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. But the genius of the book is its storyline: a mouse walking through the woods uses his wits - and his ability to empathise with his enemies - to survive the hungry jaws of many predators, including the dreaded Gruffalo himself. It's a triumph of David's quick thinking over Goliath's knashing teeth and somehow very comforting for that, especially in the company of young children.
So what makes this an empathy book? At first glance, not much because it is all about animals preying on each other. But children can only get in on the joke of how the mouse outwits his fellow forest dwellers once they have mastered the art of stepping into the shoes (or paws) of others. Two-year-olds go wide eyed at the appearance of the Gruffalo in the woods, but it takes a three-year-old to grin knowingly when the Gruffalo falls for the mouse's clever lines. When your kids 'get' The Gruffalo, they are ready to get empathy.
There is also a beautifully made cartoon film which I think is a brilliant adaptation of the book, and highly recommend for family viewing - everyone in three generations of my family loves it.