John Green wrote, “Great books help you understand, and they help you feel understood.“
These realistic fiction books, for ages 8 – 12 years old (middle grade), are opportunities for kids to feel a range of emotions, to build empathy, and to find connection, to feel less alone in the world; that whatever they’re going through, it’s not just them.
Meaningful Realistic Chapter Books
Teddy Mars Almost a World Record Breaker by Molly B. Turnham
Teddy is a boy who loves world records, has six siblings, and is so fed up with his destructive little brother that he moves to his tent in the backyard. He gets the chance to help his grumpy neighbor feed and care for his pigeons which turns into an interesting subplot. You’ll enjoy Teddy’s adventures trying to set world records and be as surprised as me when the record he sets, isn’t what he was even going for.
Some Kind of Happiness by Claire Legrand
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 a multi-layered, thought-provoking, and exquisite book that addresses the big topics of divorce, secrets, and depression.
Summerlost by Ally Condie
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 start giving unofficial tours about the town’s most famous resident, an actress who died under mysterious circumstances.
Jacky Ha-Ha by James Patterson and Chris Grabenstein
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!
Eleven and Holding by Mary Penney
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 plot lines 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.
Olivia Bitter, Spooked-Out Sitter (The Babysitter Chronicles) by Jessica Gunderson
Olivia misses her former best friend who is now obsessed with clothes and boys. She thinks that if she makes money and buys “cool” clothes, she’ll get her friend back. So, she accepts a babysitting job with a new family in her neighborhood who live in a creepy-looking house. As the story progresses, Olivia learns who she is and who she wants to be. Each chapter begins with “Sitter Smarts” that relate to a lesson learned in the chapter and will help readers in their own potential babysitting pursuits. For example, “Plan activities to keep the kids from getting bored” is one suggestion. This is a sweet chapter book that is part of a larger series.
Just My Luck by Cammie McGovern
At home, Benny’s struggling with his dad’s brain injury and still feeling partially responsible. At school, there’s a kindness contest and he hasn’t been recognized even once — even though he knows that he’s been really kind, kinder than his sort-of best friend. Fourth grade is bumpy for Benny yet we see his resiliency through it all, his love of his autistic brother, and how having a supportive family and teacher makes a difference.
The Remarkable Journey of Charlie Price by Jennifer Maschari
I read this cover to cover in one sitting, totally mesmerized. This book is a journey of grief with a tempting allegorical shadow world where Charlie and Imogene Price’s mom is “alive”. But not everything is right in this shadow world where you lose memories, especially the sad ones, to “feed” family members who have died. Charlie is afraid he’ll lose his sister, Imogene. forever to the shadow world, like he did his best friend, Frank. So well-written, this is a thoughtful treatment of emotions and grief — I highly recommend it, especially for book club discussions. (This book is on my BEST CHILDREN’S CHAPTER BOOKS OF 2016 list!)
The Last Fifth Grade of Emerson Elementary by Laura Shovan
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.
Lily and Dunkin by Donna Gephart
This is a story that is packed with issues about growing up differently. Dunkin has bipolar disorder and feels better when he’s off his meds which leads to a spiral into mania. His sort-of friend, Lily, is born with boy parts but feels like a girl and while her mother and sister have accepted her as Lily, her dad still calls her Tim and wants him to be a boy. This is their story as these two individuals struggle to find themselves amidst big challenges. It’s well-written and a helpful glimpse into what it would be like to have bipolar disorder or be transgender. However, I have to admit that in the end, when Lily’s best friend (a girl) kisses another girl at a school dance, it felt like the author added one too many “hot topic” issues which dimmed my enthusiasm for the book.