8 modern classic books for kids in grades 3–5

See if your child is excited to dive into these modern classics. If some are still too challenging for your child to read independently, consider reading them aloud together.

In third grade, kids start focusing on really “getting” the meaning of what they read. And kids with learning and thinking differences may find special meaning in these characters and themes.

Pippi Longstocking, by Astrid Lindgren

Readers have enjoyed this famously spunky character since 1945. Pigtailed Pippi lives in a house with a pet monkey and horse — but no grown-ups. She avoids school and gets into zany adventures, which impresses her new neighbors Tommy and Annika. Pippi has no manners and doesn’t follow social rules. But she does know how to drum up some serious fun. Pippi Longstocking is the first book of a series about Pippi.

Kids with learning and thinking differences may appreciate: Pippi’s free spirit. And they might even learn about social rules by watching her blatantly disregard them!

There’s a Boy in the Girls’ Bathroom, by Louis Sachar

In There’s a Boy in the Girls’ Bathroom, Bradley is known as a troublemaker at school. He bullies other kids, talks back to teachers, and ignores his homework. Bradley knows he’s hard to like, but he still wishes other people liked him. Then a new kid joins his class, and a new counselor arrives at school. Before he knows it, Bradley has a chance to show a different side of himself.

Kids with learning and thinking differences may relate to: Bradley’s trouble with self-esteem.

Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing, by Judy Blume

Peter Hatcher can’t get his parents to pay attention to him. That’s because his little brother Fudge is such a terror! Worse yet, when Fudge misbehaves, Peter’s parents look to Peter to distract him. Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing is the first of the hysterical grade-school series that also includes Superfudge, Fudge-a-mania, and Otherwise Known as Sheila the Great.

Kids with learning and thinking differences may relate to: Peter’s struggle with sibling rivalry.

Bunnicula, by Deborah and James Howe

Harold (a dog) and Chester (a cat) are suspicious of the new family pet. The Monroes found the tiny rabbit at the movie theater when they saw Dracula. Bunnicula, as they’ve named the bunny, seems spooky to the other pets: He’s nocturnal and has fangs. But there’s no such thing as a vampire rabbit — or is there? Harold and Chester have quite a time trying to find out in his scary-silly chapter book.

Kids with learning and thinking differences may relate to: The idea of handling big fears and being misunderstood.

The Secret Garden, by Frances Hodgson Burnett

Readers have loved The Secret Garden for over a hundred years. Maybe it’s because the main character, Mary, is so perfectly unlikeable when she arrives at her uncle’s house to stay. Or maybe it’s the amazing garden she finds with the cousin she never knew she had. Whatever the reason, kids are drawn to this story of discovery and friendship. The language may sound old-fashioned to young readers, but that could add to its charm.

Kids with learning and thinking differences may appreciate: Mary’s efforts to develop self-awareness. And they might be inspired by her personal transformation.

Island of the Blue Dolphins, by Scott O’Dell

As the rescue ship begins to sail away from her island home in the first pages of Island of the Blue Dolphins, 12-year-old Karana decides to jump off. She can’t leave her younger brother, who literally missed the boat. Back on land, her brother tragically dies. And in the 18 years that follow, Karana has to adapt and survive alone. Based on a Native American story, the book is a great read-aloud option, too.

Kids with learning and thinking differences may relate to: Karana’s feelings of loneliness. And they may also be inspired by her resilience.

Dear Mr. Henshaw, by Beverly Cleary

Leigh’s parents have just separated. He’s in a new town, going to a new school. He misses his dad and can’t make any friends. Then his teacher assigns the class to write to their favorite authors, and Boyd Henshaw writes back to Leigh! Even after he stops returning letters, Leigh keeps writing to him in his journal. For once, Leigh feels understood. Dear Mr. Henshaw is another great choice to read aloud with your child.

Kids with learning and thinking differences may relate to: Leigh’s trouble with making friends. And they may appreciate his need to feel “heard” by a supportive adult.

The Phantom Tollbooth, by Norton Juster

Milo is bored. Bored by school, bored at home. Then one day, a strange tollbooth arrives at his house. When he drives his toy car through it, he’s whisked to a fantasy world. There, a king asks him to save two princesses. With a watchdog named Tock, Milo travels past the cities of Reality and Illusion, the Valley of Sound, and the Island of Conclusions, among other odd, amazing places. He battles demons and triumphs in unbelievable ways. The wordplay in The Phantom Tollbooth can be advanced, so it may be a good choice to read with or to your child.

Kids with learning and thinking differences may appreciate: The idea of escaping to a place where a kid can be so powerful and important.


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