The 32 Best Realistic Fiction Books for Kids

Realistic Fiction

Last year, my son came home from school with an assignment — to read a realistic fiction book. He looked up at me and asked “Mommy, what even is a realist fiction book?”

I had no idea.

Thank goodness for Google, which quickly assured me that realistic fiction is a term used for middle grade and early-reader books with plots that could actually happen. No dragons, no kid spies or child detectives, just good old-fashioned, learn-a-lesson fiction.

And imagine my surprise when I realized that some of our favorite books ever are realistic fiction!

So whether your kid also came home in a panic or these novels are just the kind they gravitate toward, we hope this list of realistic fiction stories helps you.

*the best realistic fiction books Post contains affiliate links. Purchases made through links result in a small commission to us at no cost to you. Some books have been gifted. All opinions are our own.

Table of Contents

This post fulfills a prompt for the 2024 reading challenge! It’s not too late to join!

Our Closet In Your Neighborhood clients are participating in this year’s reading challenge. Please consider donating books through our independent bookstore partner.

The Best Middle Grade Realistic Fiction

The Vanderbeekers of 141st

The Vanderbeekers of 141st Street by Karina Yan Glaser

This charming story is about a bi-racial family in Harlem with 5 kids who are about to lose their home because their reclusive landlord won’t renew their lease.⁣

My entire family enjoyed this delightful tale of the siblings trying to win their landlord over so they don’t have to leave home. It was full of all the antics you would expect of a big family. ⁣

Why We Love This Book: We love that the Vanderbeekers’ story normalizes city living and a bi-racial family – something that’s hard to find in many children’s book series. You will fall in love with this cast of characters and as the series progresses you’ll come to regard them as family.
Appropriate for ages 7-11
Find this book in
Best Books for a 10-Year-Old / Best Family Audiobooks For Road Trips / Read Aloud Books / Realistic Fiction Books / Feel-Good Books

wonder

Wonder by R.J Palacio

A must-read realistic fiction story for kids in middle school, this is an amazing book about embracing differences, kindness, and being yourself.  However, this would also be a wonderful read-aloud book for a younger audience. CW: This is one of the books that will make you cry.

August Pullman is a boy with an extraordinary facial difference.  He has been homeschooled his entire life and is starting 5th grade at Beecher Prep.  This book for 11-year-olds is amazing and has a lesson about love and acceptance that everyone needs to read.

song for a whale

Song for a Whale by Lynne Kelly

This coming-of-age story is about a deaf girl who is struggling to connect with her community and a whale named Blue 52 who can’t find his ocean community either. She sets out to connect with Blue 52 and along the way she finds her inner strength beautifully.

Why We Love This Book: This was one of the realistic fiction audiobooks for tweens I listened to with my kids and we all just adored it. I had tears streaming down my face at the end.
Appropriate for ages 9-12
Find this book in
Books for 10-year-olds / Audiobooks for Kids / Realistic Fiction / Coming-of-Age Novels / Animal Books for Kids

Pie and more realistic fiction books

Pie by Sarah Weeks

This is another realistic fiction book that every one of my children has read and loved. When Alice’s Aunt Polly dies, she takes her world-famous, secret pie crust recipe with her. In her will, she leaves the pie receipt to her cat, Lardo.

Who does she leave the cat to? Alice. Now, Alice and her friend have to find the recipe for happiness together in this endearing and funny book.

Award Winning Realistic Fiction

Kelly Yang 1

Front Desk by Kelly Yang

This recently banned book tells the story of Mia and her family who are immigrants from China. Mia’s struggles to be successful in America are met with the divide between classes in her school, the racism she faces, and her family’s quest to make ends meet.

Why We Love This Book: I loved learning from Mia and watching her problem-solve to help her family as they took over caring for the Calivista Motel. If you are looking for realistic fiction middle grade books that skew a little younger, check out this realistic fiction book.
Appropriate for ages 9-11
Find this book in
Coming-of-Age Books / Books for 10-year-olds / Audiobooks for Kids / Hotel Novels / Books about Poverty and It’s Impact

The Penderwicks

The Penderwicks by Jeanne Birdsall

An imperfect family, the Penderwick family (consisting of the father, 4 daughters, and their dog) go spend their three-week summer vacation at a cottage they rented. Mrs. Tifton, a grumpy, snooty woman, and her son Jeffry own the cottage that is part of the Arundel estate.

The first in a realistic fiction series of 5 books about sisters, this wonderful book is perfect to read aloud at night or listen to on audio for a family roadtrip.

Hello Universe

Hello, Universe by Erin Entrada Kelly

This realistic fiction book for a 13-year-old was a Newberry Award winner for a reason. It gave the mom in me a bit of an anxiety attack when one of the characters fell down the well, but all’s well that ends well.

This tween book is a read that I’d recommend for all ages. In particular, I liked how it addressed bullying, being different, and overcoming shyness.

Look Both Ways

Look Both Ways by Jason Reynolds

I thought this middle-grade novel was a wonderful look at the problems facing young people. Each chapter is a different narrator telling a different story about their walk home from school addressing issues like crushes, bullying, sick parents, and more.

Each tale gives you a glimpse into the minds of the children in the neighborhood – the funny, the sad, and everything in between.

Why I Like It: I finished this story in one sitting and immediately told Jackie to give it to her son. I can’t wait to give this to my boys one day.

Find this book in Best School Books / Realistic Fiction Books / Short Stories

Early Reader Realistic Fiction

Cilla Lee

Cilla Lee-Jenkins: Future Author Extraordinaire by Susan Tan

My brother’s girlfriend recommended it to me because her friend wrote it! It did a great job of handling difficult topics in an age-appropriate manner with humor and grace.

Cilla is about to become a big sister, but she wants to become a world-famous author first so her family won’t forget about her. It also addresses coming from a bi-racial family and having difficulties reading. It’s truly a lovely realistic fiction story.

ramona quimby

Ramona Quimby Age 8 by Beverly Cleary

Ramona is another adorable character who is perfectly imperfect.  She is sweet and lovable and gets into her share of trouble.  Whether reading to boys or girls, every child can relate to Ramona.

Why We Love This Book: When it comes to first chapter books Ramona can’t be beaten! Cleary’s classic has stood the test of time.
Appropriate for ages 
4-9
Find this book in
Realistic Fiction / Books for 6-year-olds / Kids Audiobooks /

Junie B Jones


Junie B. Jones by Barbara Park

Junie B. Jones is the Ramona Quimby of the next generation. Junie is going into Kindergarten and definitely has a knack for getting into some trouble.  

This realistic fiction series is perfect for new readers and will keep your little reader laughing.

Quirky Realistic Fiction

the remarkable journey of coyote sunrise

The Remarkable Journey of Coyote Sunrise by Dan Gemeinhart

Coyote Sunrise lives with her Dad, Rodeo on an old school bus, riding around the country but never returning to where her mother and sisters died.

Until Coyote gets a call from her grandma that the park where she hid a memory box is scheduled to be torn down. Soon Coyote needs to figure out a plan to get her dad back to Washington before she loses that box.

Why We Love This Book: Filled with life lessons and charming strangers they meet and transport along the way, I adored Coyote and her unique life. My kids listened along to this coming-of-age novel with me too and they felt the same way.
Appropriate for ages 9-12
Find this book in
Realistic Fiction / Audiobooks for Kids / Audiobooks for a Road Trip

Pay Attention Carter Jones

Pay Attention, Carter Jones by Gary D. Schmidt

⁣My son adored Pay Attention, Carter Jones. He loved the premise of the butler coming over to teach Carter to play cricket. He liked how Carter learned about how to be a gentleman from the butler who is strict, but exactly what the family needs during their troubling time.⁣

He’s recommended it to a few of his friends already and my mom even read it and enjoyed it!⁣ It’s a heartfelt, realistic fiction read in all the best ways. It’s one of our favorite coming-of-age books for 13-year-olds.

Mystery books for tweens

Greetings from Witness Protection! by Jake Burt

What a fun story about an orphan girl tasked by the U.S. Marshalls to keep a family alive. As she enters into witness protection with them, she puts her street smarts and pick-pocketing abilities to good use.

But can she keep her new family safe? Will she be able to hide from her own past? All while avoiding any C’s in school… You’ll just have to read this tween mystery book to find out.

The Best Realistic Fiction Set in School

the boy at the back of the class

The Boy at the Back of the Class by Onjali Raúf

This is the story of Ahmet, a Syrian refugee, who ends up in Mrs. Khan’s 4th-grade class. At first, the students are wary of the strange new boy.

Soon, they learn that Ahmet has been separated from his family when he was trying to escape the war. Soon the kids were banding together to help Ahmet reunite with his family.

My son cried while reading this book for 10-year-olds. The story touched his heart and evoked such compassion in him.

restart

Restart by Gordon Korman

My kids all read this realistic fiction book one after another. In fact, they passed it to each other to read so they could all discuss it.

Chase wakes up in the hospital after falling off a roof and doesn’t remember anything- including his name. When he gets back to school, he sees how the kids react to him. Some kids worship him and other kids are terrified of him.

The questions become, who he was and who he wants to be. This is one of the best books for 13-year-olds.

the miscalculations of lightning girl

The Miscalculations of Lightning Girl by Stacy McAnulty

My 3rd-grade math lover inhaled this tween book in 2 days. It’s all about a 12-year-old girl who was struck by lightning and became a math wiz.

She’s been homeschooled her whole life, but now her grandmother wants her to try to go to school just for one year. She has to make one friend, join one activity, and read one book that isn’t math related. Can she do it?

Ban this book and more realistic middle grade fiction

Ban This Book by Alan Gratz

This realistic middle grade fiction story is so relevant to society today. The heroine of this story is a girl whose favorite book was just banned from her school library. She starts her own locker library filled with more banned books from the school’s library.

As she stands up for her right to read, she challenges adults in her community and learns about books’ power to unite everyone.

the Unteachables

The Unteachables by Gordon Korman

The kids in room 117 are all together because they have been deemed “unteachable.” Mr. Kermit their teacher seems like someone they will despise, but as the year progresses, the students’ outlook changes.

With rotating narrators and a lovely, if predictable story, this realistic fiction book is inspiring for all students.

headers

Helpful Books About School and School Prep Lists for 2023

For more realistic fiction school books, head to this post for all things school!

Sports Realistic Fiction

The Crossover and other books for a 10-year-old

The Crossover by Kwame Alexander

Kwame Alexander has won many awards for his incredible proses. This tween novel, the first in a series, is no exception having won both the Newberry and The Coretta-Scott King Award.

The Crossover is all about Josh Bell a basketball-loving middle-schooler who also loves to rap. He learns to grow up in this coming-of-ask story about Josh, his twin, and his family.

This is one of the many tween books for a 12-year-old being adapted. Look for the book adaptation starring LeBron James coming to Disney+ soon!

ghost

Ghost by Jason Reynolds

Ghost runs and has been running since he was a small child. He started running when his father chased him down to the street with a loaded gun and he has not stopped since.

Now, he has been chosen for an elite track team that could go to the junior Olympics if Ghost can get his act together. He has natural, raw talent that can send him all the way if he can stop his past from catching up to him. This National Book Award Finalist for Young People’s Literature is the perfect realistic fiction book for an 11-year-old.

Realistic Historical Fiction Books

Refugee and more books for 13-year-olds

Refugee by Alan Gratz

Three tales in one, this realistic fiction story is told in alternating chapters by three narrators.  The stories feature Josef, a Jewish refugee fleeing WWII Germany, Isabel a Cuban girl on her way to Miami in 1994, and Mahmoud a Syrian refugee seeking asylum in Germany in 2015. The chapters rotate between the three characters and their stories do connect at the end in a meaningful and moving way.

The characters are all about 13-years-old but shoulder burdens that would be hard for an adult to handle. Gratz accurately portrays each child’s struggle with both grace and clarity – not shying away from difficult emotions and even death. If you love this YA historical fiction book, we have a list of Powerful WWII Books for Kids.

stella by starlight

Stella and the Starlight by Sharon M Draper

This historical fiction novel for 11-year-olds takes place in the Depression era. Stella lives in Bumblebee, North Carolina- the segregated south where the Klan still exists.

The book touches upon so many important concepts like the depression, voting rights, racism, family, and finding your inner strength. This middle grade fiction has a realistic ending, not a happy one and that left my daughter begging to read more.

The war that saved my life

The War that Saved My Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley

I read this realistic fiction book in a few hours and immediately ordered the sequel The War I Finally Won.  Ada is a 10-year-old girl who lives in a one-room world gazing at the world from one window.  She was born with a club foot and teaches herself to walk in secret.  When the children who lived in London were evacuated to go to the country at the start of WW2, Ada escapes her abusive mother and leaves London with her little brother.

There is so much depth to this book.  It is a Newbury Honor book and the Winner of the Schneider Family Book Award for middle grade. This middle grade historical fiction is a story of love and survival in the face of overwhelming obstacles.

Do not be fooled by this middle grade fiction. It is emotionally crafted and brilliantly written and is my favorite on the list of WWII books for kids.

Summer Time Realistic Fiction

makes peach pie

When Life Gives You Lemons, Make Peach Pie by Erin Soderberg Downing

The first in a new middle grade series, my son LOVED this realistic fiction story! After selling one of their deceased mom’s inventions, the Peach children learn that they are rich and their dad knows exactly what he wants to do with the money.

He buys a used food truck and he wants to spend the summer traveling with the kids and selling pies. He wants the family to bond as they live out one of their mom’s dreams.

My kiddo gobbled this book up and we’ve been recommending it ever since!

A kind of paradise

A Kind of Paradise by Amy Rebecca Tan

This is a best children’s book of 2019 for a reason. I read this as a read-aloud with both of my children (boys 6-8) even though it’s technically a middle grade book.

The story revolves around Jaime who, after doing something bad at school, is doing community service hours at the library for the summer. Jaime is reluctant to volunteer at first but quickly grows to love the staff and regulars at the library. I adored this charming tale and so did my kids. This is one of the books for 11-year-olds that adults will love too!

my not so great french escape

My Not-So-Great French Escape by Cliff Burke

I adored this story about Rylan, who is staying on a farm in France to reconnect with his former best friend, Wilder. It’s such a heartwarming story about how friendships change as we age, sometimes ending as lives and values grow.

This one did not have a happy ending for Rylan’s quest to stay friends with Wilder, but it was a wonderful lesson in being true to yourself and following your own interests. Rylan was well out of his comfort zone, but he was able to connect with new friends, learn new skills, and become a more confident version of himself.

I love that the message at the end of the day is that if you stay true to yourself, you’ll end up with people that love and appreciate the real you.

Classic Realistic Fiction Books

Kristy’s Great Idea by Ann M. Martin

The babysitters are back and updated for a new generation! I love that the stories in this series have been adapted into graphic novels.

The very first one, Kristy’s Great Idea, is about the formation of the Baby-Sitters Club and how the friends of the sitters developed. If you have middle schoolers, they should check out the Netflix book adaptation of this realistic fiction series.

Harriet the spy and other mystery books for tweens

Harriet The Spy by Louise Fitzhugh

Harriet the Spy has been a classic children’ book for over 50 years. The 11-year-old is never without her notebook to write her observations in. When the notebook falls into the hands of her friends, they all get very angry with Harriet.

Will she be able to right her wrongs? There is a reason this realistic fiction book for a 10-year-old has been adapted repeatedly for the screen. It’s got life lessons for every child.

Mockingbird

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

I cannot count the number of times I have read this book.  It is a coming-of-age book that was ahead of its time and is even more relevant to the world today.  

It’s about a young girl named Scout, whose father (Atticus) is a lawyer in her Southern town. As she grows, she realizes the prejudices within her town – culminating in her watching a trial as her father defends Tom Robinson, a black man falsely accused of raping a white woman.

This book won the Pulitzer Prize in 1961 and was also made into an Academy Award-winning movie.  It’s unforgettable and a must-read. If you are looking for books that make you think, this pick from thought-provoking books will fit the bill.

Bridge to Terabithia and more books for 12-year-olds

Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson

I’m pretty sure this coming-of-age tween book is required reading for everyone! Jess Aarons has been practicing all summer so he can be the fastest runner in the fifth grade. And he almost is, until the new girl in school, Leslie Burke outpaces him. The two become fast friends and spend most days in the woods behind Leslie’s house, where they invent an enchanted land called Terabithia.

One morning, Leslie goes to Terabithia without Jess and a tragedy occurs. It will take the love of his family and the strength that Leslie has given him for Jess to be able to deal with his grief. This realistic fiction book set in the 70s is an award winner for a reason.

Anne of green Gables by LM Mongtogery and more great Canadian Novels by Canadian Authors

Anne of Green Gables by L.M Montgomeryir?source=bk&t=beyondth06 20&bm id=default&l=ktl&linkId=5c9b77d29546960eec62ffcf6e66c0aa& cb=1590237272404

My mother was the first person to read this middle grade book to me and I was immediately drawn to Anne. She was smart, precocious, and had a way of making everyone love her while simultaneously finding new ways to get into trouble. 

Anne is an orphan who is sent to live with siblings Matthew and Marilla Cuthbert who wanted a male orphan to help them on the farm. Anne was sent to them instead. She is bright and loquacious and wins their hearts.

Something is comforting about this cozy book that makes me read it repeatedly. This is a beautiful book about friendship and found family. I am not sure if it is more popular in Canada but, one day I hope to visit Prince Edward Island. This is one of my (Jackie) all-time favorite books.

Find this book in Coming-of-Age Books / Friendship Books / Realistic Fiction / Books with Green in the Title

Did you love the realistic fiction books on this list? You might want to check out these other posts too!

Ultimate List of Middle Grade Books for Tweens

Fantasy, Mystery, Nonfiction, and more! Find all our favorite middle grade books in one place.

Middle Grade Books for Tweens
Middle Grade Fiction

The Ultimate List of Middle Grade Fiction for 2023

Head to this post for a deep dive of our favorite fiction books for tweens!

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.