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.

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.

Who’s Ready for School to Start?

Back-to-school butterflies? First day jitters? The newest academics among us will appreciate these sweet, silly, and giggle-worthy introductions to just who and what awaits them in the classroom. This brand new class of back-to-school picture books to will ease the way for the little humans in your library, classroom, or living room as all get ready for the first day of school.

 

Bunnys book clubBunny’s Book Club Goes to School
By Annie Silvestro, illustrated by Tatjana Mai-Wyss
Penguin Random House, June 2019

Josie is worried about making friends at school, but her book-club buddy Bunny can help—he’ll just be her school friend too. As the book club animals search the school for Josie, they’ll introduce kids to all the fun places waiting for them at school. Sweet illustrations complement this gentle story of friendship, empathy, and support.

 

clothes line cluesClothesline Clues to the First Day of School
By Katheryn Heling and Deborah Hembrook, illustrated by Andy Robert Davies
Charlesbridge, June 2019

It’s a laundry basket inspired guessing game in this guide to all the new people excited to meet you at school. A silly rhyme will help set expectations and turn anxiety to anticipation about the first day of school.

 

i will be fierceI Will Be Fierce
By Bea Birdsong, illustrated by Nidhi Chanani
MacMillan, April 2019

While not strictly a back-to-school-themed book, it follows this fierce little girl to school and back and through all the adventures in between. Brightly colored and boldly written, this is a great illustration of how a little confidence can go a long way on a big (first) day at school.

 

 

if animals went to schoolIf Animals Went to School
By Ann Whitford Paul, Illustrated by David Walker
Farrar, Straus and Giroux, May 2019

Beaver might not want to go to school, but after a day of music, learning, and his fun with his friends, he doesn’t want to go home. A perfectly inspirational story for the tiny human determined NOT to go to school!

 

king of kindergartenThe King of Kindergarten
By Derrick Barnes, illustrated by Vanessa Brantley Newton
Penguin Random House, July 2019

An exuberant and imaginative walkthrough of the first day of school! Barnes’ pacing is just right for introducing a new routine and finding the fun in what could be a scary first day.

 

The smell of freshly sharpened pencils is in the air—Happy Back-to-School season, friends!