For me 5th grade is one of those precipice years, a time when books for 5th graders are so important. You’re about to move from elementary school to middle school. Sixth grade is arguably the first year where you are your own captain, as it’s up to you to get your assignments in on time, as your teachers won’t constantly remind you to turn in work, like they do in elementary school. You’re also thrown into a sea of like-minded peers who are swimming through the onslaught of being the small fish in a new pond of like-minded peers who are also dealing with the onslaught of new responsibilities and hormones.
It’s a lot.
My own experience was especially difficult due to going to a brand new school for my 5th grade year, which I do not recommend. As previously mentioned, though, books helped me through this as they have helped me through other difficult situations. There are books for 5th graders that can help your young ones enjoy their new position as the big people on campus, brief as though it may be. The ones that can help you prepare for the new world of middle school. Then there are books you just read to enjoy them. Below are a few books that may interest your own 5th grade book dragons.
As a quick side note, some of these books do have protagonists that are above 5th grade. My own tendency to read ‘above my grade level’ shone through in that regard. As I mentioned, I feel the 5th grade is a level that straddles a lot of lines. Some of the books for 5th graders mentioned here really highlight that. Ultimately, though, you know what reading material is best for the young book dragon in your life and can plan and gift accordingly.
General Fiction Books For 5th Graders
Nothing’s Fair in Fifth grade by Barthe DeClements
This book was first published 1981, although the more modern cover may lead you to think otherwise. However, it is still a relevant coming-of-age tale about Jenny and Elsie. Jenny has to learn a lesson about not judging by appearances alone. While many people compare this to Judy Blume’s Blubber, it stands out in that we get to know more about Elsie personally, which we didn’t get with Linda. There are other books in this series as well, but this one is a good choice for 5th graders as they prepare for the new world of middle school.
President of the Whole Fifth Grade by Sherri Winston
Brianna has dreams of owning her own cupcake company. Her first step towards this is becoming her class president. When she is faced with competition for this role from her classmate Jasmine, she has to decide if she is going to win fairly or use underhanded tactics. This is a good moral lesson for all of us, regardless of age and shows that as determined as we may be, being a good person should overrule everything else.
Frindle by Andrew Clements
Nicholas Allen is a boy of many ideas that have gotten him a bit of hot water in the past. Fifth grade will be different though; until he decides to rename ‘pen’ to ‘frindle’. What started as an innocent decision eventually spreads through the school, the town, and eventually across the country. Can Nick stop it before it possibly spreads to the world?
Fantasy Books For 5th Graders
Tristan Strong Punches a Hole in the Sky by Kwame Mbalia
Tristan is sent to his grandparents’ house in Alabama for the summer to process the loss of his best friend. He takes along his friend’s journal, full of the stories that he wrote. One night it gets stolen and in the tussle to get it back, he ends up punching a hole in the universe. It’s up to him, Black American folk heroes John Henry and Brer Rabbit, and trickster god Anansi to seal the chasm and save the world.
I’m putting this on the list because it sounds awesome. While technically the lead character is in 7th grade, if you have a 5th grader who reads above their level, they would enjoy this book.
Where the Mountain Meets the Moon by Grace Lin
A mixture of fantasy and Chinese folklore, this book is about Minli who spends years listening to her father tell tales of the Jade Dragon and the Old Man in the Moon. She in inspired to go on her own quest to find the latter, who knows the answer to everything, to help turn her family’s luck around.
Artemis Fowl by Eoin Colfer
Fair warning that Artemis is a bit of an antihero, and even that description is generous in my opinion. I mean, the first book involves him kidnapping a fairy for ransom to help store his family’s fortune and triggering a cross-species war. However, that doesn’t take away from the fact that the stories involving this criminal mastermind are extremely engaging, with their marriage of fantasy and technology. That is one of the many things that fascinated me since you typically only find books that lean hard one way or the other.
Aru Shah and the End of Time by Roshani Chokshi
Aru Shah is a girl who has a tendency to exaggerate her stories when speaking to her classmates. This trait leads her to light the Lamp of Bharata, which is said to be cursed, after three classmates call her bluff. Doing so releases an entity known as the Sleeper, who is duty-bound to awaken the God of Destruction. It’s up to Aru to save her classmates, her mother, and the world by finding the five reincarnations of the legendary Pandava brothers and trekking through the Kingdom of Death.
Mystery Books For 5th Graders
Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library by Chris Grabenstein
Kyle loves games, but reading? Not so much. But when he finds out that world-famous game maker Luigi Lemoncello has designed the town’s new library? And that opening night is an invitation-only lock in? He’s determined to be there. Only to discover that getting out of the library is going to be tricky due to a puzzle hunt game that the designer has implemented that must be won before the kids can leave.
Book Scavenger by Jennifer Chambliss Bertman
Another mystery that involves puzzles and books, this stars Emily and her new friend James. After her move to San Francisco, home city of literary idol Garrison Griswold, Emily discovers that he has been attacked and left in a coma. This is all without anyone knowing about the epic new game he was supposed to launch. When an old book is discovered that the kids think is tied to his new game, they are on the case to find out what it is and who his attackers were.
The Name of This Book is Secret by Pseudonymous Bosch
This book is about Cass and Max Ernes, who somehow end up with a mysterious box of vials known as the Symphony of Smells. This sends them on the trail of a magician who has disappeared into thin (and stinky) air and onto the path of an adventure. That’s about all the information I can give you since the plot, much like the title, is a secret.
Graphic Novels For 5th Graders
The Baby-Sitter’s Club Graphix by Ann M. Martin and Raina Telgemeier
I love that revitalization this series got with the release of these graphic novels. That plus the upcoming Netflix series? My inner child is squeeing hardcore. The first in this series is of course Kristy’s Great Idea, wherein Kristy correctly thinks how easier it would be for parents to call one number for a choice of multiple babysitters. The rest, as they say, is history.
Big Nate in a Class By Himself by Lincoln Peirce
The first book in a long-running series about Nate, a boy who is just trying to survive his dad’s toxic oatmeal and the pitfalls of schools. By no means the teacher’s pet, Nate is learning how to dodge bullies, his teachers, and his arch-nemesis Gina all while staying his pretty awesome self.
The Misadventures of Max Crumbly: Locker hero by Rachel Renee Russell
This is one of the books where the main character is a bit above the 5th grade level. However, he is also facing the challenge of going into middle school for the first time, something I feel that a lot of 5th graders can sympathize with. It also doesn’t help that the school bully seems to have Max directly in his line of sight as his new victim. This spin-off from the Dork Diaries author is something I feel will speak to young readers who have middle school anxiety.
Horror Books For 5th Graders
The Jumbies by Tracey Baptiste
Corinne LaMer is fearless; She’s not even scared of the Jumbies that her parents tell tales about. Heck, she doesn’t even believe they exist! However, when one appears to follow her home one night and insinuates themself into her life, she begins to change her mind. Corinne and her friends have to reach deep inside themselves for courage, as well as magical ability they didn’t know they had, to save their island home from these tricksters.
Wait Till Helen Comes by Mary Downing Hahn
This ghost story was one of my favorites growing up! Molly and her brother Michael are finding it difficult to adjust to their new stepfather and bratty stepsister Heather. When the family moves to an old church turned house in the country, it comes complete with a ghostly friend for Heather. However, Helen is not a friendly ghost. Molly and Michael wait in fear of what will happen if she actually comes for them.
The Dark-Thirty:Tales of the Supernatural by Patricia C. McKissack
This collection of original short stories is inspired by African American history and take place from the time of slavery through the civil rights movement. It isn’t to be missed as it will make a lasting impression on the reader. This is one that I read and I thoroughly enjoy and recommend for all readers, regardless of age.
Historical Fiction Books For 5th Graders
Bud, Not Buddy by Christopher Paul Curtis
After his mother’s death, 10-year-old Bud (not Buddy) sets off on a road trip to find his father. Nothing will stop him from this task. Set in 1936 Flint Michigan, this story will help open up discussion for a difficult time in our country’s history, and may help kids to realize how fortunate they may be in comparison to others.
Number the Stars by Lois Lowry
In 1943 Copenhagen, when Jewish people are being ‘relocated’, Ellen Rosen moves in with her friend Annemarie Johansen and pretends to be one of the family. Then Annemarie is tasked with a dangerous mission to help save her friend’s life. A staple of most elementary schools, this book will help to show the strength of friendship.
Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry by Mildred D. Taylor
This book is the first in the series about Cassie Logan and her family. The debut takes place in Mississippi during the Depression. Throughout it, Cassie learns the importance of her family owning their own land as well as struggles in the ugly face of racism, oppression, and social injustice. This one is a hard read so you may want to pre-read or buddy read. It will create an opportunity to answer any questions these complex topics. This is a book every person should read at least once in their life.
Esperanza Rising by Pam Muñoz Ryan
This book is set during the Great Depression and tells the story of Esperanza, who lives a life of privilege on a Mexican ranch. After an unexpected tragedy, she and her mother move to a California Mexican Labor camp. Suddenly, her existence is unwelcome. Then her mother gets sick and the rest of the labor camp goes on strike for better working conditions. Esperanza has to discover her inner strength for both her mother and herself.
Funny Books For 5th Graders
There’s a Boys in the Girls’ Bathroom by Louis Sachar
Honestly, I wasn’t sure which Sachar book was going to the win a place on the list. All of them remind me of childhood. However I’m going with this one because it actually takes place in 5th grade. And I think kids will identify with Bradley, no matter what their personal circumstances are. Fifth grade can be a tough year. Especially if you’re the oldest in your class like Bradley is. And when it seems that everyone, except for the new school counselor, has given up on you. This book helps to show that believing in yourself, while difficult sometimes, is a great way to approach life.
11 Birthdays: A Wish Novel By Wendy Mass
Amanda was so excited for her 11th birthday, believing that the year was going to be so different from 10. Then she and her best friend Leo have a falling out. For the first time ever, they don’t celebrate their birthdays together. When she goes to sleep that night she’s happy that the day is over, only to wake up to her 11th birthday again! How long will this cycle go on and what is Amanda going to learn from it?
The Top Ten Ways to Ruin the First Day of School by Ken Derby
Anthony Madison, or Tony Baloney if you prefer, loves The Late Show with David Letterman. So much so that he will stop at nothing to get there. Putting his own spin on the Top Ten list, Tony goes all out with his antics in his desire to get to New York City. This book was originally titled The Top Ten Ways to Ruin the First Day of Fifth Grade.
Classic Books For 5th Graders
The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin
A group of 16 people are gathered at the reading of Samuel W. Westing’s will. What follows is a puzzle hunt for his fortune in one final game from the eccentric millionaire. This one has been delighting readers for years and will no doubt continue to do so in the future.
From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L. Konigsburg
Claudia and her brother Jamie decide to run away, and they have a very specific place in mind: the Metropolitan Museum in New York. They just happen to run away in the middle of the biggest mystery to make the headlines. This is a book most of us remember reading in 5th grade. I’m all for keeping the tradition alive.
Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Patterson
I know. I know. This book is heartbreaking. However, there is a reason that it has stood the test of time since it was first published in 1977. It was also given new life with the big screen adaptation in 2007. This book deals with a very hard topic in a very good way that kids can understand. It’s one of the staples of childhood literature and will continue to be.
I hope that this helped you to think of some books for the 5th graders in your life. Once they progress past these books, check out our recommendations for the best middle grade graphic novels or fantastic middle grade books by black authors.