75 Books for Social Emotional Learning

Research shows that Social Emotional Learning (SEL) programs like Shipley’s Social, Emotional, Ethical Development (SEED) program can positively impact children’s mental health, social skills, and academic performance. (Taylor, Rebecca D., et al. “Promoting Positive Youth Development Through School-Based Social and Emotional Learning Interventions: A Meta-Analysis of Follow-Up Effects.” Society for Research in Child Development, Inc., 2017, https://doi.org/10.1111/cdev.12864.) That’s why we devote class time in each grade to this important subject area. In Shipley’s Lower School SEED classes, teacher Betsy Leschinsky (“Mrs. L,” as her students affectionately call her) uses storybooks to anchor her lessons. 

The stories help students:

  • explore emotions – identify them, express them, and understand how emotions impact one’s own behavior and the behavior of others (empathy),
  • learn about character strengths, and
  • build positive relationships and understand how to navigate conflict in relationships.

Director of Positive Education and Student Support, Sharron Russell says, “While it may seem simple or cute, Lower School SEED encourages students to answer the essential questions: What is a feeling? Do I have to act on my feelings? How do my actions impact other people? These are questions that we, as adults, would do well to answer.”

Through discussion, activities, and written projects, students integrate the lessons shared in each book. Collectively, the books form part of a carefully-crafted curriculum, but are also incorporated as-needed to help students learn strategies that they can use to deal with real-time issues that can arise in a classroom community.

Social emotional learning at school works best when it supplements work done at home. The following is a list of books by grade, including their social emotional learning themes, compiled by Mrs. L for her classes. We hope you find it useful and we know your children will love hearing some of their favorite stories at home. “Many of the books on the list can be used to help parents start and or continue conversations around behaviors, emotions, friendships and other childhood experiences,” says Mrs. L. “Sometimes, hearing about an experience in a story helps a child to know they are not the only one having that experience, conflict, or strong feelings.”

Pre-K Books
Kindergarten Books
1st Grade Books
2nd Grade Books
3rd Grade Books
4th & 5th Grade Books


Big Dog and Little Dog
Dav Pilkey

George and Martha
James Marshall

Nobunny’s Perfect
Anna Dewdney
Making mistakes

The Doorbell Rang
Pat Hutchins

May I Please Have a Cookie
by Jennifer Morris

Cloud’s Best Worst Day Ever
by Amy Novesky
Managing behaviors and feelings

Cat’s Not So Perfect Sandcastle
by Ellen Dodge
Feelings, frustration

Bug Makes a Big Splash
Amy Novesky
Brave, proud, learning something new about yourself

A Friend for Minerva Louise
by Janet Morgan Stoeke

Bubba and Beau, Best Friends
by Kathi Appelt
Family love

Sam Who Never Forgets
Eve Rice

The Pigeon Finds a Hotdog
Mo Willems
Sharing and caring

What Puppies Teach Us: Life's Lessons Learned from Our Little Friends
Glenn Dromgoole
Various life lessons

Little Bear/Birthday Soup
Elise Holmelund Minarik
Caring , friendship

Rabbit’s Gift
George Shanno
Kindness towards others

Peaceful Piggy Meditation
Kerry Lee McLean

The Pigeon Wants a Puppy
Mo Willems

Glad Monster Sad Monster
Ed Emberley and Anne Miranda

Help: A Story of Friendship
Holly Keller
Friends ,caring, empathy

Janie Bynum
Learning about differences-


George and Martha
James Marshall

Taking a Bath with the Dog and Other Things that Make Me Happy
Scott Menchin

Corduroy’s Halloween
Don Freeman
Kindness, empathy

The Guest
James Marshall
Caring for friends, why/because consequences

Leo Lioni

Tommy the Turtle : Educating Children About Anxiety
Shelly Weiss
Feelings , managing behaviors

Little Rabbit’s Christmas
Harry Horse
Sharing, friendship

Peaceful Piggy Meditation
Kerry Lee McLean

Rosemary Wells
Appreciating differences, self-expression

Leo Lioni
Appreciating differences

The Grouchy Ladybug
Eric Carle
Sharing, kindness

The Crayon Box That Talked
Shane Derolf and Michael Letzig
Appreciating our own unique qualities, self-expression

Cat’s Not-So-Perfect Sandcastle
Plushy Feely Corp
Frustration, managing behaviors

Fluffy and Baron
Laura Rankin
Empathy, relationships

Zinnia and Dot
Lisa Campbell Ernst
Conflict resolution

My Name is Not Isabella : Just How Big Can a Little Girl Dream?
Jennifer Fosberry

When Sophie Gets Angry – Really, Really Angry…
Molly Bang
Managing uncomfortable feelings

An Apple Pie for Dinner
Susan Vanhecke
Taking care of friends, helping


I Like Your Buttons
Sarah Lamstein
Compliments, kindness

George and Martha
James Marshall

Cloud’s Best Worst Day Ever
by Amy Novesky
Managing behaviors and feelings

What’s That Look on Your Face
Catherine S. Snodgrass

The Hallo-Weiner
Dav Pilkey
Teasing, feelings, kindness empathy

Listen, Buddy
Helen Lester
Self-awareness, manners, respect

The Listening Walk
Paul Showers
Self-awareness, respect

Stand Tall, Molly Lou Mellon
Patty Lovell
Self-expression, confidence, encouragement

How Full is Your Bucket?
Tom Rath
Feelings, managing emotions

Peaceful Piggy Meditation
Kerry Lee McLean

We are All Alike… We are All Different
The Students of Cheltenham Elementary
Appreciating differences, self-identity

Kevin Henkes
Self-expression, differences

The Sneetches & Other Stories
Dr. Suess
Differences, self expression, acceptance

Franklin’s Bad Day
Paulette Bourgeois
Managing feelings, decision-making

Help! A Story of Friendship
Holly Keller
Friendship, compassion

McDuff Moves In
Rosemary Wells
Service to others , helping ,compassion

Hey, Little Ant
Phillip M. Hoose


The Adventures of Beekle: The Unimaginary Friend
Dan Santat

Raspberries! An American Tale of Cooperation
Mary Newell DePalma
Cooperation, trust

Enemy Pie
Derek Munson
Friendship , trust , working together

Chester’s Way
Kevin Henkes
Appreciating differences , self-identity , friendship

Hero’s Big Adventure
Facing fears, bravery, trying something new

The Perfect Gift
Mary Newell DePalma
Compassion, empathy

Yoko’s World of Kindness: : Golden Rules for a Happy Classroom
Rosemary Wells
Compassion , teasing , feelings

Oliver Button is a Sissy
Tommy DePaola
Appreciating differences , teasing empathy

Dear Dragon: A Pen Pal Tale
Josh Funk  
Appreciating and learning about differences

Peaceful Piggy Meditation
Kerry Lee McLean

Don’t Laugh at Me
Steve Seskin
Compassion, empathy, teasing

My Little Car
Gary Soto

Ruby the Copycat
Margaret & Peggy Rathman
Choices, self expression

A Rose for Abby
Donna Guthrie
Homelessness, compassion

Miss Nelson is Missing!
Harry G. Allard
Frustration, managing emotions


The Adventures of Beekle: The Unimaginary Friend
Dan Santat

It’s a Spoon Not a Shovel
Caralyn Buehner

You’re a Good Sport, Miss Malarkey
Judy Finchler
Good Sportsmanship

One Grain of Rice : A Mathematical Folktale
Integrity, honesty

The Quiltmakers Journey
Jeff Brumbeau
Kindness, empathy , service

Peaceful Piggy Meditation
Kerry Lee McLean

Nikki Giovanni
Courage, resilience, determination

Chicken Sunday
Patricia Polacco
Appreciating and learning about differences

The Littlest Maytroshka
Corinne DemassBliss
Gratitude, family, love, responsibility

Just Kidding
Trudy Ludwig
What is teasing, how to manage

The Empty Pot
Respect, honesty

Mrs. Harkness and the Panda
Alicia Potter
Perseverance, determination

Owen & Mzee: The True Story of a Remarkable Friendship
Isabella Hatkoff
Resilience, friendships

Alex and The Amazing Lemonade Stand
Liz Scott
Service, empathy determination


If You Had to Choose, What Would You Do?
Sandra McLeod Humphrey
Decision making, problem solving

The Golden Rule
Ilene Cooper
What is the golden rule and how can we incorporate it in our lives

What Puppies Teach Us: Life's Lessons Learned from Our Little Friends
Glenn Dromgoole
Various life lessons

Thank You, Mr. Falker
Patricia Polacco
Gratitude, empathy

Peaceful Piggy Meditation
Kerry Lee McLean

Nikki Giovanni
Courage, resilience, determination

Let’s Talk About Race
Julius Lester
Self-expression, learning about others, empathy

Of Thee I Sing: A Letter to My Daughters
Barak Obama
Character traits and values

Peter Golenbock
Courage, kindness, empathy

If the World Were a Village: A Book about the World's People
David Smith
Awareness of self and others

Fluffy and Baron
Laura Rankin
Empathy, relationships

Kids With Courage: True Stories about Young People Making a Difference
Barbara Lewis
Character lessons , self-identity, choices


Character Building Day by Day: 180 Quick Read-Alouds for Elementary School and Home
Anne D. Mather

Building Moral Intelligence: The Seven Essential Virtues that Teach Kids to Do the Right Thing
Michele Borba

E is For Ethics: How to Talk to Your Kids about Morals, Values, and What Matters Most
Ian James Corlett

Great Group Skits
Lynn Grasberg
Character Building

What Do You Stand For? For Teens: A Guide to Building Character
Barbara Lewis
Character Development

About the Author

Melissa Tassoni

Melissa Tassoni works in the Marketing & Communications department of The Shipley School, where she writes about Positive Education, shares tips and resources related to parenting, and highlights exceptional teaching at Shipley and beyond.