Ants and Empathy

Hey, Little Ant by Phillip and Hannah Hoose
Illustrated by Debbie Tilley

One of my favourite books to stimulate student discussion and raise the questions of animals as sentient beings. Do they have feelings, do they feel pain and fear and even if they don’t what about respecting our environment? Lots of scope for role play and debate after a super entertaining read aloud.


A boy has his foot raised in readiness to squish an ant. The ant pleads for his life, giving reasons why he shouldn’t be killed: He has a home; family; and, only eats crumbs. But the boy’s reasons seem more compelling and even his friends are telling him to squish ants. Squishing ants is a game!

Everyone knows that ant’s can feel
You’re so tiny you don’t look real
I’m so big and you’re so small,
I don’t think it’ll hurt at all.

When the ant grows bigger and towers over the boy suddenly the game doesn’t seem as much fun.

What should the ant do? What should the boy do? The book leaves the reader to make the decision:

Should the ant get squished? Should the ant go free?
It’s up to the kid, not up to me.
We’ll leave the kid with the raised-up shoe.
What do you think that kid should do?
Giant ant towers over little boy

This book is a brilliant way to start discussions on empathy and animal rights. Take a look at Teaching Children Philosophy for more ideas on how to teach this book.

Jane Addams Children’s Book Award

This book was honoured at the Jane Addams Peace Association Children’s Book Award.

Recommended by Jane Goodall!

Hey, Little Ant is the perfect tool to help inspire compassion in our world’s youth, and has a positive message for grown-ups, too! Share this book and its lessons with your family today.” —Dr. Jane Goodall

My Recommendation

Introduce the scientific argument:

Why do humans and ants have so much in common? by Sara Fox PHD

found in the brilliantly designed and interesting book The Where, The Why and the How: 75 Artists Illustrate Wondrous Mysteries of Science by Matt Lamothe, Julia Rothman et al. and tell your students about these amazing creatures.


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