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8 Great Books for 5 Year Olds

Updated on August 1, 2011

Babies progress with their reading interests. At the youngest ages, they appreciate a parental habit of nursery book reading, mostly because it soothes and comforts. They have no vocabulary and limited visual ability in terms of colors and depth perception.

At 3 to 4, children begin to connect parental story telling with the book as an entity. They begin to appreciate primary color illustrations and continue to find comfort in this “me” time with the parent. As the children mature through this period, they can recognize words on a page and even memorize some – although this would not be considered a reading.

As a child moves into a pre-school age, 5 to 6, s/he will develop more sophistication with regard to color, design, texture, and shadows. They will also develop some understanding of narrative; that is, you can ask the child “what happens next” or “what happened then?” They develop a sense of beginning middle and end. The child should be able to point to illustrations, in response to questions, and explain the illustration’s part in the story.

At 5 to 6, a child can be expected to spend time alone with a book to explore its illustrations and even ask questions. The toddler is not ready to give up on Dr. Seuss rhymes or George of the Jungle antics, but as the child matures, allow his/her interests dictate the book selection, and think about presenting something more challenging than some “old school” classics. At worst, they will simply have to grow into the choices.

1. All the World by Liz Garton Scanlon:

Illustrated by Maria Fazee, All the World is a softly rhyming poem. It flows well among large gorgeous watercolor-like illustrations. The narrative follows a family visit to the beach where children can hear the music of the sea. The day continues to a family gathering around the piano. Lovely sentiments are shared without lecture; nothing in this softly colored world is too big or too small against a blue sea or sunset sky.

2. Harold and the Purple Crayon by Crockett Johnson:

Harold is a “brand” with books, CDs, and DVDs available. This “story” has no words, so you might wonder how it is a “good read.” Well, this is the story of a little boy who took a walk in the moonlight. Without the moon to light his way, Harold used his trusty purple crayon to draw a path. If he needed a tree, he drew one, and if he was hungry, he drew some food. This book requires interactivity between parent and child challenging them to imagine the path with Harold. The story encourages imagination and story building. Dramatic and clever, this book is simply illustrated in cartoon style by its author, Crockett Johnson.

3. Animalia by Graeme Base:

This whimsical ornately illustrated world of books is a PBS brand with related TV shows, video games, DVDs, and CDs – not to mention a phone app. The books favor alliteration, a device that encourages learning and memorization. But, toddlers are mostly taken by the rich lush illustrations of this imaginary animal world. This is a book a child will peruse on his/her own for lengths at a time.

4. Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day by Judith Viorst:

Ray Cruz illustrates this story of Alexander’s really really bad day. He wakes up with chewing gum in his hair, gets “smushed” in the car, finds no dessert in his lunch, gets bad news at the dentist’s office, had to sit through a kissing scene on TV, and has to sleep in yucky pajamas. The growth issues in Viorst’s stories skews slightly to the 6 year old because the stories help the child verbalize problems they feel but have not been able to articulate. Illustrated and told with a sense of humor, the stories also put the problems into perspective and take the measure of Alexander’s griping.

5. It’s Hard to Be Five by Jamie Lee Curtis

Laura Cornell illustrates this book with the subtitle: “Learning to Work My Control Panel.” With big broad illustrations, Curtis gives lessons in self-control. With parental guidance, the book can be the source for discussion on acceptable and non-acceptable behaviors. Still, it is not heavy handed and sustains a sense of humor throughout. Parents can begin a dialogue on the challenges the child faces. Together, they can pursue the difficulty in making good choices and understanding consequences. Parents can reinforce what makes them feel good, proud, and independent.

6. Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus by Mo Williams:

When a bus driver leaves the bus, he orders the readers not to allow the pigeon to drive the bus. The pigeon, in simple line drawings, pesters, whine, cajoles, schemes, and practically begs, the readers to let him/her drive the bus. Parents and child must resist the pigeon pleas in order to do the right thing. Now, this does require a child mature enough to pick up on the pigeon’s stubbornness and belligerence, but a child who know right from wrong will get a big kick out of this game.

7. The Adventures of the Dish and the Spoon by Mini Grey:

This is a real adventure for toddlers. The dish and the spoon, who ran away in “Hi diddle, diddle, the cat and the fiddle,” lived quite a life on their own. They became big time vaudevillians until the fell debt to a shady but sharp gang of knives. The book is a visual delight with colorful fine details and multi-media gimmicks that adults will appreciate, but this book will delight children over several re-visits. To get the most out of it, the child “reader” needs to know enough to understand this is a sequel and that stories can continue. This will make a great animated film!

8. Mr Gum and the Biscuit Billionaire by Andy Stanton:

Mr. Gum is not a nice guy. Like Lemony Snicket’s Count Olaf, he loves money but not kids or pets. In this wacky adventure, illustrated with wildly imaginative abandon, Mr. Gum encounters a gingerbread man with electric muscles, an angry fairy with a frying pan, and little girl, named Polly. This is one in a series of Mr. Gum books popular in the United Kingdom and in a series of videos produced by Andy Stanton and the BBC. This one is a truly fun read for the child in all parents that still giggles at thoughts of bad hygiene habits. If that worries you, just understand that a successful reading to your children assumes their sense of right and wrong about such things.

There is no good reason to walk away from the classics, such as those by Roald Dahl and E.B. White, but today’s youngsters may need a differing stimulus. Partner with the child using books with video or musical counterparts to make the special time a multi-media time.


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  • moneycop profile image

    moneycop 6 years ago from JABALPUR

    great style of presentation...that's cleverness good

  • Keeley Shea profile image

    Keeley Shea 6 years ago from Norwich, CT

    My child will be 5 in November. He is starting kindergaren this year! Will definitely be looking into these books! Thanks for writing this great hub!

  • Recipe Gal profile image

    Recipe Gal 6 years ago

    What a neat list! It will be a few years before my son is ready for these (I'm 7 months pregnant), but I'm sure he will love them. You have several here that I hadn't heard of before. Thanks for list!

  • SammySammo profile image

    SammySammo 6 years ago from Boston, MA

    I'm wondering what you think of the book "And Tango Makes Three" out of curiosity.

  • Seeker7 profile image

    Helen Murphy Howell 6 years ago from Fife, Scotland

    This is so helpful. I have a niece and nephew just coming up to this age and they both enjoy books a lot. I particularly liked "Animalia", "The Adventures of the Dish and the Spoon" and "All The World".

    It can be very difficult to choose a book that you think kids will enjoy so it's very helpful to read an excellent review like this. Many thanks for sharing.

  • Hello, hello, profile image

    Hello, hello, 6 years ago from London, UK

    Thank you for doing all this hard research and chosen such beautiful books.

  • Robin profile image

    Robin Edmondson 6 years ago from San Francisco

    What a great list! Graeme Base is one of our very favorite authors. He is the illustrator as well as the author and all of his illustrations are amazing. In Anamalia there are hidden objects beginning with the letter of the alphabet that is being written about. His other books, The Water Hole is also one of our favorites as well as My Grandma Lived in Gooligulch. You might have inspired me to write a Hub on just his books!

  • Cardisa profile image

    Carolee Samuda 6 years ago from Jamaica

    I wish I was a child again...I could still read those you know. Who would know I'm not buying them for my nieces and

    By the way I had no idea that Jamie lee Curtis wrote children's books. I just love her as an actress.

  • randomcreative profile image

    Rose Clearfield 6 years ago from Milwaukee, Wisconsin

    Great list! Harold and the Purple Crayon has always been one of my favorites.

  • rsusan profile image

    Rika Susan 6 years ago from South Africa

    Great list of books for 5 year olds! Thanks! My god daughter will love these.

  • darlynn86 profile image

    darlynn86 6 years ago from Indianapolis

    Great books! My son also loves the "If you give a..." series! Great list!