50 Must-Read Books For Fifth Graders


Welcome to Amy’s Bookshelf! Here, teachers will find carefully curated book lists for each grade level from kindergarten to twelfth grade. Moving forward, new lists filled with book recommendations will be published weekly. Sometimes, these lists will be organized around a specific theme, like a holiday or seasonal event. Other times, they will feature rockstar books – books practically guaranteed to get your students reading. 

Before jumping into reading recommendations, a few words about how books are selected.

First, it is so important that teachers prioritize reading interest over reading level. Students will often choose to read well above or below their reading level if they are particularly interested in a book or topic. Teachers only hurt students by limiting them to a specific selection of titles grouped according to an arbitrary number or level. Think of the books on these lists as starting places for you and your students, but if a student wants to read up (or down), that is a-ok.

Also, please note that these lists lean heavily toward modern selections as opposed to the classics many teachers are familiar with. A true renaissance is happening in children’s literature today, and the books coming out are truly exciting. One of the factors that makes this such an exciting time for kid lit is how diverse the selections are in terms of genre, characters and subject matter. These lists will feature fiction and nonfiction selection as well as graphic novels, novels written in verse, and more.

Any book list or classroom library worth its salt includes books featuring LGBTQIA+ characters, racially diverse characters, characters with disabilities, characters in the foster care system, characters from a wide variety of socioeconomic and religious backgrounds, and so on. Importantly, the diversity of the characters doesn’t always need to be the focus of the literature – in other words, a book featuring a black character or gay character doesn’t need to be about those individuals exploring their blackness or their gayness; those characters can have kid problems that apply to all children regardless of their race or sexual orientation. Similarly, students should be encouraged to read stories featuring people of diversity all year long – not just during a month set aside to celebrate a specific heritage.

One final note: today’s children’s literature does not shy away from frank discussions of gender, race, sex, sexuality, abuse, mental illness, and more – nor should it. I will not censor books from these lists based on these controversial areas. What books you recommend will depend on the specific district you work in and your clientele. I encourage you and your students to read widely without fear.

Just so you know, Bored Teachers may get a small share of the sales made through the Amazon affiliate links on this page.

Fifth grade

Fifth grade students are on the cusp of adolescence, so the selections on this list start including a number of powerful coming of age stories featuring pre-teens who exercise their independence for the first time. Fifth graders still long for picture books and to be read aloud to, so this list includes a number of selections geared toward read alouds, too. 

1. Finding Winnie: The True Story of the World’s Most-Famous Bear

by Lindsay Mattick and illustrated by Sophie Blackall

Finding Winnie: The True Story of the World's Most-Famous Bear written by Lindsay Mattick and illustrated by Sophie Blackall_50 Must-Read Books For Fifth Graders

Find it HERE.

This picture book is the true story behind Winnie-the-Pooh, and it’s completely deserving of the Caldecott medal it was awarded. In 1914, veternarian named Harry Colebourn, left his home of Winnipeg, Canada, to fight in World War I. Along the way, he rescued a baby black bear by buying her from a trapper, and named her Winnie. The bear lived with Colebourn’s unit until he shipped overseas. Then, Winnie went to live at the London Zoo, where author A.A. Milne took his son Christopher Robin. The rest, as they say, is history. 

2. Lillian’s Right to Vote: A Celebration of the Voting Rights Act of 1965

by Jonah Winter and illustrated by Shane W. Evans

Lillian’s Right to Vote: A Celebration of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 written by Jonah Winter and illustrated by Shane W. Evans_50 Must-Read Books For Fifth Graders

Find it HERE.

This book recalls the battle for the African American right to vote through the eyes of Lillian, a 100-year-old black woman. As Lillian makes her way up a steep hill to her polling place, she thinks back through her family’s – and the nation’s – history, from the passing of the Fifteenth Amendment to protests in Alabama. 

3. The Promise

by Nicola Davies and illustrated by Laura Carlin

The Promise written by Nicola Davies and illustrated by Laura Carlin_50 Must-Read Books For Fifth Graders

Find it HERE.

The Promise is an allegory for young children, delivering a powerful message about making a difference in the world. In this story, a young girl tries to snatch a purse from an older woman, who refuses to forfeit the badge without first extracting a promise. The young girl ends up living up to her promise, though the story definitely has bittersweet notes.  

4. Show Way

by Jacqueline Woodson and illustrated by Hudson Talbott

Show Way written by Jacqueline Woodson and illustrated by Hudson Talbott_50 Must-Read Books For Fifth Graders

Find it HERE.

This story starts with Soonie’s great-grandmother, a seven-year-old slave, who sews quilt squares with secret meanings sewn in – secret meanings like the location of the North Star and a map through the Underground Railroad. The knowledge of sewing and family history is passed down from Soonie to future generations, and we soon find this is the story of author Jacqueline Woodson’s family’s journey to freedom. 

5. Beyond the Bright Sea

by Lauren Wolk

Beyond the Bright Sea_50 Must-Read Books For Fifth Graders

Find it HERE.

This book won the 2018 Scott O’Dell Award for Historical Fiction. This quiet book tells the story of Crow, who was placed in a boat and set adrift as an infant. She is rescued by Osh and befriends Miss Maggie in the 1920s Massachusetts setting of Cuttyhunk Island. A series of events leads Crow to question her own history in a young coming-of-age tale. 

6. Holes

by Louis Sachar

Holes, by Louis Sachar_50 Must-Read Books For Fifth Graders

Find it HERE.

Holes is a modern classic at this point, as it read widely in elementary school classrooms and has been adapted into a movie. Main character Stanley Yelnats is sent to a boys’ detention facility called Camp Green Lake. The boys spend all day every day digging holes, and Stanley soon realizes there is something more sinister happening here than character-building. 

7. The Liberation of Gabriel King

by K.L. Going

The Liberation of Gabriel King_50 Must-Read Books For Fifth Graders

Find it HERE.

Gabriel King is afraid of just about everything. His best friend, Frita Wilson, thinks he needs to overcome his fears, and she’s just the person to help. After all, Frita knows a thing or two about fear, having grown up as the only black child in school in a racist community. 

8. Circus Mirandus

by Cassie Beasley 

Circus Mirandus by Cassie Beasley

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Micah is enthralled with his grandfather’s tales of the mightly Circus Mirandus and its master, the Man Who Bends Light. Grandfather is dying, and the Man Who Bends Light owes him a favor. Micah sets out to find this man and save his grandfather. 

9. Crow Call

by Lois Lowry and illustrated by Bagram Ibatoulline

 Crow Call written by Lois Lowry and illustrated by Bagram Ibatoulline

Find it HERE.

Crow Call is a lovely picture book by Lois Lowry, well-known author of The Giver. In this story, a young girl’s father has returned home from World War II, but she hardly remembers him, so they must rebuild their relationship. It’s a simple, visceral story filled with homespun details many children will relate to. 

10. Insignificant Events in the Life of a Cactus

by Dusti Bowling 

Insignificant Events in the Life of a Cactus by Dusti Bowling

Find it HERE.

Aven Green was born without arms, though she tells wild and outlandish tales to the contrary. Aven meets Connor, a boy with his own disability, and they form a powerful friendship, especially when they stumble across a mystery and set out to solve it. 

11. Awkward

by Svetlana Chmakova

Awkward by Svetlana Chmakova

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This is the first in a trilogy about surviving middle school. In this story, Penelope is just trying to survive her first day in her new school when she accidentally trips into a boy named Jamie. She panics and shoves him, then runs away, only to find out that he is in the science club, rivals to the art club with which Penelope has aligned herself. 

12. Hatchet

by Gary Paulsen

Hatchet by Gary Paulsen

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Hatchet is a perennial favorite. Thirteen-year-old Brian is the lone survivor of a plane crash on his way to visit his dad. He is stranded and alone with nothing but a hatchet and his jacket. Slowly but surely, Brian learns to survive the harsh wilderness, teaching himself to fish, hunt, and build shelter. 

13. The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle

by Avi 

The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle by Avi

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Thirteen-year-old Charlotte Doyle is the only passenger on a ship traveling from England to Rhode Island. She quickly discovers they are sailing under a cruel captain and a crew plotting mutiny. Circumstances get bad fast for Charlotte. The first mate is murdered, and Charlotte is accused of the crime. This is an extremely engaging, empowering story and it begs to be read aloud. 

14. Amos Fortune, Free Man

by Elizabeth Yates

Amos Fortune, Free Man by Elizabeth Yates

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At fifteen, Amos is captured by slave traders and spends his life as a slave, until emancipation comes to the country. Finally, Amos finds himself a free man. This book is a good piece of historical fiction that is also a powerful character study. 

15. Lafcadio: The Lion Who Shot Back

by Shel Silverstein

Lafcadio: The Lion Who Shot Back by Shel Silverstein

Find it HERE.

Lafcadio is Shel Silverstein’s debut book, and it will be familiar in both tone and illustrations to Silverstein fans. In this story, Lafcadio is taken from his home in the jungle and conscripted to the circus, but as he becomes more civilized, he becomes more unhappy. 

16. Sideways Stories from Wayside School

by Louis Sachar

Sideways Stories from Wayside School by Louis Sachar

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Wayside School was built in a wacky way – that is to say, 30 classrooms right on top of each other. So, things happen at the school that are a little sideways. This is a collection of stories about the goings-on at Wayside. Some will make you laugh and some are quite a bit darker. 

17. Matilda

by Roald Dahl

Matilda by Roald Dahl

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Matilda is a young genuis who has the very bad misfortune of living with a decidedly boring family. Matilda finds a mentor in her teacher Miss Honey, and while school should be a sanctuary for Matilda, the children at her school are terrorized by Miss Trunchbull, the headmistress who rules with an iron fist. Matilda decides to exact her revenge on the dreaded Trunchbull. 

18. Bravo!: Poems About Amazing Hispanics

by Margarita Engle and illustrated by Rafael Lopez

Bravo!: Poems About Amazing Hispanics written by Margarita Engle and illustrated by Rafael Lopez

Find it HERE.

This book is a series of biographical poems written about, as the title suggests, notable hispanics and their contributions to the world. Many different people from a variety of walks of life are represented, as are many countries. 

19. The Eleventh Hour: A Curious Mystery

by Graeme Base

The Eleventh Hour: A Curious Mystery by Graeme Base

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This is an interactive picture book that requires engagement from the reader. In it, Horace the elephant is celebrating his birthday, but the guests discover that a thief has stolen the birthday feast. A keen reader will search the intricate pictures and texts for clues and can, in the end, solve the mystery. 

20. Bud, Not Buddy

by Christopher Paul Curtis

Bud, Not Buddy

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Bud, who never knew his father and whose mother died when he was six, has spent enough time in orphanages and foster care. He takes his fate into his own hands and follows clues his mother left him to search for his father. This book won the Newbery, the Coretta Scott King Award, and many others. 

21. Number the Stars

by Lois Lowry

Number the Stars by Lois Lowry

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As the holocaust begins sweeping across Denmark, ten-year-old Annemarie tells the story of the Danish resistance and how 7,000 Danish Jews are smuggled to Sweden.  

22. The Magician’s Elephant

by Kate DiCamillo 

The Magician's Elephant by Kate DiCamillo

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An orphan boy asks a fortune teller if his sister still lives and he is told to follow an elephant. This sets off a chain of events that are handled magically by author Kate DiCamillo. 

23. Jeremy Thatcher, Dragon Hatcher

by Bruce Coville

 Jeremy Thatcher, Dragon Hatcher by Bruce Coville

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Jeremy Thatcher, while being pursued by Mary Lou Hutton (who has an unrequited crush on Jeremy), runs down an alleyway and stumbles into a shop he’s never seen before. He purchases an egg and soon finds out that it is quite real. The egg hatches a dragon and now 12-year-old Jeremy must figure out how to care for – and hide – a dragon. 

24. The Door in the Wall

by Marguerite de Angeli

The Door in the Wall by Marguerite de Angeli

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Robin is destined to become a knight. That is until he falls ill and loses the use of his legs. Everyone fears the plague, and his servants abandon him. Robin is taken in by a monastery and he learns some important lessons about duty and honor. 

25. The True Story of the Three Little Pigs

by Jon Scieszka and illustrated by Lane Smith

The True Story of the Three Little Pigs by Jon Scieszka and illustrated by Lane Smith

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This is the story of the three little pigs from the perspective of the wolf as the protagonist. In his retelling, he was simply seeking to borrow a cup of sugar from the three little pigs, and a sneeze made him blow the houses down. This is brilliant satire and funny to boot. 

26. Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret.

by Judy Blume

Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret. by Judy Blume

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In this iconic classic, 12-year-old Margaret moves to New Jersey and finds her place with a new group of friends. They talk about everything, including who their crushes are and who has gotten her first period. But Margaret doesn’t quite fit in, because while her new friends are all religious, she doesn’t go to church. But, she talks to God in her own way. 

27. Little Women

by Louisa May Alcott

Little Women by Louisa May Alcott

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Little Women is about the four March sisters – Amy, Jo, Meg, and Beth – and their journey from childhood to adulthood. It reads a lot like Anne of Green Gables and is a classic that has been adapted into multiple films. 

28. The Secret of the Old Clock: Nancy Drew Book 1

by Carolyn Keene

The Secret of the Old Clock: Nancy Drew Book 1

Find it HERE.

This is the first in the iconic Nancy Drew canon, which started with a series of highly recognizable hardcover yellow novels published between 1930-2003. In this series, Nancy Drew lives with her father. She is an amateur detective and solves mysteries around town with her friends. 

29. The Tower Treasure: Hardy Boys Book 1

by Franklin W. Dixon 

The Tower Treasure: Hardy Boys Book 1 by Franklin W. Dixon

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The Hardy Boys series is basically the same as the Nancy Drew series, but with male protagonists instead of female leads. The Hardy Boys solve mysteries in these blue hardcover novels that are still popular today. 

30. The Bad Beginning: A Series of Unfortunate Events Book 1

by Lemony Snicket

The Bad Beginning: A Series of Unfortunate Events Book 1 by Lemony Snicket

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Horrible things happen to the Baudelaire orphans. They are placed in the care of Count Olaf, who conspires to inherit their fortune. Olaf is not nice to the Baudelaire children. These stories are dark and oh-so-fun. 

31. Frindle

by Andrew Clements

Frindle by Andrew Clements

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Troublemaker Nick Allen decides one day to start calling a pen a frindle. The new word spreads like wildfire and soon everyone is using the new vernacular. The school is in an uproar, and Nick’s teacher tries to get him to put a stop to the nonsense. But, it’s too late – the word is spreading out of Nick’s control. 

32. The Sign of the Beaver

by Elizabeth George Speare

The Sign of the Beaver by Elizabeth George Speare

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This is a survival story in the same vein as Hatchet that was named a Newbery Honor book. 13-year-old Matt is left to guard his family’s cabin in the woods, but his gun is stolen by a stranger. He must rely on his own wits to survive. 

33. Stella By Starlight

by Sharon M. Draper

Stella By Starlight by Sharon M. Draper

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In the segregated South, Stella learns that she can go into some stores and can’t go into others. This isn’t something she spends an awful lot of time worrying about until the KKK resurfaces, forcing her to take a side and a stand. 

34. Out of My Mind

by Sharon M. Draper

Out of My Mind by Sharon M. Draper

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Melody is 11, and she has cerebral palsy. She also has a photographic memory. This makes her the smartest kid in school but means she has no way to communicate this. Melody is determined to find a way, and a powerful story emerges. 

35. The Wolves in the Walls

by Neil Gaiman and illustrated by Dave McKean

The Wolves in the Walls written by Neil Gaiman and illustrated by Dave McKean

Find it HERE.

This is a powerful picture book that is both funny and contains a powerful message about ignoring the writing on the wall. Lucy is convinced there are wolves living inside her walls, but no one believes her until the wolves escape and run loose. It’s atmospheric, as all of Neil Gaiman’s writing is.

36. Nest

by Esther Ehrlich

Nest by Esther Ehrlich

Find it HERE.

Naomi Orenstein, aka “Chirp,” lives in Cape Cod. She loves her cozy life, but everything changes when her mother develops a serious illness. Naomi finds comfort in both the wild birds outside her house and in her friend Joey, who promises adventure. This is a beautiful coming-of-age story written with lyrical language.

37. Walk Two Moons

by Sharon Creech

Walk Two Moons by Sharon Creech

Find it HERE.

Salamanca, or Sal, is traveling across the country with her grandparents. Along the way, she spins a tall tale of a girl named Phoebe Winterbottom, whose mother disappeared. In the end, Sal’s story of Phoebe searching for her mother becomes her own as Sal tries to find her place in the world.

38. Smile

by Raina Telgemeier

 Smile by Raina Telgemeier

Find it HERE.

This popular autobiographical graphic novel is the author’s story of severely injuring her two front teeth. This results in braces and surgery and all the while little Raina just wants to be a normal kid.

39. Counting By 7s

by Holly Goldberg Sloan

Counting By 7s by Holly Goldberg Sloan

Find it HERE.

Willow, a girl genius, has her world toppled when her parents are killed in a car crash. Willow must come to terms with this and reinvent her life. This book, while certainly about tragedy, manages to be both hopeful and humorous.

40. The Wall

by Eve Bunting and illustrated by Ronald Himler

The Wall by Eve Bunting and illustrated by Ronald Himler

Find it HERE.

This picture book is quite simply about a father and son visiting the Vietnam Memorial to find the name of their relative. It’s powerful in its simplicity.

41. Tiger (The Five Ancestors, Book 1)

by Jeff Stone

Tiger (The Five Ancestors, Book 1) by Jeff Stone

Find it HERE.

This is the first in a five-book series about temple brother Fu, Malao, Seh, Hok, and Long. The five boys were raised together as brothers in the temple. The temple is destroyed, leaving the boys as the lone survivors with the templemaster’s final command – uncover their past. The boys go their separate ways to do so. This is Fu’s story.

42. I Am the Ice Worm by MaryAnn Easley 

I Am the Ice Worm by MaryAnn Easley

Find it HERE.

Allison is traveling to Alaska when her plane crashes, leaving her as the only survivor. She is taken in by an I-upiat trapper. At first, she is an outsider but eventually adapts well to the village.

43. Skellig

by David Almond

Skellig by David Almond

Find it HERE.

Young Michael’s world is in upheaval when his baby sister falls deathly ill.  Looking for escape, Michael finds a strange being in the garage that he calls Skellig. The exact nature of Skellig isn’t ever defined, because it’s not as important as Michael’s own internal journey. This is really good children’s fantasy.

44. The Lions of Little Rock

by Kristin Levine

The Lions of Little Rock by Kristin Levine

Find it HERE.

Marlee meets Liz, the new girl at school, and everything changes. But one day, Liz isn’t there anymore, and rumor has it that Liz was passing for white. Marlee decides that friendship is the most important thing in the world and takes a stand on segregation. 

45. Pick Me Up: Stuff You Need to Know

by David Roberts, Philip Wilkinson, Roger Bridgman

Pick Me Up: Stuff You Need to Know by David Roberts, Philip Wilkinson, Roger Bridgman

Find it HERE.

This is a nonfiction reference text for kids but in highly readable format. Various kid-friendly facts are accompanied by comics, charts, graphs, and colorful images to suck readers in and keep them engaged. 

46. My Librarian Is a Camel: How Books Are Brought to Children Around the World

by Margriet Ruurs

My Librarian Is a Camel: How Books Are Brought to Children Around the World

Find it HERE.

Libraries work differently in other countries, often delivering books to families, bookmobile-style. This book is a collection of descriptions and vivid photos of people accessing books around the world.  

47. The Top 10 Ways to Ruin the First Day of School

by Ken Derby 

The Top 10 Ways to Ruin the First Day of School by Ken Derby

Find it HERE.

Anthony Madison’s life goal is to be on the Late Show David Letterman and he will stop at nothing to get there. No stunt is too wacky, and Anthony goes to great lengths to go viral and get Letterman’s attention. His friends and family are in for a wild ride. 

48. The City of Ember by Jeanne DuPrau

The City of Ember by Jeanne DuPrau

Find it HERE.

Lina and Doom are residents of the last sanctuary of the human race, the city of Ember. Lina discovers a message from an ancient civilization just as the lights of Ember begin to flicker. The two children are convinced that the message will save the city. 

49. Haroun and the Sea of Stories

by Salman Rushdie

Haroun and the Sea of Stories by Salman Rushdie

Find it HERE.

Twelve-year-old Haroun wants to bring back his father’s gift for storytelling, and he sets out to do so by reviving the poisoned Sea of Stories. This is a great collection of related tales that is reminiscient of Canterbury Tales and The Arabian Nights. 

50. Airborn

by Kenneth Oppel

Airborn by Kenneth Oppel

Find it HERE.

This is quality steampunk for the middle-grade set. In a world where airplanes have never been invented, airships dominate the skies. The two main characters, Matt and Kate, set out to prove the existence of fabled flying panther-like creatures. Air pirates are encountered along the way, making this a swashbuckling steampunk high adventure. It’s the first in a trilogy. 

Other book lists from Amy’s bookshelf you’ll love: 

50 Must-Read Books For Fifth Graders

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AuthorAmy

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I am an unrepentant lover of words - and lucky me, I spend all day, every day immersed in them. When I'm not teaching, I'm reading. Or writing. Or teaching eager (and sometimes not-so-eager) adolescents about the power of the written word. I live on the scenic Oregon Coast with my dog, two cats, and five-year-old son.

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