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You step into the shoes of the characters when you read a story, and see the world through their eyes, live their experiences, and feel what they feel. Through this process your world expands, as does your sensitivity to others. Being able to understand what another is going through and sympathizing with their situation is a direct result of reading fiction. It is the heart of compassion.

Book with pages folded into a heart

Embracing the heart of fiction

A New York Times article, “Your Brain on Fiction”, by Annie Murphy Paul, brought to light studies that prove reading fiction helps us to make sense of the world, teaching us how to cope in positive ways. In this way, empathy and compassion are learned through fiction.

The titles I’ve highlighted below are just a few of the shining examples in children’s literature that embody acceptance, compassion, and empathy. You can ask for a more extensive list at your local library or indie bookstore.

The Big Umbrella

Amy June Bates cowrote this heartwarming story of acceptance and inclusion with her The Big Umbrella, coverdaughter, Juniper, while they were walking to school in the rain. Later, she enhanced their story with her lush illustrations.

By the door there is an umbrella. It is big. It is so big that when it starts to rain there is room for everyone underneath. It doesn’t matter if you are tall. Or plaid. Or hairy. It doesn’t matter how many legs you have. Don’t worry that there won’t be enough room under the umbrella. Because there will always be room. (Synopsis)

“A subtle, deceptively simple book about inclusion, hospitality, and welcoming the ‘other.’” —Kirkus Reviews

Each Kindness

Jaqueline Woodson (author) and E.B. Lewis (illustrator) demonstrate how each kindness Each Kindness, covermakes the world a better place, in this bittersweet story that resonates with all ages. Each Kindness won the Coretta Scott King Honor Award and Jane Addams Peace Award. Jaqueline Woodson is the 2018-2019 National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature.

Chloe and her friends won’t play with the new girl, Maya. Every time Maya tries to join Chloe and her friends, they reject her. Eventually Maya stops coming to school. When Chloe’s teacher gives a lesson about how even small acts of kindness can change the world, Chloe is stung by the lost opportunity for friendship, and thinks about how much better it could have been if she’d shown a little kindness toward Maya. (Synopsis)

“Combining realism with shimmering impressionistic washes of color, Lewis turns readers into witnesses as kindness hangs in the balance. . . . Woodson . . . again brings an unsparing lyricism to a difficult topic.” —Publishers Weekly, starred review


Katherine Applegate penned this endearing story of kindness, friendship, and hope Wishtree, coveras a balm for the wave of hate that has spread across our nation in recent years. Wishtree is a fable about a tree named Red, who brings a neighborhood together in compassion and inclusion—with the help of the other woodland residents—when it’s threatened to be torn apart by hate.

Trees can’t tell jokes, but they can certainly tell stories. . . .
Red is an oak tree who is many rings old. Red is the neighborhood “wishtree”―people write their wishes on pieces of cloth and tie them to Red’s branches. Along with a crow named Bongo and other animals who seek refuge in Red’s hollows, this wishtree watches over the neighborhood. You might say Red has seen it all. Until a new family moves in. Not everyone is welcoming, and Red’s experience as a wishtree is more important than ever. (Synopsis)

The lyrical trailer below showcases the deep and tender warmth of the story, combined with the innocence and beauty of Charles Santoso‘s illustrations.

“Never lose hope. Wishes have a way of coming true.”

From the Newbery Medal-winning author of The One and Only Ivan.