Read for Empathy 2020: Q&A with Miranda McKearney, founder of EmpathyLab

The 2020 ReadforEmpathy Book Collections from @EmpathyLabUK are announced today and feature 50 superb books; 33 for 4-11 year olds and 17 for 12-16 year olds. 

Some illuminate the experience of people from a range of cultures or life circumstances.

Others help children explore emotions, so they can understand how other people feel. 

Several reflect stories of our time, such as the refugee experience, or coping with anxiety. 

All are engaging and thought provoking.

The collections are available to order from Peters via or can be purchased from your local independent bookshop. Click to find your nearest shop.

Each collection has its own Read for Empathy Guide with a synopsis of all of the books, top tips for sharing stories and more information about Empathy Day which is on 9 June 2020. 

Teachers, librarians, parents - download your FREE guides by visiting

The primary list is as follows:

Picture books and poetry

· Poetry: Hopscotch in the Sky, Lucinda Jacob, illustrator Lauren O’Neill, Little Island

· Poetry: The Noisy Classroom, Ieva Flamingo, illustrator Vivianna Maria Staņislavska, translators Žanete Vēvere Pasqualini, Sara Smith, Richard O’Brien, The Emma Press

· When Sadness Comes to Call, Eva Eland, Andersen Press

· It's a No-Money Day, Kate Milner, Barrington Stoke

· Ravi's Roar, Tom Percival, Bloomsbury Children’s Books

· Mum's Jumper, Jayde Perkin, Book Island

· Polonius the Pit Pony, Richard O’Neill, illustrator Feronica Parker Thomas, Child’s Play

· No Longer Alone, Joseph Coelho, illustrator Robyn Wilson-Owen, Egmont

· The Rabbit Listened, Cori Doerrfeld, Scallywag Press

· The Truth About Old People, Elina Ellis, Two Hoots

· The Steves, Morag Hood, Two Hoots

· Super Duper You, Sophy Henn, Puffin

· Lubna and Pebble, Wendy Meddour, illustrator Daniel Egnéus, Oxford University Press

· All About Feelings, Felicity Brooks and Frankie Allen, illustrator Mar Ferrero, Usborne

· I Do Not Like Books Anymore!, Daisy Hirst, Walker Books

· Julian is a Mermaid, Jessica Love, Walker Books

· Captain Rosalie, Timothée de Fombelle, illustrator Isabelle Arsenault, translator Sam Gordon, Walker Books

Novels and graphic novels

· Graphic/comic novel: Me and Mrs Moon, Helen Bate, Otter-Barry Books

· Graphic novel: Pie in the Sky, Remy Lai, Walker Books

· Race to the Frozen North, Catherine Johnson, illustrator Katie Hickey Barrington Stoke

· The Great Telephone Mix-Up, Sally Nicholls, illustrator Sheena Dempsey, Barrington Stoke

· Owen and the Soldier, Lisa Thompson, illustrator Mike Lowery, Barrington Stoke

· The Afterwards, A. F. Harrold, illustrator Emily Gravett, Bloomsbury Children’s Books

· Flight, Vanessa Harbour, Firefly Press

· Planet Omar: Accidental Trouble Magnet, Zanib Mian, illustrator Nasaya Mafaridik, Hodder Children’s Books

· Ghost, Jason Reynolds, illustrator Selom Sunu, Knights Of

· Two Sides, Polly Ho-Yen, illustrator Binny Talib, Stripes Publishing

· No Ballet Shoes in Syria, Catherine Bruton, Nosy Crow

· The Closest Thing to Flying, Gill Lewis, Oxford University Press

· The Last Human, Lee Bacon, Piccadilly Press

· Charlie Changes Into a Chicken, Sam Copeland, illustrator Sarah Horne, Puffin

· Check Mates, Stewart Foster, Simon & Schuster

· Cloud Boy, Marcia Williams, Walker Books

You can also find the primary booklist here.

Q&A with Miranda McKearney

Founder of EmpathyLab

What’s the difference between empathy and kindness?

Empathy is not the same as kindness or sympathy. The difference is sometimes described as “feeling with” (empathy) as opposed to “feeling for” (kindness or sympathy). Kindness is one of the ways empathy might be put into action, whereas empathy requires a deeper emotional connection. Empathy is seeing through someone else’s eyes or stepping into someone else’s shoes - defined as experiencing how someone else is feeling.

Why are these important skills for children to master, both for now and in the future?

Empathy is at the heart of being able to relate well to others – so it underpins our ability to be a good friend, parent, workmate and citizen. It’s an essential life skill, not a soft skill. At school, empathy is crucial because relationships underpin the feeling of emotional safety children need in order to be able to learn effectively.

Why do some primary school children find kindness and empathy difficult?

They have never seen it modelled. They might have experienced trauma. They might not have the language to talk about feelings on a deeper level. Contemporary society is very focused on individual success with less emphasis on collective understanding.

What role do parents play in teaching children empathy?

They need to model it and that begins by listening well. Help children understand their own emotions and use vocabulary for feelings around the home. Use the Read for Empathy collections to share the books at home and really talk about them – there’s something for all ages!

What role do schools play?

Schools are pivotal – especially for children whose homelife has not benefitted from the influence of a steady, empathetic adult. The schools EmpathyLab work with incorporate empathy into their School Development Plan, developing a whole school language, subtly shifting pedagogy so empathy education is woven into English teaching, PHSE and whole school activities. Educators – come to one of our training sessions!

Local CPD EMPATHY training day, 27 March 2020, 10.00am-4.30pm, at the Faculty of Education, University of Cambridge

Led by Miranda McKearney OBE, founder of EmpathyLab and The Reading Agency

Aim: Using stories to integrate empathy education into existing school and public library priorities/practices. To lay the foundations for schools’ and libraries’ empathy strategies and work towards a major celebration of Empathy Day, 9 June 2020

How can books help children develop empathy and kindness?

Books help children tune into feelings to experience other lives and other points of view at a safe distance. They are comparable to a flight simulator.

What should parents do if they catch their child being unkind – whether that’s to siblings, classmates, etc?

Listen to what the feelings are behind it. Discuss alternative responses.

Could you suggest some everyday ways to teach children to be kind and empathic, at home, at school and in the wider world?

READ: A double win because its reinforcing empathy and literacy skills! Use EmpathyLab’s Read for Empathy Collections of specially curated books.

JOIN IN: Name and reinforce children’s empathic behaviours. Plan a special Empathy Day to really focus on this human superpower. A nationwide Empathy Day falls in June every year (9 June 2020) and there are free resources and ideas of how to join in or create your own Empathy Day at

VALUE: Show you value empathy and caring above achievement. It’s a skill you can develop, value the effort, and help children recap. Expect children to help those in need. Talk about people who help others as heroes, not celebrities. Encourage courage – help children not be bystanders.

VISIT: Visit a night shelter or other local social support venue to help children understand what’s happening in their local area. Go beyond fundraising and show solidarity. Learn about refugees and asylum seekers using a pack like Amnesty International’s Seeking Safety and get children to write letters to refugees to show their solidarity.


For more informatrion and free guides, visit

Where next? > Visit our Reading for Pleasure Hub

> Browse our Topic Booklists

> View our printable year group booklists.

> See our Books of the Month.


Join our newsletter to find out about our brand new booklists, reviews and updates on new children's books.

Click here to sign up.

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Instagram Social Icon
  • Pinterest

Copyright ©BooksForTopics  2015-2021. 

Affiliate disclosure: As an Amazon Associate, BooksForTopics earns from qualifying purchases.  Click here to learn more.