Five Great Summer Readings for 5th Grade Students

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The following books appeal to a variety of different interests. They are appropriate for both boys and girls. Many of them are Newbery Honor books or have been given other prestigious awards. Finally, they are age appropriate for 5th graders and those going into 5th grade.

Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O’Dell

This riveting book tells the story of Karana, a twelve-year-old girl who is part of the village called Ghalas-at. At one point in the story, her tribe leaves but Karana stays behind to find her brother, Ramo. The two live alone until a pack of dogs kills Ramo. From then on, Karana learns how to survive on her own. Karana has many adventures and encounters dangerous situations. For instance, she befriends a wild dog and an otter. This story is based on a true story. It is 192 pages. Fifth graders will enjoy the sense of adventure and peril of the protagonist.

Island of the Blue Dolphins won the Newbery Medal in 1961.

Surviving the Applewhites by Stephanie S. Tolan

Surviving the Applewhites focuses on Jake Semple, a kid that has been kicked out of several schools. For this reason, he comes to stay with the quirky Applewhites family to take part in their “Creative Academy.” Jake ends up participating in an Applewhite version of The Sound of Music and has plenty of conflict with twelve-year-old E.D Applewhite. Kids will enjoy the humor and interesting characters. This book was given the Newbery Honor in 2003. It has 216 pages.

Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH by Robert C. O’Brien

This is a great one for kids who like books with animals as the main characters. Mrs. Frisby is a mouse with a sick child. The house she lives in is going to be plowed down. Thus, she appeals to the ultra intelligent rats of NIMH to help her. The result is a suspenseful and endearing plot. This Newbery winner from 1972 has 240 pages.

Hatchet by Gary Paulsen

Hatchet is the ultimate tale of survival. It tells the tale of Brian: a boy who has an airplane crash and has to survive on his own. As the child of divorced parents, Brian is flying in a two-person plane when tragedy strikes and the pilot has a heart attack. Brian lands the plane and crashes into a lake in the wilderness. From that point on, Brian is alone and has to learn survival techniques. His trusty hatchet helps him weather his hardships. This has 289 pages.

Hatchet has won numerous awards, including a Newbery Honor in 1988 and a Dorothy Canfield Fisher Children’s Book Award in 1989.

Esperanza Rising by Pam Munoz Ryan

Culturally and historically rich, Pam Munoz Ryan uses beautiful language in weaving a tale about the life of Esperanza. Esperanza is an upper class girl whose father is murdered on the brink of her 13th birthday. Wanting to escape crooked family members, her mother moves the family to California to enter the agricultural field. Used to a charmed life, young Esperanza must learn to adapt to her lifestyle change. This is a great story about character development, immigration and learning to live a new life. This book has 262 pages.

Esperanza Rising won the 2003 Pura Belpre award.

In summary, these are all quality books that have strong characters, great imagery and interesting plots. I have read all of the above books with children on a fifth grade reading level. Indeed, one of these books is sure to grab the attention of children during summer break. Make sure to give students this 5th grade reading summer list before they go on vacation.


  • Newbery Honor Books, (accessed May 6, 2011)
  • Author’s Personal Classroom Experience
  • O’Dell, Scott. Island of the Blue Dolphins. Houghton Mifflin: New York, 1988.
  • Ryan, Pam Munoz. Esperanza Rising. Scholastic: New York, 2000.
  • Paulsen, Gary. Hatchet. Simon and Schuster Books for Young Readers: New York, 1987.
  • Tolan, Stephanie. Surviving the Applewhites. Harper Collins: New York, 2002.
  • O’Brien, Robert C. Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH. Aladdin Paperbacks: New York, 1971