When we teach social skills through literature, we help students understand themselves and their social world. As a result, they really do lead better lives! Here are four picture books and two chapter books that, when read aloud, promote meaningful social skills discussions.
Chrysanthemum by Kevin Henkes — Name Calling and Empathy
This well-loved book about a young mouse named Chrysanthemum, whose classmates make fun of her name, opens the door to classroom discussions about the damage of name calling. Yes, mean words do hurt, and students learn empathy through this book.
Enemy Pie by Derek Munson — Friendship and Inclusion
When we get to know our enemies, they may become friends. A resourceful, smart father tells his son he will bake Enemy Pie and feed it to Jeremy Ross, his son’s enemy, if the two boys first spend one whole day together. The boys become friends and the main character has second thoughts about serving Enemy Pie. In addition to inclusion and friendship, this book explores the role of adults as problem-solving resources.
A Walk in the Rain with a Brain by Edward Hallowell — Multiple Intelligences and Learning Differences
The premise, a brain that loses its head, may seem goofy to an adult, but the rhyming cadence and colorful illustrations communicate to children. A mean brain tries to rule all the other brains by shouting, “Let’s make up a test!” A wiser voice advocates that children develop their own unique strengths through play and experimentation. Building on strengths and accepting learning differences are also lessons in this book. In the back is a note to parents and teachers and a discussion guide. This has been my favorite book for the first day of school ever since I discovered it. In fact, I keep a paraphrased sign up all year, “All brains are different. No brain is best. Each brain finds its own special way.”
Little Blue and Little Yellow by Leo Lionni — Tolerance and Acceptance
This children’s classic addresses racial differences between families who live in the same neighborhood. Its abstract illustrations clearly communicate tolerance and acceptance to young readers in a way that realism would not. The children who bring their families together are the heroes in this story.
Poppy by Avi — Bullies and Weakness
So often when we discuss bullies we condemn them without ever talking about their inner lives and motivations. Mr. Ocax, a predatory great horned owl, is the villain in Poppy by Avi. He embodies fear, anxiety, and ignorance, three characteristics of bullies. As students explore these traits they develop confidence to stand up to bullies. Students recognize bullying for what it is, an act of desperation by a weak, frightened individual.
The Tale of Despereaux by Kate DiCamillo — Good and Evil Impulses
Despereaux, a mouse, is the hero, but Roscuro, a misguided rat, is an equally interesting, complex character. Roscuro is like us because he embodies the potential for good and evil that’s in us all. Middle grade students will have enlightening conversations about how Roscuro’s personality traits and actions apply to their lives. Kate DiCamillo’s newer novel, The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane, about the power of love to transform us, is a springboard for equally deep thought and conversation.