Fifth grade is a year of big transitions and big feelings - students are finishing elementary school and preparing for middle school, their bodies are changing, and life can feel a bit tumultuous. Great books can draw them in, teach them important lessons, and help them navigate this exciting and crucial time in their lives. The following list has some of our favorites- historical, non-fiction, fantasy, and realistic fiction- to help children see how others endure hardship and change while still influencing the world around them and staying true to themselves.
1. Holes by Louis Sachar
After a mix-up with the law, Stanley Yelnats is sent to Camp Green Lake for "character building"- digging a 5-foot by 5-foot hole every day. Why are the campers digging? None of them know. But as Stanley spends more time at camp, he digs into more than just the ground. Will he solve the mystery of Camp Green Lake and break his family's curse?
Check it out: Holes by Louis Sachar
2. Wonder by R. J. Palacio
While Auggie's face may not be normal, he wants to feel normal, just like any other child. He starts 5th grade and teaches those around him the importance of empathy, kindness, and accepting others. This heart-warming story encourages children to be themselves and to realize there is more to the people around us than what meets the eye.
Check it out: Wonder
3. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone by J. K. Rowling
The first book in the world-renowned Harry Potter series is a fabulous introduction to the Wizarding World. While younger students may be able to start the series, 5th grade students will be able to handle this book and some of the more mature themes that develop later in the series. The Sorcerer's Stone contains themes of friendship, bravery, and overcoming challenges.
Check it out: Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone
4. Frindle by Andrew Clements
Frindle pits a young boy against a determined teacher in a war of words. When Nick enters 5th grade, he doesn't intend to go up against the Granger, but a simple lesson on the power of words gives him an idea that he soon can't control. It's funny, thought-provoking, and comes with a surprise ending that will tug at your heart.
Check it out: Frindle
5. Number the Stars by Lois Lowry
Another well-loved Newberry Medal winner, Number the Stars follows young Annemarie as her family shelters a young Jewish friend during the Jewish relocation in Denmark. Annemarie and her family must make difficult decisions and choose whether or not to do the right thing, even when the consequences could be severe.
Check it out: Number the Stars
6. The Giver by Lois Lowry
Lois Lowry pens another classic story in which a boy named Jonah learns to bear a huge responsibility. As he takes this job on, he finds that his supposedly perfect world is not all it seems.
Check it out: The Giver
7. Esperanza Rising by Pam Muñoz Ryan
This novel takes place during the Great Depression. Privileged Esperanza must learn to overcome grief, hard work, and the other challenges facing her family as she adjusts to life in America. The book covers several other historical events and reminds students of the power of hard work and hope.
Check it out: Esperanza Rising
8. Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Patterson
In this modern classic, a young boy named Jess befriends the girl who beats him at running. Despite a rough beginning, these two grow close and create their own fantasy world. Life is good, until tragedy strikes and Jess has to learn some tough lessons about life and loss.
Check it out: Bridge to Terabithia
9. I Am Malala: How One Girl Stood Up for Education and Changed the World (Young Readers Edition) by Malala Yousafzai
An autobiography from the world's youngest Nobel Peace Prize Winner, I Am Malala is the powerful story of a young girl who so believed in the power of education, that she endured being shot to defend her right to go to school. She not only changed her community but influenced the world.
Check it out: I Am Malala
10. Little Women by Louisa May Alcott
This classic story has spawned several movie adaptations, but nothing can beat the book. Alcott's tale of four sisters growing up and facing all that that entails teaches the power of family and shows all the fear and joy and fun and pain of figuring out how to navigate growing up.
Check it out: Little Women
11. My Side of the Mountain by Jean Craighead George
Sam gets tired of city life and runs away to the mountains to live in a tree with a few animal friends. This survival story will appeal to any child's sense of independence and adventure as they read about Sam facing blizzards, wild animals, and loneliness in the wilderness.
Check it out: My Side of the Mountain
12. Prisoner-B-3807 by Alan Gratz
Based on a true story, Prisoner B-3087 tells the story of a young boy who is passed through 10 different concentration camps in Poland. He no longer goes by Yanek, but by the number tattooed on his arm. As he encounters unimaginable horror, he must also search for glimmers of hope as he tries to remember his true identity.
Check it out: Prisoner B-3087
13. Out of My Mind by Sharon M. Draper
In Out of My Mind, Sharon Draper tells the story of a young girl with cerebral palsy who can't use her voice to communicate the brilliant mind she possesses. Melody is determined to show the world how smart she truly is.
Check it out: Out of My Mind
14. Al Capone Does My Shirts by Gennifer Choldenko
Most people don't think of Alcatraz as a place for children, but because of their parents' jobs, Moose and his sister Natalie call it home. They face different problems, some usual and some unusual, but through it all, they get some help from a rather infamous friend.
Check it out: Al Capone Does My Shirts
15. The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett
Another classic story, The Secret Garden tells the story of a young orphan named Mary who is sent to live with her uncle. Mary learns many important lessons about herself as she interacts with the people around her and discovers the secrets of the manor.
Check it out: The Secret Garden
16. Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank
This book will start incredible discussions with any 5th grade class as they read the diary of a young Jewish girl who hid with her family during the Holocaust. Anne's diary changes from recapping everyday events to sharing her deepest feelings and thoughts about identity, fear, and much more.
Check it out: Anne Frank
17. Titanic: Voices from the Disaster by Deborah Hopkinson
This nonfiction book is a compilation of powerful stories from Titanic survivors and those who witnessed the tragedy. Bring history to life with pictures, firsthand accounts, and loads of detail.
Check it out: Titanic
18. Walk Two Moons by Sharon Creech
Sharon Creech weaves together more than one story as she tells of Salamaca and her grandparents traveling the country as she entertains them with the story of Phoebe and her lost mother.
Check it out: Walk Two Moons
19. Beyond the Bright Sea by Lauren Wolk
Part mystery, part drama, Beyond the Bright Sea is the story of a girl named Crow who tries to figure out who she is. She was taken in by an old man named Osh, but almost no one on their island wants to be near her. Crow learns much about the true meaning of family and friendship as she works to uncover her past.
Check it out: Beyond the Bright Sea
20. The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle by Avi
Charlotte finds herself in an unusual and scary situation- traveling across the Atlantic alone, working alongside tough sailors, and accused of murder! Charlotte's journey across the sea transforms her in ways that she couldn't have even imagined.
Check it out: The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle
21. Amos Fortune: Free Man by Elizabeth Yates
Children will be challenged and inspired as they read of Amos Fortune's capture, life as a slave, and fight for freedom. Amos's courage and determination cause him to keep working towards freedom and give students a more realistic picture of life as a slave.
Check it out: Amos Fortune
22. Bud, Not Buddy by Christopher Paul Curtis
Bud may not have his mother or a home, but he's got his suitcase and some flyers that may hold a clue to who his father is. He sets off on his own to try and find his father in a story that will break your heart and give you hope all at once.
Check it out: Bud, not Buddy
23. The War that Saved My Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley
Ada and her brother Jamie have had a hard life. Jamie is shipped off to escape World War II, and Ada follows to stay with him, despite her twisted foot. Through the kindness of a woman named Susan, Ada learns just what she is capable of and finds a strength she'd had all along.
Check it out: The War that Saved My Life
24. President of the Whole Fifth Grade by Sherri Winston
Brianna Justice has a big goal, and she's ready to do the work to reach it. But will she defeat the competition the right way, or fall into playing dirty tricks to get what she wants?
Check it out: President of the Whole Fifth Grade
25. The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C. S. Lewis
C.S. Lewis's fantasy story of 4 children entering the magical world of Narnia through a wardrobe has captivated children and adults for over 70 years. This book can be read as a stand-alone or as part of the Narnia series. Either way, children will love this tale of adventure, betrayal, and the ultimate sacrifice.
Check it out: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe
26. Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O'Dell
Island of the Blue Dolphins is the ultimate survival story about a girl who lives alone on an island for 18 years. She must defend herself from wild animals, rival tribesmen, and starvation as she awaits rescue.
Check it out: Island of the Blue Dolphins
27. The Shakespeare Stealer by Gary Blackwood
Introduce middle-grade children to the world of Shakespeare with this novel about young Widge. Assigned to steal "Hamlet," Widge must soon make a choice between obeying his cruel master or staying true to the crew in which he finds acceptance for the first time.
Check it out: The Shakespeare Stealer
28. James and the Giant Peach by Roald Dahl
No elementary book list is complete without Roald Dahl. Full of interesting fantasy creatures and a touch of magic, this story tells of a boy's adventure to overcome loss and has excited young readers for decades.
Check it out: James and the Giant Peach
29. Pay It Forward by Catherine Ryan Hyde
Inspire your students with this novel about a young boy who decides to change the world. His idea is simple but profound- do favors for others and ask them to pay it forward. He has big dreams, but will it work?
Check it out: Pay It Forward
30. One Crazy Summer by Rita Williams-Garcia
When three sisters travel from Brooklyn to California to spend the summer with the mother who left them, they don't know what to expect. What they find teaches them much more than they ever thought about family, life, and their country.
Check it out: One Crazy Summer
Literature is one of the quickest and most effective ways to help students see the world outside of themselves. Providing books that not only capture their interest but also teach them something (even if it's just that it's ok to laugh at yourself sometimes), is something every teacher and parent should work towards.
Frequently Asked Questions
How many minutes should a 5th grader read?
Many experts suggest that students at any grade level spend 15-20 minutes per day reading outside of school. Help your child read for longer periods by finding books that match their interests.
What is the Lexile level for 5th grade?
There is a large variety of information on the proper Lexile level for fifth grade. Most sources suggest that a 5th grade student should be reading at a Lexile level between 800 and 1,000. Books at this level will be a challenge for students without causing too much frustration.
What is a fifth grade reading level?
There are a variety of scales available to determine reading levels. Measures such as DRA, Lexile, Fontas and Pinnell, and others can all be used. For example, a 5th grade student should read at a DRA between 40 and 60, or a Lexile level between 800 and 1,000. (Scholastic). The level will look different depending on which scale you use.