Posts Tagged realistic fiction

Diversity in MG Lit #20 Contemporary Realistic Fiction

I’ve got a big roster of diverse titles with contemporary and realistic settings this month, so my reviews are going to be correspondingly short so I can fit them all in. I’ve organized these with the youngest books first moving toward YA titles that are still appropriate for MG readers.
Evelyn Del Rey is Moving Away by Meg Medina illus. by Sonia Sánchez. Okay technically this is a picture book. It’s lovely though and pitch perfect to the experience of having a friend move away. I think it will also resonate with many 1-4th graders who haven’t moved but can’t see their best friend because of the pandemic. And the cherry on top–a little ode to the Post Office at the end with the MC surrounded by letters from her best friend.  Candlewick, 9/20
Planet Omar Accidental Trouble Magnet by Zanib Mian, illustrated by Nasaya Mafaridik. This one’s a chapter book in the vein of Clementine with a well meaning Muslim boy who has a talent for mischief and a big imagination. Many elements of Muslim family life are introduced in a graceful way. Lots of spot illustrations throughout. Putnam 2/20
The Only Black Girls in Town by Brandy Colbert. This is a MG debut for Colbert who has written in the YA space previously. She transitions nicely to a sweet small town friendship story that still manages to point out what a big deal micro aggressions are and what a not-big-deal gay parents are. Bravo. Little Brown 3/20
What Lane by Torrey Maldonado, A short & sweet middle school boys friendship story focusing on the nuances of the biracial experience for black boys. Nancy Paulson Books 5/20
The Last Tree in Town by Beth Turley. Another story about the biracial experience, this one an Irish-Puerto Rican family. It delves into depression in main character Cassi’s high school aged sister and dementia in her grandparent. Love it that Cassi is on her school math olympics team. Simon & Schuster, 5/20
Stand Up Yumi Chung by Jessica Kim. Yumi is a budding standup comedian who dreams of youtube stardom while working at her family’s Korean barbecue restaurant.
A Place at the Table by Saadia Faruqi & Laura Shovan. This strangers to friends story is told in alternating voices. Loved the British Bake Off vibe and the side story of the girls’ mothers working toward their citizenship exams. Clarion 5/20
Black Brother, Black Brother by Jewell Parker Rhodes. Here’s another story delving into the dynamics of the biracial family. This time against the backdrop of economic privilege and a fencing club. Lots of food for conversation here and the sports story element should make it broadly appealing.
Dress Coded by Carrie Firestone delves into the racially complex and deeply sexist practice of school dress codes. My inner twelve year old stood up and cheered. You’re going to want to discuss this with your daughters, and it should be required reading for boys. Reluctant readers may appreciate the short chapters. Putnam 7/20
Once Upon an Eid: stories of Hope and Joy by 15 muslim voices ed. by S.K.Ali & Aisha Saeed I love short stories! This collection does a brilliant job of demonstrating the diversity of experience within the Muslim community world wide. Amulet 5/20
And finally Furia by Camille Saied Méndez. This is a debut YA novel but I think it works for the upper end of middle grade (5-8th) because it focuses so much on athletic ambition. Middle school is when many kids first get serious about their sport. MC Camilla Hasan is an Argentinian teenager who adores soccer and excels at it, earning the name La Furia on the field. But at home she navigates what her ambition will mean in family that values athletic skill in men but not women. There’s an element of romance but sports is first in this girl’s heart. Algonquin 9/20
It’s been a great fall for diverse books. More than 50% of the titles highlighted at the Children’s Institute were diverse, so I’m just scratching the surface here. Please shout out the ones I’ve missed in the comments.

So, Why Realistic Fiction?

Realistic Fiction in the Classroom

By Robyn Gioia

A genre that is not front and center in today’s stories of zombie, vampires, unicorns, and fairies is the world of realistic fiction. My class and I recently studied realistic fiction and what I learned was surprising.

The root word “real” in realism says it all. Are the characters regular people? Do they have problems? Do they make mistakes? Do they have real emotions? Do they grapple with pain, feel love, become utterly depressed, or bubble over with serendipity? Is the world real or is it a fantasy world with three moons and purple mountains? If it’s a made-up world, does it follow the rules of physics? If a character walks off a cliff, do they get hurt?


Probably the biggest element to examine is plot. Is it believable? Although circumstances may be extraordinary at times, is it something that could really happen? How do the characters deal with real problems? Are the solutions something that can really happen?

I noticed my students were so firmly rooted in fantasy, that when we studied our unit on realistic fiction, it took a lot of examination to decide if something could really happen. They argued that a character who miraculously survived a plane crash could climb the highest mountain, and walk a hundred miles to the next village without any food or water.

When I added that there are no super powers in realistic fiction, they stared at me. Then came the explanations. Maybe the survivor was in shape, they said. Maybe this person had a big dinner before the crash. Then the next set of “maybes” became even grander, without text evidence I might add. Maybe someone gave the person a ride. Maybe the person found a bunch of  power drinks. The “maybe” syndrome continued.

After our discussion, things got better. I breathed a sigh of relief when I heard the different reading groups asking each other, “Can it really happen and where is the evidence?”

So, why realistic fiction?

This brings us to the question. Why teach realistic fiction when other genres are vastly more popular?

Realistic fiction grounds students in real life. It lets them experience real life situations through cause and effect. It shows them the complexity of problems and how humans might react. It helps them to understand relationships. It helps students see life through the perspective of others.  It shows them how problems may or may not be solved. It exposes them to the vast differences in cultural beliefs and interactions between others.

To sum it up, realistic fiction helps students understand the way life works.

At the end of our study, something I did not expect was a comment from one of my brightest. “I haven’t found any books that I like. But I just learned that I like realistic fiction.” Grinning from ear to ear, he pulled out a copy of Hatchet by Gary Paulsen and settled down to read.