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 individuality. Most of the books are part of my Starts With a Story collection. Only One You, Thelma the Unicorn, Elmer and The Story of Ferdinand are also part of our individuality SEL Unit, which includes interactive read aloud lesson plans among tons of other resources for teaching individuality. Check out the list of books below!
10 Picture Books about Individuality
Below are 10 quality picture books about individuality for elementary teachers. Your kids will love these read alouds! They are great for teaching individuality, as well as many other concepts and skills.
1. Only One You by Linda Kranz
Adri’s mama and papa share the wisdom they have learned as fish in the big ocean over all their years. They tell Adri about how there is only one you, and it is vital that we make our own mark in the world. This story lends itself to individuality because Adri learns that he is unique and special in his own ways. My Individuality SEL bundle includes an SEL lesson based on this picture book!
2. Thelma the Unicorn by Aaron Blabey
Thelma is a horse who so badly wants to be a unicorn. One day she sees a carrot and puts it on her head like a horn and a passing truck spills pink paint and glitter all over her. She looks like a unicorn and becomes famous, and at first, she loves the stardom. However, soon Thelma realizes that pretending to be a unicorn isn’t as good as it seems. People start chasing her everywhere and won’t leave her alone, and some even say mean things about her. She becomes very lonely and decides to go back home to Otis. Thelma realizes that it is better to stay true to herself than pretend to be somebody else. My Individuality SEL bundle includes an SEL lesson based on this picture book!
3. Elmer by David McKee
Elmer is not elephant colored, he is patchwork. So when Elmer goes to a berry bush, he gets the idea to cover himself with the juice. But will this help him fit in with the others? This story is a great resource for teaching individuality as students learn that it is important to be yourself, appreciate your uniqueness, and celebrate diversity. My Individuality SEL bundle includes an SEL lesson based on this picture book!
4. The Story of Ferdinand by Munro Leaf
Ferdinand was a small bull who was different than all the other bulls. He preferred to sit quietly under a tree and smell the flowers. Bull fighters mistook him for a fierce and strong bull, as he was stung by a bee and butting around. After bringing him to Madrid to fight, they realized he would not fight. Ferdinand was able to return to his happy place by the trees and flowers. This story teaches the message of accepting who you are, even if you are different. Ferdinand was true to himself, and this story shows readers that they can be, too! My Individuality SEL bundle includes an SEL lesson based on this picture book!
5. A Color of His Own by Leo Lionni
The fifth on this list of picture books about individuality is A Color of His Own. In this book, All animals have their own color, except chameleons. He meets an older chameleon and asks if they will ever have a color of their own. The older chameleon suggests that the two stay together forever. Although they will change color, they will always be the same color as each other. This causes the chameleons to live a much happier life. Students can learn about what makes chameleons unique, why they are special, and how their individuality sets them apart from the rest of the animal kingdom! Check out these A Color of His Own activities!
6. Chopsticks by Amy Krouse Rosenthal
Chopsticks have always been best friends and they do everything together- that’s how it has always been. In fact, their friends can’t even think of a time they weren’t together. When they were practicing new culinary tricks, there was an accident and Chopstick snapped. The doctor told him he would need to stay off his leg for a while. At first, the two remained side by side as always. After some time though, he told his friend to venture off on his own and tell him all about the experience. They learned many new things they enjoyed doing together, like painting, playing music, and drawing. This story tells of the importance of creating and fostering your own identity, as it can make friendships even stronger! Check out these Chopsticks book activities!
7. 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 illustrations come to life, showing all that the Chinese culture has overcome and celebrated. This book emphasizes the importance of identity, culture, and being true to your own values. Check out these Eyes that Speak to the Stars activities!
8. A Bad Case of Stripes by David Shannon
Camilla worries a lot about what people think of her. This is why she won’t eat her favorite food, lima beans. Camilla is horrified when she is picking out her first day of school outfit, and develops stripes all over her body. By the end, when Camilla eats the beans, her stripes go away! This silly story reminds students about the importance of being authentic to yourself, your interests, and your passions. Check out these A Bad Case of Stripes activities!
9. Under My Hijab by Hena Khan
Readers are introduced to many of the important women in a young girl’s life: her grandmother, mother, aunt, sister, cousin and troop leader. Each of these women wear a hijab and style it their own unique way when they are out and about. When they are at home, we learn what their hair is like under the hijab and what they like to do. At the end of the story, the girl shares how all of the women in the story inspire her to wear a hijab just like them, or her own unique way. This story lends itself to teaching about individuality as although the women are wearing similar hijabs outside, their lives, interests, and personalities are all unique. Check out these Under My Hijab activities!
10. Bippity Bop Barbershop by Natasha Anastasia Tarpley
Miles is about to get his first haircut at Mr. Seymour’s Barbershop. Miles is amazed by all the different people, noises, and hairstyles at the barbershop, and gets scared when the buzzers get too close to his head. Miles’s Daddy helps him be brave by telling him to think of being giant and superheroes. Miles thinks of his dad instead, and is able to get a haircut he loves. This heartwarming story tells about how each person’s haircut is different, representing an outward trait of individuality. Check out these Bippity Bop Barbershop activities!
Integrated SEL and Literacy Activities
Below are some integrated SEL and literacy resources for elementary teachers.
Our Individuality 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!
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. Many of the read alouds on this list are part of this book companion collection. Check out the book companions below!
In closing, we hope you found this list of picture books about individuality helpful! If you did, then you may also be interested in these posts: