Teaching children about love

With Valentine’s Day just around the corner, now is an opportune time to reflect upon the importance of children’s literature in helping children to make sense of abstract concepts, such as the feeling of love: love for their families; love for themselves; love for their friends; and love for their world.

By Jo Gray on 13 Feb 2018

The Best Books for Understanding Relationships

Valentine’s Day is an opportune time to reflect upon the importance of children’s literature in helping children to make sense of abstract concepts, such as the feeling of love: love for their families; love for themselves; love for their friends; and love for their world.

Literature which explores thoughts and feelings at a level suitable for children to relate to can be extremely powerful. Children have the opportunity to use their inference skills about the world and what is happening around them in applying it to what they read within stories. The opportunity to experience something through a story can significantly improve their emotional intelligence.

Dr Oatley and Dr Mar reported in two studies that individuals who frequently read fiction seem to be better able to understand other people, empathise with them and see the world from their perspective.

Dr. Oakley said: "Just as computer simulations can help us get to grips with complex problems such as flying a plane or forecasting the weather, so novels, stories and dramas can help us understand the complexities of social life."

The exploration of skills needed for emotional intelligence are important in improving communication and in helping children to understand friendships, relationships and feelings. Developing our emotional intelligence in our primary school years provides the foundation for how we behave as we grow older.

There are a wealth of books out there that explore the five areas of emotional intelligence. Here is one recommendation for each age phase within primary school:


And Tango Makes Three by Justin Richardson is based on the true story of two male penguins in Central Park Zoo who liked each other. The zoo keepers observed their affection and also noticed that the penguins prepared for a baby, just like the other penguins. The two penguins were upset until they were given an egg to care for. The book illustrates what is important when creating a family. Their story simplifies a much debated topic; it portrays how all families are different. Above all, it shows how love is what makes a family, even for penguins.


Only One You by Linda Kranz is a simple story that introduces children to the concept of being self-aware and self-compassionate. Adri, a little fish in the big ocean, listens to his mama and papa as they share their knowledge about the world. Though the book is short in length, each sentence is powerful and provides many opportunities for endless discussions with children about their lives and who they are as individuals. This book is illustrated beautifully and, although recommended for KS1, it could be used throughout the school. Kranz's distinctively beautiful decorated "fish" rocks illustrate individuality and is something that could be done with all children to help them in understanding the importance of there being “Only One You.”


Love by Matt de la Peña explores how love is presented throughout life. Though the book was only released at the start of February 2018, the reviews are outstandingly positive and it has been very well received. The picture book could be used across the school, however in KS2 the conversations that the book may provoke would be more purposeful. It explores racial, ethnic, gender, religious, and socio-economic diversity. It is a book about understanding that loved ones can sometimes make the wrong choices. It is a story that shows how, sometimes, it is hard to see the love in the world. Above all, it is a book about finding love and beauty all around you no matter who you are, what you look like, or where you live.


The Song from Somewhere Else by A F Harrold is a novel with friendship at its heart. Mixed in to this is imagination and fantasy of other worlds. The book explores how friendships can be formed in the most unusual of places and how friendship is something that you can betray, as well as loyalty and how you make the right choices in honour of that. The black and white illustrations bring an element of creepiness to the story which will lend itself to the engagement of children from upper KS2 as they read. The book has a touch of magic about it, yet it is truly placed in the real world, exploring problems faced daily by kids who do not fit in.

Learning to read is important, it is widely known that research has shown people who lack good literacy skills do worse in education. However, the importance of encouraging children to read goes beyond school test results. Exploring stories can help children to understand the world around them, their feelings and themselves.

Stories can be a great way of helping children to deal with real life situations. Research has found that the brain activity that occurs when we read fiction is very similar to experiencing that situation in real life, so reading about a situation helps children work out how to solve it in reality.

Developing a love of books that will stay with children past the time that they leave primary school, past secondary school and into their adulthood is one of the most important gifts you can ever give a child. It not only gives them the never ending gift of knowledge but the gift of empathy and, something that is becoming more and more important in today’s society, the gift of self-awareness and self-acceptance.

For support in developing your reading curriculum, exploring emotional literacy or finding out about One Education’s Reading Award please contact our Literacy Team by calling 0844 967 1111, or fill in our online form.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR Jo Gray is a primary school literacy specialist who has experience of working in schools across Greater Manchester and the North West, including schools in Trafford, Warrington, Manchester City Centre, Oldham and Bradford.

Please get in touch or visit this page for more information.

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