The 10 Best Historical Fiction Books for 5th Graders

Historical fiction is a fantastic genre that can transport young readers to different times and places, allowing them to experience the world in a new and exciting way. For 5th graders, these stories can be both educational and entertaining, offering valuable lessons while also providing an enjoyable reading experience. In this article, we will explore why historical fiction is important for 5th graders, and recommend the top 10 historical fiction books in two categories: ancient civilizations and more recent history.

The 10 Best Historical Fiction Books for 5th Graders

Why Historical Fiction is Important for 5th Graders

There are several reasons why historical fiction is an essential genre for 5th-grade students. Some key benefits include enhancing imagination and creativity, developing empathy and understanding, and building critical thinking skills. Let’s take a closer look at each of these aspects.

Enhancing Imagination and Creativity

Historical fiction books offer a unique opportunity for 5th graders to explore different cultures, times, and places. These immersive experiences transport young readers to different worlds, allowing their imagination to soar as they visualize the settings and characters within the stories. By encouraging creativity and promoting a love for reading, this genre can help students develop a lifelong passion for learning and exploration.

Through these immersive experiences, students develop a richer understanding of history and the various societies that have shaped our world. They are more likely to be curious and engaged in historical topics, and this interest can positively influence their studies in social studies and history lessons. Historical fiction can also inspire students to create their own stories and explore their own creativity.

Developing Empathy and Understanding

One of the most significant benefits of historical fiction is its ability to foster empathy and understanding in young readers. By introducing 5th graders to characters from various backgrounds and time periods, these books allow them to see the world through others’ eyes. By identifying with characters who face struggles and triumphs, young readers develop empathy and cultivate a deeper understanding of the human experience.

These engaging stories also encourage discussion about important social issues, such as diversity, equality, and justice. As students connect with characters from different cultures and eras, they can recognize the similarities and differences that exist within humanity, fostering a greater appreciation and understanding of others. This understanding can help students become more compassionate and empathetic individuals, which is a critical skill for success in both personal and professional relationships.

Building Critical Thinking Skills

Historical fiction offers a unique opportunity for students to develop critical thinking skills, as they analyze the events and decisions that shaped history. By questioning the motivations of characters, as well as the cultural and societal factors that influenced their choices, readers can develop the ability to think critically about historical events and their consequences.

In addition, discussing historical fiction with peers, parents, or teachers can help refine these important skills, as students learn to communicate their thoughts, opinions, and analysis in a clear and persuasive manner. This ability to think critically and communicate effectively is a valuable skill that will serve students well throughout their academic and professional careers.

In conclusion, historical fiction is an essential genre for 5th-grade students, offering a range of benefits that can enhance their imagination, develop empathy and understanding, and build critical thinking skills. By reading and discussing historical fiction, students can broaden their horizons, deepen their understanding of history and the world around them, and become more compassionate, empathetic, and critical thinkers.

Top 5 Historical Fiction Books Set in Ancient Civilizations

Now that we’ve discussed the importance of historical fiction for 5th graders, let’s dive into our recommended selections. The first category focuses on stories set in ancient civilizations, providing an intriguing glimpse into the lives and societies of the distant past.

The Golden Goblet by Eloise Jarvis McGraw

The Golden Goblet

This engaging book follows the story of Ranofer, a young Egyptian boy determined to uncover the truth about his father’s death. Readers are transported to Ancient Egypt, where they will learn about Egyptian culture, daily life, and mythology while solving a mystery alongside the courageous protagonist.

As readers journey through the pages of The Golden Goblet, they will be introduced to the complex social hierarchy of Ancient Egypt, where pharaohs and priests held immense power and influence. From the bustling markets of Thebes to the grand temples dedicated to the gods, readers will gain a rich understanding of the daily life and customs of this fascinating civilization.

Black Ships Before Troy by Rosemary Sutcliff

Black Ships Before Troy

Based on Homer’s Iliad, this retelling introduces young readers to the legendary Trojan War. Sutcliff’s captivating storytelling is paired with stunning illustrations, bringing to life epic battles, brave heroes, and tragic love stories that have enthralled readers for centuries.

As readers embark on this epic journey, they will be transported to the ancient city of Troy, where they will witness the fierce battles between the Greeks and Trojans, and the devastating consequences of war. Through the eyes of legendary heroes like Achilles and Hector, readers will gain a deep appreciation for the courage, honor, and sacrifice that defined this tumultuous era.

You can find this book here.

The Thief by Megan Whalen Turner

The Thief (The Queen's Thief Book 1)

Set in a fictional world reminiscent of ancient Greece, The Thief follows the story of Gen, a skilled thief who embarks on a dangerous quest for a legendary treasure. Rich in political intrigue, adventure, and unforgettable characters, this award-winning book is the first in a beloved series that will keep readers hooked.

As readers delve into the world of The Thief, they will be transported to a land of warring city-states, where cunning and deception are often more valuable than strength and bravery. From the glittering palaces of the ruling elite to the dark alleys of the underworld, readers will experience the thrill of adventure and the danger of betrayal at every turn.

The Bronze Bow by Elizabeth George Speare

The Bronze Bow: A Newbery Award Winner

In this gripping tale set in Roman-occupied Israel, young Daniel seeks revenge on the soldiers who killed his family. As he becomes involved in a group of rebels fighting against the Romans, Daniel must confront his own beliefs and desires for freedom and revenge, in the midst of a turbulent historical era.

As readers journey through the pages of The Bronze Bow, they will be transported to a land of political unrest and religious conflict. From the bustling markets of Jerusalem to the rugged hills of Galilee, readers will witness the struggles of a people fighting for their freedom and their faith against a powerful empire.

D’Aulaires’ Book of Greek Myths by Ingri d’Aulaire and Edgar Parin d’Aulaire

D'Aulaires Book of Greek Myths

This beautifully illustrated collection of Greek myths introduces young readers to the gods, goddesses, heroes, and monsters of ancient Greece. Retold with captivating prose, these timeless stories of adventure, love, and betrayal offer a perfect starting point for exploring the world of Greek mythology.

As readers explore the world of Greek mythology through the pages of D’Aulaires’ Book of Greek Myths, they will be transported to a world of wonder and imagination. From the creation of the world by the god Zeus to the epic battles between the Olympian gods and the Titans, readers will gain a deep appreciation for the rich and complex mythology that has captivated readers for centuries.

Top 5 Historical Fiction Books Set in More Recent History

Historical fiction is a genre that allows readers to travel back in time and experience different eras through the eyes of fictional characters. For 5th graders, historical fiction can be an excellent way to learn about history while also improving their reading skills. In this article, we will be exploring the top 5 historical fiction books set in more recent history that are perfect for 5th graders.

Our second category of recommendations explores more recent historical settings, allowing readers to connect with a period closer to their own time. These stories illuminate the challenges and triumphs experienced by individuals throughout history and serve as a powerful reminder of the enduring human spirit.

Number the Stars by Lois Lowry

Number the Stars: A Newbery Award Winner

Set during World War II, this moving story follows ten-year-old Annemarie as she helps her Jewish friend, Ellen, escape Nazi-occupied Denmark. This powerful book teaches young readers about the courage and sacrifices made by ordinary people during this challenging time in history.

Number the Stars is a poignant and beautifully written novel that captures the fear and uncertainty of life during World War II. Through Annemarie’s eyes, readers will witness the bravery of those who risked their lives to save others, and gain a deeper understanding of the impact of war on families and communities.

Bud, Not Buddy by Christopher Paul Curtis

Bud, Not Buddy: (Newbery Medal Winner)

After the death of his mother, Bud sets out on a journey across Depression-era America in search of his father. Along the way, he encounters a colorful cast of characters and experiences the hardships many faced during the Great Depression. Curtis weaves an engaging and heartfelt tale filled with humor, hope, and determination.

Bud, Not Buddy is a heartwarming story that captures the spirit of resilience and perseverance in the face of adversity. Through Bud’s journey, readers will learn about the struggles faced by African Americans during the Great Depression, and gain a deeper appreciation for the importance of family and community.

Esperanza Rising by Pam Muñoz Ryan

Esperanza Rising (Scholastic Gold)

Based on the author’s own family history, this inspiring novel recounts the story of a young Mexican girl who is forced to leave her privileged life behind and adapt to the harsh conditions of a migrant labor camp in the United States. Readers will be moved by Esperanza’s resilience and strength as she overcomes adversity and injustice.

Esperanza Rising is a powerful and thought-provoking book that explores themes of immigration, social justice, and the American Dream. Through Esperanza’s eyes, readers will gain a deeper understanding of the challenges faced by migrant workers in the United States and the importance of standing up for what is right.

The War That Saved My Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley

The War that Saved My Life

In this highly acclaimed novel, a young girl named Ada is evacuated from London during World War II, along with her brother Jamie. While living in the English countryside, Ada discovers a world of new experiences, friendship, and love, all while confronting the trauma and abuse of her past.

The War That Saved My Life is a beautifully written and emotionally resonant book that explores the themes of family, identity, and resilience. Through Ada’s eyes, readers will gain a deeper understanding of the impact of war on children, and the power of love and kindness to heal even the deepest wounds.

The Birchbark House by Louise Erdrich

The Birchbark House

Set in the mid-1800s, this beautifully written story follows the daily life of Omakayas, a young Ojibwa girl living on an island in Lake Superior. The book provides an intimate look at Native American culture, family, and the importance of nature, making it an engaging and educational read for 5th graders.

The Birchbark House is a captivating and educational book that offers a unique perspective on American history. Through Omakayas’ eyes, readers will gain a deeper understanding of Native American culture and traditions, and the impact of European colonization on indigenous communities.


In conclusion, historical fiction offers an incredible platform for 5th graders to explore new worlds, learn critical skills, and foster their love for reading. By offering a variety of captivating stories set in different time periods, students will develop a broader understanding of history, empathy for others, and an insatiable curiosity to learn more about the world around them.


How early should you introduce children to historical fiction?

As early as possible! However, there are many historical fiction books written for middle schoolers, so the start of middle school is a good time to start.

What are the benefits of reading historical fiction?

Not only do historical fiction novels introduce readers to new historical periods, events, and people but they can also help young people understand more about geography and global politics.

What’s the best historical fiction book for 5th graders?

Esperanza Rising by Pam Muñoz Ryan is brilliant.

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