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Building Empathy: 5 Read Aloud Books for Parents & Tweens

One of the biggest mistakes many parents make is to stop reading aloud to their children. When your children can read on their own, it’s easy hand over the bedtime book routine to them. After all, we did our time with all those dramatic readings of The Berenstain Bears or Henry and Mudge, right?

Wrong. While there are so many reasons to continue reading to your children of all ages, this compelling article says it best:

“Because listening or reading is mentally active but physically passive, it promotes thought and reflection that may not occur so much in real life. In real life, the drive to action … may shortcut reflection. But in fiction, where we cannot alter what happens, all we can do is feel, reflect, and think. In the process we may learn to care about people whom we might not otherwise care so much about, including people who are quite different from ourselves.”

Building Empathy: 5 Read Aloud Books for Parents and Tweens

In short, sharing stories with your children helps develop the ability to see beyond themselves. You are nurturing moral growth and building empathy. When you have tweens, connecting through reading aloud together is even more important because it can introduce crucial conversations about deep topics that may otherwise not happen. 

In addition, our post-pandemic kids of all ages are often are dealing with more stress than we realize. Their mental health matters. Some kids will prefer to do a relaxing activity like draw, paint, do a craft, or play with sensory toys. Some kids will prefer to just be. Either way, they are connecting to you and a story instead of electronics. Stress is reduced and mental health benefits. 

What should you read to your tweens?

My kids and I have put together this book list which is not only building empathy, but leaves kids begging for one more chapter. (Psst…teens and adults will love them too!) If you have younger children, be sure to heck out this list of empathy building books!

1. Astrid the Unstoppable by Maria Paar 

Originally written in Norwegian, this novel is a gem. Astrid is a hilariously lovable and relatable character who creates chaos wherever she goes. There are some heartbreaking parts, but it’s also full of laughter and wisdom. Don’t miss it. (Also check out Adventures with Waffles & Lena, the Sea and Me by the same author.)

2. Front Desk by Kelly Yang

In this first book in a series of four, my kids really connected with the main character, a ten year old immigrant from China named Mia. Following the stories of the diverse cast of characters through Mia’s eyes gives you a first hand look at the experience of immigrants coming to the United States in the 1990s. My kids begged every night to “read just one more chapter!”

3. Inside Out and Back Again by Thanhhà Lai

Written in free verse poetry, I was skeptical about this book at first. I could not have been more wrong. It blew me away. Free verse poetry was the perfect choice for this novel inspired by the author’s own experience fleeing Vietnam as a refugee following the fall of Saigon. Read it and see why.

4. Wonder by R.J. Palacio

Told from a variety of points of view, the story of a 5th grade boy named Auggie will stick with you long after the last page. When you make a judgment about a character, you are able to later read from their point of view. It changes your perspective, which is a great thing to experience with your kids. The movie by the same name is an excellent follow up, but as always, read the book first.

5. Wish Tree by Katherine Applegate

A truly wonderful story told from the perspective of an old oak tree. Diversity, kindness, friendship and doing what is right are all themes you will come across while reading this warm hearted and often funny book. You’ll be surprised by just how much you will care about all that happens around this wise, old oak. 

Making reading aloud to your big kids a daily routine not only benefits their moral growth and development of empathy, it strengthens your family connection supports mental health. Now, more than ever it seems, these things are so greatly needed in our world.

Please share your top book picks in the comments. We’d love to try your favorites!


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