coach, an ex-Olympic Medallist who sees something in Ghost: crazy natural talent. If Ghost can stay on track, literally and figuratively, he could be the best sprinter in the city. Can Ghost harness his raw talent for speed, or will his past finally catch up to him?"

Check Mates, by Stewart Foster

"Felix is struggling at school. His ADHD makes it hard for him to concentrate and his grades are slipping. Everyone keeps telling him to try harder, but no one seems to understand just how hard he finds it.

"When Mum suggests Felix spends time with his grandfather, Felix can’t think of anything worse. Granddad hasn’t been the same since Grandma died. Plus he’s always trying to teach Felix boring chess. But sometimes the best lessons come in the most unexpected of places, and Granddad soon shows Felix that there’s everything to play for."

Two Sides, by Polly Ho-Yen

"Lula and Lenka are best friends and total opposites – Lula is a Dog Person and Lenka is a Cat Person; Lula is super messy and Lenka is neat and tidy; Lula likes talking to people and Lenka likes watching people – but together they make the perfect pair. Until The Day that Everything Goes Wrong... and suddenly the girls are no longer friends.

"What started as a day like any other ends with Lula and Lenka ignoring each other and sitting on opposite sides of the classroom. As the days go by Lula makes a new friend who talks almost as much as she does, while Lenka just plays on her own. In spite of feeling lonely, neither one is prepared to listen or forgive … or to say sorry. Will it be this way forever?

"A thoughtful story exploring friendship and the importance of listening and keeping an open mind."

Planet Omar: Accidental Trouble Magnet, by Zanib Mian & Nasaya Mafaridik

"Welcome, readers, to the imaginative brain of Omar! You might not know me yet, but once you open the pages of this book you’ll laugh so hard that snot will come out of your nose (plus you might meet a dragon and a zombie - what more could you want?).

"My parents decided it would be a good idea to move house AND move me to a new school at the same time. As if I didn’t have a hard enough time staying out of trouble at home, now I’ve also got to try and make new friends. What’s worse, the class bully seems to think I’m the perfect target.

"At least Eid’s around the corner which means a feast (YAY) and presents (DOUBLE YAY). Well, as long as I can stay in Mum and Dad’s good books long enough..."

The Closest Thing to Flying, by Gill Lewis

"Present day: Semira doesn't know where to call home. She and her mother came to England when she was four years old, brought across the desert and the sea by a man who has complete control. Always moving on, always afraid of being caught, she longs for freedom.

"1891: Hen knows exactly where to call home. Her stifling mother makes sure of that. But her Aunt Kitty is opening her eyes to a whole new world. A world of animal rights, and votes for women, and riding bicycles! Trapped in a life of behaving like a lady, she longs for freedom.

"When Semira discovers Hen's diary, she finds the inspiration to be brave, to fight for her place in the world, and maybe even to uncover the secrets of her own past."

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

"Matthew Henson was simply an ordinary man. That was, until Commander Robert E. Peary entered his life, and offered him a chance at true adventure. Henson would become navigator, craftsman, translator, and right-hand man on a treacherous journey to the North Pole. Defying the odds and the many prejudices that faced him to become a true pioneer. This is his incredible and often untold story."

Cloud Boy, by Marcia Williams

"Harry Christmas and Angie Moon are best friends and almost-twins. Ever since they were born two days apart they've been partners in cloud-spotting, sweet-eating and treehouse-building. But when Harry is taken to hospital for headaches that won't go away, he needs Angie more than ever. Because when things fall apart, only a best friend can stitch them back together.

"Told through Angie's lively diary, this is a bittersweet story about friendship and growing up."

Charlie Changes into a Chicken, by Sam Copeland & Sarah Horne

"Charlie McGuffin tries to be an optimist, but in reality he’s a bit of a worrier. Some of the things Charlie is worried about: his brother (who is in hospital); their very panicked parents; unwanted attention from the school bully; the fact that he’s started turning into animals!

"Even though every kid wants a superhero power, Charlie isn’t keen on turning into a pigeon in the middle of the school play. But what happens if he does?"

No Ballet Shoes in Syria, by Catherine Bruton

"Aya is eleven years old and has just arrived in Britain with her mum and baby brother, seeking asylum from war in Syria. When Aya stumbles across a local ballet class, the formidable dance teacher spots her exceptional talent and believes that Aya has the potential to earn a prestigious ballet scholarship. But at the same time, Aya and her family must fight to be allowed to remain in the country, to make a home for themselves and to find Aya's father - separated from the rest of the family during the journey from Syria.

"With beautiful, captivating writing, wonderfully authentic ballet detail, and an important message championing the rights of refugees, this is classic storytelling - filled with warmth, hope and humanity."

Captain Rosalie, by Timothé de Fombelle, Isabelle Arsenault & Sam Gordon (trans.)

"A little girl called Rosalie is a captain on a very secret mission - a mission to learn how to read. Mother reads often to Rosalie, especially when Father sends them letters from the front line describing the forest in the distance, the churned-up soil and the soldiers hiding in holes. But as Rosalie gets further along in her mission and begins to piece together the words in her father's letters, the truth about the consequences of war are finally and irrevocably revealed."

Owen and the Soldier, by Lisa Thompson & Mike Lowery

"A crumbling stone soldier sits on a bench in the park. Only Owen understands how important he is.

"At home, Owen and his mum are struggling and there’s nobody he can talk to. Hidden away in the park, Owen feels free to be himself. When the war-weary soldier is listening, his worries slip away. But nobody else cares about the soldier, and the town council want to tear him down. Owen’s the only one who can save him but can he find the courage to speak up before it’s too late?"

The Afterwards, by A. F. Harrold & Emily Gravett

"Ember and Ness are best friends. Then Ness dies. It is sudden and unexpected and leaves Ember completely empty. How can this be?

"When Ember finds a way into the Afterworld, she determines to bring Ness back. Because that's what friends do isn't it? They rescue each other. They help. They never give up."

Flight, by Vanessa Harbour

"Austria, 1945. After losing his family, Jakob shelters with Herr Engel in a rural stables, where they hide the precious Lipizzanner stallions they know Hitler wants to steal.

"When a German officer comes looking for Jakob and finds the horses, Jakob and his guardian know they must get the stallions to safety, but the only way is straight through Nazi territory."

The Great Telephone Mix-Up, by Sally Nicolls & Sheena Dempsey

"When the village wires get crossed after a storm, there's a lot of confusion and plenty of missed connections. Margaret can't run her summer fair, Jai can't speak to Aditi, and Will is rather happy because no one can tell his mum how much trouble he's in! Can the villagers learn to love their neighbours and could the great telephone mix-up really be a blessing in disguise?"