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28 Novel Studies for 5th Grade & How To Teach Them

Here are 28 novel studies for fifth grade. I’ve categorized them in three ways——whole group, small group, and independent study.


I’ve read all of these books. My school required me to teach some of them. Others I read on my own and really enjoyed them.


I’ve listed the pros and cons of each type of teaching method. For each novel, I listed its teaching points, the genre, and a brief summary.




List of Novels in This Article:

1. Esperanza Rising by Pam Muñoz Ryan

2. The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster

3. My Brother Sam Is Dead by James Lincoln Collier and Christopher Collier

4. Maniac Magee by Jerry Spinelli

5. Number the Stars by Lois Lowry

6. Sideways Stories from Wayside School by Louis Sachar

7. Wonder by R.J. Palacio

8. Out of the Dust by Karen Hesse

9. Starfish by Lisa Flipps

10. Closer to Nowhere by Ellen Hopkins

11. Gone Fishing: A Novel in Verse by Tamera Will Wissinger

12. The Canyon’s Edge by Dusti Bowling

13. Out of Range by Heidi Lang

14. The Land of Stories: The Wishing Spell by Chris Colfer

15. The Wide-Awake Princess by E.D. Baker

16. The Pages Between Us by Lindsey Leavitt and Robin Mellom

17. Diary of a Wimpy Kid by Jeff Kinney

18. Dork Diaries: Tales from a Not-So-Fabulous Life by Rachel Renée Russell

19. This Journal Belongs to Ratchet by Nancy J. Cavanaugh

20. Regarding the Fountain: A Tale in Letters, of Liars and Leaks by Kate Klise

21. Julius Zebra: Rumble with the Romans! by Gary Northfield

22. Once Upon a Tim by Stuart Gibbs

23. The Bad Guys by Aaron Blabey

24. Holes by Louis Sachar

25. The City of Ember by Jeanne Duprau

26. The Stepmom Shake-Up by Niki Lenz

27. Josephine Against the Sea by Shakirah Bourne

28. An Occasionally Happy Family by Cliff Burke



Whole Class Read Aloud:

If you like the idea of you and your students reading and discussing one book together, then the books in this section might be the perfect option.


While reading aloud, I had students take notes (three bullet points per chapter). It could be of anything that stood out to them. This was helpful at the end of the study because students could go back and review their notes when trying to summarize the plot.


I’d recommend reading the following books aloud due to difficult content or vocab that was too hard for some of my students to read independently:




Esperanza Rising by Pam Muñoz Ryan

Teaching points: theme (hardship; perseverance)

Genre: historical fiction

Summary: Esperanza flees Mexico to go to California after her father’s murder. Students learn Mexican culture, migrant workers, & the Great Depression.



The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster

Teaching points: figurative language and word play; for example: Milo goes to a banquet and has a square meal and has to eat his words; he meets a “Which” who tells which words are okay to use and which are not.

Genre: fantasy

Summary: Milo complains of being bored until he’s transported to a magical land through a tollbooth where he learns the value of knowledge and wisdom through various silly situations.



My Brother Sam Is Dead by James Lincoln Collier and Christopher Collier

Teaching points: compare and contrast two texts; perspective. The book takes place during the Revolutionary War and is told from a Loyalist’s perspective. I’d recommend comparing the events and perspectives in the book to those in the social studies textbook. My students needed background info on the Revolutionary War before starting this book. Just a heads up: the text does use swear words and mentions the character’s older brother partying and getting drunk with college girls, but I always skipped over those parts.

Genre: historical fiction

Summary: Tim struggles to decide if he should support his older brother, Sam, who has joined the Rebel army, or if he should stay loyal to his dad who supports British rule in the colonies.



Maniac Magee by Jerry Spinelli

Teaching points: theme (inequality; racism; homelessness)

Genre: realistic fiction

Summary: Jeffrey Lionel Magee, an orphan, runs away from his aunt and uncle’s dysfunctional home in search of family and a home, yet he runs into segregation and homelessness.



Number the Stars by Lois Lowry

Teaching points: great for teaching plot because of all the tension in the story. It teaches about the Holocaust but isn’t too graphic. My students could read this independently because of the short chapters, but they needed lots of background information before starting the book.

Genre: historical fiction

Summary: Taking place during the Holocaust, Annemarie and her family hide Ellen, Annemarie’s Jewish friend, from the Nazis.


If you want to introduce kids to fun/easy books (with short chapters) at the beginning of year, these novels will help them love reading:




Sideways Stories from Wayside School by Louis Sachar

Teaching points: making inferences and character analysis

Genre: humorous fiction

Summary: Each chapter focuses on a student from Mrs. Jewls’s class or someone from Wayside School and a silly problem they have to solve.



Wonder by R.J. Palacio

Teaching points: theme (kindness); perspective (story is told from multiple perspectives)

Genre: realistic fiction

Summary: Auggie Pullman is born with a facial difference and struggles to make friends when he attends school for the first time in 5th grade after being homeschooled his whole life.


Pros and Cons of Whole Group Read Alouds

  • Pro: It doesn’t require a class set of novels; however, if you’d like your students to follow along as you read, you could always invest in a class set.

  • Pro: You control the pacing of the story and how often you stop to discuss.

  • Pro: Since you’re reading the story aloud, you can explain difficult content or domain-specific vocabulary as you go.

  • Con: If you’re not reading the story aloud, some students may have a hard time comprehending the text and keeping up with their classmates.

  • Con: Some teachers stop too much to ask questions and discuss the book, which bogs down the flow of the story; or they inundate each chapter with activities/assignments. Try to remember that reading should be enjoyable and most of the fun is in listening to the story unfold. One year, a student got mad at me because he said I was stopping too much and ruining the story. Lesson learned! LOL!

Small Groups:

If you like the idea of small group discussions around a common topic or a similarly formatted book, but want kids to have a choice in what they read, then check out how I’ve categorized the books in this section.


Novels in Verse

All of these books are written in short stanzas and make even the slowest readers feel like they’re zooming through the pages.


They’re perfect if you are teaching poetry, figurative language, or theme. You can point out the difference between a stanza and a verse, how dialogue is in italics versus quotation marks, or how the author ends each verse with certain word choice.


Starfish by Lisa Flipps

Genre: realistic fiction

Summary: Ellie deals with bullying from friends and family regarding her weight. The theme focuses on bullying, friendship, and acceptance.


Closer to Nowhere by Ellen Hopkins

Genre: realistic fiction

Summary: Hannah’s perfect home life gets turned upside down when her cousin Cal moves in with them; Cal yearns for love and acceptance and a stable home life after his mother’s death. The book is told in alternating perspectives. The theme focuses on family.


Gone Fishing: A Novel in Verse by Tamera Will Wissinger

Genre: realistic fiction

Summary: Each page is written in a different form of poetry and tells the story of a boy, Sam, who just wants to go on a father/son fishing trip, but has to include his younger sister too. It includes a glossary of poems at the end. The theme focuses on family.


The Canyon’s Edge by Dusti Bowling

Genre: realistic fiction

Summary: I love how this book takes place in my home state of Arizona and is a survival story. Nora must survive alone in the desert after a climbing incident goes terribly wrong. There is some sensitive content about a shooting, so you might want to inform parents or your admin ahead of time just in case they aren’t comfortable with their kids reading that. The theme focuses on life and death and processing grief.


Out of the Dust by Karen Hesse

Genre: historical fiction

Summary: Taking place during the Dust Bowl, Billie Jo helps her mother clean the dust in the house, but experiences family tragedy when an accident occurs. Caution for content like “drunken stupor,” and two family members die, so it is quite sad. Before students started reading, I always gave background information on the Dust Bowl and the Great Depression to help them understand the setting and story better. The theme focuses on hardship & perseverance.


Novels about Survival


Survival stories are always compelling for kids because there’s typically a lot of action, which keeps the pages turning and the plot interesting.


Plot is usually a great teaching point for these types of stories; however, I would caution against using Out of Range to teach plot, only because there’s a lot of backstory, and each chapter switches perspectives, making it a tad confusing for kids.


Instead, I’d teach theme. But if you really want to teach plot, then maybe encourage struggling readers to choose The Canyon’s Edge, since it’s an easier type of text.


The Canyon’s Edge by Dusti Bowling

See above for description


Out of Range by Heidi Lang

Genre: realistic fiction

Summary: It’s told in three alternating perspectives. Three sisters get stuck in the Idaho wilderness and have to battle a wildfire, a raging river, and dangerous predators. There’s a lot of backstory and not as much in-the-moment action, which could make this a difficult book. The theme focuses on life and death, family, & betrayal.


Novels about Fairy Tales


I’m a sucker for princesses, so a unit on fairy tales would be a blast for me. These novels lend well to teaching kids how to compare & contrast.


You could read a fairy-tale picture book as a mentor text and ask, “How are the fairy-tale characters in your novel similar/different to the ones in this picture book?”

Above are some fun fairy-tale mentor texts: Help Wanted: Must Love Books by Janet Sumner Johnson, It’s Not Hansel and Gretel by Josh Funk, A Cooked-Up Fairy Tale by Penny Parker Klostermann.

The Land of Stories: The Wishing Spell by Chris Colfer

Genre: fairy tale/fantasy

Summary: Brother and sister twins, Alex and Conner, get taken through a portal in a book to a land full of fairy-tale characters where they must find a collection of items in order to get back home.


The Wide-Awake Princess by E.D. Baker

Genre: fairy tale/fantasy

Summary: Princess Annie must find the right prince who can kiss her sleeping sister, Gwen, and wake her from her slumber after she pricks her finger, but Princess Annie doesn’t know who that prince is! For readers who love an innocent romance novel, this is perfect for them!


The above fairy-tale novels are both series books which is a plus to keep students reading after the unit is over!


Novels with Alternating Perspectives


It’s always interesting hearing what each character is thinking and how they might view the same problem differently. These novels are perfect for teaching concepts like perspective and point of view.


The Pages Between Us by Lindsey Leavitt and Robin Mellom

Genre: realistic fiction

Summary: It’s a story told through a friendship journal where two girls pass a notebook back and forth. Piper wants friends so she can invite them to her birthday party, whereas Olivia wants to gain confidence so she can talk to her crush, Jackson.


Closer to Nowhere by Ellen Hopkins

See above for description


Out of Range by Heidi Lang

See above for description


Wonder by R.J. Palacio

See above for description


Novels Written Through Diary Entries or Letters


Any time a novel is written in a different format, it’s a hook for reluctant readers because then they don’t feel like they’re actually reading a book. To them, they’re reading a diary, a letter, a journal, a notebook. Not a book.


I know this because I’m a reluctant reader. I’m picky, and I get bored easily when I read. But these “books” kept me interested.


If you’re wondering what to possibly teach using these unconventional novels, here are some ideas: journaling, quick writes, letter writing, character analysis, making inferences, and compare/contrast how the novel’s format is different from a regular novel.


Diary of a Wimpy Kid by Jeff Kinney

Genre: realistic fiction

Summary: Greg Hefley, a not-so-popular kid in middle school, records his daily middle school struggles in hopes of his diary one day making him famous; (includes the misuse of “Me vs. I” as the subject of the sentence, but could be used as a grammar teaching point).


Dork Diaries: Tales from a Not-So-Fabulous Life by Rachel Renée Russell

Genre: realistic fiction

Summary: Nikki Maxwell gushes in her diary about starting eighth grade at a private school, trying to make friends, getting a crush on Brandon, and dealing with popular girl, MacKenzie. This has illustrations and is a great companion to Diary of a Wimpy Kid.


This Journal Belongs to Ratchet by Nancy J. Cavanaugh

Genre: realistic fiction

Summary: Rachel, A.K.A Ratchet, is homeschooled and writes each entry according to a prompt. She wants to make a new friend, save a local park, and wants to find out more about her mother who passed away.


Regarding the Fountain: A Tale in Letters, of Liars and Leaks by Kate Klise

Genre: fiction/mystery

Summary: This unconventional story is written solely through letters, memos, postcards, and the like, featuring a fifth-grade class whose school water fountain is broken, and they set out to fix it but instead uncover corruption.


The Pages Between Us by Lindsey Leavitt and Robin Mellom

See above for description


Novels with Humor & Illustrations


Honestly, who doesn’t like to laugh? I’d highly recommend doing a unit on humor because it helps kids see the fun in reading.


It’s also a great way to teach inferences and character traits, because there are so many personalities to dissect.


All of these authors have multiple books, so even after students are done with the unit, they can find more books by each author to keep on reading.



Julius Zebra: Rumble with the Romans! by Gary Northfield

Genre: humorous historical fiction

Summary: A zebra and his animal friends are captured from Africa and forced to become gladiators in this wacky tale that mixes humor and history.


Once Upon a Tim by Stuart Gibbs

Genre: humorous fantasy adventure

Summary: Tim, a peasant, dreams of breaking out of his lowly social status, and finally finds a way to become a knight, but doesn’t have a clue how to fight and must help Prince Rupert save the princess. This book breaks the fourth wall and talks directly to the reader in hilarious snippets, even pointing out challenging vocab words.


The Bad Guys by Aaron Blabey

Genre: humorous crime fiction

Summary: Mr. Wolf and his evil animal comrades decide to change their reputation from bad to good by carrying out a rescue mission. The pacing of this book is quick, as each page is a picture with very little text. Great for reluctant readers!


Diary of a Wimpy Kid by Jeff Kinney

See above for description


Sideways Stories from Wayside School by Louis Sachar

See above for description


Novels Turned into Movies


It’s always fun when a book gets turned into a movie, because then you actually see the characters. Sometimes you like the way they looked in your head more than how the movie portrayed them.


But that’s what makes the books in this section great for school. Kids can compare and contrast how the book is similar or different from the movie.

Holes by Louis Sachar

Genre: adventure fiction

Summary: Stanley Yelnats serves time at a detention summer camp for a crime he didn’t commit, yet digs up treasure that helps piece together a mystery that is connected to him and his family.


The City of Ember by Jeanne Duprau

Genre: science fiction/fantasy/apocalyptic

Summary: Lina and her friend Doon must solve the mystery of why the lights in their town keep flickering out, and find out how to keep them on, but clues lead them to believe someone’s corrupt, so the fate of their survival is in their hands.


Wonder by R.J. Palacio

See above for description


Diary of a Wimpy Kid by Jeff Kinney

See above for description


The Bad Guys by Aaron Blabey

See above for description


Novels about Corruption


There’s nothing I love more than discovering who’s the bad guy. These novels make for great discussions about integrity, selfishness, power, and greed. They’re also great for teaching theme because of the lessons kids learn from these stories.


The City of Ember by Jeanne Duprau

See above for description


Regarding the Fountain: A Tale in Letters, of Liars and Leaks by Kate Klise

See above for description


Novels about Family Dynamics Changing


It’s never easy when your family dynamic changes. And these characters can feel the tension! They’ll do anything possible to prevent change, making these novels full of juicy events.


So, use these novels if you want to teach plot. A great question to have students discuss is: When does the main character change his/her mind?

The Stepmom Shake-Up by Niki Lenz

Genre: humorous realistic fiction

Summary: Grace sabotages her dad’s dating life with silly pranks in order to prevent their family of two from growing.


Josephine Against the Sea by Shakirah Bourne

Genre: fantasy/Caribbean mythology

Summary: Josephine tries to prevent her dad from dating when he brings home a woman who’s got something fishy about her, so Josephine must stop the romance when she learns her soon-to-be stepmom is a sea creature!


An Occasionally Happy Family by Cliff Burke

Genre: humorous realistic fiction

Summary: Theo and his sister are dragged to vacation at a national park with their dad, where they must endure dreadful camping conditions, and they soon learn about Dad’s secret girlfriend, which forces them to finally communicate their grief about their mother’s death.


Pros and Cons of Small Group Novel Studies:

Pro: Small groups provide a choice within a given structure. Students have more buy-in since they feel like had a say in what they could read.

Pro: You can offer easy books or more challenging books that all center around the same topic or theme.

Pro: You can do a Book Tasting to help students choose their novel.

Con: Students are still forced to read a book they might not really like. They might be picking it because there aren’t any better options.

Con: Since you’re not reading the story with them, you can’t explain difficult content as you go.

Con: You don’t get to be part of every discussion; however, you could do a centers rotation where one station is meet-with-the-teacher, where you ARE a part of the discussion.

Con: Grading is tricky because you’re not able to listen to each group discuss. In my class, peers graded each other after each discussion meeting, and that was a portion of their grade; I’d always look into whether the peer assessments were based on true performance or if a student just didn’t like another student and wanted to give them a bad grade. So, I didn’t always go off of what one student wrote.


Independent Study:

If you like the idea of your students reading on their own, then an independent study might be a good option.


I typically had my students choose a book and do a book project on it. I varied the type of project each quarter.


If students struggled to find a book, I would look at their student interest survey and ask them questions about what they liked to do outside of school, and I’d find books related to their interests.


Pros and Cons of Independent Novel Studies

Pro: Students have the most buy-in because they get to choose a book based on their interests.

Pro: Students can choose a book that is easy or challenging based on their comfort level.

Pro: Students can read at their own pace. You can have them use my Reader’s Notebook to help them keep track of the books they’re reading.

Pro: If your school uses AR, then you can use that as a form of assessment when your students are done reading their books (just make sure they choose AR books). I always allowed my students to have the book with them when they took the test.

Con: Everyone is reading a different book, so it’s hard to have group discussions.

Con: Grading can be a little challenging, depending on the assignments you give, since everyone is reading a different book.


If you’d like a novel study that can be used for any of these novels, I’ve created a 41-page unit that includes rubrics. Get it for free here.


And if you’d like my free worksheets on theme—including a list of themes and a rubric—download them below.

Theme Worksheet
.pdf
Download PDF • 626KB

Hope this was helpful!


Sincerely,

Maryna


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