The Big Orange Splot
Mr Plumbean lives on a neat street where all the houses are the same. One day a seagull drops a can of orange paint on his roof. It triggers off a riotous repainting by Plumbean of his house, leaving the neighbours horrified - until they come, one by one, to talk to him about their innermost dreams, and start repainting their own homes, each to reflect their hidden passions. The story is not explicitly about empathy, but whatever it is that Plumbean says to them as they sit in his garden talking late at night (we don't get to listen in), he convinces them to express themselves, and to respect the dreams of others, however different their ideal homes may be from one other's. It's a brilliant book for living big, expressing yourself, defying conformity, and tolerating difference. It also makes clear than even the most apparently unremarkable people have wild hidden dreams that are worth discovering. The illustrations are unusually childlike, which I love about it. I have given more copies of this story to friends' children (aged 3-7) than any other book. Beware: it may lead you to repaint your house. Here is a short video of it being read aloud.