Words that open worlds: 12 books to build compassion in kids

Here are our picks for books that build compassion in kids from toddlers to teens
  • By: Lindy Brown
Two boys in Peru read a book together.

Did you ever have a book that changed your perspective? Stories are powerful, and words open worlds to us.

Books let us practice love and concern for people who we may never meet, grow curiosity about others and fuel the emotions that motivate us not just to feel but to do something good. In short, books are a fantastic way to grow compassion in kids!

If you have children in your life, chances are you want to help them to grow physically but also in their minds, spirits and emotions. Virtues like compassion and researchers and children’s educators have long known that experiencing the perspectives of others through books is a powerful way to catch compassion.

Here are 12 of our favourite books to build compassion in kids! 

1. My Friend is Sad

Written by Mo Willems
Ideal for ages 3-6

Cover of book : My Friend is Sad by Mo Willems. One of Compassion Canada's picks of books to build compassion in kids

It’s rare to find an early reader book that children truly love, and it takes a masterful writer to write about complex topics using simple language while still creating entertaining stories! Mo Willems explores how we respond to the feelings of our friends in this volume from his Elephant and Piggie learn-to-read series.

Ultimately the book will encourage children to consider the feelings of others but also how their presence with people is just as important as what they do.  Encouraging children to have compassion for those closest to them is a great first step in choosing to put love into action. Learning to put love into action is what building compassion in kids is all about!

2. Hey, Little Ant

Written by Philip and Hannah Hoose 
Ideal for ages 3-7

Cover of Book : Hey, Little Ant by Philip and Hannah Hoose One of Compassion Canada's picks of books to build Compassion in kids

What would you do if a little ant under your foot began to speak? In this colourful book with amusing illustrations, the reader is encouraged to consider life from another perspective. Compassionate action starts with the belief that others have desires and points of view that are valuable too! Great book for discussing ideas like power, privilege, rights and the strength it takes to do what is right even against the crowd.

3. Along the Tapajos

Written by Fernando Vilela 
Ideal for ages 4-8

Cover of book Along the Tapajos by Fernando Vilela One of Compassion Canada's picks of books to build Compassion in kids

Learning about the lives of children around the world helps kids to build compassion and curiosity. This book introduces readers to siblings Cauã and Inaê who live along the Tapajós River in Brazil where homes are built on stilts, everyone travels by boat and the rainy season means relocation. The story depicts river life and Brazilian rural culture in beautiful illustrations. Children will be captivated by the adventurous rescue of a pet tortoise, the courage of the siblings and the interesting animals in this environment.

4. Maddi’s Fridge

Written by Lois Brandt and Vin Vogle
Ideal for ages 5-7

Cover of book Maddi's Fridge by Lois Brandt One of Compassion Canada's picks of books to build Compassion in kids

An important lesson in compassion is that we never know the hardships and struggles that others around us face. It can be difficult to address issues of poverty and hunger in a way that is child-friendly and sensitive, while still telling an engaging story—but Lois Brandt has succeeded in all counts, winning multiple awards. This book would be a fantastic discussion starter, and is also a sweet story in its own right as it deals with themes of friendship, sharing and kindness.

5. Come with Me

Written by Holly M. McGhee 
Ideal for ages 5-9

Cover of Come with Me by Holly M McGhee for ages 5-9. One of Compassion Canada's picks for building Compassion in kids.

What do we do when we hear about sad news around the world? How can we help when problems seem so big? A little girl asks her father what she can do, and in response he takes her through a walk in their neighbourhood. The result is a beautiful picture of how small acts of compassion matter and no child is too small to put our love into action.

6. A Different Pond

Written by Bao Phi 
Ideal for ages 6-9

Cover of book A Different Pond by Bao Phi. A watercolour illustration of a father and son standing at the edge of a small pond in the early morning, under the stars. One of Compassion Canada's picks of books to build Compassion in kids

Early one morning, a young boy goes fishing with his father. The food they catch would be their dinner for the evening. While they share this time together, the boy’s father tells him about the pond he fished in long ago. The book explores issues of migrating to a new land, racism, hunger and poverty, and also the joy and love found in family and shared time together. A wonderful introduction that can spark compassion for those who are living far from home or who may do things a little differently.

7. If You Lived Here: Houses of the World

Written by Giles Laroche
Ideal for ages 6-9

Cover of book If You Lived Here by Giles Laroche. A white stone city by the ocean is depicted on the front. One of Compassion Canada's picks of books to build Compassion in kids

Do you want to grow a curiosity about world cultures in your kids? Do you have a child who is interested in the facts? Start with learning about homes around the world! This book explores everything from high-rises in busy cities to floating houses, tree houses to painted yurts, cave dwellings, stilt houses, palaces and more! The people who live in these homes may have a life very different from ours, but they want the same love and safety for their family as we do! Compassion starts with understanding that people around the world have a lot of important things in common.

8. Ordinary Mary’s Extraordinary Deed

Written by Emily Pearson 
Ideal for ages 6-12

Cover of book : Ordinary Mary's Extraordinary Deed by Emily Pearson. Ages 6-12. An illustration of a smiling girl in front of a blueberry bush. One of Compassion Canada's picks of books to build Compassion in kids

Compassion and kindness can be contagious! When Mary decides to pick some wild blueberries for a neighbour, a wave of beautiful gifts begins—gifts that have small and big impacts! Our choices to act compassionately and consider others may not feel like they matter, but this book proves otherwise!

9. When Stars Are Scattered

Written by Victoria Jamieson 
Ideal for ages 9-12

Book cover for "When Stars are Scattered : by Victoria Jamieson and Omar Mohamed. Graphic Novel for middle-school aged kids. Two boys with dark skin walk under a sky of pink and purple with a tent village behind them. One of Compassion Canada's picks of books to build Compassion in kids

This uplifting graphic novel tells the story of the author Omar and the years he spent with his brother in a Kenyan refugee camp. Having fled Somalia, they were separated from family and had to build the life they could in a land where everyone was waiting and no one knew where home was. This story tackles assumptions people have about refugees, from stereotypes to harsh realities. There is humour and beauty, a celebration of perseverance and patience. Readers will gain compassion for those who must live with the consequences of the actions of others.

10. Seraphina’s Promise

Written by Anne E. Burg
Ideal for ages 8-12

Book cover for Serafina's Promise by Ann E Burg. The cover depicts a young girl with dark skin dancing, in mixed media art style. One of Compassion Canada's picks of books to build Compassion in kids

Serafina and her best friend Julie Marie both dream of becoming doctors in their community in Haiti. The only problem is, Serafina has never been to school, and her family needs her to walk to retrieve water several times a day. When she finally comes up with a plan, floods and earthquakes destroy her village. Yet, Serafina perseveres.

This uplifting novel is written in lyrical verse, and connects readers to the complexities of poverty, hunger, illiteracy and natural disasters. In the title character’s family and relationships, we see love, courage and compassion to one another. This sweet story will inspire compassion and concern for those who experience life with different challenges and also inspire all of us to remember that the only unbreakable home is the love between each of us.

11. Everything Sad is Untrue 

Written by Daniel Nayeri
Ideal for ages 10+

Cover of Everything Sad is Untrue by Daniel Nayeri, one of Compassion Canada's picks for books that build compassion in kids

When Khosrou stands in front of his class trying to tell them a story, they see a hairy-armed boy whose lunch smells funny and who makes things up. They don’t know what it was like to flee Iran in the middle of the night, and they will never believe that his ancestors were kings who walked on carpets made of jewels. This is a true story about the author’s childhood, of why our stories matter and where to find ourselves in God’s story.

The book is unconventional (and is not beholden to Western-style storytelling) but with plenty of humour, faith, fascinating tales and a satisfying resolution. Everything Sad is Untrue will have readers cheering on a child they have never met and see what it means to have compassion for the stories others are living—and our own stories too!

12. The Bridge Home

Written by Padma Venkatraman
Ideal for ages 10+

Book Cover of The Bridge Home by Padma Venkatraman. One of Compassion Canada's picks for best books to build compassion in kids.

This story follows Viji and Rukku—two children who find themselves on the streets of Chennai, India without a home. Befriending a set of brothers trying to survive, the four become family for one another (along with a puppy). The story is difficult but also hopeful and explores questions of faith, grief, disability and diversity. Ultimately, readers will grow in their compassion for children who find themselves without safe homes, food or economic opportunities.

Colossians 3:12 tells us a mark of being God’s people is that we put on compassionate hearts. Why not seek out stories that help us live big, wide, compassionate lives?

We hope you’ll pick up a few of these books at your local library or favourite bookstore for a child in your life—or maybe even yourself! As we mentioned earlier, stories are powerful. Compassion is too. Around here, we believe Compassion can make a powerful difference in our world!

Visit our blog to read stories about how compassion is changing the world in the lives of children every day.

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