Teachers across the country realize the benefits of incorporating social-emotional learning (SEL) into their classrooms. Whether remote, hybrid, or in-person, SEL encourages more positive classroom dynamics, reinforces cultural awareness and sensitivity, and helps students of all ages learn how to set and achieve goals. Early and consistent progress in SEL can make teachers excited about finding even more opportunities to reinforce SEL best practices and understanding among their students.
To support your SEL instruction, we’re providing recommendations on top SEL-related books for every age—elementary, middle, and high school.
Please note, we are not affiliated with the authors in any way, we just happen to like their work. Book descriptions are from Amazon.com.
Top SEL Books for Elementary School Students
A Little SPOT of Emotion, by Diane Alber
Book Description: This box set includes eight short stories: A Little SPOT of Anger, A Little SPOT of Anxiety, A Little SPOT of Happiness, A Little SPOT of Sadness, A Little SPOT of Love, A Little SPOT of Confidence, A Little Peaceful SPOT, A Little Scribble SPOT.
Why we like it: The “spots” are really the cutest things ever, each one portraying a different emotion. Children can experience strong feelings and emotions, and don’t always know the words that go with talking about those feelings. This book teaches emotions in a way that makes it simple for kids to understand. Little Scribble Spot teaches children how to recognize what emotion they are feeling.
Book Description: What are the Dos and Don’ts for making and keeping friends? How can you decode body language clues? What’s the best way to keep a conversation going? Just like learning multiplication tables, social skills don’t come naturally―every child has to learn them. Luckily, this book makes mastering social skills super fun with 50 awesome activities. Social Skills Activities for Kids gives children the confidence to successfully navigate social situations at home, school, and the world in between. From keeping the conversation ball moving to learning to compromise to practicing good table manners, these engaging activities help kids develop and use their social skills super powers.
Why we like it: There’s a self-reflection component to this book, which helps the child to think things through and understand how one action might be better than another.
What Should Danny Do? School Day, by Adir Levy
Book Description: In this follow up to the #1 Amazon Best Seller, What Should Danny Do?, the reader gets to decide how Danny’s day at school will end! Children love being able to make all the choices for this Superhero-in-Training and control the outcome of the book, while parents and teachers love the lessons the book teaches! Try to reach all 8 endings in this “Choose Your Own Story” adventure!
Why we like it: Choose your own adventure? Yes please, what fun. It’s a great way to get children involved in reading and instill a love of reading. We also enjoy the illustrations and relatable scenarios.
Top SEL Books for Middle School Students
When the World Closed, by E. E. Thorgaard and illustrations by J. Shapiro
Book Description: When the World Closed empowers children aged 5-9 years to navigate their feelings and reignite their imaginations during the coronavirus pandemic shutdowns, lockdowns, and quarantines. Written to encourage social and emotional development and resilience, When the World Closed is supported by current psychological evidence and educational best practices.
Why we like it: The pandemic has been tough on all of us—from kids to us adults. We’ve never navigated anything like this before and it’s hard to know what to do and how to feel day to day. This is an uplifting story that captures the child’s perspective of the pandemic and gives us all hope for the future.
Book Description: Breathe Like a Bear is a beautifully illustrated collection of mindfulness exercises designed to teach kids techniques for managing their bodies, breath, and emotions. Best of all, these 30 simple, short breathing practices and movements can be performed anytime, anywhere: in the car to the grocery store, during heavy homework nights at home, or even at a child’s desk at school.
Why we like it: Even though this book is for kids, we think adults should read it too. According to many studies, deep breathing is one of the best ways to lower stress in the body (Healthwise, 2019). We can all use a moment to take a few breaths now and again. Breathing techniques are helpful tools for calming us down whenever, wherever. Inhale, exhale, repeat. Don’t you feel better already?
Book Description: Anger is a normal emotion just like joy, sadness, and fear, but it can be difficult to know how to express those feelings in a good way. The Anger Management Workbook for Kids is filled with 50 playful exercises to help you handle powerful emotions. You can stay calm and make better choices when you feel angry.
Why we like it: The workbook incorporates hands-on activities that helps children engage in learning while they discover tools to help manage feelings through practicing gratitude, friendliness, and self-kindness.
Top SEL Books for High School Students
Book Description: Between friends, school, home life, and everything else going on, life can be overwhelming during your teenage years. But practicing mindfulness for teens can help you keep your cool, stay focused, and be present in any situation―even the difficult ones. The Mindfulness Workbook for Teens is full of exercises, strategies, and meditations to help you practice mindfulness so you can cultivate peace and achieve balance in your life no matter what’s going on. Learn practical methods for mindful test-taking, moving through strong emotions, navigating relationships with parents and peers, and much more.
Why we like it: Practicing mindfulness isn’t just for yogis anymore. Why? According to the APA, “Among its theorized benefits are self-control, objectivity, affect tolerance, enhanced flexibility, equanimity, improved concentration and mental clarity, emotional intelligence and the ability to relate to others and one’s self with kindness, acceptance and compassion” (Davis & Hayes, 2012). Being aware and present in the moment can help us all focus and stop worrying about what might be or what was. The activities in the book can help teens learn different mindfulness techniques.
Shoot Your Shot: A Sport-Inspired Guide To Living Your Best Life Paperback,by Vernon Brundage Jr.
Book Description: Michael Jordan. Kobe Bryant. LeBron James. Stephen Curry. Kawhi Leonard. Giannis Antetokounmpo. James Harden. Kevin Durant. Russell Westbrook. These are some of the most high profile names in one of the world’s most popular sports—basketball. But what steps did they take to elevate themselves to superstardom? What principles did they follow in order to become the best of the best? More importantly, how can you use their example to attain success in all of your endeavors? Shoot Your Shot identifies the key principles that the world’s most elite basketball players have applied to their lives and explains in detail how you can use those same exact principles to help you navigate through life, accomplish your goals, and realize your dreams.
Why we like it: For teens, words of wisdom from parents can go in one ear and out the other. The author of this book does a great job of telling his story growing up as an average middle-lower class African American and how basketball helped him along the way. His advice is tied to everyday practical thinking and realistic application that teens will relate to even if they aren’t into sports.
Did we miss any?
Please share your book recommendations in our comments section below.
Related PLS Course:
Social-Emotional Learning: Essential to Student Success™
In this remote learning online course you’ll focus on the importance of supporting academics with social-emotional learning. You will also explore the five areas of social-emotional learning: self-awareness, self-management, responsible decision-making, social awareness, and relationship skills. This course is applicable for all K-12 teachers.
Our next wave of classes begins on February 18th. Enroll now to earn 3 graduate credits.
Learn more or enroll today.
Davis, D. M., & Hayes, J. (2012, July/August). What are the benefits of mindfulness. Retrieved January 26, 2021, from https://www.apa.org/monitor/2012/07-08/ce-corner
Healthwise. (2019, December 15). Stress management: Breathing exercises for relaxation. Retrieved January 27, 2021, from https://www.uofmhealth.org/health-library/uz2255