Toppsta - Childrens Books – Reviews

30 Books to help teach children empathy

16th February 2018

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Teachers and parents are increasingly concerned about the potentially empathy-draining effect of social media on children, and new pressures caused by societal divisions and the rise in hate crimes. To combat this, EmpathyLab is harnessing the power of stories to build empathy, inspired by scientific evidence showing that reading can boost real-life empathy skills. 

Empathy Lab's expert panel has chosen thirty books to strengthen children’s ability to understand other people’s feelings and perspectives, spark insights into different lives and inspire them to put empathy into action in their communities.  They noted the many great books exploring the topical theme of displacement and migration, and the need for empathy to help everyone feel they belong.  This list includes several strong tiles which help children understand how others experience and manage their emotions, and others which illuminate the experiences of children facing challenging circumstances, such as deafness, autism or bereavement. 

Toppsta
2018-02-22
30 Books to help teach children empathy

picture books

Toppsta
2018-02-22
30 Books to help teach children empathy
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Perfectly Norman

Norman had always been perfectly normal. That was until the day he grew a pair of wings!

Norman is very surprised to have wings suddenly - and he has the most fun ever trying them out high in the sky. But then he has to go in for dinner. What will his parents think? What will everyone else think? Norman feels the safest plan is to cover his wings with a big coat.

But hiding the thing that makes you different proves tricky and upsetting. Can Norman ever truly be himself?

A poignant yet uplifting story about individuality, with stunning artwork in a striking minimal palette from the author/illustrator of Herman's Letter. Fans of Oliver Jeffers and Benj Davies will love it.

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My Name is Not Refugee

A young boy discusses the journey he is about to make with his mother. They will leave their town, she explains, and it will be sad but also a little bit exciting. They will have to say goodbye to friends and loved ones, and that will be difficult. They will have to walk and walk and walk, and although they will see many new and interesting things, it will be difficult at times too. A powerful and moving exploration that draws the young reader into each stage of the journey, inviting the chance to imagine the decisions he or she would make. From the winner of the V&A Student Illustration Award 2016.

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The Parrot and the Merchant

The merchant Mah Jahan loves to keep colourful birds in cages, especially a parrot who can talk to her. But when the parrot asks her to bring something back from her trading trip to India, Mah Jahan learns a valuable lesson about how to treat the things and people you love.

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Can I Join Your Club?

Duck wants to join a club. But he needs to be able to ROAR to join Lion Club, or TRUMPET to join Elephant Club. And all he can do is QUACK! What's a Duck to do? Why, set up his own club of course... where everyone is welcome to join!
With a laugh-out-loud text from John Kelly and brilliantly quirky illustrations by Steph Laberis, Can I Join Your Club? is a heart-warming story which celebrates the importance of diversity and friendship. Perfect for little ones who are learning to make friends at a new school or nursery.

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15 Things Not To Do With a Granny

The hilarious follow-up to 15 Things Not to Do with a Baby has all the warmth and humour of its predecessor, focusing on the relationship between children and their granny.DON'T hide an elephant in Granny's bed. DON'T send Granny up to the moon in a rocket, or wear her pants onyour head, or give her squashed jelly beans on toast for breakfast.But do... dance with Granny, listen to Granny's stories, hug her and love her lots. She loves you!

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Lulu Gets a Cat

Our Toppsta reviewer said "The Lulu books are delicious stories filled with diversity and a celebration of the day to day lives of young children. Lulu Gets a Cat celebrates the bond between children and their pets as Lulu adopts a cat from a rescue centre. It is a simple and entertaining introduction to caring for a new cat, gently encouraging children and their families to be responsible pet owners. A scrum addition to the Lulu stories. "

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Willy and the Cloud

From the former Children's Laureate and twice winner of the Kate Greenaway Medal comes a stunning and perceptive story about facing your fears.From the former Children's Laureate and twice winner of the Kate Greenaway Medal comes a stunning and perceptive story about worry and anxiety, featuring his much loved chimp, Willy. One day Willy goes to the park. It's a sunny day, but a cloud hovers over him and he can't join in the fun. What can Willy do to make this mysterious cloud go away? Exceptional illustrations combined with the insightful story makes this an essential book for young children.

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Colin and Lee, Carrot and Pea

Lee is a pea. All of his friends are peas; except Colin. Colin isn't a pea. And so begins the deliciously funny story of two very different friends: a small green pea and a tall orange carrot stick. Colin the carrot can't do everything the peas can, but he has some special carrot-y qualities that make him a very good friend to have. All about the beauty of making friends with people (or vegetables) who are different from you, boys and girls alike will love Colin and Lee's clear shapes, bright colours and the playful approach to everyday objects that make this book an instant favourite. 

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Leo: A Ghost Story

You would like being friends with Leo. He likes to draw, he makes delicious snacks, and most people can't even see him. Because Leo is also a ghost. When a new family moves into his home and Leo's efforts to welcome them are misunderstood, Leo decides it is time to leave and see the world. That is how he meets Jane, a kid with a tremendous imagination and an open position for a worthy knight. That is how Leo and Jane become friends. And that is when their adventures begin. This charming tale of friendship--from two of the best young minds in picture books: the author of the Caldecott Honor-winning Extra Yarn and the illustrator of the Bologna Ragazzi Award-winning Josephine--is destined to become a modern classic that will delight readers for years to come.

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Grandad's Island

After the phenomenal success of The Storm Whale and On Sudden Hill, this new book by Benji Davies deals with the emotional topic of losing a grandparent. Subtly told, this beautifully illustrated book tackles a difficult subject with great sensitivity and depth. Sure to provide comfort to young children struggling to understand loss, Benji Davies's tale is a sensitive and beautiful reminder that our loved ones live on in our memories long after they're gone. Cheerful, brightly colored illustrations make this a fine choice to use with the youngest of audiences. Since death isn't directly specified, this title also works for when a child's loved one is moving far away. An excellent vehicle to gently approach the topic of loss. 

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Here I Am

Newly arrived from their faraway homeland, a boy and his family enter into the lights, noise, and traffic of a busy city in this dazzling wordless picture book. The language is unfamiliar. Food, habits, games and gestures are puzzling. The boy clings tightly to his special keepsake from home and wonders how he will find his way. How will he once again become the happy, confident child he used to be? Walk in his shoes as he takes the first tentative steps towards discovering joy in his new world. A poignant and affirming view of the immigrant experience.

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In My Heart: A Book of Feelings: A Book of Feelings

Starring the same little girl in the same charming illustration style as Hello In There!, In My Heart explores emotions--happiness, sadness, bravery, anger, shyness and more. Unlike other feelings books that tend to oversimplify, In My Heart lyrically explains what an emotion feels like, physically, inside. For example: "When I get really angry, my heart feels like it's going to explode! Don't come near me! My heart is yelling, hot and loud. This is when my heart is mad." Toddlers will be empowered by this new vocabulary and able to practice articulating and identifying their own emotions. On the cover and the right side of each spread, a die-cut heart decreases in size, creating a multi-coloured heart the depth of the entire book.

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King of the Sky

A powerful and beautifully illustrated story about migration and the meaning of home, from the award-winning team behind The Promise.A breathtaking new picture book by children's author Nicola Davies, illustrated by Laura Carlin, winner of the Bratislava Illustration Biennale and the Bologna Ragazzi Prize for Illustration. Starting a new life in a new country, a young boy feels lost and alone - until he meets an old man who keeps racing pigeons. Together they pin their hopes on a race across Europe and the special bird they believe can win it: King of the Sky. Nicola Davies' beautiful story - an immigrant's tale with a powerful resonance in our troubled times - is illustrated by an artist who makes the world anew with every picture. A musical adaptation of King of the Sky has already met with success on the stage, shown two years running at the Hay Festival and due to tour Welsh theatres next spring.

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You're Safe With Me

When the moon rises high and the stars twinkle, it is bedtime for the baby animals of the Indian forest. But tonight, when the skies turn dark and the night grows stormy, the little ones can't sleep. SWISH-SWISH! CRACK-TRACK! FLASH-SNAP! goes the storm. Only Mama Elephant with her words of wisdom can reassure them. "You're safe with me." A modern fable that reads like a folktale, this beautifully illustrated tale of motherly love is a perfect bedtime story.

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novels, graphic novels & poetry

Toppsta
2018-02-22
30 Books to help teach children empathy
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Overheard in a Tower Block: Poems by Joseph Coelho

Gazing at the stars from five storeys up, smelling the bins from five storeys below. Overheard arguments, overheard laughter.

A disappearing father and a Mermaid-Queen mother; statues that sing for flesh and blood; bullies who kick you under the table; perfect red trainers - and the things that lurk in the library....

Award-winning poet Joseph Coelho's astonishing new collection is a powerful and moving poetic narrative about growing up in the city.

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Charlie and Me: 421 Miles From Home

'Funny, tender, sad and huge of heart' Phil EarleThirteen-year-old Martin and his younger brother Charlie are on a very special journey. They're going to be travelling 421 miles all the way from Preston to the very tip of Cornwall. They're hoping to catch a glimpse of the dolphin that regularly visits the harbour there. But is that the only reason they are going? It's a journey that's full of challenges and surprises. Martin adores his brother Charlie but he's not like ordinary kids. He's one in a million. He was born far too early, and ought to have died. And cheeky, irrepressible, utterly unique Charlie is always keeping Martin on his toes - especially on this crazy trip they are now on. Martin is doing his best to be a good big brother, but it's hard when there's something so huge coming once they get to Cornwall ...

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The Wild Robot

'An engaging tale that explores many important themes. We can only hope that Roz serves as the template for all future robots. Peter Brown's illustrations are as marvellous as ever!' Coralie Bickford-Smith, author of THE FOX AND THE STARWhen robot Roz opens her eyes for the first time, she discovers that she is alone on a remote, wild island. She has no idea how she got there or what her purpose is - but she knows she needs to survive. After battling a fierce storm and escaping a vicious bear attack, she realises that her only hope for survival is to adapt to her surroundings and learn from the island's unwelcoming animal inhabitants. As Roz slowly befriends the animals, the island starts to feel like home - until, one day, her mysterious past comes back to haunt her.From bestselling and award-winning author and illustrator Peter Brown comes a heartwarming and action-packed novel about what happens when nature and technology collide. By turns funny, moving, surprising and dramatic, this is a novel that is as thought-provoking as it is enchanting.

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The Road To Ever After

Davy David, an orphan, lives by his wits in the dead-end town of Brownvale. When a stray dog called George turns Davy's life upside down just days before Christmas, he sets in motion a chain of events which forces them to flee. A mischievous wind blows the two of them to a boarded-up museum on the outskirts of town where they meet the elderly recluse, Miss Flint. She has planned one last adventure before her time is up and hires the reluctant Davy and George to escort her. The Road to Ever After by Moira young is a magical adventure about an unlikely friendship and an unforgettable journey.

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Sky Dancer

Joe has always loved the moorlands above his home: the wildness, the freedom, the peace. But since his father died, everything has changed, and the moors are no longer a place of refuge. Now the whole community is divided over the fate of the hen harriers that nest up there in the heather - and Joe is stuck right in the middle, with a choice to make, and a huge secret to keep. Joe can't do what's right for everyone. But can he find the strength to fight for what he really believes in? Expert storyteller Gill Lewis presents a beautiful tale of loss, expectation, and change - with an important and thought-provoking environmental message.

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Tender Earth

Laila Levenson has always been the baby of the family, but now with her older siblings, Mira and Krish, leaving home just as she starts secondary school, everything feels like it's changing... can the reappearance of Nana Josie's Protest Book and the spirit it releases in Laila, her friends and her local community, help her find her own voice and discover what she truly believes in? A powerful chime rings through Laila's mind, guiding her to walk the footsteps of the past on her way to discover her own future.

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The Island at the End of Everything

Amihan lives on Culion Island, where some of the inhabitants - including her mother - have leprosy. Ami loves her home - with its blue seas and lush forests, Culion is all she has ever known. But the arrival of malicious government official Mr Zamora changes her world forever: islanders untouched by sickness are forced to leave. Banished across the sea, she's desperate to return, and finds a strange and fragile hope in a colony of butterflies. Can they lead her home before it's too late?

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Sputnik's Guide to Life on Earth: Tom Fletcher Book Club Selection

Sputnik's Guide to Life in Earth is an out-of-this-world funny book from master storyteller Frank Cottrell Boyce, with illustrations throughout by Steven Lenton. The Blythes are a big, warm, rambunctious family who live on a small farm and sometimes foster children. Now Prez has come to live with them. But, though he seems cheerful and helpful, he never says a word.Then one day Prez answers the door to someone claiming to be his relative. As Prez dithers on the doorstep, Sputnik strolls right past him and introduces himself to everyone in the household. But Prez soon finds himself having to defend the family from the chaos and danger unleashed by Sputnik, It turns out that Sputnik is writing a guidebook to Earth called Ten Things Worth Doing on Earth, and he takes Prez on a journey to discover just those ten things. Each adventure seems to take Prez nearer to the heart of the family he is being fostered by. But they also take him closer to the day that he is due to leave them forever . . .

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The Song from Somewhere Else

Frank doesn't know how to feel when Nick Underbridge rescues her from bullies one afternoon. No one likes Nick. He's big, he's weird and he smells - or so everyone in Frank's class thinks.

And yet, there's something nice about Nick's house. There's strange music playing there, and it feels light and good and makes Frank feel happy for the first time in forever.

But there's more to Nick, and to his house, than meets the eye, and soon Frank realises she isn't the only one keeping secrets. Or the only one who needs help ...

A poignant, darkly comic and deeply moving story about the power of the extraordinary, and finding friendship where you least expect it. Written by the author of the critically acclaimed The Imaginary and illustrated by award-winning illustrator Levi Pinfold, this is perfect for fans of Roald Dahl and Neil Gaiman

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Smart: A mysterious crime, a different detective

Shortlisted for the Waterstones Children's Book Prize, the Federation of Children's Book Groups Prize and longlisted for the 2015 Carnegie Medal, Kim Slater's outstanding debut, Smart, is moving and compelling novel with a loveable character at its heart.'I found Jean's friend dead in the river. His name was Colin Kirk. He was a homeless man, but he still wanted to live.' There's been a murder, but the police don't care. It was only a homeless old man after all. Kieran cares. He's made a promise, and when you say something out loud, that means you're going to do it, for real. He's going to find out what really happened. To Colin. And to his grandma, who just stopped coming round one day. It's a good job Kieran's a master of observation, and knows all the detective tricks of the trade. But being a detective is difficult when you're Kieran Woods. When you're amazing at drawing but terrible at fitting in. And when there are dangerous secrets everywhere, not just outside, but under your own roof.

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Ballerina Dreams

One windy day, a magazine blew down the road. I reached out and caught it. A pretty picture of a woman was on the front cover of the magazine. She wore a short pink dress that stuck out around her in a circle. She looked very happy.At the age of three, Michaela DePrince found a photo of a ballerina that changed her life. She was living in an orphanage in Sierra Leone at the time, but was soon adopted by a family and brought to America. Michaela never forgot the photo of the dancer she once saw, and decided to make her dream of becoming a ballerina come true. She has been dancing ever since, and after a spell as a principal dancer in New York, now dances for the Dutch National Ballet in Amsterdam.

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Me and Mister P

There are times when only a polar bear will do ..."All I want is a normal family but no, I've ended up with the brother from Weirdsville. Liam is so embarrassing, but Mum and Dad can't see that and give him all the attention. Leaving me with zero! Zilch! A big fat NOTHING! And I'm not really sure how an enormous, funny, clumsy polar bear is going to help with all this, but he was standing on the doorstep, so I had to invite him to stay, didn't I? Well, what would you have done?" Meet Arthur and his brand new friend, Mister P - the world's most helpful polar bear! Packed with gorgeous illustrations throughout, this story has heart and humour in equal measure and is sure to be a hit with developing readers and as a great book to be read aloud.

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The No. 1 Car Spotter

Oluwalase Babatunde Benson is No. 1. He's the No. 1 car spotter in his village. The No. 1 car spotter in the world!The start of an exciting new series about the irresistible No. 1, whose hobby is car spotting but who is good at solving all sorts of problems for his village. When the family's cart breaks down and there's no way of bringing goods to market, it's No. 1 who devises the Toyota Cow-rolla and saves the day. He runs errands for his family and helps Mama Coca-Cola feed the busloads of people who stop for her delicious fried akara. No. 1 even helps Grandmother get to the medical centre when she can't afford treatment.No. 1 is bright and plucky and resourceful - a fantastic new character in what will undoubtedly prove to be a brilliant series!

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El Deafo

El Deafo is a funny, deeply honest graphic novel memoir for middle graders. It chronicles the author's hearing loss at a young age and her subsequent experiences with a powerful and very awkward hearing aid called the Phonic Ear. It gives her the ability to hear--sometimes things she shouldn't--but also isolates her from her classmates. She really just wants to fit in and find a true friend, someone who appreciates her, Phonic Ear and all. Finally, she is able to harness the power of the Phonic Ear and become "El Deafo, Listener for All." And more importantly, declare a place for herself in the world and find the friend she's longed for.

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Illegal: A graphic novel telling one boy's epic journey to Europe

This is a powerful and timely story about one boy's epic journey across Africa to Europe, a graphic novel for all children with glorious colour artwork throughout. From Eoin Colfer, previously Irish Children's Laureate, and the team behind his bestselling Artemis Fowl graphic novels. Ebo: alone.His sister left months ago. Now his brother has disappeared too, and Ebo knows it can only be to make the hazardous journey to Europe. Ebo's epic journey takes him across the Sahara Desert to the dangerous streets of Tripoli, and finally out to the merciless sea. But with every step he holds on to his hope for a new life, and a reunion with his sister.'Beautifully realised and punchily told.' Alex O'Connell, The Times Children's Book of the Week'A powerful, compelling work, evocatively illustrated ... It would take a hard heart not to be moved by this book.' Financial Times

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The Guggenheim Mystery

My name is Ted Spark. I am 12 years and 281 days old. I have seven friends.Three months ago, I solved the mystery of how my cousin Salim disappeared from a pod on the London Eye. This is the story of my second mystery. This summer, I went on holiday to New York, to visit Aunt Gloria and Salim. While I was there, a painting was stolen from the Guggenheim Museum, where Aunt Gloria works.Everyone was very worried and upset. I did not see what the problem was. I do not see the point of paintings, even if they are worth GBP9.8 million. Perhaps that's because of my very unusual brain, which works on a different operating system to everyone else's.But then Aunt Gloria was blamed for the theft - and Aunt Gloria is family. And I realised just how important it was to find the painting, and discover who really had taken it.

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Chitra Soundar (You’re Safe with me, illustrator Poonam Mistry  “We don’t love what we fear. We don’t fear what we know. Like the little animals in this story who learn not to be afraid of thunder, lightning and the river, every one of us will love more and fear less if we get to know the unknown.

Mama Elephant shows the baby animals the struggles of the wind, thunder and the river. By seeing a different perspective, the little animals are no longer afraid of the unknown. Just like stories show us perspectives of those who are different to us in some ways. The more we read the more we realise how much we have in common with the rest of the world.” Chitra Soundar

Benji Davies, Grandad’s Island “The need for empathy in our world is more important now than ever before. It is the glue that binds us together; something we should cherish and that must be encouraged. I believe books are the best tool we have to deliver this message to the next generation and I’m delighted that Grandad’s Island has been selected for this list.” Benji Davies

Mark Lowery, Charlie and Me  “I didn't set out to write a book that was necessarily about empathy. I wanted to write a book about people, and particularly about one young person facing a very difficult situation. As the book developed though, I found myself being led more and more by my main character, seeing things through his eyes, feeling anger and pain and grief in the same way as him. I also thought about how other people close to him might be reacting to the same situation in different ways.  

If a book is about people then it must be also be about empathy. As a teacher, I can see the power of stories to allow children to walk in someone else's shoes and to consider how we treat each other. In a world that can sometimes seem cruel or impersonal, it’s a deeply heartening thought that people do still care about each other.”

Robin Stevens  'I'm thrilled that the Guggenheim Mystery has been included in such an important and timely initiative. Storytelling is one of the best ways to experience life through another person's eyes, and in a divisive and distrustful era, building connections and understanding is vital. In Ted, Siobhan Dowd created a neruroatypical character who knows that it's great to be different. I am proud to carry his story on, and I hope The Guggenheim Mystery can help build understanding and empathy, along with all of the other books in this collection.'

Kiran Millwood Hargrave  As the world moves towards seemingly greater intolerance, books that teach empathy become increasingly vital. Books allow us insight into different lives, and it is difference that so often scares us. The Island at the End of Everything is set on a leper colony, and writing it taught me disgust is often driven by fear. It also taught me tolerance is perhaps the best path to love, which is the opposite of fear. Telling Ami’s story grew my heart, and my mind. I hope it does the same for my readers.

Toppsta
2018-02-22
30 Books to help teach children empathy

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