5 Must-Have SEL Books for the New School Year

By: Neeti Sarkar

Like most educators/school counselors, there's a good chance you look forward to the summer break to catch up on some reading - reading books that are not meant for children, for a change, right? I am not quite different. However, as we inch towards another academic year, I cannot resist scouting around for books to add to my SEL library. And if you're looking for some recommendations for your collection, here are my top/recent picks that are sure to be useful in your scope of work.

1. I Am Me: A Book of Authenticity by Susan Verde

Author Susan Verde has come out with yet another wonderful book in her “I Am” series. This one explores the power of being true to oneself, living authentically, and loving oneself for who one really is. It also is about respecting others for who they are.

Given our kiddos come from different kinds of homes and family situations, each with their own strengths and challenges, this book is a reminder that as unique as they are from each other, it is this uniqueness that makes life beautiful. It also serves as a reminder that we are enough and we must find the courage within to express our thoughts and feelings. I would recommend using it with students who tend to compare themselves to others and who have difficulty with self-acceptance, to help them foster a sense of self-worth and encourage the celebration of authenticity.

The author's writing style is easy. And the enchanting illustrations by Peter H. Reynolds make this book a must-have in your SEL library.

2. Mootilda's Bad Mood by Corey Rosen Schwartz

Okay, so although this book is a few years old, I stumbled upon it only recently, and I have to admit, it's as delightful a read for adults as it would be for children. The story revolves around Mootilda, a cow who is in a bad mood. Nothing seems to be going her way. She sulks through the day, and her grumpiness affects everyone else on the farm. Nothing seems to turn her bad mood or day around until a surprising event makes her change her perspective.

The book is relatable and humorous. It is plastered with the funniest bovine puns that readers of all ages will enjoy. Most importantly, this book will help kids realize that they are not alone in how they feel, and just like Mootilda, their mood can go from melan-cow-ly to mooognificant when they least expect it.

The illustrations by Kirsti Call are engaging and add to the humor of the author's writing style. This has to be one of my favorite picture books of all time!

3. The Creature of Habit by Jennifer E. Smith

We all know that children thrive on routine and that consistency helps them be less anxious, more independent, and of course more responsible. However, I'm sure you constantly come across kiddos who are just hesitant to try new things or step out of their comfort zone. You must have even come across children who are not just inflexible in their thinking but who also expect other children to do things their way and have difficulty accepting that there are other ways to think and live. If so, this picture book is one you should add to your collection, without hesitation!

The story revolves around a creature of habit whose routine suddenly gets disrupted by the unexpected arrival of a new friend. This new friend not only looks very different from the former but also goes about his life very differently.

While the big creature of habit is excited to share his routine with the small new creature, the latter has ideas of his own. Unlike the former, he does something new every day, and the creature of habit simply cannot comprehend this!

As the two cohabit on the island, the free-spirited new creature's unusual activities and unpredictable schedule tempt the routine-bound creature to sometimes do things differently. The author effortlessly convinces her readers to stay open to change. A valuable theme and an even more fascinating story, this!

4. Nothing's Wrong: A Hare, a Bear, and Some Pie to Share by Jory John

I am an ardent fan of Jory John's books and this one is no exception. Released in May 2023, this picture book revolves around the friendship between Anders and Jeff who are about to have a splendid afternoon together. But, things go downhill when the pie Anders baked slips and drops to the floor. Anders tries to conceal his sadness and disappointment but his friend, Jeff, knows him all too well. Jeff just knows something is wrong with his friend, but Anders insists 'Nothing's wrong'. Anders even gets irritated when Jeff asks if he's okay. But Jeff being the good friend that he is, tries to find ways to cheer Anders up.

This book is bound to help its readers understand the importance of unspoken cues, and supporting one's friends when things aren't going well, even if it means giving them some space. Most importantly, it encourages readers to communicate openly and honestly.

5. Milo's Monster by Tom Percival

This is the latest offering from author Tom Percival, and a fabulous one at that, especially because it delves into jealousy in friendships. All is well with Milo and his best friend, Jay, until a third person, Suze, moves in next door. The green-eyed monster shows up, messing with Milo's thoughts and making him sad. Milo has to find a way to fight this monster and repair his friendship.

The characters in the story are relatable and endearing, and the illustrations capture the essence of the complex theme of jealousy so well. Appropriate for children of all ages, this is one book you might end up using quite often as the new school year unfolds and presents friendship issues at some point or the other.

What are your favorite SEL books? Have you come across new releases you plan to add to your SEL/counseling library?

About the author: Neeti Sarkar is a Primary School Counselor at an IB school in Bangalore, India. Over the span of almost 10 years, she's worked with students aged 3-18, but enjoys working with the littles the most. Neeti's also a seasoned journalist, so when she isn't making behaviour plans, teaching guidance lessons, and supporting her school community in various other ways, she makes time for her other passion- writing.

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