Social & Emotional Learning (SEL)

8 Picture Books About Trading Places

Character-switching stories can nurture imaginative play, teach early learners empathy, and foster social and emotional learning.

April 11, 2023
Collage © Edutopia; Cover art courtesy of publishers

In most early childhood school settings, children engage in imaginative play during independent choice time and/or recess. Young children frequently draw character inspiration from their wishful thinking, which might suggest why one minute a teacher might see a group of kindergarten students—and the next, a group of babies, teenagers, and assorted pets.

Child-centered activities like dramatic play and recess offer students opportunities for not only transforming into someone else but also physically practicing social awareness skills and strategies. In these settings, students can consider and compare and contrast their wants and needs with those of their peers. 

Integrating SEL and creative skill sets into a read-aloud setting allows children to participate in a blended SEL/literacy discussion and also lets them extend and enrich student play. 

Picture books that propose to answer the question “What might happen if you really switched places with someone else?” encourage children to imagine, predict, and reflect on the benefits and challenges of such an occurrence. Teachers can utilize a T-Chart graphic organizer to help students identify and document the benefits and challenges of characters who trade places with another character. 

Here are some possible T-Chart headings:

  • Good news/Bad news
  • Advantages/Disadvantages
  • Pros/Cons
  • Fortunately/Unfortunately

The eight imaginative and fantastical picture books below feature disgruntled and envious characters who trade places with another character. Once the life swap begins, each character must confront and problem-solve unforeseen social and emotional situations. Soon, with newfound empathy, each character ultimately reflects on their own life and their perceptions about another character’s life. 

Pitfalls and rewards of Switching places

Adurable: The Great Truck Switcheroo, by Bob Shea, illustrated by Brian Won. Miss Polly has an assignment for her puppy students. Each puppy must switch trucks with another puppy in order to move a pile of dirt. Initial frustrations transition to success when the puppies ultimately help each other operate the unfamiliar truck. (Preschool)

Bea and Mr. Jones, by Amy Schwartz. This year marks the 40th anniversary of Bea and Mr. Jones. Bea is tired of being a kindergartner; her father, Mr. Jones, is tired of his job as an advertising executive. It’s agreed that they will switch jobs for the day. Mr. Jones heads to kindergarten, and Bea grabs a briefcase and heads to the advertising agency. Both adapt and ultimately excel in their new roles and surprisingly change jobs for good! (Preschool–kindergarten)

The Bruce Swap, by Ryan T. Higgins. This book is a case of be careful what you wish for. The geese and mice wish Bruce the bear were fun. In a case of mistaken identity, Bruce’s super-fun identical-looking cousin Kevin comes to visit just as Bruce has gone fishing. What starts out as colossal fun erupts into utter chaos. Thank goodness Bruce returns! Here are Activity Sheets to add to the fun. (Preschool–kindergarten)

Dog Days of School, by Kelly DiPucchio, illustrated by Brian Biggs. One Sunday night, Charlie gets the heading-back-to-school jitters. He’s envious of his dog Norman’s life and wishes upon a star to trade places. Monday morning, Charlie’s wish comes true and Charlie and Norman switch lives for the week. (Preschool–grade 2)

Little Cheetah’s Shadow, by Marianne Dubuc. Little Cheetah has a problem: His shadow has run away. Little Cheetah’s shadow also has a problem: He doesn’t want to be a shadow anymore. With a day of walking in each other’s paws, both cheetahs begin to see the world from each other’s perspective, and with a newfound empathy they ultimately see each other as equal partners. In this video, Marianne Dubuc reads her book and creates an illustration featuring Little Cheetah. (Preschool–grade 2)

Stripes the Tiger, by Jean Leroy and Bérengère Delaporte, illustrated by Bérengère Delaporte. Stripes the tabby cat just can’t fulfill the pet job description. Stripes is fierce and destructive and hates cuddles, and what he really wants to be is a tiger. His frantic owner, who is out of options, takes him on a field trip to the zoo to meet a real tiger. The tiger struggles to fulfill the wild animal job description and longs to purr and cuddle in a lovely home. A swap is made, and now Tiger, Stripes, and Stripes’ owner are finally happy and content. Here’s a companion Common Core Teaching Guide. (Preschool–grade 2) 

Tabitha and Fritz Trade Places, by Katie Frawley, illustrated by Laurie Stansfield. Fritz the elephant lives in the rain forest. Tabitha the cat lives in the suburbs. Both animals are seeking adventure and a change of pace, so they coordinate a home swap over the website Lair-BNB. Tabitha and Fritz share their daily excursions and questions via email. Each animal has plenty of adventures but also comes to appreciate the comforts of home. (Preschool–grade 2)

Vampenguin, by Lucy Ruth Cummins. A family trip to the zoo can be fun but sometimes a bit distracting. The Dracula family turns their heads for a moment in the penguin house and oops! Baby Dracula and baby penguin have pulled a switcharoo. Penguin gets a stroller tour of the zoo, and baby Dracula learns and enhances the penguin lifestyle. Here’s a video of Lucy Ruth Cummins reading her book and creating an illustration featuring baby Dracula and penguin. (Preschool–grade 3)

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  • Social & Emotional Learning (SEL)
  • Literacy
  • English Language Arts
  • Pre-K
  • K-2 Primary

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