Summer Reading Picks: Stories with SEL Learning Opportunities

With no homework or school to worry about, summer can be the perfect time for kids and teens to embark on a new book. While beach reads can be a fun escape, sometimes they are more style than substance. We've compiled this list of must-read books framed around a modern vernacular of Social Emotional Values. Many of them deal with important and relevant SEL themes such as effective conflict management, flexibility, resilience, healthy risk-taking, and the social nuances of making friends. Whether they're in middle school or high school or just getting started on chapter books, kids, tweens, and teens can use this list to mindfully prepare for the year ahead. Here are our top picks of 2019 and 10 classic summer reads that deal with social and emotional learning opportunities.

Fresh Picks for 2019:

Hold My Hand (age 13+)
Hold My Hand is a funny, smart, relatable take on the joy and challenges of teenage love, the boundaries of forgiveness, and what it really means to be honest.

Leah on the Offbeat (Age 13+)
In this sequel to the acclaimed Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda, we follow Simon’s BFF Leah as she grapples with changing friendships, first love, and senior year angst. She’s an anomaly in her friend group: the only child of a young, single mom, and her life is decidedly less privileged. She loves to draw but is too self-conscious to show it. And even though her mom knows she’s bisexual, she hasn’t mustered the courage to tell her friends—not even her openly gay BFF, Simon.

We Are the Gardeners (Age 5+)
Persistence and teamwork are at the center of We Are the Gardeners. Joanna and the kids chronicle the adventures of starting their own family garden. From their failed endeavors, obstacles to overcome (bunnies that eat everything!), and all the knowledge they've gained along the way, the Gaines family shares how they learned to grow a happy, successful garden.


Old Classics of SEL:

A Wrinkle in Time (age 10+)
A Wrinkle in Time is one of the great works of children’s literature. Besides being an exciting story, its messages of individuality, nonconformity, friendship and courage have inspired generations of readers. This is a wonderful book for kids who've ever felt "different" or lonely or who have wrestled with loss. It celebrates the power of individuality, bravery, and love.

Treasure Island (Age 10+)
This has everything you'd want in a book for kids: a mesmerizing story, brilliant literary writing style, terrific characters (including one of the greatest characters in literature, the charming villain Long John Silver), rich settings, and the most stalwart and upstanding values presented in the most attractive and appealing way. Jim's bravery and daring are inseparable from his honesty and rectitude.

Charlotte’s Web (age 7+)
This classic story about a little pig named Wilbur and his supportive spider friend Charlotte, includes lessons about the acceptance of individuals who are different (that we must look behind someone’s appearance to see the true worth of an individual); the value of friendship; and acceptance of the natural rhythms of life.


Bridge to Terabithia (Age 9+)
This book focuses on the sweet friendship of a tween boy and girl who share imaginative play, creating a world of their own just a rope swing away, far from the school bullies they face. It also features a child's death and grief in the aftermath of the tragedy, and may provoke tears.

Wonder (age 10+)
Wonder is about 10-year-old August Pullman, who has a genetic facial difference. After being homeschooled, he enters school for the first time in fifth grade and has to cope with a range of reactions to his unusual appearance, as well as a lot of typical middle school drama. Some kids use hateful language, and some people suggest that Auggie is mentally deficient. These situations are upsetting, as are other hardships that Auggie's family endures, including loss of a beloved family pet. However, goodness wins out, and readers should find it inspiring and uplifting.

James and the Giant Peach (Age 8+)
James and the Giant Peach creates a marvelous, fantastical world for young independent readers. Dahl's original cast of characters, magical and suspenseful situations, and his liberal addition of comic poetry also make this a terrific read-aloud book with your child.

The Girl Who Drank the Moon (Age 10+)
The strong female protagonist, Luna, is taken from her family and saved by a kindhearted witch who lovingly raises her but accidentally imbues her with magical powers. Other members of Luna's adopted family are a frisky young dragon and a wise, poetry-loving bog monster. Multiple storylines come together in a dramatic climax espousing the power of love and nonviolence. A great choice for middle-grade fantasy lovers.

Tight (Age 10+)
Bryan’s friendship with Mike starts getting complicated when instead of spending time drawing and reading comic books, Mike starts pushing for trouble, like stealing and subway surfing. Using his comic book superheroes as inspiration, Bryan starts to consider the kind of person he wants to be, as well as what kind of friends he wants in his life. It’s a diverse coming-of-age story showing the all-too-real challenges of friendship.

Right as Rain (Age 9+)
Kids will appreciate the sensorial quality of the details: from the smell of rot emanating from Rain's homeless acquaintance and the stab of empathy Rain feels for that man, down to the gooey, warm, love-filled chocolate chip cookies from Ms. Dacie's kitchen. Kids who have heard their parents argue will relate to the way Rain feels pulled between them. Rain's new-kid experience at a school where she doesn't fit in is spot on, as is the warm feeling of belonging when she finds a friend. All of these aspects of the story are so well crafted, that Rain's experience leaps off the page. Though things may not have turned out the way Rain and her parents wanted them to, they learn that love and hope can still flourish, if you take care of the weeds and then plant the seeds.

The Rest of the Story (13+)
Parents need to know that The Rest of the Story is a thoughtful coming-of-ager by YA veteran Sarah Dessen about a teen girl who discovers family secrets while spending the summer in a lake-resort town with her maternal grandmother and a side of the family she never knew.