Often confused with sympathy and compassion, empathy is, put simply, the ability to feel what another person is feeling. Unlike sympathy or compassion, empathy doesn’t require you to feel for them, though it can lead to those emotions. Empathy, rather, is a starting point for understanding both ourselves and other people from the inside out.
Since storytelling is such a powerful tool to communicate the human condition, we’ve created a list of 30 stories that do exactly that. Each of the following books in the collection we’ve created below were selected for the ability to provide an especially apt demonstration of, or opportunity to learn, empathy.
Most of the books are useful to teach empathy to almost any student of any age. In fact, it could be argued that a student doesn’t need a story at all–music, the news, art, film, YouTube videos, and other media forms are also useful here. It’s also true that they don’t necessarily need a “empathy story.”
Most literature, by design, promotes empathy with characters in stories, especially when told through a first-person narrator. Still, a book created expressly to showcase empathy can be an even more precise teaching tool. Though the list below tends towards K-8, there are many that would work well in a high school classroom as well.
Going to school and making new friends can be tough. But going to school and making new friends while wearing a bulky hearing aid strapped to your chest? That requires superpowers! In this funny, poignant graphic novel memoir, author/illustrator Cece Bell chronicles her hearing loss at a young age and her subsequent experiences with the Phonic Ear, a very powerful—and very awkward—hearing aid.
The Phonic Ear gives Cece 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 as she is. After some trouble, she is finally 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. Read More.
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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. Read More.
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The author of the beloved One for the Murphys gives readers an emotionally-charged, uplifting novel that will speak to anyone who’s ever thought there was something wrong with them because they didn’t fit in. “Everybody is smart in different ways. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its life believing it is stupid.” Read More.
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