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A Culture of Kindness

Books that Boost Awareness and Empathy for Kids and Adults

By Ashly Moore Sheldon • December 25, 2019

An Unkind Season

There are many for whom the holiday season is not a time of joy and plenty. In fact, the collective focus on togetherness and abundance may magnify feelings of grief, loneliness, and scarcity for those who have lost someone, lack a social network, or struggle to make ends meet. This is why, despite the often demanding pace of the season, it is important to find ways to support those in need, whether through charitable giving, volunteering, or simply supporting a friend in need. Here are twelve books, for a range of ages, offering perspectives on empathy and awareness.

Raising Compassionate Kids

Children are never too young to be taught about kindness. From the moment they are old enough to observe the world around them, they are absorbing messages about how to treat other people. Books can be a great way to hone in on a particular aspect of thoughtfulness and to give name to the subtleties of human understanding. Here are six picture books that highlight empathy.

The Rabbit Listened by Cori Doerrfeld

When things go wrong, the protagonist of this story learns that sometimes the best way to help is just to listen. This preschool-appropriate book is great for kids who have suffered a loss or as a primer on how to comfort others.

I Am Enough by Grace Byers, illustrated by Keturah A. Bobo

A lyrical and beautifully illustrated ode to loving who you are, respecting others, and being kind to one another, this book is aimed at kids ages 4—8.

Enemy Pie by Derek Munson, illustrated by Tara Calahan King

In this book for grade school-aged kids, a boy turns to his father for help getting rid of his new foe. Dad introduces a clever, surefire plan for eliminating the enemy—by turning him into a friend.

The Invisible Boy by Trudy Ludwig, illustrated by Patrice Barton

Brian feels invisible. Nobody in his class seems to notice or include him. Until one day, a new boy comes to school. When Brian is the first to welcome him, he learns how to stop being invisible. Appropriate for ages 6—9.

Those Shoes by Maribeth Boelts, illustrated by Noah Z. Jones

His grandma says they don't have room for "want," just "need," but Jeremy really wants a pair of those shoes that everyone else seems to be wearing. This story for ages 5—8, tells the story of a kid figuring out what's most important in life.

Each Kindness by Jacqueline Woodson, illustrated by E. B. Lewis

A powerful message on anti-bullying, this story from an award-winning author/illustrator team, illustrates the profound impact of even small acts of kindness.

Expand Your Horizons of Empathy

As readers, we are predisposed to consider and understand the perspectives of others. Even so, we can still always be on the lookout for opportunities to broaden those abilities. Reading about real-life stories of hardship may feel like a downer at times, but it helps us to grow awareness about the hidden lives of those who are marginalized and the ways in which we are all affected.

Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson

The movie adaptation of this powerful book comes out next month. It chronicles the author's experience of founding the Equal Justice Initiative and valiantly navigating a broken criminal justice system to defend a man falsely accused of murder.

The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion

With her quintessential pragmatism, the author takes deep dive into the experience of debilitating grief. With exacting detail and clarity, she outlines the year she lost both her husband and daughter.

Behind the Beautiful Forevers by Katherine Boo

From a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, a portrait of global change and inequality told through the dramatic story of a group of impoverished families striving for a better life from a makeshift settlement in the shadow of luxury hotels in Mumbai.

The Distance Between Us by Reyna Grande

A deeply moving memoir that explores the author's childhood in Mexico and the heartbreaking struggles of children who are left behind when their parents head north to the United States.

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot

This bestseller brings to life the story of a poor tobacco farmer whose cells, taken from her without her knowledge, became one of the most important tools in medicine, used to develop the polio vaccine, cloning, gene mapping, and more.

Night by Elie Wiesel

Eloquent and profound, this memoir offers a candid account of the author's survival as a teenager in the Nazi death camps. Beyond just a litany of the horrors of the Holocaust, Wiesel addresses its important legacy in our history and culture.

We Are All One

In 1841, transcendentalist writer Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote an essay called The Over-Soul in which he proposed, among other things, that all of humanity are energetically connected. Considered one of his most important writings, the essay combines Eastern and Western philosophies and underscores a deep bond shared between all people. This idea bears similarities to others in religions and philosophies worldwide with the belief that, essentially, there is no separation between us. When one person hurts, we all hurt. It may seem a little woo-woo, but maybe this is what empathy is—simply being in touch with our connection to others. It's something to think about, right?

From all of us here at Thriftbooks, we wish you Happy Holidays and a glorious New Year filled with all the books of your dreams!

Read more by Ashly Moore Sheldon

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