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12 MUST HAVE books to support social & emotional development through play & storytelling.

I am often asked how to support BIG emotions, friendships and sharing and I always say with books and play! I have put together my list and how I have used them to support social and emotional development.

Here are the 12 books and the social and/or emotion support they can provide:

  • Rainbow fish (friendship and sharing)

  • Have you filled a bucket today? (self-care and care for others)

  • The colour monster (feelings and how to support them)

  • Giraffes can’t dance (friendship, being brave & trying something new)

  • Elmer (identity and celebrating difference)

  • Owl babies (separation anxiety, attachment, transitions and siblings)

  • The Pout-pout fish (friendship, worry, fixed mindset vs growth mindset)

  • Piggie, Elephant and Pigeon (can be used with 34 books) (friendship, NO, bravery, trying something new and fixed mindset vs growth mindset)

  • Silly Billy (worry, anxiety and acceptance)

  • Moon & sun (celebrating difference, belonging and acceptance)

  • Caps for sale (dealing with frustration and communication)

  • In my Heart (feelings and when or why they are felt)

Children come with BIG emotions and that is OK. They are learning about them and the world around them. Sometimes they may need some support and I find books, play and conversations are the BEST way to do this. It provides a space and time for emotional literacy.

Supporting social and emotional development is one (touching hearts with story baskets BLOG) of the reasons I started creating story baskets as I find the HANDs-on play supports the HEAD or mind and HEART. A story basket is great for a small number of children 1-4 and sometimes children need this intimacy to regulate and connect.

For others they need more space or children and so I created a moveable storytelling mat to provide this space and opportunity. When I sit with children, I use the L.O.V.E process by L.R.Knost - Little Hearts/Gentle Parenting Resources.


Listen “I hear you”

Observe “I see you”

Validate “I accept you”

Empathise “I understand you”

Let’s take a closer look at 2 of the books - Giraffes can’t dance and the Rainbow fish (Owls babies, Elmer are in earlier BLOGs).

Giraffes can’t dance was created a child who was willing to try new things but when they did they had self-talk that was unhelpful and often created difficulties with other children in play.

In the book Gerald was reluctant to dance which was different to Sam BUT Gerald also had self-talk (and others ridiculing him) that was not helpful saying “I’m useless” which I heard when I LISTENed to them.

I read the book a few times to Sam (and others) before introducing the story basket. When I did I asked who Sam wanted to be and they choose Gerald. He started dancing with their fingers and said quietly “I’m useless” I did the same with my warthog and they said “No, you aren’t”. I said “my fingers aren’t moving the same as yours so I am useless”. Sam offered to show me show they were moving their fingers and I tried. Sam smiled and said “see, you aren’t useless”.

I then put out the puppets on the storytelling mat and Sam was quick to play with them and 4 other children joined in. Sam said “I’m useless” and another child said yes Gerald did feel like that but he was BRAVE and so are you Sam. This child’s comment not only showed that Sam was seen but it also validated them.

There are so many anecdotals I could share for the rainbow fish as I have been using it for years and the spoon hood fish that can move and be used to talk about feelings rather than the child are like magic.

The spoon fish and shark were one of the BEST resources for Lee who had difficulties verbally expressing his feelings and emotions BUT when he had the fish or shark spoon she felt more confident to share. She would use the fish to talk to the shark and explain how she felt sad, mad or jealous (described as “I want that from you, NOW”)

The story basket offered opportunities for Lee to share with me and the storytelling suitcase and mat with others. After a number months practicing and playing with the spoons I heard her using her voice and they were no longer needed. Lee was able to share her feelings more easily. There were some days when she asked for the fish spoon and she simply put it in her pocket and would touch it and continue to play.

The first 11 books are e-patterns are in my MEGA social emotional BUNDLE and the and it includes the moveable storytelling mat.

In my heart is a very simple book to create a story basket for and I have done so with paper, card and crocheted hearts. I have also used rainbow peg dolls instead of hearts.

I have just created some feeling cards to support this and they feature the 10 emotions in the book with faces:











I have also used the cards as an invitation for children to create their faces with loose parts in a circle mirror. I have also included ‘blank’ cards for children to draw their own feelings and the cards are only $1 (NZD).

They have been a great tool to L.O.V.E.

Until next time


P.S. there are some affliate links and if you use them I may get some moolah.

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