Picture Books that Support Social and Emotional Learning: Identity and Agency

Has your school adopted or created a social and emotional learning (SEL) framework? If so, are you wondering how to integrate SEL in the school library?

If you answered “yes” to both questions, I have an idea for you. Read the book All Learning Is Social and Emotional: Helping Students Develop Essential Skills for the Classroom and Beyond. This book guides readers to integrate SEL throughout the day in any class setting. Examples help readers see SEL in action.

There are five different SEL themes in the book. The appendix includes a resource guide with recommended picture books and chapter books. These titles provide readers with models to discuss and practice social-emotional skills.

The structure of All Learning Is Social and Emotional is great for group discussions. Reflection questions help readers think about integrating SEL in their lessons.

A group of AASL members are discussing the book. In our first meeting, we explored the SEL themes of identity and agency. The authors of the book explain that when learners have a sense of identity and agency, they:

  • can identify their strengths
  • are self-confident
  • believe in themselves
  • have a growth mindset
  • have resiliency (Frey et al. 2019)

The book club discussed how SEL aligns with the AASL Standards. The Key Commitments point to themes like “problem solving” and “making meaning for oneself.” Learners can identify themselves as someone who can persevere when faced with challenges. Stories can foster discussions about these ideas. They help learners shape their own identities and develop a sense of agency.

Our discussion prompted us to share book titles that embody identity and agency. Here are a few of the titles we mentioned.

Red: A Crayon’s Story by Michael Hall

How does it feel when society labels you with an identity that doesn’t match who you are? Not good! In Red: A Crayon’s Story, a blue crayon is wearing a red label. He tries to live up to his red label, but disappoints everyone along the way, including himself. One day, a new crayon asks him to draw a blue ocean. He says he can’t because he’s red. When prompted to try, he does and finds that he can draw an ocean. He is blue! Once he discovers this, his life changes. He loves what he brings to the world, and his family and friends celebrate his identity.

Ambitious Girl by Meena Harris

Don’t let the world tell you who you are. Claim your own identity! Author Meena Harris noticed how people talked about ambitious women. It wasn’t good. Especially, if you were “too ambitious.” Harris recognizes ambition as a powerful trait. Her book illustrates how ambitious women impact the world and make a difference. She wants readers to embrace their identities and ignore negative labels.

I Am Every Good Thing by Derrick Barnes and Gordon C. James

Take a moment to write about how others would describe you. Now, write your own story. How would you describe yourself? Is it different than how others see you? How can you embrace your identity? Find out how the boys in I Am Every Good Thing identify themselves. The rich illustrations and poetic text will compel you to spend time getting to know each person. This beautiful book shares joyful stories of Black boys celebrating their identities.

Thao by Thao Lam

Thao is ready to change her name. She’s tired of everyone mispronouncing “Thao.” She begins to refer to herself as Jennifer. But will Jennifer appreciate Vietnamese food as much as Thao does? Readers with unfamiliar names will identify with Thao’s story. It can be distressing when others mispronounce your name. After the reading, encourage learners to consider why names are important. Create strategies for learners to pronounce unfamiliar names when meeting new people.

The Name Jar by Yangsook Choi

Are you familiar with The Name Jar? I bet you are. It’s a popular title. I found a video of the author/illustrator, Yangsook Choi, reading the book. She encourages viewers to create a self-portrait. Choi guides learners through a mindful art activity. She asks learners to think about their identities as they draw different facial features. It’s a valuable lesson and one worth doing with learners. Click here to watch “The Name Jar” on YouTube. 

Kamala and Maya’s Big Idea by Meena Harris

What does it looks like to have a sense of agency and work towards goals? In Kamala and Maya’s Big Idea, two sisters want a playground. They first ask adults to help, but they are not interested in the project. This does not stop the “per-sisters.” They gather friends and get to work. Soon, the neighbors chip in and raise money. Readers will see how young people can organize and get things done in this engaging story.

How to Solve a Problem: The Rise (and Falls) of a Rock-Climbing Champion by Ashima Shiraishi

Who smiles at problems? Rock climbers do! How to Solve a Problem is an inspirational story about an award-winning rock climber. Readers will appreciate learning how a teenager embraces problems when reaching goals. This is a great example of having the sense of agency to work for what you want.

Looking for more SEL themed picture books? Take a look at my Knowledge Quest blog post “Social and Emotional Picture Books for Face-to-Face Learning.” You may find some titles to help learners adjust to face-to-face learning.

A special thanks to my book discussion group! I enjoyed learning about integrating SEL in the library with you. Thank you JoAnn Diamond, Tiffany Clark, Laura Laures, Lori Donovan, Diane Konjura, and Aimee Guerrero. I’m excited about our next discussion!

What are your favorite picture books that embody agency and identity? Please share in the comment box below!

Work Cited:

Frey, Nancy, Douglas Fisher, and Dominique Smith. 2019. All Learning Is Social and Emotional: Helping Learners Develop Essential Skills for the Classroom and Beyond. ASCD.


Author: Maureen Schlosser

Author: Lessons Inspired by Picture Books for Primary Grades and Social and Emotional Learning for Picture Book Readers published by ALA Editions
Blogger: https://LibraryLessonsWithBooks.com
Skillshare Teacher: https://skl.sh/3a852D5

Categories: Blog Topics, Professional Development, Student Engagement/ Teaching Models

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