March 21, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

Hearts and Minds: Picture books that strengthen social emotional learning

Many of the foundational skills associated with social emotional learning, such as the ability to identify and process emotions, being aware of oneself and others, controlling impulses, appreciating and embracing different perspectives, demonstrating empathy, building relationships, and making good decisions, are developed in the first years—during preschool and the early elementary grades. The following list is a sampling of titles ideal for starting conversations about SEL topics and themes.


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Please, Mr. Panda by Steve Antony, illus. by author. Scholastic. 2014. ISBN 9780545788922.

Boats for Papa by Jessixa Bagley, illus. by author. Roaring Brook. 2015. ISBN 9781626720398.
emotions; grief; resilience

Sam’s Pet Temper by Sangeeta Bhadra, illus. by Marion Arbona. Kids Can. 2014.
ISBN 9781771380256.

Last Stop on Market Street by Matt de la Peña, illus. by Christian Robinson. Putnam. 2015.
ISBN 9780399257742.
appreciating diversity; perspective-taking; social engagement

How To Heal a Broken Wing by Bob Graham, illus. by author. Candlewick. 2008.
ISBN 9780763639037.
empathy; ethical responsibility; identifying problems; solving problems

Thanks a Million by Nikki Grimes, illus. by Cozbi A. Cabrera. HarperCollins/Greenwillow. 2006.
ISBN 9780688172930.
gratitude; self-awareness; social awareness

Red: A Crayon’s Story by Michael Hall, illus. by author. HarperCollins/Greenwillow. 2015. ISBN 9780062252074.
self-awareness; self-esteem; social awareness

Waiting by Kevin Henkes, illus. by author. HarperCollins/Greenwillow. 2015. ISBN 9780062368430.
Empathy; patience

I Like Being Me: Poems About Kindness, Friendship, and Making Good Choices by Judy Lalli. Free Spirit. 2016. ISBN 9781631980923.
empathy; relationships; responsible decision-making

The Invisible Boy by Trudy Ludwig, illus. by Patrice Barton. Knopf. 2013. ISBN 9781582464503.
empathy; perspective-taking

The Honest-to-Goodness Truth by Patricia McKissack, illus. by Giselle Potter. S. & S./Aladdin. 2003. ISBN 9780689853951.
consideration; honesty; emotions

Move Your Mood by Brenda S. Miles & Colleen A. Patterson, illus. by Holly Clifton-Brown. Magination. 2016. ISBN 9781433821127.
accurate self-perception; identifying emotions; stress management

Wild Feelings by David Milgrim, illus. by author. Holt. 2015. ISBN 9780805095876.

Enemy Pie by Derek Munson, illus. by Tara Calahan King. Chronicle. 2000. ISBN 9780811827782.
relationship skills; social awareness

Zen Shorts by Jon Muth, illus. by author. Scholastic. 2005. ISBN 9780439339117.
mindfulness; self-awareness

I’m New Here by Anne Sibley O’Brien, illus. by author. Charlesbridge. 2015. ISBN 9781580896122.

1702-SEL-BookList-CV2Why Am I Here? By Constance Ørbeck-Nilssen, illus. by Akin Duzakin. Eerdmans. 2016.
ISBN 9780802854773.

One by Kathryn Otoshi, illus. by author. KO Kids. 2008. ISBN 9780972394642.
embracing differences

The Feelings Book by Todd Parr, illus. by author. Little, Brown. 2005. ISBN 9780316012492.
Identifying EMOTIONS

The Lion & the Mouse by Jerry Pinkney, illus. by author. Little, Brown. 2009. ISBN 9780316013567.

Ish by Peter H. Reynolds, illus. by author. Candlewick. 2004. ISBN 9780763623449.

A World of Pausabilities: An Exercise in Mindfulness by Frank J. Sileo, illus. by Jennifer Zivoin. Magination. 2017. ISBN 9781433823237.
accurate self-perception; Mindfulness self-awareness

Anh’s Anger by Gail Silver, illus. by Christianne Kromer. Plum Blossom. 2009. ISBN 9781888375947.
emotions; self-awareness; self-management

The Dark by Lemony Snicket, illus. by Jon Klassen. Little, Brown. 2013. ISBN 9780316187480.
emotions; overcoming fear/bravery; self-management

The Most Magnificent Thing by Ashley Spires, illus. by author. Kids Can. 2014.
ISBN 9781554537044.

Is Everyone Ready for Fun? by Jan Thomas, illus. by author. S. & S./Beach Lane. 2011.
ISBN 9781442423640.

The Forgiveness Garden by Lauren Thompson, illus. by Christy Hale. Feiwel & Friends. 2012.
ISBN 9780312625993.
embracing differences; emotions

Separate Is Never Equal: Sylvia Mendez and Her Family’s Fight for Desegregation by Duncan Tonatiuth, illus. by author. Abrams. 2014. ISBN 9781419710544.

Sometimes I’m Bombaloo by Rachel Vail, illus. by Yumi Heo. Scholastic. 2005.
ISBN 9780439669412.
Identifying emotions

And Two Boys Booed by Judith Viorst, illus. by Sophie Blackall. Farrar. 2014. ISBN 9780374303020.
empathy; fear; self-management; resilience

A Chair for My Mother by Vera B. Williams, illus. by author. HarperCollins/Greenwillow. (25th Ed.) 2007. ISBN 9780688040741.
EMPATHY; responsible decision-making; SELF-MANAGEMENT

Each Kindness by Jacqueline Woodson, illus. by E.B. Lewis. Penguin/Nancy Paulsen Bks. 2012. ISBN 9780399246524.
empathy; perspective-taking; respect for others

Hooray for Hat! by Brian Won, illus. by author. HMH. 2014. ISBN 9780544159037.

Jack’s Worry by Sam Zuppardi, illus. by author. Candlewick. 2016. ISBN 9780763678456.
Emotions; overcoming fear/bravery; self-management

Publishers with an SEL Focus

Cuento De Luz, in partnership with the What Really Matters Foundation, publishes a series of titles focusing on “universal human, ethic and moral values.”

Free Spirit Publishing is known for their children’s and teen self-help books and guides.

Little Parachutes publishes “picture books to help children with life’s challenges.”

Little Pickle Press’s mission is to publish books that “foster kindness in young people.”

Magination Press is an imprint of the American Psychological Association.

Red Chair Press , particularly its “Smart Start” series, focuses on health and community.

Other Great SEL Booklists

SEL Through Literature from Bank Street College of Education:

Children’s Book List from the Center on the Social and Emotional Foundations for Early Learning:

This article was published in School Library Journal's February 2017 issue. Subscribe today and save up to 35% off the regular subscription rate.