Making sense of the world can be difficult at any age, but is especially challenging for children. Whether they’re facing hardships or simply growing up, children need to know how to work through life’s trickier situations. One of the best ways to help a child navigate their environment is through fiction. The books we’ve listed here are realistic and reflect many of the experiences shared by children across the country. These books will provide kids with fictional situations they can relate to or empathize with, while helping them build the vocabulary they’ll need to succeed when facing challenges themselves.
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.
“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.
“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.
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.
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.
“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.”
Our Expert Consultant
Kelsey Daubenmier is a licensed primary school teacher with over 10 years of experience in primary education. Kelsey thoughtfully balances the demands of raising four children with the never-ending stack of papers to grade and lesson plans to prepare. In the last decade, Kelsey has gained experiences educating children as young as 5 and as old as 11. She is passionate about bringing the best possible baby and children’s products to you and your loved ones.