10 Picture Books about Emotions for Elementary Students in 2023

One of my favorite teaching strategies is using picture books to teach SEL skills. Picture books are powerful tools that make social emotional learning topics fun and meaningful. They are also very accessible. Even if you don’t have a robust collection of high quality children’s literature in your classroom library, you likely have access to books through your school library, public library, or on the internet. The best part is that students love listening to and discussing stories about relatable characters and storylines. They learn so much from them! In this post, I share my favorite picture books for teaching emotions. Most of the books are part of my Starts With a Story collection. Big Feelings, Where the Wild Things Are, The Pout Pout Fish and Grumpy Monkey are part of our emotions SEL Unit, which includes interactive read aloud lesson plans among tons of other resources for teaching emotions. Check out the list of children’s picture books about emotions below!

10 Picture Books about Emotions

Below are 10 quality emotions children’s books for elementary teachers. Your kids will love these read alouds! They are great for teaching emotions, as well as many other concepts and skills.

1. Big Feelings by Alexandra Penfold

It can be so frustrating when things do not go as planned! People may feel angry, mad, nervous, or even scared. This story teaches readers about how talking about our feelings, compromising, and seeing another person’s point of view can help us stay calm and flexible. My Emotions SEL bundle includes an SEL lesson based on this picture book!

The Boy With the Big Big Feelings book coverWhere the Wild Things are book cover

2. Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak

When a young boy is rude to his mother, he is sent to his room without dinner. Suddenly, his room turns into the woods, and he is surrounded by wild things. By the end, he misses his family and returns home, to a supper laid out for him. The setting makes a drastic change in the story, allowing students to see dreams from reality. This story lends itself to teaching about emotions because the boy is so frustrated he escapes reality by dreaming. When he is calm, he comes back to his bedroom and eats his supper. My Emotions SEL bundle includes an SEL lesson based on this picture book!

3. The Pout Pout Fish by Deborah Diesen

This story is about a glum fish that always has a pout on his face. Mr. Fish thinks that because he always has a pout on his face, he is meant to spread the “dreary-wearies” wherever he goes. That is, until a new fish comes along and changes his outlook. Students can compare Mr. Fish’s emotions before and after he learns what he truly can do to spread joy across the ocean! My Emotions SEL bundle includes an SEL lesson based on this picture book!

The Pout-Pout Fish book coverGrumpy Monkey activity

4. Grumpy Monkey by Suzanne Lang

Jim Panzee wakes up one morning feeling grumpy. He is very confused and doesn’t know why he feels this way. The other animals in the jungle try to cheer him up, but Jim keeps insisting that he is not grumpy. Eventually, the other animals push Jim too far trying to make him happy, and he explodes and runs off. It isn’t until he finally admits that he is feeling grumpy, that he begins to feel better. Children will love hearing this funny book about identifying emotions and realizing that it is okay to be grumpy. My Emotions SEL bundle includes an SEL lesson based on this picture book!

5. The Little Red Hen by Paul Galdone

The fifth book on this list of picture books about emotions is The Little Red Hen. In a small, cozy house lived a dog, cat, mouse, and hen. While the other animals rested, the hen had to do all of the housework. After she did all the work to bake a cake, the other animals wanted a piece. She told them that since they did not help, they do not get to eat it. From that day on, whenever there were chores to do, all of the animals worked together. This story shows characters feeling a range of emotions, from lazy and tired, to jealous and angry. Students will be able to practice labeling the feelings of characters as they read! Check out these The Little Red Hen activities!

The Little Red Hen book and activitySaturday book and activity

6. Saturday by Oge Mora

After Ava’s mother worked all week, it was finally Saturday! She looked forward to spending this time with her mom. Problem after problem arises, and Ava’s mom breaks down, feeling defeated. Ava reminded her that the most important thing about Saturday was that they were together. This story shows a range of emotions as the characters show excitement, frustration, and love. Together with the characters, we are reminded that experiencing emotions are normal and we can support each other through them! Check out these Saturday activities!

7. Nobody Hugs a Cactus by Carter Goodrich

Sitting on a windowsill in a hot desert lived Hank the Cactus. Hank seemed to be just as prickly on the inside as he was on the outside. One night, he realized how lonely his life is when he gets something stuck in his prickers, but no one is around to help. This story teaches students what it feels like to be lonely, and then how it feels to meet a new friend. Check out these Nobody Hugs a Cactus activities!

Nobody Hugs a Cactus book coverMel Fell book cover

8. Mel Fell by Corey R. Tabor

Mel was not going to let being scared stop her from learning to fly today! As she dropped, she tried to spread her wings but she could not fly. She kept falling- passing the squirrels, the spiders, and the snails. She landed in the water, where suddenly, she flapped her wings. She jumped out of the water, with a fish in her mouth, flying! Reuniting with her family, they celebrated her resiliency and success. This story will make readers feel a wide range of emotions as we see this baby bird learn to fly! Check out these Mel Fell activities!

9. Eyes that Speak to the Stars by Joanna Ho

One day, a young boy did not run to his dad when he picked him up, like he usually does. When asked what was wrong, the boy shares that a friend drew a picture of him with straight lines for eyes. His father then shares the importance of this generational trait, as the eyes speak to the stars and make them visionary. The boy becomes less upset and more proud as his father talks with him. This story lends itself to teaching about emotions as students can be reminded that talking with someone can help us understand how and why we feel a certain way. Check out these Eyes that Speak to the Stars activities!

Eyes that Speak to the Stars book and activitiesMilk and Juice book cover

10. Milk and Juice: A Recycling Romance by Meredith Crandall Brown

The last book on this list of picture books about emotions is Milk and Juice: A Recycling Romance. Once upon a time, there lived a Milk jug and a bottle of Juice in a refrigerator. They kept each other cold on warm nights and provided great company. That is… until the bottle was empty! Students will see Milk and Juice go through many emotions as the bottle is remade into a variety of plastic items. She feels heartbroken, alone, upset, resilient, and fearful. At the end, Juice is thrilled to be reunited with its true love, Milk. Check out these Milk and Juice activities!

Integrated SEL and Literacy Activities

Below are some integrated SEL and literacy resources for elementary teachers.

SEL Unit

Our Emotions Unit, which is available individually or as part of a year-long SEL bundle, includes lessons for the first four books on this list. This unit is packed with lesson plans, teaching resources, games, and activities. Learn more about it!

Emotions SEL Unit
Social Emotional Learning Units Bundle

SEL Book Companions

As I mentioned earlier, I love teaching SEL skills using picture books. That’s why I created the Starts With a Story Collection. High quality children’s literature supports elementary teachers in delivering meaningful and accessible SEL lessons. All of the read alouds on this list are part of this book companion collection. Check out the book companions below!

The Boy with the Big Big FeelingsWhere the Wild Things AreThe Pout Pout FishGrumpy MonkeyThe Little Red Hen
SaturdayNobody Hugs a CactusMel FellEyes that Speak to the StarsMilk and Juice

We hope you found this list of picture books about emotions helpful! If you did, then you may also be interested in these posts:

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Winter Opinion Writing FREEBIE!

Grab this freebie and engage your students in a fun seasonal activity. It’s a great way to practice opinion writing.