SEL; Social awareness in pictue books








In the first blog post of this series,  I looked at the definition of Social-Emotional Learning (SEL) and its five components according to CASEL 5.  So far, two components are discussed:

  1. Self-awareness link
  2. Self-management link

This blog post is about the third basic element in SEL: social awareness.

What is social awareness?

According to CASEL 5, social awareness defines as (reference):

The abilities to understand the perspectives of and empathize with others, including those from diverse backgrounds, cultures, and contexts. This includes the capacities to feel compassion for others, understand broader historical and social norms for behavior in different settings, and recognize family, school, and community resources and supports.

Which topics do belong to Social awareness?

  1. Perspective-talking
  2. Empathy and compassion
  3. Expressing gratitude
  4. Appreciating diversity
  5. Identifying social norms and demands
  6. Sense of belonging

Let’s review them one by one and look at some picture books in each category.


Perspective-taking takes place when an individual views a situation from another’s point of view. 

A good book for younger readers is They all saw a cat (2016) by Brendan Wenzel. The illustrations show that different animals and a boy, each, see the cat differently.

They all saw a cat

A brilliant example is XO, Exoplanet (2021) by Deborah Underwood and Jorge Lacera. 

XO, planet

Planets in the solar system spot another planet and write a letter to it. They call it an exoplanet because it doesn’t rotate around the Sun. The exoplanet doesn’t get the point, because it was rotating around its sun and there is no reason to be called an exoplanet. They exchange more letters and get angrier at each other! In the end, a comet solves the problem by telling:

They are all right. It all depends on how you look at things.


Empathy and compassion

One of the stories I never forget with the theme of empathy is Four Feet, Two Sandals (2007) by Karen Lynn Williams, Khadra Mohammad, and Doug Chayka (Illustrator). This is the story of two Afghani girls, living in a refugee camp in Pakistan and how they react when they were given only one pair of sandals. It is heartbreaking and at the same so beautiful to see the power of friendship and humanity in dreadful situations.

Two sandals, four feet

Another example is I Walk with Vanessa: A Picture Book Story About a Simple Act of Kindness (2018) by Kerascoet. It’s a wordless story about standing together against bullying. Such a powerful message!

I walk with Venessa


Another humorous, yet strong message, is Hey, Little Ant  (1998) by Phillip Hoose, Hannah Hoose, and Debbie Tilley (Illustrator). The book consists of the conversation between a boy and an ant.

Hey, little ant


Expressing gratitude

Plenty of picture books have been published on gratitude and thankfulness. This blog post listed more than 40 of them. Most books on this subject are concept books: they explain a concept for children.

Picture books with stories, in which a Narrative Structure and a Character Arc exist, aren’t many though. One example is When Grandma Gives You a Lemon Tree (2019) by Jamie L. B. Deenihan and Lorraine Rocha. As the title indicates, the story is about a grandma who gives a lemon tree to her granddaughter who had asked for a new gadget. The story begins with an unhappy granddaughter. Throughout the story, she learns that happiness doesn’t come with possessions but in with sharing small things with others. A perfect Character Arc!


When Grandma gives you a lemon Tree


Another story example is Last Stop on Market Street (2015) by Matt de la Peña and Christian Robinson. The start of the story is with a boy whose focus is on what the doesn’t have. Why don’t we go by car? etc. Throughout the story, his grandmother shows him things to be thankful for.

Last stop on market street


Appreciating diversity

One of the best examples I found is Why Am I Me? (2017) by Paige Britt and Selina Alko (Illustrator) andSean Qualls (Illustrator). It discusses the concept that each of us is different than others. The book evokes thinking in children, rather than telling them a story. Why am I me?


I cannot find any other title for this category. If you know any, please let me know in the comments. 

Identifying social norms and demands

I couldn’t find any title for this theme. 

Sense of belonging

We Belong (2022) by Laura Purdie Salas and Carlos Vélez Aguilera is a picture book recently published on this theme. It discusses the concept of feeling belonging, in spite of all diversities and differences. We Belong



Another example is The Day You Begin (2018) by Jacqueline Woodson and Rafael López. 

The day you begin


Most of the books on this theme are concept books, not stories. Also, recent titles are not many. Here I found some examples published years ago.

This topic is very relevant and needed for immigrants and refugee children. I say this as an immigrant who still doesn’t feels belong to the host country. After 15 years, still, this is an unresolved issue for me and I can assume how difficult it could be for a child whose life was torn apart in a single night by a war! So, please write a picture book on this theme if you can. 

The next blog post on the series of SEL is about picture books published on the fourth component of SEL; relationship skills.

I write blog posts about the craft of writing picture books regularly. The list of the previous posts is on the PictureBookPedia. Also, I publish a quarterly newsletter that includes links to my recent blog posts.


Posted in PictureBookPedia.

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