Picture Books to Promote Social & Emotional Learning

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In addition to fostering in my children a love of books, proficiency with the written word, and familiarity with mathematical and scientific concepts, I would like to help my children develop social emotional skills, emotional intelligence, mindfulness or whatever you'd like to call it. But it can be tricky to figure out how to deliberately and explicitly talk to kids about these topics without it being forced and awkward. So I always have my eye out for a good picture book that will help my kids (and me) internalize some of these concepts and abilities. I love a good picture book that features or promotes:
  • resilience
  • emotional regulation
  • anger management
  • learning from failure
  • coping with anxiety
  • social skills
  • optimism
  • self-confidence
  • growth mindset

Here are some winners I have found. These picture books not only expose kids to important concepts and habits of mind, they are also interesting and fun reads in their own right! Win win win!

Growing Friendships
Growing Friendship is the book I've been looking for for years. Comics and text directed at my kids that explicitly teach social skills without assuming a deficit or disorder. I actually own MANY books for teachers and parents about helping kids develop social skills. Sadly, I am a better researcher than an implementer. But you know what I excel at? Reading books with my kids! I love that this book cuts out the middleman and speaks directly to the kids. We read a section, discuss, look for situations where we can practice the new skill, report. It's easy, unintimidating, and wonderful.

Good Rosie!
When I saw a picture book by Kate DiCamillo on the new book display at the library, I of course grabbed it, and it did not disappoint. Love the graphic-novel style frames and lively illustrations. A brilliant story of friendship, and just so, so perfect for my introverted dog-loving kiddos.

Captain Snout and the Super Power Questions: Don’t Let the ANTs Steal Your Happiness
Looking for a book that will help your kids learn how to challenge their negative thoughts? Look no further! My sister told me about this picture book and it is awesome. Captain Snout and the Superpower Questions uses a superhero anteater to teach kids how to question their ANTs (automatic negative thoughts). It was a lot of fun to read aloud to my three kids. My favorite is the Mind Reader ANT who thinks she knows what everyone else is thinking! The story shows that ANTs steal your happiness and how questioning them gives you the power to make things better.

Your Fantastic Elastic Brain
Your Fantastic Elastic Brain teaches kids about the parts and functions of the brain and how the brain changes over time. My favorite message: making mistakes stretches your brain and helps it grow.

One of Those Days
Ever have one of those days? I saw this book at my mom's house and immediately purchased myself a copy. Read it and feel understood. My kids certainly loved this book, but as an adult with a few decades more experience, I probably loved it even more. Life can be really hard sometimes, in a bunch of different seemingly minor ways. And it's good to know when life kinda stinks - well, you're not the only one. See also, Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day.

Dream Big
I have zero desire to run a marathon. Ever. But I loved this book about the director of the Boston Marathon and his own experiences attempting to run the marathon. Such a great story of persistence, resilience, coping with disappointment, and continuing on after failure. The book also beautifully handles the loss of a beloved grandparent. End notes encourage kids to set goals and to dream big.

Wilma Unlimited: How Wilma Rudolph Became the World's Fastest Woman
One of my all-time favorite picture books. A moving true story about overcoming obstacles and persevering.

Snowflake Bentley
I love this book. I love how Bentley never lost his childlike sense of wonder. I love how patiently he pursued his passion. I love how his parents spent their savings on a special camera that allowed their child to photograph snowflakes. I love how Bentley persisted despite the derision of neighbors. I love that he thought of his photographs as his “gift to the world.” When I first read aloud this book I was struck by the fact that the snowflake designs we see everywhere on textiles and illustrations and wrapping paper all can be traced back to a boy with a microscope on a Vermont farm – that we know about the six-sided symmetrical beauty of snowflakes, these masterpieces of natural design, from Snowflake Bentley! Make sure when you read this book you also get yourself a copy of Bentley’s original photographs (available cheaply from Dover) to admire his gift to the world for yourself. They are so, so lovely.

This book encourages kids to perform and notice their own acts of kindness. It also really simply introduces the idea of loving kindness meditation. 

Breathe with Me
This picture book shows kids how to use their breath to cope with difficult situations and to find focus and calm. With bright illustrations, and simple descriptions, the author explains different kinds of breaths and situations where you might find them useful. See also Meditate with Me by the same author for a simple introduction mindfulness.

Listening Walk
I love the text and illustrations of this picture book by Aliki. After reading this book my kids always want to take their own listening walk, a simple and accessible way to practice mindfulness.


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