Directly teaching children social and emotional skills has a two-fold effect: students learn how to deal appropriately and effectively with feelings and learn to relate to others. If students learn to consider others and don’t feel scared or intimidated about contributing and trying new things, they will learn better. The affective domain in teaching considers students’ motivations, perceptions, attitude and values. Discussing these openly through mentor texts allows students to try on various perspectives and develop empathy.

Use the following books to discuss the concept of empathy and kindness. Ask the students questions that will make them consider points of view other than their own. Have them suggest ways they can be kind to others and what to do if others are not being kind to them. Teaching empathy and kindness directly gives students the language they need to express those emotions. These conversations follow the social emotional standards goal of using social-awareness and interpersonal skills to establish and maintain positive relationships.

  1. The Nice Book by David Ezra Stein. G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 2008.

This is a simple, fun book of suggestions on how to be nice to others. Students can make finger-paint drawings of their own to illustrate their tip and bind in a class book. This is a great way to demonstrate positive rules.

  1. Ish by Peter Reynolds. Candlewick Press, 2004.

When Ramon’s brother teases him about his drawings, Ramon crumples them all up. His little sister decides to save them and tape them on her wall. When Ramon sees this and is encouraged that not all of his drawings have to be perfect, he feels free enough to start drawing again.

  1. Brave Irene by William Steig. Farrar, Straus, Giroux, 1986.

Irene helps deliver her mother’s handmade dress to the duchess when her mother falls ill. When the dress blows away in the terrible winter weather, she feels sorry her mother put so much work into something lost and feels bad the duchess won’t have her beautiful dress. She finally makes it to the duchess’s house, finds the dress, and puts it back in the box.

  1. Sparrow Girl by Sara Pennypacker, illustrated by Yoko Tanak. Hyperion, 2009. Ming-Li’s family takes part in Chairman Mao Tse-Tung’s declaration of war on sparrows. China believed sparrows were responsible for eating all the wheat crops and starts to kill them. Ming-Li repeatedly offers alternatives to help the wheat crop and save the birds. The grown-ups push her away, but her and her brother start saving as many sparrows as they can. When the wheat crops fail because the locusts and other pests invade, Ming-Li shows the pest-eating sparrows she has been protecting.
  2. Hank Finds an Egg by Rebecca Dudley. Peter Pauper Press, 2013.

Hank finds an egg in the forest that fell from its nest. He makes multiple attempts to return the egg, but the nest is still too high. He keeps it warm over night until he finds a way to help the mother bird get the egg back. When the egg hatches, the baby bird flies down to give its thanks.

  1. Each Kindness by Jacqueline Woodson, illustrated by E.B. Lewis. Penguin, 2012.

One day a new student, Maya, starts attending the unnamed narrator’s school. All the kids are mean to Maya and make fun of her and exclude her because she brings strange food to school and wears second hand clothes. One day, after Maya leaves the school, the teacher shows them that kindness is like the ripple effect. Each student drops a stone in the water and shares something kind they did. The narrator cannot think of a single thing and this continues to bother her as she regrets not being kind, especially to Maya.

  1. Fly Free by Roseanne Thong, illustrated by Enjin Kim Neilan. Boyds Mills Press, 2010.

The Buddhist idea of samsara where past deeds come full circle is illustrated in this book. Mai wants to free the caged sparrows but doesn’t have enough money. She sings to them, ending with, “When you do a good deed, it will come back to you.” She gives a girl seeds to feed the birds. That girl passes on the good deed and it is paid forward throughout the whole village until a monk who has been helped by her chain of kindness pays to free the sparrows.

  1. Lily and the Paper Man by Rebecca Upjohn, illustrated by Renne Benoit. Second Story Press, 2007.

Lily and her mother walk home every day. They pass a homeless man selling newspapers. Lily is afraid of him, but she can’t stop thinking about how cold he must be with his holey shoes and ripped clothing. She worries until she comes up with the idea to collect warm clothes for him and give it to him as a present.

  1. A Chair for My Mother by Vera B. Williams. Greenwillow Books, 1982.

A girl saves change after their apartment burns down to buy a chair for her mother so she can relax after hard days working at the diner to support them. The girl often thinks about how her mother must feel and how to help out. The neighbors donate many things out of kindness to the family after their belongings are destroyed.

  1. Crow Boy by Taro Yashima. Viking, 1955.

Chibi, “tiny boy” was a shy outcast at school, but a great observer. All the kids made fun of him until a new teacher, Mr. Isobe finally praised Chibi’s knowledge of the natural world. When Chibi appears in the school talent show, imitating crow calls, everyone at first makes fun of him. But then they are moved by how the sounds tell the story of the rural boy who walked to school at sunrise and did not return home until sunset. The crow calls paint a picture of the land he lives in and brings understanding to the school and its students, who cry with their shame of torturing this poor boy who is resilient enough to become his own man. (Caldecott Honor)

  1. How Many Days to America by Eve Bunting, illustrated by Beth Peck. Clarion Books, 1988.

A little boy and his family escape a war-torn Caribbean island in the middle of the night on a fishing boat across the ocean. After being turned away by other places and attacked by pirates, the family is finally welcomed to America during Thanksgiving, a holiday that celebrated giving thanks for escaping persecution and being welcomed by natives.

  1. Smoky Night by Eve Bunting, illustrated by David Diaz. Harcourt, 1994.

Taking place during the L.A. riots, a mother tries to explain to his son what is happening, as they look out their window. They see one of their neighbors, Mrs. Kim, who is another race and the boy’s mother tells him they can only buy things from their own people. When a fire lights up their apartment and everyone flees to a local shelter, the boy’s cat and Mrs. Kim’s cat go missing. When a fireman finds the two cats comforting each other under the stairs, the boy remarks that the cats get along now because before they didn’t know each other. His wisdom makes the adults in the room finally attempt to know each other despite their diverse backgrounds. (Caldecott Medal)

  1. Uncle Willie and the Soup Kitchen by DyAnne DiSalvo-Ryan. Mulberry, 1991.

After walking with his Uncle Willie, who works at a soup kitchen, a boy is first apprehensive about people who are homeless but then starts to be more aware of them in his neighborhood and develops empathy for them. He sees a woman on a park bench and mentions that she looks lonely and that makes him feel sad. As the boy asks questions about the soup kitchen and the people, Uncle Willie continually and gently reiterates that they feed hungry people whether they have a house or not, no questions asked.

  1. Wednesday Surprise by Eve Bunting, illustrated by Donald Carrick. Clarion Books, 1989.

On Wednesdays Anna helps her grandmother learn how to read, so that on Anna’s father’s birthday, Grandma reads the bag of books they collected to her father.

  1. Faithful Elephants: A True Story of Animals, People and War by Yukio Tsuchiya, illustrated by Ted Lewin, translated by Tomoko Tsuchiya Dykes. Houghton Mifflin, 1988.

This is a heartbreaking and beautiful story of a Tokyo zoo.  During World War II so many bombs were dropping on Tokyo, the zoos had to put their potentially dangerous animals to sleep, just in case the animals broke loose in the destruction. Here, the elephant trainers have to think of clever ways to kill the animals so they don’t feel pain, but the elephants are too smart and don’t eat poisoned potatoes and have thick skin that broke the injection needles. The loving trainers are forced to starve their elephants. (Grades 4+)

  1. One Green Apple by Eve Bunting, illustrated Ted Lewin. Clarion Books, 2006.

Farah moves to America and goes on a school field trip to an apple orchard. Some of the students are mean to her because she is Muslim, yet others are kind. Farah feels camaraderie for a small green apple tree unlike the big red apple trees her classmates are picking from. The students all put their apples in a juicer and work to grind their apples. Although there are many things that set Farah apart, she realizes and the class does too, that they all go well together.

  1. Teammates by Peter Golenbock, illustrated by Paul Bacon. Harcourt, 1990.

When Jackie Robinson becomes the first African American to play in Major League Baseball, he is treated terribly by his own teammates and spectators who are used to segregation. When Jackie and his team play in Kentucky near teammate Pee Wee Reese’s racist hometown, Pee Wee finally and unexpectedly makes a stand by walking up to Jackie, putting his arm around him and telling the world they are teammates, equals.

  1. A Home For Bird by Philip Stead. Roaring Brook Press, 2012.

Vernon the frog finds Bird and invites Bird to join him and his friends. They do many things together, but Bird does not talk. Vernon and his friends try to figure out how to make Bird happy. Vernon goes off on an adventure to help Bird find his home, because he thinks Bird is homesick.

  1. The Teddy Bear by David McPhail. Henry Holt, 2002.

A young boy loses his cherished teddy bear and an older homeless man finds it. The boy is sad at first but slowly recovers. The homeless man finds comfort in the bear and takes it everywhere. One day, the man leaves the bear on a park bench while looking around, and the boy and his family walk by. The boy takes the bear and is happy until he hears the man crying for his bear. The boy runs back to the man and gives him the bear to keep.

  1. Thank You, Mr. Falker by Patricia Polacco. Philomel, 1998.

Trisha is excited to start school and learn to read. However, at school she has trouble doing anything but drawing and day-dreaming to take her mind off all the teasing because she can’t read. No matter how hard she tries, all the letters just swim around. It gets worse until she has a new teacher, Mr. Falker, who is kind to her, banishes the bullies, and teaches her how to finally read.