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Classic Stories for Teaching Empathy

Learning Empathy and Emotional Regulation Through Stories

Do you remember the power of children’s books to teach life lessons when you were growing up? Every story we read in school had a moral to the story — teaching responsibility, respect, compassion, honesty, integrity, and self-discipline. There were those that made you feel warm and fuzzy or the ones that transported you to magical worlds. Each taught valuable life lessons along the way. Whether it was snuggling up with a book before bedtime or reading with your grandparents, the nostalgia of those childhood memories take you back to a simpler time. 

Children's literature can whisk young readers to new worlds and expose them to different perspectives. It's also an excellent tool for teaching children how to understand their emotions and develop empathy. With the rise of technology and social media, teaching human empathy is needed more than ever. 

Let’s explore some classic and modern children's books that can help children understand their feelings and learn empathy.

Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak is a timeless classic beloved by generations of children. The story follows Max, a young boy who is sent to his room for misbehaving. Max's imagination takes over, and he sails to an island of wild things. Through his adventures, Max learns that even the wildest creatures need love and understanding.

Charlotte's Web by E.B. White is another classic children's book that teaches empathy. The story revolves around a pig named Wilbur and his unlikely friendship with a spider named Charlotte. The book explores love, friendship, and loss themes and teaches children that all creatures have value.

Caps for Sale by Esphyr Slobodkina is a fun and entertaining book that teaches children about frustration and conflict resolution. The story follows a peddler who sells caps on the street. When he takes a nap, a group of monkeys steals his caps. The peddler's frustration leads him to devise a creative solution to get his caps back.

Amelia Bedelia by Peggy Parish is a classic book that teaches children the importance of paying attention and following instructions. The story follows a housekeeper named Amelia Bedelia, who takes things a little too literally. But, through the silliest humor, children learn that sometimes things are not what they seem. So, it's wise to ask questions and clarify instructions.

Little Bear by Else Holmelund Minarik is a charming and heartwarming book that teaches children about the power of imagination and creativity. The story follows a young bear and his adventures with his friends. The book teaches children that it's okay to use their imagination and be creative, even if others don't understand.

The Bernstein Bear books by Stan and Jan Bernstein are a classic series of children's books that teach children about family values and social skills. The books explore themes such as sharing, honesty, and kindness. The series is an excellent resource for parents who want to teach their children about these important values.

Little Mouse, Red Ripe Strawberry is a sweet and simple book that teaches children the importance of sharing. The story follows a mouse who finds a strawberry and wants to keep it all for himself. But, through the book's story arc, the mouse learns that sharing is the right thing to do.

The Mitten is a classic children's book that many might remember reading with our grandparents. The story follows a young boy who loses his mitten in the snow. As he searches for it, a group of animals finds the mitten and crawls inside to keep warm. The story teaches children about the importance of compassion and helping others.

The Kissing Hand by Audrey Penn is a modern children's book that addresses separation anxiety and teaches the power of love. The story follows a young raccoon who is nervous about starting school. His mother teaches him a special kissing hand that he can use to feel her love and support, even when she's not with him. We highly recommend this book for parents of incoming preschool and kindergarten children.

The Magic Tree House and Magic School Bus series are two popular children's book series that teach children about history and science, respectively. The books are not only informative, but they also encourage children to use their imagination and explore the world around them. 

Restart by Gordon Korman is a modern children's book that teaches children about the power of second chances. The story follows a boy named Chase who wakes up in the hospital with no memory of his past. As he tries to piece together his old life, Chase realizes he wasn't always the nicest person (most people would call him a bully). The book teaches children the importance of empathy and redemption—sometimes, we all need second chances.

The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane by Kate DiCamillo is a heartwarming and poignant children's book that teaches children about love, loss, and empathy. The story follows the journey of a china rabbit named Edward Tulane, who is loved by a young girl named Abilene. When Edward is lost, he goes on an incredible journey that takes him through many different lives and teaches him the emotions of love and compassion. Along the way, Edward learns that it's important to be kind and empathetic towards others, even when it's hard. Beautifully written and illustrated, this book will touch the hearts of children and adults alike.

February is I Love to Read Month, and there is nothing quite like family time to read together. If you have a public library card, use Libby for free access to online books.