Let’s Talk About Feelings: Social-Emotional Learning Picture Books

Recently, a friend asked in a group text for books on helping kids identify and name feelings. We came up with several titles in our group, and I reached out to a couple of librarian friends for more suggestions of social-emotional learning (SEL) books. Kids experience all kinds of Big Feelings, and being able to identify and name them is an important skill. Books in the first category below cover a broad range of feelings; books in the second category focus particularly on feelings that can be overwhelming, like fear, anger, and sadness, and mCover image of The Rabbit Listenedany offer strategies to manage these strong emotions. Finally, there are a couple of nonfiction titles. If there’s a book you think belongs on one of these lists, please add it in the comments!

A range of feelings

  • Happy Hippo, Angry Duck: A Book of Moods by Sandra Boynton: This simple board book is great for babies and up – really exaggerate your facial expressions and tone of voice as you read.
  • The Way I Feel by Janan Cain: This also comes in board book format; it identifies and describes a number of key feelings
  • The Feelings Book by Todd Parr: Feelings are always changing – share them with someone you love.
  • The Rabbit Listened by Cori Doerrfeld: When a child’s magnificent tower of blocks collapses, they don’t want to talk about it, or ruin someone else’s, or rebuild it just the same – they just want to be listened to.Cover image of I Feel Teal
  • I Feel Teal by Lauren Rille and Aimée Sicuro: A girl’s moods are rendered in different colors over the course of the day; the text encourages readers to let all their feelings through – “they’re the palette that makes you YOU.” (A librarian friend recommends My Many Colored Days by Dr. Seuss and The Many Colors of Harpreet Singh by Supriya Kelkar, both of which likewise pair colors and feelings.)
  • The Color Monster by Anna Llenas: A little girl takes a monster by the hand and helps it identify its feelings, leading to a feeling of contentment.
  • In My Heart: A Book of Feelings by Jo Witek: Readers enter a little girl’s heart through these heart-shaped die-cut pages, where each page turn reveals a different emotion inside.
  • Wild Feelings by David Milgrim: “Do you ever feel _____? …Of course you do. Everyone does.” Both kids and grown-ups experience the whole spectrum of feelings.Cover image of The Color Monster
  • When We Are Kind by Monique Gray Smith: On each page spread, the author shows a different act, and how it makes the people involved feel. The text includes questions, encouraging discussion.
  • Random House Book of Poetry for Children, edited by Jack Prelutsky: Sometimes poems use fewer words to say more. This collection has plenty of funny, goofy, nonsense poems, but covers most feelings too.

Sad/mad/scared/worried

  • Grumpy Pants by Claire Messer: A grumpy penguin figures out how to wash away a persistent case of the grumps. (For a slightly longer picture book on the same topic, try Sophy Henn’s Pom Pom Panda Gets the Grumps.)
  • The Bad Mood and the Stick by Lemony Snicket: Illustrates how a bad mood can move from one person to another through the way that people treat each other.
  • Swarm of Bees by Lemony Snicket: The swarm of bees represent anger; a beekeeper calms them down.
  • Ruby Finds A Worry by Tom Percival: The worry starts out as a little scribble, but as Ruby ignores it, it grows. It’s only when she sees another kid with their own worry and they talk about them that their worries shrink.Cover image of Ruby Finds A Worry
  • The Worrysaurus by Rachel Bright: A little worrysaurus goes into a worry spiral until he remembers his mom’s good advice and uses good coping tools to restore his equilibrium.
  • When Sadness Is At Your Door by Eva Eland: When a child opens the door to a large, amorphous, seafoam-green creature, it begins to follow them around. “Try not to be afraid of sadness. Give it a name. Listen to it. Ask where it comes from and what it needs.”
  • Dear Substitute by Audrey Vernick and Liz Garton Scanlon: A student is taken aback by the unexpected presence of a substitute teacher; throughout the day, she slowly adjusts to the change.
  • When Sophie Gets Angry – Really, Really Angry by Molly Bangs: Sophie does get really angry, her anger rendered in intense bright colors – but she takes herself out of the situation and calms down by herself, without help, before returning, demonstrating that it’s possible to feel Big Feelings and recover.Cover image of When Sadness is at Your Door
  • The Big Angry Roar by Jonny Lambert: A lion cub needs to let his anger out, but none of the other animals’ suggestions work at first. Finally, the strategy of taking deep breaths, counting to ten, and making funny faces puts the lion cub in a calmer frame of mind.
  • The Angry Little Puffin by Timothy Young: In this comical story, a puffin stuck in the penguin exhibit at the zoo is deeply annoyed – until a little girl spots him and tells her dad all about puffins, and how they are different from penguins. Just being seen and understood changes his mood completely.
  • Llama Llama Mad at Mama by Anna Dewdney: Mama Llama displays calm and patience in the face of Llama Llama’s drama. Her most powerful tool? Empathy. (She doesn’t want to do the grocery shopping, either!)
  • How Do Dinosaurs Say I’m Mad? by Jane Yolen and Mark Teague: The comically oversize dinosaurs offer young readers a chance to critique and learn from their behavior.
  • Tiger vs. Nightmare by Emily Tetri: This is a graphic novel for young readers about facing fears, with support and on their own.

NonfictionCover image of How Do You Feel

  • How Do You Feel? by Lizzy Rockwell: After an initial spread showing several kids on a playground, the subsequent pages zoom in on each child’s expression and identify their emotion; the final endpaper shows expressions labeled with their emotion.
  • What Are Feelings? by Katie Daynes: This short, lift-the-flap book from Usborne lets readers explore happiness, sadness, fear, anger, and worry
  • All About Feelings by Felicity Brooks: This Usborne title goes a bit more in depth, explaining how to recognize, manage, and talk about feelings; it also includes a note for grown-ups.

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