Using Books in the Classroom for Social and Emotional Learning

Books are a fantastic way to promote social and emotional strategies in the classroom because they provide real-life examples of abstract concepts. Below are seven titles that could serve as resources when talking to your students about everything from emotional regulation to teamwork to self-advocacy.  

The Wall in the Middle of the Book – Jon Agee 

Ages 4+ 

A knight, an ogre, and… a wall in the middle of our book? The knight in our story is so grateful for the wall that protects him from the dangerous ogre on the other side of the book. In fact, the knight is so busy professing how safe he is from the ogre that he fails to notice all of the actual danger creeping up behind him. But the ogre may just be the only one who can help the knight. Jon Agee perfectly illustrates what happens when we count someone out before we’ve even gotten to know them. 


  1. What did the knight think the ogre was like at the beginning of the story? Now consider the ogre’s actions in the book – was the knight correct about the ogre? 
  1. Have you ever met someone and realized they were totally different from what you thought they’d be like?  

The Rhino Suit – Colter Jackson

Ages 4+ 

There isn’t a better book for sensitive students than “The Rhino Suit.” The little girl in our story is sensitive to the sad or hard things around her and thinks that it would be better to block those challenges out. After learning in school about rhinos and their tough skin, she decides to build a rhino suit that will help her ignore these difficult experiences. But what happens when she realizes that she’s also missing out on the happy, the exciting, and the beautiful?  


  1. What are some of the things at the beginning of the book that made the little girl feel sad? Do those same things sometimes make you feel sad? What other things make you feel sad? What are some things you could do when something around you causes sad feelings? 
  1. What were some of the happy things that the little girl missed when she moved around in her rhino suit? What are some of the happy things you would miss if you blocked out your feelings? 

I Am Thinking My Life – Allysun Atwater 

Ages 4+ 

This collection of affirmations illustrates the power we have over our thoughts and reactions. Calming and repetitive, “I Am Thinking My Life” meditates on the human ability to find the power within ourselves that can withstand events and circumstances outside of our control. This book from Allysun Atwater feels particularly timely and acts as a great resource for students who are struggling with feelings of powerlessness in a world that feels chaotic.  


  1. When you are feeling overwhelmed, what is something you could say to yourself to make you feel strong?  

Just Right Jillian – Nicole D. Collier 

Ages 8+ 

Self-advocacy is something that can be a huge learning opportunity in the classroom, as many students have not yet developed the confidence that it takes to vocalize their needs. Jillian’s internal monologue is a clear and relatable portrayal of what it feels like before you’ve learned to advocate for yourself; even when she has internally made a decision about which she feels confident, she struggles to communicate that decision with the people around her. Through the support of her community, she is able to slowly grow her confidence, resulting in more effective communication and stronger relationships with the people around her.  


  1. Write about a time when you stayed silent about something important to you. How did it make you feel? What were some of the consequences? 
  1. How did Jillian’s lack of self-advocacy limit her relationships with other people? Rashida? Shelby? Her parents? 
  1. What are some of the ways the people around Jillian helped and encouraged her to become a better advocate for herself? 

Dragon Mountain – Katie and Kevin Tsang 

Ages 8+ 

Working as a part of a team is a skill that’s not only important in the classroom, but in the workplace, at home, and with your friends, and it can be a skill that is challenging to develop. When Billy Chan is paired with three other students at Chinese Language camp, he has no intention of liking them, much less becoming friends with them. But unexpected encounters with dragons pull his group into a centuries-old battle, and teamwork is the only thing that will save them. “Dragon Mountain” portrays realistic power struggles that often occur in teams, as well as the conversations necessary to work together meaningfully.  


  1. Think of a time you worked on a team. What were some of the most challenging parts? How did your team communicate? Was your team successful? 
  1. How do you feel when you are put on a team with people you don’t know? How do you build relationships with new people when you need to accomplish a task together? 

Jennifer Chan is Not Alone – Tae Keller

Ages 10+ 

This story about doing the kind thing, and taking accountability when you don’t, is a must-read. As Mal navigates the social dynamics of middle school, she knowingly makes choices that are not aligned with her value system, including staying silent or joining in when her friends are causing harm to new student Jennifer Chan. However, when Jennifer goes missing, Mal must come to terms with her actions and their consequences, ultimately learning that taking accountability is the only real way to repair the harm done.  

SEL Questions/Prompts 

  1. Describe a time when your actions were hurtful to someone else and you took accountability. How did your relationship with that person change? Were you able to rebuild that relationship and how so? 
  1. Our brains and our bodies are connected, and when we experience high levels of emotion or stress, our bodies will react. How has your body reacted when you felt hurt by another person’s actions or words? How has your body reacted when your actions or words hurt someone else? How can these physical cues help you make decisions in stressful situations? 

About The Author – Mirhanda Alewine

Mirhanda Alewine is a former educator turned bookseller who finds her passion at the intersection of picture books and emotional wellbeing. She believes in the power of a good story to transform the way that people think, believe, and act, and she spends her days recommending her favorite reads to anyone who will listen. She lives in Charlotte, NC, with her partner and their two pets.  

Request Quote