Ten Great Read Alouds to Promote Social Emotional Learning by Louise Prescott
Social Emotional Learning is one of the current buzzwords in education. Helping children acquire the skills needed to recognize their feelings and the feelings of others, and then learn to control their emotions and build positive relationships are important in order to be successful. For more information on SEL, visit my website of resources here. Many children’s authors have responded to this need by writing stories with themes of compassion and empathy. Here are 10 stories I love to read aloud and discuss with students.
The Orange Shoes by Trinka Hakes Noble
SEL Competencies: Self-Awareness and Social Awareness
This touching story tells the tale of Delly Porter who comes from a poor farm family. She doesn’t have a pair of shoes that fit her so she walks to school barefoot. This elicits teasing from Prudy, the girl she shares a desk with, who has no shortage of shiny shoes. One day, their teacher announces the Shoebox Social, an event to raise funds for school art supplies. Students are to decorate a shoebox, make a picnic dinner to put inside and then wear a pair of shoes that match the box. Each box will be auctioned off at the Social.
Well, when Delly’s father finds enough money to buy his daughter a beautiful pair of soft orange shoes, the reader thinks everything will turn out just fine. But that is not the case when the other girls at school see Delly’s new shoes. What happens forces Delly to rethink what is important to her.
Carla’s Sandwich by Debbie Herman
SEL Competencies: Self Awareness, Self Management, Relationship Skills and Responsible Decision-Making
This is one of my favorite books to read to children. The language used by Debbie Herman is fun to give voice to and there are so many great descriptive words. This is the story of Carla who, when it comes to sandwiches, is very “creative.” She likes to make strange food combinations such as her “banana-cottage-cheese delight on a tasty toasted baguette.” She is proud of her tasty creations until nobody wants to sit next to her at lunch anymore because they think her sandwiches are gross. But when her class goes on a picnic to the park one day, a classmate forgets his lunch and what follows helps to teach the whole group a lesson in acceptance.
The Invisible Boy by Trudy Ludwig
SEL Competencies: Self Awareness, Self Management, Social Awareness, and Relationship Skills
This is such a wonderful story that so many children can relate to. Brian is one of those children who goes unnoticed and ignored by the rest of his class. It’s not that he stands out as being different – it’s just that he’s a quiet soul who resolves himself to being on his own in a sea of classmates. Yet, he is sensitive to others who are also excluded from the crowd. When a new student, Justin, joins the class and is ridiculed for his unusual lunch, it is Brian who makes a gesture of friendship. He, Justin and another classmate sign up to do a project together and both boys come to be appreciated for their unique talents. It is a wonderful message of accepting others for who they are.
Each Kindness by Jacqueline Woodson
SEL Competencies: Self Awareness, Social Awareness and Responsible Decision Making
Maya, a new girl in school, is not accepted by her new classmates, particularly
Chloe and her friends. They ignore her and make fun of the way she is dressed in hand-me-down clothes. Although Maya tries and tries to befriend the other girls, they continue to pay her no notice. At the end of the story, Maya moves away and Chloe realizes how wrong she was and how she has missed an opportunity to be kind. What I love about this story is that while most children would give up trying to make friends, Maya persists throughout most of the story until the end. She also is an inspirational character – we the readers know she must be hurting inside but Maya tries her best not to show it by making her own fun as she plays jacks with herself or jump ropes around the playground.
A Sick Day for Amos McGee by Philip C. Stead
SEL Competencies: Social Awareness and Relationship Skills
This popular Caldecott Winner had endeared readers for several years now. Amos McGee loves his job at the zoo, especially the time he spends visiting with each of his animals friends. But when Amos comes down with a bad cold, his friends at the zoo miss him and decide to return the favor of care and attention that he has bestowed on them so often. They travel to his home whereupon they each tend to Amos in their own special way.
Hooper Humperdink..? Not Him! By Dr. Seuss
SEL Competencies: Social Awareness and Responsible Decision Making
I love this oldie but goodie by Dr. Seuss. It is a great story to spark discussion about what it means to feel left out and not wanted. The narrator is having a birthday party and is inviting many, many friends but not Hooper Humperdink. As you read through the rhyming text, a few reasons are given as to why he is being excluded (party pooper, no fun) and those are the perfect times to pause and discuss how this character must feel. Fortunately, at the end of the story, the narrator decides it is the right thing to do to invite Hooper. This is also an alphabet book which can add to the fun as you read aloud to a class.
Mama Panya’s Pancakes: A Village Tale of Kenya by Mary and Rich Chamberlin
SEL Competencies: Social Awareness, Relationship Skills and Responsible Decision Making
Adika accompanies his mother to market to buy ingredients for pancakes. Along the way, he invites several friends to join them for their pancake dinner. As more and more friends are included, Mama becomes increasingly concerned because her two coins will not be enough to buy the flour, pepper, and spices needed for so many pancakes. The reader, however, is swept away with Adika’s enthusiasm to share his meal with such a myriad of friends. And although Mama tries to gently discourage Adika from inviting so many, it is clear that she loves her son and his generosity. An added bonus with this book is the information on Kenya that is provided at the end of the book (village life, wildlife, Kiswahili words, fun facts and a map).
The Summer My Father Was Ten by Pat Brisson
SEL Competencies: Self Awareness, Self Management, Social Awareness, Relationship Skills and Responsible Decision Making
I always love reading this book to mid-elementary aged students because it generates a great discussion. The narrator is retelling a story told to her by her father about an event that happened to him when he was 10 years old. He and a few friends were tossing a baseball when it accidentally rolled into a neighbor’s garden. When one of the boys retrieved it, he saw an opportunity to play a practical joke. Instead of tossing the baseball back to his friends, he threw a ripe tomato. What ensued was a “food fight” which, when they finally stopped, had ruined the garden. The reader is easily able to understand the emotions of the main character as he regrets and eventually compensates for his actions in a way that has a lasting impression.
Mouse Was Mad by Linda Urban
SEL Competencies: Self Awareness, Self Management, and Relationship Skills
Mouse is mad, really mad. And although the reader never learns why he is mad, we come to empathize with mouse. His failed attempts at expressing his anger cause more and more frustration and irritation. His animal friends attempt to show him how to scream, stomp, and hop to unleash his fury but he is never able to do it satisfactorily. By the end of the story, however, Mouse finally discovers a positive way to express his anger which also helps him to let go of it. All of his animal friends are quite impressed with Mouse’s new skill.
Hooray for Hat by Brian Won
SEL Competencies: Self Management, Relationship Skills, and Responsible Decision Making
It seems that all of the characters in this story are grumpy and need some cheering up. What better way than with a stupendous hat. In this cumulative tale, each animal’s spirit is uplifted by the gift of a hat. At the end, even Giraffe who is feeling very sad is cheered by the special attention of all of the other animals. This book is a wonderful choice for highlighting kindness to others.
Louise Prescott has been an elementary library media specialist in the Smithtown Central School District on Long Island for 17 years. In addition to her work in the library, she is a technology leader in her school, Mills Pond Elementary, and is currently enrolled in the Educational Computing cohort at Stony Brook University. Louise has been recognized for her commitment to students and teachers with the 2010 Western Suffolk BOCES Library Media Specialist of the Year Award and the 2016 Torch Award that recognizes teachers who have appreciably contributed to the professional growth and development of their colleagues. Louise was also awarded the Excellence in Technology Integration Grant from Western Suffolk BOCES Model Schools Program. She is always excited to share her knowledge of literature and ideas with children and colleagues.