50 Must-Have Picture Books to Teach Social Emotional Skills

These social-emotional books will encourage empathy, kindness, and help kids think about grief and anger.

picture books about emotion

All teachers care about helping our students become caring, considerate, confident citizens of the world. Picture books about emotion and social-emotional issues can help kids think deeply about feelings and social issues.

Here are 50 books that you can share with kids of any age that will help them develop empathy, talk about their feelings, and identify with others.

Books About Fear

1. There Might Be Lobsters by Carolyn Crimi

Lots of things at the beach scare Sukie. Lots. Because she is just a small dog, and the stairs are big and sandy, and the waves are big and whooshy, and the balls are big and beachy.

 

2. Jabari Jumps by Gaia Cornwall

Jabari is definitely ready to jump off the diving board. He’s finished his swimming lessons and passed his swim test, and he’s a great jumper, so he’s not scared at all.

 

3. The Dark by Lemony Snicket

Laszlo is afraid of the dark. The dark lives in the same house as Laszlo. Mostly, though, the dark stays in the basement and doesn’t come into Lazslo’s room. But one night, it does.

 

4. Don’t Think About Purple Elephants by Susanne Merritt

Sometimes Sophie worries — not during the day when she is busy with family and friends, but at night when everything is calm and quiet.

 

5. Too Shy for Show-and-Tell by Beth Bracken

Sam is a quiet little boy who hates show-and-tell. Just thinking about it makes his stomach hurt. Sam must find a way to conquer his fear of show-and-tell.

 

Books about Risk-Taking

6. The Book of Mistakes by Corinna Luyken

Zoom meets Beautiful Oops! in this book about the creative process, and the way in which “mistakes” can blossom into inspiration

 

7. Everyone Can Learn to Ride a Bicycle by Chris Raschka

Learning to ride a bike is one of the most important milestones of childhood, and this book captures the emotional ups and downs of the experience.

 

8. The Girl Who Never Made Mistakes by Mark Pett

Meet Beatrice Bottomwell: a nine-year-old girl who has never (not once!) made a mistake.

 

9. The Dot by Peter H. Reynolds

The words of her teacher are a gentle invitation to express herself. But Vashti can’t draw – she’s no artist.

 

Books about Friendship

10. Rulers of the Playground by Joseph Kuefler

One morning, Jonah decided to become ruler of the playground. Everyone agreed to obey his rules to play in King Jonah’s kingdom … Everyone except for Lennox … because she wanted to rule the playground, too.

 

11. Enemy Pie by Derek Munson

It was the perfect summer. That is until Jeremy Ross moved into the house down the street and became neighborhood enemy number one.

 

12. A Sick Day for Amos McGee by Philip C. Stead

Friends come in all sorts of shapes and sizes. In Amos McGee’s case, all sorts of species, too!

 

13. The Invisible Boy by Trudy Ludwig

Meet Brian, the invisible boy. Nobody ever seems to notice him or think to include him in their group, game, or birthday party … until a new kid comes to class.

 

14. Stick and Stone by Beth Ferry

When Stick rescues Stone from a prickly situation with a Pinecone, the pair becomes fast friends. But when Stick gets stuck, can Stone return the favor?

 

Books about Identity

15. I’m a Girl! by Yasmeen Ismail

Meet a little girl who’s spontaneous, fast, and strong and loves winning. Sometimes she’s mistaken for a boy, but she definitely isn’t one!

 

16. Last Stop on Market Street by Matt de la Peña

Every Sunday after church, CJ and his grandma ride the bus across town. But today, CJ wonders why they don’t own a car like his friend Colby. Why doesn’t he have an iPod like the boys on the bus? How come they always have to get off in the dirty part of town?

 

17. Those Shoes by Maribeth Boelts

All Jeremy wants is a pair of those shoes, the ones everyone at school seems to be wearing. Though Jeremy’s grandma says they don’t have room for “want,” just “need,” when his old shoes fall apart at school, he is more determined than ever to have those shoes, even a thrift-shop pair that is much too small.

 

18. Drum Dream Girl: How One Girl’s Courage Changed Music by Margarita Engle

Girls cannot be drummers. Long ago on an island filled with music, no one questioned that rule—until the drum dream girl. In her city of drumbeats, she dreamed of pounding tall congas and tapping small bongós. She had to keep quiet.

 

19. My Very Own Space by Pippa Goodhart

A little rabbit is trying to read his book in peace, but there’s so much going on around him! Maybe he needs some space just for himself …

 

20. The Crayon Box that Talked by Shane Derolf

“While walking through a toy store, the day before today, I overheard a crayon box with many things to say…”

 

21. Extraordinary Jane by Hannah E. Harrison

Jane is an ordinary dog in an extraordinary circus. She isn’t strong, graceful, or brave like her family. When she tries to be those things, Jane just doesn’t feel like herself, but she also doesn’t feel special.

 

22. Millie Fierce by Jane Manning

Millie is quiet. Millie is sweet. Millie is mild. But the kids at school don’t listen to her.

 

Books about Overcoming Challenges

23. Argyle Fox by Marie Letourneau

Argyle Fox, with his signature style, wants to play outside on a springtime day, but the wind is wreaking havoc with his fun and games. As soon as he builds a card tower, climbs into a giant spider web, or takes up his pirate sword, here comes the wind: Woosh!

 

24. Emmanuel’s Dream: The True Story of Emmanuel Ofosu Yeboah by Laurie Ann Thompson

Emmanuel Ofosu Yeboah’s inspiring true story is nothing short of remarkable. Born in Ghana, West Africa, with one deformed leg, he was dismissed by most people—but not by his mother, who taught him to reach for his dreams.

 

25. Nadia: The Girl Who Couldn’t Sit Still by Karlin Gray

Nadia Comaneci was a feisty and fearless little girl who went from climbing trees in the forests of Romania to swinging into history at the 1976 Olympic Games, where she received an unprecedented seven perfect scores in gymnastics.

 

26. Life by Cynthia Rylant

There are so many wonderful things about life, both in good times and in times of struggle.

 

Books about Kindness

27. Ordinary Mary’s Extraordinary Deed by Emily Pearson

Can one child’s good deed change the world?

 

28. Because Amelia Smiled by David Ezra Stein

Because Amelia smiles as she skips down the street, her neighbor Mrs. Higgins smiles too and decides to send a care package of cookies to her grandson Lionel in Mexico.

 

29. Pass It On by Sophy Henn

When you see something terrific, smile a smile and pass it on! If you chance upon a chuckle, hee hee hee and pass it on. Should you spot a thing of wonder, jump for joy and pass it on!

 

30. We’re All Wonders by R. J. Palacio

Now younger readers can meet Auggie Pullman, an ordinary boy with an extraordinary face, and his beloved dog, Daisy. Choose Kind.

 

31. The Invisible String by Patrice Karst

A story that teaches of the tie that really binds. The Invisible String reaches from heart to heart. Does everybody have an Invisible String? How far does it reach, anyway? Does it ever go away?

 

 Books about Grief

32. Missing Mommy: A Book About Bereavement by Rebecca Cobb

Missing Mommy focuses on the positive―the recognition that the child is not alone but still part of a family that loves and supports him.

 

33. The Heart and the Bottle by Oliver Jeffers

There is a wonder and magic to childhood. We don’t realize it at the time, of course . . . yet the adults in our lives do. They encourage us to see things in the stars, to find joy in colors and laughter as we play. But what happens when that special someone who encourages such wonder and magic is no longer around?

 

34. The Memory String by Eve Bunting

Each button on Laura’s memory string represents a piece of her family history. The buttons Laura cherishes the most belonged to her mother—a button from her prom dress, a white one off her wedding dress, and a single small button from the nightgown she was wearing on the day she died.

 

35. Big Tree is Sick: A Story to Help Children Cope with the Serious Illness of a Loved One by Nathalie Slosse

Snibbles and Big Tree are best friends! They have always hung out together, and Snibbles loves Big Tree very much. When Big Tree unexpectedly falls ill with woodworm, Snibbles is very upset and angry.

 

36. Cry, Heart, But Never Break by Glenn Ringtved

Aware their grandmother is gravely ill, four siblings make a pact to keep death from taking her away. But Death does arrive all the same, as it must.

 

 Books about Feelings

 37. When Sophie Gets Angry–Really, Really Angry by Molly Bang

Everybody gets angry sometimes.

 

38. Crabby Pants by Julie Gassman

When things don’t go Roger’s way, he gets crabby. However, Roger thinks he has found a solution to being such a crabby pants.

 

39. The Way I Feel by Janan Cain

Feelings are neither good nor bad, they simply are. Kids need words to name their feelings, just as they need words to name all things in their world.

 

Books about Lying

40. Lying Up a Storm by Julia Cook

A Storm is Brewing… Whenever Levi doesn’t like the truth, he kinda, sorta makes up other stuff to say.

 

41. Ruthie and the (Not So) Teeny Tiny Lie by Laura Rankin

Ruthie loves little things-the smaller the better. So when she finds a teeny tiny camera on the school playground one afternoon, she can hardly believe her luck. She wants to keep the camera in the worst way, but there’s one little problem: It isn’t hers.

42. I Want My Hat Back by Jon Klassen

The bear’s hat is gone, and he wants it back. Patiently and politely, he asks the animals he comes across, one by one, whether they have seen it. Each animal says no.

 

Books about Self-Control

43. Lilly’s Purple Plastic Purse by Kevin Henkes

Lilly loves everything about school, especially her cool teacher, Mr. Slinger. But when Lilly brings her purple plastic purse and its treasures to school and can’t wait until sharing time, Mr. Slinger confiscates her prized possessions.

44. David Gets In Trouble by David Shannon

“When David gets in trouble, he always says . . . ‘NO! It’s not my fault! I didn’t mean to! It was an accident!'”

45. My Mouth Is a Volcano! by Julia Cook

All of Louis thoughts are very important to him. In fact, his thoughts are so important to him that when he has something to say, his words begin to wiggle, and then they do the jiggle, then his tongue pushes all of his important words up against his teeth and he erupts, or interrupts others.

46. Lacey Walker, Nonstop Talker by Christianne C. Jones

Lacey Walker loves to talk. She talks all day, and sometimes all night. But when she loses her voice, Lacey learns the importance of listening.

47. YOU WILL BE MY FRIEND! by Peter Brown

Today is the day the exuberant Lucy is going to make a new friend! But she finds it’s harder than she had thought–she accidentally ruins the giraffe’s breakfast and is much too big for the frogs’ pond.

48. Clark the Shark by Bruce Hale

Clark is a shark with zingbang, and BOOM. Clark zooms into school, crashes through the classroom, and is rowdy at recess.

 

Books about Resiliency

49. Giraffes Can’t Dance by Giles Andreae

Gerald the tall giraffe would love to join in with the other animals at the Jungle Dance, but everyone knows that giraffes can’t dance . . . or can they?

50. Sunday Chutney by Aaron Blabey

The new girl at school has a glamorous life. What more could she want? Sunday Chutney is not your ordinary everyday girl. Sunday has lived everywhere and been everywhere. The only problem is this means she is always the new girl at school and she never really has a place to call home.

Use this four-step process to help reinforce the character trait featured in each story:

  1. DESCRIBE: Talk with your students, and have them talk with one another, about what they think the main point of the story was.  What character trait did the story define? How do you know? Why is it important? Can you make a connection to the story from your own life?  Make a poster together, or have the students write or draw in their journals about this character trait.

  2. DEMONSTRATE: Have a few students act out what the character trait looks like, feels like. Role playing different ways students candemonstratee this character trait will help reinforce the behavior.

  3. PRACTICE: Plan activities where each child has to take a turn to practice the featured character trait.

  4. PROMOTE: Promote, support, and encourage children as they initiate and engage in behavior that demonstrates the character trait. Catch them being kind, flexible, honest, confident, etc.!

Kimberley Moran

Posted by Kimberley Moran

Kimberley is an editor at weareteachers.com. She used to teach first graders. She lives along the Penobscot River in a little yellow house and starts her day with a blueberry muffin. Her work has appeared in parent.co, Good Magazine, and Public Radio International. Her book Hacking Parenthood is coming out in October 2017.

One Comment

  1. Consciousschoolcounselor

    I am printing out this list and planning to buy a book or two at least each pay day! Thank you so much! Going to help immensely in my guidance lessons and small groups!