Using Books to Teach Perspective Taking Skills to Children
Updated: Sep 30, 2022
Perspective taking, or theory of mind, is an important skill to teach our children. I think of empathy as the emotional component, whereas perspective-taking is the cognitive side of empathy. Books are a wonderful way to discuss and explore theory of mind, or perspective-taking skills with children!
In this blog post, I will share 31 picture books and then some activities that will help your children or students take someone else's point of view and spark interesting discussions in your homes, classrooms, or counseling offices.
How can teaching theory of mind or perspective-taking skills help your children?
Perspective taking is the ability to see something from another person's point of view, or perspective. When someone says "put yourself in their shoes," they're asking you to use your perspective taking skills.
According to Ruhl (2007) theory of mind is "the ability to attribute mental states — beliefs, intents, desires, emotions, and knowledge — to ourselves and others." Perspective taking skills help you predict how others will act. These skills help us understand that other people have different thoughts, feelings, beliefs, desires, and intentions from us which helps us in both our social interactions and our conflict resolution/problem solving skills too.
Psychologists use false-belief tasks to assess perspective taking or theory of mind skills in children. For example, they might show children a candy box filled with pennies and then ask the child what they think someone else would expect to find inside the box.
We all want to raise our children to be empathic and caring. Some children struggle with this skill so that's why this is a topic I like to spend a lot of time on! Learn more about why it is integral to teach perspective-taking skills to your children in this blog post.
If you want to check out some videos to use with kids to work on perspective taking skills, be sure to head on over to this blog post!
Want a free printable dice rolling activity to work on perspective taking skills with kids?
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31 Favorite Picture Books to Teach Perspective Taking Skills to Children
What Do You See? A Conversation in Pictures by Jamie Lee Curtis and Barney Saltzberg In this book, Jamie Lee Curtis, the photographer shares her pictures, and the illustrator, Barney Saltzberg, uses his imagination to create something fun and new from the photographs. This is a fun book to introduce the concept that we can each look at the same thing and have different thoughts about it. Kids will love to look at the pictures and discuss what they see!
Inspired by this book, you could make this into an art project, if you have the app procreate on the iPad. One person could take the photos, and the other person could draw on top of the photos to create the picture into something new!
The Invisible Boy by Trudy Ludwig is an endearing tale about Brian, the invisible boy, who wasn’t seen by anyone. He was always left behind and forgotten, until one day the new student, Justin, came to school. Brian is seen by Justin after a while, and they become friends. This story encompasses empathy and is very relatable to a lot of students. Students can discuss empathy and will learn that they can do to be the one to help make another person feel seen.
Should I Share My Ice Cream? By Mo Willems This is a super cute book in the Elephant & Piggie series that shows the thinking process that the elephant has about whether or not he should share his ice cream with his friend. In the end, he takes the perspective of his friend and decides he should share his ice cream.
Leonardo the Terrible Monster by Mo Willems is a story about a monster who has trouble scaring people. Then he finally tries to scare someone named Sam. Sam cries and then tells him a sad story about why he’s crying. When he heard Sam’s point of view, he showed some perspective-taking skills and empathy and changed his mind. He then decided to be a wonderful friend instead of a terrible monster!
The Red Bicycle: The Extraordinary Story of One Ordinary Bicycle by Jude Isabella and Simone Shin is an amazing book for upper elementary kids about a boy in the United States who has a very beloved bicycle but grows out of it, so donates it. The bike is then shipped to Burkina Faso in West Africa. The story shows how many uses this bicycle can get across the world, and it really helps build perspective-taking and empathy skills for children. They even use the bike as an ambulance there!
In the back of the book there are a lot of ideas about what kids can do to help others, as well as bicycle relief organizations that kids can donate their bikes to. This book is part of CitizenKid which is a collection of books that inform children about the world and inspire them to be better global citizens. I’m definitely going to be reading more of these valuable books!!
Hey, Little Ant by Debbie Tilley, Phillip, and Hannah Hoose - This book takes place as a conversation between a kid and an ant. The kid wants to squish the ant, but then we hear the ants perspective. The ant even asks the boy to take his point of view, when he asks, “If you were me and I were you, what would you want me to do?”
Weird (The Weird! Series Book 1 of 3) by Erin Frankel and Paula Heaphy - This set is a series of three books. This book takes place from Luisa’s perspective, who is the child who is being bullied. At the end of the book she decides “I guess I’ll just be me from now on.”
Dare (The Weird! Series Book 2 of 3) by Erin Frankel and Paula Heaphy - This is book two in the series and is written from Jayla’s perspective, who is the bystander. Originally, Jayla got picked on by Sam and she didn’t dare stick up for herself. Then Sam picked on a new student named Luisa. “I remember the way I felt when I was bullied. When no one dared stand up for me. I never thought I’d be the one standing by.”
Tough (The Weird! Series Book 2 of 3) by Erin Frankel and Paula Heaphy - The third book in the series is told from the perspective of Sam, the bully. In this version we see that Sam is picked on by her older brother at home. She learns that instead of being tough, being kind is cool, and when she shows she cares about others, other people care back!
The Catawampus Cat by Jason Carter Eaton is a fun short story about a tilted cat who walks into town one day, slightly tilted to one side. The people of the town tried to straighten out this askew cat, but the cat always seemed to tilt back to the side. The people in town then start tilting their head to see things from the cat’s perspective, and they make cool discoveres and learn some new things by changing their perspective!
Shadow by Suzy Lee is an awesome picture book for perspective taking - on one side is an illustration, on the other wise is the shadows - but if you look close, and change your point of view, the shadows look very different - especially when they're combined with the girl’s imagination. This would be a fun book to use and then talk about paredolia. Learn how you can do an art project and teach about paredolia as an intervention to help children who are afraid of the dark in this blog post.
The Cot in the Living Room by Hilda Eunice Burgos is a great story about perspective taking. The little girl who tells the story is envious of guests who come over and get to sleep on the cot in the living room. Once she has a chance to sleep in the cot herself, she changes her perspective on the matter, and becomes more gracious towards her guests!
XO, Exoplanet by Deborah Underwood is a short story with great illustrations. This is a very cute book about the planets in our solar system who find an exoplanet, which is a planet outside our solar system. They think the planet outside our solar system is an outsider, but the planet outside, thinks they are the outsiders. They eventually learn that different planets have different perspectives about things! One of my favorite lines is, “Who’s right? They’re all right it depends on how you look at things.” They learn to apologize and come to the realization that, “To us, you are an exoplanet, but to you, we are the exoplanet." This book would be a fun way to tie in some SEL into your STEM learning lessons too!
The Last House on Market Street by Matt de la Peña and Christian Robinson is a story about a boy named CJ, who ventures around the city on a bus with his Nana. CJ learns to change his perspective and see the beauty in the world around him. One of my favorite lines in this book is, “He wondered how his Nana always found beautiful where he never even thought to look.”
The Wall in the Middle of the Book by Jon Agee - In this adorable short story, there is a wall in the middle of the book which protects a knight from some beasts, including an ogre the knight is quite afraid of. However, the knight changes his perspective after there is a flood and he is rescued by the ogre!
Tale of Two Beasts by Fiona Robertson is a wonderful picture book to introduce point of view. This book is cutely illustrated and comes in two parts. The first part is told from the point of view of the girl, and the second part is told from the point of view of the animal.
The True Story of the Three Little Pigs by Jon Scieszka and Lane Smith is an entertaining story told from the perspective of Alexander T. Wolf, or Al. Even though the world has pegged him as the Big Bad Wolf, they’ve got it all wrong because according to him, he was framed! He does not see himself as big or bad but as misunderstood. He simply wanted a cup of sugar from his neighbors the pigs, but his wicked cold kept causing him to sneeze and blow down the houses. Of course, he does eat two of the pigs, but he claims he was framed and made out to be the bad guy. This book is a wonderful choice for perspective taking because it showcases a classic story from a new and silly perspective.
No Lie, Pigs and Their Houses Can Fly! By Jessica Gunderson and Cristian Luis Bernardini is a creative story about the three little pigs, told from the perspective of the wolf. The wolf in this story isn’t big or bad, but has bad breath, or uncontrollable breathing syndrome (UBS.) At first, one of the pigs, Mort, doesn’t want to be friends with the wolf, but something happens and he changes his perspective. Mort then teaches the wolf how to use his UBS for good!
Seriously, Cinderella is so Annoying! By Trisha Sue Speed Shaskan is the story of Cinderella, as told by the wicked Stepmother. This is an interesting spin on the classic fairytale because the reader takes the perspective of the Stepmother in this version.
Honestly, Red Riding Hood Was Rotten! By Trisha Sue Speed Shaskan is the story of little red riding hood, as told by the wolf. This whole series of books is so fun! It would be great to read the classic version, and then this one to compare the different character’s perspectives.
Elephant in the Dark by Mina Javaherbin and Eugene Yelchin is a beautiful picture book based on a poem by one of my favorite poets, Rumi. A merchant buys a myserious creature from India. He’s tired from his long trip so he keeps the creature in his dark barn while he rests. The curious villagers climb inside the dark barn and feel the creature, each thinking it’s something very different. When the merchant finally brought the elephant out, “No one noticed that they each knew only a small piece of the truth.”
Monsters in the Fog by Ali Bahrampour is a story about a donkey named Hakim who travels up a mountain to visit his friend Daisy. He meets a goat who warns him that there are monsters on the mountain. As he travels, the fog is so thick that he continually thinks he sees monsters. Soon he learns that things are not always what they seem to be as he travels up the mountain.
Snappsy the Alligator and his Best Friend Forever by Julie Falatko and Tim J. Miller is a cute book about an alligator and a chicken. The chicken follows Snappsy the alligator around trying to be his BFF, but Snappsy seems annoyed and isn’t really into it. Finally, Snappsy is left alone, but he soon realizes he feels pretty lonely. So he changes his perspective, and invites the chicken over to hang out and they become BFFs.
Wagons Ho!: Then and Now on the Oregon Trail By George Hallowell, Juan Holub, and Lynne Avril is a unique book with a historical twist. This is a parallel story about two girls that live more than one hundred years apart, but are each traveling west 2,000 miles along the Oregon trail to find their new home. In this story you can take the perspective of each girl to see how their journeys are different over time (in 1846 and now.). This would be a great way to tie in social-emotional learning to your social studies lessons!
Stand In My Shoes: Kids Learning About Empathy by Bob Sornson - This is a great book that you can also do some really great projects with! You can use different pictures of shoes and have the students imagine and create stories about the person's life who might have been wearing these shoes (a nice flexible thinking activity.) This can help the children put themselves in someone else's perspective or frame of mind. You could even attach different role-play scenarios to the pictures.
Believe me, Goldilocks Rocks! The Story of the Three Bears as Told by Baby Bear by Nancy Loewen and Tatevik Avakyan is a funny story as told by Sam (he doesn't like the name Baby Bear!) where he shares how him and Goldilocks are actually best friends!
A Chair for My Mother by Vera B. Williams - after a family has a house fire and lose all of their belongings, the community helps pitch in. The little girl telling the story helps save her own money for a long time to help buy a comfortable chair for her Mom.
Spaghetti in a Hot Dog Bun by Maria Dismondy is a book about a girl named Lucy who loves to eat interesting foods (like spaghetti in a hot dog bun), and has big hair. She is teased by a boy named Ralph for being different. Lucy ends up learning from her Papa Gino and she uses her perspective taking skills to help Ralph when he's stuck.
Crow Boy by Taro Yashima is a great book about bullying that can also be used to discuss perspective taking. Chibi is a shy Japanese boy who is being bullied and judged by his peers. He had no friends and was even afraid of the teacher. This is a great chance to talk with kids about Chibi's perspective. Luckily, Mr. Isobe comes along and changes things for Chibi.
What is a Thought? by Amy Kahofer and Jack Pransky isn't exactly about perspective taking, but it's an awesome book to introduce the concept of thoughts to younger children. Then you can move into the concept that we all have different thoughts (even about the same thing!)
Duck! Rabbit! by Amy Krouse Rosenthal and Tom Lichtenheld is a favorite picture book inspired by the famous drawing from 1892. When I read this book, I usually also share these optical illusion cards
Activities to Teach Perspective Taking Skills to Children
Perspective taking is such an important skill to teach children, I have a bunch of incredible activities for you to work on this lagging skill with kids. You could buy each resource individually, or get them at a great discount in either of these growing bundles!
The Social Skills Treasury Growing Bundle has three sets dedicated to perspective taking, along with resources targeting sportsmanship, kindness and caring, and self-control. Students will learn what perspective taking is while playing games, reading, writing, and doing other activities while practicing their perspective taking skills! Lock in the price today, as new resources are added at no additional cost to you, and the cost goes up as new resources are added.