Book recommendations for fifth grader
August 18, 2022 1:12 PM   Subscribe

Looking for recommendations for shorter novels, or fictional book series etc. for a 5th grade autistic student with a significant interest in animals, wildlife, and the outdoors.

Our child is autistic and is just starting 5th grade, where there are higher expectations on reading as part of schoolwork/homework. We are trying to find books (especially short novels) that are age appropriate and which may be a good fit. Our child loves the outdoors, hiking, animals (we just did the Highline trail day hike at Glacier NP for our child's birthday present at their request so they could see mountain goats and the Glaciers). We are trying to limit books with extensive violence, guns, or war for specific therapy reasons (which is hard)

A lot of the books they read now are non-fiction (like they are currently reading a non-fiction account of some of the Yellowstone Wolf Packs as an example). Their reading and comprehension is above average for 5th grade (as evaluated by the school). The school is encouraging more of a fiction novel mix - hence the question. We have struggled to get them into fictional novels.

They do love Minecraft as well and we are aware of the various Minecraft book series. They didn't really like Harry Potter or anything too "wizard-ish" if that makes sense..

(note: this isn't a question about whether homework or fiction / non-fiction reading is appropriate etc., of which I know people have many views. We are working with a large extended therapy team, IEP team and teachers at the school etc. to figure out what is appropriate here in terms of demands placed on our child and adjust - this is more assuming a certain level of reading - what books may work well for our child and they may enjoy / encourage them to read more)
posted by inflatablekiwi to Writing & Language (27 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Has your child read any Bear Grylls? My same-aged kid really likes those. There’s a whole series.
posted by JenMarie at 1:18 PM on August 18 [1 favorite]

Island of the Blue Dolphins
Calvin and Hobbes
Maybe Far Side, for more of that books are fun stuff
posted by Jacen at 1:27 PM on August 18 [5 favorites]

Wild Robot and Wild Robot Escapes are both great, though the level might be young for them? Wild Robot, especially has lots of wilderness and animals going on.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 1:28 PM on August 18 [2 favorites]

Possibly Avalon, Web of Magic? My kid and her friends devoured the series at that age. Each of the girls has an animal companion, if that helps.
Another possibility is the Warriors series about feral cats.
posted by Spike Glee at 1:39 PM on August 18 [1 favorite]

I immediately thought of Farley Mowat's Two Against the North. Admittedly, I haven't read his books in decades, but a quick search suggests they're still considered age appropriate for tweens. I think he also wrote "The Dog Who Wouldn't Be." And that makes me think of maybe "The Incredible Journey" (the book predates the Disney movie). I feel like there was a whole genre of "kid/animal explores the wilderness" books when I was little (including Island of the Blue Dolphins).

Separately from your question, you might want to see if he likes Blair Braverman's twitter account? If you're not familiar, she's a sled dog racer and tells very sweet wholesome stories (with pics and vids) about the pups and the outdoors. She has also written books, but they are not appropriate for what you're looking for.
posted by BlueBlueElectricBlue at 1:43 PM on August 18 [3 favorites]

I came in to recommend the Wild Robot books!
posted by potrzebie at 1:52 PM on August 18 [1 favorite]

My Side of the Mountain by Jean Craighead George
posted by papayaninja at 1:53 PM on August 18 [8 favorites]

My animal-loving, nonfiction-reading,Potter-averse child actually enjoyed the first few Percy Jackson books at this age, which became a useful touchstone among peers. The Warriors series would probably serve this purpose as well, although my child never took to them.

Strongly recommend:
The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate
My Side of the Mountain
Catwings (may skew a little younger, but worth a try)
posted by nkknkk at 2:05 PM on August 18 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks all - all great suggestions. Much appreciated.

Separately from your question, you might want to see if he likes Blair Braverman's twitter account? If you're not familiar, she's a sled dog racer and tells very sweet wholesome stories

Awesome - our child did dog sled summer camp last year and is mad keen on sled racing (amongst other things). One of our planned trips (waves hands about timing) is to Alaska to see some real sled doing racing / maybe visit the Iditarod Trail Race Headquarters with the Togo display.
posted by inflatablekiwi at 3:39 PM on August 18 [1 favorite]

if sled dogs is a thing, I know 5th grade was when my cohort read "White Fang" and "Call of the Wild."

Unrelated, sometimes kids love the Magic Treehouse series (common thread, but each story is pretty unique/different. (This is how I diagnosed my oldest with "reader's disease": They had read the one where the kids escape Vichy France or something, but had never heard the word "Nazi" spoken aloud. They just knew that the naah-zeees were bad news... which, as far as age-appropriate summaries went, was probably pretty close. (might be too far afield of your "limit war" restriction.

I was that age when I devoured all of the Sherlock Holmes short stories and novels... 100-year-old fiction isn't the easiest sell.
posted by adekllny at 3:56 PM on August 18 [2 favorites]

I don't know where you are located, but they do sled dog racing in other parts of the country too. I had a cabin in the Adirondacks and I attended at least one race a winter. If I recall correctly, one race was on the Inlet Golf Course in Inlet, NY. I think I also saw one on 4th Lake.

I came to recommend The Great Brain series of books. It is not about the outdoors per se, but it is about some boys growing up in southern Utah in the late 1800s who spend a real lot of time exploring outdoors. (Illustrated by Mercer Mayer too!)
posted by JohnnyGunn at 4:17 PM on August 18 [1 favorite]

My rising 6th grader "forgot" to return Stone Fox (about a boy and his sled dog) to the school library at the end of 5th grade. (Warning: The dog dies in the end, heroically).
posted by The Elusive Architeuthis at 4:17 PM on August 18 [1 favorite]

Seconding Hatchet (and maybe the sequels, ours is not done with them yet).
posted by true at 5:10 PM on August 18 [2 favorites]

I have a similar kid who really started chowing down on fiction at the end of fourth grade. Here are some books he recommends:

-Wild Rescuers is fun and sweet, about a girl who helps save various animals and natural areas. It’s somewhat Minecraft inspired.
-Ranger in Time might skew a little young, and some of the individual books of the series have war in them, but the back cover should help separate those out. A dog travels through time to save the day in various historical locations.
-Dinotopia is explicitly pacifist and imagines a world where humans and sentient dinosaurs work together.
-Ranger’s apprentice series—Kid says the Brotherband Chronicles (later in the series) are nonviolent but that there is some violence in earlier books.
-Misty of Chincoteague is a classic for a reason.
-Dragonology got my kid more into fantasy; it’s basically an animal factoid book except about dragons. I’d say that one is a good toe dip into non-real stuff, but it’s not prose.
posted by tchemgrrl at 5:48 PM on August 18 [2 favorites]

I loved the book Mandy as a child. Orphan girl, finds the chaos of living with many children in a group home overwhelming, sneaks out for walks in the woods for peace. Comes across an abandoned lonely cottage and makes it her own, all by herself. It's an absolutely lovely paean to introverts and the joy of solitude in nature. Written by literally Mary Poppins.
posted by phunniemee at 5:51 PM on August 18 [1 favorite]

Owls in the Family by Farley Mowat - true story: Canadian prairie boy adopts two owls in the 1950s

My Family and Other Animals by Gerald Durrell - true story of Durell's idyliic childhood in Corfu Greece, surrounded by wildlife. So charming and funny. Written at about a grade 8 level but I read it at 10 and absolutely adored it.

Julie of the Wolves

If they can handle a bit of animal abuse (the animals get rescued)
Black Beauty
Beautiful Joe (like Black Beauty but about a rescue dog in the late 1800s)

I loved Island of the Blue Dolphins at age 10 but note that a child and a dog die in it

Maybe the Animorphs series (kids who morph into animals). It's geared a bit younger, but when I was a kid I found it relaxing to read younger stuff that was several years below my grade level.

Diary of a Pug is a fun graphic novel for 6 year olds. Simple cute stories - if your child likes to draw they might be inspired by its hand-drawn style.
posted by nouvelle-personne at 6:01 PM on August 18 [2 favorites]

All of Marguerite Henry
Walter Farley
posted by brujita at 6:08 PM on August 18 [2 favorites]

So many others recommended books from my childhood (Misty of Chincoteague and all the Marguerite Henry books; Black Beauty; and Beautiful Joe (I thought I was the only one who loved that book!)

I know you want more fiction, but Helen Hoover wrote four "adult" novels and three books for juveniles that you may want to check out. They are set in the mid century of the last century, but I found them a fascinating view of a couple who moves into the Michigan wilderness and their encounters with wildlife. I haven't read the juvenile books yet and The Gift of the Deer does have deer death in it, but A Place in the Woods was a enjoyable read as well as The Years of the Forest.

Great Wold and the Good Woodsman looks like a good choice.
posted by annieb at 6:18 PM on August 18 [1 favorite]

I came to suggest "My Side of the Mountain" and "Julie of the Wolves" because I read them as a 5th-to-7th-grade autistic kid. But please check them over for racism, etc., especially the second one, because I haven't read them since the '80s.

The "All Creatures Great and Small" quadrology might also be a good fit.
posted by heatherlogan at 7:44 PM on August 18 [1 favorite]

We (as part of our family reading with a middle-grader) really enjoyed How to Save the World With a Chicken and an Egg, by Emma Shevah. It’s a great story that focuses a lot on animals. One of the main characters is a boy who is autistic.

The Girl Who Speaks Bear by Sophie Anderson is also particularly good and has a lot to do with the outdoors.

As a wild-card entry I would also recommend The Next Great Paulie Fink by Ali Benjamin, which is not about animals or the outdoors but which is lovely and free of violence.
posted by sueinnyc at 7:54 PM on August 18 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Again thank you all… many thoughtful suggestions! I have ordered a few of them!

Also some late breaking news….(does the little late breaking news sound)

Has your child read any Bear Grylls?

I had forgotten we brought them last Christmas and we had like the whole series sitting in a cupboard!…..AND….guess who just demolished the entire 135 pages of Bear Gryllis Arctic Adventure in one sitting without any assistance or complaints and enjoyed it!!!!!!! Amazing!

Granted their book report will largely now center around the correct way to use a snow cave to store the meat from the Caribou you just dispatched with a improvised knife made from a piece of string and a tuna can lid. But small miracles…..
posted by inflatablekiwi at 9:33 PM on August 18 [2 favorites]

+1 My Side of the Mountain

Echo Mountain
Sophie Anderson's Unusual Chicken books
Birchbark House series

(source: have autistic 5th grader, different one though)
posted by away for regrooving at 11:52 PM on August 18 [1 favorite]

Check out Sophie Anderson and Grace Lin.

Anderson has three novels that interconnect but don't have to be read in any specific order - they tap into the Russian tradition of Baba Yaga stories. (There is some inclusion of death and the afterlife, especially in The House with Chicken Legs, which was not upsetting for my sensitive 6-year-old but ymmv.) I recommend you start with The Girl Who Speaks Bear, given your child's interests.

Grace Lin also has a series of three books whose stories link together in interesting ways. We started with Where the Mountain Meets the Moon.

Both of these authors incorporate magic in a kind of magical realism way, but I wouldn't compare these books to Harry Potter.

Also A Wolf Called Wander, sorry I can't think of the author's name right now.
posted by TrixieRamble at 8:31 AM on August 19 [1 favorite]

The Animals of Farthing Wood series by Colin Dann is a classic set of UK children’s novels from my own 1980s (autistic, animal-loving) childhood, which I adored at his age.
posted by Morfil Ffyrnig at 8:48 AM on August 19 [1 favorite]

The Wolf's Trail: An Ojibwe Story, Told by Wolves by Thomas Peacock
posted by RedEmma at 2:17 PM on August 19 [1 favorite]

Anderson has three novels that interconnect

Four now (at least, I think all four interconnect):

The House with Chicken Legs
The Girl who Speaks Bear
The Castle of Tangled Magic
The Thief Who Sang Storms.
posted by ManyLeggedCreature at 5:38 AM on August 20 [1 favorite]

guess who just demolished the entire 135 pages of Bear Gryllis Arctic Adventure in one sitting without any assistance or complaints and enjoyed it!

That is splendid! :D

Earlier I recommended Julie of the Wolves. I came back to un-recommend it because, while also splendid, it has an emotionally-devastating twist ending which I would not wish on your child.
posted by heatherlogan at 6:55 PM on August 21

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