Recommended Books for Year 5: In year 5, most children will be confident readers though there will be differences in the volume children choose to read. Some will be avid readers, and others may be busy with other activities and need to be supported in finding time and space for reading at home and in school. It’s important to recognise that getting better at reading doesn’t mean reading increasingly ‘fat’ books or reading through them at speed. It may be the readers who are considered ‘high-attaining’ that need help in slowing down and reading more deeply. Some children will prefer shorter reads, so these should be available, along with longer fiction, poetry, graphic novels and nonfiction. Inclusivity is always considered in our selections.
Most of the books in this list have full reviews that you can read for more detailed information and our evaluation.
Individual books and special easy-purchase collections are available from our bookselling partner Best Books for Schools.
The book selection for our recommended reading lists is overseen by Just Imagine Director Nikki Gamble, a former teacher and university lecturer, co-author of Guiding Readers and author of Exploring Children’s Literature. The views of our review panel inform our choices. The panel is convened, and reviews are edited by Jo Bowers, a former teacher and university lecturer specialising in literacy and children’s literature.
Our top picks from recent titles
The Treasure Hunter
By Lisa Thompson. Illustrated by Gemma Correll. Published by Scholastic.
Lisa Thompson never disappoints. This highly readable adventure invites readers to consider what the real treasure is in this story. Reminiscent of Frank Cottrell Boyce’s, Millions but certainly not derivative. Our reviewer, Jane Atkin writers, ‘It is a heart-warming adventure story, exploring relationships both at school but also in the family. It kept me on the edge of my seat and I couldn’t put it down until I knew how it all ended! Recommended for readers of eight and upwards.’
The Lost Whale
By Hannah Gold. Illustrated by Levi Pinfold. Published by Faber.
Hannah Gold’s second novel will be enjoyed by children who enjoy animal adventures. The environmental theme provides scope for class discussion. Levi Pinfold’s atmospheric illustrations add depth to the emotion. Our reviewer, Lucy Timmons writes, ‘ This book would have a very welcome place on the shelves of any upper key stage 2 classroom or core book list. It provides a beacon for people caught on this pathway and how insular that can feel.’
Xanthe and the Ruby Crown
By Jasbinder Bilan. Published by Chicken House.
Xanthe loves visiting her gran in her flat with its rooftop garden. But Nani is becoming forgetful – and Xanthe wishes she could help her, if only she knew how. A mysterious cat shows her a way. It leads Xanthe to clues about Nani’s childhood, and how, long ago, she had to escape her old life in Africa for a new one in Britain. Our reviewer, Imogen Maund, writes, ‘it feels very modern and relatable for young people navigating a world of balancing friendships and family. This, paired with sensitive handling of topics such as dementia and Idi Amin’s rule of Uganda, provides a strong platform for conversations with Year 5 and Year 6 children about identity.’
Which Way to Anywhere
By Cressida Cowell. Published by Hachette.
K2 O’Hero is a seemingly ordinary boy – after all, he and his twin sister Izzabird have been sworn to keep their family’s magical history a secret. Not even their infuriating stepsiblings, Theo and Mable, know that magic exists. They believe K2 to be the most hopeless person they have ever known. But K2 has a secret gift: he draws maps of worlds beyond the wildest of imaginations. Worlds with six hundred moons, burning rivers and dark, twisty jungles alive with plants that hunt by the smell of fear. But what K2 doesn’t know is that the maps he draws are real. Our reviewer, Stephen Connor, writes, ‘ a joyous adventure that has a boundless energy and would be well received by lots of children in Key Stage Two.’
By Nicola Skinner. Published by HaroerCollins.
The children on Minnie’s island are looked after by giants. When they turn 12, the children kiss their giant who turns into stone and is used to compare the crumbling buildings. However, eleven-year-old is not ready to give up her giant yet. Our reviewer, Leah Dowty writes, ‘A mesmerising triumph, this book would enrapture a class as a read-aloud and has enough meaty themes to make a great whole class text.’
By Lucy Hope. Published by Nosy Crow.
A dark, gothic adventure set on the island of Anglesey in North Wales, featuring a fantastical beast… Our reviewer, Barbara Valentini, writers ‘This is truly a worthy story for readers aged 9 and over to enjoy and be inspired by.’
By Eliose Williams. Illustrated by Anna Shepeta. Published by Barrington Stoke.
Lily and Tom travel the county with Ma Hawker, enthralling crowds with their amazing collection of curios. Always on the lookout for new wonders, Lily is tricked into buying a worthless bag of rubbish. But hidden within is a special piece of scrimshaw. Our reviewer, Claire Tody, writes that I would thoroughly recommend this as a class read for upper KS2 and children 8+ who love historical fiction.
Ajay and the Mumbai Sun
By Varsha Shah. Published by Chicken House.
Abandoned on the Mumbai railways, Ajay has grown up with nothing but a burning wish to be a journalist. Finding an abandoned printing press, he and his friends Saif, Vinod, Yasmin and Jai create their own newspaper: The Mumbai Sun. As they hunt down stories for their paper, the children uncover corruption, fight for justice and battle to save their slum from bulldozers. Our reviewer, Ann Alston, writes, This is the perfect upper KS2 text to extend the discussion of critical literacy in the classroom, to show readers that we need them to question stories and ultimately to find their own voices and tell their own tales.
By M G Leonard. Illustrated by Paddy Donnelly. Published by Walker Books.
The third bird-watching mystery thriller set in Aves Wood featuring Twitch and his friends. It’s a compelling page-turner, and our reviewer, Stephen Connor, writes, ‘ the twists and turns come thick and fast. As a reader, you never quite know who to trust…apart from Twitch and his gang.’ This reads as a standalone, but you may want to read Twitch and Spark first.
The Tree and the River
By Aaron Becker. Illustrated by Aaron Becker. Published by Walker Books.
River and tree bear silent witness over time as people arrive to harness water, wind, and animals; devise technology and transportation; redirect rivers; and reshape the land, Our reviewer, Stephen Dilley, writes, (The) ‘wordless form invites questions and encourages readers to construct their own narratives. It could be a great book to read and discuss with KS2 classes.’
The Rescue of Ravenwood
By Natasha Farrant. Published by Faber.
To Bea and Raffy, Ravenwood is home. In its own way, the house rescued them, even if it did have a fallen-down tree taking up most of the kitchen. So the idea that it could be sold. Demolished even. Well, that’s unthinkable. Then again, it’s not like the children get a choice. But the truth is, we can all make our own choices, especially if we care enough . . . Our reviewer, Lucy Timmons, writes. ‘An absolute must for an upper KS2 reading area or use as a core text. An inspiring call to action to stand for what is right.. A good choice for a class read aloud.
The Song Walker
By Zillah Bethall. Published by Usborne Publishing.
There are three questions that I need to find the answers to: Where am I? What am I doing here? And… Who am I?”When a young girl wakes up in the middle of the desert, she has no idea who she is. She’s wearing one shoe, a silky black dress, and she’s carrying a strange, heavy case. She meets Tarni, who is on a mysterious quest of her own. Together, the two girls trek across the vast and ever-changing Australian Outback in search of answers. Our reviewer, Rebecca Kennedy, writes, ‘This beautiful novel could inspire many creative and interesting opportunities for learning. I would want to explore the motifs and themes and get under the skin of the characters. It is a book to stimulate deep discussion and would provide stimulating writing opportunities.’
By Carlie Sorosiak. Published by Nosy Crow.
Clementine is a genius. She can calculate pi to 69,689 places, remembers the exact moment she was born, and dreams in Latin. She’s also a mouse. And when she escapes from the lab which has bred her, Clementine discovers that it’s not enough to be the smartest mouse in history if she wants to survive in the real world – especially while the scientists who kept her are trying to recover their prize specimen. So, together with her new human friends, Clementine must find a way to earn her freedom
Our reviewer, Kalpa Ghelani, writes, ‘This is an emotionally intense and turbulent book, but it is a tale that is inspirational – and often funny – with strong messages of courage, friendship, teamwork, resourcefulness, and authenticity, and is one that will educate children and adults alike of the cruelty many animals are forced to endure.’ A good choice for a class read-loud where the teacher can guide and support discussion.
By Tom Palmer. Published by Barrington Stoke.
As the brutal Second World War stretches on with no end in sight, life for ordinary Dutch people in the Nazi-occupied Netherlands is fraught with peril and hardship. There is very little to eat, and the population lives under the constant threat of arrest and enslavement. After the murder of her beloved uncle and the capture of her brother by the Germans, Edda is determined to do anything she can to help the resistance fight back against their oppressors. The story is inspired by the childhood of Audrey Hepburn, For independent reading or to be read aloud with the class. The book is dyslexia friendly. Our reviewer, Sarah Merchant, writes, ‘In my view, we need more books of this length for older readers so that children feel a satisfied sense of completion, yet know that they have read a gem of a book.’
Honesty and Lies
By Eloise Williams. Published by Firefly Press.
London, 1601. Honesty, a storyteller seeking fame and fortune, befriends Alice, a maid to Queen Elizabeth I. But can Alice be trusted? A tale of intrigue, scheming and plots set in the spellbinding world of the Elizabethan court. A thrilling adventure where nothing is as it seems. Our reviewer, Anne Thompson, writes, ‘Honesty & Lies is not too long a read for children at Upper KS2 and onwards yet is rich in ideas, language and period detail.. A super addition to the class reading corner in year 5.
Classic and established favourites
Bridge to Terabithia
By Katherine Patterson. Published by Penguin Random House.
An unforgettable story of friendship and loss. This book has a round effect on readers. We recommend it as wither a class read or a book for confident readers in year 5 who enjoy the classic storytelling voice.
The Last Wild
By Piers Torday. Published by Hachette.
A deadly virus has killed all the animals except pests, and it’s expected to be equally dangerous to humans. But when Kester realises he can talk to the pests, he finds they have great hope invested in him. An outstanding, highly original and beautifully written animal adventure.
By Jamila Gavin. Published by Penguin Random House.
Watch Blackberry Blue rise from the bramble patch; follow Emeka the pathfinder on his mission to save a lost king; join Princess Desire as she gallops across the Milky Way on her jet-black horse. Six original fairy tales which reflect diverse cultures. The stories have shades of light and dark, beauty and cruelty, much like the Grimms collection of folk tales. This book is included in our Take One Book resource.
The Boy in the Tower
By Polly Ho-Yen. Published by Penguin Random House.
When they first arrived, they came quietly and stealthily as if they tip-toed into the world when we were all looking the other way. Ade loves living at the top of a tower block. From his window, he feels like he can see the whole world stretching out beneath him. His mum doesn’t really like looking outside – but it’s going outside that she hates. She prefers to sleep all day inside their tower, where it’s safe. Except it isn’t any more. Strange plants have started to take over, and tower blocks are falling down around them. Now Ade and his mum are trapped, and there’s no way out . . . Polly-Ho Yen’s gripping science fiction novel is one of the most popular choices of our Reading Gladiators book club. Year 5 children will enjoy it as an independent read, but there’s a lot to discuss, so it’s also a good choice for a class novel.
The Wolves of Willoughby Chase
By Joan Aiken. Published by Penguin Random House.
A fast-paced Dickensian adventure set in an alternative 19th Century England – with wolves! In a period of English History that never happened, when Good King James III is on the throne, and the whole country is ravaged by wolves which have migrated through the newly-opened Channel Tunnel. Young orphans Bonnie and Sylvia fall into the hands of evil Miss Slighcarp, they need all their wits – and the help of Simon the goose-boy – to escape unscathed,
How to Live Forever
By Colin Thompson. Illustrated by Colin Thompson. Published by Penguin Random House.
Peter and his family live among the Quinces in the cookery section of a mystical library, and at night, when the library comes to life, Peter ventures out of his home to find a missing volume: How To Live Forever. Colin Thompson’s highly-detailed illustrations will have readers poring over the pages for hours, and they provide a rich seam for discussion. The book works especially well in literature circle style discussions, where children have the freedom to explore the pages at their own pace. The philosophical themes that the book provokes provide ample scope for class discussion and dialogue.
Coming to England
By Floella Benjamin. Published by Macmillan.
With a foreword by the author and some additional historical information, this is the incredible story of Floella’s journey from Trinidad to London, as part of the Windrush generation, to the House of Lords. This autobiographical account while covering some uncomfortable truths, remains upbeat and hopeful. It’s a good introduction to the History of Britain in the twentieth century and could be read together as a class.
Who Let the Gods Out?
By Maz Evans. Published by Chicken House.
When Elliot wishes upon a star, he doesn’t expect a constellation to crash into a dungheap on his family farm. The star is Virgo. She thinks she’s perfect. Elliot doesn’t. And together, they release Thanatos, evil Daemon of Death … epic fail. They need the King of the Gods and his noble steed. Instead, they get a chubby Zeus and his high horse Pegasus. Maz Evans irreverent humour is a huge hit with young readers. Who knew Greek mythology could be such fun.
By M G Leonard. Published by Chicken House.
Darkus can’t believe his eyes when a huge insect drops out of the trouser leg of his horrible new neighbour. It’s a giant beetle – and it seems to want to communicate. But how can a boy be friends with a beetle? And what does a beetle have to do with the disappearance of his dad and the arrival of Lucretia Cutter, with her taste for creepy jewellery? M G Leonard is a superb storyteller and won the Branford Boase for this debut novel. Pacy and exciting, this is a good read-aloud choice.
By Neil Gaiman. Illustrated by Chris Riddell. Published by Bloomsbury.
There is something strange about Coraline’s new home. It’s not the mist, or the cat that always seems to be watching her, nor the signs of danger that Miss Spink and Miss Forcible, her new neighbours, read in the tea leaves. It’s the other house – the one behind the old door in the drawing room. Another mother and father with black-button eyes and papery skin are waiting for Coraline to join them there. Neil Gaiman’s imagination is given full rein, darkly humourous and highly original. Terry Pratchett called this book a masterpiece, and who are we to argue with that? A good book for a class novel or independent reading.
Asha and the Spirit Bird
By Jasbinder Bilan. Published by Chicken House.
Asha lives in the foothills of the Himalayas. Money is tight, and she misses her papa, who works in the city. When he suddenly stops sending his wages, a ruthless moneylender ransacks their home and her mother talks of leaving. From her den in the mango tree, Asha makes a pact with her best friend, Jeevan, to find her father and make things right. Jasbinder Bilan’s novel won the Costa Children’s Book Award. Literature has the potential to open up the world for children and this beautiful novel does just that, For your class book corners or to read aloud.
By Helen Ward. Illustrated by Mark Craste. Published by Templar.
Once, the only sounds to be heard were the buzzing of bees in the grass, the murmuring of moles in the earth, and the song of birds in the sky. These warmed the hearts of those who cared to listen – until the others came to fill the sky with a cacophony of noise. This science fiction picture book for older readers explores themes of industrialisation, colonisation, activism and ecology. A good choice for a whole class project. It is included in our Take One Book resource.
The Ghost of Thomas Kempe
By Penelope Lively. Published by HarperCollins.
James is fed up. His family has moved to a new cottage – with grounds that are great for excavations and trees that are perfect for climbing – and stuff is happening. Stuff that is normally the kind of thing he does. But it’s not him who’s writing strange things on shopping lists and fences. It’s not him who smashes bottles and pours tea into the Vicar’s lap. It’s a ghost – honestly.
Penelope Lively’s classic ghost story has just the right amount of humour. It explores themes of memory and time, as does another of her children’s novels, A Stitch in Time. It reads aloud well and is a good choice for introducing children to older literature. Particularly children who enjoy a good ghost story.
Love that Dog
By Sharon Creech. Published by Bloomsbury.
Sharon Creech’s verse novel Love that Dog explores the relationship between a boy and his dog, and the role of a sensitive teacher in helping him come to terms with his loss through creative writing. Poignant storytelling and themes that most children will be able to relate make this a good choice for a class read-aloud or project.
The Song from Somewhere Else
By A F Harrold. Illustrated by Levi Pinfold. Published by Bloomsbury.
Frank doesn’t know how to feel when Nick Underbridge rescues her from bullies one afternoon. No one likes Nick. He’s big, he’s weird, and he smells – or so everyone in Frank’s class thinks. And yet, there’s something nice about Nick’s house. There’s strange music playing there, and it feels light and good and makes Frank feel happy for the first time in forever. But there’s more to Nick and to his house, than meets the eye, and soon Frank realises she isn’t the only one keeping secrets. This is an incredible collaboration between A F Harrold and Levi Pinfold. Deeply moving, the story explores themes of being an outsider, friendship, compassion, love, the power of music and sacrifice. An excellent choice for a class novel and one of the popular choices in our Reading Gladiators book club.