The new year has officially begun, and as we head back to in-person or virtual classrooms, some young readers may still be struggling with isolation and being separated from friends and family. Read on to explore our comforting SEL book picks exploring touching stories of long-distance friendship, caring for your mental health, and the enduring power of love—perfect for sharing with bookworms of all ages learning to cope with sadness, loss, or grief.

Shelter for Sadness

A Shelter for Sadness
by Anne Booth
illustrated by David Litchfield

A small boy creates a shelter for his sadness so that he can visit it whenever he needs to, and the two of them can cry, talk, or just sit. The boy knows that one day his sadness may come out of the shelter, and together they will look out at the world and see how beautiful it is. This timely and child-friendly consideration of sadness and mental health offers a beautiful depiction of how children (and everyone else) must care for their emotions and give attention to their grief on a regular basis.

Paper Planes

Paper Planes
by Jim Helmore
illustrated by Richard Jones

Mia and Ben are the very best of friends. They live side by side and together they sail, and swing, and sing. But the thing they love the most is making paper planes. They dream of one day being able to make a plane that will fly all the way across the lake, and their planes become more and more intricate. But when they find out Ben’s family is moving far, far away, they wonder how they’ll be able to stay friends if they are so far apart. This sensitive exploration of emotions is ideal for children experiencing separation issues.

Last Dance, The

The Last Dance
by Carmen Agra Deedy
illustrated by Debrah Santini

Bessie and Ninny are the best of friends. Sometimes on milk-moon nights, Ninny throws buttons at Bessie’s window. When Bessie peeps outside, Ninny sings: “Bessie, oh Bessie! Come dance with me! For I hate to dance alone…” Most nights, they visit the grave of Ninny’s grandfather, Oppa. It was Oppa who taught them three things that they will never forget: to dance, to sing, and to tell stories. Oppa’s wisdom ultimately inspires a pact between the two young friends—a pact that binds them together through love and marriage, war and separation, birth and death. A simple but extraordinary story exploring the value of promises and the limitless power of love even in the face of death.