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.

Pass or Play?: A Review of The Passing Playbook

The Passing Playbook
Isaac Fitzsimons
Dial Books, Penguin Random House
June 1, 2021
Ages 12 and up

After transitioning at his old school leads to threats, Spencer Harris gets a second chance at a progressive, private (read: expensive) school. Thinking things will be easier if he can just pass; he plans to keep his head down and make his family’s sacrifice worth it. But when his teenage temper flares, an errant kickball to the head of the soccer team captain gets the attention of the head soccer coach. Spencer gets recruited for the team and develops a relationship with rival, turned boyfriend, Justice Cortes. All his under-the-radar plans may be for naught, when paperwork reveals the F (for female) on Spencer’s birth certificate. Sharing his identity risks his status on the team, his budding romance, and possibly his safety. But maybe being true to himself, and standing up for other trans kids in the process, is worth the risk.

This #OWNVOICES title by debut author (and soccer fan) Isaac Fitzsimons is a fun and complex illustration of a biracial, queer, trans boy who is also a soccer star, fantastic big brother, and irrational teenager (not always in that order). And an exploration of how he balances those identities with the consequences of not being himself. Spencer knows he’s “had it pretty easy, all things considered” with supportive family and friends who try, despite not always getting it right (265*). His support system stands in grave contrast to Justice’s ultra-religious and homophobic family. Secondary characters like sweet, but closeted Justice; snarky, but supportive best friend Arden; and tough, but tender Coach Schilling add balance and complexity to the cast and layers to the plot. But Fitzsimons truly let’s Spencer shine—as a soccer star, queer advocate, and thriving teenager.

*Quote from ARC.

Election Year Titles for All Ages

We’re less than two months from election day, and it’s the perfect time for civic-minded students of all ages to understand that their voice and their vote matters. Publishers have provided a plethora of options; from picture books to YA novels, fiction and nonfiction, there is something for every kid and every lesson plan.

Pre-school—Kindergarten

Curious George Votes
Deidre Langland
Illustrated by Mary O’Keefe in the style of H. A. Rey
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
September 1, 2020

As per usual, Curious George causes well-intentioned chaos with an elementary school mascot election while passing out stickers, stuffing the ballot box, helping a write-in candidate get elected—a monkey! This silly introduction to voting will be a great introduction for little ones that might be curious about all this election-talk.

V is for Voting
Kate Farrell
Illustrated by Caitlin Kuhwald
Macmillan/Henry Holt
July 21, 2020

This civic-minded ABC book is a bright and optimistic look at why we vote—for Citizens’ rights, Onward progress, and Representation. A diverse cast of engaged voters (and kids), with cameo appearances by political and social figures past and present, represent 26 reasons why your vote is important. The back matter, including notes on how to contact elected officials, organizing a voter registration drive, and a voting rights timeline, is geared toward grown-up reading buddies.

Elementary

Vote for our Future
Margaret McNamara
Illustrated by Micah Player
Penguin Random House/Schwartz & Wade
February 18, 2020

They may not be old enough to vote yet, but these elementary school students will make their voices heard because “kids have to live with adult choices.” By passing out voting guides, talking about voting options, encouraging registration, and hosting a bake sale, they build enthusiasm and turn out in their community. Includes a list of Acts of Congress that were influenced by votes for a better future.

The Next President: The Unexpected Beginnings and Unwritten Future of America’s Presidents
Kate Messner
Illustrated by Adam Rex
Chronicle Books
March 24, 2020

Everybody starts somewhere, even our presidents, who were politicians, soldiers, farmers, students, and regular kids. This timeline of U.S. presidents gives snippets of their histories and overlapping experiences to show how, even now, our future leaders are leading, learning, growing-up, and maybe even reading this book.

Middle-Grade

Act
Kayla Miller
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
July 21, 2020

Olive puts her sixth grade civics lessons to work when she runs for student council representative. Learning about protests, debates, and the issues important to her classmates will make her a great candidate, even if it means running against her friends. This bright and engaging graphic novel includes a recipe for Mint Chocolate Chip-Ins, notes on historic and modern day peaceful protests, and a suggested reading list.

The Kids’ Complete Guide to Elections
Cari Meister, Emma Carlson Berne, and Nel Yomtov
Capstone
January 1, 2020

This thorough nonfiction guide covers everything from vocabulary to in-depth, but age-appropriate explanations of democratic values, campaigns, the electoral college, political parties, and voting. Vibrant photography and relatable examples will both inform and inspire students to make a difference in their communities.

Young Adult

Running
Natalia Sylvester
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt/Clarion
July 14, 2020

When Mari Ruiz’s father runs for president; she isn’t prepared for the effects on her life—intense media scrutiny, questioning her family values, and her growing sense of political activism. As she evaluates her feelings and beliefs, Mari sets her own boundaries and finds her own voice. An intimate look at the way personal beliefs conflict with business as usual in U.S. politics.

Unrig: How to Fix Our Broken Democracy
Daniel G. Newman
Illustrated by George O’Connor
Roaring Brook/First Second
July 7, 2020

An accessible exploration of the connection between corporation, big money, and political power, and how breaking that connection is the needed to see genuine change in our country. The subtle turquoise and goldenrod color palette in this YA graphic novel puts the focus on specific examples, clearly-explained concepts, and what readers can do to affect change.

Poetry is My Superpower: A Review of Isaiah Dunn is My Hero

41TdgcCewtL._SY346_Isaiah Dunn is My Hero
Written by Kelly J. Baptist
Published by Crown Books for Young Readers
Available August 18, 2020
Ages 8-10

Ten-year-old Isaiah Dunn loves to write poetry. He doesn’t anymore, though, not since his father passed away. Everything is different now that his father is gone. His mother, Lisa, stopped going to work and barely talks, and his little sister Charlie keeps calling their motel room “home.” The only thing Isaiah wants to do is spend time with his best pal, Sneaky, or read his dad’s journals. They are filled with stories about Isaiah Dunn, Superhero, who gets his special powers from eating rice and beans. He feels connected to his father when reading the stories and wishes he could be a superhero himself. Things are getting more complicated, though. Isaiah keeps getting in trouble at school for reacting to his classmate Angel’s name-calling. When he and Angel get paired up for a class project, it could not get any worse. Things start to improve when a school counselor mediates between Angel and Isaiah; Angel reveals that Isaiah hurt her feelings when he made fun of her hair. Angel and Isaiah discover they have a lot in common and create a poetry business together. After losing her job, Isaiah’s mom enters a rehabilitation program; while she is away Isaiah and his sister stay at a family friend’s home.  Isaiah spends more time at the library. He comes up with an idea to have a writing room in an old storage space, and the library approves the idea. Isaiah’s mother returns home and the family celebrates the Fourth of July all together. Kelly J. Baptist’s novel explores Isaiah as a budding young poet while struggling with the loss of a parent and home insecurity. Baptist breaks up the story by days, as if writing in a journal, and populates the middle-grade novel with poetry and snippets of short stories. Baptist depicts Isaiah’s and his family’s grief as the complex entity it is. Lisa’s grief-induced alcoholism and depression are layered and multi-dimensional. Sneaky and Angel are complicated individual characters who go beyond their supporting role. While this is a book about grief, this is a hopeful novel—and a great addition to a middle-grade collection.

A Sea of Memories: A Review of When Life Gives You Mangos

cover190381-medium.pngWhen Life Gives You Mangos
Written by Kereen Getten
Published by Delacorte Books for Young Readers
Ages 10-14
Available September 15, 2020

Clara lives in a small village on a tourist-destination Caribbean island, but to Clara, it’s not a destination—it’s just home. This summer, she is twelve, and she’s struggling. Her former best friend Gaynah does not want to play in their secret dugout anymore; she is more interested in Calvin and being grown up. Also, Gaynah teases her about last summer. Even though Clara tries, she cannot remember what happened. All she knows is that her parents will not let her surf anymore, and she can never go into the water alone. Sometimes she has nightmares that she does not understand. Her parents explain the imagery, but they tell her not to worry. Clara finds that she angers and frustrates easily, but she does not understand why. Now, a mysterious new girl named Rudy is living on the island and wants to be friends with Clara. But Rudy does not know the rules of the island, and what spots are off-limits. Clara does not want to lose another friend, so she follows along, even though she could get in trouble. Kereen Getten’s When Life Gives You Mangos begins slowly, unfolding the story of Clara’s memory loss. The calm pace and beautiful landscape exacerbate the scary and obscure reason behind the amnesia. The book takes time to reveal what happened, and the grief behind the loss is significant. Newcomer Rudy serves as a stand-in for the reader at times, as she is learning how the village of Sycamore operates. Religion is an important factor in how Clara’s memory loss is dealt with by the community; ultimately Getten reveals that pastors and bishops, no matter how well-intentioned they are, are ultimately human and can make mistakes. The reveal behind Clara’s amnesia involves grief, but also reconciliation as her family makes room for members that have been long shunned in the village. This read emphasizes the power of love and community.

Beyond the Ice and Snow: A Review of The Barren Grounds

51ptXY7Wl5L._SX327_BO1,204,203,200_The Barren Grounds
Written by David A. Robertson
Published by Penguin Random House Canada
Available September 8, 2020
Ages 8-12

Morgan’s latest foster family isn’t so bad, even Eli, the new foster kid is okay. He’s indigenous, like her, but he never raises his voice or gets angry like Morgan. In fact, he hasn’t said much since he arrived at the foster home in Winnipeg, and he stays quiet at their middle school, too. The only thing he does is draw in his giant artist notebook. But at least Eli shows her his drawings—they’re layered and mysterious and incredible. But when one of his drawings opens up a portal in their attic, the children find themselves transported to Misewa. There they meet creatures, like Ochek, a talking fisher, who introduce them to traditional ways to survive. The community of Misewa, Ochek explains, has been locked in a forever winter following an encounter with a duplicitous man. The community is struggling, and soon food supplies will run out. As conditions worsen, the children and Ochek set off to save Misewa from perpetual ice.

Author David A. Robertson connects Morgan, and the reader, with her Cree heritage, blending difficult truths about First Nations history with middle-grade fantasy. Morgan and Eli, like so many other First Nations children, have been separated from their biological parents and placed in the foster care system. Morgan’s struggles and mistrust of her foster parents come with good reason; she’s been neglected and discarded before. Despite this trauma, Morgan is able to connect with Ochek and Eli. And as her trust in them grows, so do her snappy comebacks. Robertson’s depiction of Morgan’s emotional and cultural journey is compelling, with occasional humorous outbursts. Whether it’s her skepticism with new friends or with her white foster mom’s cringeworthy cross-cultural attempts to make her feel at home, Morgan’s reactions are captivating. Readers do not uncover the whole mystery behind Morgan’s and Eli’s backgrounds, but there will be plenty of opportunities to learn more: The Barren Grounds is Book 1 of Robertson’s Misewa Saga.

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!

 

 

Butler Bookshelf

We’re eager to read Nelly Buchet’s picture book Cat Dog Dog: The Story of a Blended Family, with charming illustrations by Andrea Zuill. It’s about what happens when families come together–all the messiness and the joys. For more great reads, check out this week’s Butler Bookshelf below!

The Water Bears
Written by Kim Baker
Published by Wendy Lamb Books
Available now!

Cat Dog Dog: The Story of a Blended Family
Written by Nelly Buchet and illustrated by Andrea Zuill
Published by Schwartz & Wade
Available now!

A Girl in Three Parts
Written by Suzanne Daniel
Published by Knopf Books for Young Readers
Available now!

Dirt Cheap
Written and illustrated by Mark Hoffman
Published by Knopf Books for Young Readers
Available now!

The Lucky Ones
Written by Liz Lawson
Published by Delacorte Press
Available now!

Bedtime Bonnet
Written by Nancy Redd and illustrated by Nneka Myers
Published by Random House Books for Young Readers
Available now!

Butler Bookshelf

This week, we’re taken with the bold colors and charming illustrations in the sweet board book Creature Features by Natasha Durley. Check out the rest of the Butler Bookshelf for some more delightful reads!

All Aboard the Moonlight Train 
Written by Kristyn Crow and illustrated by Annie Won
Published by Doubleday Books for Young Readers
Available now!

I Found A Kitty!
Written and illustrated by Troy Cummings
Published by Random House Books for Young Readers
Available now!

Creature Features
Illustrated by Natasha Durley
Published by Big Picture Press
Available now!

What’s That Noise?
Written and illustrated by Naomi Howarth
Published by Candlewick
Available now!

Lost Cities
Written by Giles Laroche
Published by HMH Books for Young Readers
Available now!

¡Vamos! Let’s Go Eat
Written by Raúl the Third and colors by Elaine Bay
Published by Versify
Available now!

Butler Bookshelf

This week on the Butler Bookshelf, we’re fascinated by We Are All His Creatures. Deborah Noyes’ set of interwoven stories is all about the women in P.T. Barnum’s life. We’re excited to read about those in the shadow of this larger-than-life character. For more reads, check out the list below!

Gold Rush Girl
Written by Avi
Published by Candlewick
Available now!

Emily Windsnap and the Tides of Time
Written by Liz Kessler
Published by Candlewick
Available now!

We Are All His Creatures: Tales of P. T. Barnum, the Greatest Showman
Written by Deborah Noyes
Published by Candlewick
Available now!

Thank You for Coming to My TED Talk: A Teen Guide to Great Public Speaking
Written by Chris Anderson and Lorin Oberweger
Published by HMH Books for Young Readers
Available now!

Child of the Universe
Written by Ray Jayawardhana and illustrated by Raul Colón
Published by Make Me A World
Available now!

Elmore and Pinky
Written and illustrated by Holly Hobbie
Published by Random House Books for Young Readers
Available now!