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 in a recent article.

Find books to support your SEL units here!

Try these books in your next SEL unit:


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

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

“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

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

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

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

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


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

“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