How Do You Feel?: SEL Picture Books for All Ages

Managing emotions can be hard, whether you’re 4 or 44, but successful social emotional learning can help all of us learn how to identify and express our feelings, and support others in handling theirs. Fortunately, 2021 picture book authors are here to help with this roundup of titles just waiting for their chance to shine in an SEL themed story time or a lesson for older kids.

A Cat with No Name: A Story About Sadness
What a Feeling Series
Kochka, Illustrated by Marie Leghima
Parent notes by clinical psychologist Louison Neilman
Quarto/words & pictures
Ages 3-6

Olive cares for a lost kitten that she quickly comes to love. When he doesn’t return one day, a neighborhood search proves he’s been reunited with his owners. Olive’s dad helps her realize that it’s ok to be sad about missing him and how to find peace in remembering. Originally published in France, the line drawings limited color palette have a European sensibility. End notes from a psychologist provide information and tips on recognizing and supporting a child handling sadness.

Big Feelings
Alexandra Penrose, illustrated by Suzanne Kaufman
Penguin Random House/Alfred A. Knopf
Ages 4-8

A diverse group of children have big plans for the day, but when things don’t go as planned, frustration, anger, and fights get in the way. As they work through their differences and work together on a new plan, respect, kindness, and excitement bring them together as a team. Bright mixed media illustrations and expressive little faces show a range of emotions and illustrate some great ways to express them in healthy and productive ways.

How to Apologize
David LaRochelle, illustrated by Mike Wohnoutka
Candlewick
Ages 3+

It’s not always easy to say “I’m sorry,” but this sweet instruction manual is a specific and silly how-to guide. Whether you’ve made a mistake, been mean to a friend, or had an accident, this step-by-step guide shows the do’s and don’ts of apologies. Hilarious illustrated oops-moments help soften the instructions on how, when, and why we should all learn to apologize.

It Could Be Worse
Einat Tsarfati, translated by Annette Appe
Candlewick
Ages 4-8

Albertini and George have been shipwrecked. Albertini is upset, but George keeps looking on the bright side and after each new misadventure (storms, flying fish, ghost pirates, and a hungry whale) declares “It could always be worse!” Vibrant digital illustrations and outrageous situations provide levity in this silly series of catastrophes, proving that attitude is everything and even a bad day can feel better when you face it with a friend.

The Power of Yet
Maryann Cocca-Leffler
Abrams/Appleseed
Ages 3-6

A small piglet knows the frustration that comes with being a kid. You’re not big enough, strong enough, experienced enough—yet. But trying and growing and practicing leads to learning and success. Pen and ink drawings with pastel watercolors gently follow piglet’s persistence and celebration as yet turns to now.

The Smile Shop
Satoshi Kitamura
Peachtree
Ages 3-6

The market is an exciting place when there is pocket money just waiting to be spent. When a sudden collision sends a small boy’s change down the drain, his hopes of a treat are dashed. But in the Smile Shop, the kindness of a shopkeeper proves that money can’t buy happiness, but human connection sure can. Soft-focus line and watercolor illustrations shift palettes as the boy goes from excited to despondent to hopeful and finally cheerful as he discovers all the smiling faces that surround him.

Finding Kinship: A Review of I Am a Bird

I Am a Bird
Hope Lim
Illustrated by Hyewon Yum
Candlewick Press
Available February 2, 2021
Ages 3-7

A young girl joyfully embraces her morning commute, imagining herself a bird flying to school on the back of her father’s bicycle. She waves to friends and neighbors, and sings to her fellow birds as they soar by. A stern older woman is the only thing to dim her smile, when curiosity fights with anxiety about the unknown person and her unfriendly behavior. Her stranger-danger only increases until the day they discover the woman feeding and singing to the girl’s beloved birds. Maybe they’re not so different after all. Hope Lim’s gentle tale of discovering kinship in the most unlikely place is perfect for our current moment of division. The juxtaposition of the little girl’s joy and the woman’s dejected countenance help build enough tension that the revelation of their commonality feels like a celebration. Hyewon Yum’s vibrant colored pencil and gouache illustrations blend an almost architectural precision with softer, freehand coloring and embellishments (and sweet birds). Her emotive faces amplify the story’s sentiment—the girl’s joy and anxiety, the friendliness of their South Korean community, and the woman’s transformation. A sweet reminder that we can all be happier when we focus more on our similarities than our differences.

Butler Bookshelf

This week on the Butler Bookshelf, we’re pleased to meet Captain Swashby, a grouchy ocean lover who wants the beach to be quiet and serene. Too bad for him a cheerful, energetic young girl and her granny have come to the sea! This warmly illustrated and emotion-laden picture book is a true delight. Check out the list below for some more great reads!

Rural Voices: 15 Authors Challenge Assumptions About Small-Town America
Edited by Nora Shalaway Carpenter
Published by Candlewick
Available now!

Swashby and the Sea
Written by Beth Ferry and illustrated by Juana Martinez-Neal
Published by HMH Books for Young Readers
Available now!

Cut Off
Written by Adrianne Finlay
Published by HMH Books for Young Readers
Available now!

Julián at the Wedding
Written and illustrated by Jessica Love
Published by Candlewick
Available now!

Stink and the Hairy, Scary Spider
Written by Megan McDonald and illustrated by Peter H. Reynolds
Published by Candlewick
Available now!

Condor Comeback
Written by Sy Montgomery and photographed by Dianne Strombeck
Published by HMH Books for Young Readers
Available now!

Sweet (as candy) Halloween Reads

Are the little monsters in your library looking for not-so-spooky reads this season? Whether they want witches, ghosts, or some trick-or-treating fun—there’s a book for that! And check out Gustavo for a sweet Dia De Los Muertos ghost story.

Board Books:

Brooms Are for Flying
Michael Rex
Henry Holt/Godwin Books
July 2020

In this board book adaptation, follow a little witch and her trick-or-treating friends as they dance through this introduction to traditional Halloween characters and symbols. A sweet treat.

Trick-or-Treat with Tow Truck Joe
June Sobel, illustrated by Patrick Corrigan
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
July 2020

Tow Truck Joe and his buddies are all dressed up for Halloween and ready to trick-or-treat, bob for apples, and have a frightfully-fun night on the town. Surprises under each flap are more friendly than scary, showing that even pirates and dragons can help a friend in need. A sweet treat.

Picture Books:

Monsters 101
Cale Atkinson
Random House/Doubleday
August 2020

Everything you ever wanted to know about monsters and more! You’ll learn from top monster professors about monster names, habits, diet, history, and even their biggest fears—humans! A silly and spooky trick.

Gustavo the Shy Ghost
Flavia Z. Drago
Candlewick
July 2020
Available in Spanish as Gustavo el Fantasmita Timido

Gustavo is shy and has a hard time making friends. In fact, the other ghosts and monsters see right through him. But he is also brave and invites them all to a Day of the Dead party to hear him play the violin. By sharing his talent he makes friends just by being himself. A sweet treat.

Bears and Boos
Shirley Parenteau, illustrated by David Walker
Candlewick
July 2020

The bears are back and ready to create the perfect Halloween costumes. Chaos at the costume box ensues as the bears scramble for the perfect costumes. With one left out, the bears show their trademark kindness to outfit their friend just in time for the Halloween parade. A sweet treat.

A Bounty of Books: Picture Books to Celebrate Summer Gardens

In this season of farmer’s markets and garden harvests, my thoughts are often on homegrown tomatoes and plans for next year’s garden. But before we get there, 2020 provides a bountiful harvest of picture books to celebrate the growing season and all the benefits of time in the garden. Whether you’re looking for sweet, silly, or informational, there’s something here for every little gardener in your library.

What Grew in Larry’s Garden
Laura Alary, illustrated by Kass Reich
Kids Can Press
Age 4-7
April 7, 2020

Grace thinks Larry’s garden is one of the “wonders of the world” and spends each season helping him nurture it. They work together to solve problems like bugs, squirrels, and the shadow created by a neighbor’s new fence. But Larry also using his garden to teach his students, and Grace, about growing community. Based on a real-life teacher and garden, this sweet story, and its lovely gouache illustrations, is full of inspiration for friends, problem-solvers, and gardeners.

One Little Lot: The 1-2-3’s of an Urban Garden
Diane C. Mullen, illustrated by Oriol Vidal
Charlesbridge
Ages 3-7
March 3, 2020

This not-so-simple counting book tracks the progress of a diverse group of neighbors as they transform an empty neighborhood lot into a vibrant community garden. With imagination, teamwork, a few green thumbs, and some helpful honey bees, both the neighbors and readers will enjoy the journey and delicious harvest. A thorough author’s note provides insights into the author’s inspiration, facts about honey bees, and tips for making your garden more bee-friendly.

Feast of Peas
Kashmira Sheth, illustrated by Jeffrey Ebbeler
Peachtree
Ages 4-8
March 1, 2020

Jiva diligently tends his small garden by weeding, watering, and waiting for his favorite veggies—the peas! But each time some are ready to pick, they disappear. Is it rabbits? Is it ghosts? Jiva sets a trap for the pea-thief and catches his friend Ruvji, who’s been admiring the peas all along. As punishment for his tricks, Ruvji is the one to cook a feast of peas, and he’s lucky Jiva is generous enough to share. Richly colored illustrations highlight the lush Indian setting and add to the silly humor in this delightful tale.

Khalil and Mr. Hagerty and the Backyard Treasures
Tricia Springstubb, illustrated by Elaheh Taherian
Candlewick
Ages 4-8
May 26, 2020

Khalil loves to spend his days in the garden with his downstairs neighbor, Mr. Hagerty. When digging in the garden leads to disappointing results, they each find a way to make the other’s day. Their days in the garden grow into a sweet intergenerational friendship with plenty of chocolate cake! The simple story and charming collage art will inspire conversations about all the treasures to be found when we work together.

Maker Comics: Grow a Garden!
Alexis Frederick-Frost
Roaring Brook Press/First Second
Ages 9-13
February 25, 2020 (Paperback)

The new students at Garden Gnome Academy have a lot to learn about gardening, but Mr. Butternut and the school staff have a lot to teach them (and you) about how to get started. With lessons on selecting seeds, making paper seed pots, composting, and sprouting the seeds, the gnomes are getting a hands-on education. This bright and funny graphic novel contains step-by-step instructions for many of the tasks needed to start a garden, all tucked within a story full of friendship and adventure.

What’s Bugging You?: A Review of Bugs Everywhere

Bugs Everywhere cover art

Bugs Everywhere
Lily Murray, illustrated by Britta Teckentrup
Candlewick/Big Picture Press
April 7, 2020
Ages 4-8

Bugs really are everywhere, whether we like it or not! This fact-filled picture book for bug-lovers proves it, exploring a wide range of topics from their history, environments, feeding, survival, reproduction, and even their relationship with people—we need them, you know? Small, and often gross, bits of trivia make this title perfect for jumping in and out of, but might induce the curious to settle in for a long, squirm-inducing read. Did you know there are millions of species of bugs? That the cicada is the loudest insect in the world? That there are bugs that live on your face?!?

Lily Murray excels at boiling down the information into concise, yet fun facts that entomologists of all ages will love. Britta Teckentrup’s collage-like, digital illustrations are reminiscent of Eric Carle and provide a vibrant full-color backdrop to the details. The metallic foil accents and friendly lady bugs on the cover will draw in the reader and delightful, yet detailed illustrations will charm even the bug-shy. This will make an excellent and informative step-up for young fans of Carle’s bug books. Originally published in 2019 by King’s Road Publishing (London) under the title There Are Bugs Everywhere, this first US publication under the new title comes from Big Picture Press.

Butler Bookshelf

Tensions are high on the Zero Local train, as riders deal with delays and frustrations. But a new passenger joins the daily commute, and passengers begin to practice gratitude. Ethan and Vita Murrow’s Zero Local: Next Stop Kindness picture book is next on our to read list. For more reads, check out the list below!

Portrait of an Artist: Georgia O Keefe
Written by Lucy Brownridge and illustrated by Alice Wietzel
Published by Wide Eyed Editions
Available now!

The Not BAD Animals
Written and illustrated by Sophie Corrigan
Published by Frances Lincoln Children’s Books
Available now!

Who Do You Think You Are?
Written by Alice Harman and illustrated by Blok Magnaye
Published by Wide Eyed Editions
Available now!

Alphonse, There’s Mud on the Ceiling!
Written and illustrated by Daisy Hirst
Published by Walker Books
Available now!

Zero Local: Next Stop: Kindness
Written and illustrated by Ethan and Vita Morrow
Published by Candlewick
Available now!

Evonne Goolagong: Little People Big Dreams
Written by Maria Isabel Sanchez Vegara and illustrated by Lisa Koesterke
Published by Frances Lincoln Children’s Books
Available now!

Butler Bookshelf

This week on the Butler Bookshelf, we meet Jabari! Jabari is so, so ready to jump off the diving board. He’s done everything he is supposed to: finished swimming lesson, passed the swim test, plus he is an excellent jumper! Despite this, he is still nervous. With his father’s encouragement, Jabari takes on his fear.  Written by Gaia Cornwall and translated into Spanish by Georgina Lázaro, Jabari Salta is a sweet picture book that is perfect for Father’s Day. For more great reads, check out the list below!

BOX: Henry Brown Mails Himself To Freedom
Written by Carole Boston Weatherford and illustrated by Michele Wood
Published by Candlewick
Available now!

Jabari Salta (Spanish edition)
Written and illustrated by Gaia Cornwall, translated by Georgina Lázaro
Published by Candlewick
Available now!

Madame Badobedah
Written by Sophie Dahl and illustrated by Lauren O’Hara
Published by Walker Books
Available now!

Don’t Worry Little Crab
Written and illustrated by Chris Haughton
Published by Candlewick
Available now!

Cats in the Crater: My FANGtastically Evil Vampire Pet
Written by Mo O’Hara and illustrated by Marek Jagucki
Published by Feiwel & Friends
Available now!

Big Ideas For Young Thinkers: 20 questions about life and the universe
Written by 
Jamia Wilson and illustrated by Andrea Pippins
Published by Wide Eyed Editions
Available now!

 

Prankenstein Strikes Again: A Review of Judy Moody and Friends: Prank You Very Much

Prank You Very Much cover

Judy Moody and Friends: Prank You Very Much
Megan McDonald, illustrated by Erwin Madrid
Candlewick
Ages 4-6
Published March 10, 2020

It’s time for the Summer Science Showdown. Stink is ready to wow the crowd with his mad scientist skills and save tomato plants everywhere from the dreaded dodders! As always, his older sister Judy (aka Prankenstein) has mischief in mind, with plans to trick Stink with the results of his own experiment. Even when unwittingly aided by Mom, Judy’s prank falls flat. It seems the master prankster can’t make her little brother believe he grew tomatoes overnight, for more than a minute anyway.

This is the 12th installment in the spin-off series for newly independent readers, each of which showcases one of the original series regulars in their own silly adventure. The themes of school projects and brother/sister dynamics are spot-on for the publisher’s target age group (4-6 year-olds). But the long text blocks and some tricky vocabulary are advanced for the group and might be a better fit for 6-8 year-olds. Madrid’s vividly colored and detailed digital illustrations (influenced by the original series illustrator Peter H. Reynolds) will offer some help with decoding for new readers wanting a challenge.

Butler Bookshelf

Don’t we all wish we could frolic in the ocean right now? Channel your dreams and dive into Lily Murray’s Beneath the Waves, with illustrations created entirely from hand pressed plants by Helen Ahpornsiri. For more great reads, check out the list below!

Where’s My Turtle?
Written by Barbara Bottner and illustrated by Brooke Boynton Hughes
Published by Random House Books for Young Readers
Available now!

The Infamous Ratsos Camp Out
Written by Kara LaReau and illustrated by Matt Myers
Published by Candlewick
Available now!

Who’s Hiding on the Savanna?
Illustrated by Katharine McEwan
Published by Nosy Crow
Available now!

Beneath the Waves
Written by Lilly Murray and illustrated by Helen Ahpornsiri
Published by Big Picture Press
Available now!

I thought I saw a… Monkey!
Illustrated by Lydia Nichols
Published by Templar
Available now!

Into the Tall, Tall Grass
Written by Loriel Ryon
Published by Margaret K. McElderry Books
Available now!