The 10 Best Novel Studies for 4th & 5th Graders

Reading novels is a wonderful way to build a love for reading! Here you will find the 10 best novel studies for 4th and 5th graders. These 4th and 5th-grade chapter books keep students engaged because they are interesting and fun to read.

You will also find a FREE printable list of each chapter book with their reading level, Lexile level, and other good-to-know information at the end of the post.

*This post contains affiliate links to Amazon for your convenience. As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases, which do not cost any extra for you. Please see the full disclosure here.*

This post is one part of a series on helpful content geared toward literacy instruction in upper elementary classrooms. Here are the other posts to checkout once you’ve read all of this post:

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Why I Recommend Novel Studies for 4th & 5th Graders

I looked across my classroom and couldn’t believe my eyes.

Other than the sound of one selected student reading out loud, you could’ve heard a pin drop.

Other than the sound of one selected student reading out loud, you could’ve heard a pin drop.

Every single one of my 4th-graders were glued to their books. Some of them were crying. A few of them had red faces or dropped jaws.

We were engaged in our novel study–a chapter book by Christopher Paul Curtis–titled Bud, Not Buddy. We were only a few chapters in as students listened to the part where Buddy, an orphaned 10-year-old black boy, was being abused by his foster parents.

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I use a special bell in my class to get my students’ attention and signal that reading time is over. My hand reluctantly rang the bell and all across the room I heard:

“Noooooo, please let’s have more time!”

“Ms. Marshall, is this book based on a true story? Is there a movie to go with it?”

“Can I take this copy home to read for my reading homework tonight?”

As the loud groans and constant question filled the air, I knew we had ourselves a new favorite chapter book!

This is why I recommend these novel studies for 4th and 5th graders: they keep students engaged and in love with reading!

What Are The Best Chapter Books for 4th and 5th Graders?

When selecting novel studies for 4th and 5th-grade students, I consider the following criteria:

  • Word or Chapter Count (to decide how long it may take us to complete the novel)
  • Reading and Lexile Level
  • Whether it’s an Accelerated Reader book or not (our school is an AR school and I heavily push it in my class)
  • Gender/ Race /Life-Situation of the main character (I want books that appeal to all my students)

Once I check out these factors, then I read it myself before introducing it to my students.

Each of the 10 books in this list has gone through this process, and have been read several times with my students.

These 10 novel studies for 4th and 5th-graders also have some of the highest ratings on, Amazon book reviews, and other sites. Many of them have even won numerous awards in children’s literature.

Now that you know my process for chapter book selection, let’s dive right into this juicy book list!

First Best Novel Study: Holes by Louis Sachar

I was honestly nervous about introducing this book to my students at first. I knew it would make a great novel study for teaching theme and sequence. But I didn’t know if my students would be able to understand some of the experiences of the main character Stanley Yelnats.

Boy was I wrong!

My students ADORE this book–every single year. Plus, it has been made into a movie. My kids really enjoy comparing and contrasting the novel and the movie once we finish both.

The movie for Holes is FREE for Prime members. You can get 30 Days FREE with my code HERE


Second Best Novel Study: From The Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L. Konigsburg

This chapter books starts off a little slow (as far as “kid” action is concerned). Once you get a few chapters in, the plot hooks you into the mystery.

If you have students who love solving riddles or reading mystery chapter books, they will love this novel study.

Each year that I’ve read it with my students, I catch a new clue or detail that I didn’t see before. It’s great for teaching plot!

Third Best Novel Study: Bud, Not Buddy by Christopher Paul Curtis

I could write an entire blog post on nothing but Christopher Paul Curtis books! Especially Bud, Not Buddy!

Every year that I introduced this chapter book as a part of our class novel studies, my students display emotions all across the board.

When students’ emotions are activated by what they’re reading, then you know that they are truly engaging with and understanding the text.

I love using this chapter book to teach characterization because the characters in this book are so real and multi-faceted. It is hands-down one of the best novel studies for 4th and 5th-grade students of all reading levels!

Related Posts for Reading Instruction:

Fourth Novel Study: Wonder by R.J. Palacio

This book was recommended by one of my students after she purchased it from our school book fair.

This novel study is wonderful for teaching empathy and kindness in the classroom. I even incorporated it into our Golden Rule classroom practice. 

I also love how the main character is a 5th-grade boy who experiences struggles with fitting in. This is great for helping students feel a sense of connection to the novel.

Being able to relate what they are reading to real-life helps students stay engaged with reading longer texts.

You Might Want to Check Out:
How to Help Your Boys Fall in Love with Reading

Fifth Novel Study: Because of Winn-Dixie by Kate DiCamillo

Having a dog as the main character makes teaching personification and other figurative language elements a breeze!

My students (and I) absolutely love this novel. The reading level is 3.9 (as you will see in the FREE printable below), so I often use this as our introductory novel study at the beginning of the school year.

Which works great because I need to teach them the procedures for our novel studies, and they need to ease back into reading deeply after being out all summer.

The first-person narrative of the book makes both of those goals super easy.

Sixth Novel Study: My Side of the Mountain by Jean Craighead George

This classic chapter book provides rich details and descriptions that are great for teaching imagery.

Students enjoy visualizing the main character’s adventures through the wilderness.

One of my favorite things about this chapter book for 4th and 5th graders is that the main character keeps a journal of his adventures.

So I encourage my students to keep a journal while we read the novel. They are more motivated to write about their daily and weekly lives to compare with the journal entries of the character.

Anything I can do to combine reading and writing practice is a bonus in my book!

Seventh Novel Study: The Watsons Go to Birmingham–1963 by Christopher Paul Curtis

I told you that I love this author right?

All of my students who read Bud, Not Buddy as a 4th-grader can’t wait to read this chapter book as a 5th-grader.

The historical fiction setting gives vivid details about life during the 60’s for African-Americans, from the perspective of a 10-year-old boy.

This author has an amazing way of detailing uncomfortable topics in a kid-friendly way that’s accurate, but also full of humor. My students always give rave reviews about this book.

Eight Novel Study: One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate

Ivan, a silverback gorilla, steals your heart as the narrator and main character of this amazing read-aloud for 4th and 5th-graders.

He is caged, and his experiences help you see life from an animal’s perspective in a whole new way.

Be sure to check out these reviews on this book from other readers.

Amazon Kindle Unlimited--The Butterfly Teacher
Several books on this list are available for FREE on Kindle Unlimited. I use this service in my classroom to save money on chapter books. Click HERE or the image for a FREE month.

Related Posts and Resources on Reading:

Ninth Novel Study: Esperanza Rising by Pam MuΓ±oz Ryan

Initially, when my students looked at the cover, they whined about reading it. They assumed that it would be “boring” based on the cover illustration.

But this novel is far from boring.

It is one of the best books for novel studies with 4th and 5th graders because it teaches so many essential lessons. I especially like to emphasize having a growth-mindset through the main character of this book.

Esperanza is a wealthy Hispanic girl whose life is turned upside down due to tragedy in her family; her father is unexpectedly murdered. She and her mother are forced to flee their country and become migrant workers in California.

I use this novel study with current events to help students better understand immigration issues in our country.

Plus, building a culturally responsive classroom ranks HIGH on my list as a teacher! One of the ways to do that is by showcasing diversity through book selections.

This novel helps to achieve that goal!

Tenth Novel Study: Mr. Popper’s Penguins by  Florence Atwater and Richard Atwater

Besides the very funny book-based movie starring Jim Carrey, Mr. Popper’s Penguins is hilarious!

I definitely think it is the most fun book for a novel study.

Even though it is far from being realistic fiction, my older kiddos enjoyed the over-the-top scenes of Mr. Popper taking care of his penguins.

Before teaching 4th grade, I taught 2nd grade for four years and I read Mr. Popper’s Penguins with my 2nd graders.

Here’s why I recommend it in this list of novel studies for 4th and 5th graders:

  • My 2nd graders could NOT read this book independently. The word selection and meaning were too complex.
  • 4th and 5th graders CAN read and understand the content of this book independently.
  • This novel has many high-frequency words and vocabulary words that are recommended for older students.

Bonus Book–Thomas Wildus and The Book of Sorrows by J.M. Bergen

This book is a new edition to my list of novel studies for 4th and 5th graders, because I just recently read it at home with my son who is now in 5th grade.

Even though it’s new for us, I highly recommend it as a novel study in the classroom.

My son Caleb could not put it down! He actually finished it in four days. We both enjoyed the deep plot twists and unexpected surprises throughout the story.

My only caution is that it contains content about magic. If your school doesn’t allow books like Harry Potter, then this book probably wouldn’t qualify either. You can check it out here to see for yourself.

Reading and Lexile Levels of 4th & 5th-Grade Chapter Books

For many teachers, novels must be chosen based on their Lexile and reading level. So I created a chart that lists all the information for each chapter book featured in this post.

You can access that free list by entering your email below. Please be aware that many school servers automatically block outside senders. You may have a better chance of grabbing this guide with a personal email address.

The Butterfly Teacher

22 Responses

  1. With remote learning being the optimal choice I am trying to set up a homeschool curriculum to make sure my child will not miss out on what they would normally get in the classroom. I am not sure how the material will be presented 2020 – 2021 but if it is anything like last year I will be responsible for teaching and the teachers will provide sheets and websites.
    When doing a novel study do the students read on their own and come prepared to discuss it in class or is it done as a read aloud?

    Any feedback is GREATLY appreciated!!!

    1. Erika,
      Novel studies can be done both ways depending on your kids’ reading level. If your child is motivated to do the reading own his/her own, then you will focus on reading comprehension and activities around what has been read. If this approach doesn’t work for your kid, then set up times to read aloud together. While you read together, pause and ask questions to gauge his/her understanding. Then at the end of your read aloud time together, give him/her an activity related to that chapter OR give a quiz to see what they learned from that reading. Hope this makes sense! Thanks for all you do to help your kids with reading at home. πŸ™‚

  2. I appreciate your list and would love to look at your additional information on each novel. Thank you for sharing!

    1. Hi Daisy,
      You can order any of these novels using the Amazon links I provided in the post. These are affiliate links that pay a small commission to this site, but they do not cost you anything. I also emailed you more info about books for your son. Enjoy πŸ™‚

  3. Thank you for your novel study suggestions would love to see yourchart that lists all the information about each chapter book.

    Thank you in advance

    1. Hi Cheryl,
      I used both. Our school requires the basal reading program. I use it to teach specific reading skills.

      Then we extend the practice of those reading skills with our class novel studies.

  4. Not a bad list- but I’m very shocked by Mr. Popper’s Penguins being on the list. I read that aloud to my 2nd grade class – who followed the story with ease. I would see Mr. Popper’s Penguins as a 2nd/3rd grade novel- not 4th/5th – especially as far as content goes.

    1. Hi Elissa,
      I also read Mr. Popper’s once when I taught 2nd grade, but–just like you–I also had to read it out loud to them; they were not able to read it on their own fluently with solid comprehension. This novel is great as independent reading with older students, so that they can complete it without the teacher reading it to them. πŸ™‚

  5. Tanya- I teach 3rd, 4th , and 5th grade ELA at a French immersion school. I have a wonderful job and I love the kids. I have a dilemma this year and would love your feedback. I need to teach a whole group novel to guide them through the novel study process and help set up the rest of the year, but then I would like to transition into self selected novel groups. I have some amazing readers as well as some lower readers. I love teaching in small groups and using literacy centers.

    My question for you is if you have taught both whole group and small group…and how did you set up your novel selection for the kids if you taught in small groups (all different novels).

    Thanks so much!

    1. Erin,
      I did one novel as a whole class assignment each grading period. But I also had each student complete a self-selected novel study each month with my monthly book reports. Each student had to choose books from a certain genre each month, but they could pick any book within that genre. Then they would complete a different book report project for their book each month. I hope this gives you some ideas of how I did whole class and self-selected novels. Thanks for your question! πŸ™‚

  6. THANK YOU! I currently teach 4th grade and would love to implement novel studies with my students. I bought a resource for James and the Giant Peach, but couldn’t afford a class set and no one in my school had copies πŸ™ I plan on buying a few copies of books each month. I thought about Donor’s Choose as well. Again, thank you for the recommendations and synopsises!

    1. Angela,
      James and the Giant Peach is a great book choice! I hate it that you couldn’t find a class set. I will do more research on how teachers can get class sets of books for great prices! πŸ™‚ Thanks Angela

  7. Thank you Tanya for this detailed list of grade appropriate novels! I’ve also used Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH with success. Happy reading!

    1. Cathy,
      This sounds like a really interesting book! I will check it out. Thanks for suggesting it. πŸ™‚

  8. What a great reading list! Thanks for sharing. I especially love that you included a synopsis and why the book is appropriate for 4th/5th grade. Very valuable. I was thinking of reading Fish in a Tree as a novel study. Have you read it?

    1. Becky,
      Yay! I am so happy this reading list with the synopsis is helpful for you. If you didn’t get a chance to grab the free list with more info on each book, be sure to sign up for that freebie. I haven’t read Fish in a Tree, but I will certainly check it out! Thanks for sharing. πŸ™‚

    1. Maria!
      Congrats on your first year teaching 5th! I’m glad this list has been helpful for you. Thanks for sharing.

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