The Best Books for Social-Emotional Learning

Books are a great way to teach a child social and emotional skills they can use their entire life.

Books are a valuable resource for school counselors, mental health professionals, teachers, and parents. They can be used to educate students about life skills and social emotional learning (SEL) topics, provide support to students who are struggling with big feelings, and inspire students to reach their full potential.

Here are some of the great ways books can be used:

  • Books teach social-emotional skills. Social-emotional learning books teach children important SEL skills, such as self-awareness, self-control, responsible decision-making, and how to build positive relationships with others.
  • Books can support students who are struggling. Social-emotional learning books can provide support to students who are struggling with a variety of mental health issues, such as the negative emotions of grief, anxiety, and depression.
  • Books inspire students to reach their full potential. Books can inspire students to reach their full potential by introducing them to new ideas and possibilities through the main character, who is learning the same thing.

Here are some tips for using books in the classroom or at home:

  • Create a welcoming reading environment. Make sure that your counseling office, classroom, or home has a comfortable space where kids can relax and read. This could be a beanbag chair corner, a small library, or even just a cozy armchair. It is also important to create a classroom cool down spot when kids are experiencing big feelings.
  • Have a variety of social-emotional learning books available. Choose books that cover a wide range of topics and appeal to students of all ages and interests. You may also want to keep a selection of books in different languages to appeal to students whose first language isn’t English. Many publishers also offer free resources, group activities, worksheets, and other counselor resources to accompany new book releases. Books are a great way to teach social-emotional skills.
  • Read aloud to students. Reading aloud to students is a great way to introduce them to new books and engage them in group discussion. Important work in growth mindset, managing emotions, and self-control can promote student learning through fun picture books.
  • Encourage students to read independently. Let students know that they are welcome to come to your office and read independently whenever they need a break or want to learn more about a particular topic. You may have students write or draw about what they read. You can also create a book club for students who are interested in exploring topics with others.
  • Use books as a starting point for counseling sessions. If a student is struggling with a particular issue, you can use a book as a starting point for discussion. When they read a beautifully illustrated book with a main character experiencing different emotions, they can see the practical advice given and develop their own self-awareness.

In addition to the tips above, here are some other ways that you can use books in teaching social-emotional learning:

  • Develop book lists on specific social-emotional learning and life skills topics. This could help students find books that are relevant to their own experiences and interests. For example, you could create a book list on coping with big feelings, growth mindset, or building positive relationships with others.
  • Partner with the school library when teaching social-emotional learning. Work with your school librarian to develop programs, book groups, and after-school activities around specific themes.


Books can be great resources in several ways. They can provide information and support on a variety of topics, such as managing emotions, growth mindset, self-control, and building positive relationships. Picture books can also be used in teaching young learners important life skills, coping styles, and problem-solving strategies. In addition, books can help students develop empathy and understanding for others.

Tips for choosing social-emotional learning books:

  • It is important to choose books that are representative of the students you serve. This means choosing books with characters from different backgrounds and with different emotions and experiences. It may also be beneficial to read through stories that represent parts of your own life, as this may help deepen your connection with students.
  • Consider the age, developmental level, and interests of the students. Choose books that are appropriate for the age and developmental level of the students you are working with. You may think that picture books are only for younger readers, but older kids and teens enjoy them and understand the lessons taught. It is also important to choose books that are on topics students are interested in.
  • Choose books that are accurate and informative. Make sure the books you choose are relevant and up to date. You may want to consult with other professionals, such as librarians or teachers, to get recommendations for books that teach specific social-emotional skills.
  • Choose books that are engaging and easy to read. Look for picture books with clear illustrations, interesting characters, and engaging plots.


Our Favorite Social-Emotional Learning Books


Picture Books About Big Feelings

Marcy’s Having All the Feels by Allison Edwards

Marcy wanted to be happy, but all her other emotions kept popping up and at the worst times! She didn’t like feeling embarassed, jealous, or sad. Couldn’t she just be happy all the time? This children’s book explores how sometimes feeling so many emotions doesn’t feel so good, but every feeling has its value. Also available on Amazon.


How to Crack Your Peanut by Allison Edwards

Diego doesn’t understand why he gets angry and loses his temper. His counselor shares with him about the amygdala, a peanut-shaped part of his brain. Once Diego learns how his brain works, he understands why he behaves this way, along with three tips to remain calm. Also available on Amazon.


What’s Inside Your Backpack? by Jessica Sinarski

Zoey Harmon wants to feel carefree, but annoying “books” in her backpack keep weighing her down – books like anxety and shame. Kids everywhere are carrying heavy backpacks that are filled with more than just textbooks. Everyday they also carry the heavy load of hard life experiences and big emotions. This book features ways to build resilience in body and mind, and helps children effected by trauma realize how strong they really are! Also available on Amazon.


Grief is Like a Snowflake by Julia Cook

Grief looks different for everyone. With his supportive family, Little Tree learns to process and accept his father’s death by learning what is really important in life, and that his father’s memory will last forever. This endearing story provides a safe and encouraging approach to the hard subjects of loss and death. Also available on Amazon.


Hello, Anger by Jessica Sinarski

There is a lot that is carried in the backpacks of the kids at Sunnyvale Elementary – including things you can’t see, like confusing emotions and big feelings. One day a hot book keeps falling outday and exploding onto everyone: ANGER! It’s time for the students to figure out what is going on underneath those angry feelings. Also available on Amazon.


Worry Says What? by Allison Edwards

Author of best-seller Why Smart Kids Worry, Allison Edwards, shows how anxiety whispers fears to kids and then gives ways to silence those worries. With actionable tips throughout, a story that resonates, and playful illustrations, Worry Says What? will help kids (and grownups) change their thinking when fearful thoughts start and turn those thoughts into helpful reminders of all they can accomplish. Also available on Amazon.


Felix and the Feelings Formulas by Kate Bartlein

What if we could make a formula to help us in tough situations? Felix always has two things with him wherever he goes: Hank, his stuffed rat, and his Feelings Formulas notebook. Hank is a friend who’s always there, and the Feelings Formula notebook helps Felix figure out how to handle problems and challenging experiences on his adventures. Also available on Amazon.


BONUS: Books About Big Feelings for Adults

15-Minute Focus: Regulation and Co-Regulation by Ginger Healy

A great resource for courselor, educators, and parents! Packed with clear definitions, facts, stories, and talking points, this book is rooted in the understanding that relationships are the priority – it only takes one committed grown up to help a kid heal and build grit through co-regulation. Also available on Amazon.


Flooded by Allison Edwards

When your brain thinks there is danger nearby, you will go instantly into one of three zones – fight, flight, or freeze. You’re in The Flood Zone. This book explains how to identify feelings, learn what triggers those emotions, and provides practical tips to manage feelings in a healthy way. Also available on Amazon.


Books About Growth Mindset

Bubble Gum Brain by Julia Cook

Brick Brain and Bubble Gum Brain are two children with VERY different mindsets. This delightful picture book teaches children (and adults) the important lesson that becoming is better than being. Having a growth mindset can open the doors to a world of possibilities! Also available on Amazon.


Don’t Be Afraid to Drop by Julia Cook

Hopp the raindrop is afraid of new things and is content with his normal life. He soon learns that staying where he is holds him back from impacting those around him. Don’t Be Afraid to Drop is a story for anyone who is transitioning to new things in their lives. From kids entering kindergarten, to adults looking at retirement, and everyone between, this playful analogy will give readers a positive outlook on change, taking changes, and giving back. Also available on Amazon.


Failure Friday by Angela Burns

When Emma finds out she made the track team, she’s excited…and a little scared. It quickly becomes clear that Emma isn’t the fastest one in her family. Or the most coordinated. Emma begins to consider giving up…until her teacher invites a special guest to share with her class about failure. The speaker surprises them by saying that you don’t need to be afraid of failing – it’s actually something to celebrate! As her friends share their own failures, Emma realizes that maybe failure is actually a stop on the road to success. Also available on Amazon.


My Fantabulous Brain by Julia Cook

Take the “T” out of “CAN’T” and the “DON’T” out of “I DON’T KNOW!” This book encourages growth mindset and provides practical homework and study skills. Children will learn that everyone needs help sometimes, and there are tools to make our brains stronger! Also available on Amazon.


There’s No Dream Too Tall by Amie Dean

“The world is wide open; there’s no dream too tall. For a boy or a girl, whether big or quite small! There are millions of choices no end to the list. So, look deep in yourself and consider your gifts.” By showing children that their unique strengths can help them become who they want to be, we grant them the permission and power to dream. Also available on Amazon.


BONUS: Books About Growth Mindset for Adults

15-Minute Focus: Growth Mindset, Resilience, and Grit by Raychelle Cassada Lohmann

When kids encounter obstacles they need to find healthy ways to persevere, cope, and rise to the top. In this book, you’ll discover Growth Mindset, Resilience, and Grit as superpowers, the power of a positive outlook, the benefits of cognitive defusion, and strategies for building grit in students. Also available on Amazon.


Mindset Matters by Lisa King

The lessons in this book will provide students with a foundation of brain science, the magic of grit, and the benefits of learning, which will help them see the positive outcomes of having a growth mindset. Also available on Amazon.


Books About Building Positive Relationships with Others

Will You be the “I” in Kind? by Julia Cook

Maxine liked to pick on kids…especially Winston. No one was okay with the way she acted, but they were too scared to do anything. Bully B.E.A.N.S. guides kids in understanding how to identify bullying and provides impactful and clear tips for both bystandeers and targets. Also available on Amazon.


Bully B.E.A.N.S. by Julia Cook

Maxine liked to pick on kids…especially Winston. No one was okay with the way she acted, but they were too scared to do anything. Bully B.E.A.N.S. guides kids in understanding how to identify bullying and provides impactful and clear tips for both bystandeers and targets. Also available on Amazon.


A Bad Case of Tattle Tongue by Julia Cook

Josh tattles too much. One night Josh awakens to find his tongue is yellow, long, and covered in purple spots! This humorous picture book offers a clever way to address the tattling problems that take classroom energy and halt teaching opportunities. Also available on Amazon.


Lying Up a Storm by Julia Cook

Levi kinda makes up stuff to say when he doesn’t like the truth. But he soons finds out that his “insides start to storm.” This is a great book to help kids learn not only the consequences of telling lies, but also how a lie can lead to telling many more. Also available on Amazon.


My Mouth Is A Volcano by Julia Cook

Louis is always interrupting! When he wants to say something, his words jiggle and wiggle, grumble and rumble, right before he ERUPTS (or interrupts). This picutre book takes an gentle approach to the habit of interrupting. Kids will learn a witty technique to help them better control their words and thoughts. Also available on Amazon.


Personal Space Camp by Julia Cook

When space expert Louis is invited by the school principal to Personal Space Camp, he soon learns that personal space isn’t about Saturn’s rings, lunar landings, or space ice cream. This creative and fun children’s book focuses on the complex issue of respect for other’s physical boundaries. Also available on Amazon.


Ricky Sticky Fingers by Julia Cook

Ricky is a boy that can’t seem to understand that it is wrong to steal. Through a humorous tale, kids will learn the concept of ownership and what it feels like when someone doesn’t respect what is yours. Also available on Amazon.


Books Help Build Emotional Skills

Social-emotional learning books can be great resources for school counselors, mental health professionals, teachers, and parents. They can help students see that they are not the only one dealing with an issue, offer nonjudgmental mental health support, and teach students social and emotional skills and self-awareness. They can help students to develop empathy and understanding for others. When choosing books/picture books for school counseling, it is important to consider the age, developmental level, and interests of the older and younger readers. It is also important to choose books that are accurate and informative. There are several ways to use books in school counseling sessions, such as reading aloud to students, having students read books independently or in small groups, leading discussions about books, and using books when teaching social-emotional learning skills and problem-solving strategies.

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