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Build your children's empathy with the 2019 Read for Empathy book collection

Written by · Published Jan 17, 2019

Joy, Is it a Mermaid?, Not As We Know It

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 11 June 2019, so there’s plenty of time to give them a read.

See also: 2019 Read for Empathy books for young adults

Picture books and poetry

Elmer, by David McKee

“Join Elmer, the multi-colour patchwork elephant, on his very first adventure. A firm favourite with children of all ages, Elmer is an elephant who loves to play practical jokes.”

The Last Chip: the story of a very hungry pigeon, by Duncan Beedie

“Percy is a little pigeon, and he’s very hungry. Every time he tries to get hold of a scrap of food, bigger, beefier birds bat him away. He’s about to give up when someone offers him her very last chip.”

Odd Dog Out, by Rob Biddulph

“It’s a dog’s life in the big city. Come join one busy dog on her journey to find her place in the world.”

Joy, by Corrinne Averiss & Isabelle Follath

“Fern’s Nanna has not been herself of late. And when Mum remarks that all the joy seems to have gone out of her life, Fern decides to fetch the joy back. With a net, a box and a bag to help her, she begins her search for joy.”

If All the World Were…, by Joseph Coelho & Allison Colpoys

“A moving, lyrical picture book about a young girl’s love for her granddad and how she copes when he dies, written by poet and playwright Joseph Coelho. This powerful and ultimately uplifting text is the ideal way to introduce children to the concept of death and dying, particularly children who have lost a grandparent.”

The Day War Came, by Nicola Davies & Rebecca Cobb

“When the government refused to allow 3000 child refugees to enter the UK in 2016, Nicola Davies was so angry she wrote a poem. It started a campaign for which artists contributed drawings of chairs, symbolising a seat in a classroom, education, kindness, the hope of a future. The poem has become this book, movingly illustrated by Rebecca Cobb, which should prove a powerful aid for explaining the ongoing refugee crisis to younger readers.”

Is it a Mermaid?, by Candy Gourlay & Francesca Chessa

“When Benji and Bel find a strange creature on a tropical beach they know it’s a Dugong. But the Dugong insists she is a beautiful mermaid and to prove it, she shows them her mermaid’s tail and sings them a mermaid song. The children aren’t convinced but they play with their new friend all the same. When it’s time for her to go back to sea, there is one surprise left - could she be a mermaid after all?”

Cyril and Pat, by Emily Gravett

“Can a rat and squirrel be friends? The park’s creatures think not. Cyril and Pat’s closeness wobbles, but connection prevails.”

Sweep, by Louise Greig & Júlia Sardà

“Ed’s bad mood begins as something really small, hardly a thing at all. But before long it grows, gathers pace, and spreads through the whole town. Can Ed sweep his troubles away?”

Along Came a Different, by Tom McLaughlin

“Reds love being red. Yellows love being yellow. And Blues love being blue. The problem is this, they just don’t like each other. But one day, along comes a different colour who likes Reds, Yellows and Blues, and suddenly everything starts to change. Maybe being different doesn’t mean you can’t be friends.”

Ruby’s Worry, by Tom Percival

“Ruby loves being Ruby. Until, one day, she finds a worry. at first it’s not such a big worry, and that’s alright, but then it starts to grow. It gets bigger and bigger every day and it makes Ruby sad. How can Ruby get rid of her worry and feel like herself again?”

A Great Big Cuddle, by Michael Rosen & Chris Riddell

“Two of the biggest names in children’s publishing, Michael Rosen and Chris Riddell, come together in this poetry collection. The poems fizz off the page with sound and rhythm, energy and laughter, as Rosen captures in the most remarkable way what it means to be very, very young.”

Me and My Fear, by Francesca Sanna

“When a young refugee girl has to travel to a new country and start at a new school, she is accompanied by her Fear who tells her to be alone and afraid, growing bigger and bigger every day with questions like ‘how can you hope to make new friends if you don’t understand their language?’ But this little girl is stronger than her Fear.”

How to be a Lion, by Ed Vere

“Meet Leonard - a lion like no other. Leonard’s best friend is Marianne, a duck. But lions chomp ducks, don’t they? And what will the pair do when their way of life is threatened?”

Peace and Me, by Ali Winter & Mickaël El Fathi

“What does peace mean to you? This collection of inspirational ideas about peace is based on the lives of Nobel Peace Prize Laureates of the 20th and 21st centuries, among them Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King Jr., Mother Teresa and Malala Yousafzai.”

Novels and graphic novels

The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane, by Kate DiCamillo & Bagram Ibatoulline

“Edward Tulane, a cold-hearted and proud china rabbit, loves only himself until he is separated from the little girl who adores him and travels across the country, acquiring new owners and listening to their hopes, dreams, and histories.”

The Tale of Angelino Brown, by David Almond & Alex T. Smith

“Bert and Betty Brown have got themselves a little angel. Bert found him in his top pocket when he was driving his bus. Bert and Betty’s friends think he’s lovely. So do Nancy and Jack and Alice from Class 5K. What a wonder!

“But Acting Head Teacher Mrs Mole is not so sure. Nor is Professor Smellie. Or the mysterious bloke in black who claims to be a School Inspector. Then there’s Basher Malone - big, lumbering Basher Malone. He really doesn’t like Angelino. And it looks like he’s out to get him.”

Not As We Know It, by Tom Avery & Kate McKendrick Grove

“Jamie and Ned are twins. They do everything together: riding their bikes, beachcombing outside their house, watching their favourite episodes of Star Trek. But Ned is sick, and one day, he may leave Jamie behind.

“When they discover a strange creature on the beach, Ned wants one more adventure and decides to keep him secretly in their garage. But Jamie begins to hope that the creature might bring some miracle, and stop his brother from going where he can no longer follow.”

Jelly, by Jo Cotterill

“Jelly, aged 11, is the life and soul of the classroom. She’s popular and great at doing impressions. She’s also overweight. She’s learned to deal with the put-downs by brushing them off and pretending she finds it all very funny - while making up poems and writing her private worries in a notebook.

“Then Lennon arrives, Mum’s new boyfriend. He’s nice. He treats her mum well, buys her flowers, doesn’t let her down. He’s the first person to have noticed that Jelly is playing a part. He reads her poems and tells her they’re really good. In fact, he’d like to set one to music. When a talent show is announced at school, Lennon persuades Jelly sing her poem in the contest.

“But can Jelly find the courage to perform something so personal - especially when Lennon might not always be there to cheer her on?”

The Bubble Boy, by Stewart Foster

“Eleven-year-old Joe can’t remember a life outside of his hospital room, with its beeping machines and view of London’s rooftops. His condition means he’s not allowed outside, not even for a moment, and his few visitors risk bringing life-threatening germs inside his ‘bubble’. But then someone new enters his world and changes it for ever.

The Bubble Boy is the story of how Joe spends his days, copes with his loneliness and frustrations, and looks - with superhero-syle bravery, curiosity and hope - to a future without limits.”

Ella on the Outside, by Cath Howe

“Ella is the new girl at school. She doesn’t know anyone and she doesn’t have any friends. And she has a terrible secret.

“Ella can’t believe her luck when Lydia, the most popular girl in school, decides to be her new best friend - but what does Lydia really want? And what does it all have to do with Molly, the quiet, shy girl who won’t talk to anyone?”

Love from Anna Hibiscus!, by Atinuke & Lauren Tobia

“Anna Hibiscus is on holiday with Grandmother and Grandfather in the village where they were born. She befriends the local children there and teaches them their ABC and 123. When Anna goes to market one day and a boy steals a banana from her, she runs after him. It turns out that the boy is poor; he lives alone.

“Anna and Sunny Belafonte become friends and when Sunny is taken ill, it is Anna who makes sure he gets the medical help he needs. Happily, Grandfather invites Sunny Belafonte to come and live with them, and be part of their family.”

Beyond the Bright Sea, by Lauren Wolk

“Crow has lived her whole life on a tiny, starkly beautiful island. Her only companions are Osh, the man who rescued her from a washed-up skiff as a baby and raised her, and Miss Maggie, their neighbour across the sandbar. But it is only when a mysterious fire appears across the water that an unspoken question of her own history forms in Crow’s heart, and an unstoppable chain of events is triggered. Crow sets out to find her lost identity - and, ultimately, to learn what it means to be a family.

“Vivid and heartfelt, Beyond the Bright Sea is a gorgeously crafted, gripping tale of buried treasure and belonging.”

Boy in the Tower, by Polly Ho-Yen

“Ade loves living at the top of a tower block. From his window, he feels like he can see the whole world stretching out beneath him. His mum doesn’t really like looking outside - but it’s going outside that she hates. She’s happier sleeping all day inside their tower, where it’s safe.

“But one day, other tower blocks on the estate start falling down around them and strange, menacing plants begin to appear. Now their tower isn’t safe anymore. Ade and his mum are trapped and there’s no way out.”

Roller Girl, by Victoria Jamieson

“For most of her 12 years, Astrid has done everything with her best friend Nicole. But after Astrid falls in love with roller derby and signs up for derby camp, Nicole decides to go to dance camp instead. And so begins the most difficult summer of Astrid’s life as she struggles to keep up with the older girls at camp, hang on to the friend she feels slipping away, and cautiously embark on a new friendship.

“As the end of summer nears and her first roller derby bout (and junior high!) draws closer, Astrid realises that maybe she is strong enough to handle the bout, a lost friendship, and middle school - in short, strong enough to be a roller girl.”

The White Fox, by Jackie Morris

“Lost, alone and far away from home, Sol feels a deep connection with the little Arctic fox he discovers down at the Seattle docks - he too feels lost in the big city. Dad is always busy working and Sol misses the grandparents they have left behind. So Sol decides to take the little fox back home, reuniting his own family in the process.”

The Boy at the Back of the Class, by Onjali Q. Raúf & Pippa Curnick

“There used to be an empty chair at the back of my class, but now a new boy called Ahmet is sitting in it. He’s eight years old (just like me), but he’s very strange. He never talks and never smiles and doesn’t like sweets - not even lemon sherbets, which are my favourite!

“But the truth is, Ahmet really isn’t very strange at all. He’s a refugee who’s run away from a war. A real one. With bombs and fires and bullies that hurt people. And the more I find out about him, the more I want to be his friend. That’s where my best friends Josie, Michael and Tom come in. Because you see, together we’ve come up with a plan.”

The Distance Between Me and the Cherry Tree, by Paola Peretti, Sanise Muir (trans.) & Carolina Rabel

“Mafalda is a 9-year-old girl who knows one thing: some time in the next six months her sight will fail completely. Can Mafalda find a way through a seemingly dark future and still go to school, play football and look after her beloved cat? With the help of her family, and her friends, Mafalda needs to discover the things that will be important to her when her sight has failed.”

The Light Jar, by Lisa Thompson

“Nate and his mother are running away, hiding out in a dilapidated cottage in the middle of a dark forest. When Mum heads off for provisions, and then doesn’t return, Nate is left alone and afraid.

“But comfort can come from the most unexpected of places - a mysterious girl trying to solve a treasure hunt and the reappearance of an old friend.”

The Fox Girl and the White Gazelle, by Victoria Williamson

“Reema runs to remember the life she left behind in Syria. Caylin runs to find what she’s lost.

“Under the grey Glasgow skies, 12-year-old refugee Reema is struggling to find her place in a new country, with a new language and without her brother. But she isn’t the only one feeling lost. Her Glaswegian neighbour Caylin is lonely and lashing out. When they discover an injured fox and her cubs hiding on their estate, the girls form a wary friendship. And they are more alike than they could have imagined: they both love to run.

“As Reema and Caylin learn to believe again, in themselves and in others, they find friendship, freedom and the discovery that home isn’t a place, it’s the people you love.”

Alice Violett

Alice Violett

I write and edit content for the Suffolk Libraries website. Visit my website.