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Five Great Social Skills Books that Put the Story First

Thank goodness for talented authors who write to entertain, enlighten, educate and enrich children. There is nothing that will stretch a child’s imagination and hopefully teach important social skills lessons like a clever, exciting and well-written novel. Masterfully written books that speak to kids directly, help children become passionate readers who can’t wait to crack open a book. Creative children’s book authors bring relevant social situations to life and pose complex social skills questions to children using relatable characters. It is highly unlikely that these authors set out to write “social skills books”, however their world views and ability to connect to young people make their novels valuable social skills resources. The social skills lessons happen naturally and readers walk away better people for having read their books. What more could someone want from social skills books?

Reading is a necessary social skill.

Reading is a necessary social skill that children must develop and perfect. Unlike digital entertainment that is viewed passively, reading forces the person to ponder and ruminate. The reader develops a relationship to the characters that allows him to step into their shoes. The bond that the reader develops with the characters allows him to consider different points of view that perhaps he was closed to or hadn’t considered.

More reasons to consider reading.

Even as a lifetime voracious reader sometimes I have to remind myself why, in this digital age, I feel so strongly that children must read. When my own kids are begging to watch Youtube videos, I go over the following list of reasons in my head and easily steer them toward a book. If I know the book is quality but they can’t quite get into it, we read it together alternating paragraphs or chapters or I read it to the kids. I love when they get absorbed in the story and beg me to continue reading.

  • Complex task that utilizes the brain
  • Improves concentration and helps build longer and longer ability to focus
  • Builds vocabulary (I love my Kindle and the dictionary function that allows the reader to get a quick definition and keep reading)
  • Develops imagination because you have to use the words to create pictures in your mind
  • Builds empathy because the reader identifies with the characters and feels what they feel
  • Improves school performance
  • Entertaining
  • Relaxing and silent

Great reads are crucial to developing a child’s love of reading.

When I sit down with a novel I want it to be great. I expect to be swept away or I am disappointed and children feel the same way. A well-written novel for children focuses on the story first. The skilled author unself-consciously weaves in social skills messages that add depth and emotion to the prose but don’t seem preachy or pedantic.

What I love about the list of books that I have compiled here is first and foremost, the books are terrific reads. They are so engaging, they are difficult to put down. The stories stay with the reader long after that last page is turned and closing the book feels like saying goodbye to close friends. They are entertaining stories first and social skills books second.

There are grade levels recommended with each book I have listed however they are as wonderful for adults as for kids.

These “social skills books” tackle important social skills concepts like friendship, goodness, kindness, compassion, integrity, dignity, respect, responsibility, relationship building and diversity. They are poignant and thought provoking and skillfully bring the reader to laughter or tears. They teach the reader about social skills but they do it surreptitiously.

Five Social Skills Books for Children


Wonder by R.J. Palacio

Grade level 3-7

#1 New York Times bestseller
A School Library Journal Best of Children’s Books
A Publishers Weekly Best of Children’s Books
A Kirkus Reviews Best of Children’s Books
A Booklist Best of Children’s Books

A moving story about Auggie, a ten-year-old little boy with a facial deformity. When enrolled into a mainstream school he must cope with other people’s reactions to his facial anomalies. The reader learns about the importance of seeing people for who they really are and the importance of kindness, compassion and empathy.


The Girl Who Drank the Moon by Kelly Barnhill

Grade level 4-6

2017 Newbery Medal Winner
A New York Times Bestseller
A New York Public Library Best Book of 2016
A Chicago Public Library Best Book of 2016

In this beautifully written fantasy, village elders have convinced themselves that in order to keep their people safe, they must sacrifice the youngest baby born into the village every year to an evil witch who lives in the forest. Unbeknownst to them, the witch is a kind and loving soul, who doesn’t know why the babies are left in the forest. She cares for the precious children, feeds them magical starlight and then places them safely with loving parents in the Outside City. A magical adventure that tackles good and evil, kindness and compassion, right and wrong and most powerfully what it means to love and be loved.


The War that Saved My Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley

Grade level 4-6

Read lessRead lessRead less#1 New York Times Bestseller
Newbery Honor Book
Winner of the Schneider Family Book Award (Middle School)
Wall Street Journal Best Children’s Books of 2015
New York Public Library’s 100 Books for Reading and Sharing

Set in England during the second world war, The War that Saved My Life is a moving story of dignity, frailty, strength, integrity, love and redemption. Ada is an abused and neglected ten-year-old girl born with a club foot. She is kept shut away from the world in a tiny apartment by her evil, monster of a mother who is ashamed and angered by Ada’s affliction. Fortunately for Ada, she and her brother Jamie are evacuated out of London and placed with a woman named Susan during the great evacuation of 1939. Once out of the prison her mother had created for her, Ada’s life begins.

I read this aloud to my twelve-year-old son and eight-year-old daughter and they were riveted. This book selection is our family favorite and not only are the social skills topics interesting to discuss, the history of WWII makes for in-depth and meaningful dinner table conversations.


Wolf Hollow by Lauren Wolk

Grade level 5-7

A 2017 Newbery Honor Book
New York Times Bestseller
An NPR Best Book of the Year
A Booklist Best Book of the Year

An Entertainment Weekly Best Middle Grade Book of the Year

Kirkus Reviews Best Book of the Year

A Shelf Awareness Best Book of the Year
School Library Journal Best Book of the Year
A Wall Street Journal Best Children’s Book of the Year
An ALA Notable Children’s Book

Eleven-year-old Annabelle lives in rural Pennsylvania in 1943. Life is peaceful for farmgirl Annabelle until a mean-spirited, vicious girl named Betty moves into town. Betty relentlessly bullies until she suddenly disappears. Toby, an odd drifter type WWII vet who has watched out for Annabelle, disappears at the same time as Betty. Annabelle is sure of Toby’s innocence and using compassion, empathy, critical thinking, and kindness, she tries to convince people that he is not responsible for whatever happened to Betty.

Author Lauren Wolk has written a deep and intricate page-turner. It offers many discussion topics including bullying, integrity, respect, compassion and valuing others.


Seedfolks by Paul Fleischman

Grade 4 and up

Newbery Medal Winner

This is a power-packed little gem of a novel. It weaves together many different voices to tell the story about how a city garden transforms a struggling, blighted neighborhood. It is filled with hope and possibility. A quick read that tackles many different social skills topics including grief, healing, tolerance, kindness, grace and empathy. Paul Fleischman’s writing is eloquent and articulate and a joy to read. A wonderful book to have a child read aloud to a parent and then discuss.


Social Skills Books are One Method to Teach Children Social Skills

Using many different resources to teach children important social skills is of benefit. Modeling good behavior, discussing social skills issues, role-playing different social skills situations and reading social skills books are all excellent methods of teaching social skills.

If you would love to teach children social skills, good manners and etiquette become a social skills coach. Choose one of our social skills certification programs and start learning immediately. All of our social skills certification programs are online and you can begin your program immediately! IACET CEUs available for teachers.