Practising Empathy Using Picture Books

Empathy is a critical life skill that helps us to share, understand and care about the emotions of others. It is also a precursor for compassion – through understanding the perspective and feelings of others, we are more likely to take action to help. Empathy is the theme for this school year, and the seventh in our our series. Throughout the year we will be providing you with ideas, recommendations as well as resources that help build empathy in the classroom.

Research demonstrates that reading picture books can foster empathy! They teach life lessons gently, have quick plots to sustain attention and include characters that students can relate to. While picture books are great on their own, engaging in reflection, discussion and analysis is when students have the opportunity to further practice critical thinking, perspective taking (empathy) and create meaning from what they are learning.  

The books currently listed as ‘Featured Readings’ on our website, along with the discussion questions and activities encourage students to take the perspective of the characters (including animals), which helps to build understanding of other points of view.

Featured Readings

On My Mountain – Francouis Aubineau

On My Mountain by Francouis Aubineau is a dual perspective story featuring a shepherd and a wolf and how they feel about and interact with their environment. This book tells the same story, in identical words, providing different perspective through the illustrations. This is a great book to not only discuss perspective and foster empathy but it also allows you to discuss coexisting with wildlife.

Sonya’s Chickens – Phoebe Wahl

Phoebe Wahl’s beautifully illustrated book, Sonya’s Chickens, tells the story of a young girl dealing with the loss of one of her chickens. One morning, Sonya wakes to discover a missing chicken, which she learns from her father, was taken by a fox. While consoling Sonya, her father shares why the fox took the chicken which leads to Sonya discovering some important truths about the interconnectedness of nature. Students may relate to the feelings experiences when losing a pet, and will have opportunities to empathize with Sonya. Students can also see the story from the perspective of the fox, which can help build understanding and empathy.

Hey Little Ant – Phillip and Hannah Hoose

Hey Little Ant by Phillip and Hannah Hoose, tells the story of a boy deciding whether to step on, or spare the life of an ant he and his friends find in the school yard. With his friends pressuring him to step on the ant, the boy faces a dilemma on what to do as the ant attempts to convince the boy that people and ants are not as different as one might think. Drawing on your students’ experiences with peer pressure and bullying, they can relate to both the boy and the ant, and think critically about what they would do if they were in the same situation.

Before You Were Mine – Maribeth Boelts

Maribeth Boelts tells the story of a little boy imagining what life might have been like for his new dog before he adopted him, in Before You Were Mine. Maybe the dog had a family that loved and cared for him but the family moved and couldn’t care for him anymore. Maybe he lived with someone who wasn’t ready for an energetic puppy. The boy realizes that it ultimately doesn’t matter because now he is home. This is a heartwarming story about how adopting a pet can bring happiness to both the pet and the new owner.

In addition to being ‘Featured Readings’ two of the books mentioned above, Sonya’s Chickens and Hey Little Ant, are included in the AnimalTales book lending program. The free program is available to any elementary classroom in Alberta and is mailed right to your school. To request the program, visit

Let us know if you have used any of the books mentioned in your classroom! Or maybe you have a favourite book that promotes empathy to recommend? Send us an email to

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