I’m passionate about helping kids develop social emotional skills. That’s why I want to share the best SEL (social emotional learning) picture books about feelings and emotions. Use them to support your children and students as they learn about their emotions and develop emotional intelligence.
Picture books and the discussions you have when reading them help kids learn about feelings, help children identify their emotions, help children understand what each emotion feels like, and support a child’s understanding that all feelings are okay.
CASEL defines Social-Emotional Learning (SEL) as acquiring “the knowledge, skills, and attitudes to develop healthy identities, manage emotions and achieve personal and collective goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain supportive relationships, and make responsible and caring decisions.”
CASEL identified five specific social emotional learning competencies for children, which are the following
- self-management (self-regulation)
- social awareness
- relationship skills
- responsible decision-making
Essentially, social-emotional learning starts with self-awareness and the ability to name your own emotions when you’re feeling them.
It’s essential that we teach our kids to identify the emotions they are feeling beyond happy, sad, and mad (emotional granularity) so they can then improve emotional regulation as well as general well-being and mental health now and in the future. (It’s a journey not a destination.)
CAUTION: Recent research DISPROVES the theory facial expressions accurately expressing our feelings. THEY DON’T always. You can’t look at someone and necessarily label the emotion they are feeling correctly. Particularly someone from a culture different than your own. So be CAUTIOUS when you teach that happiness looks like a smiley face and anger looks like a scrunched-up face. It might be a starting point, but it is not backed by research.
One study I read also gave the example of an award-winning actor. They would never show emotions like an emoji face. And we often don’t either. Again, be careful with broad generalizations.
As children become better able to identify emotions, they’ll improve their relationship skills as well.
So, how can you use the SEL children’s books about feelings on this list?
Start with a book.
Discuss what you read.
Build a feelings vocabulary.
Pause to check in with yourself and your kids throughout the day.
Name and notice the emotions you’re feeling– and how they come and go.
Don’t label any emotions as good or bad. You could say some are strong emotions or uncomfortable, but we need all our emotions. None are bad.
And notice how you can have more than one emotion at a time!
Here, you’ll find a list of the SEL picture books that will spark further conversations and continue to build their emotional literacy foundation. That being said, some books do not support the most current research and are problematic. Some of the books might be problematic because:
- they teach you can only feel one emotion at a time
- they teach that you can “overcome” anxiety (not true if you have an anxiety disorder, but is true if you have a situational worry)
- they send messages that emotions are good or bad
- some even suggest ignoring your inner voice to be “brave” — and doing things anyway (that book is NOT on this list)
The books that I recommend the most and are most in line with what I know to be best for kids from research and therapy are starred. Those books on this list are SO GOOD and align with the most up-to-date research.
I’m starting to write SEL picture books of my own because I want to see books on emotions that show both/and –and that show kids how to live with uncomfortable emotions, not just try to get rid of them which is a set up for shame.
Teachers learn more about social-emotional learning in the classroom here.
Best Picture Books for Kids About Emotions & Feelings
The Feelings Book by Todd Parr
“Sometimes I feel…” begins each page, continuing on to describe the many different feeling that kids can experience throughout their day from silly to lonely to scared. Kids will understand that it’s normal and okay for many feelings to come and go each day.
Pocket Full of Sads by Brad Davidson, illustrated by Rachel Mas Davidson
I love this book because it shows that feelings like sadness are OKAY and don’t need to be FIXED. In this tender story of friendship and feelings, Bear feels sad, a heavy kind of sad. Rabbit tries to fix Bear with jokes, happy thoughts, and five steps from an internet article. It doesn’t work, and they don’t go fishing. But they do sit together quietly. And THAT is what makes Bear feel better. Having his friend close without trying to fix him!!! YESSSSS!
The Rabbit Listened by Cory Doerrfeld
Taylor is devastated when birds crash into his blocks. One by one, animals try to help with their advice– but this doesn’t help. Only Rabbit quietly sits near Taylor without any advice. Later, Taylor feels ready to talk, shout, remember, laugh, hide, throw, and ruin things. The rabbit also listens to Taylor when Taylor’s ready to build her block structure again. This is my new favorite picture book on feelings and emotions because it’s the perfect model of being present to someone’s emotional journey.
Happy Sad Today by Lory Britain, illustrated by Matthew Rivera
The truth is that we can feel more than one feeling at a time — which we call both/and. We can feel both happy and sad. In this story, the little girl experiences different feeling combinations throughout her day. Scared and brave walking into her new classroom. Sad and mad when her friends won’t play with her. And she can feel and express her feelings with movement and art.
The I’m Not Scared Book by Todd Parr
This book talks about times when things are scary and times when those same things are not — “Sometimes I’m scared of dogs // I’m not scared when they give me kisses.” Parr shows how it’s okay to feel scared as well as shifting the perspective to see things in a new way.
As Brave as a Lion by Erika Meza
I love how the girl personifies (animalifies?) bravery as a lion. Her brave lion goes with her everywhere and helps her to find her voice, feel safe in the dark, and go up a high slide. Sometimes the girl helps her Lion to be brave, too. They help each other be as brave as lions. This story brilliantly captures the truth that we have feelings inside of us with us all the time.
I Say, You Say FEELINGS by Tad Carpenter
A cute lift-the-page flap book about feelings. “I say happy, you say . . .” lift the page to see “SMILE.” “I say grumpy, you say . . . ” flip down the page to see “FROWN.”
Today I Feel Silly: And Other Moods that Make My Day by Jamie Lee Curtis, illustrated by Laura Cornell
Playful illustrations and lyrical text capture the little girl’s feelings throughout the day…angry, silly, grumpy, and excited. This story expertly shows a relatable kid day filled with all sorts of emotions, or moods.
Jenny Mei Is Sad by Tracy Subisak
Narrated by Jenny Mei’s friend, we learn that Jenny Mei is sad, but she doesn’t always show it. Sometimes she smiles and sometimes she rips things and sometimes she is quiet. And it’s ok. Her friend is always there for “fun and not-fun and everything in between.” This wonderfully shows the importance of accepting a friend’s feelings and behaviors without judgment or trying to fix things.
Grumpy Monkey by Suzanne Lang, illustrated by Max Lang
This is one of the best, most healthy emotional intelligence children’s books I’ve ever read about feeling your feelings — not stuffing nor trying to get rid of them, just feel them. Jim Panzee (chimpanzee, get it?) wakes up and nothing seems right. His jungle friends like Norman suggest that he might be grumpy. Yet Jim insists he’s NOT grumpy. As Jim stomps around, bunching his eyebrows, not swinging, he yells at the other animals that he is NOT grumpy. Later that day, Jim sits with Norman. “For now I need to be grumpy,” he explains finally. To which Norman responds, “It’s a wonderful day to be grumpy.”
Lena’s Shoes Are Nervous (A First-Day-of-School Dilemma) by Keith Calabrese, illustrated by Juana Medina
Lena is feeling BOTH nervous and outgoing. Lena tells her dad about her shoes feeling nervous. Her dad asks questions — doesn’t try to solve. Then, Lena figures out that her headband can talk to her shoes. Her dad gives them some space for her to work things out… The headband reminds the shoes of other times they all were scared and also brave. And that things worked out. Even though her shoes still feel a little nervous, they decide to be brave and go to school. And Lena is proud of them!
Hattie Harmony Worry Detective by Elizabeth Olsen & Robbie Arnett, illustrated by Marissa Valdez
So cute! As Hattie Harmony goes through the school day, she shares different strategies to help her worried friends. For example, she shares mindfulness, stress ball, affirmations, and deep breaths.
Yoga Animals at the Seashore by Christiane Kerr and Jason Hook, illustrated by Julia Green
This is a social-emotional and yoga story about a crab’s day. His fish friends support his many feelings–grumpy, alone, frustrated, etc.– by sharing yoga poses that can help. His initial emotions move into other emotions as he does the yoga poses. For example, he moves from tired to energized and from shy to brave. Each two-page spread tells the story plus shows the yoga pose with directions.
Crying is Like the Rain: A Story of Mindfulness and Feelings by Heather Hawk Feinberg, illustrated by Chamisa Kellogg
This SEL book is spot-on for emotional intelligence — it encourages children to feel all the feelings and shares that crying is temporary just like the rain…It also explains that crying is healing just like the rain that nourishes the earth. “When it’s needed, the rain always comes. And after the rain pours down, the earth feels fresh and new.” “Tears help your mind, your heart, and your body feel new, clear, and calm after the storm. / We need our tears, just as the earth needs rain.” This is an essential mindfulness book for any social-emotional curriculum and a very helpful, accurate way for every child to understand sadness and tears.
Tomorrow I’ll Be Brave by Jessica Hische
The SEL book’s message is meant to encourage kids to pause at the end of their day and be reflective, love themselves, and set intentions for tomorrow. Each hand-lettered adjective is big, bright, and impactful from adventurous to curious. The writing talks about all the possibilities for tomorrow…tomorrow you can be creative, brave, and confident. Just like you tried to be today. And if you didn’t succeed, it’s okay. Hische gives examples of activities for each trait — for creative she writes, “I’ll color and draw for hours // I’ll play a game of make-believe and use my magic powers.” (Also read: Tomorrow I’ll Be Kind.)
The Many Colors of Harpreet Singh by Supriya Kelkar, illustrated by Alea Marley
A relatable story about feelings, moving homes, and finding a friend with much-needed Sikh representation. Harpreet loves colors and expresses his feelings with the colors of his patkas (a kind of turban) that he wears each day. When his family moves to a new home, he wears blue for feeling nervous, then gray for feeling sad, and white for feeling shy. Harpreet picks white when he’s at his new sch0ol. Then one day, he finds a lost hat and when he returns it, he makes a new friend. A friend makes a big difference and Harpreet beings wearing colors again– red, pink, and yellow. In fact, now he wears different colors for different occasions, including white for hanging out with a new friend.
Out of a Jar by Deborah Marcero
Llewelyn puts his feelings in jars because he doesn’t like feeling them. And so, he stores them away so he doesn’t have to feel — even joy. But he adds one too many jars and they all explode out with colors and he discovered that he could feel more than one feeling at the same time–and he likes it — and then, lets the emotions go.
Me and My Fear by Francesca Sanna
The author anthropomorphized the feeling of fear — Fear that gets bigger and bigger when she moves to a new city. Her Fear prevents her from making friends until one day– a boy with his own Fear, who likes to draw, too.
Looking for Happy by Ty Chapman, illustrated by Keenon Ferrell
The boy feels like he has rocks in his chest — and his usual ways of moving through his feelings don’t work. So Grandma takes him out of the house. When they hear music, it suddenly brightens the boy’s emotions, and he dances and sings. This picture book models the importance of being okay with sadness and remembering that it will eventually pass.
Kevin the Unicorn: It’s Not All Rainbows by Jessica von Innerebner
A delightful SEL book about feeling your REAL feelings, even if they are not happy ones! Kevin is supposed to have days filled with magical awesomeness. Except he isn’t. He tries to pretend he’s having a glittery and fantastic day, but his day is filled with not-so-great things and a lot of pretending that he is happy. Until he can’t contain his emotions anymore and shouts out the truth, “Today is not awesome or fantastic and it’s definitely NOT sparkly.” Interestingly enough, he’s not the only one feeling that way. Once Kevin stops pretending, other unicorns admit that they’re not having perfect days either. And that’s okay!
Pilar’s Worries by Victoria M. Sanchez, illustrated by Jess Golden
This story about a girl named Pilar shows a child experiencing anxiety — and what she does about it. She notices the sensations in her body like her heart beating fast and her legs prickling. She has strategies that help — breathing and saying, “I can do it“. It’s not overly complex but may show kids that they’re not alone.
Invisible Things by Andy J. Pizza and Sophie Miller
This beautiful SEL book seemingly starts as a book about seeing things with your five senses, but it blossoms into a rich, kid-friendly exploration of feelings — and how noticing our invisible feelings makes for a wonderful life. The creators talk about moods and feelings kids might not know like nostalgia, the heeebie-jeebies, and the blues. The feelings chart is lovely and includes the blahs, empathy, worries, guts, hope, and more. I love the creators’ clever ideas that will spark more curiosity about invisible feelings and other invisible things. This is new read aloud favorite!
The Big Worry Day by K.A. Reynolds, illustrated by Chloe Dominique
The little girl’s dog has a lot of worries. To help the worries, the girl and dog try three strategies: breathe, use their imagination, and do yoga. Then, they can play outside without worries
The Worry Box by Suzanne Chiew, illustrated by Sean Julian
When her friend, Murray Bear, worries about going to the waterfall, Molly shows him her worry box. She writes down what she’s worried about and then puts it inside. “Worrying won’t stop me!” Because of this, Murray is able to enjoy the many adventures the day brings. Also, now he can help his new friend, Lily when she gets worried. “Sharing worries makes them feel smaller and not as scary.”
A Blue Kind of Day by Rachel Tomlinson, illustrated by Tori-Jay Mordey
Coen feels sad in his body — a murky kind of blue that made him feel gloomy and trapped. His body feels prickly and tense, and he doesn’t want to do anything with his family. So, his family gives up trying to cheer him up and stays nearby until Coen’s ready to emerge from his cocoon of blankets.
I Forgive Alex A Simple Story About Understanding by Kerascoet
Wordless with beautiful illustrations, this story tells about the time at recess when Alex’s ball hit his classmate’s pictures, and they fell in a puddle. Everyone seems mad at Alex, but eventually, the boy to whom the drawings belonged shakes Alex’s hand and forgives him.
Today I Feel An Alphabet of Feelings by Madalena Moniz
Use this book to teach and practice identifying feelings. Each of the feelings is told by it’s corresponding illustration — and the illustrations are amazing! For example for Patient, a little boy sits on a gigantic puzzle with white spaces open, still needing the pieces. Think about all the rich discussion you could have as you read this story to your children.
When I Feel Scared by Cornelia Maude Spelman
I can’t say enough good things about the SEL When I Feel” books by Cornelia Maude Spelman. They’re well-written, accepting, and offer strategies for understanding the different emotions. The series includes:
When I Feel Jealous
When I Feel Good About Myself
When I Feel Angry
When I Feel Sad
When I Care About Others
Olivia Wrapped in Vines by Maude Nepveu-Villeneuve, illustrated by Sandra Dumais
Olivia’s fears and worries wrap around her like vines, preventing her from doing things she’d like to do. Her kind, quirky teacher suggests that Olivia imagines cutting down the vines. Doing that helps Olivia learn to live with her vines.
Will It Be Okay? by Crescent Dragonwagon, illustrated by Jessica Love
Normally I don’t like when adults try to give kids all the answers or when adults try to convince children they should be worried or have big feelings…but for some reason, this book feels reassuring and affirming, and I like it. The little girl asks her mom what if questions — what if there’s lightning, what if someone doesn’t like me, what if I’m mad at everybody. For every question, the mom answers with specific ideas and scenarios. “But what if nobody likes the way I dance? / You go dancing in the words, alone in the crackling leaves. One day you meet someone else, dancing in the leaves.” The mom helps the child reframe things and see situations in a new way.
The Rhino Who Swallowed a Storm by LeVar Burton & Susan Schaefer Bernardo, illustrated by Courtenay Fletcher
I love the intention of this SEL book — to help kids see that swallowing your feelings without expressing them just makes you feel yucky and that you can get help from your friends. I can see this book being really helpful to a lot of children and their families. Do you bottle your feelings or express them?
I Am Okay to Feel by Karamo Brown with Jason “Rachel” Brown, illustrated by Diobelle Cerna
On a walk, a son shares his feelings with his dad — from happy to scared. His dad listens and reassures his son that all his feelings are okay. He shares helpful strategies like breathing and moving to feel safe or express the feeling in the body. I like how the dad affirms his son’s feelings in a gentle, loving way.
Emily’s Blue Period by Cathleen Daly, illustrations by Lisa Brown
Emily is struggling with the big feelings that come from a divorce. When she learns about Pablo Picasso’s blue period, Emily can relate because she’s also sad and going through her own blue period. It shows how emotions can be expressed in colors and with art.
Ruby Finds a Worry by Tom Percival
Ruby discovers a yellow Worry blob that grows and grows and won’t leave her alone. The Worry stops Ruby from doing things she used to love, becoming enormous and all-consuming. When she sees a boy with his own blue Worry, Ruby realizes that other people have Worries, too and that when they talk about them, they become smaller, even going away. I actually REALLY DISLIKE this book’s message that shames Ruby (*she does the worst thing you can do and thinks about the worry,) and the erroneous message that if you talk about the worry, it will go away.
The Color Monster a Pop-Up Book of Feelings by Anna Llenas
Monster’s colors are all scribbly and mixed up, reflecting his emotions. A little girl helps Monster separate his feelings on each page with colors and fantastic pop-ups. I love the green calm page showing Monster in a hammock. The next-to-last page has fun pull-up tabs so kids can see inside each of the feelings jars. And the last page is the best surprise of all…
Wild Feelings by David Milgrim
Do you ever feel . . . ? asks this SEL picture book. Do you feel as stubborn as a mule? as chicken as a chicken? as daffy as a duck? Simple illustrations and metaphorical text show that everyone feels these feelings — and that it’s okay.
When I’m Feeling Scared by Trace Moroney
Bunny describes feeling scared. He describes what happens in his body (body trembles and shakes,) what he does (run and hide,) what he does (yell, “HELP,”) and that it’s okay to be scared that everyone gets scared sometimes. Basic and well-done. More board books in this series: When I’m Feeling Kind, When I’m Feeling Happy, and When I’m Feeling Jealous.
When Sophie Gets Angry–Really, Really Angry… by Molly Bang
When Sophie gets angry she really loses her temper, sparks fly, and she goes into a rage. While everyone gets angry sometimes, readers watch as Sophie learns how to deal with her emotions without hurting anyone else.
Ten Beautiful Things by Molly Beth Griffin, illustrated by Maribel Lechuga
This is a beautiful story where sorrow and beauty co-exist as a little girl sits in the back of her grandma’s car, traveling to her new home. As they drive, her grandma asks her to look for ten beautiful things along the way. Heartfelt and emotionally resonate.
A Place Inside of Me by Zetta Elliott, illustrated by Noa Denmon
A Black boy expresses a myriad of feelings that wait inside him for him to feel each one. Joy that glows bright and warm as the sun when he’s playing basketball, sorrow that is cold & dark when he sees the news about a police shooting, fear that stalks him and “seeps like a poison into my dreams.” He expresses his anger, hunger, pride, hope, love, and compassion in lyrical phrases and illuminating illustrations. This is an essential picture book for starting conversations about racial injustice, emotions, and what it’s like to be black in the U.S.
Becoming Blue by Ellen Tarlow, illustrated by Julien Chung
An excellent story about jealousy and learning to see your own value! Blue feels jealous of all the cool things Red can do! When Red tells Blue to STOP copying her, Blue ponders being Blue — and learns that he loves being Blue with his birds and lakes and sad songs. And they even pair up together at the end and make purple!
Poppy’s Best Paper by Susan Eaddy, illustrated by Rosalinde Bonnet
Kids will learn about jealousy and perseverance in this relatable picture book about Poppy. She wants her paper to be picked as the best in the class. When it’s not, she’s MAD. And jealous. In the end, Poppy keeps working hard and her paper is finally picked. I really love the artwork and the message in this story.
Inside Out Sadly Ever After? by Elise Allen, illustrated by Daniel Holland
Riley experiences many emotions throughout her life, which is shown in two memories; one of a picnic and the other of going to school. (joy, anger, fear, disgust, and sadness.)