Social and Emotional Learning Booklist: Grades 1 to 3

Maggie Hos-McGrane and Shamal Merchant
3 min read

Based on the original work of Maggie Hos-McGrane 

Students in the lower elementary grades are often actively working on building their social and emotional skills. They are constantly learning how to build friendships, solve problems on the playground, and work in groups. 

Therefore, it is imperative that educators give them tools and strategies to manage their emotions and empathize with others. By reading to our students, we can help make complex ideas around social and emotional learning accessible and easy to understand. Through story characters and plots that mirror real-life situations, students learn to navigate their own social and emotional challenges. Furthermore, discussions and reflections during read-alouds promote vocabulary, comprehension, and high-level thinking.

Our approach when creating this booklist

While compiling a list of recommended books to support social and emotional learning in lower elementary, we focused on challenges common to students of this age group. These books support discussions about self-management skills, understanding emotions, responsible decision-making, and developing a growth mindset.

We used CASEL’s core competencies framework to create a varied booklist with stories about diverse backgrounds, cultures, and contexts – relevant to students in international schools who often come from different countries. The booklist also includes several fictional and non-fictional books with letters, biographies, and memoirs. 

Strategies to use this booklist in your classroom

 It is as important for us to read-aloud to our students in the lower primary years as it is to encourage them to read independently or in pairs. Read- alouds help us scaffold student understanding of social and emotional skills, and give us an opportunity to provide them with specific tools to manage challenges. You can create an ideal reading environment by setting up reading corners with flexible seating, a rug, some pillows, indoor plants, and calm-down glitter jars. Invite students to set up and decorate these reading spaces and help you with selecting, displaying and arranging books. 

Things to try!

  • Model reading – Encourage students to develop a love of reading by modelling reading strategies like using expression and voice modulation. Make reading fun – practice reading in different animal voices or funny voices.  
  • Pause and ask questions – Pause often to ensure students understand the story to see if they have any questions or personal connections they can make.
  • Variety of books – Introduce your students to various genres – picture books, books with large text, chapter books, bilingual books, and so on. Have a healthy mix of both fiction and non-fiction for read-alouds.
  • Plan your read-aloud sessions –  Strategically timed read-aloud sessions during circle time, morning meetings, or end-of-the-day is a great way to help students focus on specific skills that you identify as the need of the hour.
  • Journal entries – Start a class discussion about the book and ask students to write their thoughts or draw in a journal. 

Through this booklist, we hope to empower your students to become aware of their emotions and use this growing awareness to deal with them in a constructive manner. Have a great time reading for and with your students!

Jamaica’s Find
Jamaica finds a stuffed dog in the park. She takes it home and shows her family, however, her family is not happy and she feels guilty, so she decides to return it to the park ranger so that the rightful owner can find it. While doing this she meets Kristen, the girl who has lost the toy.
By Juanita Havi
Arthur’s Classroom Fib
After the holidays, Arthur’s teacher asks the class to write about what they did over the summer. Arthur hears about all the exciting things the other students did and feels he has to make his summer sound more interesting than it was. He has to decide whether to lie or tell the truth about what did happen over the holidays.
By Marc Brown
No David!
This is a semi-autobiographical story of writer and artist David Shannon who as a little boy broke all rules! Through this story, readers will be inspired to make responsible choices for themselves and others.
By David Shannon
This story brings out the importance of community, team work, problem-solving, and taking responsibility. When the city gets flooded, all animals - big and small come together to save their city. This book encourages readers to deal with problems before they get too big to handle.
By Mariajo Ilustrajo
Dear Juno
This is the story of a Korean-American boy who gets a letter from his grandma. He cannot read Korean but learns there are different ways to communicate, through items and pictures. When she wants him to know she is coming for a visit, she sends him a miniature plane.
By Soyung Pak
My Mouth Is A Volcano!
Louis has a problem interrupting people while they are talking. Eventually, he realises how this impacts others when his classmates interrupt him during a school presentation. This is a great story to teach about respect and social skills.
By Julia Cook
Ways to Make Friends
Making friends is such an important social skill but it isn’t always an easy skill to learn and use. Toad works hard to make new friends by trying different and unusual strategies. This book gives readers the confidence and courage to be themselves while learning to make new friends.
By Jairo Buitrago
Big Feelings
We all have days when we feel overwhelmed or frustrated or things don’t go as planned. This story is a great reminder of how we can be flexible, work our way through big feelings, and think from others’ perspectives.
By Alexandra Penfold and Suzanne Kaufman
Happy Ever After
Snow White loves painting pictures, but whenever she starts she always has to stop and help someone. The magic mirror helps her to realise that sometimes she has to say no and take care of herself and her own needs first.
By Tony Bradman
Eat Pete!
Can a little boy and a monster be friends or will the monster end up eating him? This is a super cute story about making the right choices, apologizing when we make mistakes, and managing one’s emotions even when it seems hard to do so.
By Michael Rex
Spark is a tiny dragon who is practicing his fire breathing skills to make sure he doesn’t end up burning everything! This is a great story that gives young readers the opportunity to think about self-control, patience, and perseverance.
By Kallie George
Lilly’s Purple Plastic Purse
Lilly takes her new purse to school to show everyone, but as she refuses to follow instructions to wait, the teacher takes it from her. She does eventually get it back - and with a treat inside - but first she learns about being considerate of others and dealing with strong feelings.
By Kevin Henkes
I Believe I Can
I Believe I Can is a book for boys and girls of every background to love and believe in themselves. This beautifully illustrated book helps readers recognize their strengths and limitations with a sense of purpose and confidence.
By Grace Byers
Breathing Makes It Better
A great choice for a read-aloud book that teaches children to identify and navigate powerful emotions like anger, fear, and sadness. The book guides children to ‘stop and take a deep breath’ as they try to stay calm.
By Christopher Willard
The Boy With Big, Big Feelings
This beautiful story is about a boy who tries to hide his big feelings, but realizes that his feelings are something to be celebrated. A truly inspiring story that reinforces a strong sense of self-efficacy and confidence.
By Lee Britney Winn
Worry Says What?
With a relatable story and beautiful artwork, the book offers a glimpse into what worry can look like. This story is a powerful reminder of what we are capable of accomplishing if we are confident, have a sense of purpose, and are not afraid to make mistakes.
By Allison Edwards
What Can I Do Today?
A child’s lemonade stand, set up to raise money for charity, provides the starting point of a chain of random acts of kindness which can change many lives.
By Allison Scoutland
Wilfrid Gordon McDonald Partridge
Wilfred, a young boy, befriends the residents of a nursing home next door to his house and helps 96 year old Miss Nancy, one of the residents, to find her memories again.
By Mem Fox
Say Something!
This empowering book encourages readers to use their voice. No matter how insignificant or small the ideas might be, speaking up is important even when it feels like no one is listening.
By Peter H. Reynolds
I Am Human
I Am Human is a beautiful story that teaches us to embrace empathy towards ourselves and others. The book talks about the importance of making mistakes, the power of good choices, and being kind. This picture book encourages children to see themselves as part of one big family.
By Susan Verde

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Maggie Hos-McGrane
Maggie Hos-McGrane
Maggie has been an educator for over 30 years, 25 of these in international schools in Europe and Asia. She has taught students from age 3 to 18 in the IB PYP, MYP and DP programmes. Maggie has presented at international conferences including ISTE, Learning2, ECIS, AASSA and EARCOS, in Asia, Europe, Africa, North and South America. She is passionate about the power of coaching to transform teaching and learning in schools. Maggie is a Google Innovator and has published several books about digital citizenship and technology integration as well as a recent book about coaching your colleagues in school. Maggie’s blog, Tech Transformation, has been read by over a million educators worldwide. In 2012 Maggie was recognized as one of the 365 heroes of education by Anthony Salcito, the Vice-President of Worldwide Education at Microsoft.
Shamal Merchant
Shamal Merchant
Shamal is the Learning and Engagement Manager at Toddle. In her current role, she works closely with educators from around the world to create meaningful professional development resources for the PYP community. She has taught in the IB PYP for 5 years and is passionate about language arts and engagement strategies.
Disclaimer: Toddle’s resources seek to encourage sharing of perspectives and innovative ideas for classroom teaching & learning. They are not intended to be replacements for official guides and publications. Views and opinions expressed by the authors of these resources are personal and should not be construed as official guidance. Please seek assistance from your school’s coordinator and/or refer to your school's or district's official documents before implementing ideas and strategies shared within these resources in your classroom.