Social Emotional Learning Books for Young Readers

Social Emotional Learning Books for Young Readers


Social emotional learning (SEL) units “foster mindful, engaged behavior among students. Recognizing the value of emotional awareness for any student population, the core SEL competencies include self- and social awareness, relationship skills, decision-making, and self-management,” says School Library Journal.

Find books to support your SEL units here!

Try these books in your next SEL unit:

Picture BooksMiddle Grade BooksYoung Adult Books
Small Knight and the Anxiety Monster

Small Knight and the Anxiety Monster by Manka Kasha

An adorable, heartfelt picture book debut from Manka Kasha, Small Knight and the Anxiety Monster follows the magical quest of a knight finding the courage to confront an ever growing monster.

“This fairy tale is partially, and powerfully, about facing anxiety, but also about finding the courage to defy expectations…The illustrations, done in watercolors and ink, provide astonishing bursts of color and comic, or sometimes scary, details. The sort of book that may stick with kids years after reading.” —Booklist


The New Kid Has Fleas by Ame Dyckman; illustrated by Eda Kaban

From bestselling author Ame Dyckman and illustrator Eda Kaban, The New Kid Has Fleas is a hilarious picture book about a new kid in school who appears to have been raised by wolves.

Vibrant, digital illustrations capture the tone and wit of the narrative. A lively read-aloud choice.” -Carolyn Phelan Booklist

A whimsical readaloud about unexpected friendship.” –The Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books


I Wish You Knew / Ojalá Supieras by Jackie Azúa Kramer; illustrated by Magdalena Mora

A timely and moving tale about the uncertainty a young woman feels when her father is deported and the empathy that grows when we share and listen to one another.

“At the center of Estrella’s school is an old oak tree a locus for the children and their teacher to explore, learn, play, and share their thoughts and fears. . . A teacher sees Estrella and, with the help of the all-knowing oak, finds a way to invite her and the other students to share the things they wish the teacher knew. . . This mediation on social and emotional communication will prompt readers, old and young, to open up about their vulnerabilities.” Booklist


It Feels Good to be Yourself by Theresa Thorn; illustrated by Noah Grigni

A picture book that introduces the concept of gender identity to the youngest reader. With child-friendly language and vibrant art, It Feels Good to Be Yourself provides young readers and parents alike with the vocabulary to discuss this important topic with sensitivity.

A MacKids School & Library Staff Pick!

★ “This expansive, straightforward framing of gender emphasizes curiosity, joy, and positive self-expression…Exceptional.” Kirkus Reviewsstarred review

★ “The spirit of free expression and creativity infuses every spread of this inclusive exploration.Publishers Weeklystarred review

★ “As the song has it, we’re living in a big, wide wonderful world. And this book is a welcome addition to it.” Bookliststarred review

Be Kind 3

Be Kind by Pat Zietlow Miller; illustrated by Jen Hill

From asking the new girl to play to standing up for someone being bullied, this moving story explores what kindness is, and how any act, big or small, can make a difference or at least help a friend.

[A] lovely exploration of empathy and thoughtfulness.”
Publishers Weeklystarred review

“These days, it seems more important than ever for books to show young people how to act with thoughtfulness, civility, and kindness.The New York Times Book Review

How to Hug a Pufferfish

How to Hug a Pufferfish by Ellie Peterson

A picture book about a group of underwater friends who learn to ask for permission before showing their prickly, pufferfish pal some love.

“Peterson’s expressive undersea cast shines from the blue ocean depths with big, googly eyes and animated personalities. Serious topics of consent, respect, and finding other ways to show affection bounce through the waves and end up buoyantly accessible and clear.Kirkus Reviews

“[Peterson’s] wide-eyed underwater creatures have a goofy appeal, and it’s easy to see the huggability of Pufferfish, with its bubbly eyes and gap-toothed smile. [A] gentle introduction to ideas of consent and boundaries.” The Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books

Appealing characters and action, [make] this an engaging tome for burgeoning consent shelves.School Library Journal

Hidden Gem

Hidden Gem by Linda Liu

Prepare to fall in love with this debut picture book and its irresistibly quirky story of a tiny, unassuming rock’s journey to self-confidence, perfect for fans of Eric Carle & Jon Klassen.

★ “While there are many recent children’s books that celebrate identity, make room for this one, which blends subtle humor and superb design for a profound, deftly conveyed message. ” Kirkus Reviewsstarred review

“Alongside message-forward text, it’s the glowing colors of Liu’s distinctive visual style that carry the overarching message of self-wonder and innate worth.” Publishers Weekly

“Liu’s art matches the quirky tone of the book, using predominantly geometrical shapes with beautifully textured watercolor patterns . . . the reminder to love yourself as you are is still sweet and worthy of sharing.” The Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books

More Than Words 2

More Than Words by Roz MacLean

In the tradition of All Are Welcome and The Day You Begin comes a touching picture book about the many unique ways we communicate, and how we can better listen to and respect these different modes of expression.

★ “MacLean’s gouache, pencil crayon, acrylic ink, and digital illustrations depict a class diverse in skin tone, ethnicity, religion, and ability. We see children who use wheelchairs, a child with a hearing impairment, a service dog, and a student who uses oxygen tubing . . . A warmly inclusive look at the many ways we communicate with one another.” Kirkus Reviewsstarred review

“With affirming and informative language, this book has a place in every collection supporting and celebrating the many methods of communication children and adults are using today. Highly recommended.” School Library Journal

Not He Or She 1

Not He Or She, I’m Me by A. M. Wild; illustrated by Kah Yangni

In this bright and joyous picture book readers follow a day in the life of a young gender non-binary child.

A child gets ready for a wonderful day. They gleefully get dressed, hug their parents, go to school, and play with friends. All the while, unapologetically reminding themselves that they are and can only be themselves.

The non-binary experience is brightly illustrated as we follow our main character through their typical day. The story’s bouncy and fun refrain reminds all readers of gender neutral pronouns and affirms the identities of non-binary children encouraging readers to practice empathy for themselves and others.

★ “Amid a growing landscape of gender-focused picture books, this title shines for its effervescent illustrations and simple, utterly normalizing narrative. A perfect addition to any school, public, or home library, this story will delight young readers of any gender…How refreshing to see nonbinary joy so lovingly depicted.” Kirkus, starred review

★ “Not He or She, I’m Me would be at home among Todd Parr’s many affirming titles, and vitally promotes empathy, understanding, and validation as it normalizes nonbinary identities and experiences. Books such as this allow us to foster a world where every child can proudly say, “I’m me.”Booklist, starred review

★ “The warmth of everyday gender euphoria is burnished to brilliant radiance in this visually resplendent picture book…In holding the commonplace as remarkable and vice versa, the book invites readers to see and revel in everyday gender euphoria, and so better celebrate those little galaxies that contain multitudes.” BCCB, starred review

Mole is Not Alone

Mole Is Not Alone by Maya Tatsukawa

In this cozy picture book about friendship, Mole anxiously decides to journey through underground tunnels to attend a party.

★ “Sweet and cozy—much like the cream puffs Mole makes—Mole Is Not Alone lends itself well to both storytime read-alouds and quiet snuggles before bed. Fans of Yeorim Yoon and Jian Kim’s It’s OK, Slow Lizard and Cori Doerrfeld’s The Rabbit Listened will want to add this to their shelves.” BookPage, starred review

★ “Soft, muted artwork depicts an utterly cozy and enchanting world. . . . Mole’s self-talk is endearing and all-too relatable. Ultimately, Tatsukawa brings this tale to satisfying conclusion that lets young introverts know they can have fun on their own terms.” Kirkus, starred review

★ “…a story about anticipatory worry that ends not with forced revelry, but with a “Maybe… next time?” and gentle camaraderie found.Publisher’s Weekly, starred review

A Letter To My Best Friend

A Letter to My Best Friend by Yangsook Choi

From Yangsook Choi comes an empowering picture book about a child learning a new language to keep in touch with an old friend.

“Choi’s meditative prose pulses with quiet joys, while the use of softly blended colors brings warmth and charm…A delightful tale of fostering connection through art.Kirkus

“This insightful picture book may inspire empathy for other children learning a new language and culture.” Booklist

The Boy Who Found His Voice

The Boy Who Found His Voice by Tyler Gordon

From teen activist and artistic prodigy Tyler Gordon comes a heartwarming picture book inspired by his own life about a boy with a speech difference who learns the power of self-expression through art.

“Gordon’s animated, endearing cartoon illustrations readily convey Tyler’s apprehension, determination, and joy . . . Energetic and encouraging.“ Kirkus Reviews

“Gordon is a talented illustrator, especially when it comes to depicting key words . . . Collections of all sizes can welcome this book, which fosters empathy for those with speech ­challenges.“ School Library Journal

“Drawing, per an author’s note, from teen activist and artist Gordon’s experiences with stuttering, this uplifting work employs humor, rhythmic text, and lively digital illustrations as it moves toward a longed-for moment in which ‘the crowd went WILD’ for the young protagonist.“ Publishers Weekly

Sour Apple

Sour Apple by Linda Liu

From the creator of Hidden Gem comes a funny and delightful new picture book about an apple who learns the importance of self-acceptance and patience after being left behind during picking season.

★ “A tremendous homage to self-esteem, individuality, thoughtfulness, ­surrender, and hope.School Library Journal, starred review

“An uplifting tale of triumph.” Kirkus Reviews

If I Were A Fish

If I Were a Fish by Corook and Olivia Barton; illustrated by Mike Curato

From the creators of the viral hit song that is a joyous celebration about making the best of a very bad day comes If I Were a Fish – a gorgeously illustrated picture book explosion of positivity and love guaranteed to make you smile.

Brightly and beautifully illustrated by the award-winning Mike Curato, this inspiring song about surrounding yourself with the people that make you the happiest is a timely reminder that it’s always best to be yourself.

If happiness and comfort was a song.TodayParents

Worry Worry Whale

The Worry-Worry Whale and the Classroom Jitters by Deborah Diesen; illustrated by Dan Hanna

First introduced in The Pout-Pout Fish and the Worry-Worry Whale, Willa Whale is the star of her own spin-off series, inspired by the New York Times–bestselling Pout-Pout Fish books from Deborah Diesen and Dan Hanna.

A tale sure to buoy young readers.Kirkus

Garnering her own spin-off series following The Pout-Pout Fish and the Worry-Worry Whale, Willa Whale returns in this picture book to tackle a school-related anxiety… Diesen’s signature rhymes reassure her target audience as well as provide adult readers with effective strategies.Publishers Weekly

Don't Wash Winston

Don’t Wash Winston by Ashley Belote

We’ve all been there… A bit of a spill, an overenthusiastic leap, one mud pie too many, and OH NO! our beloved stuffed animal friend suddenly has to be (gulp) WASHED!

Effervescent illustrations convey energy and emotion and have a palpably cuddly appeal…. A wonderful choice for any youngster who’s ever known the love of a stuffed best friend (scary appliance notwithstanding).” Kirkus

Feelings Are Wild

Feelings Are Wild by Sophy Williams; illustrated by Gavin Scott

With the help of adorable animals and heaps of humor, easily count from 1 to 10 and back again while exploring all the big emotions little ones feel. Each number shows a funny frustration followed by a sweet solution. Gorgeous illustrations of adorable animals and delightful rhyming text that easily counts down from 1-10 and back again make Feelings Are Wild a warm, gentle, and joyful invitation to talk about all the ways we feel. Feelings can be overwhelming. But whether you are grumpy or glad, brave or mad, it’s helpful to remember that emotions pass and that with a little time and love we can embrace all our wild and wonderful feelings.

“Scott’s huggable animals are rendered in a soft watercolor style with bold background splatters. One group of animals—10 excited quokkas—curiously doesn’t appear in the countdown section, but the twining of intellectual and emotional layers successfully models more than one kind of learning.” Publishers Weekly

I Am Friendly

I Am Friendly by Kristen Tracy; illustrated by Erin Kraan

A hilarious picture book that follows the adventures of a well-meaning grizzly bear trying to help her forest friends.

[I Am Friendly] will keep readers giggling. With guidance from adults, this one may spark discussions of motivation, intent, and self-perception vs. reality.” Kirkus

“Chaos ensues when an overzealous bear self-appoints as forest helper in Tracy and Kraan’s comic story.” Publishers Weekly

“Tracy and Kraan provide humorous insight into the thoughts of one of nature’s more formidable creatures: the brown bear.” Horn Book Magazine

One Light

One Light by Christie Matheson; illustrated by Anuska Allepuz

From Christie Matheson and Anuska Allepuz comes a radiant picture book with a powerful message: you’re never too small to make a difference. Featuring dreamy artwork, this makes for a beautiful gift for kids or graduates!

Mouse feels all alone one dark and dreary night. She wonders if anybody else feels lonely, too. She’s not sure if a single person can make a difference, but she decides to try.

Mouse lit one light…

And the result is magical. One by one, others in the neighborhood follow Mouse’s lead. With each new spark, the stormy night becomes less gloomy. This luminous story is a brilliant and tender call to action, encouraging readers to spread kindness and create change in the world – one light at a time.

Alone Sometimes

Alone Sometimes: Everybody Needs a Hole in the Ground by Skylaar Amann

In Skylaar Amann’s gentle, beautifully illustrated picture book, two best friends learn that sometimes everyone needs a quiet, safe space to just be.

Ren and Kit are the best of friends, always doing everything together. But when Ren needs some quiet time to herself, she chooses to hide away in an unlikely place. Kit doesn’t understand, but she’s willing to listen and learn. And in the end, they both realize that sometimes, everybody needs a hole in the ground.

Alone Sometimes speaks directly to the need we all occasionally have for a safe space where we can hide away from the frustrations of the world.

Sandcastles Are Forever

Sandcastles Are Forever by Ellie Peterson

From author-illustrator Ellie Peterson comes a sweet and heartfelt picture book about summertime, sandcastles, and the key to a long-lasting friendship.

For Cora and her best friend, Shelly, every day is a beach day.

When they get home from school, the girls shimmy into their swimsuits, grab their beach bags and buckets, and race to the water. Then their sandcastle-building ritual begins!

But one day Shelly announces she’ll soon be moving to the city, and suddenly Cora doesn’t feel like building sandcastles anymore. What’s the point when they’ll just wash away?

With gentle, heartfelt prose, author-illustrator Ellie Peterson explores the difficult feelings of loss and sadness that come when a friend moves away. Young readers will see that with the right tools—and a willingness to build again tomorrow—who’s to say the things you love can’t last forever?

When You Have to Wait

When You Have to Wait by Melanie Conklin; illustrated by Leah Hong

A mindful, gentle picture book about patience and learning to find beauty in the act of waiting.

★ “In a world fixated on instant gratification, Conklin and Hong make a persuasive case for the sense of joy and connection that can be found when we slow down. A relatable and beautifully rendered tale about the value of patience.Kirkusstarred review

Conklin and Hong compassionately limn experiences of childhood longing in an emotionally honest picture book about one of life’s truths: Sometimes, you have to wait.” Publishers Weeklystarred review

This peaceful picture book is a kind reminder that it is okay to slow down and find beautiful ways to pass the time as you wait.BCCB

Bye Land, Bye Sea

Bye Land, Bye Sea by René Spencer and Rodolfo Montalvo; illustrated by Rodolfo Montalvo

Two children from different backgrounds show that friendship has no language in this epic bilingual story about being lost and finding a friend who understands.

★ “A radiant tale of adventure and friendship.Kirkus Reviews, starred review

★ “Text and artwork together create a sense of an adventurous dream, making this a perfect fit for a bedtime story or lapsit.” BCCB, starred review

★ “Simple, meaningful text alternates between Spanish and English, exposing readers to both languages, without translations.Horn Book Magazine, starred review

May You Love and Be Loved

May You Love and Be Loved by Cleo Wade

A tender picture book about the hopes and dreams a parent has for their child, from author, poet, and activist Cleo Wade.

A heartfelt and lyrical picture book is a love letter to the infinite potential of the future, expressing the many hopes and dreams we hold for our children and ourselves. Gorgeously illustrated by the author and filled to the brim with her signature big-hearted emotions, this book is an important reminder that, above all, what we wish for everyone’s precious life is that they can love and be loved.

Think a Thought

Think a Thought by Conor McGlauflin and Hannah Zisman; illustrated by Conor McGlauflin

Think a Thought is a picture book about practicing mindfulness, filled with words of affirmation to guide readers to find calm, perfect for fans of I Am Peace.

Thoughts can be good, like feeling cozy in your bed—and they can be bad, like wondering if there’s a monster instead. You have the power to hold on tight to these thoughts, or push them away. But what happens when you’re caught in a storm of thoughts, loud and scary?

Say goodbye to those seepy, creepy thoughts—and turn them into quiet, peaceful thoughts—in this gentle and “solid primer on mindfulness for the younger set” filled with words of affirmation to help kids find calm from within.

“McGlauflin and Zisman have created an upbeat take on meditation that will help little ones ride out unwanted thoughts… A solid primer on mindfulness for the younger set.” Kirkus

What Can A Mess Make

What Can a Mess Make? by Bee Johnson

In this gorgeously illustrated rhyming picture book, two sisters spend their day playing at home and leaving joyful, cozy messes in their wake.

The sisters’ love shines through as they work out new solutions in this house that looks like a place where creativity is valued. The illustrations include many details to expand on the spare, rhythmic text. . . . As these lively girls invite the reader to take part in their marvelous mess, who knows what they might make next?” Booklist


The Gray by Chris Baron

The Gray is a sensitively told middle grade story from Chris Baron about living with anxiety and finding ways to cope.

It’s been a tough year for Sasha he’s been bullied at his middle school and his anxiety, which he calls the Gray, is growing.

“Thirteen-year-old Sasha deals with generalized anxiety and panic attacks, which he has dubbed “The Gray.” They get worse when he spends too much time on his electronic devices, so his concerned parents decide a device-free month upstate with his great-aunt Ruthie will be a tonic. … Happily, once there he quickly makes a friend in Ivy; unhappily, he runs afoul of a band of bullies, from whom he is rescued by a mysteriously taciturn, solitary boy named Eli. … Baron’s often-quiet story is well-plotted, and the characters are empathetic, especially Eli. The theme, change, is well-handled and perhaps will change readers as much as it does Sasha in the end.” Booklist


Jawbreaker by Christina Wyman

Perfect for fans of Raina Telgemeier’s Smile, a refreshingly honest middle-grade debut novel about toxic sibling rivalry, socioeconomic disparity, and dental drama.

Inspired by Christina Wyman’s own experience with a Class II malocclusion, Jawbreaker is a humorous, heartfelt, and refreshingly relatable story.

“Wyman is unafraid to treat her readership like intelligent human beings capable of contemplating a complex story full of self-doubt, bullying, economic disparities, justice, and equity . . . Plus, it’s horribly difficult to put down! I dare you to read even two chapters and not be engulfed in the narrative. Smart and savvy, Jawbreaker is the novel you wish you had read as a kid and are grateful that kids get to read today.” Betsy Bird, A Fuse #8 Production, A School Library Journal Blog


Friends Forever by Shannon Hale; illustrated by LeUyen Pham

Following up their mega-bestselling Real Friends and Best Friends graphic memoirs, Shannon Hale and LeUyen Pham are back with Friends Forever, a story about learning to love yourself exactly as you are.

“Capturing the visceral embarrassments of middle school in 1987 Salt Lake City, Shannon’s emotions are vivid and often excruciating . . . [and] Pham’s artwork is vibrant and appealing.” Kirkus Review

★ “With the combination of Hale’s lucid writing and Pham’s masterful portrayal of body and language and facial expression, this books homes in squarely and affirmingly on teen angst and worries.Bookliststarred review


Bright by Brigit Young

In this poignant middle grade novel, a struggling student joins her school’s celebrated quiz team in a bid to avoid failing eighth grade.

“[A] pitch-perfect narrative… A winner, indeed, especially for readers who question their own worth.” Kirkus Review

“[A] thoughtfully rendered novel that… organically explores concepts of what it means to work hard and be smart through Marianne’s realistically bumpy arc.” Publishers Weekly

“A gentle reminder that not everyone is who they seem and a great pick for middle-grade readers searching for where they belong. Booklist

Frizzy 1

Frizzy by Claribel A. Ortega; illustrated by Rose Bousamra

A middle grade graphic novel about Marlene, a young girl who stops straightening her hair and embraces her natural curls.

★ “Marlene’s journey of personal growth will evoke catharsis and joy. An exquisite excavation of hair politics, family dynamics, and self-love.”” Kirkus, starred review

“A wonderful tale about what it truly means to have good hair . . . and a good heart.” Varian Johnson, award-winning author of Twins

I desperately wish I’d had a book like this when I was growing upFrizzy is uplifting, affirming, and healing to all kids who love their curls. Curly hair power!” Zoraida Córdova, award-winning author of Valentina Salazar Is Not a Monster Hunter

Maybe It's A Sign

Maybe It’s a Sign by E. L. Shen

An uplifting middle-grade novel about loss, luck . . . and deep-dish chocolate chip cookies—perfect for fans of King and the Dragonflies and The Remarkable Journey of Coyote Sunrise.

★ “Tender and deeply personal . . . Maybe It’s a Sign is an earnest and memorable story about grieving and growing up.” Shelf Awareness, starred review

A thoughtful portrayal of big feelings around loss and healing. An author’s note and recipes cap off this tender, wholesome story.” Booklist

“Combining a dash of wholesome middle school romance, a generous helping of familial support, and a sprinkling of self-made luck, Shen serves up a realistic portrayal of the many ways that grief and healing can take shape in our lives. A hopeful and uplifting tale of loss, self-discovery, and the restorative powers of baking.Kirkus Reviews

We Need To Talk About Death

We Need to Talk About Death by Sarah Chavez; illustrated by Annika Le Large

An educational book that helps grieving children understand what happens when we die, and celebrates the traditions people around the world use to honor the dead.

“Chavez opens with soothing remarks about how death is a part of life [and] touches on a series of helpful, informative topics. Likely to help normalize a universal experience.” Kirkus

“This little book’s chatty warmth and calm, demystifying approach belies its intimidating title; written by one of the founders of the Death Positive movement, it covers what death is, what happens to dead bodies, the different ways in which people process grief, and global rituals of remembrance. A 7+ school-library essential.” The Guardian

“A good choice for introducing young people to topics of death and grieving.” Children’s Literature

“This really is an important book that opens up a space to talk about something that is often consigned to silence – the intimate relationship between life and death, between loving and grieving, and between celebrating and commemorating. A book to be read alone or with loved ones, to start conversations that should be at the heart of everyday life.Children’s Books Ireland


Weirdo by Tony Weaver, Jr.; illustrated by Jes & Cin Wibowo

From rising star Tony Weaver, Jr. comes a middle-grade graphic novel memoir about an awkward preteen who loves all things geeky but struggles with mental health issues and self-doubt, perfect for fans of Jerry Craft’s New Kid.

“Tony’s Heartfelt story reminds us Why Embracing Individuality Radically Defies Obstacles.” Jerry Craft, 2020 Newbery and Coretta Scott King Book Award winner for New Kid

“Weirdo empowers readers to celebrate their own identities and offers hope to find the crew that will love you for all of your magnificent quirks!” Jarrett J. Krosoczka, National Book Award finalist for Hey, Kiddo

“Weirdo is a powerful story filled with empathy about the effects of bullying and how we can attempt to cope with it.” Dan Santat, 2023 National Book Award Winner for A First Time for Everything


Olivetti by Allie Millington

A heartfelt novel praised by Tom Hanks in the New York Times as including “a conclusion nearly impossible to divine and yet so perfect it includes that most tactile of memories…”

Millington’s writing does us a great favor. Her Olivetti is neither an automaton nor a pushover — there is a painful and problematic crisis in the house he has called home and his voice drives the action with compassion.” Tom Hanks in the New York Times Book Review

★ “An introverted boy and his missing mother’s cherished typewriter plumb forgotten family stories while journeying toward acceptance in this touching middle-grade mystery. Offering a Where’d You Go, Bernadette vibe, with its unspooling of a youth perspective on the adult world, this melancholic yet hopeful pick will appeal to fans of books with nonhuman protagonists and readers who enjoy emotional stories with alternating perspectives, such as A Rover’s Story and The Lost Library.Booklist magazine, starred review

★ “Debut author Millington skillfully delivers a complex storyline that deals with heavy topics. With plenty of quotable wisdom, richly textured language, and dry humor, this work reads like a classic. Kirkus Reviews, starred review


Greta by J. S. Lemon

Fish in a Tree meets Fighting Words in J. S. Lemon’s middle grade debut, a fiercely original story about friendship, healing, and the beauty of transformation.

What new classics should look like. A strange and beautiful tale that will bring transformation not only to Greta, but those who have veiled secrets. This story will spark important discussions, a read to share in groups.” Newbery Medalist Donna Barba Higuera

is a thought-provoking, heartfelt, and hopeful coming-of-age novel about the power of friendship and the possibility of healing. A highly imaginative, compelling story that will take readers on a life-changing journey.” Bestselling author Alyson Gerber

“This peculiar tale is a pitch-perfect encapsulation of middle school. Lemon demonstrates a deep understanding of the richness and intensity of adolescent friendship . . . Friendship, healing, and being at peace with one’s self are at the heart of this moving and original story.” Kirkus Reviews

Continental Drifter

Continental Drifter by Kathy MacLeod

With a Thai mother and an American father, Kathy lives in two different worlds. She spends most of the year in Bangkok, where she’s secretly counting the days till summer vacation. That’s when her family travels for twenty-four hours straight to finally arrive in a tiny seaside town in Maine.

Kathy loves Maine’s idyllic beauty and all the exotic delicacies she can’t get back home, like clam chowder and blueberry pie. But no matter how hard she tries, she struggles to fit in. She doesn’t look like the other kids in this rural New England town. Kathy just wants to find a place where she truly belongs, but she’s not sure if it’s in America, Thailand . . . or anywhere.

★ “The simple yet expressive art style is charming and at times poignant, showing the family dynamics and the secrets locked within people’s hearts… A heartfelt story honestly and evocatively told.Kirkus Reviewsstarred review

Readers will be heartened by the message that, while some families don’t always seem like they make sense, they still have a lot of love for one another.Booklist

Continental Drifter offers honest, sometimes painful, insight into growing up as part of two cultures and will help anyone who has ever felt lonely in their own family, or even with friends, process the emotions that come with trying to fit in.School Library Journal

Plain Jane and the Mermaid

Plain Jane and the Mermaid by Vera Brosgol

From Anya’s Ghost and Be Prepared author Vera Brosgol comes an instant classic graphic novel that flips every fairy-tale you know on its head, and shows one girl’s crusade for the only thing that matters—her own independence.

★ “This rollicking tale of an insecure girl finding her strength and breaking from tradition is another triumph for Brosgol.” Publishers Weekly, starred review

★ “In a story bolstered by a wonderful cast, an otherworldly setting, and poignantly accessible feelings, Brosgol once again captures magic, menace, and humanity.” Booklist, starred review

★ “Complex characters, twists and turns, and beautiful artwork blend harmoniously for a perfect read that will jump-start the ­imagination.School Library Journalstarred review


Uprooted by Ruth Chan

Perfect for fans of New Kid and A First Time for Everything, a joyful and tearful debut middle grade graphic memoir about one girl being uprooted when she moves to Hong Kong, a place where her family fits in but, for her, it’s nothing like home.

★ “Chan illustrates the stories with her signature humor and wit… Earnest, funny, and evocative.Kirkusstarred review

Uprooted is more than just a coming-of-age story. The beauty of Ruth Chan’s memoir comes from her finding truth in the quietest of moments and strength in the most difficult times.” LeUyen Pham, New York Times bestselling co-creator of the Friends graphic novel series


We Are All So Good At Smiling by Amber McBride

Whimsy is back in the hospital for treatment of clinical depression. When she meets a boy named Faerry, she recognizes they both have magic in the marrow of their bones. And when Faerry and his family move to the same street, the two start to realize that their lifelines may have twined and untwined many times before.

They are both terrified of the forest at the end of Marsh Creek Lane.

The Forest whispers to Whimsy. The Forest might hold the answers to the part of Faerry he feels is missing. They discover the Forest holds monsters, fairy tales, and pain that they have both been running from for 11 years.

“Stunning... Readers will revel in the depth of Whimsy and Faerry’s relationship, all the while finding solace and relief in the calculated messiness of their search for wholeness.” Booklist, starred review

“This phenomenal novel-in-verse transports readers
 into an impassioned tale of heartache and hope that belongs on every bookshelf serving teens.” School Library Journal, starred review

Raw and poignant and promising hope, even when it seems there is no way out.” Shelf Awareness, starred review


You Don’t Have a Shot by Racquel Marie

Valentina “Vale” Castillo-Green’s life revolves around soccer. Her friends, her future, and her father’s intense expectations are all wrapped up in the beautiful game. But after she incites a fight during playoffs with her long-time rival, Leticia Ortiz, everything she’s been working toward seems to disappear.

Vale escapes to her beloved childhood soccer camp for a summer of relaxation and redemption…only to find out that she and the endlessly aggravating Leticia will be co-captaining a team that could play in front of college scouts. But the competition might be stiffer than expected, so unless they can get their rookie team’s act together, this second chance and any hope of playing college soccer will slip through Vale’s fingers. When the growing pressure, friendship friction, and her overbearing father push Vale to turn to Leticia for help, what starts off as a shaky alliance of necessity begins to blossom into something more through a shared love of soccer. . . and maybe each other.

★”Via Vale’s witty and acerbic first-person narration and her palpable passion for soccer, Marie delivers a textured sapphic romp that spins an earned enemies–to–lovers romance amid empathetic depictions of one teenager coming to terms with the effects of her treatment of others, as well as her treatment of herself.Publishers Weekly, starred review


Forever is Now by Mariama J. Lockington

School is out, and even though she’s been struggling to manage her chronic anxiety, Sadie is hopeful better times are ahead. Or at least, she thought she was safe. When her girlfriend reveals some unexpected news and the two witness a violent incident of police brutality unfold before them, Sadie’s whole world is upended in an instant.

I’m not safe anywhere.

When Sadie’s therapist gives her a diagnosis for her debilitating panic agoraphobia she starts on a path of acceptance and healing.

“An outstanding novel in-verse that tells the story of a teenager’s struggles to better both her mental health and her community. Lockington’s approachable poetry covers heavy topics readers may find emotionally demanding mental health, family dynamics, anti-Blackness, social activism, sexuality, social media, romance. The author elegantly and compassionately portrays Sadie’s complicated, sensitive struggle with agoraphobia and depicts various realistic ways people might respond to the mental health of their loved ones.” Shelf Awarenessstarred review


The Melancholy of Summer by Louisa Onomé

After her parents go on the run, a teenage girl placed in the care of a cousin she barely knows learns to trust and open up in The Melancholy of Summer, a lyrical YA contemporary coming-of-age story by Louisa Onomé

Life with cousin Olu is awkward for many reasons not least of all because Olu has her own drama to deal with. But with her cousin and friends’ efforts, maybe Summer can learn to trust people enough to let them in again?

“…tenderhearted novel of family and trust…a pacey, well-crafted character study that explores one teenager’s pursuit of safety and home amid life-changing circumstances.”  Publishers Weekly

“The nuanced portrayal of the effects of emotional distress is deeply layered in this well-paced novel… An engaging read that explores the impact of trauma and the uncertainties of young adulthood.” Kirkus


Becoming a Queen by Dan Clay

A vibrant and emotional novel from debut author Dan Clay about a boy who turns toward love, self-expression, and drag when the unthinkable happens, perfect for fans of Jandy Nelson and Julie Murphy.

If only Mark Davis hadn’t put on a dress for the talent show. It was a joke other guys did it too but when his boyfriend saw Mark in that dress, everything changed.

And now, fresh on the heels of high school heartbreak, Mark has given up on love. Maybe some people are just too much for this world too weird, too wild, too feminine, too everything. Thankfully, his older brother Eric always knows what to say to keep Mark from spinning into self-loathing. “Be yourself! Your full sequin-y self.”

Becoming a Queen is all about finding your true self, even when the path is rocky at times. Real, tender, heartbreaking, and joyful all at once, Dan Clay has delivered a delight of a debut that will keep you turning the pages. Put this one on your shelves!”  Jennifer Mathieu, author of Bad Girls Never Say Die and Moxie


I’d Rather Burn Than Bloom by Shannon C.F. Rogers

Some girls call their mother their best friend. Marisol Martin? She could never relate. She and her mom were forever locked in an argument with no beginning and no end. Clothes, church, boys, no matter the topic, Marisol always felt like there was an unbridgeable gap between them that they were perpetually shouting across, one that she longed to close.

But when her mother dies suddenly, Marisol is left with no one to fight against, haunted by all the things that she both said and didn’t say. Her dad seems completely lost, and worse, baffled by Marisol’s attempts to connect with her mother’s memory through her Filipino culture. Her brother Bernie is retreating further and further into himself. And when Marisol sleeps with her best friend’s boyfriend – and then punches said best friend in the face – she’s left alone, with nothing but a burning anger, and nowhere for it to go.

And Marisol is determined to stay angry, after all, there’s a lot to be angry about– her father, her mother, the world. But as a new friendship begins to develop with someone who just might understand, Marisol reluctantly starts to open up to her, and to the possibility there’s something else on the other side of that anger– something more to who she is, and who she could be.

“Readers who relish deep character development will appreciate Marisol’s messy evolution toward self-forgiveness…Heart-wrenching and heart-filled.”
Kirkus (starred)


The Minus-One Club by Kekla Magoon

Fifteen-year-old Kermit Sanders knows grief and its all-encompassing shadows. After losing his beloved older sister in a tragic car accident, nothing quite punctures through the feelings of loss. Everywhere Kermit goes, he is reminded of her.

But then Kermit finds a mysterious invitation in his locker, signed anonymously with “-1.” He has no idea what he’s in for, but he shows up to find out. Dubbed the “Minus-One Club,” a group of his schoolmates has banded together as a form of moral support. The members have just one thing in common they have all suffered the tragic loss of someone they loved.

★ “This timely and thoughtful novel makes room for the increasing depth and complexity of navigating
adolescence alongside grief, religious dissent, and healing.” – Booklist, Starred Review


Scout’s Honor by Lily Anderson

Prudence Perry is a third-generation Ladybird Scout who must battle literal (and figurative) monsters and the weight of her legacy in Scout’s Honor by Lily Anderson, a YA paranormal perfect for fans of Stranger Things and Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

★ “Anderson deftly balances snarky humor and heart-thumping action with affecting discussions about friendship, inclusivity, and mental health. The surprise-studded plot seamlessly integrates both Anderson’s clever, unique mythology and excerpts from the Ladybird Handbook, and the realistically rendered, intersectionally diverse cast is kind, charismatic, and full of moxie.” Publishers Weeklystarred review

★ “Anderson. . .has written a ridiculously fun and campy horror romp, which also incorporates thoughtful commentary about mental and emotional health, inclusion, and facing your fears.” Bookliststarred review

★ “Buffy fans. . .will be. . reveling in the whirl of teen angst and ichor-spattered fun.” Kirkus Reviewsstarred review

★ “With a sly sense of humor and nostalgia . . . author Lily Anderson offers a clever subversion of “chosen one” narratives as the novel explores tantalizing “what ifs” like “What if Buffy had just gone to a psychiatrist?” and “What if Girl Scouts were masters of cookies and karate?” It’s an absurd premise, but Anderson makes it work through unself-conscious world building and a skillful blend of fantastical and real-world threats. . . It’s hilarious and heart-wrenching in equal measure.BookPagestarred review

Ash's Cabin

Ash’s Cabin by Jen Wang

From New York Times–bestselling author and illustrator Jen Wang comes a singularly affecting story about self-discovery, self-reliance, and the choice to live when it feels like you have no place in the world.

★ “Wang masterfully adapts this storyline for contemporary audiences, seamlessly weaving questions of identity, gender, race (Ash has Chinese and Irish ancestry), and climate change into this fundamental tale of survival. Searing and radiant.Kirkusstarred review

★ “Wang (Stargazing) delivers a stunning, contemplative wilderness adventure via muted earth-tone watercolors that tackles head-on the present-day experience of living in what often feels like a time of apocalyptic change.” Publisher’s Weeklystarred review

★ “
Wang’s emotive, empathic illustrations elevate an already impactful narrative into a stupendous visual masterpiece, with and without panels, swathed in daytime California golds and chillier nighttime blues. Perfection—literary and artistic—awaits here.Booklist, starred review

“This book is a page-turner and readers will both worry and cheer for Ash every step of the way. Highly recommended for all middle school and high school libraries.” School Library Journalstarred review


Thirsty: A Novel by Jas Hammonds

From Jas Hammonds, award-winning author of We Deserve Monuments, comes a gripping read about a girl willing to risk it all for the chance to join an underground sorority with her wealthy best friends—perfect for fans of the show Euphoria and Girl in Pieces by Kathleen Glasgow.

“A profound must-read.” School Library Journal, starred review

“Readers will be gripped from the very beginning. A gut-wrenching story” Kirkus Reviews, starred review

“Hammonds expertly weaves explorations of class, family, queer identity, race, and substance reliance into a glittering, harrowing narrative that is compulsively readable, gorgeously written, and intricately crafted.” Publishers Weekly, starred review

Flawless Girls

Flawless Girls by Anna-Marie McLemore

The Soler sisters are infamous in polite society—brazen, rebellious, and raised by their fashionable grandmother who couldn’t care less about which fork goes where. But their grandmother also knows the standards that two Latina young ladies will be held to, so she secures them two coveted places at the Alarie House, a prominent finishing school that turns out first ladies, princesses, and socialites.

“An exquisitely crafted YA tale about the prescribed bounds of femininity by Anna-Marie McLemore…
Flawless Girls splits storied notions of proper femininity–and gender itself–apart at the seams in an exemplary portrait of learning to express oneself…McLemore’s signature prose both cuts like ice and rolls languidly off the tongue.” Shelf Awareness, starred review

McLemore expertly layers dreamlike descriptions to craft the otherworldly, gothic atmosphere in which this sensitive portrait of an intersex person unfolds.” Publishers Weekly

As eerie and twisted as a delirium dream, this dark academia from award-winning author McLemore explores the pressures put on women to be perfect and what happens when those pressures become too much. ” Booklist