Social-emotional learning (SEL) has taken the world by storm, and for good reason.

Research shows that educational environments that support SEL programs see an improvement in academic scores, classroom behavior, and students’ ability to manage emotions.

As district leads know, embedding the five SEL competencies (self-management, self-awareness, social awareness, responsible decision making, and relationship skills) into classroom curriculum allows for students to practice these skills in a safe environment with tiered support systems in place.

One of the easiest ways to introduce SEL topics is through the use of literature. Reading not only provides context for social-emotional learning, but also lets those wary of sharing personal stories participate in the discussion. 

Need to upgrade your classroom library? Look no further than the list below. These 25 titles cover all five social and emotional competencies to ensure that your students are learning and practicing the spectrum of SEL skills. 

While middle and high school teachers may naturally lean towards the graphic novel or chapter books on this list, remember that picture books aren’t just for little kids. Most of these suggestions are suitable for all ages, whether it’s simply for an introduction to a unit or for a lengthier discussion on a specific SEL standard.

Self-Awareness

1. The Proudest Blue: A Story of Hijab and Family by Ibtihaj Muhammad: Faizah is excited for the first day of school, but is met with hurtful, confusing words from classmates about her hijab. This is a universal story of adversity, new experiences, and being proud of who you are.

2. The World Needs Who You Were Made to Be by Joanna Gaines: As the children work together to build their own hot air balloons, they learn and lean into their own talents. Gaines’ book emphasizes that we should celebrate every child’s one-of-a-kind strengths, and that these skills and abilities can make the world more beautiful.

3. The Name Jar by Yangsook Choi: Having just moved from Korea, Unhei is anxious that American kids will like her. She decides to go by American names her classmates can easily pronounce, but through this process, realizes it’s more important to celebrate her identity and be herself.

4. Other Words for Home by Jasmine Warga: In this coming-of-age novel, Jude and her mother are sent to America away from family when things in her home country of Syria become hostile. As she navigates her new life in Cincinnati, Jude learns to adjust while celebrating her identity.

5. Echo Mountain by Lauren Wolk: After losing almost everything in the Great Depression, Ellie’s family is forced to leave their home and start over in the wilderness of nearby Echo Mountain. Determined to help her father, who has recently slipped into a coma, Ellie sets out to make her way to the top of the mountain in search of the secrets of a healing woman.

Free eBook: An Educator’s Guide to Developing Social-Emotional Learning Skills in Your K–12 Students

    Self-Management

    6. There Might Be Lobsters by Carolyn Crimi: Sukie, a small dog, is afraid of almost everything at the beach. Eventually, Sukie realizes that her paralyzing feelings are prohibiting her from enjoying life, and learns to overcome her fears of the unknown.

    7. The Girl Who Never Made Mistakes: A Growth Mindset Book For Kids To Promote Self Esteem by Mark Pett and Gary Rubinstein: Beatrice is perfect and never makes mistakes— until she makes a very public one. This book helps kids realize that mistakes are a part of life, help us grow, and can be funny reminders that we aren’t perfect!

    8. Iqbal and His Ingenious Idea: How a Science Project Helps One Family and the Planet by Elizabeth Suneby: Iqbal’s family has to cook indoors during Bangladesh’s monsoon season. He comes up with an idea for the upcoming science fair: a stovetop that doesn’t produce smoke. Iqbal sets his plan and experiment in motion by goal setting and getting help from others.

    9. The Invisible String by Patrice Karst: A mother offers a very simple idea to overcoming loneliness, separation, or loss. She tells her children that we are all connected by an invisible string, and that when we feel the physical side effects of grief (such as heartache), it’s simply the person on the other side tugging saying they miss us too. Karst gives adults the words and images to use when discussing connections between loved ones.

    10. Me and My Feelings: A Kids’ Guide to Understanding and Expressing Themselves by Vanessa Green Allen: This interactive book reminds kids that it’s okay to have big feelings, and that we actually have the power to regulate our emotions. It is also filled with helpful suggestions and individualized quizzes to help children feel empowered to understand and help themselves.

    Social Awareness

    11. Strictly No Elephants by Lisa Mantchev: There will be cats, dogs, and fish at Pet Club Day, but strictly no elephants are allowed. The Pet Club doesn’t understand that pets come in all shapes and sizes, just like friends. Now it is time for a boy and his tiny pet elephant to show them what it means to be a true friend.

    12. Last Stop on Market Street by Matt de la Peña: Every Sunday after church, CJ and his grandma ride the bus across town. This energetic ride through a bustling city highlights perspective taking, understanding, and gratitude.

    13. The Tree Lady: The True Story of How One Tree-Loving Woman Changed a City Forever by H. Joseph Hopkins: Activist Kate Sessions grew up surrounded by the lush forests of Northern California. When she moves to San Diego, she noticed there were barely any trees. Kate singlehandedly starts a massive movement that transforms the town into a green, garden-filled oasis.

    14. Just Ask!: Be Different, Be Brave, Be You by Sonia Sotomayor: Life can be hard for a child who is different. Likewise, explaining these differences to classmates may be difficult for the child or their teacher. In Just Ask, Sotomayor writes about children with all sorts of challenges and looks at the special powers those kids have as well. As the kids work together to build a community garden, asking questions of each other and finding connections along the way, this book encourages readers to do the same.

    15. Empathy Is Your Superpower: A Book About Understanding the Feelings of Others by Cori Bussolari: This book teaches kids how to identify and practice empathy, as well as gives guided reflection questions for easy peer discussions.

    Relationship Skills

    16. Each Kindness by Jacqueline Woodson: Chloe ignores the new girl at school who wears tattered clothes. By the time she realizes it’s important to be kind, the new girl has moved away, and Chloe is filled with regret. This story is a stand-out because it doesn’t have the classic happy ending, and readers are left feeling uncomfortable and sad, just as they would in real life.

    17. The Invisible Boy by Trudy Ludwig: No one ever seems to notice Brian, nor think to include him in any games or activities. When Justin, the new boy, arrives, Brian is the first to make him feel welcome. And when Brian and Justin team up to work on a class project together, Brian finds a way to shine.

    18. New Kid by Jerry Craft: Jordan’s parents enroll him in a prestigious private school, one where he has to make a daily trip from his Washington Heights apartment. He soon finds himself torn between two worlds and must figure out how to navigate new friendships and also stay true to himself.

    19. Witness by Karen Hesse: Told from multiple perspectives, Witness follows a town’s transformation when the KKK moves in. Relationships are developed and challenged as the community’s alliances begin to shift and crumble.

    20. Out of My Mind by Sharon Draper: Eleven-year-old Melody is one of the smartest kids in her school, but no one knows it because she has cerebral palsy. Determined to not be defined by her disability, Melody learns how to partner with others to advocate for herself.

    Free eBook: An Educator’s Guide to Developing Social-Emotional Learning Skills in Your K–12 Students

    Responsible Decision Making

    21. Meet Miss Francy by Irene Latham: Frank is excited to hear that Miss Francy, a retired circus elephant, is moved to a local zoo. When he learns that, because of segregation laws, he isn’t allowed to visit the zoo, Frank proposes a plan to the City Council to work towards his goal.

    22. Why Should I Save Water? by Jen Green: As a part of the “Why Should I” collection, this book explores the idea that water is a precious resource that we shouldn’t waste. This book gives kids suggestions on how to save water and the why behind it.

    23. Erandi’s Braids by Antonio Hernandez Madrigal: Erandi loves her thick braids, and desperately wants a pretty yellow dress for her upcoming birthday. She realizes that the only way to earn money to buy the dress is by selling her hair in the city. Erandi must make a decision and choose between her birthday present and her beautiful braids.

    24. What If Everybody Did That? by Ellen Javernick: Breaking the rules may not seem like a big deal, but if everyone did it, the world would be a mess! This book helps kids understand the consequences of their actions in a humorous and age-appropriate way.

    25. The Stars Beneath Our Feet by David Barclay Moore: Twelve-year old Lolly is grieving his older brother’s gang-related death in Harlem. Stuck between two choices– joining a gang for protection or continuing his new hobby at the community center–Lolly must decide what is best for him now and in the future.

    Want to learn how Xello can help your students develop their SEL skills? Just click on the link below to book a call with our educational consultants and they’ll be happy to assist. 👇

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    ABOUT KATE

    Kate McKenzie is a School Counselor in Cincinnati, Ohio. She is committed to exploring the many facets of lifelong learning & believes that building skills at a young age helps prepare students for future academic & social-emotional success.