Engaging Elementary Texts about Growing Up

Young students looking at their computer screens.

Help your students learn about the complexities of growing up with these texts from CommonLit!

As elementary educators, we know that there is more to a good lesson than just focusing on reading and writing skills. A huge part of our job is to help our students build social emotional skills that help them understand themselves and their role in the world as they move through childhood.

To support this important work, CommonLit has put together an amazing set of texts for grades 3–5 that dive deeply into this theme of growing up. In each of these texts, students will be able to explore what is lost and what is gained when growing up. These texts can be used for a whole class read, small group instruction, or to build independent reading skills with students.

We hope you and your students love these texts as much as we do!

Eleven” by Sandra Cisneros

In this short story, the narrator describes an encounter that takes place at school on the day of her 11th birthday. During the story, the narrator is brought to tears when she is forced to wear an ugly red sweater that doesn’t belong to her.

Throughout the story, the narrator reflects on what it actually means to get older. On one hand, she’s proud to be one year older. However, on the other hand, she realizes that in getting older, she is a culmination of every age she has experienced to date and that each age teaches us new things. Just because another candle is added to our birthday cake doesn’t mean we handle every situation in the most mature way.

Kissy Face” by Nancy Jean Northcutt

This short story begins with the protagonist, James, expressing frustration; whenever he sees his grandmas and aunts, they kiss him endlessly and call him “Kissy Face.” Later in the story, James becomes a big brother and is pleasantly surprised when his relatives direct their kisses at the new baby.

This story is certain to engage young students who are eager to be treated more maturely. It’s likely to have particular resonance with students who have very young siblings.

Emergency on the Mountain” by Kerry McGee

This action-packed story takes place in a village in the Dominican Republic. The protagonist in this story is a smart and brave young girl named Ana. During the story, she encounters a boy who has broken his leg. Ana uses the knowledge she has recently gained and reacts quickly to provide effective first aid.

In this story, Ana is very satisfied that she was able to use her knowledge to help someone else. She also feels immense pride when Leta, an experienced nurse, recognizes her for her good work.

Funeral” by Ralph Fletcher

This short memoir, Ralph Fletcher reflects on his last day with his friends in Marshfield as a child. In the story, Ralph’s friends hold a “funeral” for their friend that is about to move away from Marshfield with his family. During this sentimental “funeral,” Ralph’s friends tell stories about their favorite memories with him and reflect on why he was such a good friend.

In this story, Ralph has mixed feelings about moving away from his best friends. On one hand, he is deeply grateful for their friendship. But, on the other hand, he realizes that he’s ready for the next phase of his life away from Marshfield.

The Kids’ Table” by Anita Celli

This story’s protagonist is an adolescent boy named James. James is the oldest of his many cousins who come to his family’s house for Thanksgiving dinner. At the beginning of the party, James feels worn out by his cousins who constantly vie for his attention. However, by the end of the story, he realizes that he’s not exactly ready to be an adult and that he’d rather spend his time looking after and playing with his younger cousins.

The Sign of the Cat” by Sandra Havriluk

This story takes place during the Great Depression. The main character, Chet, lives with his grandmother. At the beginning of the story, Chet has some trouble understanding why his grandmother is so generous to the men who come to the house looking for a meal, even though they don’t have much money. As the story progresses, Chet comes to realize that the Great Depression has taken a great toll on many people and that it’s also his responsibility to help others.

This story is great for helping young students learn that growing up comes with additional responsibilities, including helping others.

Growing Down” by Shel Silverstein

This lovely poem takes an unusual approach to growing up. Instead of focusing on a kid going through childhood, it’s centered on an old man, who everyone encourages to “grow down” and start having more fun. This poem is great for exploring the idea that anyone can be a child at heart!

Next Steps

We hope you love this set of texts for elementary students! Click here to find more great texts for grades 3–5.

If you’re interested in learning all about CommonLit’s free digital literacy program for elementary students, join one of our upcoming webinars!