Three Books Great for Teaching Social Emotional Learning in Elementary Students

Community Member

Kids need to be taught social emotional skills, and what better way to do that than though stories.  I have picked three books which promote social awareness in ourselves, naming emotions, and managing our own emotions.  These three books also are fun, diverse, and happen to feature food.  Just don't read them on an empty stomach!

The Ugly Vegetables by Grace Lin

A little girl helps her mother plant the garden in the suburbs.  As the garden grows, the little girl questions why their garden looks different than the flowers of her neighbors.  She begins to feel sad that their “ugly vegetables” do not look as pretty.  Her mother asks her to just wait and see.  On the day that they pick the vegetables from the garden, they make a soup.  The aroma fills the neighborhood.  The soup is delicious, and the neighborhood comes to enjoy, bringing their flowers with them.  The next year, everyone plants beautiful flowers and ugly vegetables. 

This book promotes social emotional learning by promoting social awareness in students.  Students empathize with the main character’s feelings of being different and her uncertainty if that is okay.  It promotes personal growth for kids to see the main character come to the realization that differences can be shared and appreciated when the neighbors plant the “ugly vegetables” in their garden next year.  The book has simple language, colorful pictures, and an interesting story, which will encourage reading success. 

How Are You Peeling?  Foods with Moods by Saxton Freymann and Joost Elffers

The fruits and vegetables have faces in foods with moods.  In this fun book preschool and elementary kids will love, the foods ask the reader how they are feeing while showing very human emotions.  Most of the fun of this book is guessing what emotions the pictures of real foods represent.  Who knew a green pepper could look confused?  This book is a fun way to reflect on what different emotions look like. 

This book promotes the self-awareness piece of social-emotional learning by helping kids with recognizing and naming emotions. This book promotes personal growth by encouraging kids to stop and think about what different emotions look like.  This book teaches kids about the emotions that different people might be experiencing at a time and that not everyone reacts the same.  The book askes “how do you feel when someone is mean? Timid? Bold? Or in-between?  The book is driven by the pictures and should promote a feeling of being a successful reader. 

The Big Red Lollipop by Rukhsana Khan

Big sister Rubina is so excited when she receives her first birthday party invitation.  Ami lets her go, but there is a catch, she must take her little sister Sana too.  No amount of begging or pleading on Rubina’s part will change her mom’s mind.  Sana cries, has to win all the games, and worst of all eats her big sister’s red lollipop.  Rubina is not invited to another party.  Then, Sana gets invited to her first birthday party.  Ami insists that she needs to bring their little sister Maryam until Rubina urges her mom to let Sana go alone.  The book ends with Sana gifting Rubina with her big green lollipop she got from the party.

This book is good to use to talk about managing emotions and behaviors in the social emotional curriculum.  It promotes personal growth by the restraint that the character Rubina displayed when her sister’s actions were selfish and frustrating.  She was able to put those feelings aside to help her sister have a better party experience than she had.  And, even though Sana never was punished for her behavior, she too realized the wrongs of her actions when she gave her sister her lollipop.  The book also would be good to talk about respecting cultural differences; the actions of Ami are different than many parents in other cultures.  This book is great to read aloud and talk about and then for kids to pick up later and look at the illustrations and read alone.  The experience of reading it with an adult or in a group will be good for the young reader.   




Freymann, S., & Elffers, J. (2004). How Are You Peeling? (Scholastic Bookshelf). Scholastic Paperbacks.

Khan, R., & Blackall, S. (2010). Big Red Lollipop (Illustrated ed.). Viking Books for Young Readers.

Lin, G. (2001). The Ugly Vegetables (1st ed.). Charlesbridge.