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The Best Books For 5-Year-Olds of 2020


As your 5-year-old nears or enters kindergarten, you may feel a lot of pressure to find the best books to encourage their reading skills.

Here are some of my favorite books for this age, plus recommendations from other parents and a kindergarten teacher and children’s librarians in my family.

Reading aloud to your 5-year-old is still very important, so I included read-aloud books and some they may work on reading themselves.

Top 6 Books for 5-year-oldsWhy It's BestMom Rating
Mo Willems's Elephant and Piggie Today I Will Fly!Easy reader or read aloud, funny story and illustrations♥♥♥♥♥
Helen Lester's Tacky the PenguinCute penguins, great message about our unique gifts♥♥♥♥♥
Dr. Seuss's One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue FishEasy reader with fun rhymes and creatures♥♥♥♥♥
Eric Litwin's Pete the Cat: Rocking in My School ShoesFamiliar character, sunny attitude, introduces school building♥♥♥♥
Beverly Cleary's The Ralph the Mouse CollectionGreat to read aloud, kids will relate with Ralph♥♥♥♥♥
Sy Montgomery's Inky's Amazing EscapeNonfiction picture book, many octopus facts plus Inky's true story♥♥♥♥

22 of the Best Books For 5-Year-Olds

Tacky the Penguin

Image of Tacky the Penguin

My first recommendation is Tacky the Penguin, which my sisters and I loved growing up. My kids enjoy Tacky’s adventures as well.

This first book introduces Tacky the penguin, who is a little different than the other penguins he lives with. For example, they make graceful dives while he does splashy belly flops.

Tacky’s differences bother the other penguins until one day some hunters threaten the entire group of penguins. It is Tacky who comes up with a creative solution to save them all.

There are many other books in the Tacky series now. I also enjoy Three Cheers for Tacky and Tacky and the Winter Games, but some of the others lack the quality of the early books.

One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish

Image of One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish (I Can Read It All by Myself)

A classic Dr. Seuss for early readers is One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish (I Can Read It All by Myself).

There isn’t a storyline through the book. It features sets of playful rhymes and pictures on a variety of silly topics (like a Ying that can sing and a one-humped Wump). Your child may be able to read some or all of the words, and it covers counting and opposites, too.

Dr. Seuss books are always a hit in my house. They are fun for kids to read or hear, and I enjoy reading them, too.

Some others that may be good for your 5-year-old to read themselves are Hop on Pop (I Can Read It All By Myself) and Green Eggs and Ham.

Today I Will Fly!

Image of Today I Will Fly! (An Elephant and Piggie Book)

As the first Elephant & Piggie book, Today I Will Fly! is a great introduction to two of my favorite characters.

In this book, we meet Gerald the elephant, who is careful and worried. And his best friend Piggie, who is not careful and loves to smile.

Piggie has decided she is going to fly. Gerald has some serious doubts about her plans. But Piggie seeks help from their other friends to achieve her dream.

The Elephant and Piggie series is great as read-alouds and as early readers. The text is simple, only dialogue. The illustrations carry a lot of the stories’ actions and emotions. And the books are all funny and sweet.

There are so many other wonderful books in this series to read, including The Thank You Book, My New Friend Is So Fun! and I Will Surprise My Friend!. The entire series has some of the best books for 5 year olds out there.

Dragons Love Tacos

Image of Dragons Love Tacos

In Dragons Love Tacos, you’ll learn that these friendly dragons love all kinds of tacos.

The dragons also love parties. But if you have dragons over to your taco party, you’ll learn to be sure not to give them super spicy salsa once you find out what happens in this book.

Some parents think it’s pretty boring, but most families love the funny story and illustrations. So there is a sequel as well: Dragons Love Tacos 2: The Sequel.

Corduroy

Image of Corduroy

If your child is more into cuddly animals than scaly ones, try Corduroy.

This is a classic children’s book about a bear named Corduroy who lives in a department store. One day, a little girl’s mother says she can’t buy him because he’s missing a button. So Corduroy decides to go looking for it that evening.

He wanders all over the department store looking for his button. But the next day, he finds something even better: a friend.

I remember this book from when I was a kid, and I even had a stuffed Corduroy (still do, actually). It’s a gentle adventure with a happy ending.

Inky’s Amazing Escape

Image of Inky's Amazing Escape: How a Very Smart Octopus Found His Way Home

For a nonfiction book 5-year-olds will love, try Inky’s Amazing Escape: How a Very Smart Octopus Found His Way Home.

This colorfully illustrated book tells the true story of how Inky the octopus set out from a New Zealand aquarium in 2016 to explore the wider world.

The book is also full of facts about octopuses. Mixed-media illustrations use color and texture to help keep kids engaged.

Another book by author Sy Montgomery for this age group is Snowball: The Dancing Cockatoo.

Power Up

Image of Power Up

Another nonfiction book that will educate and entertain your 5-year-old is Power Up.

This book explains the relationship between the human body and energy in an age-appropriate way. It covers how much energy we need for certain activities and how we recharge our bodies.

The vibrant illustrations offer enough detail to keep kids searching them through multiple readings.

A similar book about the numbers of space and earth by the same author and illustrator is A Hundred Billion Trillion Stars.

Kindergarten, Here I Come!

Image of the Kindergarten, Here I Come!

If your 5-year-old is entering kindergarten soon, Kindergarten, Here I Come! can be helpful. One of my children got it as an end-of-the-year present from their preschool teacher.

The book is a series of poems about starting kindergarten and lots of activities through the year. There are poems about counting, show and tell, recess, and the last day of school.

It’s a good way to introduce your child to some of the things they will do and experience in kindergarten. If your child is already in kindergarten, they will enjoy seeing familiar parts of their day as well.

Pete the Cat: Rocking in My School Shoes

Image of the Pete the Cat: Rocking in My School Shoes

In Pete the Cat: Rocking in My School Shoes, Pete is ready to go to school with his groovy new shoes.

Pete explores different areas of school (lunchroom, playground, library) and sings a song about his shoes. He keeps a positive attitude when things don’t go as expected, just like you’d expect if you are familiar with Pete.

The illustrations are bright and fun. This book will give you a chance to talk about places in a school if your child will be starting soon as well.

Other original Pete the Cat books are Pete the Cat and His Four Groovy Buttons and Pete the Cat: I Love My White Shoes

The Kissing Hand

Image of the The Kissing Hand (The Kissing Hand Series)

A first day of school favorite for preschool and kindergarten teachers, The Kissing Hand (The Kissing Hand Series) aims to help kids who are nervous about leaving their parents.

Chester the raccoon is a little scared about starting school. His mom responds with compassion and an idea to help.

She can give his paw a kiss before he leaves for school. When he misses her, he can put his paw on his cheek and remember how much she loves him.

The raccoons are nocturnal, as you might expect. Some parents said Chester going to school at night was a bit confusing for their children and made some illustrations spooky.

But many parents said this book really helped their child who was nervous about school or being separated. There’s a reason so many teachers read it to their classes!

There are more books about Chester, including: A Pocket Full of Kisses (The Kissing Hand Series) and Chester the Brave (The Kissing Hand Series).

Caps for Sale

Image of Caps for Sale: A Tale of a Peddler Some Monkeys and Their Monkey Business

Caps for Sale: A Tale of a Peddler Some Monkeys and Their Monkey Business is a picture book that has stood the test of time.

In this book, published in 1938, a peddler is trying to sell his caps, which he carries in a tall stack on his head. When he decided to take a nap, some monkeys interfere by stealing all the caps.

The peddler has to be more clever than the group of monkeys to retrieve his hats, but he is quickly frustrated.

There is a good amount of repetition in the story, which can help young readers catch on to the word patterns. In the board book copy we had, though, the color of some of the hats in the pictures didn’t really match what the text said. That was tricky for my toddlers, but I think 5-year-olds might be more understanding of the mismatch.

Courage

Image of Courage

My mom who was a elementary teacher and children’s librarian recommended Courage.

This book celebrates all kinds of courage, from that displayed by firefighters and police officers to more everyday examples like riding a bike without training wheels or eating a food you don’t like.

There isn’t a plot, but each page has a sentence or two about different kinds of courage and watercolor illustrations. I think it will help 5-year-olds understand that courage takes many forms. It may encourage them to be brave in some of the everyday ways shown.

Some parents dislike one page’s description about courage being keeping a juicy secret, considering it unsafe to encourage kids to keep secrets. I agree kids should be taught not to keep secrets from Mom and Dad, but maybe this would give you a chance to talk about your family’s stance and what is a secret vs. what is a surprise to not talk about.

Hair Love

Image of Hair Love

My sister who is a kindergarten teacher recommended Hair Love, and many parents love it, too.

Hair Love is the story of a young girl and her dad. Zuri knows her hair has its quirks, and she loves to have it styled in different ways. 

Dad tells her that her hair is beautiful, and that makes her proud. There’s a day she wants a special hairstyle and Dad has to do his best to come through.

The illustrations are beautiful and expressive. Its message of self-confidence, especially for little girls, is important. And books that celebrate dads and daughters can be rare, so this book is special in that way as well.

Pig the Pug

Image of Pig the Pug

Pig the Pug is the next recommendation from a kindergarten teacher.

A book with a message on sharing, Pig the Pug stars a dog named Pig. He lives with a dachshund named Trevor. Pig has a mountain of toys, but he won’t share them with Trevor.

Kids will find it funny when Pig ends up in a bit of trouble after not sharing. The story is told in rhyming verse. Colorful illustrations are almost caricatures and will also illicit giggles from a 5-year-old audience.

This book is the start of a whole series about Pig. Other adventures include Pig the Stinker, Pig the Fibber, Pig the Winner, and Pig the Grub.

Chrysanthemum

Image of Chrysanthemum

For a story about school and dealing with teasing, try Chrysanthemum.

Chrysanthemum is an adorable mouse with a big name. She loves her name, too. Until she starts school and the other kids tease her for it.

In the end, the teasing stops when the other kids learn one of their teachers has an unusual name as well. Some parents wish Chrysanthemum had learned some coping strategies or anti-bullying skills since the solution is something real kids can’t replicate.

But many parents found it helpful for kids with unusual names or who had been teased for something. They see the message as being that you aren’t alone, as Chrysanthemum sees she isn’t the only one with an unusual name. The illustrations are cute and fun, making this a fun read-aloud book.

How to Catch a Mermaid

Image of the How to Catch a Mermaid

An addition to the How to Catch series, How to Catch a Mermaid is a whimsical story with colorful illustrations.

In rhyming text, readers will hear about a girl’s attempt to catch this mythical sea creature. She wants to meet a mermaid and be friends with her, so her intentions are good. While she and her friends may not catch the mermaid, they do have quite an adventure.

Parents and kids love the charming story and beautiful pictures. Some thought the sharks were too scary for younger readers, though.

There are several other books in the series if your child is more into other holiday, mythical, or extinct creatures. Try How to Catch a Dinosaur, How to Catch a Unicorn, How to Catch a Dragon, or How to Catch the Easter Bunny.

Rosie Revere, Engineer

Image of the Rosie Revere, Engineer

Invention is encouraged in Rosie Revere, Engineer.

Rosie loves to invent all kinds of things, but she worries about failure. So she invents at night in her bedroom and hides her inventions from others.

One day, her great-great-aunt comes to visit and Rosie wants to make her something special. Her aunt helps her to see that failure is an important part of the process of inventing.

The illustrations are mixed media and full of fun details. Parents and teachers love the message of perseverance and even celebrating failures. The representation of girls as scientists and inventors is important, too, but it is not just for girls.

This book is part of a picture book series that includes Ada Twist, Scientist and Iggy Peck, Architect. There are also chapter books about Ada, Iggy, and Rosie, including Rosie Revere and the Raucous Riveters: The Questioneers Book #1 and Ada Twist and the Perilous Pants: The Questioneers Book #2.

Bob Books, Set 1: Beginning Readers

Image of the Bob Books, Set 1: Beginning Readers

The Bob Books, Set 1: Beginning Readers is designed for kids who know their alphabet and are ready to sound out words. The reading level is about A-C on the F&P scale or Lexile scores of -90 to 120.

This set has 12 small books, and each book adds more sounds to build on the previous words learned. Book 1 uses only M, A, T, and S, but book 12 has all letters except Q. There are no words longer than three letters, and all words can be sounded out.

The illustrations are very simple (as are the stories with limited words). But if your child is ready to sound out words, this set should help build their confidence. Once they feel like readers, they can move to harder texts.

If your child is already reading some, you can get the next sets, Bob Books Set 2-Advancing Beginners and Bob Books Set 3- Word Families.

Charlotte’s Web

Image of Charlotte's Web

If you are looking for a chapter book to read to your 5-year-old, you could try Charlotte’s Web.

Charlotte’s Web tells the story of a girl named Fern who lives on a farm, her pig Wilbur, and his friend Charlotte the spider.

There are some potentially upsetting parts, including right at the beginning and near the end. I won’t spoil it, but I would definitely read it yourself first if you don’t know or remember how it ends.

My oldest daughter did really enjoy hearing this book when she was 5, but she did cry at the ending.

Mr. Popper’s Penguins

Image of Mr. Popper's Penguins

Another chapter book I remember from my childhood that’s a nice read aloud is Mr. Popper’s Penguins.

This book was written in the 1930s, but my children still enjoyed listening to an audio version on a long car trip a few years ago.

The main character, Mr. Popper, is a house painter with a wife and children. But he dreams of exploring the Poles and spends his free time reading about them. After writing a fan letter to Admiral Drake, he receives a penguin from the grateful admiral.

Amusing things happen in a family with a penguin as a pet, and soon they have a whole family of penguins as well.

There are some illustrations sprinkled throughout the book as well.

The Ralph Mouse Collection

Image of The Ralph Mouse Collection (The Mouse and the Motorcycle / Runaway Ralph /  Ralph S. Mouse)

A series of chapter books my husband loved as a kid are also good read-alouds. The Ralph Mouse Collection (The Mouse and the Motorcycle / Runaway Ralph / Ralph S. Mouse) has three books about a mouse named Ralph, who is not timid like other mice.

In the first book, The Mouse and the Motorcycle, readers meet Ralph, who lives in the walls of a hotel room with his family.

One day, a boy with toy cars and a motorcycle comes to stay in the hotel room. Ralph can’t resist taking a ride on the motorcycle, and he and the boy become friends.

We have also listened to the audio version of Ralph books with our kids, and they enjoy them. They are a bit dated, but not enough to be a problem. 

If you want to find the books separately, they are The Mouse and the Motorcycle, Runaway Ralph, and Ralph S. Mouse.

Mercy Watson to the Rescue

Image of Mercy Watson to the Rescue

Finally, Mercy Watson to the Rescue also makes an excellent chapter book to read aloud or for a learning reader to try to read themselves.

Mercy is a pig who lives with a childless couple who have sort of adopted her as a daughter. She loves to eat hot buttered toast. 

On this day, she gets a hot buttered toast feeling snuggling into bed with Mr. and Mrs. Watson. But there’s a boom and the bed starts to sink through the floor. Mercy takes off, but will she find help or get distracted?

The simple text is funny and has heart. There are also color illustrations, which is a nice touch in a early chapter book.

This is the first book in the Mercy Watson series. Next, read Mercy Watson Goes for a Ride, Mercy Watson Fights Crime, and Mercy Watson: Princess in Disguise. The picture book prequel story about how Mercy came to live with the Watsons is A Piglet Named Mercy.

Books for Similar Ages

How We Selected Best Books For 5 Year Olds 

Books to read themselves

Some 5-year-olds are ready to read easy books on their own. I’ve included several books that will help your child learn to read or practice their reading skills.

Fun picture books for the family

Reading to your 5-year-old is important whether they can read some on their own or not. I’ve chosen plenty of picture books that you will enjoy reading to your child as well.

Chapter books to read to 5-year-olds

As attention spans grow, some 5-year-olds might enjoy hearing you read a longer chapter book, perhaps one chapter a night before bed. I’ve included a couple of good choices.

Good messages

The books I’ve chosen are ones with positive messages for your child. Or they give you an opportunity for conversation about your family’s values.

Many 5-year-olds are heading into new environments with new people. It’s important that they know they are loved and can persevere.

FAQs About Best Books For 5-Year-Olds

Are Roald Dahl books suitable for 5-year-olds?

Some Roald Dahl books may be good read aloud books for 5-year-olds.

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, The BFG, and Fantastic Mr. Fox may be suitable. Others may be a little too scary or advanced for 5-year-olds.

How can I help my 5 year old learn to read?

Building early literacy skills is important at age 5. Help your child practice identifying the letters of the alphabet and their sounds.

Read lots of books together. Talk about the words in the books. Ask your child questions about what they think will happen next in a book or why a character is acting a certain way.

Point out words everywhere you go to show that reading is useful at the grocery store and on the road, not just sitting on the couch at home.

When your child wants to practice reading, find a time with no distractions so you can focus on helping them. But don’t stress about it. Reading should be fun, and your child’s kindergarten teacher will have lots of pointers, too.

PBS has good resources, including more literacy activities for 5-year-olds

How do you know what age a book is appropriate for?

This can be a tough thing to determine. It’s best if you can read a book before reading it to or giving it to your child. You know your child best, so you are the best judge of what’s appropriate.

If you want to get additional information before you buy a book, try looking at book reviews on commonsensemedia.org. They give an age recommendation and scores for a book’s educational value, positive messages, positive role models, violence/scariness, and bad language.

Final Word on Best Books for 5-Year-Olds

There are so many great books for 5-year-olds. It’s hard to narrow it down to just a couple.

One of my top picks has to be Tacky the Penguin, though. The cute penguin illustrations, funny story, and positive message about using your unique talents are sure to make this a winner with you and your 5-year-old.

Another great pick is One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish (I Can Read It All by Myself). With classic Dr. Seuss rhyme and whimsical illustrations, your child can practice reading in an enjoyable way.

Megan Ryan
Megan Ryan
Megan Ryan is a stay-at-home mom to three kids in elementary school. She is also freelance editor who enjoys editing novels and Christian books. She still has a lot to learn about being a mom, but she's happy to share the lessons she's already learned.

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