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.

Dog Meets Boy: A review of I Always Wanted One

I Always Wanted One cover artI Always Wanted One
Olivier Tallec
Quarto
August 18, 2020
Ages 4-8

Dog has always wanted a boy of his very own, but quickly learns that it’s not all fun and games. Having a boy is a big responsibility—training, feeding, grooming, and figuring out where he wanders off to all day with his bag of books. But even after all the work and all the years, where the boy has “grown bigger and takes up all the room on my couch,” Dog is proud of his boy, and they “remain the best of friends in the world.”

In this twist on the age-old friendship between a boy and his dog, Tallec flips the script and the prescribed emotions of each. Dog has the duties of responsible ownership, and his dry humor and droll observations illustrate that it can be work. But his thoughtful reflections on their evolving relationship demonstrate his devotion to boy. Tallec’s subtle pencil and watercolor illustrations complement the understated text while adding a layer of visual humor to Dog’s opinions. The sight of boy hiding under the dresser or his freshly brushed hair will surely get a giggle from young readers. The horizontal orientation of the book mimics the twisted theme. Both the orientation and detailed illustrations lend themselves to one-on-one reading. A perfect pick for a child who needs to learn what it’s like to belong to a pet.

We’re All in This Together: A Review of One World, Many Colors

One World Many Colors cover art

One World, Many Colors
Ben Lerwill, illustrated by Alette Straathof
Quarto
Ages 5-7
Published March 17, 2020

 

What could be better than a trip around the world while we’re all trying to stay safe at home? Journey from a Paris bakery to a Vietnamese rice field, the peak of Mt. Everest to the streets of New York City. Travel writer Ben Lerwill guides this tour to explore the colors of the rainbow (well, most of them) and where one might find them the world over—comparing and contrasting the way white might look in the desert of Oman, on an Antarctic glacier, or the Sydney Opera House.

With visits to each continent, readers will discover the beauty of new places and cultures in this sophisticated exploration of the color spectrum. Each page gives just a snapshot (a peaceful Japanese garden or raucous Brazilian soccer stands), with spare text that often captures a unique aspect of the location. Alette Straathof’s detailed watercolor-pencil images (her signature medium) are a lovely counterpoint to the text, providing much to explore on each page. Her expressive faces and diverse crowds lend an additional layer of meaning to the title. The final spread, featuring a map of the world, provides an overview of the tour, a recap of the colors, and a timely reminder of the connection we share as inhabitants of this planet.