Social-Emotional Learning Books

Social and emotional learning (SEL) is an educational tool that emphasizes building social and emotional skills such as managing emotions, problem-solving and creating positive relationships. Social-emotional skills are essential for students to learn. Studies have found a positive correlation between SEL success in school and life. Because of this, many educators are adding SEL into their curricula. If you're looking for ways to incorporate more social-emotional learning into your daily instruction, consider building up a library of social-emotional learning books to read to your students.

Read-alouds are a great way to get your students interested in a particular topic. By reading a book aloud to your student, they are not only developing literacy skills but also learning valuable lessons! If social-emotional skills are something you want to incorporate more into your classroom, here are 10 of our favorite books for teaching these skills.

10 Social-Emotional Learning Books for Students

1. Millie Fierce by Jane Manning

Kindergarten to First Grade

Millie Fierce is about a little girl named Millie who gets tired of always being overlooked and taken advantage of. So, she decides to be fierce! She changes her look and her attitude, acting out to get attention. At first, it works, but soon, everyone starts avoiding her. Millie begins to learn a valuable lesson that actions have consequences and that being mean may not be the best way to get noticed. This book is perfect for helping your students realize the problems with being mean - and being too nice - and learn how to balance being nice with standing up for yourself.

TeacherGoals Tips

This book offers an opportunity for great classroom discussions! Here are a few ideas for extending the lessons learned in this book to real life:

  • After reading, go back through the story and make a chart listing Millie's different actions and the consequences of each one. This will help students see how the events are all connected.
  • Start a discussion with your students about how to treat others who are nice. At the beginning of the book, how did others treat Millie? Was this a good way to treat her? How can we ensure we treat nice people with kindness and not take advantage of them?

2. Breathing Makes it Better by Christopher Willard and Wendy O'Leary

Kindergarten to First Grade

Breathing Makes it Better is a sweet story that teaches children how to use different breathing techniques to cope with strong or negative emotions. Students will be guided through simple calming cues after each story to help them practice mindfulness. This book is a practical and effective resource that is a must-have for any SEL-focused classroom.

TeacherGoals Tips

This book comes with many great opportunities for practicing mindfulness!

  • At the end of each story, take a few minutes to do the guided practice that is included in the book with your students.
  • This book is a great one to pull out anytime your students are having a rough day. You can find the specific section that pertains to the emotion your students are struggling with and work through that exercise together.
  • The exercises included in the book can also make for a great brain break!

3. Big Feelings by Alexandra Penfold

Kindergarten to Third Grade

Big Feelings is a book that teaches children how to handle the big feelings they experience daily. This rhythmic book walks children through various emotions like frustration, overwhelm, and disappointment and how to positively navigate each of these feelings. Teaching skills such as compromise, understanding, and talking things through, this beautifully illustrated book is a powerful emotional tool for students!

TeacherGoals Tips

Sometimes, everyone has big feelings, and this book makes them feel more manageable.

  • Before reading, have students list different emotions they tend to deal with throughout the day. If needed, go over some common feelings and what they mean so students have a good grasp of these.
  • After reading, have students devise an immediate action plan to deal with the "big feelings" they included on their list.

4. The Unbudgeable Curmudgeon by Matthew Burgess

Kindergarten to Third Grade

This playful book is about a little girl trying to cheer up her unusually grumpy brother. She tries everything - even brownies - but nothing seems to work! Eventually, she finds herself in a bit of an irritable mood herself. This fun story helps students learn how their moods can affect others and how to work through it when dealing with a bad mood.

TeacherGoals Tips

Start a discussion with your students after reading this book to get them thinking. Ask them questions like:

  • Have you ever had to deal with a grumpy person? How did that make you feel?
  • What are some things you could do to help cheer up a grumpy curmudgeon?
  • What are some things that would cheer YOU up when you're having a bad day?
  • What tools can you keep in your toolbox to help you fix your attitude when in a bad mood?

These questions will help your students take the lessons from this book and apply them to their own life.

5. Enemy Pie by Derek Munsen

Kindergarten to Fourth Grade

Everything was perfect - until Jeremy Ross moved down the street. Jeremy is neighborhood enemy #1, but thankfully, Dad has a unique recipe for getting rid of enemies! The secret ingredient? Spending an entire day playing with the enemy. This funny but sweet story teaches kids the best way to get rid of an enemy - by turning them into friends! This book teaches kindness, courtesy, respect, and friendship and is perfect for helping kids learn how to deal with conflict.

TeacherGoals Tips

This fun story provides many opportunities for students to reflect on how they treat other kids.

6. Don't Think About Purple Elephants by Susanne Merritt

Kindergarten to Third Grade

Don't Think About Purple Elephants is a helpful book for helping students deal with anxiety. In the book, the main character Sophie often finds herself worrying at night, which keeps her up and causes her to be grumpy the next day. When her well-meaning family only worsens the situation, Sophie's mom comes up with a new approach - and it's silly! Sophie learns how to deal with her anxiety healthily and humorously, which is sure to be helpful to your anxious students.

TeacherGoals Tips

This book will be beneficial for any students you have that deal with anxiety or worry. Consider going beyond the text into a real-life application with these ideas:

  • Before reading, have your students write down one or more thing(s) that they sometimes worry about. You can give them some examples if they need help, like grades, a sports game, a family member or friend, etc.
  • After reading, have students brainstorm something they can use to take their mind off their worries and write or draw it on the paper with their fears. Then, if desired, have them throw their pieces away to illustrate that they are moving on from these concerns!

7. After the Fall by Dan Santat

Kindergarten to Third Grade

This clever story catches up with Humpty Dumpty after his famous fall off the wall. Humpty, now terrified of heights, feels sad that he can no longer do many things he loves, like birdwatching! Will Humpty Dumpty be able to gain the courage to get back up on the wall? After the Fall is a brilliant story that teaches kids emotional resiliency and the importance of getting back up again.

TeacherGoals Tips

After the Fall is a great book to read to students who struggle with fear or discouragement, it will help them learn always to keep pressing on and overcome their fears.

  • Consider reading this story to your class before (or after) events where students may get discouraged or fear that they could get hurt (field day, talent show, etc.). This will help prepare them for any negative emotions they might experience.
  • After reading, ask students to write down one thing they are fearful of on a piece of paper. Then, create a "wall" in your classroom - using desks or chairs, for example - and have students throw their paper off the wall to illustrate overcoming their fears.
  • You can also use this book to accompany a fun STEM wall-building activity!

8. A Quiet Place by Douglas Wood

Kindergarten to Third Grade

This book is the perfect way to introduce a classroom cool-down spot or other calming strategies. A Quiet Place is a book about finding a special place where we can "think our thoughts and feel our feelings." The book helps encourage self-regulation of emotions by assisting kids in finding their special quiet place where they can feel and reflect in peace.

TeacherGoals Tips

A Quiet Place is an excellent tool for helping children self-regulate when experiencing intense feelings.

  • If you don't already have one, consider dedicating a particular corner of the room as a "cool-down" spot. This can just be an isolated spot where kids go to be in their "quiet place" temporarily and as needed. Consider including other helpful tools in this area, like a timer, stuffed animals, stress balls, or posters describing breathing techniques.
  • If a cool-down spot isn't an option for your classroom, teach your students a few different calming strategies instead. Some examples of this would be breathing techniques, counting to 10, and asking to get some water. This book can be used to introduce these strategies since each one helps children get to their "quiet place."

9. Grow Happy by Jon Lasser, PhD

Kindergarten to Third Grade

Lasser's Grow Happy teaches children they are in charge of their happiness. The book introduces us to Kiko, a gardener, who shows us how to cultivate happiness using tools that we already have at our disposal. Kiko teaches about social support, choices, and problem-solving, which are all tools readily available to us that can help to nurture our happiness.

TeacherGoals Tips

This book can open up some great discussions about choices and other tools we have to create our happiness. Here are a few suggestions:

  • One way we can control our happiness is by making wise choices in our everyday life. Walk through different daily decisions kids are faced with and how one choice might cultivate more joy than another.
  • Ask your students to brainstorm one thing they can do today to "grow happy" in their life.
  • Have students "plant" their happiness garden as a fun extension project! Provide a template or have students draw a garden with flowers, labeling the different plants with various tools they can use to nurture happiness.

10. Diary of an Awesome Friendly Kid by Jeff Kinney

Third to Sixth Grade

If your students love the Diary of a Wimpy Kid books, this spin-off is a must-have for teaching social-emotional learning! Diary of an Awesome Friendly Kid follows Rowley Jefferson, who writes a "biography" of his best friend Greg Hefley, and it turns into a hilarious mess. This book is one your students are sure to love and will also open up opportunities for some great discussions on what it truly means to be a friend.

TeacherGoals Tips

This book is a must-read for Diary of a Wimpy Kid fans! One project your students might enjoy after reading this book is writing their biography about a friend! Each student can choose a friend of theirs to write about in Wimpy Kid style. Before starting, talk about how students will have the opportunity to present their friends in either a positive or negative light. Encourage them to consider how they want their friend to write about them while working. When their biography is complete, they can give it to the friend they wrote about!

Social-emotional learning books are a fantastic tool for helping students learn to regulate emotions, solve problems, and have strong relationships. There are many ways to incorporate these books into your instruction, whether for an SEL-exclusive lesson or integrated into regular learning. Regardless of how you use them, your students will surely get excellent benefits from reading these books!

Want to grab all these books for your classroom? Check out our Amazon Idea List with all our favorite books for social and emotional learning here.

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Want ideas for more read-alouds? Check out these:

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