Reading Together: A Portal to Social and Emotional Discoveries (with Book Recommendations)
“There are many little ways to enlarge your child’s world. Love of books is the best of all.”
– Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis
“One more chapter!” my son pleads at bedtime and more often than not, I have obliged. It’s a true joy to dive into an adventure together and have the chance to discuss subjects that might not otherwise arise. It may not surprise parents to know that children derive their love of reading from their family’s lifestyle, beliefs and practices with reading. If you read for pleasure, your children will likely read for pleasure. And we know that their literacy development is critical to academic achievement and success now and later in life. And though the stage between kindergarten and third grade is indeed a critical time to develop fundamental reading skills, literacy development continues throughout childhood and adolescence.
Older children and adolescents read less for pleasure than younger children. Or kids may perceive reading as an act of performance and their desire for a good book may lessen or their time becomes filled with social and extracurricular activities. For some, reading may generate feelings of pressure, inadequacy or obligation at school. But it does not need to be experienced that way at home. Because reading is a social act, it gives those reading together access to social and emotional issues that may seem too sensitive to bring up in everyday life.
Stories can help a child define his identity, become aware of complex feelings, evaluate reactions to situations and grapple with the consequences of difficult choices. If you cultivate habits of enjoying reading together, it can allow you unique access to your child’s inner world. It can serve as a catalyst for ongoing trusting and meaningful connections offering relationship resilience in more challenging times.
It’s been an adventure discovering a whole new set of literature through the eyes and mind of my child. There are simple ways to promote social connection-making through books. Ask, “What books do you have in common with your friends? Do you know what they are reading?” After asking this of my son, I watched him reenact his favorite Magic Treehouse stories with a friend dressing in the styles of the characters and going on neighborhood adventures. We as adults enjoy a good book club discussion so why not our children? Just asking the question can get them thinking about what experiences others are having through reading.
With the help of other parents and teachers, I have put together a list of favorite children’s books that are particularly strong in raising social and emotional topics. Check out the following organized by picture books, juvenile fiction for 7-12 year olds and young adult fiction for 13-17 year olds. Treat your children to a trip to the library or bookstore and enjoy picking out high interest books together. This list will be updated regularly as a consistent resource for parents on confidentparentsconfidentkids.org in the “Kid Resources” menu. Happy reading!
CPCK’s Social and Emotional Learning Picture Book Recommendations
In My Heart; A Book of Feelings by Jo Witek, Illustrated by Christine Roussey
A girl explores the feelings of her heart and describes what she feels when she is happy, calm, brave, hurt, angry, sad, hopeful, silly, shy and proud. This is a perfect book to introduce a conversation about emotions and the purpose they serve as clues to who we are. There is no shame or guilt in feeling any of these emotions. They are all equally a part of this girl’s heart as they are a part of ours.
Made by Raffi by Craig Pomranz, Illustrated by Margaret Chamberlain
Raffi feels different from other kids at school and he is often teased because of it. He doesn’t like loud noises and rough play, he enjoys his peace and quiet. A teacher shows Raffi how to knit and his world changes! Everyone wants to have something made by Raffi and he feels more accepted.
Corduroy by Don Freeman
A slightly ragged department store bear searches for his missing button in hopes of tidying himself up to be the perfect teddy bear for Lisa. However, Lisa loves him just the way he is! She takes him home, makes him a bed and fixes his overalls for him.
Quiet Bunny’s Many Colors by Lisa McCue
Quiet Bunny loves all the colors of spring and wishes his brown and white skin were yellow, blue, or even green. When he realizes that he can’t be any of those colors, owl helps him realize that, that’s why the spring forest is beautiful because they are all different colors.
Mouse Was Mad by Linda Urban, Illustrated by Henry Cole
This is a hilarious book about a mouse who gets critiqued about the ways he is expressing his anger until he finds his own way to cool down that impresses all of the other animals. This is an excellent book to discuss and learn about the ways to manage anger.
Don’t Be Afraid, Little Pip by Karma Wilson and Jane Chapman
Little Pip has been told he will learn to swim with all of the other penguins his age. He is scared of swimming and his interest in flying becomes the excuse for not learning to swim. When he accidentally falls into the water, he learns to swim and overcomes his fear with the support of a friend.
When Sophie Gets Angry – Really, Really Angry… by Molly Bang
This is a story about a little girl who gets angry when it is time for her to share with her sister. She throws a fit and then takes off into the woods where she takes in nature and finds comfort in the world and is able to calm down. She heads back home and everything is ok again.
The Skin you Live In by Michael Tyler, Illustrated by David Lee Cscicsko
Race and skin color can be a challenging subject to bring up with our children though so important. This book can help! It describes the beauty of a variety of skin tones using dessert imagery. Then, it moves beyond skin color to talk about all of the qualities that make a person unique – their imagination, their hopes and dreams.
Who’s In My Family? All About Our Families by Robie Harris, Illustrated by Nadine Bernard Westcott
A family takes a trip to the zoo and notes all of the different make-ups of human and animal families. It discusses how different families eat a variety of foods and live in varying environments. There are multiracial families, single sex couples, adopted children and stepparents. It makes the point that it’s normal to have all sorts of different kinds of families and family members.
Children Around the World by Donata Montanari
This book introduces individual children from many different corners of the world starting with Emilio from the Philippines and ending with Rosa from Boliva. Read about their experiences in their countries, where they live and what they do each day.
Whoever You Are by Mem Fox, Illustrated by Leslie Staub
A story that takes you around the world to let you know that even though you may look different than others, learn and speak differently, and live differently, that on the inside we are all the same. We all have beating hearts, joys, laughter, pain and tears.
A Pocket Full of Kisses by Audrey Penn, Illustrated by Barbara Leonard Gibson
This is an excellent book for siblings or with only children who feel envious when their parents share their attention with other children. Big brother Raccoon struggles with his younger brother’s need for attention. Mama Raccoon is able to explain, using each of her paws and the sun’s rays, that there is plenty of love for both and between the bothers too.
Too Tall Houses by Gianna Marino
Friends Rabbit and Owl build their homes next door to each other. But when one feels the other’s house is bigger, the other starts building his own. A competition ensues to build the tallest house. In the midst of their building frenzy, both houses collapse and they must consider what to do next. They find that their best solution is to rebuild one home to share together.
Bad Apple by Edward Hemingway
Mac and Will become best friends despite the fact that Mac is an apple and Will is a worm. The other apples in the orchard say that Mac is a bad apple for being friends with Will. Will thinks Mac would be better off without him, but Mac would rather be a bad apple than a sad one.
RESPONSIBLE DECISION MAKING
The Lion and the Mouse by Jerry Pinkney
This is a particularly interesting “read” with a child since there are no words – only illustrations. Give your child the opportunity to narrate the story and see how they advance the events and interpret the pictures. A lion spares a mouse by not eating him when he encounters him. The mouse promises to help him one day. The lion laughs off his offer figuring he is too small to contribute. But when the lion gets caught in a hunter’s net, the mouse chews the rope and sets him free.
The Snail and the Whale by Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler
This delightful rhyming tale is about the unlikely friendship and adventures of a snail and whale. When the whale’s life is threatened, the tiny snail uses a unique attribute to attract attention and enlist help to save the whale.
The Day Leo Said I HATE YOU! by Robie H. Harris, Illustrated by Molly Bang
All day Leo’s mom had been telling him “NO!” to everything that he did. Leo gets so angry that he tells his mom, “I HATE YOU!” Mommy does a great job letting Leo know that it’s ok to say you hate certain things, but saying it to people hurts feelings.
Juvenile Fiction (7-12 Year Olds)
Minnie McClary Speaks her Mind
by Margaret Peterson Haddix
Ten year old Minnie is trying to figure out who she is. Her teacher is encouraging students to write about themselves in a journal and discusses the many sometimes controversial ways individuals are different. Minnie begins to gain confidence and ask critical questions about herself and others when her teacher is suspended. Now a whole new set of questions are raised about why she would be suspended and what Minnie really believes about her teacher and herself.
The Reinvention of Bessica Lefter
by Kristen Tracy
Before the school year begins, eleven year old Bessica Lefter wants to reinvent herself but her plans for a new identity fall apart. She loses her best friend and doesn’t know how to make other friends. This is a comical look at a girl who is trying to leave her primary school self behind to transition into her middle school self with the start of sixth grade but feels confused, unheard and misunderstood.
Anyway: A Story About Me with 138 Footnotes, 27 Exaggerations and 1 Plate of Spaghetti
by Arthur Salm
At summer camp, twelve year old Max reinvents himself as daring and fearless. He comes home to return to school, his friends and his life and realizes that the fun he had over the summer was at the expense of others’ feelings. He acted like a bully and now, cannot be as risky with his friends at home. Max tries to figure what kind of person he really wants to be.
Malcolm at Midnight
by W.H. Beck
Malcolm, a smaller than average rat, loves life at school and the secret society of classroom pets that keep children out of trouble. But the kids and adults view the rats as trouble. When an iguana disappears, Malcolm must use all of his persistence to prove his innocence and save her.
Magic Tree House Series
by Mary Pope Osborne
Illustrated by Salvatore Murdocca
This is an excellent introduction for 6-8 year olds to the world of chapter books. The stories offer grand adventures for a sister and brother traveling through time and space through a magical tree house and encountering places, cultures, historical events, mythologies and creatures throughout the world. There are 53 books in the series.
by R.J. Palacio
A boy was born with a facial deformity that prevented him from going to a mainstream school until now. He attempts to convince his new classmates that he’s just an ordinary kid with an extraordinary face.
by Andrew Clements
The noisy fifth grade boys of Laketon Elementary School challenge the equally loud fifth grade girls to a “no talking” contest. Communication is the social and emotional skill topic explored here.
by Judy Blume
The main character goes along with the rest of the fifth grade class in tormenting a classmate and then finds out what it’s like when she also becomes a target.
The Liberation of Gabriel King
by K.L. Going
In Georgia in 1976, Gabriel, a bullied white boy, and Frita, an African-American girl facing prejudice, decide to overcome their fears together as they enter the fifth grade.
by Jerry Spinelli
“Crash” Coogan has always been aggressive, until his relationship with a Quaker boy and his grandfather’s stroke help him consider the meaning of friendship and family.
by Patricia Reilly Giff
This book explores issues of honesty and integrity. When a girl cannot think of a discovery during Discovery Week at school, she makes up a story but finds she cannot keep pretending it’s true.
Young Adult Fiction (13-17 years old)
To Kill A Mockingbird
By Harper Lee
A coming-of-age story set in the South. A young girl views a world of great beauty and savage inequities as her lawyer father risks everything to defend a black man unjustly accused of a terrible crime. This book has become an essential read and a rite of passage for teenagers in the U.S.
Of Mice and Men
By John Steinbeck
Migrant farm workers, George and Lennie travel to work on a new farm but have dreams of owning their own. Theirs is a complex friendship in which they seem dependent upon one another though George denies it. Lennie has a mild learning disability and sometimes crushes animals in his large hands when loving them too much. George and Lennie face difficult decisions in their new environment and ultimately face destruction of one another. This book raises critical conversations about the role of friendship, about responsible decision making and about the pitfalls of interdependence.
The Grapes of Wrath
By John Steinbeck
Set in the Great Depression, this is the story of the Joad family who are forced to move from their Oklahoma farm to work in California. The family must work in a labor camp with unsanitary and inhumane conditions without water, shelter or bathrooms in order to survive. This novel paints a vivid picture of the conflict between the powerful and the powerless. The Joad family demonstrates their strength in the face of significant societal injustices.
Lord of the Flies
By William Golding
What happens when a group of typical young boys are stranded on an island? At first, the boys view the opportunity as great fun. But survival takes priority quickly and life on the island turns into savage conflict and terror. As normal standards of behavior are forgotten, the boys prior life and known experience is shattered and another primitive existence becomes their world.
A Separate Peace
By John Knowles
Set at a boys’ boarding school in New England during the early years of World War II, this coming of age story deals with the angst of teenagers straddling youthful innocence but discovering adult problems and feelings. The story is ultimately about a friendship between two boys who support one another but also betray each other’s trust.
By Ray Bradbury
Bradbury depicts a future dystopia in which television takes over and literature is nearly extinct. In this world, the job of firemen is to destroy the printed book, along with the houses in which they are hidden. When a fireman begins to question everything, he starts hiding books in his home. And when his actions are discovered, the fireman has to run for his life. This book raises important issues including the role of literature and censorship.
By Lois Lowry
The haunting story centers on twelve-year-old Jonas, who lives in a world of contented conformity. Society attempts to control who procreates and how many children are born per couple in addition to giving each child a “life assignment.” Not until Jonas is given his own assignment does he begin to understand the dark, complex secrets behind his community. This book raises important discussions about questioning rules and authority and understanding the purpose behind decisions.
By J.R.R. Tolkien
An adventurous tale of the journey of one wizard and several dwarves including, the reluctant Bilbo Baggins. They go on a mission to take back the Lonely Mountain from a dangerous dragon. On their journey, they find a magic ring that holds great danger and tremendous power. They must work together to complete their mission and return home to the Shire.
Catcher in the Rye
By J.D. Salinger
Holden Caulfield is a patient in a mental hospital who reflects upon the events when he was a teenager that forever changed his life. Telling stories of expulsion, sexuality and betrayal, he looks back on a weekend and the people that he misses that were a part of that moment in time. This coming of age story dives into the psyche of a teenage boy and deals with the many confusing and complex issues that are so often a part of straddling the transition from childhood to adulthood and being exposed to grown-up problems.
A Tree Grows in Brooklyn
By Betty Smith
The coming of age story of ten year old Francie Nolan takes place at the turn of the century in the slums of Brooklyn. Francie, both a dreamer and a practical planner, tries to understand her family members and community around her through the laughter and sorrow. This book examines the effects of poverty on family life with dynamic characters that ring true. Not only does this book raise important discussions about the role of money in our lives, but it also deals with family connectedness.
By S.E. Hinton
This story focuses on two teen cliques that battle one another primarily because of their class differences. In one of the fights, the kids lose control and one boy dies. The narrator, a boy in one of the groups, dives into confusing relationships with friends and enemies and tries to understand the injustices taking place. Ultimately, he has to decide where his allegiance lies and what he believes to be right.
By Gary Paulsen
While his parents are going through a divorce, Brian takes off on a flight to visit his father. The pilot, while showing him how to fly, experiences a heart attach and dies mid-air. The plane crashes and Brian is alone in the Canadian wilderness. His mother had given him a hatchet as a present, his only tool to use to keep him alive. Meanwhile, he is mentally consumed by a secret that his mother had an affair. He quickly has to pull himself together in order to fight his way back to civilization and survive.
Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
By Mark Twain
This classic story involves the high stakes adventure of an abused runaway boy and slave while rowing down the Great Mississippi River. The rich characters and lively obstacles they encounter create the forefront of a delightful story that illuminates the underlying social justice themes of class, race, enslavement, the role of society, human rights and more.
By Orson Scott Card
The government decides to breed child geniuses as soldiers to fight hostile aliens who have already attacked once in preparation for their return. The story focuses on the Wiggin family with three children, Peter, Andrew “Ender” and sister Valentine. Peter and Valentine were candidates for the military training program but ultimately, Ender is selected to be trained as an anti-alien fighter. This challenge will test his courage, beliefs and self-identity.
The Boy in the Striped Pajamas
By John Boyne
Set in Berlin in 1942, Bruno’s father receives a promotion and the family must move to a desolate place. There are hundreds of others but they live beyond a fence and all seem to wear the same striped pajamas. Though Bruno doesn’t know what his father does for a living, he is curious about life beyond the fence and meets a boy of similar age, Schmuel, who tells him about his life within the fence. Their secret friendship helps Bruno understand and empathize with the world beyond the fence. This powerful story depicts the horrors of Nazi Germany and the concentration camps from a fresh perspective and one in which teens will learn much about the injustices that took place and the complex roles and feelings of those involved.
The Book Thief
By Markus Zusak
Set in Munich in 1939, Leslie is a foster girl living with her foster father, a street musician. Death narrates the story and takes her younger brother. Leslie steals a first book before she can read from which her foster father reads to her every night to comfort her and prevent nightmares of her brother’s death. She can’t resist stealing more, learns to read and shares her treasured books with neighbors during bombing raids and with the Jewish man hidden in her basement. She continues to learn about the role of death in the world around her.
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time
By Mark Haddon
Christopher is a 15 year old boy with autism. He knows all the countries of the world and their capitals and every prime number up to 7,057. He can relate well with animals. But he has no understanding of human emotions. Christopher decides to investigate the death of his neighbor’s dog and uncover the secrets in his neighbor. In addition to better understanding the heart and mind of a child with autism, this story paints a picture of an individual with a fresh, wholly different perspective on average events.
By Louis Sachar
Stanley feels his is part of a long-running family curse. He has been unjustly sent to a boys’ detention center, Camp Green Lake. The boys are required to dig holes everyday to “build character” but Stanley suspects there is a darker reason behind the hole digging. The adults are punitive and secretive at the camp. Stanley tries to uncover the truth along with friends and enemies he meets along the way. This book raises questions about the roles of crime and punishment and what makes a difference in kids’ behavior.