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Read Alouds That Develop Empathy and Perspective Taking in Young Learners

Book cover of I'm New Here showing pictures of three racially/ethnically diverse children in front of a school

by Anna McCarthy Reynolds

In order to engage as a citizen in your community, nation, or the world, taking different perspectives is an essential skill (Colwell et. al., 2020). Empathy is a crucial social emotional skill that also helps students analyze texts and develop literacy skills applicable in multiple disciplines, especially social studies (Colwell et. al., 2020, Ziemke & Muhtaris, 2020).

“Empathy can be grounded in day-to-day life when we consider it in conjunction with getting to know each other’s stories” (Ziemke & Muhtaris, 2020, p. 94). Students can get to know other's stories through reading about others that are different and similar to them. Students can relate to characters that come from diverse backgrounds through shared feelings when they learn more about them.

I hope this list provides you with some books you can read aloud or have in your class library, that can help students develop language, feelings, and understanding around empathizing with people who are different from them.

Books That Develop Empathy and Perspective Taking

Book cover of 'I'm New Here' showing pictures of three racially/ethnically diverse children in front of a schoolTitle: I’m New Here

Author: Anne Sibley O’Brien

Genre: Fiction

Age Range: 5-8 years

Description: This book shares the perspective of three students whose families recently immigrated.


book cover of 'separate is never equal' showing 6 children: three with lighter skin and blond hair wailking to the left and three with darker skin and dark hair walking to the right.Title: Separate is Never Equal

Author: Duncan Tonatiuh

Genre: Nonfiction

Age Range: 6-9 years

Description: This book is about Sylvia Mendez, whose family fought for equal rights for Latinos during the Jim Crow era.


book cover of 'I love Saturdays y Domningos' showing a child opening the shutters to a window with flowers in front and a family behindTitle: I Love Saturdays y domingos

Author: Alma Flor Ada

Genre: Fiction

Age Range: 5-8 years

Description: This book is about a young girl who spends Saturdays with her English-speaking grandmother and grandfather, and domingos (Sundays) with her Spanish-speaking abuelo and abuela.


book cover of 'Don't Touch My Hair' with a dark-skinned girl with natural hair and several arms reaching toward herTitle: Don’t Touch My Hair

Author: Sharee Miller

Genre: Fiction

Age Range: 4-8 years

Description: This book teaches respect for others and the importance of asking permission before touching someone.


Book cover of 'My Brother Charlie' showing two Black children embracing and being licked by a dogTitle: My Brother Charlie

Author: Holly Robinson Peete and Ryan Elizabeth Peete

Genre: Fiction

Age Range: 4-8 years

Description: Narrated by the twin of a boy with autism, this book explores what autism is and the perspective of a girl who is close to someone with autism.


Book cover of 'In Our Mother's House showing 2 ligher-skinned adults holding three children with different skin tonesTitle: In Our Mother’s House

Author: Patricia Polacco

Genre: Fiction

Age Range: 6-8 years

Description: This book is a story of an adoptee who, with her two adopted siblings, has two mothers.


Book cover of 'For the Right to Learn: Malala Yousafzai’s Story' showing a girl wearing hijab and holding a bookTitle: For the Right to Learn: Malala Yousafzai’s Story

Author: Rebecca Ann Langston-George

Genre: Nonfiction

Age Range: 6-9 years

Description: This book is a biography of activist Malala Yousafzai meant for young learners.


Book cover of 'Yo Soy Muslim: A Father’s Letter to His Daughter' showing a father holding his daughterTitle: Yo Soy Muslim: A Father’s Letter to His Daughter

Author: Mark Gonzales

Genre: Poetry

Age Range: 4-8

Description: This book is formatted as a letter from a father to his daughter. It deals with questions about identity.


Book cover of 'Hello, Goodbye Dog' showing a child in wheelchair playing with a dog whose tail is waggingTitle: Hello, Goodbye Dog

Author: Maria Gianferrari

Genre: Fiction

Age Range: 4-8 years

Description: This book is about a girl in a wheelchair whose dog wants to come to school with her. The dog finally gets to once it becomes a service dog.


Book cover of 'The Name Jar' showing a girl reaching into a jar with several slips of paperTitle: The Name Jar

Author: Yangsook Choi

Genre: Fiction

Age Range: 3-7 years

Description: This book is about a girl who moves to the United States from Korea and struggles with transitioning into a new culture.


Book cover of 'Powwow Day' showing several Native Americans dancing and playing drumsTitle: Powwow Day

Author: Traci Sorell

Genre: Fiction

Age Range: 4-8 years

Description: This book is about a young Native American girl who wants to dance at the powwow but is recovering from being sick.

General Considerations (Ziemke & Muhtaris, 2020):

Set expectations for trust and respect

  • It is important to create a classroom culture where it is OK to make mistakes and OK to disagree with others. These are not easy things to do and so creating this climate will help students take risks and, therefore, engage in more learning.

Set discussion norms

  • Set expectations around discussions. How do we:
    • Take turns speaking?
    • Indicate we want to speak?
    • Provide students with sentence stems for respectful discussion?
    • Provide students with empathy vocabulary in order to help them express their or a character’s feelings?

Make sure the books you choose are not reinforcing systems of oppression

  • While having books about people from varying backgrounds is important, it is not enough. It is important to make sure that the books are not reinforcing prejudices or stereotypes.

Ask students to share what they would like to read about or what they believe is missing from the books they have access to

  • Older elementary students can share what perspectives they think are missing.
  • Younger elementary students can share more general topics they would like to read about.


I hope you now feel a little more equipped to teach empathy and perspective taking through read alouds with your students. If you have any books you think would be relevant, please email the author of this blog.


Colwell, J., Hutchison, A., & Woodward, L. (2020). Digitally supported disciplinary literacy for diverse k-5 classrooms. Teachers College Press.

Ziemke, K. & Muhtaris, K. (2020). Read the world: Rethinking literacy for empathy and action in a digital age. Portsmouth, NH.

More to Explore

Black-Owned Bookstores

The links below will take you to some black-owned bookstores that have extensive collections of diverse and culturally responsive books.

Sentence Stems for Classroom Discussion

These sentence stems are for supporting ELLs (English Language Learners) in classroom discussions; however they can be used as best practices for all students. This resource includes, but is not limited to, sentence stems for disagreeing and expressing opinions.

Anchor Chart for Empathy in Books

This resource is an anchor chart about empathy. It provides guiding questions for students to use while reading to develop empathy for the characters.

Author Note

Anna McCarthy-Reynolds is a 4th and 5th grade English Language Development teacher at East Silver Spring Elementary School and currently working towards a master's in teaching literacy to culturally and linguistically diverse populations at Loyola University. Click to find out more information about the Literacy Program at Loyola University Maryland.

Posted: November 16, 2022