Reading is a fantastic way for kids to develop empathy and put themselves in the shoes of others. Books can help children (and adults) develop emotional growth, which is exactly the theme of this year's Children's Mental Health Week (7th-13th Feb 2022).
As a librarian, writer, and an avid book reader myself, I can safely say that reading rocks! I promote that love of reading with my two children and we often discuss stories which have affected them emotionally or brought up questions about other people's lives.
My daughter came to me after recently reading Tahereh Mafi's 'A Very Large Expanse of Sea' to tell me all about it. We talked about why it had made her cry, and it led us to discuss the impact of prejudice in the world. Good books open your eyes and allow you to understand the world from multiple angles.
Whilst reading Alex Ruhle's 'Zippel: The Little Keyhole Ghost', to my younger son, we were able to chat about what it might be like to be a latchkey kid. He had never heard of this term, so we talked about how he would feel in that situation. Imagining something from another’s perspective can help a child have empathy for others, build their emotional confidence and create strong relationships.
There are so many fantastic books out there and I've only picked two that recently come to mind. I'd recommend checking out Empathy Lab UK, which believes in the power of reading to build real-life empathy skills. Every year they put together a collection of books "to empower an empathy-educated generation."
The central character of my own children's novel, The Golden Feather, is Alexandra. When she moves house and starts at a new school, she sadly gets targeted by two bullies, Jackie and Karen. She believes life would be easier if her dream of being a golden eagle came true and she could fly away from all her problems. Her dream leads her on a journey to discover her true self. She finds it hard to understand the maxim "those who hurt, hurt others", but she is forced to challenge her own views of the bullies and learn to love herself despite them. It takes courage and commitment to be yourself, but when we do, so much stress and worry in life disappears. I hope children who read my book, will not only lose themselves in the story, but also develop their empathetic skills without even realising it!
So pick up a book, jump into a different world and feel.
Additional reading: Solow, Kate, "Using Children's Books to Build Empathy in Children" (2018). Expressive Therapies Capstone Theses. 28.