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


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.

Un cuento oportuno y conmovedor sobre la incertidumbre que siente una joven cuando deportan a su padre—y la empatía que crece cuando compartimos y nos escuchamos unos a los otros.

“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

WHAT’S THE MATTER, MARLO? by Andrew Arnold

What’s the Matter Marlo? is a picture book about best friends that highlights empathy, as well as anger and sadness, and reminds us that these aren’t feelings to run away from, but instead to help each other through.

★ “A sweet, reassuring validation of the power of a close friendship and empathy.” – Kirkus, starred review

★ “Profound and reassuring.” – Publishers Weekly, starred review

THE LITTLE GUYS by Vera Brosgol

An adorable cautionary tale from Caldecott Honoree Vera Brosgol! This slyly funny and rambunctious read-aloud explores how strength in numbers only works when the whole community unites together.

“What a fantastic message: not just teamwork, but actual community.” —New York Times

★ “[A] pointed exploration of the notion that collective action just becomes mob rule without a moral foundation.“—Bookliststarred review

★ “A great discussion starter.“—School Library Journalstarred review

★ “Well suited for read-alouds.” —Horn Bookstarred review

HONEYSMOKE by Monique Fields; illustrated by Yesenia Moises

A young biracial girl looks around her world for her color. She finally chooses her own, and creates a new word for herself—honeysmoke. For multiracial children, and all children everywhere, this picture book offers a universal message that empowers young people to create their own self-identity.

“Fields’ extensive experience writing about race and identity translates with beautiful simplicity here for younger readers, and Moises paints Simone with great tenderness.—Booklist

I WILL BE FIERCE by Bea Birdsong; illustrated by Nidhi Chanani

A powerful picture book about courage, confidence, kindness, and finding the extraordinary in everyday moments. It’s a brand new day, and a young girl decides to take on the world like a brave explorer heading off on an epic fairytale quest. From home to school and back again, our hero conquers the Mountain of Knowledge (the library), forges new bridges (friendships), and leads the victorious charge home on her steed (the school bus).

A MacKids School & Library Staff Pick!

A multicultural girl-power manifesto…Birdsong’s repeated refrain underlines the unambiguous message of this sassy picture book, and Chanani’s bold and energetic illustrations reinforce the text’s punchy, feminist-y declarations… the book will find repeated use in the classroom.” —Kirkus Reviews

HOLD HANDS by Sara Varon

A sweet rhyming story about friendship and connection. Everybody holds hands. You can hold hands with your little brother or your best friend. You can hold hands with your classmate or even your favorite doll! Gather up your little ones, hold their hands, and share this heartwarming book.

With gentle guidance, young readers will pick up on the broader message that hand-holding…embodies strong emotional connection, bonding, and inclusion..”—Kirkus Reviews

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

OGILVY by Deborah Underwood; illustrated by T. L. McBeth
When Ogilvy moves to a new town, the possibilities feel endless. There are so many new bunny friends and fun things to do together! But in this town, bunnies in dresses play ball and knit socks, and bunnies in sweaters make art and climb rocks. Ogilvy wants to do everything—and won’t let a sweater or a dress get in the way.

★ “Clothes do not make the bunny. It’s a strong message told subtly.” —Kirkus Reviewsstarred review

“Seussian in theme and verse, the enjoyable readaloud…offers an excellent entry point to conversations about celebrating individuality and personal choice.” —Publishers Weekly

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

BE STRONG by Pat Zietlow; illustrated by Jen Hill

A picture book about finding strength in unlikely places from the team behind the hugely popular New York Times bestseller Be Kind.

[A] lovely exploration of empathy and thoughtfulness.” —Publishers Weeklystarred review for BE KIND

★ “This exploration of the true meaning of being strong is layered and lovely, provoking deep thought, feeling, and conversation about this important virtue and its corollaries—perseverance, leadership, and caring.” —Kirkus Reviews, starred review for BE STRONG

Where is Bina Bear? by Mike Curato

In Mike Curato’s funny, poignant picture book Where Is Bina Bear?, a little rabbit throws a party—but can’t find best friend Bina Bear anywhere!

“Even the most outgoing child will learn to empathize with those that don’t have fun in crowds . . . Imbued with understanding and overt silliness.” —Kirkus Reviews

A tender tribute to both lone wolves (er, bears) and the beings who love them.” —Publishers Weekly

“This warm and comforting look at friendship offers meaningful insight into the value of support and acceptance.” —The Horn Book

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

See You Someday Soon by Pat Zietlow Miller; illustrated by Suzy Lee

From the author of the mega-bestseller Be Kind and the winner of the 2022 Hans Christian Andersen Award comes a picture book for anyone who’s ever loved someone far away.

★ “A touching depiction of love across the miles between a grandmother and a grandchild… Pick up this title someday soon.” —Kirkus Review, starred review

★ “While this reassuring picture book is particularly apt for COVID-19, it will be welcomed by anyone suffering separation and seeking comfort.” —Horn Book Magazine, starred review

[A] playful spin on modern grandparent-child relationships.” —Publishers Weekly

Annie’s Cat Is Sad by Heather Smith; illustrated by Karen Obuhanych

A little girl navigates her cat’s bad day in this picture book about exploring sadness and how we find comfort.

Sometimes we just have to feel our feelings, even when it’s easier to project them onto someone else. Viewers who struggle to express their emotions in a healthy way may benefit from Annie’s acceptance, or at least from her reliance on a trusty feline to make things better.”–Bulletin for the Center of Children’s Books

Listen Up, Louella by Ashley Belote

An overly excited elephant learns to listen with a little help from her new friends in Listen Up, Louella, an adorably humorous new picture book from Ashley Belote, the illustrator of Frankenslime.

Tomatoes in My Lunchbox by Costantia Manoli; illustrated by Magdalena Mora

A moving picture book from a debut author about the first day of school, layered with themes about the immigrant experience and the universal experience of feeling out of place.

★ “[A] beautifully told and illustrated story that expresses, with sensitivity and inspired use of figurative language, a child’s attempt to fit with the dominant culture—a common experience that will resonate with many readers and inspire empathy in others.” —Kirkusstarred review

★ “An excellent choice for back to school and “new kid” picture book collections. This will resonate with many readers.” —School Library Journalstarred review

A comforting book for a child who may feel isolated due to an uncommon name, or for one feeling uprooted and adrift in a new place.” —Horn Book Magazine

“An expressive picture book that articulates a young immigrant’s viewpoint
. —Booklist

Skeletina and the In-Between World / Skeletina y el Entremundo by Susie Jaramillo; translated by Leslie Rodriguez

Inspired by Mexican culture and perfect for fans of the hit movies Coco and The Nightmare Before ChristmasSkeletina and the In-Between World is the first book in a series that combines kooky characters and a spooky story with important and resonant themes about empathy, bravery, self-esteem, and the enduring power of love.

“Skeletina y el Entremundos”, escrito por Susie Jaramillo, es un libro de niños inspirado por el Día de Muertos, perfecto para los fans de películas como Coco y El Libro de la vida. Este es el primer libro en una serie que combina personajes chiflados y una escalofriante aventura, con temas importantes sobre empatía, valentía, autoestima y el interminable poder del amor.

“Susie Jaramillo’s artwork is captivating, with details, bold colors, and intricate use of delicate grays and blacks that result in an ethereal look… Unique characters and rich illustrations.” – Kirkus

What Are You? by Christian Trimmer; illustrations by Mike Curato

From Christian Trimmer and award-winning illustrator Mike Curato comes What Are You?, a brilliant, new early-reader picture book brimming with warmth and playfulness that explores questions of race and identity.

You Matter to Me by Doyin Richards; illustrated by Robert Paul Jr.

In this picture book written by Doyin Richards and illustrated by Robert Paul Jr., You Matter to Me, a dog describes what it’s like to go on walks with his Black owner and wishes that people would see his human as he does: with love.

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

OTHER BOYS by Damian Alexander

In Other Boys, debut author Damian Alexander delivers a moving middle grade graphic memoir about his struggles with bullying, the death of his mother, and coming out.

“Damian Alexander traces with poignant accuracy the story of boys who find themselves erased at a certain age. This book should be read by queer kids and parents alike.”—Garrard Conley, New York Times–bestselling author of Boy Erased

“Honest and incredibly brave, this deeply relatable story will resonate with anyone who’s looking for their place in the world. Other Boys is a book I so desperately needed as a teen.”—Phil Stamper, bestselling author of The Gravity of Us and As Far As You ’ll Take Me


For fans of John Green and Emily X.R. Pan, The Half-Orphan’s Handbook by Joan F. Smith is a coming-of-age story and an empathetic, authentic exploration of grief with a sharp sense of humor and a big heart.

A tender, honest exploration of finding a way through the impossible.” —Kirkus Review

“This debut novel’s believable characters make plain that suffering the loss of a loved one while young is difficult, and common.” —School Library Journal

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

Ride On by Faith Erin Hicks

In Ride On, this middle grade graphic novel from Faith Erin Hicks, twelve-year-old Victoria is burned out from the high-pressure world or riding competitions. Can she get back to basics and rekindle her love of horses? Perfect for fans of Best Friends and Stargazing!

Hicks gives her uncommon depth, thanks to multifaceted and distinctive characters, nuanced conversations about passion and privilege, and heartening emotional growth. A solid, well-wrought comic for fans of character-driven stories and, naturally, anyone obsessed with riding horses.” —Booklist, starred review

Featuring funny dialogue and Hicks’s signature art—including sharply rendered horses in motion—this attentively layered, low-stakes graphic novel is told with an insider’s understanding of both stable culture and fandom.” —Publisher’s Weekly, starred review

★ “A ‘perfect ride‘ of a graphic ­novel that shows that there really is something special about horse friends.”—School Library Journal, starred review

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

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