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Best Books for Empathy Day, 8-12+

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Empathy is a vital human force which has come into sharp focus during the pandemic. Right now, we’ve never needed it more. The great news is that it’s a skill you can learn, and Empathy Day on June 9 aims to help everyone understand and experience its transformational power. Here are our best books to start conversations about empathy with children 8-12+.

Find out more about Empathy Day

[Click here for ages 0-8]

The Bubble Boy by Stewart Foster, published by Simon and Schuster

A poignant, heartwarming tale that teaches children the importance of treating people with kindness and empathy.

Amir is mad. He’s crazy. But the hospital wouldn’t let a crazy person in. They must have interviewed him and checked his qualifications. But maybe he didn’t even meet them? Maybe he hasn’t even come from India. He might have arrived on an alien spaceship and snuck in here in the middle of the night.

Eleven-year-old Joe can’t remember a life outside of his hospital room, with its beeping machines and view of London’s rooftops. His condition means he’s not allowed outside, not even for a moment, and his few visitors risk bringing life-threatening germs inside his ‘bubble’. But then someone new enters his world and changes it for ever.

The Bubble Boy is the story of how Joe spends his days, copes with his loneliness and frustrations, and looks – with superhero-style bravery, curiosity and hope – to a future without limits. Expect superheroes, super nurses and a few tears from this truly unique story.

Snow Foal by Susanna Bailey, published by Egmont Books UK

 ‘I absolutely love Snow Foal – it’s so truthful, tender and touching. A book to read in a day and remember for a lifetime.’ – Dame Jacqueline Wilson

A beautiful and heart-wrenching middle grade debut for kids aged 9 to 11, full of love, healing, friendship and hope. Perfect for fans of Jacqueline Wilson’s Tracy Beaker, Cathy Cassidy, Pax and Gill Lewis.

When eleven-year-old Addie goes to stay with a foster family on a remote Exmoor farm in the midst of a very cold winter, she is full of hurt, anger and a deep mistrust of everyone around her. Until one day, when she rescues a tiny wild foal from the moorland snow and Addie discovers that perhaps she’s not so alone after all. 

And as adventure and unexpected friendship blossom, Addie is determined that both of them will know what is to be home again soon . . .

A beautifully written, warm read for anyone looking for a gorgeous family book to read together and to capture the imagination of young horse fans too.

The Time of Green Magic by Hilary McKay, published by Macmillan Children’s Books

From acclaimed author and Costa winner Hilary McKay comes The Time of Green Magic: a beautiful, spell-binding novel about family, magic, an old house and a mysterious visitor . . .

Abi and her two step-brothers, Max and Louis, find that strange things happen when they are alone in their eerie, ivy-covered new house.

Abi, reading alone, finds herself tumbling deep into books, while Louis summons a startling guest through his bedroom window. Even Max has started to see shapes in the shadows . . .

Their busy parents see none of it – but Louis’ secret visitor is growing too alarming to keep secret, and he finds he cannot manage without Max and Abi’s help.

Check Mates by Stewart Foster, published by Simon and Schuster

Felix is struggling at school. His ADHD makes it hard for him to concentrate and his grades are slipping. Everyone keeps telling him to try harder, but no one seems to understand just how hard he finds it. When Mum suggests Felix spends time with his grandfather, Felix can’t think of anything worse. Granddad hasn’t been the same since Grandma died. Plus he’s always trying to teach Felix boring chess. But sometimes the best lessons come in the most unexpected of places, and Granddad soon shows Felix that there’s everything to play for.

Talking to the Moon by S.E. Durrant, published by Nosy Crow

A moving story of friendship, memory and family secrets.

Iris’s grandmother, Mimi, has started to put jam on her scrambled eggs and tie blue ribbons around her fingers to remind her of stuff. Her house, always full of things, is becoming harder and harder to navigate, and when Iris goes to stay, she feels as if a whole life is becoming muddled up. As her grandmother’s memory fades, a mystery is uncovered. Who is Coral, and what happened to her?

Boy Under Water, by Adam Baron, published by HarperCollins Children’s Books

A heart-breaking, heart-warming novel for everyone of 10 and older – this book will probably make you cry, and will definitely make you laugh.

Cymbeline Igloo (yes, really!) has NEVER been swimming. Not ever. Not once.

But how hard can it be? He’s Googled front crawl and he’s found his dad’s old pair of trunks. He’s totally ready.

What he’s not ready for is the accident at the pool – or how it leads his mum to a sudden breakdown. Now, with the help of friends old and new, Cymbeline must solve the mystery of why his mum never took him near water – and it will turn his whole life upside down…

The Boy Who Lied by Kim Slater, published by Macmillan Children’s Books

Ed Clayton is a liar. It started when his dad went to prison and now he can’t seem to stop. When his younger brother, Sam, goes missing one day, nobody believes Ed when he says he can’t remember what happened.

He’s used to going without, but living without his brother is impossible. With the police and press asking questions and friends turning against the family, Ed is left trying to find Sam with only the help of his new neighbour, Fallon.

When the two stumble on a secret that even Ed could never have imagined, it’s up to the liar to uncover the truth . . .

A sensitive and engaging fourth novel about brotherhood, hardship and being yourself from the multi-award-winning author, Kim Slater.

No Ballet Shoes in Syria by Catherine Bruton, published by Nosy Crow

A beautiful, captivating story, filled with warmth, hope and humanity.

Aya is eleven years old and has just arrived in Britain with her mum and baby brother, seeking asylum from war in Syria. When Aya stumbles across a local ballet class, the formidable dance teacher spots her exceptional talent and believes that Aya has the potential to earn a prestigious ballet scholarship. But at the same time, Aya and her family must fight to be allowed to remain in the country, to make a home for themselves and to find Aya’s father – separated from the rest of the family during the journey from Syria.

A House Without Walls by Elizabeth Laird, published by Macmillan Children’s Books

Thirteen-year-old Safiya and her family have been driven out of Syria by civil war. Safiya knows how lucky she is – lucky not to be living in a refugee camp, lucky to be alive. But it’s hard to feel grateful when she’s forced to look after her father and brother rather than go back to school, and now that she’s lost her home, she’s lonelier than ever.

As they struggle to rebuild their lives, Safiya realizes that her family has always been incomplete and with her own future in the balance, it’s time to uncover the secrets that war has kept buried.

A House Without Walls is a powerful story of family, hope and redemption amidst the refugee crisis in Syria from the award-winning Elizabeth Laird.

For 12 year olds +

Here in the Real World, by Sara Pennypacker, published by HarperCollins Children’s Books

Ware can’t wait to spend summer ‘off in his own world’ and generally being left alone. But then his parents sign him up for dreaded Rec camp, where he must endure Meaningful Social Interaction and whatever activities so-called ‘normal’ kids do.

On his first day Ware meets Jolene, a tough, secretive girl planting a garden in the rubble of an abandoned church next to the camp. Soon Ware starts skipping Rec, creating a castle-like space of his own in the church lot.

Jolene scoffs, calling him a dreamer – he doesn’t live in the ‘real world’ like she does. As different as Ware and Jolene are, though, they have one thing in common: for them, the lot is a refuge. And when their sanctuary is threatened, Ware vows to save the lot.

But what does a hero look like in real life? And what can two misfit kids do?

No Big Deal, by Bethany Rutter, published by Macmillan Children’s Books (12+)

Emily knows she’s smart. Emily knows she’s funny. Emily knows she’s awesome. Emily knows she’s fat.

She doesn’t need anyone to tell her any of these things – she likes herself and she likes her body. She just thinks it’s time everyone else caught up.

With a newly-slim bestie, a mum knee-deep in fad diets and increasing pressure to change, Emily faces a constant battle to be her true self. But when she meets gorgeous Joe, things start to change. Somehow, she’s going to have to convince everyone, including herself, that it’s no big deal.

‘No Big Deal is an iconic love song to everyone out there who knows that life isn’t one size fits all.’ Julie Murphy, bestselling author of Dumplin

And the Stars Were Burning Brightly by Danielle Jawando, published by Simon and Schuster (12+)

When fifteen-year-old Nathan discovers that his older brother Al has taken his own life, his whole world falls apart.

Al was talented. Al was ambitious. Al was going places…

So why did he do it?

Convinced that his brother was in trouble, Nathan looks into Al’s life and relationships. As he does, he meets Megan, Al’s former classmate, who is as determined as Nathan to keep Al’s memory alive. Together they start seeking answers, but will either of them be able to handle the truth about Al’s death when they eventually discover what happened?

Rules for Being a Girl by Candace Bushnell and Katie Cutogno published by Macmillan Children’s Books (12+)

Don’t be easy. Don’t give it up. Don’t be a prude. Don’t be cold. Don’t put him in the friendzone. Don’t act desperate. Don’t let things go too far. Don’t give him the wrong idea. Don’t blame him for trying. Don’t walk alone at night. But calm down! Don’t worry so much. Smile!

Marin is a smart, driven, popular girl – she’s headed for Brown when she graduates and has a brilliant career as a journalist ahead of her. Especially in the eyes of English teacher Mr Beckett. He spends a lot of time around Marin, and she thinks it’s harmless . . . until he kisses her.

No one believes Marin when she tells them what happened, so she does the only thing she can: she writes an article called ‘Rules for Being a Girl’ for the school paper to point out the misogyny and sexism that girls face every day. As things heat up at school and in her personal life, Marin must figure out how to take back the power and rewrite her own rules.

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