Best Realistic Fiction Books for Kids

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In 1942 Germany, main character Bruno and his family move to a new house far outside the city. Behind their new home is a long, tall fence that separates them from a group of people far in the distance. As Bruno explores this new area, he meets another boy — on the other side of the fence. A story about friendship, differences and hardship, “The Boy in the Striped Pajamas” engages yet devastates readers and brings a new perspective on stories from the Holocaust. This book is recommended for readers 12 to 17 years old and is sure to be impactful.

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Jordan Banks loves drawing and creating cartoons. When the time comes to go to middle school, his parents send him to a prestigious school that is focused on academics rather than the arts. Being one of the only students of color and struggling to fit in with students who have different interests than him, Jordan doesn’t know where he belongs. He even struggles to keep his neighborhood friends who don’t go to the same school as him. Many students may go through the same things Jordan does in “New Kid,” making this a fantastic book for readers 8 to 12 years old who need a story they can relate to.

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Mia and her parents live and work in the Calivista Motel. Her parents are housekeepers, and she is a receptionist. Mia and her parents take on the responsibility of helping other immigrants find a place to stay at the motel. While this may come at no cost to the people they’re trying to help, the risk of discovery threatens the family’s ability to work. Mia attempts to navigate her job, school life and all of the changes that come with her new home. In the process, she learns a lot about herself, racism and financial hardship, finally discovering a way to overcome these challenging problems. Children will come away from this book with a deeper understanding of the immigrant experience and the importance of showing empathy to others. “Front Desk” is recommended for children ages 8 to 12.

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“The Season of Styx Malone” follows Bobby Gene and Caleb, two brothers with a thirst for adventure. Caleb struggles with a strong sense of wanderlust, thanks to his protective father and his own growing desire to set himself apart from the crowd. When the brothers meet Styx, their new teenage neighbor, Caleb is instantly drawn to his “cool vibe.” As the two start spending more time together, Caleb finds himself attracting trouble, and soon starts to realize there’s more to Styx than meets the eye. This book exposes young readers not only to a fun summer-themed romp but also to life as a foster child. Readers will learn about dealing with trauma and distinguishing between right and wrong. Children ages 8 to 12 are the perfect audience for this book.

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“As Brave As You” follows Genie and Ernie, two brothers who travel from their home in the city to visit their grandparents’ country home. They are immediately intrigued by their grandfather who, despite his blindness, is completely independent. As the summer unfolds, Genie comes to think of both his brother and grandfather as the pictures of bravery, and in the process re-evaluates his understanding of what bravery really means. A winner of the Coretta Scott King Award, “As Brave As You” explores the concept of masculinity and captures disability in a way young readers will understand. It’s a great read for children ages 10 and older.

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An excellent reading choice for children ages 9 to 12, “Roller Girl” is the perfect book for empowering young girls and will be enjoyed by any child who loves comics and illustrated novels. The main character, Astrid, signs up for roller-derby camp but quickly discovers it isn’t as glamorous as she imagined. First, she’s forced to go unaccompanied by her best friend, from whom she’s been inseparable for years. Second, she struggles to get along with her fellow campers. Astrid must find a way to gain confidence in the face of disappointment and discover just how resilient she can be. “Roller Girl” encourages children to try new things and not give up in the face of challenges, whether big or small.

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At just 14 years old, Peak Marcello’s life is already troubled. When he’s caught climbing a skyscraper and arrested, his only way out of prison is by turning to the father he’s never known, all the way in Thailand. Peak’s father asks one thing in return for his help — that Peak climbs Mount Everest and beats the world record for the youngest climber. Peak struggles over whether to fulfill his personal need for adrenaline or to stay safe and alive. Ideal for middle school readers, “Peak” will prove to be a gripping story full of adventure, risk and the importance of seeing commitments through. A great read for children ages 12 and older.

Expert Commentary

“Realistic fiction books cover an incredibly wide range for young readers and kids. In my experience, if you know your child is comfortable with the content, then let their passions be your guide for which books are right to start with. If your child has the capacity, you can increase the difficulty over time so they can expand their vocabulary.”