SEL Booklist

While recommendations of social-emotional learning books are abundant for young children, it is harder to find similar suggestions for middle and high school students. This is partly because social-emotional competencies are well-suited to storytelling and illustrations that capture emotions. These books are equally important for older students, however, as they can offer vocabulary to articulate feelings, strategies to boost self-confidence, and scenarios that demonstrate acts of empathy and support.

In Scholastic’s Teacher & Principal School Report: 2nd Edition, which captured data from 4,517 public school educators between December 9, 2019 and January 31, 2020, among the top reasons listed for incorporating fiction and non-fiction social-emotional learning books into the curriculum were: they helped students understand people different from them (83%), they encouraged them to develop more empathy (81%), and they allowed them to see themselves in characters and stories (81%.)

With these important benefits in mind, the following list offers non-fiction social-emotional learning books for students 11 and up. Some cover a range of topics and themes, while others focus more deeply on just one. They also vary in the ways they might be incorporated into instruction and in the ways they present their subject matter. The list is organized by age group and highlights the reason each title is a standout so you can select those best-suited for your students.



Middle School

Ages

9-12

Snapshot

Focused on social skills for life in-person, on the phone, and online, this book offers guidance for everyday social interactions like introducing yourself, starting a conversation, and being a good neighbor. More complex challenges, like ending a friendship, navigating dates, and supporting someone in need, receive coverage as well. Graphic novel-style art by Debbie Fong accompanies examples of how to put guidance into practice.

What makes it stand out? Author Catherine Newman, who students may recognize thanks to her middle-grade novel One Mixed-Up Night, intentionally focuses on making this  social-emotional learning book inclusive to all, regardless of their family structure, abilities, cultural background, religion, and more.

10-14

Book #2 of the nonfiction Kid Confident book series, developed by expert psychologist Bonnie Zucker, interweaves insights from brain science and the mental health and wellness fields with real-life stories from other middle schoolers. Its chapters cover, for example, moods, mindsets, and actions but also advice on getting help when things are too much.

What makes it stand out? This book specifically targets middle schoolers who are likely to see similarities with Raina Telgemeier’s Guts and James Patterson’s Middle School series.

8-12

Author Dr. Laura Meek guides readers toward recognizing strengths they already possess and how they give them powers, like being more empathetic, a better listener, less anxious, and more equipped to manage outbursts. Along the way she outlines activities to nurture readers’ inner and outer heroes so they can thrive and make positive differences to others.

What makes it stand out? The book focuses on the superheroes middle schoolers love and the superpowers they might not have realized they possess, like telepathy and shapeshifting.

11-13

Focused on self- and social awareness, this journal can be added to toolboxes of educators looking to build these competencies at the individual, class, and school levels. Offering quotes as a starting point for self-reflection, students record their thoughts which can be opportunities to connect with others during group share-outs and build a greater sense of community.

What makes it stand out? Research shows incorporating SEL across the curriculum, school day, and school community is important. This journal enables underutilized moments of the school day, like homeroom and advisory periods, to be leveraged to foster greater social and emotional well-being schoolwide.

Middle School & High School

Ages

11-17

Snapshot

Also new to bookshelves in 2024, Olivia M. Dalton’s book focused on social skills is intended to help teens understand the concepts of self-awareness and identity and use them as cornerstones for friendships that last.

What makes it stand out? Guidance on managing peer pressure and navigating conflict, both in-person and online, complements techniques to help teens become more self-confident, socially adept, and resilient.

11-17

Also new to bookshelves in 2024, Olivia M. Dalton’s book focused on social skills is intended to help teens understand the concepts of self-awareness and identity and use them as cornerstones for friendships that last.

What makes it stand out? Guidance on managing peer pressure and navigating conflict, both in-person and online, complements techniques to help teens become more self-confident, socially adept, and resilient.

10-16

Author Stuart Lawrence experienced the crushing loss of his brother following a racist attack by a group of six while he waited for a bus. Drawing on what he learned as he moved forward as well as a 15-year career as a secondary school teacher, this book captures insights spanning self-confidence, self-control, attitude, personal passion, time management, failure, and goal-setting.

What makes it stand out? Simple tips, easy to incorporate daily, alongside a clean layout make it highly accessible. On a list of books mainly authored by women, this book stands out because it was written by a man who shares many male role models he has admired throughout his life.

12+

Drawing on strategies used with her students, Marnie Davis offers advice for connecting, conversing, and cultivating relationships with friends, family, and future co-workers more confidently and comfortably. While chapters include actionable steps, the book also showcases how a more confident social life can enhance one’s personal happiness.

What makes it stand out? Vignettes, real-life scenarios, and hypothetical exchanges enable readers to envision exchanges and how incorporating guidance offered might make a difference.

Specifically targets tweens and teens on the spectrum

Ages

12-16

Snapshot

Drawing on 20 years of research and experience, Lindsey Sterling divides this resource into thirds. She starts with basics of conversation, thoughts, and feelings, before turning to emotional self-regulation and a survival guide for inevitable social moments like joining in conversations, navigating unexpected encounters and confrontation, as well as bullying.

What makes it stand out? It pairs practical social skill-building with cognitive behavioral strategies to make an easy-to-read SEL book which is well-suited to autistic teens.

12+

A standout from the beginning, The Asperkid’s (Secret) Book of Social Rules 10th Anniversary Edition is refreshed with all-new illustrations and content focused on social media. As its title suggests, the book focuses on common situations, like cultivating friendships, dating, negotiating conversational landmines, and discussing neurodiversity.

What makes it stand out? Jennifer Cook wrote this book shortly after both she and her children were diagnosed on the spectrum. It has remained a standout and was named one of BookAuthority‘s 74 Best Autism Books of all time in 2020.

High School

Ages

13-18

Snapshot

Alice P. D. Hancock had a bird’s eye view of teens’ social interactions as an art teacher and gymnastics coach. She recognized the importance of teens understanding the “why” of their social anxiety and related struggles. Practical exercises throughout offer  readers the chance to put learning into action as they go about their daily lives.

What makes it stand out? It   covers a range of social situations, from mastering casual conversations and making friends to soft skills for college and career readiness, like what it takes to be part of a team and how to navigate confrontation.

High School & Young Adult

Ages

16- Young adults

Snapshot

This book starts by looking closely at what sets decision-making apart from problem-solving, particularly the processes involved with each and how this matters when it comes to the adolescent brains and distinguishing risky options from safe ones. It also addresses the inevitable ethical and moral challenges that arise when others try to influence one’s decision-making or disagree with the choices made.

What makes it stand out? Decide and Solve is part of author Stefany K. Thomann’s New You Teen Bestsellers book series which focuses on a range of personal skills, targeting teens and young adults and the skills they need to thrive.

These social-emotional learning books, with their range of subject matter and varying formats, offer numerous opportunities for integration across the school day. Many of them are designed to promote introspection as well as offer activities for interaction. As discussed, students benefit from familiarizing themselves with the vocabulary of feelings. Using these words, whether during activities like journal reflections or pair and shares, offers an opportunity for them to connect what they are learning to what they, and others like them, are experiencing day to day.

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Jon Izak

Jon Izak is the founder and CEO of Ori Learning.

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Jon Izak
Jon Izak is the founder and CEO of Ori Learning.