Fostering Empathy and Sense of Self

Carefully-selected books to support these budding and important skills

In early childhood young children are beginning to develop their sense of self – who they are, what they like, and how they view the world. Young children are also learning how to take the perspective of others, which helps them to grow in their empathy and understanding. This set of selected books celebrates community, diversity, and kindness.

Pink is For Boys Book Cover
sense of self

Pink is for Boys

Written by Robb Pearlman and illustrated by Eda Kaban, this story features pictures, text, and a message that break from gender stereotypes related to color. 

I Am Enough Book Image
sense of self

I Am Enough

Written by Grace Byers and illustrated by Keturah A. Bobo, this book features a young girl expressing her love for herself – who and how she is. 

You Matter
sense of self

You Matter

Written and illustrated by Christian Robinson, this story gives an affirming and powerful message that lets children know that they are important and valued.

happy in our skin book cover
sense of self

Happy in Our Skin

Written by Fran Manushkin and illustrated by Lauren Tobia, this book uses diverse illustrations and rhymes to describe the unique features and functions of human skin.

Same, Same But Different Page
sense of self

Same, Same But Different

Written and illustrated by Jenny Sue Kostecki-Shaw, this story follows two children from different cultures as they find out how their lives are the same and different.

Amos McGee Page

A Sick Day For Amos McGee

Written by Philip C. Stead and illustrated by Erin E. Stead, this is the story of an empathic zookeeper and his friendship with some of the animals at the zoo. 

Fry Bread Page of Book
Sense of self

Fry Bread

Written by Kevin Noble Maillard and illustrated by Juana Martinez-Neal, this book shows a modern Native American family making fry bread, a special food that people in their family have cooked for many years.

Looking for Bongo
sense of self

Looking for Bongo

Written and illustrated by Eric Velasquez, this book features a bilingual boy interacting with different members of his multi-generational family while trying to find Bongo, his stuffed toy.

All Are Welcome
sense of self

All Are Welcome

Written by Alexandra Penfold and illustrated by Suzanne Kaufman, this story celebrates diversity and inclusivity as it follows children through the school day. 

Lovely Book Cover
sense of self


Written and illustrated by Jess Hong, this book encourages readers to love themselves and embrace others and the many different ways they may be.

Finding Kindness Book Cover

Finding Kindness

Written by Deborah Underwood and illustrated by Irene Chan, this book shares ways to show care and kindness to others. 

Piggy and Elephant Book Cover

My Friend is Sad

Written and illustrated by Mo Willems, this story is about a friend’s attempts to make his friend happy.

Different Same Book Cover
Sense of Self

We're Different, We're the Same

Written by Bobbi Kates and illustrated by Joe Mathieu, this book features text and illustrations describing a variety of ways people are alike and different. 

Book cover for Horray for Hat

Hooray for Hat!

Written and illustrated by Brian Won, this delightful story shows how a simple act of kindness can brighten up someone else’s day by showing we care.

Skin You Live In Book Cover
Sense of Self

The Skin You Live In

Written by Michael Tyler and illustrated by David Lee Csicsko, this story encourages young readers to love themselves and embrace others, no matter the color of their skin.


Key Takeaways

Books can be mirrors for self-reflection

When children see themselves in books, they are able to explore their personal and group identities. They grow more comfortable with themselves and confident in who they are.

Books can also be windows into the lives of others

Children can learn about others' lives by reading stories about people who are different from them. They can ask questions, understand, and appreciate how people can be alike and different.

Children need experience with both

Educators can balance the books they share so that children are exposed to both mirrors and windows. When children have a positive sense of self and value diversity, they are more likely to treat others fairly and kindly.