There was a study a few years back that reportedly showed a correlation between reading literary fiction and having greater empathy. There is also a great deal of skepticism as to that study’s worth, so I’m not going to present it as proof for the assertion I’m about to make: Books can build empathy. I’m instead going to rely on anecdotal evidence and personal experience and I’m not going to worry too much about whether I can statistically represent all readers (I can’t). I’m just going to say this–If you can read To Kill a Mockingbird and not come away with a deeper appreciation of the complexities of life and the need to protect vulnerable members of our communities, I’m not sure anything can help you become a kinder, more empathetic person. Books and stories transport us from our own limited circumstances, allowing us to enter into the minds and hearts of people quite unlike us. That imaginative exercise can in turn inspire us to be more generous and kind to the real people we encounter every day. Here are 10 titles that may inspire you to meet the world with greater kindness.
Hug Machine by Scott Campbell: The hug machine is available to hug anyone, any time, whether they are square or long, spiky or soft.
Deep Down Dark by Hector Tobar: A Pulitzer Prize winning journalist relates the experiences of the thirty-three men who endured entrapment beneath thousands of feet of rock for a record-breaking sixty-nine days during the San José mine collapse outside of Copiapó, Chile, in August 2010
Heck Superhero by Martine Leavitt: Leavitt has a soft spot for the vulnerable. In this case it’s Heck, a talented artist and son of a mentally unstable single mom. When his mother goes missing after school one day, Heck sets out on a quest to do the one great and heroic deed that will set everything aright.
Wonder by R.J. Palacio: Ten-year-old Auggie Pullman, who was born with extreme facial abnormalities and was not expected to survive, goes from being home-schooled to entering fifth grade at a private middle school in Manhattan, which entails enduring the taunting and fear of his classmates as he struggles to be seen as just another student
Marcelo in the Real World by Francisco Stork: Marcelo struggles to function in the neurotypical world. He’s 18, on the autism spectrum, and being pressured by his father to spend the last summer of his school career working in the mailroom at his law firm. It’s far out of his comfort zone as he discovers truths about himself and others.
Bruiser by Neal Shusterman: This one’s a beautiful book about empathy, and growing up, and learning to carry your own pack. Twins Bronte and Tennyson are in the midst of family turmoil and pain when the school’s mysterious loner comes into their lives and changes everything.
On the Beach by Nevil Shute: Following a nuclear war in the Northern Hemisphere, the inhabitants of a small Australian community await the inevitable after-effects of the bombs to reach them
Seedfolks by Paul Fleischman: One by one, a number of people of varying ages and backgrounds transform a trash-filled inner-city lot into a productive and beautiful garden
Navigating Early by Clare Vanderpool: While on a quest along the Appalachian Trail two boys discover truth can be found in stories, legends and dreams.
Words by Heart by Ouida Sebestyen: A young black girl struggles to fulfill her papa’s dream of a better future for their family in the southwestern town where, in 1910, they are the only blacks.