Using Children’s Books to Teach SEL: A Value Added Endeavor

A quality children’s picture book brings so much enthusiasm and engagement to any child. The rich vocabulary, the imaginative ideas, and the beautiful illustrations sends a clear message to a child of any age: reading can be fun and meaningful. 

These books below (and many more) do all of the above and can be integrated into social-emotional learning lessons in many classrooms. They naturally facilitate an authentic class discussion with your students that extend beyond “reading time.”  Which books are already in your classroom library? Please suggest new titles under the comments below. I will continue to add new titles. 

These are Amazon affiliate links; there is no added cost to you, but I receive a small commission to help support this website.

  1. That Fruit is Mine! by Anuska Allepuz

Cooperation. It’s all about teamwork. When five fruit-loving elephants spot a scrumptious hard-to-reach fruit high up in a tree, it’s a race to see who can claim it first! But after one too many fumbles, the elephants begin to lose their cool, and the highly coveted fruit is whisked away by the teeny-tiniest of all jungle creatures–mice! The elephants soon realize they have a lot to learn from this cooperative little bunch.


2. When Sophie Thinks She Can’t by Molly Bang

Resilience; Persistence. Sophie is discouraged because she always struggles with math and puzzles–until her teacher shows her the hidden value of “try” and “yet.”


3. Tyrannosaurus Wrecks! by Stuart Gibbs

Cooperation; learning from mistakes. All the little dinosaurs play nicely, but . . . Tyrannosaurus wrecks!


4. I Am Every Good Thing by Darrick Barnes

Self-esteem. A powerful, joyful affirmation of boyhood. An upbeat, empowering, important picture book from the team that created the award-winning Crown: An Ode to the Fresh Cut


5. I’m Sad by Michael Ian Black

Feelings. Empathy. A girl, a potato, and a very sad flamingo star in this charming sequel to I’m Bored by New York Times bestselling author and comedian Michael Ian Black and celebrated illustrator Debbie Ridpath Ohi.


6. Gumption by Elise Broach

Persistence and tenacity. When Peter goes on an African adventure with his beloved Uncle Nigel, who hopes to spot a rare gorilla, the oblivious Nigel urges Peter on by telling him to have gumption, while Peter keeps his eyes open and uses his ingenuity.


7. I Am Perfectly Designed by Karamo Brown

Self-esteem; Relationships. A father and son share a day in the city and a conversation about what they love about each other.


8. The Bear and the Moon by Matthew Burgess and Catia Chien 

Big feelings; Self-acceptance. When the gift of a balloon floats into Bear’s life, the two companions embark on a journey of discovery as small as a clearing in the forest . . . and as deep as the sky.


9. I am Enough by Grace Byers

Kindness; Self esteem. Shares a story of loving who you are, respecting others and being kind to one another.


10. I Believe I Can by Grace Byers

Self-esteem; Self-acceptance; Pride. An empowering message for young children.


11. Tiger Days by M.H. Clark and Anna Hurly

Emotions. “Some days I feel so WILD and BRACE and some days I feel small. THERE ARE SO MANY WAYS TO BE when you’re as BIG inside as me.”


12. Breathe and Be: A Book of Mindfulness Poems by Kate Coombs

Mindfulness. A collection of poems paired with imagery of the natural world reminds readers about the importance of staying calm, soothing emotions, and appreciating the world around them.


13. Jabari Jumps by Gaia Cornwall

Overcoming Fears; Determination. Working up the courage to take a big, important leap is hard, but Jabari is almost absolutely ready to make a giant splash. Jabari is definitely ready to jump off the diving board. He’s finished his swimming lessons and passed his swim test, and he’s a great jumper, so he’s not scared at all.


14. The Magical Yet by Angela DiTerlizzi and Lorena Alvarez Gómez

Growth Mindset; Effort; Resilience. Each of us, from the day we’re born, is accompanied by a special companion–the Yet. Can’t tie your shoes? Yet! Can’t ride a bike? Yet! Can’t play the bassoon? Don’t worry, Yet is there to help you out. The Magical Yet is the perfect tool for parents and educators to turn a negative into a positive when helping children cope with the inevitable difficult learning moments we all face.


15. The Rabbit Listened by Cori Doerrfeld

Recovery; Mistakes; Listening. When Taylor’s block castle is destroyed, all the animals think they know just what to do, but only the rabbit quietly listens to how Taylor is feeling.


16. Little Cheetah’s Shadow by Marianne Dubuc

Empathy; Fairness. When Little Cheetah and Little Shadow decide to trade places, they get a chance to see the world through each other’s eyes.


17. Breathe With Me: Using Breath to Feel Strong, Calm, and Happy by Mariam Gates

Self-regulation; Emotions. Potentially scary experiences, such as trying something new or getting mad or sad, are described and depicted, accompanied by breathing exercises that will help children grow calm and feel better during these new experiences.


18. Mustafa by Marie-Louise Gay

Diversity and friendship. After leaving his war-torn country with his family, Mustafa visits a park near his new home and finds beautiful flowers, lady bugs, fall leaves, and finally, a friend.


19. When We Are Kind Nihaa’ádahwiinít’̜́́ıįgo by Monique Gray Smith

Kindness. This dual-language beautiful picture book looks at how the simple act of being kind, to others and oneself, affects all aspects of a child’s life. In English and Diné.


20. We Don’t Eat Our Classmates! by Ryan T. Higgins

Learning from mistakes. When the class pet bites the finger of Penelope, a tyrannosaurus rex, she finally understands why she should not eat her classmates, no matter how tasty they are.


2 responses to “Using Children’s Books to Teach SEL: A Value Added Endeavor”

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