Looking for the best narrative nonfiction books for 5th grade kids? These narrative nonfiction picture books for 5th grade students will be engaging for your students! Books with lesson plans and activities linked. Picture books about various topics such as historical figures, historical events and more for your fifth graders. Your students will delight in these classic and brand new books!
You can also check out other narrative non-fiction books for other grades in addition to my favorite narrative nonfiction books for 5th grade here.
If you’re a member of the Picture Book Brain Trust Community, you already have access to EVERY lesson plan and activity for these books! Just click on the Lesson Plans button in the menu!
Emmanuel’s Dream by Laurie Ann Thompson
Emmanuel Ofosu Yeboah’s inspiring true story—which was turned into a film, Emmanuel’s Gift, narrated by Oprah Winfrey—is nothing short of remarkable.
Born in Ghana, West Africa, with one deformed leg, he was dismissed by most people—but not by his mother, who taught him to reach for his dreams. As a boy, Emmanuel hopped to school more than two miles each way, learned to play soccer, left home at age thirteen to provide for his family, and, eventually, became a cyclist. He rode an astonishing four hundred miles across Ghana in 2001, spreading his powerful message: disability is not inability. Today, Emmanuel continues to work on behalf of the disabled.
Without Separation by Larry Dane Brimner
Roberto Alvarez’s world changed the day he could no longer attend Lemon Grove Grammar School in the small, rural community where he lived near San Diego, California. He and the other Mexican American students were told they had to go to a new, separate school—one where they would not hold back the other students. But Roberto and the other students and their families believed the new school’s real purpose was to segregate, to separate. They didn’t think that was right, or just, or legal. One of my new favorite diverse picture books that looks at how another group of families fought to end segregation of schools.
The People’s Painter: How Ben Shahn Fought For Justice With Art by Cynthia Levinson
“The first thing I can remember,” Ben said, “I drew.”
As an observant child growing up in Lithuania, Ben Shahn yearns to draw everything he sees—and, after seeing his father banished by the Czar for demanding workers’ rights, he develops a keen sense of justice, too.
So when Ben and the rest of his family make their way to America, Ben brings both his sharp artistic eye and his desire to fight for what’s right. As he grows, he speaks for justice through his art—by disarming classmates who bully him because he’s Jewish, by defying his teachers’ insistence that he paint beautiful landscapes rather than true stories, by urging the US government to pass Depression-era laws to help people find food and jobs.
In this moving and timely portrait, award-winning author Cynthia Levinson and illustrator Evan Turk honor an artist, immigrant, and activist whose work still resonates today: a true painter for the people.
Nicky and Vera by Peter Sis
In December 1938, a young Englishman canceled a ski vacation and went instead to Prague to help the hundreds of thousands of refugees from the Nazis who were crowded into the city. Setting up a makeshift headquarters in his hotel room, Nicholas Winton took names and photographs from parents desperate to get their children out of danger. He raised money, found foster families in England, arranged travel and visas, and, when necessary, bribed officials and forged documents. In the frantic spring and summer of 1939, as the Nazi shadow fell over Europe, he organized the transportation of almost 700 children to safety.
Then, when the war began and no more children could be rescued, he put away his records and told no one. It was only fifty years later that a chance discovery and a famous television appearance brought Winton’s actions to light.
Mary Who Wrote Frankenstein by Linda Bailey
How does a story begin? Sometimes it begins with a dream, and a dreamer. Mary is one such dreamer. On a stormy summer evening, with five young people gathered around a fire, one of the friends, Lord Byron, suggests a contest to see who can create the best ghost story. Mary Shelley has a waking dream about a monster come to life. A year and a half later, Mary Shelley’s terrifying tale, Frankenstein: or, the Modern Prometheus, is published — a novel that goes on to become the most enduring monster story ever and one of the most popular legends of all time. In creating this story, she also created the science fiction genre earning her much celebrity, making this one of my favorite children’s books about women in sports and entertainment.
The Secret Garden of George Washington Carver by Gene Barretta
When George Washington Carver was just a young child, he had a secret: a garden of his own.
Here, he rolled dirt between his fingers to check if plants needed more rain or sun. He protected roots through harsh winters, so plants could be reborn in the spring. He trimmed flowers, spread soil, studied life cycles. And it was in this very place that George’s love of nature sprouted into something so much more—his future.
Manfish: A Story of Jacques Costeau by Jennifer Berne
Before Jacques Cousteau became an internationally known oceanographer and champion of the seas, he was a curious little boy. In this lovely biography, poetic text and gorgeous paintings combine to create a portrait of Jacques Cousteau that is as magical as it is inspiring. An excellent book for studying the ocean through the eyes of one of its most well-known explorers.
Chester Nez And The Unbreakable Code by Joseph Bruchac
As a young Navajo boy, Chester Nez had to leave the reservation and attend boarding school, where he was taught that his native language and culture were useless. But Chester refused to give up his heritage. Years later, during World War II, Chester―and other Navajo men like him―was recruited by the US Marines to use the Navajo language to create an unbreakable military code. Suddenly the language he had been told to forget was needed to fight a war. This powerful picture book biography contains backmatter including a timeline and a portion of the Navajo code, and also depicts the life of an original Navajo code talker while capturing the importance of Native American heritage.
Above the Rim by Jen Bryant
Hall-of-famer Elgin Baylor was one of basketball’s all-time-greatest players—an innovative athlete, team player, and quiet force for change. One of the first professional African-American players, he inspired others on and off the court. But when traveling for away games, many hotels and restaurants turned Elgin away because he was black. One night, Elgin had enough and staged a one-man protest that captured the attention of the press, the public, and the NBA.
Six Dots by Jen Bryant
Louis Braille was just five years old when he lost his sight. He was a clever boy, determined to live like everyone else, and what he wanted more than anything was to be able to read. Even at the school for the blind in Paris, there were no books for him. And so he invented his own alphabet—a whole new system for writing that could be read by touch. A system so ingenious that it is still used by the blind community today. An excellent book for studying people with disabilities.
Planting Stories: The Life Of Librarian And Storyteller Pura Belpré by Anika Denise
When she came to America in 1921, Pura Belpré carried the cuentos folklóricos of her Puerto Rican homeland. Finding a new home at the New York Public Library as a bilingual assistant, she turned her popular retellings into libros and spread story seeds across the land. Today, these seeds have grown into a lush landscape as generations of children and storytellers continue to share her tales and celebrate Pura’s legacy.
Energy Island by Allan Drummond
At a time when most countries are producing ever-increasing amounts of CO2, the rather ordinary citizens of Samsø have accomplished something extraordinary―in just ten years they have reduced their carbon emissions by 140% and become almost completely energy independent. A narrative tale and a science book in one, this inspiring true story proves that with a little hard work and a big idea, anyone can make a huge step toward energy conservation.
The Man Who Walked Between The Towers by Mordicai Gerstein
The story of a daring tightrope walk between skyscrapers. In 1974, French aerialist Philippe Petit threw a tightrope between the two towers of the World Trade Center and spent an hour walking, dancing, and performing high-wire tricks a quarter mile in the sky. This picture book captures the poetry and magic of the event with a poetry of its own: lyrical words and lovely paintings that present the detail, daring, and–in two dramatic foldout spreads– the vertiginous drama of Petit’s feat.
The Boy Who Grew a Forest by Sophia Gholz
As a boy, Jadav Payeng was distressed by the destruction deforestation and erosion was causing on his island home in India’s Brahmaputra River. So he began planting trees. What began as a small thicket of bamboo, grew over the years into 1,300 acre forest filled with native plants and animals. The Boy Who Grew a Forest tells the inspiring true story of Payeng–and reminds us all of the difference a single person with a big idea can make. Sometimes to solve a problem, it takes a little bit of effort over a long period of time. A great book for Earth Day or Arbor Day.
Rosa by Nikki Giovanni
Fifty years after her refusal to give up her seat on a Montgomery, Alabama, city bus, Mrs. Rosa Parks is still one of the most important figures in the American civil rights movement. This tribute to Mrs. Parks is a celebration of her courageous action and the events that followed.
Ada’s Violin by Susan Hood
Ada Ríos grew up in Cateura, a small town in Paraguay built on a landfill. She dreamed of playing the violin, but with little money for anything but the bare essentials, it was never an option…until a music teacher named Favio Chávez arrived. He wanted to give the children of Cateura something special, so he made them instruments out of materials found in the trash. It was a crazy idea, but one that would leave Ada—and her town—forever changed. Now, the Recycled Orchestra plays venues around the world, spreading their message of hope and innovation.
The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind by William Kamkwamba
The inspiring story of how William Kamkwamba used discarded and recycled materials to save his home and his village in Africa by building a windmill.
For the Right to Learn by Rebecca Langston-George
She grew up in a world where women were supposed to be quiet. But Malala Yousafzai refused to be silent. Discover Malala’s story through this powerful narrative telling, and come to see how one brave girl named Malala changed the world.
The Cat Man of Aleppo by Irene Latham
Alaa loves Aleppo, but when war comes his neighbors flee to safety, leaving their many pets behind. Alaa decides to stay–he can make a difference by driving an ambulance, carrying the sick and wounded to safety. One day he hears hungry cats calling out to him on his way home. They are lonely and scared, just like him. He feeds and pets them to let them know they are loved. The next day, more cats come, and then even more! There are too many for Alaa to take care of on his own. Alaa has a big heart, but he will need help from others if he wants to keep all of his new friends safe.
I Dissent by Debbie Levy
Supreme Court justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg spent a lifetime disagreeing: disagreeing with inequality, arguing against unfair treatment, and standing up for what’s right for people everywhere. This biographical picture book about the Notorious RBG, tells the justice’s story through the lens of her many famous dissents, or disagreements.
Snowflake Bentley by Jacqueline Briggs Martin
Wilson Bentley was always fascinated by snow. In childhood and adulthood, he saw each tiny crystal of a snowflake as a little miracle and wanted to understand them. His parents supported his curiosity and saved until they could give him his own camera and microscope. At the time, his enthusiasm was misunderstood. But with patience and determination, Wilson catalogued hundreds of snowflake photographs, gave slideshows of his findings and, when he was 66, published a book of his photos. His work became the basis for all we know about beautiful, unique snowflakes today. A really interesting biography picture book for the winter months!
The Girl Who Thought in Pictures by Julia Finley Mosca
When young Temple Grandin was diagnosed with autism, no one expected her to talk, let alone become one of the most powerful voices in modern science. Yet, the determined visual thinker did just that. Her unique mind allowed her to connect with animals in a special way, helping her invent groundbreaking improvements for farms around the globe!
Hello I’m Johnny Cash by G. Neri
There’s never been anyone like music legend Johnny Cash. His deep voice is instantly recognizable, and his heartfelt songs resonate with listeners of all ages and backgrounds. G. Neri captures Johnny’s story in beautiful free verse, portraying an ordinary boy with an extraordinary talent who grew up in extreme poverty, faced incredible challenges, and ultimately found his calling by always being true to the gift of his voice. A. G. Ford’s luscious paintings of the dramatic southern landscape of Johnny Cash’s childhood illuminate this portrait of a legend, taking us from his humble beginnings to his enormous success on the world stage.
Marti’s Song For Freedom by Emma Otheguy
A bilingual biography of José Martí, who dedicated his life to the promotion of liberty, the abolishment of slavery, political independence for Cuba, and intellectual freedom. Written in verse with excerpts from Martí’s seminal work, Versos sencillos. Oftentimes, poetry gets overlooked in ELA instruction, so this book is definitely a must add to your collection of narrative nonfiction books for 5th grade.
Pink and Say by Patricia Polacco
When Sheldon Russell Curtis told this story to his daughter, Rosa, she kept every word in her heart and was to retell it many times. I will tell it in Sheldon’s own words as nearly as I can.
He was wounded in a fierce battle and left for dead in a pasture somewhere in Georgia when Pinkus found him. Pinkus’ skin was the color of polished mahogany, and he was flying Union colors like the wounded boy, and he picked him up out of the field and brought him to where the black soldier’s mother, Moe Moe Bay, lived. She had soft, gentle hands and cared for him and her Pink.
But the two boys were putting her in danger, two Union soldiers in Confederate territory! They had to get back to their outfits. Scared and uncertain, the boys were faced with a hard decision, and then marauding Confederate troops rode in. This book is actually a true story, not historical fiction but narrative nonfiction. A truly touching story.
The Girl Who Ran by Frances Poletti
When Bobbi Gibb saw the Boston Marathon her mind was set-she had to be a part of it. But when the time came to apply for the marathon, she was refused entry. They told her girls don’t run, girls can’t run. That didn’t stop Bobbi. This picture book tells the true story of how she broke the rules in 1966 and how, one step at a time, her grit and determination changed the world. A really heroic part of women’s history.
Rags: Hero Dog Of World War I by Margot Theis Raven
During World War I, while stationed overseas in France with the United States Army, Private James Donovan literally stumbles upon a small dog cowering on the streets of Paris. Named Rags for his disheveled appearance, the little stray quickly finds a home with Donovan and a place in his heart. Although the Army did not have an official canine division, Rags accompanies Donovan to the battlefield, making himself a useful companion delivering messages and providing a much-appreciated morale boost to the soldiers. News about Rags spreads and soon the little dog’s battlefield exploits become the stuff of legend. But during a fierce battle near the end of the war, both Rags and Donovan are wounded. Severely injured, Donovan is sent back to the United States. And the little dog with the big heart refuses to leave his best friend’s side.
Storm Run by Libby Riddles
In 1985, Libby Riddles made history by becoming the first woman to win the 1,100-mile Iditarod Sled Dog Race. This brand-new edition of Riddles’s timeless adventure story is complete with updated narrative details, sidebars on all aspects of the race, photographs, and all-new illustrations by beloved illustrator Shannon Cartwright. An inspiration to children and adults everywhere, this is a compelling first-hand account of the arctic storms, freezing temperatures, loyal sled dogs, and utter determination that defined Riddles’s Iditarod victory.
Margaret and the Moon by Dean Robbins
Margaret Hamilton loved numbers as a young girl. She knew how many miles it was to the moon (and how many back). She loved studying algebra and geometry and calculus and using math to solve problems in the outside world. Soon math led her to MIT and then to helping NASA put a man on the moon! She handwrote code that would allow the spacecraft’s computer to solve any problems it might encounter. Apollo 8, Apollo 9, Apollo 10 and Apollo 11. Without her code, none of those missions could have been completed. An excellent book about women in STEM!
Leave It to Abigail by Barb Rosenstock
Everyone knew Abigail was different.
Instead of keeping quiet, she blurted out questions. Rather than settling down with a wealthy minister, she married a poor country lawyer named John Adams. Instead of running from the Revolutionary War, she managed a farm and fed hungry soldiers. Not to leave the governing to men, she insisted they “Remember the Ladies.” Instead of fearing Europe’s kings and queens, she boldly crossed the sea to represent her new country. And when John become President of the United States, Abigail became First Lady, and a powerful advisor. With the lack of narrative nonfiction books for 5th grade about the Founding Fathers (and their wives!), this book is perfect!
Mario and the Hole in the Sky by Elizabeth Rusch
The true story of how a scientist saved the planet from environmental disaster.
Mexican American Mario Molina is a modern-day hero who helped solve the ozone crisis of the 1980s. Growing up in Mexico City, Mario was a curious boy who studied hidden worlds through a microscope. As a young man in California, he discovered that CFCs, used in millions of refrigerators and spray cans, were tearing a hole in the earth’s protective ozone layer. Mario knew the world had to be warned–and quickly. Today Mario is a Nobel laureate and a recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom. His inspiring story gives hope in the fight against global warming.
Radiant Child by Javaka Steptoe
Jean-Michel Basquiat and his unique, collage-style paintings rocketed to fame in the 1980s as a cultural phenomenon unlike anything the art world had ever seen. But before that, he was a little boy who saw art everywhere: in poetry books and museums, in games and in the words that we speak, and in the pulsing energy of New York City. Now, award-winning illustrator Javaka Steptoe’s vivid text and bold artwork echoing Basquiat’s own introduce young readers to the powerful message that art doesn’t always have to be neat or clean–and definitely not inside the lines–to be beautiful. This is the most memorable narrative nonfiction books for 5th grade, especially if you’re studying art and artists.
Danza!: Amalia Hernández And Mexico’s Folkloric Ballet by Duncan Tonatiuh
As a child, Amalia Hernández saw a pair of dancers in the town square. The way they stomped and swayed to the rhythm of the beat inspired her. She knew one day she would become a dancer.
Amalia studied ballet and modern dance under the direction of skilled teachers who had performed in world-renowned dance companies. But she never forgot the folk dance she had seen years earlier. She began traveling through the Mexican countryside, witnessing the dances of many regions, and she used her knowledge of ballet and modern dance to adapt the traditional dances to the stage. She founded her own dance company, a group that became known as el Ballet Folklórico de México. A great book for Hispanic Heritage Month!
The Poppy Lady by Barbara Walsh
When American soldiers entered World War I, Moina Belle Michael, a schoolteacher from Georgia, knew she had to act. Some of the soldiers were her students and friends. Almost single-handedly, Moina worked to establish the red poppy as the symbol to honor and remember soldiers. And she devoted the rest of her life to making sure the symbol would last forever, most notably on Memorial Day. Thanks to her hard work, that symbol remains strong today.
Lillian’s Right to Vote by Jonah Winter
An elderly African American woman, en route to vote, remembers her family’s tumultuous voting history in this picture book publishing in time for the fiftieth anniversary of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
As Lillian, a one-hundred-year-old African American woman, makes a “long haul up a steep hill” to her polling place, she sees more than trees and sky—she sees her family’s history. She sees the passage of the Fifteenth Amendment and her great-grandfather voting for the first time. She sees her parents trying to register to vote. And she sees herself marching in a protest from Selma to Montgomery. Veteran bestselling picture-book author Jonah Winter and Coretta Scott King Illustrator Award winner Shane W. Evans vividly recall America’s battle for civil rights in this lyrical, poignant account of one woman’s fierce determination to make it up the hill and make her voice heard. With the focus on an array of time periods in American history, this book is definitely one of my favorite narrative nonfiction books for 5th grade.
Sonia Sotomayor: A Judge Grows In The Bronx by Jonah Winter
Before Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor took her seat in our nation’s highest court, she was just a little girl in the South Bronx. Justice Sotomayor didn’t have a lot growing up, but she had what she needed — her mother’s love, a will to learn, and her own determination. With bravery she became the person she wanted to be, and with hard work she succeeded. With little sunlight and only a modest plot from which to grow, Justice Sotomayor bloomed for the whole world to see. This is one of my favorite bilingual children’s books as well if you teach in a bilingual classroom.
Paper Son by Julie Leung
Before he became an artist named Tyrus Wong, he was a boy named Wong Geng Yeo. He traveled across a vast ocean from China to America with only a suitcase and a few papers. Not papers for drawing–which he loved to do–but immigration papers to start a new life. Once in America, Tyrus seized every opportunity to make art, eventually enrolling at an art institute in Los Angeles. Working as a janitor at night, his mop twirled like a paintbrush in his hands. Eventually, he was given the opportunity of a lifetime–and using sparse brushstrokes and soft watercolors, Tyrus created the iconic backgrounds of Bambi. One of my favorite narrative nonfiction books for 5th grade about a lesser known Asian American.
Star Stuff: Carl Sagan and the Mysteries of the Cosmos by Stephanie Roth Sisson
When Carl Sagan was a young boy he went to the 1939 World’s Fair and his life was changed forever. From that day on he never stopped marveling at the universe and seeking to understand it better. Star Stuff follows Carl from his days star gazing from the bedroom window of his Brooklyn apartment, through his love of speculative science fiction novels, to his work as an internationally renowned scientist who worked on the Voyager missions exploring the farthest reaches of space.
Unspeakable by Carole Boston Weatherford
Celebrated author Carole Boston Weatherford and illustrator Floyd Cooper provide a powerful look at the Tulsa Race Massacre, one of the worst incidents of racial violence in our nation’s history. The book traces the history of African Americans in Tulsa’s Greenwood district and chronicles the devastation that occurred in 1921 when a white mob attacked the Black community.
News of what happened was largely suppressed, and no official investigation occurred for seventy-five years. This narrative non-fiction book sensitively introduces young readers to this tragedy and concludes with a call for a better future.
Pride: The Story of Harvey Milk and the Rainbow Flag by Rob Sanders
In this deeply moving and empowering true story, young readers will trace the life of the Gay Pride Flag, from its beginnings in 1978 with social activist Harvey Milk and designer Gilbert Baker to its spanning of the globe and its role in today’s world. Award-winning author Rob Sanders’s stirring text, and acclaimed illustrator Steven Salerno’s evocative images, combine to tell this remarkable – and undertold – story. A story of love, hope, equality, and pride. The way that it teaches about the history of such a well-known symbol makes it one of the best LGBTQ children’s books.
Conclusion: Best Narrative Nonfiction Books for 5th Grade
What are some of your favorite narrative nonfiction books for 5th grade? Are there any must read narrative nonfiction books for 5th grade that I left out? Let me know in the comments, and I’ll add it!
Remember: You can get a free lesson and activities for one of my favorite narrative nonfiction books for 5th grade, Emmanuel’s Dream, here:
If you’re a member of the Picture Book Brain Trust Community, you already have access to EVERY lesson plan and activity for these books! Just click on the Lesson Plans button in the menu!
Narrative Non-Fiction Books
Here are some of my favorite narrative non-fiction books for kids. If you’re looking for more ideas for specific grade levels I have great narrative nonfiction book lists for each grade level. Check them out here:
Other Great 5th Grade Read Aloud Stories
Looking for other great 5th grade read alouds? Here are a few more to explore: