Smart, Sweet & Silly: 12 Must-Read Picture Books for Social Learning

Social Skills go beyond learning to share and be nice. More than memorizing social rules, true social skills are life skills. They help us expand our world view by being flexible and appreciating and respecting both ourselves and those around us. These are the behaviors that enable us to build meaningful relationships and form our social network so we can live a healthier, more fulfilling life.

Sharing the gift of a story is one of the first ways our children start thinking about the world around them. I remember many bedtimes laughing with my kids over the adventures of Elephant & Piggie in Mo Willem’s hilarious series. Those characters represent the trials and tribulations of life of a 4-8 year old with their playful interactions, curiosity, and affection for one another. Books, especially picture books for toddlers and early readers, are great influences on our kids as we they tend to be read over and over again.

Similar to how I facilitate social skills groups, I prefer not to have books or lessons preach at me or my kids. I really believe it’s important for us parents and educators to provide support but let our kids self-reflect, think critically and come to their own conclusions.

I know you will love the following book selections (targeted for preschool to about 2nd grade) that get right to the heart of three critical social-emotional components, Self-Esteem, Self-Regulation and Perspective Taking. They are all visually captivating, fun and extremely memorable!


A healthy self-esteem gives our kids the ability to self-advocate for themselves and be proud of who they are. Confident kids are comfortable in their own skin and don’t feel they need to change in order to measure up to their peers.

  • Be Who You Are by Todd Pharr: Short, sweet and straight-forward verses accompanied in true Todd Pharr style of happy vibrant colors, this book is all about being proud of being you. The statements can also serve as positive affirmations for kids to practice saying to themselves.
  • Love the World by Todd Pharr: This is another bright and engaging Todd Pharr book that makes you feel great about yourself and the world around you. Love all the things that make you, you. “Your hair, your flair” You can’t help but feel energized and happy after reading.
  • Spoon by Annie Krouse Rosenthral and Scott Magoon: Spoon tackles the common (mis)conception that others have it so much better than we do in a delightfully witty way. Fortunately, after comparing himself to the all the other utensils, Spoon realizes he’s special after all.
  • Red: A Crayon's Story by Michale Hall: One of my all-time favorite books, this one brings me near tears every time I read it. It’s a book about finding who you are and being true to yourself despite your pre-determined label and all the well-intentioned advice your friends and family may give out.

Body Awareness & Self-Regulation

Self-Regulation is the power to take control of your body and manage our thoughts and emotions. So much of this power can be attributed to the way we breath. I love that this is now becoming more and more mainstream in our kids’ lives.

  • Puppy Mind by Andrew Jordan Nance: This book is absolutely adorable. It draws the comparison of the little mind and behavior of a sweet, active puppy to a sweet, active child. Using this relatable analogy, it validates that it’s often really hard to sit and be still (mentally and physically). At the same time, it lets kids know that by being patient and breathing, they can learn to take some control over their puppy minds.
  • Peaceful Piggy Meditation by Kerry Lee MacLean: It seems no matter how hard we try to schedule things well, prepare ahead of time, and not let our stressors affect our kids, our kids pick up and internalize stress around them. Peaceful Piggy is a wonderful example of how our kiddos can be peaceful piggies by finding a special place to calm their minds and focus on their breath.
  • Listening to My Body by Gabi Garcia: This book helps kids understand how the state of their physical body affects their feelings. I love the experiential component where it asks the reader to practice along by feeling their heartbeat after jumping up and down. It helps kids see their body is something positive and something they can come to understand.
  • My Magic Breath: Find Calm through Mindful Breathing by Nick Ortner: I find the use of the word “My” in the title very empowering. It ties in how breathing affects mood and feelings.

Perspective Taking

Perspective Taking is critical to build social flexibility. When kids (or adults!) are not socially flexible, they get upset easily and don’t understand the actions of their peers. They not only act out towards others but they miss out on new experiences.

  • Duck! Rabbit! by Annie Krouse Rosenthral: This is such a fun book! On each page, depending on how you look at it, the picture is either a duck or a rabbit. It’s fun debating what you see and having lively discussions on the reasons why.
  • In My Opinion by Deb Bird: When our kids are young, they sometimes are genuinely taken aback when others don’t have the same opinion as them. This is a cute story of a little girl who is sure her thoughts are the right ones. She comes to learn that it’s OK to disagree which is something most adults also need to work on!
  • A Squash and a Squeeze by Julia Donaldson: Julia Donaldson is one of my personal favorite children’s authors. The sing-song verses bring us a tale of old woman who thought her house was too small until she realized she needed to look at it differently.
  • They All Saw A Cat by Brendan Wenzel: We can all see the same thing but how we see it depends on our unique perspectives. This clever book makes that point crystal clear with its illustrations depicting how each character in the book sees the cat.

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