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Books You Gotta Read: Age 5

Books You Gotta Read: Age 5

Are you looking for books to share with your 5-year-old?

I began compiling this list of books when my children were 8, 5, and 2. We are a homeschooling family, and I put a lot of emphasis on reading. In addition to more formal reading lessons, my oldest also must read 2.5 hours on her own each week and my second must read 20 books weekly. My third and fourth will also be required to read for fun as each learns to read.

While searching for books to read with my children, I found the book 101 Books to Read Before You Grow Up by Bianca Schulze. I started reading through the recommended picture books and additional suggested titles with my kids. However, I did not like all the books, and I thought some fabulous titles were missing. 101 Books includes titles for preschoolers through tweens. I thus decided to compile my own list of pictures that I label as gotta-reads.

1: Strega Nona
Written and Illustrated by Tomie dePaola

Strega Nona by Tomie de Paola

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  • Age: 5
  • Genre: Folktales, Magic
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster
  • Date: 1975
  • Page Count: 40

Author and Illustrator

Born in 1934 in Connecticut, American writer and illustrator Tomie dePaola discovered an interest in art at an early age. He earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts from the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn in 1956. He wrote and published his first book The Wonderful Dragon of Timlin in 1966. He received honorary doctorates from the Pratt Institute in 2009 and the New Hampshire Institute of Art in 2018. He also received the Children’s Literature Legacy Award (formerly the Laura Ingalls Wilder Award) in 2011 for his significant and lasting contribution to American children’s literature. dePaola died in March 2020 at age 85.

Synopsis

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Strega Nona means “Grandma Witch.” Even though she is spoken about in whispers, Strega Nona provides potions, cures, and magic, for the people of her Calabrian town. As she grows older, she gets someone to help her around the house and in her garden. In exchange for his labor, Strega Nona gives Big Anthony three coins, a place to keep, and food to eat. The only stipulation is that he must never touch her pasta pot. But, one day when Strega Nona goes to visit a friend, Big Anthony does touch the pot. Young readers will delight in discovering the chaos and disaster that ensues. Strega Nona received a Caldecott Honor in 1976.

Recommended Reading

Fun Fact

dePaola originally labeled the story “an old tale retold and illustrated by Tomi dePaola,” but he actually created the character and story of the “classic folktale” himself.

2: The Fool of the World and the Flying Ship: A Russian Tale
Written by Arthur Ransome and Illustrated by Uri Sheulevitz

The Fool of the World and the Flying Ship by Uri Sheulevitz

  • Age: 5
  • Genre: Folktales
  • Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
  • Date: 1968
  • Page Count: 48

Author

Born in Leeds in 1884, English author and journalist Arthur Ransome is best known for writing the Swallows and Amazons series. He studied chemistry at Yorkshire College but abandoned his studies after a year to move to London to become a writer. In 1913, he traveled to Russia to study Russian folklore and subsequently published Old Peter’s Russian Tales, a collection of twenty-one Russian folktales, in which The Fool of the World and the Flying Ship is included. He died in June 1967 at age 83.

Illustrator

Born in Warsaw, Poland in 1935, writer and illustrator Uri Shulevitz received the Caldecott Medal for The Fool of the World and the Flying Ship in 1969 and a Caldecott Honor for The Treasure in 1980, Snow in 1999, and How I Learned Geography in 2000. After fleeing from Poland with his family as a young child due to World War II and living in both Paris and Israel, he moved to New York City in 1959 and studied painting at the Brooklyn Museum Art School. He began his career in children’s books working as an illustrator for a Hebrew children’s book publisher. He published his first picture book, The Moon in My Room, in 1963. Shulevitz currently resides in New York City.

Synopsis

An old peasant and his wife had three sons. Two were quite clever, but the third was the Fool of the World. When the Czar announces that his daughter will marry the man who brings the Czar a flying ship, all three brothers set out to complete the task. The clever two are never heard from again. The Fool of the World sets out to try his luck and meets some unusual companions along his story. The Czar is at first unwilling to let his daughter marry a dirty peasant, but soon the Fool, with the help of his new friends, proves his worthiness, showing that God loves simple folk. The Fool of the World and the Flying Ship received the Caldecott Medal in 1969.

Recommended Reading

Fun Fact

The word fool now means “a silly person, someone who asks foolishly.” However, the term fool used to refer to someone with an intellectual disability. The Fool of the World and the Flying Ship has been criticized for its unrealistic portrayal of an individual with an intellectual disability who is magically “cured” by the end of the story.

3: Lon Po Po: A Red-Riding Hood Story from China
Written and Illustrated by Ed Young

Lon Po Po A Red-Riding Hood Story from China by Ed Young

  • Age: 5
  • Genre: Folktales, Fairy Tales
  • Publisher: Philomel Books
  • Date: 1989
  • Page Count: 32

Author and Illustrator

Born in Tientsin, China in November 1931, Chinese-American author and illustrator Ed Young has illustrated over eighty children’s books including almost two dozen that he also wrote. He grew up in Shanghai and later lived in Hong Kong before moving to the United States in 1951 to study architecture. He graduated from the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena and has taught at the Pratt Institute, Yale University, Naropa Institute, and the University of California at Santa Cruz. He published his first book, The Mean Mouse and Other Mean Stories, in 1962. He has been nominated for the Hans Christian Andersen Medal twice. He currently resides in Westchester County, New York with his family.

Synopsis

Lon Po Po: A Red-Riding Hood Story from China tells about a good woman who lived with her three daughters — Shang, Tao, and Paotze — in the countryside of northern China. The woman  decides to visit her mother, and tells her daughters to latch the door tight when night comes. A wolf sees the mother leave and goes to the house after dark, claiming to be the girls’ grandmother or Po Po. The two younger sister let the visitor in, but the oldest sister is not fooled. She outsmarts the wolf, and the three girls tell their mother about the fake Po Po who visited the night before. Lon Po Po: A Red-Riding Hood Story from China received the Caldecott Medal in 1990.

Recommended Reading

4: Rosie Revere, Engineer
Written by Andrea Beaty and Illustrated by David Roberts

Rosie Revere, Engineer by Andrea Beaty

  • Age: 5
  • Genre: Science, Inspiration, Rhyme
  • Publisher: Abrams Books for Young Readers
  • Date: 2013
  • Page Count: 32

Author

Born in Benton, Illinois and currently residing in the Chicago, Illinois suburb of Naperville, American author Andrea Beaty loved Nancy Drew and Trixie Beldon mysteries as a child. She attended Southern Illinois University and studied Biology and Computer Science. After graduating, she worked for a computer software company, doing some technical writing. Her tech writing experience led her to write children’s books. She received the Prairie State for Excellence in Children’s Writing Award from the Illinois Reading Council in 2014.

Illustrator

Born in 1970 and currently residing in London, British illustrator David Roberts has illustrated many children’s books in both color and black and white including The Questioneers series by Andrea Beaty. He also worked with Julia Donaldson (The Gruffalo) on titles such as Tyrannosaurus Drip, The Troll, and Jack and the Flum Flum Tree.

Synopsis

Young Rosie Revere dreams of being a great engineer. She collects materials from the trash to use in her gadgets and gizmos. But, because of a bad experience with an earlier invention, she hides her new creations away. Until her great-great-aunt Rose shows up for a visit. Rosie learns from Rose that life is full of failures but that the only true failure is quitting.

Recommended Reading

Fun Fact

Great-Great-Aunt Rose alludes to Rosie the Riveter, the red polka dot wearing character from World War II whose slogan was “We can do it!”, who represented the many women who helped support the war effort.

5: Tía Isa Wants a Car
Written by Meg Medina and Illustrated by Claudio Muñoz

Tía Isa Wants a Car by Meg Medina

  • Age: 5
  • Genre: Family, Hispanic Americans
  • Publisher: Candlewick Press
  • Date: 2011
  • Page Count: 32

Author

Cuban-American author Meg Medina has published six books to date and has been included in multiple anthologies. Both her parents emigrated from Cuba to the United States, and she was the first of her family born in the United States. She grew up in the Queens borough of New York City. Her work focuses on Latina girls and Latino families. She currently resides in Richmond, Virginia with her family.

Illustrator

Born in Chile and currently residing in England, award-winning illustrator Claudio Munoz has worked for many newspapers and magazines and has illustrated several children’s books.

Synopsis

Tía Isa wants a car, so she and her niece start saving money. But saving up is a lot harder when half the money gets set aside to help the rest of the family back home. Her niece helps Isa by doing odd jobs around the neighborhood. Although soon can seem like a really long time, her niece soon surprises Isa with a sock full of money. Isa is able to buy the green car that she wanted that has enough room for the entire family. Tía Isa Wants a Car won the Ezra Jack Keats Award in 2012 and was recognized as an ALA Notable Book and a 2012 Charlotte Zolotow Commended.

Recommended Reading

Fun Fact

Medina won the Newbery medal for Merci Suarez Changes Gears in 2019.

6: A Different Pond
Written by Bao Phi and Illustrated by Thi Bui

A Different Pond by Thi Bui

  • Age: 5
  • Genre: Family, Immigrants, Refugees
  • Publisher: Capstone Young Readers
  • Date: 2017
  • Page Count: 32

Author

Born in Saigon, Vietnam (now Ho Chi Minh City) in 1975 to a Vietnamese mother and a Chinese-Vietnamese father,  Vietnamese-American author and spoken word artist Bao Phi grew up in the Phillips neighborhood of South Minneapolis. He began performing his poetry through the speech team in the Creative Expression category while attending Minneapolis South High School. He then graduated from Macalester College in Saint Paul, Minnesota. He won the Minnesota Grand Poetry Slam twice. He was also the first Vietnamese-American man to appear on HBO’s Russell Simmons Presents Def Poetry and the National Poetry Slam Individual Finalists Stage. Phi currently resides in Minnesota.

Illustrator

Born in Saigon, Vietnam (now Ho Chi Minh City) in 1975, Vietnamese-American illustrator and graphic novelist Thi Bui fled to a refugee camp in Malaysia because of the Vietnam War before migrating to the United States in 1978 after seeking asylum. She worked as a teacher in New York City and Oakland and was a founder of the Oakland International High School in Oakland, California, the first public California high school for recent immigrants. She is best known for her graphic novel The Best We Could Do, which chronicles the life of her refugee parents and siblings. Bui currently resides in the Bay Area with her husband and two sons.

Synopsis

A Different Pond tells the story of a young boy who goes fishing with his father in the early morning before the sun rises. But the two do not fish for fun. As the father tells the clerk at the bait shop, he has a second job. Catching fish before sunrise means that the family will have food to eat. While fishing, the father tells his son about a similar pond back in Vietnam where he used to fish with his brother when the two were boys. The pair returns home with their catch, and the father heads out to his other job. In the end, with a belly full of fish, the boy falls asleep and dreams of faraway ponds. A Different Pond received the Charlotte Zolotow Award and a Caldecott Honor in 2018.

Recommended Reading

Fun Fact

Phi wrote A Different Pond because he wanted more diverse books to read to his daughter. He also felt that few picture books dealt directly with the struggles of Southeast Asian refugees in the United States. He adapted one of his unpublished poems into the children’s book.

Bui was inspired by the illustrations of In the Night Kitchen by Maurice Sendak.

7: The Man Who Walked Between the Towers
Written and Illustrated by Mordicai Gerstein

The Man Who Walked Between the Towers by Mordicai Gerstein

  • Age: 5
  • Genre: History
  • Publisher: Square Fish
  • Date: 2007
  • Page Count: 44

Author and Illustrator

Born in Los Angeles, California in November 1935, American author and illustrator Mordicai Gerstein was inspired by images of fine art as a child. He attended Chouinard Art Institute in Los Angeles and then worked for an animated cartoon studio that sent him to New York. He began his career as a children’s book author and illustrator when author Elizabeth Levy approached him about illustrating a humorous mystery story about two girls and a dog. He illustratrated her Something Queer Is Going On series from 1973 to 2003. He received the National Jewish Book Award in the Illustrated Children’s Book category for The White Ram: A Story of Abraham and Isaac in 2006. Gerstein last lived in Westhampton, Massachusetts and died in September 2019 at age 83.

Synopsis

The Man Who Walked Between the Towers tells the story of Philippe Petit, a French aerialist who spent an hour walking, dancing, and performing high-wire tricks on a wire seven-eighths of an inch thick between the Twin Towers in New York City on August 7, 1974. Phillippe saw not the two towers but the space between and knew that he must walk that space. With the help of some friends before the towers were finished, he accomplished the daring and amazing feat. The Man Who Walked Between the Towers received the Caldecott Medal in 2004.

Recommended Reading

Fun Fact

Gerstein created The Man Who Walked Between the Towers in response to the September 11 attacks on the Twin Towers in New York City.

8: Little Tree
Written and Illustrated by Loren Long

Little Tree by Loren Long

  • Age: 5
  • Genre: Seasons, Motivation
  • Publisher: Philomel Books
  • Date: 2015
  • Page Count: 40

Author and Illustrator

Born in Joplin, Missouri in 1964, American author and illustrator Loren Long grew up in Lexington, Kentucky where his favorite class in school was PE. He also liked to draw, and his parents encouraged his drawing. By high school, he took every art class offered. He attended the University of Kentucky and decided to try a career as a professional artist. He next attended The American Academy of Art in Chicago and got his first job as an illustrator at a greeting card company. He worked for a decade as a freelance illustrator. In 2003, he illustrated I Dream of Trains, which received the Golden Kite Award for Picture Book Illustration, by Angela Johnson. Long continues writing and illustrating, including his illustration of Of Thee I Sing: A Letter to My Daughters by former-president Barack Obama in 2010.

Synopsis

A little tree filled with little leaves and surrounded by other little trees once lived in the middle of a little forest. His leaves kept him cool during the hot summer days, and he was sure to grow big and strong. But, when fall arrived and the other little trees dropped their little leaves, the little tree refused to let go of his. In the spring, all the other little trees grew new leaves and eventually grew into broad, tall trees. Eventually the little tree could no longer feel the sun, see the squirrels, or hear the birds — until one day when he finally let go and could become what he was always meant to be.

Recommended Reading

Fun Fact

Long learned that he was colorblind at age 12. When creating illustrations for books, he relies on strong lighting sources, color theory, and support from his family.

9: Sylvester and the Magic Pebble
Written and Illustrated by William Steig

Sylvester and the Magic Pebble by William Steig

  • Age: 5
  • Genre: Fables
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers
  • Date: 1969
  • Page Count: 32

Author and Illustrator

Born in Brooklyn, New York in 1907, author and illustrator William Steig graduated from Townsend Harris High School at age 15. He attended three colleges (City College of New York, National Academy of Design, and Yale School of Fine Arts) but dropped out of each. He drew illustrations and cartoons for The New Yorker beginning in 1930, creating more than 2,600 drawings and 117 covers for the magazine. He wrote his first children’s book 1968 at age 61. He received a Caldecott Honor for The Amazing Bone and a Newbery Honor for Abel’s Island in 1977 and a Newbery Honor for Doctor DeSoto in 1983. He also created Shrek!, the inspiration for the Dreamworks film of the same name. Steig died in October 2003 at age 95.

Synopsis

Sylvester is a donkey who enjoys collecting pebbles of unusual shapes and colors. One rainy day, he finds a shiny red pebble, and he wishes the rain would stop. To his surprise, the pebble is magic, and the rain immediately stops. He decides to take the magic pebble home to his parents but runs into a lion along the way. Sylvester panics and ends up wishing himself into a rock. His parents spend the next few months searching for their son. In the end, Sylvester learns an important lesson about family and not getting everything you wish for. Sylvester and the Magic Pebble received the Caldecott Medal in 1970.

Recommended Reading

Fun Fact

Sylvester and the Magic Pebble was banned from some schools and libraries for its portrayal of the police as pigs. Pig is a derogatory term for a police officer.

10: One Fine Day
Written and Illustrated by Nonny Hogrogian

One Fine Day by Nonny Hogrogian

  • Age: 5
  • Genre: Folktales
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster
  • Date: 1971
  • Page Count: 32

Author and Illustrator

Born in New York City in May 1932 to Armenian parents, Armenian-American writer and illustrator Nonny Hogrogian has enjoyed folktales and fairy tales since childhood. She graduated from Hunter College in 1953 after studying fine arts. She then worked as a book designer at Thomas Y. Crowell Co., which published King of the Kerry Fair by Nicolete Meredith and illustrated with woodcuts by Hogrogian. She received the Caldecott Medal for Always Room for One More in 1966 and a Caldecott Honor for The Contest  in 1974. Hogrogian currently resides in Florence, Massachusetts with her husband, writer and poet David Kherdian.

Synopsis

Based on an Armenian folktale, One Fine Day tells of a fox who traveled through a great forest and reached the other side very thirsty. He happens upon a pail of milk that an old woman set down while she gathers firewood. The thirsty fox drinks most of the milk before the woman notices. In anger, she chops off the fox’s tail. The greedy fox must spend the rest of the day bargaining in order to get the old woman to sew his tail back on so that his friends won’t laugh at him. One Fine Day received the Caldecott Medal in 1972 and was recognized as an ALA Notable Book.

Recommended Reading

11: Frog and Toad Are Friends
Written and Illustrated by Arnold Lobel

Frog and Toad Are Friends by Arnold Lobel

  • Age: 5
  • Genre: Animals, Friendship
  • Publisher: Harper & Row
  • Date: 1970
  • Page Count: 76

Author and Illustrator

Born in Los Angeles, California in May 1933, American author and illustrator Arnold Lobel wrote 28 children’s books and illustrated over 70 books during his career. He graduated from the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn. At first he could not support himself as a writer and illustrator, so worked in advertising and trade magazines. He began his writing career in the 1960s creating easy readers and fables. He is best known for his Frog and Toad series. The two eponymous characters reflected Lobel’s own personality. He had a daughter and son with his wife, illustrator Anita Kempler Lobel, and revealed he was gay in 1974. He died in December 1987 at age 54.

Synopsis

Frog and Toad Are Friends introduces the eponymous Frog and Toad through five short vignettes: Spring, The Story, A Lost Button, A Swim, and The Letter. Frog and Toad are best friends who share their days together, from going swimming to finding lost buttons. The book shares simple stories that celebrate the power of friendship. Frog and Toad Are Friends received a Caldecott Honor in 1971.

Recommended Reading

Fun Fact

Lobel used animals as characters, which he felt helped with the suspension of disbelief.

12: Locomotive
Written and Illustrated by Brian Floca

Locomotive by Brian Floca

  • Age: 5
  • Genre: Trains
  • Publisher: Atheneum Books for Young Readers
  • Date: 2013
  • Page Count: 64

Author and Illustrator

Born in Temple, Texas in 1969, American author and illustrator Brian Floca graduated from Brown University in 1991. He also took classes at the neighboring Rhode Island School of Design. He has illustrated over three dozen books written by other authors including the Poppy series by Avi and the Max & Mo books by Patricia Lakin. He frequently gives presentations on making picture books at schools, libraries, and professional conferences. Floca currently resides in Brooklyn, New York.

Synopsis

Locomotive is a non-fiction book written in free verse that follows a family traveling on a transcontinental steam engine train in the summer of 1869. The pages are filled with the sights and sounds of the railroad. The journey begins in Omaha, Nebraska and travels through the plains, up and around mountains, across the desert, and ends on the Pacific coast in San Francisco, California. The detailed illustrations bring the historical adventure to life. Locomotive received the Caldecott Medal in 2014 and a Robert F. Sibert Honor.

Recommended Reading

Image Credits

All images via Amazon

Books You Gotta Read: Age 5

Written by Heather Johnson

Heather is a writer, librarian, linguist, wife, and mother who loves her husband, children, dogs, and cats. She has a bachelor's degree in English with a minor in creative writing and master's degrees in library and information science and English studies with a concentration in linguistics.

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