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Teaching with Canadian Books

Support Social-Emotional Learning In Your Classroom

Reading together supports social-emotional learning (SEL) in the classroom. SEL develops students’ abilities to identify and manage their emotions, cope with and manage stress, build healthy relationships, and make positive decisions.


Welcome to Top Grade: CanLit for the Classroom, a blog and preview video series that features new releases from Canadian book publishers ideal for use in K-12 classrooms and school library collections. Throughout the year, we dive into new titles, highlighting relevant curriculum links and themes.


Reading together supports social-emotional learning (SEL) in the classroom. SEL develops students’ abilities to identify and manage their emotions, cope with and manage stress, build healthy relationships, and make positive decisions.

According to School Mental Health Ontario, purposeful SEL and the reinforcing of daily skills can have a “positive impact on academic achievement and on student social, behavioural and emotional wellness.” Educational research is discovering that reading and discussing books together can help students develop the vocabulary to better describe their feelings and emotions and explain their choices and behaviours.

Here are two simple practices for teachers to incorporate SEL during read-aloud:

  • Pause to identify what a character is feeling in the story. Invite your students to look for details in the text that might reveal how a character is feeling inside. If you’re reading a picture book or graphic novel, have them point out visual cues in illustrations.
  • Take time to discuss the character’s choices and motivations. Ask your students to explain in their own words why a character made a certain decision. Challenge them to think of a time they had a similar experience or invite them to share what they would do if put in that situation.

As the discussion leader, guide students towards empathy and understanding. Help them make personal connections to the characters in the story. Be culturally responsive and consider the full range of characters’ experiences including how racial and other disparities that exist might affect how the character feels or the decisions they make.

Check out these recent and upcoming titles from Canadian authors and illustrators that support SEL in the classroom.



All the Faces of Me (ages 4-7) is a playful picture book that teaches about expressing emotions. A little girl decided to draw faces showing how she feels on each of her nana’s wooden nesting doll collection. At first, Nana is angry but after talking together she comes to understand all the things her granddaughter is feeling. This story shares the important lesson that sometimes the people around us are feeling more than we can see.

In Class: Invite students to draw or paint a series of self-portraits. Give them time to express what they look like when they feel happy, excited, worried, or sad.



Charlie’s Balloons: A Story of Big Emotions (ages 6-8) is a cartoonish exploration of what it’s like being a highly sensitive kid who feels BIG feelings. Charlie uses the metaphor of balloons bouncing, floating, inflating, and bursting to describe how they feel. They share the strategies they use to deal with their emotions and assert that being sensitive is a strength that allows them to be curious, empathetic, creative, etc.

In Class: Cut balloon shapes out of construction paper and label them with different emotions. Let students draw on the balloons and add shapes and colours to match the emotion on their balloon.



We Need Everyone (ages 6-8) is an inclusive and inspiring picture book that empowers young readers to identify their unique gifts and use them to overcome challenges. Based on an exercise that the author conducts while speaking to youth across Canada, reading this book together with your students is like like inviting a powerful guest speaker into the classroom.

In Class: Follow along with the book’s three simple steps to finding and using your gift.



In The Pie Reports (ages 6-8) a child connects with her grandfather over a shared love of pie and learns how to support him through his progressive illness as he experiences “blue days.” Noor checks in through regular video chats she calls “Pie Reports” where she and her Grandad share the events of their weeks and how they are feeling.

In Class: Invite your students to share their own “pie reports” with a partner or in a group. They should start by discussing the “crispy, crunchy stuff,” recent events and happenings, and then dive into the “juicy filling:” what’s exciting them, challenging them, or something they’ve accomplished.



Game Face (ages 9-12) is a novel in verse for young readers. Wanting to prove he can handle his anxiety, thirteen-year-old Jonah is determined to succeed as his hockey team’s goalie, despite all the stress that comes with the position. Eventually, Jonah learns that it takes courage to ask for help and that he’s not letting anyone down when he needs support.

In Class: Check out Educator Resources from Anxiety Canada for activities and tips to talk about anxiety with your students.



Hopeless in Hope (ages 12-18) is a young adult novel depicting the impacts of intergenerational trauma and one family’s path to healing and forgiveness. Eva is resentful of her mother because she drinks all the time and hardly looks after her or her younger brother. After being taken to a group home, Eva deals with feelings of depression and comes to better understand her mother. With the guiding care of her grandmother, Eva begins to forgive her mother and rebuild their relationship.

In Class: I recently had the chance to interview author Wanda John-Kehewin. Watch as she describes the importance of self-care and taking time for ourselves.



The End of Always (ages 13-18) is an upcoming YA novel about dealing with big life changes. After losing their mother to cancer, Isobel has to look out for her younger sister as she notices their dad losing himself in his survivalist “hobby” and giving in to his worries about the end of the world. When their dad attempts to move their family to a survivalist community on a ranch in the middle of nowhere, Isobel is forced to make impossible decisions while dealing with terrible feelings inside.

In Class: This book invites many important conversations about agency and accountability. Ask students what power and choice young people have. Where can young people turn for support when the adults in their lives are failing them?



The Definition of Beautiful (ages 16+) is a powerful and moving memoir from a high school student in Calgary that shares her experiences recovering from an eating disorder in the 2020s. Charlotte details how her desire to achieve 'perfection' turned into an unhealthy obsession. The memoir includes many details of her recent teenage experiences including the pressures of lockdown, hospital rooms, failing relationships, and the pain of seeing her illness impact her family.

In Class: Memoir is a powerful tool for self reflection. Have students write about a challenging time in their life and how they showed resilience.



Spencer Miller is a teacher, writer, reader, and fan of the Toronto Raptors. He is currently pursuing graduate studies at the University of Calgary (Treaty 7). You can follow more of Spencer’s passion for books on Instagram @spencerbmiller.