25 Fiction Books Every 5th Grader Should Read

Fifth graders are a curious bunch. They want to learn about the world around them and are eager to know how to put their stamp on it. Reading is an excellent way to encourage their young minds to explore this world. Plus, it is a great way to build comprehension and vocabulary skills and see things from a different perspective.

You’ll find a selection of realistic contemporary stories, historical fiction novels, older classics, thrilling adventure tales, intriguing science fiction books, and exciting fantasies. The stories are thought-provoking and engaging for young readers and adults alike. You can read along with your 5th grader and help them link the events and characters in these stories to history, present-day topics, and even to their own lives.

Ideally, 5th graders should read at least 20 minutes per day. This is in addition to the time they spend reading in school. Reading is a skill, and it is good practice to build it daily. Fortunately, many of the books listed below are page-turners. Those twenty minutes will pass in no time. You may have to repeatedly ask your kids to put down the book at bedtime!

Happy reading!

Coming-of-Age and Realistic Books

Wonder by R.J. Palacio, 2012

August “Auggie” Pullman is like any other fifth grader. He states, “You could say I’m just like any normal kid. I have a family; I have a computer; I have an Xbox.” The only difference is that Auggie has a rare medical condition that has left his face disfigured. Up until fifth grade, he was homeschooled by his mother. However, Auggie will soon attend a mainstream school for the first time. This comes with the opportunity to experience a larger world and its trials and tribulations. It is an uplifting story about acceptance and will have the reader cheering for Auggie, the “wonder.”

There is also a movie adaptation of the book, which is very enjoyable to watch.

New Kid by Jerry Craft 2019

Seventh-grade student Jordan Banks loves drawing cartoons and wishes to attend art school. Instead, he is enrolled in a prestigious private school renowned for its academics. Jordan is also one of the few kids of color attending the school. The heartwarming story follows Jordan as he adjusts to his new school, sharing experiences and making friends with the other students while trying to keep his old friends and staying honest with himself.

The author, Jerry Craft, wanted the book to reflect a present-day African American experience and focus on diversity. Therefore, it is loosely based on the author’s life.

New Kid is the first graphic novel to win the Newbery Medal. The recognition shows the changing thoughts about the literary merits of this illustrated format. In addition, the combination of images and text makes the book engaging and enjoyable.

Out of My Mind by Sharon M. Draper, 2010

The story is narrated by Melody, a girl with cerebral palsy who is very smart but unable to express herself physically and verbally. She is very frustrated by this lack of ability to communicate. When she gets to fifth grade, Melody receives a machine enabling her to talk with others. She soon surprises everyone with her intelligence level and becomes a member of the school’s trivia competition team. And while there are other frustrations and obstacles, Melody maintains a positive outlook.

The book allows parents and teachers to discuss peer pressure and how disabilities impact a person’s life.

Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery, 1908

11-year-old redhead Anne has a vivid imagination and a mile-a-minute chatter. But, unfortunately, she is not what Marilla and Matthew Cuthbert expected when they adopted an orphan boy to help with the chores.

But Anne’s lively personality, her tendency for the dramatic, her determination, and her never-ending enthusiasm is contagious, and she positively impacts everyone she meets.

Young readers will also cheer Anne’s resourcefulness through all her adventures (and misadventures).

There are several excellent film adaptations of this book and television series.

Historical Fiction Books

Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O’Dell, 1960

This story follows the life of Karana, a 12-year-old girl who has been stranded on an island off the coast of California. It is a story of survival as Karina forages for food, fishes in the ocean, and fights off the wild dogs. She shares her account of daily life as she waits for the ship to return so she may be united with her people.

Readers will be intrigued by her patience and determination and wonder what they might do should they ever find themselves stranded.

The novel is based on the true story of Juana Maria, who lived alone on San Nicolas Island for 18 years before being discovered and taken to the Santa Barbara Mission. Juana Maria was also known as the Lone Woman of San Nicolas.

Number the Stars by Lois Lowry, 1989

Annemarie is ten years old and lived with her mother, father, and sister Kirsti in Copenhagen, Denmark, in 1943. It is during World War II, and Nazi soldiers are everywhere. Annemarie risks her life to help her best friend, Ellen Rosen, who is Jewish, escape the Nazis. Annemarie and her family pretend that Ellen is Annemarie’s late older sister, Lise, who died earlier in the war. The book personalizes the struggles and courage to smuggle Danish Jews to neutral Sweden to avoid being relocated to concentration camps.

Events throughout World War II inspired the story of Nazi-occupied Denmark. It opens discussions about the Holocaust.

Esperanza Rising by Pam Muñoz Ryan, 2000

Esperanza is the daughter of a wealthy landowner in Mexico. However, following a tragedy, she and her remaining family must flee to the United States.

They arrive in the United States during the Great Depression and adjust to a new life of working at either the farm camp or with the nearby railroad companies. It is a complex and very different life from what Esperanza was accustomed to. But she perseveres and learns the importance of family, friends, and hope.

Readers will learn about the lives of migrant workers and the challenges they faced throughout the 1930s.

The Watsons Go to Birmingham–1963 by Christopher Paul Curtis, 1995

The story is set in 1963, a turbulent time during the Civil Rights Movement. It is told from the first-person account of ten-year-old African-American Kenny Watson.

Kenny lives with his parents, his older brother Byron, and his younger sister Joetta, in Flint, Michigan. However, when Byron repeatedly gets into trouble, the parents decide Byron should spend the summer with Grandma Sands in Birmingham, Alabama. So once the school year ends, the entire family packs up the car and drives from Flint to Birmingham. During the visit, tragic events have a significant impact on Kenny.

The events in the book, while fictional, do relate to real-life tragedies. The book contains frightening events, strong language, and an important message. Reading in the classroom or with a parent may be best.

The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate by Jacqueline Kelly, 2010

It is the summer of 1899 in Texas, and Calpurnia “Callie” Tate is about to turn twelve. So naturally, she would much rather play outside than do what society and her mother think are appropriate for young ladies.

One day Callie notices two different types of grasshoppers and decides that she would like to borrow her grandfather’s copy of The Origin of Species by Charles Darwin. This interest sparks the beginning of a new friendship between Callie and her grandfather. Over the next few months, Callie has to divide her time between cooking and sewing lessons, learning about Darwin’s theory of evolution, and welcoming new inventions.

The book highlights the delicate balance between restrictions placed on girls at the turn of the 19th century and Callie’s desire for independence.

Inside Out and Back Again by Thanhha Lai, 2011

It is 1975. 10-year-old Kim Há, her mother, and her brothers must leave their home in Saigon as the heightening Vietnam War means they are no longer safe. After boarding a ship and staying in temporary refugee camps, the family finally arrived in Alabama.

The story follows Há as she struggles to attend school, learn a new language, make friends, and deal with bullies. The family also learns that Há’s father was a soldier in the Vietnam War but was captured by the North Vietnamese Army and died in captivity.

The story is told in free verse, which makes it easy to read. The author, Thanhha Lai, used this format as “these phrases reflected what Vietnamese sounded like.” It is a story that gives insight into Vietnamese culture and offers an excellent opportunity to discuss values and choices.

Wonderstruck by Brian Selznick, 2011

There are two stories in this book. One is told in words, and the other is said using illustrations. The stories finally come together at the end.

The first story took place in 1977. 12-year-old Ben, newly orphaned and deaf, decides to run away and travels to New York City. He eventually seeks refuge in the American Museum of Natural History.

The second story took place in 1927. It follows Ruth, who is also deaf, as she runs away to New York City. She, too, eventually arrives at the American Museum of Natural History. The two stories finally connect when it is discovered that Rose is Ben’s grandmother.

Fantasy and Science Fiction Books

The Girl Who Drank the Moon by Kelly Barnhill, 2016

Every year, the people from Protectorate leave a baby as an offering to the witch in the forest. They believe this offering will keep the witch from harming the town and its inhabitants. But the witch, Xan, is kind and gentle and feeds the babies starlight before bringing them to families on the other side of the forest.

One night Xan accidentally feeds a baby moonlight instead. Moonlight has extraordinary abilities, so Xan decides to keep the baby and raises the child, naming her Luna. As Luna grows, she must learn to control her magical powers.

The book is a lovely tale full of magic, witches, dragons, and more. It will appeal to children who love fantasy adventures.

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis, 1950

The story follows Peter, Susan, Edmund, and Lucy’s adventures as they crawl through an old wardrobe and enter Narnia’s enchanted land.

The land is under the evil White Witch’s spell, who meets Edmund and lures him into betraying his brother and sisters. Fortunately, Edmund’s siblings escape and eventually meet Aslan, the true lord of Narnia. Once all the siblings are reunited, there is much to learn and much to be done to triumph over the White Witch.

It is a classic story about forgiveness, hope, faith, and love, intertwined with adventure and fantasy.

The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien, 1937

The story follows Bilbo Baggins, a respectable and quiet hobbit, on an adventure to obtain a treasure guarded by Smaug, the dragon.

It will be a long journey across troll and goblin country, and Bilbo must use his wit and common sense to succeed. Children will enjoy meeting all the different characters and forming visuals of Middle Earth in their minds.

The writing style is less complex than Tolkien’s other works, making The Hobbit easier for younger readers.

It is a story that stands the test of time and has been adapted into many forms of entertainment, including films and video games.

Where the Mountain Meets the Moon by Grace Lin, 2009

10-year-old Minli is spirited and the only child in her impoverished family. She loves adventure, but most of all, she enjoys listening to her father’s stories. One day Minli sets out on a quest to discover how to bring good fortune to her family and the village. Along the way, she meets and becomes friends with a dragon who cannot fly, a poor boy, and a prince. Together they solve riddles to help Minli work towards completing her quest. But in the end, it is an act of kindness that brings a different type of fortune, much richer than the one originally sought.

This novel is inspired by Chinese folklore and has been called a “Chinese Wizard of Oz.”

The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, 1943

The Little Prince is a book full of surprises with a new perspective.

The story begins when a pilot crashes in the Sahara desert. While trying to fix his plane, the pilot meets a little boy with interesting questions. Imagine being asked to draw a sheep, but only a drawing of a box will do! The little boy, the Little Prince, begins talking about his adventures as he seeks knowledge to understand the rose on his planet. Finally, he reaches the moment in his story when he arrives on Earth, where he befriends a fox and a snake. This is when the Little Prince comes to understand his rose. But to return to his planet, there is a price the Little Prince must pay.

The book contains poetic language and philosophical discussions, and it would be best to read with an adult. In the end, it is implied that the prince allows a poisonous snake to bite him, which may lead to a discussion on suicide.

A Wrinkle in Time by Madeline L’Engle, 1962

Meg’s father, Dr. Murry, is a prominent physicist who has been missing for two years.

One night Meg and her younger brother Charles Wallace meet Mrs. Whatsit, the eccentric new neighbor. Meg then learns about the tesseract, which humans can use to transport themselves through the universe by folding time and space. It turns out that Mrs. Whatsit, along with Mrs. Who and Mrs. Which, is a supernatural being. Meg, her brother Charles, and their classmate Calvin embark on a journey through time and space to save Dr. Murry and the world.

It is a beautiful book celebrating love, bravery, individuality, and imagination.

Adventure Books

Trapped in a Video Game by Dustin Brady, 2018

This excellent book series is aimed at kids more interested in a video game controller than a book.

Jesse Rigsby is a 12-year-old boy who is not a fan of video games – for a good reason. He has been sucked into the game Full Blast with his friend Eric, and now there is a video game character after them. It is a series full of fun and action that will encourage children to put down their electronic screens and pick up a book instead.

Some book editions also include a bonus More to Explore section that teaches computer programming concepts and has STEM elements.

Hatchet by Gary Paulsen, 1987

The story is about 13-year-old Brian Robeson, who spends the summer alone in the Canadian wilderness. While Brian is flying from New York to Canada to visit his father, the small Cessna plane’s pilot suffers a massive heart attack and dies. Brian tries to control the aircraft but crash-lands into a small lake at the edge of a forest.

The story follows Brian’s struggle for survival. His only tool is his hatchet, a gift from his mother. He learns how to make fires, hunt for food, and build a shelter. Brian also faces threats like a porcupine, a bear, and even a tornado. It is a story about adventure but also character growth.

The book mentions marital infidelity, which led to the parents’ divorce. The story also offers a gateway to discussions of suicide. However, it is more likely that children will instead interpret the main character’s feelings as overcoming despair and wanting to survive.

My Side of the Mountain by Jean Craighead George, 1959

12-year-old Sam Gribley does not like living in his family’s overcrowded apartment. So instead, he leaves and lives on his grandfather’s abandoned farm in the Catskill Mountains. Sam has to rely on his survival skills when he arrives at the farm’s location, but it is no longer there. So instead, he must forage for edible plants and hunt animals for food.

Throughout the story, Sam meets other individuals and has several adventures, all of which help Sam develop his survival skills. But in the end, Sam must decide if there is a delicate balance between staying away from civilization and the desire to be with his family.

Milo is a bored young boy. One afternoon he receives a magic tollbooth. Not knowing what else to do, he drives through the tollbooth in his toy car and is transported to the Kingdom of Wisdom.

Once here, Milo goes on a quest to bring back the kingdom’s two exiled princesses, Rhyme and Reason, from the Castle in the Air.

Children will enjoy the adventure and delight in using funny puns throughout the story. A significant theme also centers on the love for education and the excitement of using one’s mind.

Animal Books

The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate, 2012

The book is based on the true story of a gorilla who now lives happily at Zoo Atlanta.

The One and Only Ivan tells the story of a gorilla in a circus mall from the gorilla’s point of view. Ivan has lived at the Big Top Mall for 27 years, and to him, being looked at by tourists, watching television, and painting pictures, everything seems normal.

But after the death of Stella, an older elephant, Ivan begins to remember his life before captivity. He shares these stories with Ruby, the new baby elephant. This is the beginning when Ivan realizes life can, and should, be better.

Many animal-welfare-related issues come to the forefront of this book. In addition, it contains adult issues and cruelty, which may upset some children.

Where the Red Fern Grows by Wilson Rawls, 1961

Where the Red Fern Grows is an emotional story about a boy and his hound dogs.

It is the Great Depression. 10-year-old Billy Colman lives with his family in the Ozark Mountains, and he wants nothing more than two Redbone Coonhound puppies. After two years of working odd jobs, Billy can purchase the puppies, and he raises them to be exceptional hunting dogs. Billy shows great devotion to his dogs, and in return, his dogs show great loyalty to Billy.

Eventually, the story of Billy, his dogs, and their hunting skills spreads far and wide throughout the Ozarks. They are soon entered into a championship hunt against older experienced hunters.

It is a story mixed with excitement, deep emotion, and times of great joy and sadness.

The story contains detailed descriptions of the hunting and killing of animals, which may upset children. There is also a gory description of a boy falling on an ax.

Classic Books

The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett, 1911

Mary is an ill-mannered orphan from India sent to live with her uncle in a manor on the British moors. As she struggles to adapt to her new life, she discovers many mysteries. She learns about a tragic family event, discovers a secret abandoned garden, and meets her cousin, Colin, who is bed-bound.

Over time the garden’s healing nature softens Mary’s ill manners and helps Colin find the determination to get better. Once a lonely place, the manor becomes a home full of love and laughter again.

Children will enjoy this classic story, along with many of the film adaptations.

Little Women by Louisa May Alcott, 1868

This classic American tale tells the story of the four March sisters growing up in Boston, Massachusetts, during and after the Civil War.

The story follows the sisters’ successes and hiccups as they move from childhood to womanhood and shows how even though they are all different, their faith and the love of their family are never wavering.

The writing style is old-fashioned, and gender roles reflect the period. Nevertheless, it would make an excellent read-aloud story to be shared with adults and children.

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