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Ben is given a toy penguin. Despite all Ben's efforts to make friends with his gift, Penguin says nothing and appears characterless. But the shocking behaviour of a passing lion prompts Penguin to show his true colours, and his love for Ben.
I'm going to declare this book as the ideal early-years first introduction to empathy. Bobo is a baby chimp living in the jungle and he has lost his mum. Everywhere he goes, he sees other baby animals being cuddled by one of their parents and he cries the same refrain on every page, "hug!".
The Gruffalo is a modern classic, and rightly so. Its impulsive rhythm makes it a great read aloud even for very young children - my twins were gripped by it when they were one.
Another classic Alfie book from that wonderful empath and observer of small human nature, Shirley Hughes.