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10 Perfect Picture Books to Teach Middle Schoolers Emotional Intelligence: Some are Free!

We tend to think that middle schoolers are too old to be read to.  Even more, we tend to believe that middle schoolers don’t care about picture books anymore.  Both points are simply not true.  What if I told you that there are some perfect picture books to teach middle schoolers emotional intelligence?  And that they will fully enjoy them and the product of reading them?

So what are some perfect picture books to teach middle schoolers emotional intelligence?  And what makes these so perfect? I did some research into the best picture books we can share with our students to promote emotional intelligence and came up with a list of 10 of them that you can see below.  And the advantage of picture books is that they tend to capture your students’ attention much quicker.  Plus because they are generally much shorter you can easily fit them into your class schedule without being too distracting.  And you are teaching lifelong lessons that carry immense value!  Check out the list here:

10 Picture Books to Teach Middle Schoolers Emotional Intelligence

1.  I’m Not Just a Scribble*

2.  My Strong Mind:  A Story About Developing Mental Strength*

3.  Train Your Angry Dragon:  Teach Your Dragon To Be Patient

4.  I Can’t Do That YET:  Growth Mindset*

5.  A Little SPOT of Emotion Box Set (8 Books)

6.  Meh:  A Story About Depression  

7.  Lying Up a Storm

8.  I Am Human:  A Book of Empathy

9.  Listening to My Body

10.  Seeds and Trees:  A Children’s Book About the Power of Words*

This article contains affiliate links that I may earn a commission on at no cost to you if you click on them.  Also, some of these books could be free for you depending on your Amazon membership.

And now that the official business is done, let’s dive in and take a closer look at each of these books!

Picture books to teach emotional intelligence

1.  I’m Not Just a Scribble

I’m Not Just a Scribble

This beautiful book is the story of a character named Scribble.  He goes on a journey to meet others and play. But because he doesn’t look as structured as everyone else, he gets left out and can’t play.

The great part about this is that rather than retreating, he goes on to teach all of the other characters to accept everybody for who they are.

So your students will learn about inclusion and value for everybody, no matter how different they are.

2.  My Strong Mind:  A Story About Developing Mental Strength

My Strong Mind

This book follows the life of Kate.  She is an upbeat, optimistic little girl who loves life but sometimes struggles to be comfortable in new and different situations.

It will teach your students about confidence, resilience, and growth mindset.  And it will teach them techniques to develop their own strong minds.

While this book is targeted for 5-8 year olds, it covers subjects that older students will also face trepidation about.  Some examples are fellow students being mean at lunch, playing basketball, or speaking in front of the class.

This book will help you open up a dialog of what mental strength looks like and how to develop it.

3.  Train Your Angry Dragon

Train Your Angry Dragon

This book specifically speaks to kids about emotions and anger management and to be patient.

The premise of the book is how in the world to you control your pet dragon when he gets angry and wants to burn everything around.

It is a perfect picture book to teach your middle schoolers about anger management because it is lighthearted enough to enjoy but drives home some really good lessons.

There are actually a ton of other dragon stories tackling other issues that will help to teach your middle schoolers emotional intelligence.  Some examples are:

  • Anxiety
  • Empathy
  • Mindfulness
  • Accepting “no”
  • Following instructions
  • Consequences
  • Attitude
  • How to love himself

All of these are great to teach to the middle school level.  They may think they are growing up, but these lessons are a great chance to make sure they are learning the social skills that they should already be practicing.  At the very least, it’s a great reminder–at most, it is a great chance to teach them something that has fallen through the cracks.

4.  I Can’t Do That YET:  Growth Mindset

I Can’t Do That, YET:  Growth Mindset

How many times in the course of a day do you hear one or two of your students say, “I can’t do that,” when you have given the class some particular directions?  We have all been there and this book addresses the bravery and skills that students need to learn to grow to the next level.

This book follows a girl named Enna, who has a lack of confidence in herself.  One night she has a dream and sees herself in many different future scenarios.  She sees her own potential and learns to change her thinking from “I can’t do that” to I can’t do that YET.”

It is a perfect story to help kids realize their current potential versus their future potential.  This is something we can all use!  And that is an even greater tool for your class when you can share how even you can grow through that new mentality.

5.  A Little SPOT of Emotion Box Set (8 Books)

A Little SPOT of Emotion Box Set

You can buy these books individually or as a set, but you will save about half off by buying the set.

These books all start out with a conflict that causes the kids to want to act out in a negative responsive way.   It then deals with their feelings and how they should handle it instead.  It is a great way to transition from the problems to a good solution and teaches students to develop a train of thought that takes them on the same path, regardless of what varied situations they find themselves in.

The set contains the following books/issues:

  • A Little SPOT of Anger
  • A Little SPOT of Anxiety
  • A Little SPOT of Happiness
  • A Little SPOT of Sadness
  • A Little SPOT of Love
  • A Little SPOT of Confidence
  • A Little Peaceful SPOT
  • A Little Scribble SPOT

6.  Meh:  A Story About Depression

Meh:  A Story About Depression

This book is pretty genius in its delivery, although you may want to save this one for small groups or individual sessions for better interaction.

It is a wordless book.  You will page through it with the children and discuss how sadness works and that when it turns into a deep sadness that feels insurmountable then they should seekout guidance and help.

Depression is characterized as a darkness, which is a pretty good picture word for kids.

There is a question and answer section in the back of the book for parents, teachers, or counselors to discuss with children and help them through dark times they are having, whether just sadness or a need to recognize true depression.

7.  Lying Up a Storm

Lying Up a Storm

This story is told in the first person by a little boy named Levi.  Levi considers himself a very honest person–most of the time.  He then goes on to recount various things that happen to him throughout the course of his days.  And he explains how he felt and what he really wanted to do initially to diffuse his difficult situations.

At first, he thinks that telling little lies here and there is fine and not a big deal, especially because it seems to solve his problems very quickly.

He soon realizes that is not really the case.  His mother explains to him that there are consequences to his lies and those consequences will be much worse than just facing up to the truth to start with.

There is a guide in the back of the book for parents, teachers, and counselors that offer tools to help children learn the value and pathway to truthfulness.

8.  I am Human:  A Book of Empathy

I am Human:  A Book of Empathy

Empathy is something that is in short supply in our society today.  And that makes this book one of the most perfect picture books to teach middle schoolers emotional intelligence.  This is indeed a most relevant book for your classroom.

This is actually the third book in a series, the first two being I am Yoga and I am Peace.

The premise of this book is that we all make mistakes and that is okay.  But it also emphasizes the importance of making right or better choices and saying “I’m sorry” when you need to.

This book encourages students to see everybody around them as similar to them in that they aren’t perfect and nobody can expect perfection from other people.  It speaks to them about how to exercise empathy and compassion and grow in the knowledge that we are all on a similar path in life toward love and acceptance.

9.  Listening to My Body

Listening to My Body


The tagline for this book reads as follows:

A guide to helping kids understand the connection between their sensations (what the heck are those?) and feelings so that they can get better at figuring out what they need.

 Being able to evaluate and express our feelings is something that a large number of adults can’t even do in our society today.  So that makes this probably one of the best books in this list.  It takes a desperately needed look at being able to interpret what our bodies are telling us and why it is important when we are going through various emotional journeys.

Kids learn the relevant vocabulary and then they are guided through the names of the feelings they are having.  Then they are taught to recognize the physical sensations that they are experiencing as a result of those feelings they were having.

Being able to recognize and respond accordingly to these cues will help your students conquer nearly any difficulty in their life that comes at them with the ability to get through it with great success.

If you get one book in this list, this would be the one!

There is also a companion website that allows teachers, parents, and counselors more resources to continue to teach these concepts to their kids.


10.  Seeds and Trees:  A Children’s Book About the Power of Words

Seeds and Trees

To call this book amazing would be an understatement.  The author, Brandon Walden, in trying to prove the immense power in our words, writes a most powerful note to parents, teachers, counselors, and children’s advocates explaining his experience growing up with the power of words, for good and bad.

I absolutely love that he offers the opportunity to heal through reading this book to children as well as adults.  What an amazing ability!

So even though this is a picture book, it is actually meant for people of all ages to think back to where their world was shaken by the power of words, to explore their feelings and emotions, and to be able to move on in emotional health and a recognition of how they will use words in a healthy and encouraging way going forward.

So you  know how I said that if you buy any book it should be book #9?  Well, ditto for book #10.  They are both just too amazing to pick just one.


Bonus:  A Game to Play

If your students loved reading and discussing these books, wait until you introduce this game to them!  They will have fun and continue learning about emotional intelligence.  And they will hardly realize these are academic activities.

The Mindfulness Game

This game got excellent reviews from teachers, parents and therapists alike.  It is a card game created by teachers that allows your students to move around and do active things while learning how to be mindful.  Also, it has a concentration on visualization and the building of social skills.  It is good for ages 8 through adult, so it will be perfect for your students.


So this is my list of the 10 most perfect picture books for middle schoolers to learn emotional intelligence.  After reading and discussing these books, you will be amazed at the transformation your class will take.  And your students will be thrilled that they have learned better how to accurately evaluate what they are feeling and communicate it to others.

If chapter books are more your thing, and actually you will need these for your classroom too, check out my article:

What Makes These 10 Books So Well-loved?

This Post Has 68 Comments

  1. Amber Myers

    These all sound fabulous. I’ll have to pick some up for my middler schooler. I think she’d like some of them. Others she’d mock mercilessly but she’s a tween, so it’s to be expected.

    1. Marie

      Haha, middle schoolers do like to mock. But the point would still hit home even if you all are laughing your way through it!

  2. Joanna

    I think that it is very important to teach children about emotions from a young age, to help them identify what they are feeling and ask for guidance if they need it. These books are very helpful, especially because they are visual and can help a teacher explain better.

    1. Marie

      The kids will definitely remember it better coming from a book read to them than from a teacher just talking to them!

  3. Jessica Collazo

    Middle Schoolers are in this odd age but knowing that this picture books will help them with their emotional intelligence is great.

  4. Christiana

    These books all sound like amazing choices for children. Emotional intelligence is such an important topic that even the kids need to be taught as early as possible.

  5. Passion Piece

    I’ve noticed that my students who are 16-20 years old have huge problems with emotional intelligence. That aspect was certainly neglected at earlier stages, so there’s still lots of work to do. Do you know any books which would be suitable also for older students? 🙂

    1. Marie

      I have never found any story-type books that directly address the emotional intelligence issues that the book is trying to relate. But for a non-fiction book that addresses the subject directly with teens, I loved The Seven Habits of Highly Effective Teens (here is a link:
      Another way that teachers approach this is through popular novels. The Giver is one example ( The main character, Jonas, has some huge life decisions to make in the “utopian community” he lives in. Teachers will use his experiences to plan lessons that focus on social and emotional intelligence.
      You could actually do this with virtually any novel because all protagonists and antagonists have struggles and decisions that need to be made that either make life better or worse. It all makes for great life lessons. Although, admittedly, some novels are easier to do this with than others.
      This book, The EQ Intervention: Shaping a Self-aware Generation Through Social and Emotional Learning ( is on my to-read list because I have heard tons of great things about it. It speaks directly to the teacher about how to implement SEL directly into your classroom.
      Hopefully one or all of these 3 approaches can be helpful!

  6. Chad

    These are really awesome and it goes without saying how important emotional intelligence is. Will buy a couple for my nephew. Thank you.

    1. Marie

      Thanks, Chad!

  7. littlemisadvencha

    these are all great books. every student as early as possible should learn how to feed their emotional intelligence, because they are on the foundational stage. thank you so much for sharing these!

    Cha at Little MisadvenCHA

  8. I’ve used Train Your Angry Dragon with a bunch of my clients. Anything by Julia Cook are also incredible! Another big favourite of my clients is My Mouth is a Volcano and the Tease Monster.

    1. Marie

      Those are all really good ones too, Stephanie! Honestly, there are tons of great materials available now and I am so happy to see this becoming a focus. I hope to see some great results in the next 10-15 years as we see how this early teaching plays out. Emotional health classes should be mandatory! Thank you for your helpful reply!

  9. Nyxinked

    This is great to know! I’ll definitely be saving this for later. EI is something I love to learn more about and talk about, and I strongly believe that all kids should be taught about it.

    1. Marie

      I am currently working on this with my 8-year-old son. He is not responding as quickly as I had hoped, lol. Little steps!

  10. I would never think of picture books for older kids like this but you’re right, great ideas!!! We’ve been to a few Drag Queen Story Hours with our 3 young children and they always pick out great books like these to get you to open your mind, develop love for yourself and others, confidence, empathy!

  11. Oh these are awesome! My nephew isn’t in middle school yet but one day these will be great for him! Thanks so much for sharing this with all of us!

    1. Marie

      Thank you, Krysten!

  12. Debbie

    These all sound great. I will have to keep these in mind for the future.

  13. Emotional intelligence is so important. I regret my teenage boys are more into videos than into reading.

  14. themommyspice

    This is wonderful. My son is not even in school yet but I am passing this great post onto some friends who have older children. Emotional Intelligence is so crucial!

  15. sdamasceno

    These all sound like great books. There’s such an importance of good quality education, especially in today’s world.

  16. Peachy A.

    It’s actually my first time to hear about these books but they all sound so great!

  17. Melanie

    What a great resource! I will definitely be looking into many of them as EI is SO important in life.

    1. Marie

      Thanks, Mel!

  18. Renata Feyen

    I think even adults like to be read to sometimes – I don’t see why not – and picture books are for all ages too I believe 🙂

  19. Christine Weis

    This is a great list of books. It’s so important to read and talk about these topics with kids of this age. And middle schoolers are never too old for a good picture book. Thank you for this list.

  20. Bill

    These are great books. Storytime is such a great way to help your children grow as young little individuals, and these books reinforce some powerful concepts.

  21. Surekha

    Books are such an important way to reinforce life lessons in our children. I think this is a great list.

  22. Julia

    What an amazing list of books! I’m getting of few for my niece and nephew asap!

  23. What a beautiful way to support our children to grow up strong and self-confident. I am saving the reference page!

  24. The Joyous Living

    these look like great books for the kiddos. the depression book sounds like a great topic you don’t see much in literature.

  25. Matt Taylor

    Such a great collection of books! The train your angry dragon one is my favorite! haha

  26. Hayley

    I definitely think picture books are such great way to help children understand things like emotions. It’s such a great help!

  27. Jordan Campbell

    I feel like the world needs our children to have emotional intelligence, especially right now. And FREE is always a good thing!

  28. I am most attracted to “I am Human: A Book of Empathy”. Given the chance, I would start with this one.

    1. Marie

      That is a perfect choice to begin!

  29. Steven Morrissette

    Those look like good book Suggestions. I really like the angry dragon one it’s cute.

    1. Marie

      It is a really good one. What kids don’t like a story about dragons?

  30. Dreams Abroad

    Lying Up a Storm is one of the best children’s books I have come across. The pictures are really good. I recommend it to everyone.

    1. Marie

      I agree–it is an amazing book!

  31. Hannah

    I love picture books (even though I’m an adult) but these are great suggestions I can have for my younger cousins!

    1. Marie

      That’s a great idea, Hannah! Thank you for sharing your thoughts!

  32. Lyosha

    awesome books! Thank you so much introduction to it! I’ll share it to middle school moms I know

  33. Ana

    Looks like a great list of books, very helpful for middle school goers. i will bookmark it for my nephews. thanks

  34. Papa Jack

    I am sure this super helpful. Are these books available via pdf or ebook?

  35. Emman Damian

    Picture books are effective for learning! I hope to see Meh: A Story About Depression . Very interesting!

  36. Jasmine Martin

    Emotional intelligence is such an important things for children to learn about and develop. These books are a must have!

  37. Jon Maldia

    What a great list. Picture books are great tools for easy learning.

    1. Marie

      Yes, Jon–they are so good for discussion!

  38. HilLesha O'Nan

    I’ll certainly have to check out some of these books for my children. Thank you for the recommendations!

  39. WorldInEyes

    Excellent choice Marie! The emotional intelligence is most important for kids to understand and think more. Strongly agree that the picture books are such a perfect way of teaching kids to understand the emotional intelligence.

    1. Marie

      Thanks, Teerath! They are so effective for discussing sensitive matters with kids. They respond well and candidly.

  40. katrina Kroeplin

    those are great tips. we have one in middle school. will have to check these out.

  41. tweenselmom

    This is a nice list of books to recommend to my daughters! It’d surely help them develop their emotional intelligence, thank you so much for sharing these with us!

  42. Kiwi

    I love this book list. I love the I am Human with the book on empathy I need to add that to my list.

  43. Kathy Kenny Ngo

    I didn’t even know these kind of things existed. It would make it easier to teach them all about EQ.

  44. Elisha F

    I love conscious children’s books! These look like they would be perfect for my little sister.

    1. Marie

      I hope that she enjoys them. What a great time for the two of you to spend together!

  45. Ivana Mearns

    Thanks for all these re commendations, great books like this can be difficult to find. It’s always good to hear from someone else what works.

  46. Yudith

    All the books are good to read by kids. Fascinating, mind-expanding illustrations, good vocabulary and concepts. I like “how to train your angry dragon” funny and adventurous

  47. Nkem

    These are amazing. I had never read anything like this as a kid, and even when I was volunteering with children. I wonder why these kinds of books seem to be just coming into the spotlight now.

  48. Knycx Journeying

    A great list and there are so many choices! How amazing that those are even for free! Thanks for bringing up the attention about Emotion Intelligence and I would love to also share this information with my friends. – Knycx Journeying

  49. bonbon

    I have book worm here at home, middleschooler , too. Thanks for sharing. I will let him pick at least 2 books from your suggestion:)

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