Classic childhood favorites for 5th graders
by: Lois Lowry - (Houghton Mifflin, 1993)
The award-winning book The Giver is actually the first of a quartet of books set in the same place and basic time. Set in a world so different, so intriguing, so shocking, the series explores a society with no pain or war. But this has been achieved at the cost of individuality, feelings, and memories — only one person has memories and knowledge of the past. That person alone understands pain, pleasure, beauty, and color. Chosen as the new holder of memories, 12-year-old Jonas gradually sees the costs of this utopia. The books are loosely linked with the third and fourth reintroducing characters from books one and two. It’s a wonderful book (and series) for older kids on the cusp of grappling with the big issues such as conformity, risk, and courage.
Want to see the movie? The 2014 film mostly sticks to the book’s plot but ages Jonas from a tween to a teen.
Perfect for: Kids who like dystopian world stories, suspense, rebels with a cause.
Find The Giver at your local library.
by: Fred Gipson - (Harper & Bros., 1956) 144 pages.
When his father goes on a cattle drive, Travis is left to look after his mother and younger brother on their Texas ranch. A dirty yellow dog shows up and wins over the family by proving himself a good protector. But when Old Yeller has a savage encounter with a rabid wolf, Travis has to make some tough, adult decisions.
Want to see the movie? Check out the 1957 classic Disney film.
Perfect for: Kids who like heart-wrenching animal stories.
Find Old Yeller at your local library.
by: Astrid Lindgren, illustrated by: Michael Chesworth and Louis S. Glanzman - (Puffin Books, 1945) 160 pages.
Pippi Longstocking has no parents, but she does have a monkey, a horse, and high spirits for outrageous adventure. Two children next door — Tommy and Annika — are amazed by her lifestyle. Envious kids everywhere adore this sassy, unsupervised heroine from Sweden who throws food, stays up all night, and does exactly what she pleases.
Perfect for: Kids who like classic stories.
Find Pippi Longstocking at your local library.
The Phantom Tollbooth
by: Norton Juster, illustrated by: Jules Feiffer - (Random House, 1961) 255 pages.
Described by many children as “the best book ever,” this is fantasy at its best. Full of irony and insights, Juster created a masterpiece when he wrote The Phantom Tollbooth. Give this book to your child and let the wave of words and numbers sweep them into a fantastical world. A clever, almost indescribable book that you may already know about, but is too indispensable to keep from mentioning it here.
Perfect for: Kids who like classic stories.
Find The Phantom Tollbooth at your local library.
The Secret Garden
by: Frances Hodgson Burnett - (J.B. Lippincott Company, 1911) 288 pages.
Mary is an orphan who is angry at the world when she arrives at a forsaken mansion on the British moors. As she slowly discovers the secrets of the mansion, including an invalid cousin, an abandoned garden, and a family’s sad history, she begins to hesitantly open her heart. She shows her cousin the garden and his ecstatic encounter with nature is as healing for him as it has been for Mary. The young people flourish along with the garden, as the lonely mansion becomes a loving home.
Want to see the movie? Check out the 1993 adaptation featuring Maggie Smith as Mrs. Medlock.
Perfect for: Kids who like classic stories.
Find The Secret Garden at your local library.
Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland
by: Lewis Carroll - (Macmillan, 1865) 192 pages.
Curious Alice takes a tumble down a rabbit hole and finds herself in a topsy-turvy world of strange creatures, perplexing riddles, and madcap adventures. Most kids are familiar with Alice’s journey and her run-ins with characters like the elusive White Rabbit, the Mad Hatter, and the malevolent Queen of Hearts. But there’s no substitute for experiencing the silly rhymes and absurd illustrations of Lewis Carroll’s original work firsthand. More hesitant readers may benefit from reading the tongue twisters aloud together.
Want to see the movie? Tweens may appreciate the manic 2010 version starring Johnny Depp as the Hatter.
Perfect for: Kids who delight in the silly.
Find Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland at your local library.
The Black Stallion
by: Walter Farley - (Random House, 1991) 187 pages.
When their ship is wrecked in a storm, teenaged Alex Ramsey is stranded on a desert island with a wild, Arabian black stallion. Horse and boy befriend each other in their struggle for survival, and they maintain their emotional bond after they’re rescued and transported to New York. Recognizing the amazing speed of “the Black”, Henry and a trainer set up a match race between their un-pedigreed mystery and two thoroughbred champions.
Perfect for: Children who love animals — especially horses.
Find The Black Stallion at your local library.
The Red Badge of Courage
by: Stephen Crane - (Dover Publication, Inc., 1990) 112 pages.
Henry Fleming is an 18-year-old private in the Civil War. He doesn’t feel patriotic or heroic in his first major battle. Instead, his emotions are terror, shame, cowardice, and self-preservation. Fleeing the slaughter, he watches his friend die of blood loss, and he’s smashed in the head by another deserter. Hungry, exhausted, wounded, and disillusioned, he returns to his regiment, leading them bravely into battle on the following day. Praised for its prose styling, realistic descriptiveness, and psychological honesty — particularly in its portrayal of fear — this book is viewed by many as the first anti-war novel.
Perfect for: Children intrigued by war stories and Civil War history.
Find The Red Badge of Courage at your local library.
The Martian Chronicles
by: Ray Bradbury - (Simon & Schuster, 2012) 256 pages.
Humans seek to colonize Mars. Conflicts arise with the red planet’s aboriginal, yellow-eyed inhabitants, who enjoy an ancient civilization built around canals that transport water from the ice caps. Germs from Earth soon exterminate almost all of the Martians, enabling a few humans to settle there as global nuclear warfare destroys the Earth. Structured as 24 short stories in chronological order, these imaginative adventures deliver scientific information while rebuking the brutal ethics of colonization.
Perfect for: Children who like science fiction that offers social critique.
Find The Martian Chronicles at your local library.
by: Rudyard Kipling - (CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, 2013) 164 pages.
Harvey Cheyne Jr., the spoiled, bratty son of an American multimillionaire, is washed off the deck of a luxury ocean liner on a transatlantic cruise. Rescued by Portuguese fishermen, the previously pampered boy is forced to share the toils of the high-seas occupation with his salty, rambunctious shipmates. Thriving under the challenges and enjoying the camaraderie, his character matures into a self-reliant, responsible young adult.
Perfect for: Children who enjoy humorous adventures.
Find Captains Courageous at your local library.
by: Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, illustrated by: N. C. Wyeth - (Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1967) 405 pages.
Jody Baxter’s family has a farm in the Florida backwoods, an environment teeming with alligators, wolves, bears, and hostile human neighbors. Jody is lonely, so his parents allow him to adopt an orphaned fawn that becomes his close companion. The deer quickly grows up — and devours the corn crop. Jody’s loyalty is torn between his family and his animal friend in this coming-of-age tale of desperate, rural hardships.
Perfect for: Children who appreciate animals and farm life.
Find The Yearling at your local library.
Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
by: Mark Twain - (Barnes & Noble Classic Series, 2008) 336 pages.
This is the story of a young, troubled, restless teenage boy and his funny-but-poignant escapades in the 1840s. Escaping both his drunk, violent father and his religious, hell-threatening guardians, Huck flees his small Missouri town with Jim, a runaway slave. Rafting down the Mississippi River, the duo face incessant dangers that they overcome with cleverness, courage, and loyalty to each other. This novel has been praised for its witty, vernacular expressions, humanitarian worldview, and scathing indictment of Southern antebellum racism and hypocrisy.
Perfect for: Kids with a sense of adventure and a keen sense of right and wrong.
Find Adventures of Huckleberry Finn at your local library.
The Adventures of Tom Sawyer
by: Mark Twain - (MacMillan Collectors Library Books, 2017) 264 pages.
The mischievous escapades of a small-town Missouri boy in the 1840s are described with wry humor, timeless characters, and social critique. The lively, anti-authoritarian plot includes grave robbers, skipping school, tricking the church, kissing girls, running away from home, buried treasure, a haunted house, witnessing a murder, and getting lost in a labyrinthine cave. It’s a classic tale of clever, courageous boys seeking freedom in an overly civilized world.
Perfect for: Children who crave thrilling stories and like smart-aleck characters.
Find The Adventures of Tom Sawyer at your local library.
by: William H. Armstrong, illustrated by: James Barkley - (Harper & Row, 116) 1969 pages.
Set in the late 1880s in the Deep South, this is the story of an African-American sharecropping who endures racism and its consequences: poverty, hunger, imprisonment. Sounder is their coon dog. He exemplifies the loyalty, courage, love, hope, and faith needed to keep a struggling family together. The bittersweet ending (two main characters die) is balanced with optimism when the teenage son learns to read and write, thanks to the kindness of a schoolteacher and a book by the moralist Montaigne.
Perfect for: Animal lovers, history fiends, and kids who love a good story.
Find Sounder at your local library.
The Indian in the Cupboard
by: Lynne Reid Banks - (Doubleday Books for Young Readers, 1985) 192 pages.
Omri uses an ancient key that belonged to his great-grandmother to lock a tiny plastic Indian figurine in a medicine cabinet and… magic! The toy is transformed into Little Bear, a very alive and demanding Iroquois brave. Exciting adventures ensue, with conflicts and camaraderie between Omri, Little Bear, Patrick (Omri’s best friend), and Boone, a reanimated cowboy toy who is violently hostile to Little Bear. It’s a tale filled with lessons in responsibility, ethics, friendship, and Native American culture.
Perfect for: Children who like the idea of their toys coming to life.
Find The Indian in the Cupboard at your local library.