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20 Picture Books for 5th Graders

If you have a resistant reader it might be time to give picture books a try! Picture books are great for older readers, even middle schoolers. Here is a list of award winning picture books for 5th graders. I never would have thought of picture books for 5th graders. I thought they were just for little kids. Luckily I was wrong. When we started this homeschool journey my daughter was a very reluctant reader. Years of AR tests and forced reading had created a lot of reading resistance in her. My main goal for our first year of homeschool was simply to bring back the love of learning. I didn’t know how I was ever going to do that when I couldn’t get her to crack a book… ever. I was lucky enough to run across some articles about picture books for older kids, and we started the Big 5th grade picture book experiment.

Well… we are almost half way through our school year, and I’m happy to say it’s been quite a success! Enough so, that we are going to continue using picture books for the remainder of 5th grade, and probably on into middle school. Unfortunately, our much loved Living Lit program we’ve been using is coming to an end, we’ve about run out of books in that program. I didn’t know what we were going to do for the rest of the year, but then I did a little digging and found 20 more picture books for 5th graders. I’m putting together my own “expansion packs” for each book. The expansion packs will include grammar, as well as writing, critical thinking, and making connections between the books and the world around us.

Click the title or image to go directly to
Amazon for more information on each book.

These are the award winning picture books we will be using for the rest of the year.

Picture Books for 5th Graders

Separate is Never Equal

separate is never equal and 19 more picture books for 5th gradersAlmost 10 years before Brown vs. Board of Education, Sylvia Mendez and her parents helped end school segregation in California. An American citizen of Mexican and Puerto Rican heritage who spoke and wrote perfect English, Mendez was denied enrollment to a “Whites only” school. Her parents took action by organizing the Hispanic community and filing a lawsuit in federal district court. Their success eventually brought an end to the era of segregated education in California.

Read my full review, and download the expansion pack for Separate is Never Equal

The Boy Who Invented TV: They Story of Philo Farnsworth

The Boy Who Invented TV and 19 other picture books for 5th graders Plowing a potato field in 1920, a 14-year-old farm boy from Idaho saw in the parallel rows of overturned earth a way to “make pictures fly through the air.” This boy was not a magician; he was a scientific genius and just eight years later he made his brainstorm in the potato field a reality by transmitting the world’s first television image. This fascinating picture-book biography of Philo Farnsworth covers his early interest in machines and electricity, leading up to how he put it all together in one of the greatest inventions of the 20th century.


Sandy’s Circus: A Story about Alexander Calder

Sandy's Circus and 19 more picture books for 5th gradersAs a boy, Alexander ?Sandy? Calder was always fiddling with odds and ends, making objects for friends. When he got older and became an artist, his fiddling led him to create wire sculptures. One day, Sandy made a lion. Next came a lion cage. Before he knew it, he had an entire circus and was traveling between Paris and New York performing a brand-new kind of art for amazed audiences.



Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes

Sadake and the Thousand Paper Cranes and 19 other picture books for 5th gradersThe star of her school’s running team, Sadako is lively and athletic…until the dizzy spells start. Then she must face the hardest race of her life—the race against time. Based on a true story, Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes celebrates the courage that makes one young woman a heroine in Japan.




Rudy Rides the Rails: A Depression Era Story

Rudy Rides the Rails and 19 other picture books for 5th gradersIn 1932, Akron, Ohio was no better off than other parts of the country. Since Black Tuesday in ’29, companies are closed, men all over the state are out of work, and families are running out of hope. Thirteen-year-old Rudy wants to help but doesn’t know where to turn. His father, sullen and withdrawn, spends his time sulking on their front porch. His mother is desperate, not knowing how she will feed and care for her family. When Rudy learns of other boys leaving town and heading west to seek their fortunes, he hops a train figuring at least there will be one less mouth to feed at home. As Rudy lives the hobo life while he “rides the rails” to California, young readers are given a snapshot view and testament of Depression-era America


Rosa and 19 more picture books for 5th gradersFifty years after her refusal to give up her seat on a Montgomery, Alabama, city bus, Mrs. Rosa Parks is still one of the most important figures in the American civil rights movement. This tribute to Mrs. Parks is a celebration of her courageous action and the events that followed.




Rare Treasure: Mary Anning and her Remarkable Discoveries

Rare Treasures: Mary Anning and her Remarkable Discoveries and 19 more picture books for 5th gradersBefore the word “dinosaur” was even coined, a young girl discovered a remarkable skeleton on the rocky beach at Lyme Regis in England. Thus began a lifelong passion for an extraordinary woman who became one of the first commercial fossil collectors. Born in 1799, Mary Anning spent a lifetime teaching herself about fossils and combing the rugged ribbon of shore near her home. Her work yielded an astounding treasure trove: fossils of long-extinct creatures that thrilled customers in her shop and excited early paleontologists. Blind to the dangers of fossil-hunting and to the limitations imposed on women of her era, Mary Anning was a singular scientist who used her sharp eyes and clear mind to compose a picture of ancient life from the bones she unearthed.

Rachel Carson and Her Book That Changed the World

Rachel Carson and her book that changed the world and 19 more picture books for 5th gradersA biography of the pioneering environmentalist. “Once you are aware of the wonder and beauty of earth, you will want to learn about it,” wrote Rachel Carson, the pioneering environmentalist. She wrote Silent Spring, the book that woke people up to the harmful impact humans were having on our planet.



Piano Starts Here: The Young Art Tatum

Piano Starts Here: The Young Art Tatum and 19 more picture books for 5th gradersRegardless of whether they’ve heard of jazz or Art Tatum, young readers will appreciate how Parker uses simple, lyrical storytelling and colorful, energetic ink-and-wash illustrations to show the world as young Art Tatum might have seen it. Tatum came from modest beginnings and was nearly blind, but his passion for the piano and his acute memory for any sound that he heard drove him to become a virtuoso who was revered by both classical and jazz pianists alike.


Harvesting Hope: The Story of Cesar Chavez

Harvesting Hope the story of Cesar Chavez and 19 more picture books for 5th gradersCesar Chavez is known as one of America’s greatest civil rights leaders. When he led a 340-mile peaceful protest march through California, he ignited a cause and improved the lives of thousands of migrant farm workers. But Cesar wasn’t always a leader. As a boy, he was shy and teased at school. His family slaved in the fields for barely enough money to survive.

Cesar knew things had to change, and he thought that, maybe, he could help change them. So he took charge. He spoke up. And an entire country listened.

A Path of Stars

A Path of Stars and 19 more picture books for 5th gradersDara’s grandmother, Lok Yeay, is full of stories about her life growing up in Cambodia, before she immigrated to the United States. Lok Yeay tells her granddaughter of the fruits and plants that grew there, and how her family would sit in their yard and watch the stars that glowed like fireflies. Lok Yeay tells Dara about her brother, Lok Ta, who is still in Cambodia, and how one day she will return with Dara and Dara’s family to visit the place she still considers home. But when a phone call disrupts Lok Yeay’s dream to see her brother again, Dara becomes determined to bring her grandmother back to a place of happiness.

Pappy’s Handkerchief

pappy's handerchief and 19 more picture books for 5th gradersYoung Moses and his family are barely scraping by. He helps his father in their fish stall selling each day’s catch to passersby but times are hard in 1889 Baltimore. It’s difficult to provide for a family of ten. But when they hear of free farmland out in Oklahoma, it sounds like the answer to their prayers. The family sells all they own and heads west to fulfill a lifelong dream. Their wagon journey, however, is plagued with troubles from ice storms and flooded rivers to diminishing supplies and sickness. Yet Moses and his family persevere. They arrive in time to take a place along the boundary line that marks the staging point for the Oklahoma Land Run. But after making it this far, will even more bad luck prevent them from realizing their dream of owning their own piece of America?

Pale Male: Citizen Hawk of New York City

Pale Male Citizen Hawk of New York City and 19 more picture books for 5th gradersThe birdwatchers of Central Park were buzzing–a young red-tailed hawk had been spotted, would he stay? The bird they dubbed Pale Male not only stayed, he became one of New York City’s most famous residents. Pale Male and his mate built their nest near the top of one of Fifth Avenue’s swankiest apartment buildings. Nine years and 23 chicks later, Pale Male’s fame had grown so large that a CBS newsman named him Father of the Year! But Pale Male was less beloved by the residents of the building, and in 2004 the owners suddenly removed the nest–setting off an international outcry on behalf of the birds.

Out of Darkness: The Story of Louis Braille

Out of Darkness The Story of Louis Braille and 19 more picture books for 5th gradersA biography of the modest Frenchman who, after being blinded at the age of three, went on to develop a system of raised dots on paper that enabled blind people to read and write.





Our 50 States: A Family Adventure Across America

Our 50 States: A Family Adventure Across America and 19 more picture books for 5th gradersListening to her grandchildren’s enthusiastic account of all they saw and did on a family road trip inspired Lynne Cheney to collaborate with Robin Preiss Glasser and create Our 50 States — the greatest family vacation imaginable. Pack your bags and celebrate our diverse heritage state by state and sea to shining sea in this treasure trove of America’s people, places, and history.



Only Passing Through: The Story of Sojourner Truth

Only Passing Through the Story of Sojourner Truth and 19 more picture books for 5th gradersSojourner Truth traveled the country in the latter half of the 19th century, speaking out against slavery. She told of a slave girl who was sold three times by age 13, who was beaten for not understanding her master’s orders, who watched her parents die of cold and hunger when they could no longer work for their keep. Sojourner’s simple yet powerful words helped people to understand the hideous truth about slavery. The story she told was her own.

Only a Pigeon

Only a Pigeon and 19 more picture books for 5th gradersOndu-ahlem thinks of his favorite bird, Chinkay, as more than just a pigeon, and when the young Ethiopian boy sets the bird free, he learns that the pigeon represents everything that is proud, beautiful, and free.”





One Well: The Story of Water on Earth

One Well The Story of Water on Earth and 19 more picture books for 5th gradersSeen from space, our planet looks blue. This is because almost 70 percent of Earth’s surface is covered with water. Earth is the only planet with liquid water — and therefore the only planet that can support life.

All water is connected. Every raindrop, lake, underground river and glacier is part of a single global well.

Water has the power to change everything — a single splash can sprout a seed, quench a thirst, provide a habitat, generate energy and sustain life. How we treat the water in the well will affect every species on the planet, now and for years to come. One Well shows how every one of us has the power to conserve and protect our global well.

One Boy from Kosovo

One Boy From Kosovo and 19 more picture books for 5th gradersWhen war drove twelve-year-old Edi and his family from their home in Kosovo, they fled across the Macedonian border to the Brazda refugee camp, a tent city that housed almost thirty thousand people. There the family shared a tent with more than twenty other people, with no kitchen, no running water, and no school for Edi to attend. Instead he helped out with the younger kids, played soccer with the other boys, and ran errands, such as waiting in the long lines for food and fresh water. Everybody was waiting in Brazda — for news about relatives, for the war to end, for the day when they could finally go home again.


Stars in the Darkness

Stars in the Darkness and 19 more picture books for 5th gradersIn the imagination of a young inner-city boy, police sirens sound like howling wolves, streetlights look like stars, and shots fired by neighborhood gangs sound like those stars cracking the darkness. But when his older brother joins a gang, he can no longer pretend. With the help of his mother, he comes up with a plan to save his brother and unite his neighbors in a stand for peace.



These are the books we are going to use to finish out our year. Even though these picture books may be “for 5th graders”, you’ll find they will also work with middle schoolers and older children. The topics covered in these books create a fantastic place to not only expand the lesson into grammar, comprehension and writing, but also into fantastic conversations and topical lessons on a variety of people and issues.  Make sure you sign up below to be notified as soon as the expansion pack for each book is published!

Take Picture Books To a New Level

Turn a picture book into a full blown study with these expansion packs. In these packs you'll find grammar, comprehension and writing based on the book. But more than just grammar and ELA you'll find these expansion packs will help your student develop critical thinking skills as well as giving them the opportunity to make deeper connections between themselves, the books they read and the world they live in.

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