This blog series focuses on social and emotional learning (SEL) and its benefits for helping students manage emotions and build healthy relationships. Each blog post provides ideas and strategies for implementing the five areas of SEL in a variety of grade levels. Read the previous post, Unmasking Social and Emotional Learning.

A little consideration, a little thought for others, makes all the difference.—Eeyore in Winnie the Pooh

Tucked between the covers of fables, folktales, and other literary texts live opportunities for promoting the social and emotional well-being of students. Some stories contain inspirational themes or lessons intended to instill values in readers. Others portray characters experiencing challenges with which students can relate. Literature often generates student reflection on their own lives, their feelings, and their relationships with others.

In the first blog post, we “unmasked” the importance of SEL. Now, we will “uncover” lit ideas for helping students develop their social and emotional skills. In addition to the chapter books and novels typically read to and with older students, picture books, often used with younger students, can be just as impactful for integrating social and emotional learning in the middle and upper grades. Use the following picture books as tools for creating a learning culture that promotes social and emotional success.


  • Stick and Stone—Beth Ferry
    Two characters who are feeling lonely develop a friendship on the playground.
  • The Sandwich Swap—Rania Al Abdullah
    A story of best friends who learn to appreciate and accept their differences.

 Being Unique

  • Stand Tall, Molly Lou Melon—Patty Lovell
    Molly Lou shows confidence based on advice and encouragement from her grandmother.
  • A Bad Case of Stripes—David Shannon
    A girl worries about what other people think of her and learns a lesson when her skin develops patterns.


  • Swimmy—Leo Lionni
    Swimmy shows his friends how to work together to overcome the dangers of the ocean.
  • The Enormous Potato—retold by Aubrey Davis
    A farmer grows such a large potato that he must enlist the help of others to pull it from the ground.


  • Hey, Little Ant—Phillip Hoose
    About to be squished, an ant delivers a case for survival.
  • Somebody Loves You, Mr. Hatch—Eileen Spinelli
    Mr. Hatch’s lonely life changes when he receives a surprise. After learning a terrible mistake had been made, his new friends show love to him.


  • The Empty Pot—Demi
    Unable to grow a plant, a boy is rewarded for his honesty.
  • Tell the Truth B.B. Wolf—Judy Sierra
    The Big Bad Wolf is caught in his own lie, but he turns things around when he performs a good deed.


  • Emmanuel’s Dream—Laurie Ann Thompson
    This is the true story of a boy who was born with only one leg that is strong. He perseveres until he achieves his goals.
  • The Book of Mistakes—Corinna Luyken
    This story shares the theme that big mistakes can result in creative ideas.


  • Each Kindness—Jacqueline Woodson
    In this story, a teacher shares the importance of being kind to one another after watching a new girl in class be rejected by her classmates. 
  • Otis and the Tornado—Loren Long
    A kind tractor helps an unfriendly bull during a tornado.

Keep in mind that the recommended books are just a sampling of the wide range of picture books that support social and emotional learning. Search for engaging texts that will spark students to reflect on their feelings, their character traits, and their relationships.

Interested in additional SEL activities? Read the the next blog post in this series, “Unwrapping SEL Activities.”