April 23, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

Open Circle Names 25 Best Books for Kids’ Social and Emotional Learning

To celebrate its 25th anniversary, the Open Circle Program at the Wellesley Centers for Women (WCW), a provider of evidence-based social and emotional learning for K–5 kids, has released its list of the top 25 children’s books that connect to kids’ social and emotional development. The chosen books cover a range of important skills, such as self-awareness, self-management, empathy, dealing with conflict, and problem-solving. The Hundred Dresses, by Eleanor Estes, tops the list.

“Of the countless books that teachers use to shed light on such issues as friendship, inclusion, empathy, problem solving, or understanding differences, some titles stand out for being especially authentic and memorable,” Open Circle says in its announcement. “Like good friends, the books on this list are potential sources of comfort, validation, laughter, surprises, and new perspectives for children.”

1. The Hundred Dresses.* Eleanor Estes. Harcourt, 1944. Gr 3–5.
2. Crow Boy. Taro Yashima. Viking, 1955. Gr 2–5.
3. Yesterday I Had the Blues. Jeron Ashford Frame. Tricycle. 2003. Gr 2–5.
4. Henry and the Kite Dragon. Bruce Edward Hall. Philomel, 2004. Gr 3–5.
5. Crazy Hair Day. Barney Saltzberg. Candlewick, 2003. Gr 2–4.
6. Lilly’s Purple Plastic Purse. Kevin Henkes. HarperCollins/Greenwillow,1996. Gr K–3.
7. I Miss Franklin P. Shuckles. Ulana Snihura. Annick, 1998. Gr 1–3.
8. Danitra Brown, Class Clown. Nikki Grimes. Harpercollins/Amistad, 2005. Gr 3–5.
9. Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy.* Gary Schmidt. Clarion, 2004. Gr 5.
10. Wonder.* R.J. Palacio. Knopf, 2012. Gr 3–5.
11. Rules.* Cynthia Lord. Scholastic, 2006. Gr 3–5.
12. Anything But Typical. Nora Raleigh Baskin. S&S, 2009. Gr 5.
13. When Sophie gets Angry, Really Angry. Molly Bang. Scholastic/Blue Sky, 1999. Gr K–1.
14. My Name is María Isabel.* Alma Flor Ada. S&S/Atheneum, 1993. Gr 3–4.
15. Thank you Mr. Falker. Patricia Polacco. Philomel, 1998. Gr 4–5.
16. Yoon and the Jade Bracelet. Helen Recorvits. Farrar,  2008. Gr 3–4.
17. The Teddy Bear. David McPhail. Holt, 2002. Gr 3–5.
18. Mouse Was Mad. Linda Urban. Harcourt, 2009. Gr K–1.
19. Teammates. Peter Golenbock. Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1990. Gr 4–5.
20. Chrysanthemum. Kevin Henkes. HarperCollins/Greenwillow, 1991. Gr K–1.
21. Joey Pigza Swallowed the Key.* Jack Gantos. Farrar, 1998. Gr 4–5.
22. Also Known as Harper.* Ann Haywood Leal. Holt, 2009. Gr 5.
23. How to Steal a Dog.* Barbara O’Connor. Farrar, 2007. Gr 5.
24. Becoming Naomi Leon.* Pam Munoz Ryan. Scholastic, 2004. Gr 3–5.
25. Willow’s Whispers. Lana Button. Kids Can Press, 2010. Gr K–1.

*chapter book or novel

For more information about several of the titles on this list and interactive ways that these books can be used to help engage children, a series of short videos, featuring Peg Sawyer, B.S.Ed., trainer and coach with the Open Circle Program, is available online.

The Wellesley Centers for Women is one of the largest gender-focused research and action organizations in the world. Scholars at the Centers conduct social science research and evaluation, develop theory and publications, and implement training and action programs on issues that put women’s lives and women’s concerns at the center.

(Editor’s note: What are your favorite titles for helping kids develop their social and emotional skills? Please comment with suggestions for new books as well as your perennial favorites.)

Karyn M. Peterson About Karyn M. Peterson

Karyn M. Peterson (kpeterson@mediasourceinc.com) is a former News Editor ofSLJ.



  1. Stacy Dillon says:

    How To Heal A Broken Wing, by Graham

  2. Liz Lyons says:

    Love the book “Henry and the Kite Dragon” by Bruce Edward Hall, illustrated by William Low.

  3. Add the book, Muskrat Will Be Swimming, by Cheryl Savageau. About name calling.

  4. Hands down, the absolute best book I have ever read aloud to my students in terms of social and emotional learning is “Out of my Mind” by Sharon Draper. We had deep, insightful, and sometimes heart-wrenching discussions throughout the book. It is written from the perspective of an eleven-year-old girl with cerebral paulsy, who is incredibly smart but she cannot speak. Here is a portion of the first page:

    “Words have always swirled around me like snowflakes–each one delicate and different, each one melting untouched in my hands.

    Deep within me, words pile up in huge drifts. Mountains of phrases and sentences and connected ideas. Clever expressions. Jokes. Love songs.

    From the time I was really little-maybe just a few months old–words were like sweet, liquid gifts, and I drank them like lemonade. I could almost taste them. They made my jumbled thoughts and feelings have substance. My parents have always blanketed me with conversation. They chattered and babbled. They verbalized and vocalized. My father sang to me. My mother whispered her strength into my ear.

    Every word my parents spoke to me or about me I absorbed and kept and remembered. All of them.

    I have no idea how I untangled the complicated process of words and thought, but it happened quickly and naturally. By the time I was two, all my memories had words, and all my words had meanings.

    But only in my head.

    I have never spoken one single word. I am almost eleven years old.”

    As you can see, the book has beautiful language as well, and I was able to weave in many lessons about similes, metaphors, and descriptive language / word choice. I would highly recommend this book for third grade – middle school.


  1. […] You can view Open Circle Program’s list of 25 SEL books at: http://www.slj.com/2013/01/books-media/25-best-books-for-kids-social-emotional-learning/ […]