Excellent Realistic Fiction Books for Kids

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Realistic fiction chapter books, middle grade books, and YA books are either relatable to children’s lives or build empathy as readers walk in the shoes of another.
Whether the realistic fiction books on this list are windows, mirrors, or doors, they are all well-written and highly recommended. And, quite frankly, no matter the circumstances, these books show us that we are more alike than we are different. We love, we feel sad, we want friends, we yearn to find our identity, no matter what life circumstances or culture, or language.
So, if your readers enjoy books about real people and relatable issues like friendship, growing up, coming of age, going to a new school, moving, identity, and other such topics and themes, then these books will hit the spot.
Get ready to discover many wonderful realistic fiction books for kids age 5 to 18.

Book Lists by AGE

Verse Novels

Realistic Fiction Book for Kids

Beginning Chapter Books

Meet Yasmin!
by Saadia Faruqui, illustrated by Hatem Aly
ages 6 – 9
What an adorable main character! Yasmin is an exuberant girl who is interested in everything from exploring to building to fashion. This book tells four short stories from Yasmin’s life, all in chapters with lively, full-color illustrations. Each story shows Yasmin as a creative problem solver even when things get hard. Her Pakistani American culture is embedded throughout the story such as the foods Yasmin’s family eats like naan or how she calls her father Baba. I LOVE the diversity, the gutsy main-character, and the beautiful design of the entire book.

Realistic Books for Kids
Here’s Hank: Bookmarks Are People Too! #1
 by Henry Winkler & Lin Oliver
ages 6 – 9
Hank is a relatable character to whom learning doesn’t come easily. These are easy to read, well-written beginning illustrated chapter book series for readers transitioning to chapter books.
realistic books for kids
Emma Is On the Air Party Drama! by Ida Siegal (series)
ages 6 – 9
Emma and her friends are excited about the costume contest — but when Sophia’s costume disappears mysteriously, the group investigates clues and interviews witnesses to discover what happened. Her group of friends finds news and shares it in video news reports.

realistic book list for kids
The Year of the by Andrea Chang
ages 7 – 10
Growing up is challenging and in the first novel, The Year of the Book, Anna turns to books for company while she learns how to make friendships in real life. The subsequent books in the series are just as realistic and well-written. I highly recommend them.

Dory REal True Friend realistic books for kids
Dory and the Real True Friend
 by Abby Hanlon
ages 6 – 9
Dory is one of my favorite book characters because her imagination is THE BEST! She has three imaginary friends: one monster friend, one fairy godmother that’s actually not a lady, and one bad lady nemesis. I love this story because she meets a real-life friend who understands all about imaginary friends and together, they’re the perfect match. 

6 New Beginning Chapter Books with Female Main Characters, Fall 2018
Miranda and Maude: The Princess and the Absolutely NOT a Princess
by Emma Wunsch, illustrated by Jessika Von Innerbner
ages 6 – 9
This book is so much better than I could have imagined! It’s about two girls who are quite different — one is a more sensitive, pinked-up princess and the other is a chicken-raising, social justice-loving regular girl. The two are in the same class at school where right away, a misunderstanding grows and grows until it results in a disastrous birthday party with no one attending. Don’t worry — it will end up well. It’s a terrific story with great life lessons about communication and kindness.

realistic books for kids
Jasmine Toguchi Mochi Queen by Debbi Michiko Florence, illustrated by Eliazbet Vukovic
ages 6 – 9
Jasmine is so jealous that the older kids in her family have important jobs on the mochi making day — she wants to do what the older boys and men are doing, pound the mochi rice. Her understanding father figures out a way for Jasmine to join in. And even though it didn’t work out how she wanted, her family is proud of her and decides it’s okay to break some rules like who gets to pound the rice. Not only is the story’s message very sweet, but you’ll also love how Jasmine’s Japanese-American culture and warm family community shine throughout.
Beginning Chapter Books to Keep Kids Reading, Reading, Reading
Zoo Camp Puzzle
by Gail Herman
ages 7 – 9
Ava and Rosie are not excited to move to the zoo for the summer with their brother, writer mom, and teacher dad. But once they arrive, they change their minds quickly. Now they’re really worried about the missing pronghorns and the suspicious trucks just outside the fences. With the help of their brother Ethan, the siblings must figure out what’s happening and how to keep the animals safe. Throughout the book, you’ll find pages with activities like puzzles and mazes as well as information about the animals at the zoo. You’ll love both the mystery story and the factual sections of information. It’s really well done! Also in the series: Puppy Rescue Riddle.

Jaden realistic books for kids
Jaden Toussaint, the Greatest Episode 1: The Quest for Screen Time
by Marti Dumas, illustrated by Marie Muravski
ages 6 – 9
What kid doesn’t want more screen time? Jaden has a plan for convincing his parents that he needs more time — and he’s going to use his big brain and his fellow kindergarteners to help. Not only is this a fantastic story, but I also love that we see a family with cultural diversity.

Sophie Mouse realistic books
The Adventures of Sophie Mouse A New Friend
 by Poppy Green, illustrated by Jennifer A. Bell
ages 6 – 9
A new student arrives at Sophie’s school — a SNAKE named Owen! (Yikes!) All the mice students are scared. When Sophie tells her parents, they explain that they knew a really nice snake who moved away which makes Sophie think about giving Owen a chance. Owen rescues Sophie from a dangerous situation and they become good friends. This is an enjoyable story with a lovely message of not judging others based on outward appearances.

realistic books for kids
Daisy Dawson
ages 6 – 9
Daisy can talk to animals! You’ll love her free spirit personality and her kindness in all sorts of adventures. I love Daisy!

realistic beginning chapter books
Aggie the Brave by Lori Ries, illustrated by Frank Dormer
ages 6 – 9
Colorful illustrations match the basic sentences which tell the story of Aggie the dog who must go to the vet to get spayed, stay overnight, and heal at home.  The story teaches about the process at the vet as well as what to expect – like the stitches and cone she must wear post-surgery. I love the way the little boy owner imagines that Aggie is not a cone-head but a LION.

realistic books
Owl Diaries Eva’s Treetop Festival by Rebecca Elliott
ages 5 – 8
This is a really cute book that’s just right for beginning readers, particularly girls. Eva writes in diary form all about getting the Bloomtastic Festival put together and how she eventually learns to ask friends for help.

sparkle spa Recommended Books for 7 Year Olds
Sparkle Spa: Purple Nails and Puppy Tails
 by Jill Santopolo
ages 7 – 10
Sisters, Aly and Brooke, start their own nail business in the back room of their mother’s nail salon for their soccer friends. To help a local animal shelter, the girls decide to give free pedicures to help support the shelter’s efforts find homes for the animals. And yes, pet-icures are in the story, too!
Recommended Books for 7 Year Olds
The World According to Humphrey 
by Betty Birney
ages 7 – 10
Class pet, Humphrey, is a hamster who travels to a students’ home on the weekends and has lots of adventures.

recommended realistic chapter books for kids
Waggit’s Tale 
by Peter Howe (series)
ages 6 – 9
Waggit is abandoned in the park. Fortunately, a group of dogs takes him in and helps him survive. He lives with them for many months, including a hard winter, but when a friendly woman feeds him and gives him a home, he finds his forever home. I love how this book hooks readers from page one and keeps you engaged. It’s interesting, emotional, and well-written.

recommended realistic chapter books for kids
Finley Flowers Original Recipe
 by Jessica Young
ages 7 – 10
3rd grade Finley wants to win a cooking contest so she can give the prize (free pizza for a year) to her best friend, Henry, for his birthday. She insists she doesn’t need ideas or help which turns out to be a disaster as well as a valuable learning experience. Charming illustrations accompany this sweet story of friendship.

recommended realistic chapter books for kids
Scribbles and Ink Out of the Box
 by Ethan Long
ages 5 – 8
In this easy-to-read (very easy first chapter book) adventure, Scribbles and Ink (a cat and mouse) find that a box is a really cool thing to play with — it can become so many things (a race car, a mask, overalls). Unfortunately, the duo begins arguing about who gets the box and the box rips in half. After working out their differences, they think of a boxtastic solution.

recommended realistic chapter books for kids
Lola Levine Is Not Mean
 by Monica Brown
ages 7 – 10
Second-grade soccer-loving Lola, daughter of a Peruvian mom and Jewish dad, is misunderstood. I loved the diversity and the realistic topics of life and playing sports –so many kids will be able to relate to this charming story. See also: Lola Levine: Drama Queen.
recommended realistic chapter books for kids
Bink & Gollie Best Friends Forever
 by Kate DiCamillo and Alison McGhee, illustrated by Tony Fucile
ages 6 – 9
The second book of funny Bink and Gollie (mis)adventures in friendship and life filled with wonderful color illustrations. (Very easy.)

Best Books for 5 and 6 Year Olds
Violet Mackerel’s Possible Friend
by Anna Branford, illustrated by Alanna Allen
ages 6 – 9
This is a sweet story about friendship and super relatable to kids. Especially because Violet worries that she’s not fancy enough for her new, rich neighbor friend, Rose. But Rose loves everything about Violet. Love!

Weekends with Max and His Dad realistic books
Weekends with Max and His Dad
 by Linda Urban, illustrated by Katie Kath
ages 6 – 8
This is a terrific book that captures the fun of time spent with a caring parent who is totally present for his son– I loved the short story format of adventures and that the story didn’t make a big deal of Max’s parents divorce but was simply part of the way life was. Excellent.

recommended realistic chapter books for kids
Jenny and the Cat Club: A Collection of Favorite Stories about Jenny Linsky
ages 6 – 9
Join Jenny and her friends, including fearless Pickles the Fire Cat, on their spirited downtown adventures and discover why The Atlantic Monthly called Jenny “a personality ranking not far below such giants as Peter Rabbit.”

Stink and the Shark Sleepover recommended realistic chapter books for kids
Stink and the Shark Sleepover
 by Megan McDonald, illustrated by Peter H. Reynolds
ages 6 – 9
I love this realistic story because it’s an exciting adventure as well as it includes a lot of factual information about marine life. Stink gets to sleepover at the aquarium. While he’s there, he learns more about sharks, gets to solve a mystery, learns a ghost story, and has tons of fun.  Of course, the Peter H. Reynolds illustrations are ah-mazing as always.

recommended realistic chapter books for kids
Shelter Pet Squad: Jelly Bean
by Cynthia Lord
ages 6 – 9
I’m a big fan of Cynthia Lord’s middle-grade books and I really like this new series, too. Suzannah joins the Shelter Pet Squad because her apartment building doesn’t allow pets. She meets a sad girl who has to leave her guinea pig, Jelly Bean, at the shelter due to moving. Suzannah promises the girl she’ll find Jelly Bean a good home. Only it’s not as easy as she first thought. The Shelter Pet Squad works together to find the perfect home — a kindergarten classroom.

recommended realistic chapter books for kids
Like Carrot Juice on a Cupcake by Julie Sternberg, illustrated by Matthew Cordell
ages 6 – 9
I really loved this story told in first person from Eleanor’s point of view. It’s about the challenges when Eleanor gets jealous of a new girl she thinks her best friend Pearl might like better than her. This made my top five list of best books for the year.

because of winn dixie good realistic books
Because of Winn-Dixie by Kate DiCamillo
ages 7 – 9
Opal’s preacher father is always too busy and her mother has been gone since Opal was three, something Opal has always wondered about. But Opal finds someone to care for, a stray dog that she names Winn-Dixie, and that dog brings hope and meaning into 10-year old Opal’s life. Brilliant.

Charlotte's Web realistic books for kids
Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White, illustrated by Garth Williams
ages 6 – 9
So much more than a book about farm animals, this story is a beautiful tribute to friendship that incorporates love and death as well. It’s a classic for a reason and one of the best-written children’s books in existence.

recommended realistic chapter books for kids
Charlie Bumpers vs. The Squeaking Skill by Bill Harley, illustrated by Adam Gustavson
ages 6 – 9
This beginning chapter book is about friends, not-so-good friends, scary movies, and Halloween costumes. Charlie, the main character, deals with disappointment, fear, and empathy, in a very relatable story that could easily happen to any child at this age.

 Best Easy Chapter Books for 5 and 6 Year Olds
Princess Posey and the First Grade Boys by Stephanie Greene, illustrated by Stephanie Roth Sisson
ages 6 – 9
Posey gets annoyed about those crazy first grade boys and makes up a mean song about Henry. All her friends laugh but not Henry. When Posey’s teacher, Miss Lee, says to stop and that Posey was bullying Henry, Posey feels very mad. And she stays mad for awhile. Until her neighbor boys make fun of Posey’s little brother and suddenly Posey realizes the truth. I loved the life lesson, the relatable characters, and the excellent pacing. Great white space to text to picture ratio, too!

 Best Easy Chapter Books for 5 and 6 Year Olds
Sydney & Simon Full STEAM Ahead!
 by Paul A. Reynolds, illustrated by Peter H. Reynolds
ages 6 – 9
Amazing! Sydney and Simon are twins (like the author and illustrator) working on their flower show project. Throughout the book, they work together questioning, predicting, and experimenting as well as using art, music, and technology to make their booth the best it could be. Not only did I love the creative story, but I also loved the beautiful, colorful artwork.

realistic chapter books for kids recommended
Penny and Her Marble 
by Kevin Henkes I Can Read Book 1
ages 6 – 9
In this cautionary tale, Penny finds a beautiful blue marble on the sidewalk in front of her neighbor’s house. She takes it home but feels guilty about stealing it and not returning it to her neighbor. Finally, she returns the marble and her neighbor tells her she can keep it.

Little Rhino
Little Rhino My New Team
 by Ryan Howard and Krystle Howard
ages 6 – 9
You’ll find the themes about making friends and dealing with bullies to be both realistic and helpful. Little Rhino joins a little league baseball team only to discover that the boy who bullies him is on his same team. His wise grandfather and daily lunch at the dinosaur table help Rhino and his shy friend gain new social skills and the confidence to deal with the bully.

realistic books for kids
Boris Gets a Lizard by Andrew Joyner
ages 6 – 9
You can’t help but love Boris, a wildly imaginative boy who really wants a pet Komodo dragon. In fact, it’s his imagination that prompts him to tell his entire class that he’ll be not only getting a Komodo dragon, but that they can all see it. (Which isn’t exactly true. At all.) And, it’s that same imagination that saves the day when there is no Komodo Dragon but many excited visitors who Boris doesn’t want to disappoint. Appealing colorful illustrations accompany this fabulous simple early chapter book making it another book I highly recommend.

chapter books realistic
Grin and Bear It
by Leo Landry
ages 6 – 9
This is a darling easy reader book about a bear who wants to be a comedian but he has a problem with stage fright. Fortunately, the hummingbird helps bear’s dream come true. VERY EASY.

realistic books for kids
Piper Green: Too Much Good Luck
 (book 2) by Ellen Potter, illustrated by Qin Leng
ages 6 – 9
Piper is a lovable girl who just like all of us, makes mistakes, and hopes for her luck to change. She learns a valuable lesson about jealousy and friendship in this short and sweet story. Also read, Piper Green and the Fairy Tree.

Best Easy Chapter Books for 5 and 6 Year Olds
Alvin Ho: Allergic to Girls, School, and Other Scary Things by Lenore Look
ages 6 – 9
Second grader, Alvin Ho, is afraid of everything, especially school. At school he’s quiet but at home, he’s Firecracker Man, superhero.
realistic beginning chapter books for
Wedgie & Gizmo
by Suzanne Selfors
ages 7 – 10
Dog owners will nod along with the ADHD stream of conscious narration of Wedgie, the barking dog who LOVES everything. Contrast this with the diabolical plotting narration of the evil genius guinea pig Gizmo (remind anyone of Pinkie and the Brain?) who is horrified to be living in a Barbie house instead of his own habitat. The two pet’s alternating narrations show a newly blended family that Gizmo’s servant/owner, Elliot, is not happy about. Selfors skillfully addresses a family in transition through the humorous lenses of the pets. I hope we hear more from these two.

realistic books for kids
Have Fun, Anna Hibiscus! by Atinuke
ages 6 – 9
Anna Hibiscus lives in amazing Africa but in this story, she goes by herself to visit her Granny Canada in Canada where it’s snowy and cold. Anna gets to wear warm clothes and eat new foods. She even gets comfortable with Granny Canada’s dog and makes new friends. This is a delightful story of a sweet girl on an exciting new adventure.

realistic books for kids
Mouse Scouts: Make a Difference
 by Sarah Dillard
ages 6 – 9
Six new Mouse Scouts and friends share adventures as they seek new merit badges. In this story, the girls must to work together to rescue a . . . CAT! What a sweet new illustrated series for beginning chapter book readers. See also Mouse Scouts #1.
Best Easy Chapter Books for 5- and 6-year Olds
The Vanishing Coin (Magic Shop Series)
 by Kate Egan and Mike Lane, illustrated by Eric Wight
ages 6 – 9
Kids like fourth-grader Mike who can’t sit still will relate to Mike’s struggles with getting work done, avoiding the school bully, and staying out of trouble. It’s such a great story because Mike discovers something that he IS good at – magic. And, you’ll learn how to do the tricks as you read the book. Well-written with fantastic illustrations by my good friend, Eric Wight. Look for the next book in the series out now called The Incredible Twisting Arm.
ages 7 – 10
A delightful, well-paced story of super-smarty Benji who earns his first million by inventing an app of excuses for a school project. Then he’s asked to advise on some wild and secret projects — when cloned dinosaurs escape and an asteroid will collide with the Earth. I really like that he has a close relationship with his mom and dad, too.
Recommended Books for 7 Year Olds
Shredderman: Secret Identity
 by Wendelin Van Draanen
ages 7 – 10
Illustrated with comics, hilarious, relatable, this book has it all. Awesome.
Recommended Books for 7 Year Olds
Ellray Jakes Walks the Plank by Sally Warner, illustrated by Jamie Harper
ages 6 – 9
Little sister overfeeds Ellray’s class fish and kills it. Ellray takes the blame to protect his sister, after all family is family, and gets to help find a new class pet.
best books for 8-year olds (third graders)
Amelia Bedelia Chapter Book #2: Amelia Bedelia Unleashed 
by Herman Parish, illustrated by Lynne Avril
ages 6 – 9
I’ve been enjoying these updated Amelia chapter books by the original author’s son. In this story, Amelia searches for the perfect puppy.
 Best Easy Chapter Books for 5- and 6-year Olds
Drama Queen (Kylie Jean) by M. Peschke
age 6 – 9
Kylie Jean Carter wants to be a beauty queen but also a rodeo queen, blueberry queen, hoop queen, singing queen . . . Kylie Jean is adorable!
realistic books
Ellie Engineer
by Jackson Pearce
ages 7 – 9
What a well-written adventure that makes engineering seem enticing and creative! After a disastrous “french braid machine” tangles her best friend’s hair, Ellie, who already identifies herself as an engineer, plans to make her BFF a new birthday present — a dog house, getting help from a neighbor boy and a group of girls from school who are bitter rivals up until Ellie helps them work together.

Rosie Revere and the Raucous Riveters
by Andrea Beaty, illustrated by David Roberts
ages 7 – 10
Totally FANTASTIC! Andrea Beaty successfully writes her famous main characters of Rosie Revere, Iggy Peck, and Ada Twist into a fun-filled, STEM adventure chapter book. I loved this first book in the series from beginning to end. Rosie’s Aunt Rose and her WWII friends, the Raucous Riveters, need Rosie’s help. Their friend June broke both her arms and she needs an invention so she can paint in the upcoming art contest. Can Rosie and friends invent something to help June paint with her casts? After one disaster after another, including at the art contest, Rosie continues to persevere and problem-solve to find a solution that will work. I’m so glad to see the same whimsical illustrations as the beloved picture books, too. (Added to Wholesome Easy Chapter Books for Girls.)

Middle-Grade Books, Ages 9 – 12

Star in the Forest 
by Laura Resau
ages 8 – 12
Star in the Forest is a good introduction to the situation of Mexican children illegally in the U.S., who are fearful and sometimes separated from their family members. We learn that friendship comes from the most unlikely of friends, even someone like Crystal who despite her lies, is a loyal friend. And, we find that Zitlally’s love for her father helps her do courageous things.

Get a Grip Vivy Cohen
by Sarah Kapit
ages 9 -12
What a page-turner! Vivy is a girl on the autism spectrum who loves baseball, particularly pitching knuckleballs. The book is written as letters and emails between Vivy and her favorite baseball player, VJ Capello. Vivy writes to VJ all about getting to play on a team as well as making her first friend, pitching, and getting bullied by the coach’s son. When she gets hit in the head with a ball and her mom won’t let her play anymore. How can she convince her mom to change her mind when her mom won’t listen and Vivy gets overwhelmed with communication easily? It’s no surprise that this is an #OwnVoices book because the story feels so real. It’s not just for readers who enjoy sports but for anyone who understands dedication to a passion.

Dragon Vs. Unicorns: Kate the Chemist
by Dr. Kate Biberdorf with Hillary Homzie
ages 8 – 12
Exciting from the first page (a fire breathing science experiment!!), this awesome new STEM chapter book series is hard to put down. There are lots happening in Kate’s busy life every day but no matter if she’s dealing with science, the school play, or friends, she’s a determined problem solver. When she tries to figure out who is sabotaging the school musical, it’s going to take all her skills to find the culprit.

by Rob Harrell
ages 9 – 12
I highly recommend this funny, standout cancer story based on the author’s life for readers who like humorous but emotion-filled stories. When Ross is diagnosed with a rare kind of tumor, he immediately starts radiation treatment. School becomes pretty challenging because his eye is goopy, he has to wear a hat, and his hair starts falling out in clumps– among other things made funny with his cartoon drawings. A goofy, kind-hearted radiation tech gets Ross interested in alternative punk music, and in order to impress a girl, Ross asks the tech for guitar lessons. Turns out, the guitar and his new music, help Ross both express his frustrations and find his joy, leading to some surprising results — like a new, unexpected friend.
ages 8 – 12
Lucy joins coding club so she can make an app for her uncle to remember his medications. But the class is moving TOO slow. Then, a mysterious letter arrives on her locker with instructions in code:
if (you_want_to_learn_code) {
 do_everything_I_tell_you ();
The subsequent messages in code put her back in touch with old friends and help her build a new friendship. But who is sending her messages? Whoever it is, they’re teaching Lucy and her friends about input/output, conditionals, loops, and variables. To solve the mystery, the girls decide to write their own code . . . This series is off to a great start with an intriguing mystery, friendship dilemmas, and tangible coding knowledge. I’m impressed.

One-Third Nerd 
by Gennifer Choldenko, illustrated by Eglantine Ceulemans
ages 8 – 12
I love these three unique, wonderful siblings — they stick together and look out for each other. Liam is a responsible, kind big brother in fifth grade. His mom and dad have recently divorced and now their grumpy landlord has given them an ultimatum — they’ll have to give away their German Sheperd dog, Cupcake, unless her peeing problem gets solved. Choldenko crafts a beautiful, multi-layered, warm-hearted story that celebrates family, unique personalities as well the richness in having a dog. I love this story so much. If you like the Penderwicks or the VanderBeekers, you will love this book, too.
best realistic chapter books for middle grade readers
Louisiana’s Way Home
by Kate DiCamillo
ages 8 – 12
What a luminous, sparkling gem of a book with quirky, complex characters! Granny drags Louisiana out of bed in the middle of the night, insisting that they leave their home to confront the family curse. Not only does Louisiana not want to leave her friends and home, but things also get even worse when Granny abandons Louisiana at a motel along the way. Forced to fend for herself, Louisiana figures out how to survive miles from home while worrying that the family curse has destined her for an unhappy life.  Don’t miss this enthralling, emotionally resonant story.
best realistic chapter books for middle grade readers
No Fixed Address
by Susin Nielsen
ages 9 – 12
Felix doesn’t want to tell anyone that he’s been living in a van for months and months. His mom, Astrid, is worried about social services taking him so he keeps quiet even though he really wants a bathroom. His hope is that he can win his favorite TV game show so they’ll finally have enough money to get an apartment. One of the things I loved about this story is how it shows a child’s love for a parent despite all the parent’s flaws–and his mom has many like lying and not holding down a job. It also depicts homelessness as circumstances beyond a child’s control — which is something most kids don’t know or think to consider. This well-written book is beautiful, important, and highly recommended. (Added to Books That Facilitate Empathy: Poverty)

Pie in the Sky
by Remy Lai
ages 8 – 12
Pie in the Sky is an insightful, funny, and poignant look at the struggles of immigrating to a new country (Australia) and the difficulties of learning English along with growing up and grieving the loss of a father. Jingwen’s observations and wit make him a likable main character and the illustrations capture the depth and flavors of his experiences. He likens learning English to becoming human. After school with his brother, he bakes the cakes that his father wanted to include at his dream Pie in the Sky bakery. It’s a coming of age story that is both salty and sweet, the perfect blend. (Occasional bad word but feels appropriate in context.)

Pippa Park Raises Her Game
by Erin Yun
ages 9 – 13
Exceptional! Korean American Pippa is a great basketball player but her guardian older sister won’t let her play unless her grades improve. But math tutoring by the cutest boy she’s ever seen might be what leads to a scholarship at a prestigious private school. Pippa uses the new school to reinvent herself, hiding her background from the popular kids (not wealthy, from a rival middle school.) While she’s figuring out who she is, she is mean to her best friend. Little does she know that someone is watching and documenting it all, sending her threatening emails, then publishes the truth for the entire school to see. In a satisfying ending with valuable life lessons, Pippa decides to not be ashamed of her working-class family, her culture, or her friends. Girl readers, in particular, will be able to relate to the social hierarchy of middle school and the temptation to change yourself to suit others.

From the Desk of Zoe Washington
by Janae Marks
ages 9 – 12
On her 12th birthday, Zoe, a girl who loves to bake, discovers a letter to her from her incarcerated biological father, Marcus. She decides to write him back, even daring to ask him about the murder he’s in jail for — did he really do it? Marcus writes to Zoe that he’s innocent and he can prove it which sets Zoe on a quest to find out the truth for herself, even if her mom and dad forbid it. She enlists the help of her Grandma and her best friend, Trevor. You won’t be able to put down this winsome story with a heroine you can’t help but adore; a story that illuminates social justice with themes of family, friendship, and love.
Jacky Ha-Ha Meaningful Realistic Chapter Books for Ages 8 - 12
Jacky Ha-Ha
by James Patterson and Chris Grabenstein
age 8 – 12
Jacky stutters badly so to make life easier, she just makes a joke . . . about everything. Now at age 12, she’s started the new school year with tons of detentions. Luckily, someone sees the potential in Jacky and lets her “serve” those detentions in the school play, You’re a Good Man Charlie Brown. It turns out Jacky is a natural actor — and that helps distract her from her Nonna being sick, her mom being deployed, and her dad never being home. Very enjoyable!

Tornado Brain
by Cat Patric
ages 9 – 12
When 7th grade Frankie’s former best friend, Colette, vanishes, Frankie begins to look for clues on her own. As she does, we see how complicated it is to be in her brain. Loud noises, changes, touch, and so many things affect her intensely. Frankie realizes that Colette was trying to finish the list of dares that they made up when they were younger. The mystery of Colette’s whereabouts keeps every moment of the story suspenseful. Frankie and her twin sister piece together Colette’s last known locations. As they do, it helps Frankie accept herself and forgive Colette and her sister. It’s a brilliant, touching first-person story that gives us insights into a neurodivergent character’s brain in a suspenseful mystery story.

Isaiah Dunn is My Hero
by Kelly J. Baptist
With themes and topics of grief, family, poverty, poetry, the power of writing, and friendship — this beautiful story will capture your heart with its struggling, heroic main character whose hopeful journey makes you believe in humanity again. After Isaiah’s dad dies, his mother stops working and starts drinking too much. The family of three now lives in a smokey motel where Isaiah watches his 4-year-old sister when his mom is passed out. He finds strength and inspiration in his father’s journaled stories about Isaiah Dunn Superhero and eventually, begins to write poems again in his own journal…poems that he and a new friend named Angel sell as a business, money he wants to give to his mom for a new place.

Swag is in the Socks
by Kelly J. Baptist
ages 9. -12
12-year-old Xavier hates speaking because of his stutter, he’d much prefer to play video games and hang out in his room at home. But, he wants to join Septer League just like his (incarcerated) father, great uncle, and grandfather. He thinks he has a shot but gets denied entry — and is told that he needs to be more of a leader to get in. Xavier’s Great Uncle Frankie Bell unexpectedly sends him a pair of crazy socks and soon more pairs. When Xavier wears them, people notice and it gives him the “swag” that Frankie Bell tells him will help. The socks give Xavier an opportunity to be a leader in a way he never expected. That plus speech therapy and we watch as he blossoms with confidence. A beautiful coming-of-age story that will make you want your own swaggy socks!
excellent realistic chapter books for kids
by Raina Telgemeier
ages 8 – 12
Catrina’s little sister, Maya, is sick with cystic fibrosis. A ghost tour outing with a neighbor boy sends Maya to the hospital. Cat feels guilt and fear for her sister, knowing that her sister’s lungs will never get better. But as the neighbor introduces Cat to the beautiful Day of the Dead celebration, Cat starts to see death and life differently. Beautifully written and illustrated, this story deftly deals with big issues in an interesting, unique way.

The Ship We Built
by Lexie Bean
ages 9 – 12

Rowan is a lonely child who feels confused about his gender identity. Born a girl, Rowan longs to be a boy. He changes his name all the time reflecting what a confusing time it is, which he shares in letters he attaches to balloons, hoping someone will find them and understand his struggles. Even more confusing is his dad coming into his room at night which he questions in his search for what it means to be a male because he doesn’t like his father’s version.The Ship We Built is a story filled with longing and heartbreak, confusion and questions, abuse, and hope. It’s a powerful, emotional story about gender identity, sexual abuse, and survival. 
recommended realistic fiction books for kids
by Katherine Applegate
ages 8 – 12
From the writer of The One and Only Ivan, comes a warm-hearted story of kindness and connection to others. A wise old oak tree named Red narrates this beautiful story. He, after all these years, decides to intervene to help a lonely girl named Samar who is new to the neighborhood and whose family was the intended recipient of the word, “LEAVE” on Red’s trunk. Red’s called the Wishtree because every year, people write down their wishes and hang them on his branches. Now, before he is cut down (executed), he speaks to Samar to help her find a friend. This is one of those stories you want to reach out and hug.

I Can Make This Promise
by Christine Day
ages 9 – 12
The author skillfully weaves an important, heartfelt story about growing up, family, and finding your identity in the context of adoption, historical maltreatment of Native Americans, and the mystery of your own heritage. When Edie unexpectedly finds a box of photos and letters from the woman she suspects was her mom’s birth mother, it prompts a journey to discover the truth of her Native heritage. The truth opens her eyes (and ours) to the unjust but common practices that happened throughout U.S. history of taking Native kids away from their birth parents; parents whose only crime was being Native.

by Lisa Fipps
ages 8 – 12
Heartbreaking and inspiring, this poignant story in verse shows a girl who learns, after years of fat-shaming and bullying, to define herself not based on what others say but on who she really is.
Ellie’s nickname is Splash because of her size but Ellie loves swimming; it’s her safe escape where she feels the most comfortable. Her biggest bully? Her mother–who won’t buy her new clothes because she thinks it encourages Ellie’s weight gain and is pushing for gastro-bypass surgery. Not even Ellie’s dad stands up to her mom’s cruel treatment of Ellie. Fortunately, Ellie finds an understanding therapist who helps her move from powerless to powerful. “As I float, I spread out my arms and my legs. I’m a starfish, taking up all the room I want.” It’s brilliantly written and empowering. Run out and buy this book, it’s a must-read, must-own, sure-to-be-an-award-winner. 

Birdie and Me!
by J.M.M. Nuanez
ages 9 – 12

You will fall in love with these characters, especially the brave older sister, Jack, who narrates the story, and her sweet younger brother Birdie. Their mom’s death sent the siblings to live with their uncles; now with the stoic Uncle Patrick. Uncle Patrick, a man of few words, initially makes Birdie buy and wear “regular” boy clothes instead of the more flamboyant choices he normally wears. Uncle Patrick thinks he’s helping solve the bullying problems that Birdie continues to face at school. But eventually, Patrick realizes that his assumptions are wrong and makes space for Birdie to be himself. Big sister Jack unconditionally loves her brother and models complete acceptance for who he is, even though he’s not sure himself. Their new family life isn’t easy but this is such a beautiful story arc that begins with grief, confusion, and discomfort but ends in redemption, love, and hope.

Genesis Begins Again
by Alicia D. Williams
ages 9 – 12
Don’t miss this important story about self-worth, beauty, and colorism. Genesis hates that her skin is so dark; she knows her grandma and father hate that about her, too. In her self-loathing, she believes that if only she were lighter-skinned, she’d be pretty and have all the things that go along with being pretty. In this coming-of-age story, Genesis finds her voice both literally and metaphorically. It will start the conversation about who defines beauty and how we can do better individually and as a society.

by Gordon Korman
ages 8 – 12
Funny, sensitive, well-written, brilliantly paced, relatable, and poignant. The middle school assigns the worst teacher, Mr. Kermit, to a class of the so-called worst kids –the class known as the unteachables because Mr. Kermit does not care at all about teaching. Or disciplining. Or his students. them. As we get to know the kids in this small class, something surprising happens that gets Mr. Kermit to care just a little. And that opens the gates to even more caring and a big life change. As things get more complicated, like Mr. Kermit getting notice that he will be fired, we see that the class’s unexpected mechanic field trips are transforming both the students and Mr. Kermit who begins to see the potential in each child. This is reciprocated, too. Because the students have a plan for saving their teacher’s job. I think this book will get kids reading AND thinking.

Emmy in the Key of Code
by Aimee Lucido
ages 8 – 12
I loved this novel in verse so much that I’m adding it to my best books of 2019 list. It’s an exquisite book that celebrates music, STEM, making friends, and growing into yourself. Emmy’s eager to start a new school and make friends but she’s thwarted by rudeness at every turn. A daughter of professional musicians, Emmy decides to accept that even though her entire life is music and she lives for music, she’ll never be a musician herself. So for an elective, she takes computer programming instead of music. A girl in her programming class named Abigail is friendly but only during class. Which makes Emmy feel both good for that little attention but angry at being kept a secret. As Emmy’s family adjusts to San Francisco, Emmy figures out her place in the world, especially as it relates to her growing love for programming. Lucido skillfully connects music and programming in a memorable, poetic story that even non-programmers can understand.

Maybe He Just Likes You
by Barbara Dees
ages 10 – 13
Middle schooler Mila is feeling trapped— a group of basketball playing boys is getting too close, grabbing her, touching her, and then telling her that she’s imagining it. Nothing works to deter the boys’ unwanted attention but unexpectedly, Mila finds inner strength when she starts karate classes. That strength helps her find what works to put a stop to the harassment.  I highly recommend this essential book; it should be shared widely with middle school boys and girls. Because it’s not funny, flirting, or being too sensitive. It’s hurtful & harassment & not okay.

A Good Kind of Trouble
by Lisa Moore Ramée
ages 9 – 12
Middle school is hard enough with friend drama but add to it not-being-black-enough drama, personal and community race-related drama, and boy drama. Frankly, it’s a lot for 12-year-old Shayla who, unlike her older sister with all-black friends, has a diverse friend group she calls The United Nations. When a jury finds a cop innocent in the shooting death of a black boy, despite a video showing the boy walking away, Shayla decides to take a stand and support the Black Lives Matter movement. She wears an armband to school and rallies many of her classmates of all ethnicities to join her, even though the principal says it’s against the rules. Shayla explains to her classmates that black lives have been and are still being marginalized and treated differently than what is right, fair, or equal. This is a powerful story about a girl finding her voice.

Each Tiny Spark
by Pablo Cartaya
ages 8 – 12
Each Tiny Spark is one of the best books about learning differences that I’ve ever read that also tackles PTSD and prejudice in a beautiful, important story. Emilia is a Cuban-American girl whose ADHD makes focusing on school and school work a challenge. Her mom helps her stay on top of her assignments but her mom leaves for a work trip, leaving Emilia on her own. During this time, the community proposes to redraw the school district’s boundary lines, exposing prejudice and ongoing injustice. Emilia initially doesn’t want to see her friend Clarissa’s racism but her best friend Gus helps her see the truth about what’s going on. She becomes a passionate activist against injustice. Meanwhile, Emilia’s father’s return from the Marines is different than before; he’s quiet and distant this time. When he invites Emilia to work on a vintage car, teaching Emilia to weld, it helps rebuild their relationship, too.

For Black Girls Like Me
by Mariama J. Lockington
ages 9 – 12
Just like the author’s own experience as an adoptee, it’s hard for Makeda being a black adopted girl in a white family whom she loves but where she feels like she doesn’t fit– or is even seen. But there are even more challenges for Makeda these days, starting with being the little sister to a newly distant teenager, moving to a new town away from her BFF, having parents who are constantly fighting, and watching her mom’s mental health deteriorate and thinking it’s somehow her fault. (Adults will recognize the signs of bipolar disorder.) After her mom’s mania takes them on a trip to Colorado which abruptly nose dives into severe depression and a suicide attempt, Makeda reaches out for help. Don’t miss this insightful, honest story — it makes you think and will stay with you long after the last page. This is going on my list of the BEST books of 2019. It might sound like it covers too many topics but it’s perfect, beautifully written, and emotionally resonate.

by Raina Telgemeier
ages 8 – 12
Raina shares her own life story, how in elementary school, her fears and anxieties led to terrible stomach aches, days of missed school, and time in therapy. Guts sensitively delves into the mind-body connection, showing therapy in a positive light. I wholeheartedly appreciate that the story shows a kind counselor who gives Raina helpful strategies. My daughter and I both love when Raina bravely presents to her class a strategy she learned in therapy — deep breathing.

by Alyson Gerber
ages 8 – 12
Clea is a chess-loving girl who gets distracted easily (except when she hyper-focuses in chess) and it’s becoming a problem, especially in school but also with friends. She’s resistant to do the testing her parents want, refusing to believe she could have ADHD. But blurting out things and living with regret, she feels like she’s not in control. As she learns more about her brain, she realizes that she can figure out strategies to help her keep focused. Readers who don’t have ADHD will get a glimpse into the way this kind of brain works. It is exactly like what my oldest daughter who has ADHD tell me it’s like with thoughts bouncing all over the place. Important and insightful.

Soul Lanterns
by Shaw Kuzki
An important, multi-layered story of a Japanese girl’s understanding of Hiroshima, grief, family, and the healing power of sharing stories.
When Nozomi’s art teacher, Mr. Yoshioka, leaves the school due to sickness, she and her friends plan a festival in his honor called “Hiroshima: Then and Now.” They interview people close to them about their experiences during the bombing (which they call “the flash”), learning many unknown stories including that Mr. Yoshioka lost his beloved and stills visits her grave. As the kids learn about their family and neighbor’s lives and deaths, their stories impact the way the kids’ view things now and their hope for the future, which they each share artistically in the festival.

Clean Getaway
by Nic Stone
ages 9 – 12
Sometimes growing up means seeing the difficult truth about someone you love…Scoob takes a spontaneous road trip with his beloved G’ma in her new camper, escaping his dad’s spring break punishment. As they visit places from his G’ma’s past, their trip turns out differently than he expects. What begins as only a fun adventure turns into a revelation of current and historical racial prejudices (Scoob is black and his grandmother is white). What’s more, things become strange and confusing as Scoob notices more weird behaviors from G’ma. Was she trying to steal jewelry in the store? And why are there stacks of cash hidden in the camper? Perfect pacing, an intriguing plot, and memorable characters make this a top pick for middle grade #ownvoices.

Song for a Whale
by Lynne Kelly
ages 9 – 12

Iris is a lonely Deaf girl who feels alone at her school and in her immediate family. At school, Iris learns about Blue 55, a whale who is called the loneliest whale in the world because his song is at a different hertz than other whales. Iris immediately feels a connection to him. She uses her compassionate heart, intelligence, and tinkering skills to write and record a whale song that Blue 55 will hear. Why? She wants him to know that he’s not alone. Even though she sends the song to the research station tracking Blue 55, Iris wants to see him for herself. She and her grandmother, who is also Deaf, sneak off without Iris’ parents’ permission on a cruise to the Alaskan research station. Their adventure is different than either could have imagined but profoundly life-changing for them both. It’s a heartening, poignant story that gives readers insight Deaf children, the richness of Deaf culture, and the life-changing power of compassion.

Roll with It
by Jamie Sumner
ages 9 – 12
This meaningful story will tug at your heartstrings. It’s narrated by Ellie a girl who loves to bake, who has CP, cerebral palsy, and who rolls through life in a wheelchair. She hates having an aid at school who’s supposed to help her with everything, even going to the bathroom. When her mom moves them to Oklahoma to help care for her grandfather, even though she’s from the so-called wrong side of the tracks, she makes friends with other trailer park kids — the first friends she’s ever had. It’s a sweet story about taking risks, the importance of finding your tribe, and growing up. I appreciate that the author skillfully shows readers that kids in wheelchairs are just like everyone else only with different challenges such as things like accessibility (where your chair can go) and getting dressed.
realistic books for kids
Extraordinary Birds
by Sandy Stark-McGinnis
ages 9 – 12
Don’t miss this tender, beautiful, redemptive story. December is a foster child who believes with all her heart that she will soon grow wings and fly living in yet another foster home After another jump off a high branch in a tree and a trip to the hospital, injured December finally accepts the truth about everything including her mother, being a bird, and the future. These hard-earned, poignant realizations shift her future, allowing for love and happiness, and will make you cry.


realistic fiction books for kids
Planet Earth is Blue
by Nicole Panteleakos
ages 9 – 12
Nova is autistic and nonverbal, in this story she writes verbal letters to her runaway big sister, Bridget, telling Bridget everything since the two were separated. Nova holds fast to Bridget’s promise that she will come back to Nova for the Challenger launch. But the launch comes and goes. And Nova will have to face the truth about her older sister… And it will make you cry like a baby. Beautiful, gifted storytelling. (ADDED TO Children’s Books with Autistic Characters.)

Black Brother Black Brother
by Jewell Parker Rhodes
Twins with very different skin colors, one whiter and one darker, are treated differently, most noticeable at their school. Donte is unfairly accused of something and when he tries to defend himself, the police are called and he’s suspended from school. Not to mention, a popular guy at his school calls Donte “black brother” because he’s darker than his twin, Trey. Donte starts fencing to get revenge but as he trains, he finds that he’s smart, good at fencing, and courageous. If you think the world still isn’t racist and colorist, read this compelling story and you’ll see that we still have a long way to go.
realistic middle grade chapter books for kids
The Bridge Home
by Padma Venkatraman
ages 9 – 12
Set in India, Viji writes this story as letters to you, her little sister Rukku who has intellectual disabilities. She recalls how the two of them ran away from an abusive father and sick mother to the big city where they meet two friendly brothers and live with them under a bridge, scrabbling to survive by collecting trash. Their days are hard but Viji learns how much more capable her sister is than she previously thought. Unfortunately, Rukku gets a terrible cough and fever and what happens next will almost destroy Viji. She wonders how prayers and faith can coexist with misery and pain. Ultimately, it is the kindness of her new family that helps her see more in the future than misery. It’s an honest, eye-opening story that reveals the plight of many homeless children in India and yet, finds a way to be hopeful, too.

Boy at the Back of the Class
by Onjali Q Raúf
When a new refugee boy from Syria arrives at Alexa’s London school, she can’t wait to be friends with him. However, Ahmed doesn’t talk or make eye contact. Alexa and her friends learn that Ahmed was in a real war and has been separated from his family. When Alexa and her friends hear that England is going to shut the borders, they decide they must go to the Queen to help Ahmed be reunited with his family. They go to the palace in person, tangling with the guards, and getting in big trouble but it eventually leads to media attention and a happy solution. Showing the power of individuals to make a difference, this moving gem of a novel ultimately is about human kindness and friendship. It will be an essential addition to your homes, classrooms, and libraries.
realistic middle grade chapter books for kids
Caterpillar Summer
by Gillian McDunn
ages 8 – 12
McDunn beautifully weaves an emotion-filled, coming-of-age story with a strong female main character named Cat who you will adore. Cat is a protective big sister for her special needs brother who often has meltdowns and runs away but she’s ready to be more — she’s ready to have her own life and for her mom to see that. Cat finds the opportunity when her children’s book author-illustrator mom leaves she and her brother at their estranged grandparents’ house for the summer. There, Cat develops a special relationship with her grandparents, helps heal the rift between her grandfather and her mother, makes a good friend, and learns how to fish so can enter the local kids fishing contest. It’s an absolutely lovely story that addresses growing up, race, special needs, family, and reconciliation.


Pay Attention, Carter Jones
by Gary D. Schmidt
ages 9 – 12
This book, like his others, shows that Gary D. Schmidt’s books contain genius story crafting and meaningful life lessons. When his grandfather’s butler arrives to help out 6th grade Carter’s family, Butler immediately becomes a big asset to the family. Butler, a very proper man who has a passion for the game of Cricket, fills a void the family didn’t know they had. He gives Carter purpose, structure, belonging. “Make good decisions and remember who you are,” he often reminds Carter and Carter’s sisters. This wisdom resonates as Carter tries to understand why his dad abandoned their family. Butler helps Carter see that his dad’s actions are his dad’s responsibility, not Carter’s. Through this time of introspection, Butler teaches Carter the game of cricket even starting a cricket team at Carter’s school, transforming not just Carter’s life but the school community’s as well. Along this journey, Carter learns to do just what the title commands — pay attention to his life and to who loves him.

best realistic chapter books for middle grade readers
The Benefits of Being an Octopus
by Ann Braden
ages 9 – 12
This is a well-written story with an emotional poignancy about poverty and unhealthy relationships. Zoey is trying to stay hidden to survive her life but it’s not easy. She and her siblings are living with their mom’s newest boyfriend in his trailer. She’s required to care for her siblings while her mom works all the while avoiding making a mess or too much noise. A kind teacher at school persists with a reluctant, non-participative Zoey, encouraging her to try debate club. It’s that activity that eventually gives Zoey the courage and perspective to talk to her mom about everything — from her mom’s boyfriend’s belittling to her own friend getting threatened with a gun. That conversation changes everything for their family for the better… (Added to Books That Facilitate Empathy: Poverty)

best realistic chapter books for middle grade readers
Harbor Me
by Jacqueline Woodson
ages 9 – 12
Harbor Me tackles some very big issues including race, immigration, bullying, learning differences, friendship, and forgiveness. The story is about six diverse children with learning differences. They bond during a special kids-only time on Friday afternoons where they share their stories, many of which Haley records on a tape recorder. Even as she learns about the other kids who are, Haley is reluctant to share that her own dad is in jail for the car accident killing her mother. When she does eventually share, it’s beautiful to see the other kids support her. This well-written story deserves to be discussed as it has a wealth of ideas to ponder.

Beast Rider
by Tony Johnston and Maria Elena Fontanot de Rhoads
ages 9 – 12
An eye-opening, powerful story of growing up, immigration, and courage. Missing his older brother, 12-year-old Manuel decides to leave his family’s farm in Mexico for the United States. He hitches a ride ON TOP of a north-bound speedy freight train and begins a long, awful, and beautiful journey.
best realistic chapter books for middle grade readers
Elephant Secret
by Eric Walters
ages 8 – 12
You’ll zip through this lovely story about a girl named Sam who lives on an elephant sanctuary with her father. A mysterious benefactor has paid for an elephant to become pregnant — but it’s not actually an elephant that she births, it’s a wooly mammoth cloned from DNA. Sam’s connection with the elephant is amazing, especially the baby mammoth whom she names Woolly. Things go very wrong when their benefactor forces she and her father to leave the sanctuary. As she deals with this, Sam must also come to terms with her father’s long-term girlfriend. It’s a great story that will keep animal-lovers enthralled with new knowledge about elephants and their behavior.
realistic chapter book list for kids
Insignificant Events in the Life of a Cactus
by Dusti Bowling
ages 8 – 12
Aven Green is used to making up creative stories for why she doesn’t have any arms. Especially now in Arizona where her parents are the new managers a rundown theme park. She befriends a boy at school who, like her, feels different and isolated from the other kids. His name is Connor and he has  Tourette Syndrome. Together, he, another new friend named Zion, and Aven investigate a mysterious storage shed at the theme park which leads them to a mystery involving Aven’s past. This story is about restorative friendship, facing your fears, and discovering your true (significant) potential.  I loved the physical and mental diversity shown with so much strength and compassion. This would be a GREAT read aloud for classrooms and for at home. There’s much to love and discuss!! (Added to my Physical Disabilities Book List.)

realistic chapter book list for kids
Science of Breakable Things
by Tae Keller
ages 9 – 12
Whoa. This children’s middle-grade book touched my heart so deeply. Natalie wants to figure out how to help her mother, who we gather is depressed (in her bed all day long, no longer working.) As Natalie prepares for an egg drop contest with two other kids, she looks at her mother’s situation with the same scientific process zeal. Her ultimate plan is to win the contest then use the prize money to whisk her mother away on a special trip. Throughout the story, we see Natalie’s friendships develop as well as the difficult understanding that life, and depression, not an exact science. It’s a beautiful, well-done story and a compassionate look at depression. (Added to Mental Illness in Children’s Books.)
realistic chapter book recommendations for kids 
Greetings From Witness Protection
by Jake Burt
ages 8 – 12
A winsome story of adventure and finding where you belong. Nicki leaves the group home to live with a family in the witness protection program. She likes her newest foster family and takes her role seriously. She must stay vigilant against potential threats, not stand out, and try to keep her kleptomania under control. As she grows closer to her new family, both their past and hers catch up to them.
realistic book list for kids to read
Just Like Jackie by Lindsey Stoddard
ages 8 – 12
Jackie’s story is so emotionally rich, you’ll feel her angst, anger, and confusion as if it were you experiencing it yourself. Her Grandpa is forgetting things so Jackie tries to pick up the slack — helping more than ever at his mechanic shop and at home. But she keeps getting in trouble at school, ending up in a special group with the school counselor. A family tree project feels like absolutely too much for a girl with only a grandpa as her family. It’s a brilliant story about aging and what really makes a family. It will rip you up and put you back together.

House Arrest
by K.A. Holt (VERSE)
ages 9+
You’ll feel so many emotions reading this tender, heartwarming story that shows a brave boy who feels anger, fear, worry, and love over his challenging situation. Timothy is under house arrest for the next year, living with a brother who needs constant medical care, and feeling so much pain over his big life changes. Part of his year-long punishment is to meet with a probation officer, meet with a therapist, and write in a journal which is the book we’re reading. When his little brother gets assigned an abusive new nurse, Timothy feels like even if he gets thrown in juvie, he must do something drastic to help his brother. Written in poetic verse, this book speeds along and pulls your heart along with it.

Tangerine best books for 10 year olds 5th grade
 by Edward Bloor
ages 8 – 12
Paul is a soccer player — at least he will be if he can go to a different school that doesn’t know about his IEP for vision. If he can avoid his dangerous brother, and play soccer on this team, maybe Tangerine County, Florida won’t be so bad after all. After some horrific things occur including a murder, Paul remembers how he lost his vision and makes a stand for what is right. EXCELLENT!!

good books for 10 year old 5th grade
Penderwicks by Jeanne Birdsall
ages 8 – 12
This summer the Penderwick sisters have a wonderful surprise: a holiday on the grounds of a beautiful estate called Arundel. Soon they are busy discovering the summertime magic of Arundel’s sprawling gardens, treasure-filled attic, tame rabbits, and the cook who makes the best gingerbread in Massachusetts. But the best discovery of all is Jeffrey Tifton, son of Arundel’s owner, who quickly proves to be the perfect companion for their adventures.

recommended books for 5th grade readers (10 year olds)
Unusual Chickens for the Exceptional Poultry Farmer
 by Kelly Jones, illustrations by Katie Kath
ages 8 – 12
The book is written as letters from a girl named Sophie, who is newly living at the farm of her dead great-uncle Jim. She writes to her dead abuelita, her dead great-uncle Jim, and Agnes of the Extraordinary Chickens catalog. While her parents are figuring out their new lives, Sophie figures out the farm. Specifically the chickens — starting with the first one she discovers wandering around. She learns that Jim had more than one chicken, and they are quite exceptional! (Think telekinesis, invisibility, and carnivorous chicks.) But a neighbor chicken thief is also interested in Jim’s chickens — and Sophie must stop her. Even if it means entering the town’s poultry show. Unusual Chickens has exceptional writing, characterization, and plot!

All Four Stars
All Four Stars
 by Tara Dairman
ages 8 – 12
I loved this engaging story about food-enthusiast Gladys suffering in a house of microwaving parents without a taste bud between them. Gladys not only appreciates good food, but she also loves to cook and wants to be a food critic. She already has lots of practice writing her daily notes about her parents’ horrid creations. When a mix-up in a writing contest has the editors of a paper thinking she’s an adult, can she actually write a published review without letting anyone know she’s 10 years old?

recommended books for 5th grade readers (10 year olds)
The Seventh Most Important Thing: One Kid. One Crime. One Chance to Make Things Right.
 by Shelley Pearsall
ages 8 – 12
Angry with grief, Arthur throws a brick at Junk Man’s head. The judge sentences Arthur to work for the Junk Man who asks Arthur to collect the items on the list of the Seven Most Important Things. Transformed by the experience, Arthur becomes an advocate for the Junk Man’s art. This is fictional but is inspired by the true story of American folk artist James Hampton whose work is in the Smithsonian. This story resonates emotionally and would make for a great bedtime or class read aloud.

recommended books for 5th grade readers (10 year olds)
Roller Girl
 by Victoria Jamieson
ages 8 – 12
Roller Girl shows the struggles of friendship and finding your place in the world as Astrid works hard to become a better roller derby skater, reconcile her ending a friendship with her best friend, and develop a new one. (I recommend going to a roller derby event with your kids to help them know more about this cool sport for girls — it’s such a blast and would be helpful for reading this book, but not essential.) Well-written and relatable.

recommended books for 5th grade readers (10 year olds)
by Svetlana Chmakova
ages 8 – 12
My daughter found this book SO RELATABLE — just like she struggles with confidence and speaking up, so does the main character, Peppi. This well-done graphic novel tackles the issues of friendships and confidence, among other things. (So glad I’m not in middle school anymore.) We highly recommend this graphic novel.

good books for 10 year old 5th grade
The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate
ages 8 – 12
Narrated by one gorilla named Ivan, this story will immediately grab your heart — it’s sad but keep reading, it’s an amazing story – and I don’t usually like animal stories. Making it even more compelling, it’s a true story! Ivan is kept in a cage in a run-down mall for 27 years without seeing another gorilla, only the stray dog, Bob, who sleeps with him, Stella the Elephant, and Ruby, a newly purchased baby elephant. Before she dies, Stella begs Ivan to find Ruby a home with other elephants — and Ivan agrees, but it won’t be easy.

The One and Only Bob
by Katherine Applegate, illustrated by Patricia Castelao
ages 8 – 12
Bob is living in a home with his friend who adopted him after the mall zoo closed but he’s restless and insecure, believing he has nothing inside to match his outside bravado; that he’s a fraud. Once we get into the meat of the story, it’s absolutely captivating…When Bob visits his friends Ivan and Ruby at the zoo, a hurricane hits. Animals are on the loose, there’s flooding, Ivan is trapped under a building, and Bob can’t find his people. As Ivan says, there’s one and only Bob to help rescue everyone. Surprisingly, his search and rescue involve his long lost sister and her puppy.  Sweet, redemptive, and adventurous, this is a story of a dog who finds himself while searching for others.

Best Books for 10 Year Olds (5th Graders)
Everyday Angel
  by Victoria Schwab
ages 8 – 12
My 10-year-old loves these stories about an angel named Aria who is earning her wings by helping girls who are struggling in some way. In the first book, she helps Gabby. Gabby’s brother is hospitalized indefinitely and her mom is totally focused on her brother. It’s up to Aria to help Gabby at her new school and discover who she is. These are sweet, uplifting stories.

Best Books for 10 Year Olds (5th Graders)
Smile, Drama, Sisters
  by Raina Telgemeier
ages 8 – 12
Raina shares her growing up stories with humor and amazing art in these three popular books. My 10-year-old daughter read Sisters four times the first week she owned it – they’re excellent books and quite addictive.

Stepping Stones
by Lucy Knisley
ages 8 – 12
After her parents’ divorce, Jen moves to a farm with her mom and her mom’s boyfriend whose kids visit on the weekends. It’s a huge transition — she doesn’t love how bossy and whiney her stepsisters are and how annoying her mom’s boyfriend is. But she loves the chicks she takes care of and the farmer’s market.  Well, she loves it until her math skills aren’t good enough to be helpful. This story gently shows the ups and downs of living with a new family in a new place.

recommended books for 5th grade readers (10 year olds)
 by Katherine Applegate
ages 8 – 12
After losing their home and living in their van for 3 months, the family is now about to lose their apartment. Although Jackson’s parents don’t tell him this, he knows the signs. He knows why they’re having a yard sale. He knows it’s not his dad’s fault for having MS but he’s mad and worried and alone. It isn’t until Crenshaw shows up and pushes Jackson to speak the truth to his parents that Jackson learns that he’s not facing this big fear and hard situation alone. Oh, and who is Crenshaw? He’s Jackson’s large, imaginary cat friend from when he was little returned to help Jackson in his time of need. I felt like it was a God metaphor. I wonder what you’ll think?

Wonder by R.J. Palacio best realistic books
Wonder by R. J. Palacio
ages 8 – 12
Both “a meditation on kindness” and not judging people by how they look on the outside, but by their character. “I wish every day could be Halloween. We could all wear masks all the time. Then we could walk around and get to know each other before we got to see what we looked like under the masks.”Wonder helps us see compassion, empathy, and acceptance from a variety of character’s points of view. When I first read this book last year, it struck me as a powerful ways to meaningfully talk about bullying and kindness. I believe that it’s easier to see things first not in the lives of characters we read, so that as we read, we can apply those lessons to our own lives. In my experience as a teacher, this especially applies to kids.

The Crossover realistic books
The Crossover by Kwame Alexander
ages 9 – 12
Because this is written in verse, this is a fast read but packs a big punch. Basketball player and twin Josh narrates his life in quarters, just like the game he plays. He writes about missing his twin when his twin, Jordan, gets a girlfriend; about getting in trouble when he hits Jordan in the face with a basketball; and about watching his father as his heart fails. This is a coming-of-age, gripping story about a boy who is just trying to figure out life like most boys at age 12.

The Kicks Hat Trick review
The Kicks Hat Trick
 by Alex Morgan
ages 8 – 12
Finally, a fantastic sports-related book (series) for soccer girls! If you have a soccer player in your house, and I think a LOT of you do, you’ll want to get your soccer lover this book –actually, buy her the entire series. Written by Olympic Gold Medalist and U.S. Soccer team member (among other things), Alex Morgan, it’s a realistic story of life, friendship, and playing soccer. As happens in the real world, struggles and conflicts arise. In this particular story, Devin’s beloved Kicks team is separated in the winter soccer league. Not only does it seem like her friends are drifting away, but Devin’s new coach also encourages aggressive playing –and Devin’s not loving it.

realistic middle grade fiction
The First Rule of Punk by Celia C. Perez
ages 8 – 12
An excellent, diverse, page-turning coming-of-age story, this is about a girl who is half-Mexican on her mom’s side and half-punk rock on her dad’s side, both which are cultures prominently featured in the story and her life. Malú’s unhappily forced to move to Chicago with her mother where she eventually finds her place when she starts a latin-flavored punk band. When their group doesn’t get into the talent show, they decide to play anyway. In the parking lot. (So punk!) We see Malú discover herself through life’s challenges and adventures and also learn what the first rule of punk actually is.
good realistic books for kids
The Vanderbeekers of 141st Street
by Karina Yan Glaser
ages 8 – 12
Like The Penderwicks, you’ll fall in love with this quirky, wonderful family. The Vanderbeekers’ landlord wants them out by the end of December but the Vanderbeeker kids are determined to change his mind, even though he hates noise, kids, and their family. But it’s almost Christmas and their efforts are only making things worse. What will they do? Charming and heart-warming.

All Rise for the Honorable Perry T. Cook middle grade realistic chapter book list for kids
All Rise for the Honorable Perry T. Cook
 by Leslie Connor
ages 8 – 12
This book hooked me from the first page, taking me on a coming of age story that was both heartbreaking and filled with hope. Perry is well-loved by his mother and her friends. . . in prison. That’s where Perry has lived since he was born eleven years ago. But in an unexpected and unpleasant turn of events, his best friend’s stepfather, the new District Attorney, forces Perry to leave the prison. Not only that, the DA tries to stall Perry’s mother’s parole hearing. Perry discovers the stories behind the inmates’ lives, hoping that they’ll be helpful in reuniting him with his mother. This story will stay with you long after you read the last page.

realistic books for kids
Wonderstruck by Brian Selznick
ages 8 – 12
Ben and Rose secretly wish their lives were different. Ben longs for the father he has never known. Rose dreams of a mysterious actress whose life she chronicles in a scrapbook. When Ben discovers a puzzling clue in his mother’s room and Rose reads an enticing headline in the newspaper, both children set out alone on desperate quests to find what they are missing. AMAZING!

The Sea in Winter
by Christine Day
Maisie feels sadness, grief, and anger at not being able to dance due to a knee injury. Dance was her life so she pretends her knee feels okay and is healing, even though it still hurts. She takes a hiking trip with her parents and little brother where she reinjures herself with a bad fall. Now she really won’t be able to return to dance. Her mom and therapist help Maisie work through the feelings and envision a different future for herself. With themes of grief, identity, and Native American heritage, this story resonates with anyone who has felt the pain of shattered dreams.

realistic books for kids
Mother Daughter Book Club by Heather Vogel Frederick
ages 8 – 12
This series kept my daughter reading all summer last year. The story begins when a group of 6th graders join a mother-daughter book club. Each book in the series focuses on one book the girls read (such as Little Women, Daddy Long Legs, and Pride and Prejudice) and the relationships of the girls among themselves, the relationships with their mothers, and the business of growing up.
realistic chapter books
All’s Faire in Middle School
 by Victoria Jamieson
ages 8 – 12
Growing up, Imogene (aka. Impy) always loved her family’s part in the Renaissance Faire . . . that is, until middle school. Even though she gets her dream to work in the faire as a squire, she also just wants to be like the other girls at her school, too. Her journey is painful and honest as she figures out who she wants to be. It’s narrated as a hero’s journey which, with the faire background and middle school drama, feels perfect. Beyond being a terrific coming of age story, I’m sure this book will interest your kids in Renaissance festivals themselves.
realistic books for kids
by Justin Sayre
ages 8 – 12
Beautifully written and plotted, Justin Sayre has created a coming-of-age masterpiece not to be missed. Sophie’s life is complicated. Hiding her mom’s alcohol addiction affects everything, even her school work. When her mother leaves for a trip, her aunt moves in and gently helps Sophie learn about being a strong, beautiful, biracial woman. Sophie blossoms with the love and kindness of her aunt. Soon, Sophie must decide what she’ll do next — move with her aunt or stay with her mother who eventually returns home from rehab.
Orbiting Jupiter
Orbiting Jupiter by Gary D. Schmidt
ages 10+
Joseph is an abused boy with a violent father, a parent at age thirteen, and is now living as a foster kid with Jack’s family on their organic farm. As he learns to trust them, we slowly learn about Joseph’s deep love for a rich girl named Maddie, his daughter named Jupiter who he’s never seen, and his shattering heartbreak. This is an amazing story– painful yet filled with redemption and hope — beautifully written and one that will give readers so much to ponder.

All the Impossible Things
by Lindsay Lackey
ages 9 – 12
Tender, eye-opening, and heartfelt — this is the story of a foster kid named Red and her journey of abandonment, growing up, empowerment, and finding a family. Red’s in the foster care system with kind-hearted people who run a petting zoo. Understandably, Red is mistrustful and prickly at first with everyone but the Grooves’ gigantic tortoise. This bond is the first step in unthawing Red’s broken heart. Soon, she becomes friends with a neighbor boy and starts developing a relationship with her foster parents. Unexpectedly, her mother announces that now that’s she’s out of jail, she wants visitation. Red wants her mom to love her that she’s willing to overlook her mom’s self-centered behaviors and the signs that her mother is using drugs again.

Gaby, Lost and Found
 by Angela Cervantes
ages 8 – 12
I picked this realistic middle-grade book because of the cat pictured on the front cover — and found it to be absolutely way more powerful and meaningful than I had expected. Gaby’s mom is deported and her father doesn’t remember he has a daughter. Gaby’s holding out hope for her mom’s return and maybe a pet kitty.

by Kate Messner (ages 9 – 12)
As usual, Messner writes layer upon layer of complexity and themes in a cohesive, interesting novel. On the surface, this story is about Mia helping to save her grandmother’s cricket farm that is losing money and being sabotaged. But it’s about more than that, it’s about finding out who she is if she’s not able to be a gymnast, facing her fears, and standing up for herself after a coach’s sexual harassment. Readers will be exposed to some important topics like how to define yourself when what you’ve loved is gone and what to do if you feel uncomfortable with a coach’s behavior. Plus, they might not have heard of cricket flour — or cricket snacks — which perhaps will inspire a new food adventure!
good realistic books for elementary school and middle school
by Tamara Ireland Stone
ages 8 – 12
At coding camp, Allie makes an app to help kids can find new friends. When she returns to school, she releases it only to discover it has a major glitch. Relatable and engaging, this is a cool STEM-themed story of a middle school girl’s coding project that has unexpected consequences both positive and negative.

Rules of the Ruff
by Heidi Lang
ages 8 – 12
Dog-lovers will love this warm-hearted, realistic story! Jessie is staying with her aunt and newly unfriendly cousin for the summer. She decides to make the best of the situation by helping Wes, the neighborhood dog walker, even though he doesn’t want her help. Wes reluctantly teaches her the “Rules of the Ruff” — rules that help one deal with dogs and, as it turns out, humans. This is especially helpful as the boy she plays soccer with ditches her to go out with a snotty friend of her cousin’s. Then when his mom starts to steal Wes’s dog walking business, Wes and Jessie decide to get revenge, rules or no rules until Jesse realizes that the revenge business doesn’t feel like the right thing to do.

realistic chapter book list
by Kwame Alexander
ages 8 – 12
I’m AMAZED at how skillfully Alexander writes about the teenage human condition — he just gets it! 12-year old Nick struggles with his parents’ separation, a school bully, and the awkwardness of a first crush. The only thing that feels right is soccer. That is, until he gets injured and can’t play. Written in free verse, this is a lyrical, fast-paced story that feels honest and relatable.

This story is a beautifully written slice-of-life, growing-up story that with authentic characters and relatable themes of family and big life changes. When Bea’s parents get divorced, her dad helps her focus on the things that won’t change — like her parents love for her — even though many other things will and do change. To help her feel safe, Bea keeps a list of things that WON’T change in a special journal. (Which, by the way, is a great idea!) When she learns that her dad and his boyfriend are getting married and that she’ll get a new sister, she’s excited. But her new stepsister isn’t excited to be sisters, not at all, at least not right away. It’s a bumpy journey that shows the ups and downs of divorce and changes as well as how much easier it is when you have loving parents.

realistic chapter book list
Sticks and Stones
by Abby Cooper
ages 8 – 12
Now that Elyse is twelve, it’s not just the words that other people say about her that appear on her skin, but also her own self talk. The words stay about two weeks and the negative words itch badly. Because there are a lot of negative words right now ever since her best friend’s ditched her. Anonymous notes encourage Elyse to try new things and grow out of her comfort zone. She does and is surprised with the positive results including a self acceptance. This would be an interesting book to discuss with a book group!

realistic chapter book list
by Jason Reynolds
ages 8 – 12
Ghost accidentally gets on a track team and it’s life changing. His coach becomes a mentor and father figure who pushes Ghost to take responsibility for his mistakes (stealing sneakers) and to start dealing with the ghosts of his past. Well-written and hopeful about growing up and growing into yourself.
book list realistic fiction for kids
by Jason Reynolds
ages 8 – 12
Patina’s anger sometimes gets the best of her but running helps. She’s mad about her dad dying, her mom’s legs being amputated, and her new school. When her track coach makes Patty work with her teammates in a relay, she’s forced to rely on them. And that changes things. A beautiful coming of age story that will pull at your emotions.
realistic books for elementary and middle school kids
See You in the Cosmos by Jack Cheng
ages 8 – 12
Luminous and heartfelt, 11-year-old Alex Petroski’s story will grab your heart and expand it. His dream is to launch a rocket into space with his iPod of recordings about life on earth. The story is a transcription of what he records on the iPod — his solo journey to the rocket convention, the interesting people he befriends on the way and there, his trip Las Vegas to find information about his deceased father, and his unique, innocent perspective that tries to make sense of the the world.
realistic books for elementary and middle school kids
The Someday Birds
by Sally J. Pla
ages 8 – 12
The Someday Birds is a magnificent story of emotional growth and healing. Charlie’s dad has brain damage from the war. When he’s moved across the country to a different hospital, Charlie and his siblings follow on an adventure that Charlie doesn’t want. But as the kids travel, along with a 20-something girl they hardly know, he searches for the birds he and his father always wanted to see . . . someday. The journey brings Charlie, who has autism, way out of his comfort zone. As it does, he grows in ways he never imagined. And Charlie hopes that if he can see all of the Someday Birds, his dad will get better.

Marcus Vega Doesn’t Speak Spanish
by Pablo Cartaya
ages 8.- 12
Marcus is an entrepreneurial kid who makes the most of his intimidating size. He’s also very protective of his brother with Down syndrome who faces prejudice at school. When Marcus gets suspended, his mother takes the brothers to Puerto Rico, the home country of their father who abandoned them years before. Even though they are only meant to visit relatives, Marcus hopes to find his father and reconnect. Instead, he finds a loving, extended family, the truth about his dad, and a growing sense of his own identity. Remarkable. I loved every moment of this story.

Dog Driven
by Terry Lynn Johnson
A story about finding your strength even if it looks like a weakness…McKenna enters a long dog sled race in order to bring awareness to her sister’s degenerative eye disease. Which McKenna can tell she has, too. Her eyesight is worse and worse. She just doesn’t want to tell her parents and be treated differently. During the race, she relies on her lead dog to guide the sled. Another racer, a boy with a blind dog, shows her that his dog is a powerful leader. He quickly notices that’s McKenna can’t see either. The challenges of the race and her new friendship help McKenna realize that just like Zesty the blind dog, she is not disabled and that her differences make her better.

good books for 10 year old 5th grade
Tortilla Sun
by Jennifer Cervantes
ages 8 – 12
Izzy’s life was a series of houses, sadness, and secrets – why wouldn’t her mom tell her about her dad who died before she was born? Why did they always move? When Izzy’s mom unexpectedly sends Izzy to her Nana’s in New Mexico, whom she barely knows, Izzy lands in a new culture and discovers her past, present, and future. Just as Izzy learns to make tortillas with practice and patience, she also learns the story of her dad, her mom, and ultimately her own story. The wisdom mixed with grief mixed with love creates a beautiful story — I cried and celebrated. And, cried some more. Cervantes’ writing is lyrical and sensual. See for yourself here.

Some Kind of Happiness Meaningful Realistic Chapter Books
Some Kind of Happiness
by Claire Legrand
ages 8 – 12
This is an amazing, beautiful story about facing your feelings, even big, huge depression sadness. It’s also a story that mixes the allegory of an imaginary kingdom named Everwood, a place Finley has written about forever but now finds in the back of her grandparent’s house, with the hope and healing that only pretend play can offer children. This is also a mystery story — what happened to make Finley’s father leave and never return? and why does Finley’s grandma hate the neighbors so much? Some Kind of Happiness is multi-layered, thought-provoking, and exquisite that addresses the big topics of divorce, secrets, and depression.

Bridge to Terabithia realistic
Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson
ages 9 – 12
This is a beautiful, bittersweet story about Jess who loses his best friend, Leslie, in a tragic accident when going to their favorite pretend kingdom of Teribithia. Jess learns to cope with Leslie’s death with art and running. Well-written and important.

by Sharon Draper
ages 8 – 12
Isabella spends one week with her dad and his girlfriend, the next week with her mom and her boyfriend. She hates it. She really hates exchange day when she switches. She feels like nowhere is home, she’s always visiting. And her parents, one who is white and one who is black, don’t get along. Tensions between the families get worse when both parents decide to remarry — on the same date. Add to this hurtful race issues like when she and her stepbrother are pulled over because of he’s black and in the wrong place at the wrong time. Sharon Draper writes a story that captures Isabella’s feelings of division as she searches for who she is in her own story.

Can You See Me
by Libby Scott and Rebecca Westcott
ages 8 – 12
Co-written by Libby Scott who is a girl on the autism spectrum (
#ownvoices) and based on her journals, this poignant, exceptional story shows what it’s like to be autistic...But it also shows how difficult it really is for family and friends to understand, too. Tally’s behavior reflects her brain trying to navigate the world and it is challenging for others, even when they try hard to understand. Tally relates to 3 legged dog who doesn’t like new people. She takes everything literally, has trouble (big trouble!!) with mandates, feelings, and friendships. Eventually, Tally learns to find her own version of “normal”, a word that comes up a lot in this book. Please read this #ownvoices story that so deftly shows what autism can be like. It’s a story that will help those of us who aren’t on the spectrum, have more empathy and compassion.

Santiago’s Road Home
by Alexandra Diaz
ages 9 – 12
Santiago is thrown out of his cruel tia’s home in rural Mexico with nowhere to go except back to an even worse grandmother. But, Santiago unexpectedly meets a kind woman and her daughter who let him join with on their journey to el Norte. Santiago is a keen survivor and helps them find a trustworthy coyote but their group is attacked and must find the route without their coyote’s help. The heat and lack of water almost kill them, he and his adopted little sister are rescued half dead and taken to an internment camp where they’re separated. He learns that his sister is reunited with her mom but without papers or any way to prove he’s related to them, he’s confined for endless, hopeless days with guards who treat him like a criminal. He learns to read until the school funding is cut. Will Santiago get a happy ending? This book is amazing — unflinchingly honest about the situation of illegal immigrants with a heroic main character who you’ll love.
ages 8 – 12
A story about the long process of saying goodbye. Cassie’s mom suffers from early-onset Alzheimer’s. In a survival response, Cassie pushes away her best friend Bailey and isolates herself, not even doing her art. As her Mom becomes more unpredictable like smashing things in anger, forgetting names, or refusing to budge from places, Cassie feels more sad and lonely. Then she has an idea…her mom loves dolphins so what if Cassie could take her to swim with the dolphins before her mom is completely lost to the disease? Beautiful, heartbreaking, and filled with emotion, this is a story worth reading.

Sara and the Search for Normal
by Wesley King
ages 9 – 12
Sara wants to be cured of her mental illnesses and be “normal” like other kids so she makes rules for herself. Among other diagnoses, Sara is bipolar for which she blames herself. She hates her out of control brain and feels like nobody can help. Meanwhile, she begins group therapy where she makes a friend; a friend who is covered in hidden bruises. Sara and Erin think of themselves as Star Children, kids alien DNA. It’s profoundly sad to witness Sara’s self-loathing yet her still hoping for a better tomorrow. Sara begins to realize she wants to change her inner dialogue and accept herself. For readers, it’s a valuable opportunity to peek inside Sara’s mind and see how painful it is to have an invisible disease. It won’t make you think like her but will give you compassion.

Trowbridge Road
by Marcella Pixley
ages 9 – 12
Heartbreakingly sad, this is a beautiful story of misfit friends set in the 1980s.
Both are lost and emotionally abandoned children who become friends when the boy moves to the neighborhood. June Bug’s mom suffers from severe mental disorders including fear of germs since June Bug’s dad died of AIDS. She doesn’t get out of bed, she doesn’t cook, and she’s obsessive about cleanliness. When Ziggy gets dropped off at Grandma’s house because his mom doesn’t want to raise him or see him, he and June Bug become friends and try to survive their lives as well as the bullies in the neighborhood. They show us the power of imagination but their experiences seem so real that at one point, I wondered if the kids were descending into psychosis. Meanwhile, June Bug is starving — there’s no food in the house. She takes care of herself as best she can but she’s scared to tell the truth to anyone. Ziggy’s Nana Jean offers June Bug love, food, and safety. It’s a story that will stay with you and make you feel deeply connected to these survivor kids.

Summerlost Meaningful Realistic Chapter Books for Ages 8 - 12
by Ally Condie
ages 8 – 12
This is a dealing with grief, coming-of-age, mystery, and friendship story all in one sweet story. Cedar, her younger brother, and her mom spend the summer after her father and other brother’s death in a small town with a Shakespeare festival. Cedar befriends Leo who helps her get a job at the festival. The duo also starts giving unofficial tours about the town’s most famous resident, an actress who died under mysterious circumstances.

book list for 5th grade
Wish Girl by Nikki Loftin
ages 8 – 12
 Peter escapes his yelling, hurting family by wandering around the Texas Hill Country. He meets and befriends a Make-a-Wish Girl named Annie, who is also escaping her daily reality of a (stupid) art camp and a cancer treatment she doesn’t want. To avoid the unwanted surgery, the pair run away to the magical valley they know will protect them. This is so well-written! The characters are realistic with dysfunctional family dynamics, an important friendship, despair, and hope — it hooked me from the first page. Amazing!

What Lane?
by Torrey Maldonado
ages 8 – 12
Short and fast-paced, this is the story of a boy who learns to think for himself instead of being influenced by friends and how Stephen notices he’s living in a world that treats him differently than his white friends. Stephen concludes that he gets to decide what lane he’s in– not the world or his peers.

The Startup Squad
by Brian Weisfeld and Nicole C. Kear
ages 8 – 12
Resa’s class gets put into groups for a lemonade stand competition and Resa gets paired with her best friend, Didi, and a new girl named Amelia. Unfortunately, Resa demands to be in charge of everything and their communication problems affect how their team is doing in the competition. Even though their team doesn’t win, the girls, especially Resa, learn the importance of teamwork and listening to all ideas. It’s a great book for showing kids about entrepreneurship and communication.

Pax realistic chapter books about friendship
 by Sara Pennypacker
ages 8 – 12
I almost couldn’t read this story because I was so sad at the beginning when Peter’s newly enlisted father forces Peter to leave Pax, Peter’s fox he’s raised from a kit, in the woods, then drives Peter 300 miles away to his grandfather’s house to live. I mean, talk about heartbreaking! Peter feels just as awful and sets off, on foot, to find his fox. We also read the story from Pax’s point of view who is so confused but hopes his boy will return. Simultaneously Pax is adopted by a leash of foxes who teach him to survive in the wild and Peter is helped by a grumpy war-veteran hermit. Yes, this is a coming-of-age book but it’s also a commentary on war and the power of friendship.

The Seventh Wish New Books for Summer 2016
The Seventh Wish
 by Kate Messner
ages 8 – 12
One of my favorite books of 2016, The Seventh Wish is a magically captivating coming-of-age story filled with friendship and family challenges and . . . wishes. Charlie is struggling with her sister leaving for college and subsequent problems with drug addiction, her parent’s inattention, and trying to make sense out of her life. So when Charlie accidentally catches a wish fish while ice-fishing, she’s sure that the fish will solve all her problems. Only as we might predict, that’s not exactly what happens. This is a wonderful book — great for book clubs and bedtime readings in order to discuss what happens and why.

Peas and Carrots realistic chapter books for middle grade readers
Peas and Carrots
 by Tanita S. Davis
ages 8 – 12
This beautiful story will grab your heart! Dess is a survivor who is reunited with her baby brother in his long-term foster home which Dess helped him get after she called social services on her mother. The foster family loves on both kids but their biological daughter Hope struggles between jealousy and compassion for her new sibling. Just as Dess finally starts to trust her foster family, her mother wants her back. (Oh, and interestingly enough, the foster family is black and Dess is white.) There’s way more to the story of course but you should know that it’s a thought-provoking coming-of-age book about family and hard choices.

realistic chapter books for kids
The Magic Misfits
by Neil Patrick Harris and Alec Azam, illustrated by Lissy Marlin and Kyle Hilton
ages 8 – 12
Carter’s had a rough life, even now after he runs away from his crook of an uncle and lands in a New England town. There he encounters unsavory carnival people who remind him of his uncle. At the town’s magic shop, Carter meets a young girl and her fathers who love magic just like him. He and his new kid friends set out to thwart the carnie’s plot to steal the world’s biggest diamond. And maybe in the process, his luck will turn around. Through the book are ciphers, codes, and tricks giving this already delightful story extra oomph.

The Next Great Jane
by K.L. Going
ages 8 – 12
Wow, the pacing just clips along in this interesting small town story filled with science and a passion for writing. Likable Jane lives with her scientist father in a small Maine town and wants to be a writer like Jane Austin. But when her self-centered, actress mom swoops into town asking for custody, Jane gets worried that her life will change for the worse. Meanwhile, a famous writer moves to town with her kids, one of whom becomes Jane’s science partner. It’s a complicated, warm-hearted, and wonderful slice of life story that you won’t want to end.

Ramie Nightingale realistic chapter books for kids
Raymie Nightingale
 by Kate DiCamillo
ages 8 – 12
Raymie Nightingale seems to be a book about friendship and loss but it’s also very much about the big questions of who we are as individuals and why we are here on this earth. “She could feel her soul. It was a tiny little spark somewhere deep inside.” Raymie joins two other girls for baton-twirling classes where no baton instruction happens but friendships develop. The characters are unique and well-developed. This is a beautiful, realistic chapter book and would be perfect for lengthy book club discussions.

Eleven and Holding Meaningful Realistic Chapter Books for Ages 8 - 12 middle grade
Eleven and Holding
by Mary Penney
ages 8 – 12
This coming-of-age journey has 11-year old Macy longing for her father who is reportedly on a secret project for the government. She’s determined to find him and get him to return home. During this time, she and her best friend, Twee help an older woman who has a missing dog. As both plotlines progress, we learn the truth about the dog and her dad who has PTSD and a drinking problem. This is a sad but powerful story about grief, grace, and life.

realistic books for kids
Forever or a Long, Long Time
by Caela Carter
ages 8 – 12
It’s almost impossible for former foster kids, Flora and Julian, to believe their new home is really a forever home. Not when they’ve had so many broken promises in the past. To help them believe and heal, their adopted mom takes them on a journey to their past foster homes. For answers. And to help them build a strong future. We feel the pain and the trauma as these siblings bravely face their past so they can find their future. Beautiful and haunting.

The Last Fifth Grade Meaningful Realistic Chapter Books for Ages 8 - 12
The Last Fifth Grade of Emerson Elementary by Laura Shovan
ages 8 – 12
The assignment is to write poems that will go in the time capsule when Emerson Elementary is closed. The students have mixed feelings — some are very upset that the school is closing while others aren’t. When the kids learn about protesting, they take their cause to the school board. Not only did I love this story, I really loved that it was written from the students’ unique voices in verse. Shovan does a skillful job writing in each child’s voice so we really get to know each individual. Teachers and parents, you’ll appreciate that the back of the book includes explanations of the different forms of poetry the kids used along with writing prompts. This is a quick read with some interesting topics to discuss.

recommended books for kids 11 year olds 6th grade
The Sisters Club by Megan McDonald
ages 8 – 12
Meet the Sisters Club: twelve-year-old Alex, aspiring actress and born drama queen; eight-year-old Joey, homework lover and pioneer wannabe; and smack in the middle, ten-year-old Stevie, the glue that holds them together — through dinner disasters, disputes over stolen lucky sweaters, and Alex’s going gaga over her leading man.

realistic book list
by Cynthia Kadohata, illustrated by Maurizio Zorat
ages 8 – 12
Checked is a slice of life story about a boy who lives for hockey but worries about his sick dog, his policeman single dad, and money. While it did surprise me that there wasn’t a major conflict, the atmospheric snapshot of the boy’s life felt authentic and held my interest.

Katerina Ballerina
by Tiler Peck and Kyle Harris, illustrated by Sumiti Collina
An earnest young girl loves ballet but since her dad can’t afford lessons, she watches YouTube videos and practices in her room. After a disastrous talent shows Katerina’s dad her bravery, Katrina’s dad stretches the budget for lessons. It’s not a great start though– she shows up in a red swimming suit and homemade tutu! But she makes a friend who helps her learn ballet terms and adjust to formal classes. As Katrina becomes more serious in her dancing, a competition reminds Katrina that she needs to balance both working hard and enjoying dancing.

It Ain't So Awful, Falafel realistic books middle grade
It Ain’t So Awful, Falafel
 by Firoozeh Dumas
ages 8 – 12
Although it may sound like a heavy book, this is a funny, realistic story about growing up and living in a culture that is not your own. It’s the late 1970s and Zomorod (Cindy) and her family are back in the U.S. from Iran –again. She’s desperate to fit in with the other kids but faces both family pressures and anti-Iranian prejudice.

Baking Life of Amelie Day review recommended books for 6th grade 11 years old
The Baking Life of Amelie Day
 by Vanessa Curtis
ages 8 – 12
I enjoyed this book so much! The writing flows, the plot is engaging, the characters are fascinating — especially Amelie — and learning about living with Cystic Fibrosis is quite eye-opening. Amelie loves to bake (could you guess from the title?) and she’s made it to the semi-finals of a teen baking contest in New York City. Unfortunately, her health deteriorates (which happens when you have CF) and her mom won’t let Amelie compete. You won’t just love this realistic chapter book but will also want to try the various recipes throughout the book – I love when authors do that.
good books for 10 year olds fifth graders 5th grade
Liberty Porter, First Daughter by Julia DeVillers –
ages 8 – 12
This is a light-hearted realistic middle-grade series about a girl whose dad becomes the President. We follow along as she adjusts to living in the White House, having a bodyguard, and experiences being the First Daughter.

Orphan Eleven
by Gennifer Choldenko
ages 8 – 12
Lucy runs away from the orphanage with three other kids. They’re helped by other former orphans, one who works for the circus and tries to find the kids a place with the circus. But it’s hard for Lucy to find an apprenticeship because she won’t talk. She loves the elephants and hopes she can work with them — but she’ll need to find her voice. In a horrifying series of memories, we learn that Lucy was one of many orphans used in cruel experiments to create a stutter in someone who didn’t previously stutter. She’ll find her inner strength to overcome the past in this atmospheric, circus-life story with a happy ending.

good realistic middle grade books
Ruby on the Outside 
by Nora Raleigh Baskin
ages 8 – 12
Ruby doesn’t want her new and only friend to learn that her mom is in jail. To make matters worse, Ruby thinks that her friend’s family is the reason her mom IS in jail. I found this to be a thoughtful coming-of-age story about a girl who feels like she has two lives — one on the inside and one on the outside — and how she integrates the two. Kids will be able to put themselves into Ruby’s shoes and experience what it would be like if . . .

realistic books for kids
A Handful of Stars
 by Cynthia Lord
ages 8 – 12
When Lily befriends Salma Santiago, a migrant worker’s daughter, Salma gives Lily a new perspective on life — to dream big, to see the possibilities in everything — even for Lily’s blind dog named Lucky. Salma also sees the possibility of winning the local Blueberry Queen pageant for a college scholarship. Lily worries that the community won’t accept someone who isn’t blond and white. This realistic middle-grade novel is a tender story about friendship and growing up.

realistic book list for kids
12 Dares of Christa
by Marissa Burt
ages 10+
Christa is devastated when her parents announce their divorce. Now she’s on a European trip with her actress mother where she’ll be spending Christmas … without her dad! Christa feels so much anger at her mother, who she thinks is at fault for the divorce. But there are many other feelings, too — awkwardness of a first crush, gradual openness to new friendships, and delight in the fun dares her travel agent father sends her on throughout the trip. It’s realistic, well-written, and heartfelt.

Goodbye Stranger realistic books
Goodbye Stranger
 by Rebecca Stead
ages 10 – 13
WOW. In a word: powerful. This is middle school at it’s most intimate and revealing where friends experience the challenges of growing up, from an embarrassing sexting photo mistake to a shameful friend betrayal, and where we see the power of forgiveness and love. Stead asks the question: why are we here in this world? Realistic and relatable.

realistic books for kids
Okay for Now
 by Gary D. Schmidt
ages 8 – 12
This is one of the BEST books I’ve ever read! I felt deeply connected to the main character, Doug, a boy who is struggling to read with no support from his home life — an abusive dad and older brother and abject poverty. What saves Doug is the connection to a librarian who shows him Audubon’s bird paintings and how to draw. Transformative!

realistic books for kids
The Looney Experiment
 by Luke Reynolds
ages 8 – 12
As I read this realistic chapter book, I kept thinking wow– another important life lesson — because they just keep coming. Atticus is bullied, upset at his parents’ separation, and uninspired in school . . . until he meets the language arts substitute, Mr. Looney. Mr. Looney shows Atticus, and his classmates, how to find WHO THEY ARE in the company of characters in a story (specifically To Kill a Mockingbird) and how that transfers to their own lives. I loved Mr. Looney’s character — how he just was present for Atticus without giving advice but facilitating Atticus’ self-discovery. I also loved that the story had a realistic ending.

realistic books for kids
The Absolute Value of Mike by Kathryn Erskine
ages 8 – 12
If you only read one book this year, make it this one. It’s so powerful and stuck with me for weeks. (Kind of like Erskine’s other book, Mockingbird, another deeply moving book.) The title is the only math concept Mike understands — absolute value — a subject in which Mike’s dad wants Mike to excel. Only Mike hates math and when he gets sent to a small town for the summer with distant relatives, Mike learns is true value.

realistic books elementary middle school
Lucky Broken Girl
by Ruth Behar
ages 8 – 12
After a terrible car accident,  Ruthie’s entire body is in a cast. She’s stuck in bed for months, then more months, then over a year with no television (it’s 1960). In a story based on the author’s real life, we see this time of hardship punctuated by a vibrant, caring neighbor, a loving school tutor, and a determined physical therapist. Overall, Ruthie feels grateful that she didn’t die, even on her hardest days but it’s a challenging time, to say the least, one that I personally connected to because of a daughter with a long-term illness.

Painful, Hopeful Growing Up Stories: New Realistic Fiction
When Friendship Followed Me Home
 by Paul Griffin
ages 8 – 12
Tear alert! I kind of hated this realistic chapter book at the end because it IS realistic and when I read it I could barely cope with all that the main character went through. SO SAD. You see, Ben has been through hell — foster family, adoption by an amazing woman who dies after a few years, and now a bad new situation with his adopted mother’s sister and her husband. But, he has two things that are good, really good — his rescued dog, Flip, and his favorite librarian’s daughter as a good friend. Until his friend’s cancer gets worse . . . and his uncle punches him in the face . . .The story is gripping, the ending bittersweet, and the writing amazing.

Young Adult

Visit my Recommended Books for Teens list for all realistic fiction choices.

The Serpent King realistic books for kids
The Serpent King
 by Jeff Zentner
ages 13+
This is a stunning, twist-you-heart-inside-out, beautiful coming-of-age story of three friends who are all outcasts in their small, narrow-minded town. It’s about learning to accept your past, present, and future, not letting your circumstances (including your parents) define you, and finding hope in the midst of difficulty. I HIGHLY recommend you race to the bookstore or library and get this book — it’s a book that will linger with you.
realistic chapter book list
The Boy in the Black Suit by Jason Reynolds
ages 12+
Matt’s recently lost his mom to cancer. When the funeral home director and family friend offers Matt a job, he takes it which is why he wears a black suit on a daily basis. Somehow the job helps, especially when he can sit in the funerals. Seeing other people’s grief makes Matt feel less alone on his own. As Matt struggles to survive, with an absent father and high school challenges, he’s not just supported by his new boss but also meets an inspiring girl named Lovey who opens his eyes to compassion and love.

Home Home
by Lisa Allen-Agostini
ages 13+
Kayla’s moved from Trinidad to Canada with her aunt after a depressive episode and suicide attempt. She’s experiencing debilitating anxiety and self-loathing, making trips to the mall or a restaurant almost impossible. Her aunt and her aunt’s girlfriend are very understanding and patient which makes a huge difference in Kayla’s recovery. In therapy and her journal, she writes about the difficult relationship she has with her mother who wants her to be smart and pretty, not sick. It also helps when she befriends a good-natured boy named Josh who understands depression. His understanding along with her aunts’ acceptance helps Kayla come to terms with her illness. Her story feels honest, relatable, and important.
realistic chapter books for kids
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    Hi! I’m Melissa Taylor, mom, writer, & former elementary teacher & literacy trainer. I love sharing good books & fun learning resources.

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