Five Novels You Need to Read With Your Fifth Graders

Photo taken while avoiding all the papers I have to grade!

Without a doubt, my favorite part of each school day is reading aloud to my students. And it’s not just fun for me–sharing a novel together has almost endless benefits for children! They get to listen to a fluent reader, talk about a text with their peers, and most importantly, enjoy a good story! Using novels together in class is also an authentic and engaging way to teach and reinforce important reading skills. I use novels to teach all of the fiction skills and strategies we learn in fifth grade, from connections to characterization.

Reading novels out loud is also a great way to introduce your students to characters and experiences that can expand their world view. There’s a lot of kid lit out there, but I try to be intentional about which books I choose to read with my students. I purposely choose books that have protagonists who aren’t white males because unfortunately, white characters are still the norm in publishing, and I want to make sure my kids are exposed to a wide variety of people and cultures.

Read on to see my top five read aloud recommendations and why my students loved each book!

Zane and the Hurricane

If I could only read one book to students for the rest of my life, it would be this one. Zane and the Hurricane (or ZATH, as my students and I started calling it) tells the story of a biracial boy who gets stuck in New Orleans when Hurricane Katrina hits. He gets rescued by some New Orleans natives and tries to make it back to his family in one piece. I love that this book goes beyond the normal adventure-book cliches and also tackles the racism and classism that made Hurricane Katrina (and the government response to the storm) so terrible. This book has twists and turns, ends with a chapter that will make your kids cry, and is an amazing way to talk about social justice topics with your kids. Read more about how I do that in this post!

A Long Walk to Water

This book is an older one, but I had never read it until the end of my second year of teaching. I flew through it (it’s a quick read) and knew as soon as I finished it on my own that I needed to read it with my kids! It does require you to build some background knowledge because of the setting (most of it takes place in Africa during the 1990s), but the story of Salva and Nya really draws kids in. They are shocked by what Salva and Nya have to go through and how different their lives are from their own. The best part of this book is the ending–the last line has made every class I’ve read it to lose their minds!

The Crossover

This book is absolutely beautiful and so unique. It was another one that I couldn’t wait to read with my class after I had finished it on my own. The Crossover is a novel in verse about a boy who loves basketball and has to face some dilemmas with his twin brother and his basketball-star father. It’s so much fun to read this book out loud and the plot and rhythm gets kids hooked, especially those who like sports. The ending is an emotional one, and feels a little abrupt, but my kids are always pumped once they realize that there’s another one in the series. There’s also a graphic novel version of The Crossover coming out in September and I already know it’s going to fly off the shelves of my classroom library! (PS: There’s a tiny bit of innuendo in a few parts of this book. Since my kids don’t have their own copies of the books we read together, I just skip over those parts when I read aloud!)

Making Bombs for Hitler

Because my students read Number the Stars in fourth grade, I was in the market for a book about the Holocaust that deals with a different aspect of this horrific yet important time period. Making Bombs for Hitler tells the story of Lida, a Ukranian girl who has been kidnapped by the Nazis and forced into labor at a work camp. It is packed with action–so many cliffhangers!–and my kids have voted this the winner of our March Madness book tournament for two years in a row. I also like this book because it shows how the horrors of the Holocaust and the Nazi party were not just limited to Jews, but impacted millions of people across Europe.

Front Desk

This is my first year reading Front Desk with my kids, and the risk of trying something new has absolutely paid off. Before I read it, I assumed that it was going to be a cute book about a girl who immigrates from China and adjusts to life in the United States, but this book is so much more than that! It touches on issues of racism, stereotypes, and prejudice in a way that I didn’t expect, and it’s led to some great conversations with my students. It also has some truly hilarious moments that have my kids and I cracking up together.

What books do you read with your kids? Let me know your recommendations below!


One thought on “Five Novels You Need to Read With Your Fifth Graders

  1. Thanks for the recommendations! I have 2 fifth grades and I can’t wait to read your selections with them. 🙂


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