The best picture books about empathy for the world’s creatures

Who am I?

I’ve always been interested in the natural world. I grew up seeing the birds, raccoons, and deer that lived in the woods near my home in Western Pennsylvania. But over the years I began watching smaller things more carefully: tiny creatures with many legs—or no legs at all! I learned that even though earthworms are blind they can sense light. I realized that among “identical” ants, some behaved differently. I found out that if I was gentle, honeybees didn’t mind being petted. Even if we think they’re icky, we owe these tiny creatures our understanding and compassion.


I wrote...

The Rescuer of Tiny Creatures

By Curtis Manley, Lucy Ruth Cummins (illustrator),

Book cover of The Rescuer of Tiny Creatures

What is my book about?

Roberta rescues tiny creatures, like the worms she finds stranded in the middle of the sidewalk on her way to school. That earns her funny looks from the other kids. But one day there’s an invasion of tiny creatures in her classroom, and Roberta will need to use her knowledge and creativity to show everybody that tiny creatures aren’t so scary after all. They just need friends who rescue and understand them. 

Lucy Ruth Cummins’ dynamic illustrations show the tiny creatures Roberta rescues—and her emotional journey through the story, from ridicule to gratitude. The Rescuer of Tiny Creatures was selected as a Blueberry Award Changemaker book and a Nautilus Award Gold Winner.

The books I picked & why

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The Salamander Room

By Anne Mazer, Steve Johnson (illustrator), Lou Fancher (illustrator)

Book cover of The Salamander Room

Why this book?

Brian found a beautiful, little orange salamander in the woods and took it home. When his mother asks where it will sleep, Brian’s concern for making the salamander feel at home leads him to suggest how to keep it comfortable—by making the house more and more like the forest the salamander came from... 

With its thoughtful text and absolutely gorgeous illustrations, this book was a favorite in our home when my daughter was young.

The Salamander Room

By Anne Mazer, Steve Johnson (illustrator), Lou Fancher (illustrator)

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Salamander Room as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.


Many: The Diversity of Life on Earth

By Nicola Davies, Emily Sutton (illustrator),

Book cover of Many: The Diversity of Life on Earth

Why this book?

I admire this lovely book for making a scientific concept both clear and inspiring to young readers. 

Many explains that we are surrounded all the time by many thousands of kinds of living things. Each one depends on others in a big, beautiful, complicated pattern—a pattern that also makes the world suitable for us. But in too many places we humans are breaking that pattern, and animals and plants are going extinct... Repeated readings will reveal new animals and plants in the colorful illustrations teeming with living things both familiar and exotic.

Many: The Diversity of Life on Earth

By Nicola Davies, Emily Sutton (illustrator),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Many as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.


Insect Detective

By Steve Voake, Charlotte Voake (illustrator),

Book cover of Insect Detective

Why this book?

This is a gentle invitation to the world of insects, with tips on how to get to know some common ones and the strange things they do. Well, strange to you! Their lives may be different from ours, but they’re still interesting: wasps chewing wood to make paper, ants stopping to share the news with other ants, moths pretending to be leaves to hide from birds. But not all tiny creatures are insects, so which are and which aren’t are explained also. Every type of creature has its own story; keep your eyes open and you’ll be able to discover those stories and tell them to your friends.

Insect Detective

By Steve Voake, Charlotte Voake (illustrator),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Insect Detective as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.


Song of the Water Boatman and Other Pond Poems

By Joyce Sidman, Beckie Prange (illustrator),

Book cover of Song of the Water Boatman and Other Pond Poems

Why this book?

In poems as varied in sound and shape as each subject, we are introduced to a pond and its inhabitants—from frogs, ducks, and turtles to cattails, duckweed, and microscopic water bears. I love this book equally for its poems and for its beautiful, hand-colored woodblock prints (which won it a Caldecott Honor). The illustrations show each creature or plant and their specific niches in the pond, and the sidebar text tells more about each one, but in the poems we hear their voices—beginning with spring peepers:

Listen for me on a spring night,
on a wet night,
on a rainy night.
Listen for me on a still night,
for in the night, I sing.

Song of the Water Boatman and Other Pond Poems

By Joyce Sidman, Beckie Prange (illustrator),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Song of the Water Boatman and Other Pond Poems as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.


Old Pearl

By Wendy Wahman,

Book cover of Old Pearl

Why this book?

Perhaps the soft spot I have for this book is because it’s another story about rescuing a wild animal and giving it a further chance.

Every day at the park, Theo makes sure the slow bird with the raggedy wing gets some of the birdseed he throws to the younger, quicker birds. But when a dog runs at the birds, Theo learns that old Pearl, as he names her, can’t fly. He saves Pearl and brings her home, and he and his grandma take care of the bird. Theo’s heartfelt concern allows Pearl to live the rest of her life out of danger, and she and Theo become close companions. But with animal friends, there will come a time to have to say goodbye...

Old Pearl

By Wendy Wahman,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Old Pearl as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in empathy, insects, and Christianity?

6,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about empathy, insects, and Christianity.

Empathy Explore 93 books about empathy
Insects Explore 15 books about insects
Christianity Explore 369 books about Christianity

And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

We think you will like Secret Place, Finding Wild, and Cougar Crossing if you like this list.