Social and Emotional Learning Booklist: Grades 4-6

Maggie Hos-McGrane and Shamal Merchant
3 min read

Based on the original work of Maggie Hos-McGrane 

As students step into the upper elementary grades, they have a fair understanding of their emotions and might also know of a few strategies to manage them, but it is important that we keep providing them with opportunities to continue to dive deeper, and explore questions around self-identity, personal values, and beliefs.

It is therefore important for us to engage students in thought-provoking and meaningful conversations around social and emotional learning. While most students in this age group are confident and competent readers, reading aloud gives us an opportunity to have these discussions to deepen thinking and encourage self-expression. 

Our approach when creating this booklist

We have used CASEL’s core competencies framework to create this booklist and have ensured that we include books that promote social and emotional learning through self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship skills, and responsible decision-making. 

The booklist includes a variety of genres ranging from fiction, non-fiction, memoirs, and biographies, and are meant to foster cultural awareness, empathy, international mindedness, and value relationships and friendships. Through the stories of characters in these books, we want to encourage students to talk about personal stories, family journeys, struggles with friendships, identity, and managing difficult emotions.

Reading strategies for your classroom

Author Michael Rosen advocates that teachers should continue to read to their students well into their teens. When doing read-alouds with older primary children, the sessions can be made interactive, especially when the books are heavy with dialogue. The story can be narrated through a reader’s theatre approach wherein students read scripts using character voice and expression. This makes it an immersive and engaging experience for students.

To comprehend challenging texts, consider organizing weekly book or literature circle discussions where students take on roles such as question asker, researcher, summarizer, connector, or reflector.  Since these are usually small group discussions, students can confidently present their ideas and thoughts about the book. Guided reading, where students are grouped according to their reading levels can also help students gain confidence in reading. An interest-based book club or assigning reading buddies is another effective way of using books as a segue into social and emotional learning. 

Using these books effectively to promote SEL in your classroom

  • Talk it out: Have conversations about the read-aloud book. Use it as an opportunity to talk to your students about the importance of empathy, resilience, self and social awareness, and decision-making. 
  • Build empathy: Ask students to place themselves in the character’s shoes and think from their perspective. This will help students build empathy and understanding towards others. 
  • What’s the issue: Identify an issue that the students would like to focus on: For example, body image issues, bullying, etc. Use read-aloud books as a springboard to initiate difficult conversations. 
  • Theme team: Explore different themes related to social-emotional learning: For example, organize a self-awareness week and encourage students to read books specific to self-awareness. 
  • Personal connect: Encourage students to reflect and share their thoughts and feelings after reading a book. Ask them to make connections to personal experiences and talk about them. 

We hope these booklists inspire your students to open up about how they feel, engage in meaningful discussions and reflections, and walk into their teens with confidence and courage. 

Tracking Trash
This book focuses on the work of scientists who track the trash that is adrift in the oceans and the ecological problems it causes. It demonstrates the importance of gathering data to solve problems and of educating people about acting to conserve the environment. The book is full of photos, information and ideas for reducing ocean pollution.
By Loree Griffin Burns
One Hen
Based on a true story, the book tells the story of a boy from Ghana who has to leave school after his father dies to help support his family. Kojo has the idea of taking a loan from the village co-op to buy a hen, and by selling the eggs then earn enough money to buy more hens, pay his school fees and eventually purchase a farm.
By Katie Smith Milway
The Librarian of Basra
This is the story of a librarian in Iraq who decided to take matters into her own hands and move the books in her library to a safe place when she was refused help by the government. Coming up with creative solutions, she smuggled out over 3,000 priceless books and prevented them from being destroyed, showing that one person can make a difference in her community in order to preserve its history and culture.
By Jeanette Winter
A Day’s Work
Francisco helps his grandfather find work by lying that he is a gardener. His grandfather returns the next day to complete the job correctly. This story gives readers a valuable lesson on responsible decision-making and ethical behaviour.
By Eve Bunting
Kensuke’s Kingdom
Michael, an 11 year old boy, and his dog are washed up on a remote island after falling off his parents’ boat while on a round-the-world trip. Michael has few survival skills but meets Kensuke, an old man who has lived on the island for over 40 years. They become friends and Kensuke helps Michael to stay alive. The story is told from Michael’s perspective and deals with issues such as friendship and respect.
By Michael Morpurgo
Number The Stars
This book is historical fiction set during World War II that tells the story of how the Danish people smuggled thousands of Jewish people to Sweden after their country was invaded by the Germans. The story is told through the eyes of Annemarie, a 10 year old girl, whose family help her best friend and her family to escape. The story deals with friendship, love and courage.
By Lois Lowry
Bridge To Terabithi
This story celebrates the friendship between Jess, a young boy, and Leslie, a girl who has just moved in as his neighbour. After some initial problems, a friendship develops and the two children build an imaginary kingdom of Terabithia in the woods. This is a coming-of-age story and is a great book for exploring the development of character.
By Katherine Paters
The Trumpet Of The Swan
This book works both as a read-aloud for younger children and as a chapter book for older primary readers. Louis, a trumpeter swan, has no voice and cannot make a sound, however, he decides this will not keep him from living his life and develops many other skills. Louis’s father eventually steals a trumpet for him to woo Serena, the beautiful swan he falls in love with.
By E.B. White
Where In The World
Ari and his mother move from Germany to Australia after his father dies, and Ari struggles with losing his familiar life and the people in it. Ari has two loves - his music and his grandfather who taught him to play the violin and compose music. However, when Ari’s grandfather dies he starts to question his love for music. Eventually, through sharing his music with others, he comes to accept his new life. This coming-of-age story is told using flashbacks.
By Simon French
This book is set in the Caribbean where Riccardo has been chosen to sing in the Calypso Monarch Final competition, but this falls on the same day as the Calypso Cricket Club are playing their most important game. The main theme is that it is necessary to persevere in order to triumph against adversity. The book contains many Caribbean songs and rhymes.
By Bob Cattell And John Agard
Island Of The Blue Dolphins
Based on a true story, Karana, a 12 year old girl, is stranded on a Pacific island for 18 years after her tribe decides to leave. This is a story of survival as Karana needs to learn how to keep herself alive through many predicaments and combat loneliness. The story is one that empowers young girls to believe they are capable and resilient.
By Scott O'Dell
Fish In A Tree
Ally tries to hide that she has dyslexia because she gets bullied by her classmates. Her new teacher helps her see her strengths as a learner. This book talks about resilience, courage, and seeing differences as strengths.
By Lynda Mullaly Hunt
Stormy Night
This is a graphic novel about a girl who cannot sleep on a stormy night because she is thinking about some of life’s big questions. The girl asks a question and on the opposite page is an illustration of her question. It would be a great book to use as a provocation to spark discussions about things that young people could be concerned about such as body image and feelings. There are no answers in the book, but the questions and worries may be common to many young people.
By Michele Lemieux
A Saint In Brown Sandals
Written as a diary, Rabi records the events of her days in Ghana, friendships and betrayals and how she wants to be pretty and popular like other girls at school. As she writes, she comes to a growing sense of self-awareness of the things that she values. She has to decide whether or not to be the same as her classmates, and ultimately what sort of person she wants to become.
By Elizabeth-Irene Baiti
The Sky of Afghanistan
An Afghan girl dreams of peace in a war-ravaged country. She spends her time watching the kites as she hopes for peace in her country. The story deals with themes of hopes, dreams, self-awareness, and conflict.
By Ana A. de Eulate
Salt In His Shoes
As a child, Michael Jordan almost gave up on his dreams because he feared he'd never grow tall enough to play the game. His parents stepped in and shared the invaluable lesson of what really goes into the making of a champion - patience, determination, and hard work.
By Deloris Jordan and Roslyn M. Jordan
Grandfather’s Journey
This beautifully illustrated biography would work well with a unit on migration as it deals with issues of homesickness and a love for different countries. Grandfather travels to the USA as a young man but then returns to Japan to raise his family and feels torn between the two cultures. The story covers three generations and it is a great book for children who have experienced belonging to more than one culture or country because their parents have moved. We learn about how our choices can affect us and our loved ones.
By Allen Say
Mrs. Katz And Tush
Larnel, a young African American boy, develops a friendship with his elderly Jewish neighbour Mrs Katz when he asks her to adopt an abandoned kitten called Tush. When Larnel visits after school to help look after Tush, Mrs Katz tells him stories about coming to America from Poland and they discover similarities between their cultures and that both of them have a heritage that involves suffering and triumph over adversity.
By Patricia Polacco
If The World Were A Village
This is a great book for promoting awareness of issues with global significance. It deals with issues such as languages, health, energy, water and food and both positive and negatives are presented. Available in 17 languages, the book recognizes the importance of community resources and inspires children to be better global citizens.
By David J. Smit
Four Feet, Two Sandals
Ten-year-old Lina is thrilled when she finds a sandal that fits her foot perfectly until she sees that another girl has the matching shoe. But soon Lina and Feroza meet and decide that it is better to share the sandals than for each to wear only one. The sandals remind them that friendship is what is most important. This book portrays strength, courage, hope, and compassion amidst uncertainty and fear.
By Karen Lynn Williams

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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.