Top 5 SEL Books to Kickstart the New School Year

By: Neeti Sarkar

One of the things I love most about working with kids is that I get to use a treasure trove of SEL resources with them, in multiple ways. And books that focus on different aspects of personal, social, and emotional growth and development are aplenty.

Here are my top 5 SEL books that I've found most useful at the start of the academic year:

1. The Magical Yet by Angela DiTerlizzi - Growth Mindset

Most of us talk about the importance of developing a growth mindset only a few months into the new school year or when testing season is around the corner. However, this year, especially, I've come across kiddos who would benefit from a lesson on this topic, sooner rather than later, simply because there is some residual worry from last year that's crept into their minds already - the fear of math or even of making friends successfully. The Magical Yet has proved to be a great resource.

The book starts by validating feelings of frustration of not being able to do things like riding a bike. But the good news is there is this whimsical creature called 'the Yet' who helps readers see that though they may not have mastered some specific skills 'yet', with time, effort, practice, and perseverance, these goals are achievable. Underlining the importance of embracing setbacks as stepping stones as opportunities for growth, this book takes on a gentle and enchanting approach to the topic. The rhymes are catchy and the artwork captivating.

2. The Invisible String by Patrice Karst - Separation Anxiety

Coming back to school after two months of constantly being around their family members can be especially hard for some kids. Then of course, some are transitioning to a new school and possibly a new country, for whom everything looks unfamiliar and uncertain, and being separated from their parents can be a cause of anxiety. I would highly recommend reading and reflecting on this book to support children coping with all kinds of separation anxiety, loss, and grief. The story is relatable and reassuring, one through which we are reminded that no matter how far we are from each other, we're truly all connected by an invisible string.

3. First Day Critter Jitters by Jory John - Transition

Do you run small group sessions for new students? I do and I have always picked out this sweet book that helps my newbies realize they are not alone in feeling anxious and unsettled. The characters in this book are animals who are gearing up for their first day at school and each of them have their own unique worries. On the one hand, Sloth worries about getting there on time, and then there's Snake who can't seem to get his backpack fastened onto his body. We have Bunny who is afraid she'll want to hop around instead of sitting still in class. But guess what? They're not the only nervous ones. When everyone reaches the classroom, they discover that there's somebody else who is nervous too. It's their teacher, the armadillo! As time progresses, the animals all figure out ways to help one another through their jitters and school isn't as scary after all. This book is relatable and funny. I love it because it also encourages students to ask for help and help those around them who might be struggling with settling in.

4. Have You Filled A Bucket Today? by Carol McCloud - Empathy/Positive School Environment

Creating a community that is caring and empathetic is highly important for us as counselors and educators. One excellent resource to begin conversations, especially in lower elementary classrooms, is this poignant and powerful picture book.

The author beautifully introduces the concept of the "bucket" as a metaphor. Every person carries an invisible bucket that can be filled by acts of kindness, empathy, and positive actions, while negative actions can empty it. The story underlines the joy and fulfillment that come from filling others' buckets and, in turn, our own.

Encouraging children to be mindful of their actions and to choose kindness in their interactions with others, this book can be used in multiple ways to create a positive school environment, where every member of the school community takes ownership of their actions.

5. Making Friends is an Art by Julia Cook - Making and Maintaining Friendships

Even before students came back for the new academic year, I received an email from a set of parents who wanted to meet me to discuss how to support their child who seemingly has friends but does not play with anyone else because she's too afraid to be the one to ask! Have you come across children who want to make friends but have no idea how to? If so, this book is one I'd recommend using with them.

I love that the characters in this book are crayons. The protagonist is Brown who feels like a misfit and envies all the other crayons who have fun playing together. Brown believes the other pencils have talents to share, but he can't figure what his is! He feels he is barely used, unlike Red, but he comes to realize that the only way to have friends is to be a good friend. With the help of Black, Brown discovers just how special he is and how he can learn the skills from all the other crayons to be a good friend to the others.

This is a great book to help the students you're working with to break the ice with kids they would like to play with/ haven't played with before. It will also teach them how to interact positively with their peers and how to manage conflict successfully.

What are some SEL books that you use at this time of the year?

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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