Looking for the best books to help your young readers identify and understand themes in literature? These five must-have books will help your students think critically about a story’s main idea and discover all the hidden meanings inside the books they’re reading, now and in the future.

Plus, check out these 5 graphic organizers to help further deepen your students’ understanding of themes in literature.

A Bad Case of Stripes
In A Bad Case of Stripes, Camilla Cream thinks lima beans are delicious. But her classmates can’t stand them, so she won’t eat them either. And then when it’s time to stand and recite the Pledge of Allegiance, guess what happens to Camilla? She becomes completely covered in red, white, and blue stripes! To put it mildly, she’s just not herself.

Peer pressure and fitting in are common themes your students will come across in this book and in many others throughout their reading journey. With this funny and engaging story, your young lima-bean lovers and haters will explore what it means to be true to one’s self, and why it’s so important.

The Hundred Dresses
Themes of kindness and compassion are central to this Newbery Honor Book about a young girl, Maddie, who doesn’t have the courage to stand up for a shy classmate, Wanda. But when Wanda is suddenly absent and doesn’t return to school even after winning the class drawing contest, Maddie is forced to come to terms with the fact that she can’t make amends for her inaction, even though she wants to

Reading The Hundred Dresses, your students will learn how standing up for what’s right, and extending kindness and compassion to all their classmates despite what others may be doing or saying, is the only way to lead a life with the fewest regrets.   

This book is not only a heartwarming story your young readers will love, it’s a humorous take on what it means to feel different and find acceptance. In Rules, your students will meet Catherine, a 12-year-old who wants a normal life despite her autistic brother—who she’s spent years trying to teach the rules—and a family that revolves around him. But soon after meeting Jason, a paraplegic boy, and a new neighbor friend, Kristi, she realizes it’s her own embarrassing behavior that needs to be reconsidered.


Bud, Not Buddy
Bud is on a mission to find his father in Bud, Not Buddy, a must-read book filled with humor, history, and jazz. Reading this story set during the Great Depression and steeped in musical history, your students will learn the importance of perseverance and determination, and of course, acceptance.


Because of Winn-Dixie
In this New York Times bestseller and Newbery Honor winner, readers are introduced to Opal, her preacher father, and of course, Winn-Dixie, a big, ugly dog who knows no stranger. With Winn-Dixie by her side, Opal learns about her absent mother and spends the summer making new friends, collecting their stories, and thinking about what it means to let go. The perfect book to inspire your young readers to reflect on friendship, forgiveness, and letting go, Because of Winn-Dixie will help your students understand important themes they’re sure to encounter as they continue on their reading journey.


Being able to identify and understand the major themes in these books is the key to your students becoming strong readers. For more books to help your young readers understand themes in literature, check out these featured book lists from Scholastic.


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