8 Kids Books That Use Animals to Teach Social-Emotional Learning

Jan 3, 2023 11:32:00 AM / by Beaming Books


Whether at home or in the classroom, it's important that we equip kids with the tools they need to thrive in every aspect of their lives. One way we can achieve this is through an emphasis on social-emotional learning (SEL). SEL is the process of developing important social and emotional skills, like how to identify and manage emotions, feel and show empathy, and make responsible and caring decisions, just to name a few.

The Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL) lists five broad and interrelated areas of SEL competence: 

  • Self-awareness
  • Self-management
  • Social awareness
  • Relationship skills
  • Responsible decision-making

While these can be difficult to teach to kids, especially at a young age, books allow kids to process these concepts in an age-appropriate and fun way. All the books below use animals to teach important lessons on topics like grief, trauma, consent, friendship, and more. We've also included the CASEL areas for each title to help you incorporate these into your home, school, or library. When kids thrive, we all thrive.



One Small Thing

Marsha Diane Arnold

After Raccoon's home burns down in a lightning storm, his friends don't know what they can do to help. Squirrel, Beaver, Mouse, Badger, and Rabbit all go back to their own homes, trying to focus on something other than Raccoon's tragedy. But each animal discovers one small thing they can do for Raccoon—and it turns out that each small act may not be so small after all. One Small Thing is a gentle and powerful look at how small actions can make a big impact.

Age: Early grades (5–8 years)

CASEL areas: Social awareness; Relationship skills

Publication date: May 9, 2023

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Sparrow's Prayer

Roger Hutchison

Sparrow wakes each morning, ready to sing a prayer of thanksgiving. But not today. Today his words get tangled and knotted in his beak like old yarn and straw. He feels sad and gray, and he's not sure why. So Sparrow decides to ask his friends Turtle, Mousie, and Buck for advice on how to pray. Each friend shows Sparrow a different way to pray without words, through generosity, art, and movement. As the day ends, Sparrow meditates on a rose aglow in the evening light and has an epiphany: Every living thing does what God created them to do. Each life is, itself, a prayer of thanksgiving. Lyrical and unique, Sparrow's Prayer is a tale about an unexpected and life-changing encounter with the holy.

Age: Early grades (5–8 years)

CASEL areas: Self-awareness; Self-management

Publication date: February 14, 2023

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Simon the Hugger

Stacy B. Davids

Simon the sloth loves to hug. He hugs plants. He hugs rocks. He hugs his friends. He even hugs himself! So when his best friend, Elsa the jaguar, and others around him start saying no to his hugs, he is crushed. Why wouldn't someone want to be hugged? After being rejected several times, he learns that both he and his friends need to want a hug at the same time so they both feel comfortable. Simon the Hugger, a lighthearted story about a lovable, huggable sloth, is a gentle introduction to the importance of receiving consent before offering physical affection to others, and respecting others' boundaries.

Age: Preschool (3–5 years); Early grades (5–8 years)

CASEL areas: Self-Management; Social awareness; Relationship skills

Publication date: November 1, 2022

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BB big bear was not the same flat

Big Bear Was Not the Same

Joanna Rowland

Little Bear loves the woods, his home, and going on adventures with his best friend, Big Bear. Then something scary happens to Big Bear. He's caught in a forest fire. Even after he escapes and is safe, Little Bear can tell that Big Bear is not the same. He runs, roars, or freezes in fear when ordinary things happen in the woods that remind him of that traumatic day. How can Little Bear's big, strong, brave friend be so scared now? And how can Little Bear be a good friend?

In Big Bear Was Not the Same, Joanna Rowland, author of the bestelling book The Memory Box, gently introduces young readers to the common feelings of fear, anxiety, and anger that can follow a traumatic event, and shows them how to have empathy and compassion for themselves and for loved ones experiencing the effects of trauma.

Big Bear Was Not the Same includes backmatter written by a family therapist with information on how to talk about trauma with children.

Age: Preschool (3–5 years); Early Grade (5–8 years)

CASEL areas: Self-awareness; Social awareness; Relationship skills

Publication date: August 24, 2021

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Little Mole Goes to School

Glenys Nellist

It's Little Mole's first day of school, and he's nervous. What if he is the last to know his alphabet? What if he's not good at anything? With a good bit of anxiety, Little Mole heads to class and begins to compare himself to his peers. How will he ever measure up? But soon a crisis on the playground reveals that he has everything he needs in his own two paws to save the day.

In this third installment of the Little Mole series, author Glenys Nellist and illustrator Sally Garland spin another endearing tale of the beloved Little Mole, his encouraging mama, and his forest friends. Children will relate to Little Mole's feelings of self-doubt, will cheer him on when he discovers his unique gifts and talents, and will be inspired to confront their own insecurities and celebrate what they have to offer, too.

Download the free Little Mole Goes to School activity pack for kids to continue learning with Little Mole!

Age: Preschool (3–5 years); Early Grade (5–8 years)

CASEL areas: Self-awareness; Self-management

Publication date: July 26, 2022

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Little Mole Finds Hope

Little Mole Finds Hope

Glenys Nellist

When Little Mole is feeling sad in his dark, underground home, his mother shows him how to look for hope. He finds that signs of spring are everywhere, from the daffodil bulbs under the soil to the tiny buds on the branches above. Hope can be found—even in the darkest places. In Little Mole Finds Hope, best-selling children's author Glenys Nellist and illustrator Sally Garland tell an endearing story sure to lift the spirits of people emerging from the cold of winter or a challenging season of life and inspire them to look for signs that spring will come again.

Download the free Little Mole Finds Hope activity pack for kids to continue the fun with Little Mole!

Age: Preschool (3–5 years); Early Grade (5–8 years)

CASEL areas: Self-awareness; Self-management

Publication date: February 4, 2020

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Squirrel's Sweater

Laura Renauld

Bear, Porcupine, and Doe are all ready to hunker down for winter, but not Squirrel. When she discovers that the sweater her grandma knit for her has shrunk, she doesn't know what to do! No amount of stretching or sewing or help from her friends seems to fix her favorite sweater. But perhaps it doesn't need to stay a sweater to remind her of her grandma and her friends? The colorful gang of woodland friends from Porcupine's Pie and Bear's Bicycle return to help Squirrel as she learns to navigate and accept change. 

Age: Preschool (3–5 years); Early Grade (5–8 years)

CASEL areas: Self-awareness; Self-management

Publication date: September 21, 2021

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Penguins Don't Wear Pink

Jeffrey Turner

Henry the penguin adores all things pink. Whether it's lemonade, a bicycle, or his favorite hat, Henry stays true to what he loves . . . until a schoolmate suggests that he looks ridiculous in his beloved pink hat. Peer pressure erodes his confidence, causing Henry to question himself. Although he wavers, Henry finds the strength to remain steadfast in embracing his love of pink regardless of what other penguins may say. He learns that everyone will have an opinion about his choices, but they can't control his self-expression. Ultimately, in learning to be true to himself, Henry finds friends who accept him for who he is.

Age: Early grades (5–8 years)

CASEL areas: Self-awareness; Self-management

Publication date: August 9, 2022

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