I’ve been an elementary school reading teacher, a reading interventionist, and now a reading instructional coach. I’ve had so much fun compiling this list of the best, most appropriate books for 5th graders. Some are timeless treasures and others are modern winners. Most are likely to inspire some social emotional learning and expand the imagination.
Of course, you may have a struggling reader who is not on grade level, or a kiddo who is a year or more advanced. I have tried to include a range of options. Not to worry; I have lists for other grade levels and topics, too.
This post contains affiliate links, which means I may earn a small commission from your clicks. Check out my full disclosure here.
Diary of a Wimpy Kid Series
“The best thing about Diary of a Wimpy Kid books is that you always get stuck going on some adventure,” according to my daughter. She also says that even though some of the words are tricky, littler kids can understand because there are so many pictures. Plus, there are so many wonderful jokes!
These are some of the best books for kids because they absolutely love and relate to the main character, and that’s really important at this age. Don’t be bothered if the books aren’t challenging enough for your child; in my opinion, it’s more important to foster a love of reading in elementary school than it is to read great works of American literature.
Bridge to Terabithia
Here a classic Newbery medal winning book. Bridge to Terabithia is perfect for fifth graders because it’s a story about friendship, loss, and grief, requiring a bit more maturity than some other books on this list.
Because it’s such an old book, some of the gender stereotyping will seem odd to kids and maybe even inappropriate, so be sure to have good discussions about it. One of the best things about reading is being exposed to ideas you don’t necessarily support, and then having great parenting conversations about it. Bridge to Terabithia is still worth the read, in my opinion.
The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe
Here’s another classic – this one chosen by PBS’ the Great American Read as one of the 100 best loved novels of all time. This is a fantasy novel about four siblings who step through a closet door into a frozen wonderland and embark on an epic adventure. To most kids, that’s more than enough to hook them.
For Christian students, there are plenty of Biblical allegory that will add a layer of interest, which will go unnoticed by kids who aren’t religious. This is a great book for fantasy lovers and belongs on every upper elementary school reading list.
Harriet the Spy
I still remember reading this book when I was a child. Harriet M. Welsch is a spy who carries a notebook everywhere and makes notes about her people-watching. Unfortunately, the notebook ends up in the wrong hands, and everyone discovers the truthful, but sometimes very hurtful things she has said about them. Harriet has to figure out how to repair her friendships.
It’s a really wonderful story full of life lessons. Young readers may hesitate at the cover art, especially if you’ve got an old copy, but they’ll soon be hooked by the premise and the young girl.
The Secret Garden
Here’s a mysterious classic book about a little girl who is orphaned and goes to live with her uncle in his mansion with 100 rooms. He never comes out of his bedroom, she’s lonely, and the only respite are the gardens outside. She discovers a secret, locked garden behind high walls. Once she finds her way in, she’s determined to bring the garden back to life.
I like the version linked here because it has a helpful historic orientation, glossary, and other useful bits to help modern readers access this timeless treasure. This book is subdued and quiet, so it won’t be perfect for every student. Still, it’s worth a shot and children have been reading it for generations.
Bud, Not Buddy
This book has a Newbery Award, a Coretta Scott King Award, and has won the best book of the year from The New York Times, Publishers Weekly, and the School Library Journal. In short, it’s a modern classic. The story takes place during the Great Depression, in Flint, Michigan. Ten year old Bud has left home to search for his father. Even though his circumstances are dire, he’s a boy filled with hope, so it never feels depressing.
This also serves as an amazing story to teach about the effects of racism, but it never feels overwhelming and heavy handed.
Number the Stars
This is a more uplifting fictional story set during the Holocaust in Denmark. Annemarie’s family takes in her Jewish best friend, Ellen Rosen, and conceals her as part of the family to protect her. Lois Lowry is a wonderful writer, and this is another Newbery Medal winner.
If you’re looking for an age appropriate way to introduce the Holocaust, this one should certainly be on your short list of contenders. This is a wonderful story of courage, and it’s probably the only Holocaust story available that ends happily for almost every character introduced.
This is the perfect read-aloud for 5th graders; in fact, one of our 5th grade teachers has a class set of this book. It’s also the favorite book that I’ve ever read with my daughter. It’s all about a 5th grade boy named Auggie Pullman who is attending school for the first time. While he’s more than prepared academically, he has a facial disfigurement and multiple surgeries and scars that make the situation daunting. All he wants is to be an ordinary kid, but his face prevents his classmates from treating him accordingly.
This story is beautiful and heartwarming, and it was a brilliant lesson in compassion for my daughter. It’s a tremendously readable story of a young boy, and it would be an excellent choice for any child who is beginning to feel isolated or alone at school. I especially love this book for back-to-school reading.
The Harry Potter Series
This story is so famous that I won’t bother providing a summary, but the series is almost universally loved by kids from upper elementary through middle school. To this day, my grown relatives couldn’t resist visiting Harry Potter World when we visited London for a wedding. The stories are just so magical and have a definite cult following.
Most kids will have at least seen the movies, so of course, reading the books is even better! This would be a good book for any reluctant reader who needs a movie or past experience with the topic to be interested.
You probably remember this series from your own childhood; I sure do. The protagonist is Stanley Yelnats, whose family is under a curse. He is unfairly sent to a boys’ detention center at a place called Camp Green Lake. There’s no lake at all, of course, just a dry lake bed full of holes. The boys who have been sent there are all digging the holes on behalf of the warden, but why? No one knows. This story is by Louis Sachar, the same author who wrote Sideways Stories from Wayside School.
My daughter says it’s the perfect non-creepy mystery with a good bit of suspense. It’s begging to be taken on your summer vacation this year!
This book is an introduction into magical realism and it’s also historical fiction, one of my favorite genres. Esperanza thought she’d always live a privileged life on her family’s ranch in Mexico, with fancy dresses and servants and all the comforts she could want.
But there’s a major tragedy, and Esperanza and her mama must flee to California, and live on a farm labor camp in the Great Depression. She has to learn to rise above her incredibly challenging circumstances. Esperanza Rising is part of the Scholastic gold line. The story of Esperanza should be inspiring for any young girl.
A Series of Unfortunate Events Series
This series of books is so popular at the elementary school where I teach, and our librarian loves them. Here’s a quote taken directly from the Amazon review section: “This boxed set is wonderful, beautiful paperbacks with nice large type. Lemony Snicket is an amazing writer. Though these books were written for children, I can tell you after a 23-year career as a librarian at both academic and public libraries, that every adult I know that has invested the time to read this series has been enchanted.”
Here are all my favorite chapter books for kids in one spot!
Finding Fifth Grade Books for Kids Who Already Love Reading
These are some of my favorite appropriate books for 5th graders. If your child is reading below grade level, don’t be afraid to check out my lists for the lower grades; you’ll still find some that will interest an older child.
If a child is super interested in the content of a book, they’ll sometimes be able to access books that are one reading level higher than you’d expect.
The reverse is also true, if the content bores them completely, they may not be able to read as well. That’s because motivation plays an important part in reading endurance and decoding ability.
For example, my daughter’s current guided reading level is an S. She’s a strong reader who will be entering 2nd grade soon. She’ll make quite a few decoding errors if she attempts to read a book on a guided reading level T.
However, she absolutely loves fiction with a female protagonist and an element of fantasy or magic – books like Matilda by Roald Dahl, for example. She will push past her decoding mistakes and manage to have strong comprehension with books that fit this niche.
On the other hand, if she’s got to read nonfiction about animals like crocodiles or sharks, she will sometimes comprehend less of what she’s reading, even if it’s technically on grade level. This is normal behavior.
In other words – prioritize interest in the content over exact reading level, whether you use Guided Reading levels, Lexile scores, or any other metric. The goal is to be in the ballpark on the reading level, and then choose the highest interest books for your child. This will foster a love of reading for your kiddo!
How to Inspire a Reluctant Reader
All three of my own children love to read, but I’ve encountered plenty of reluctant readers at the school where I teach and lead. Here are some ways to inspire reading at home.
- Remember that the foundations for reading are speaking and listening. If your child isn’t exposed to tons of language around the home, they’re already at a disadvantage with regard to vocabulary and general comprehension. There are ways to increase the language around your home steadily over time.
- As I mentioned before, prioritize content and interest level over matching to an exact reading level. If there’s a book your child can’t read independently that you know they’ll love, read it to them, even in middle school. My favorite class was 8th grade reading, and our teacher read us tear-jerkers even as we were approaching high school. We all still remember it like it was yesterday.
- If you know your child will love a book but they’re put off by the cover or description, read with them for at least the first few chapters. Most kids long for more independent time with their parents, even if they don’t realize it. My daughter told me she would have never picked up Hatchet or Holes if I hadn’t read them with her at first, because she thought they were “boy books.” We alternate pages and she has learned from how I read with expression.
- Also, please let your kid pick out any books they love at the library, without regard for whether or not you think it’s technically a “good” book. Ramp up the love of reading and of the experience of choosing a book independently, because the demands of school will expose them toward harder books anyway.
- Never turn up your nose at a graphic novel; these are legitimate books that can challenge kids and push them to really develop in their ability to understand different perspectives. Graphic novels can be great!
- Let kids quit on books they’re not enjoying. Great readers of all ages give themselves permission to not trudge through a book that doesn’t spark interest.
I hope you found something to read with your kiddos from this book list! Whether your child loves graphic novels, historical fiction books, or even popular books that do a great job teaching social skills, there’s something for every child out there. But it takes some patience, a bit of hand-holding, and some relationship building to grow great readers. Good luck, parents and teachers!