J Realistic Fiction

MIDDLE SCHOOL IS WORSE THAN MEATLOAF by Jennifer Holm

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Ginny has a number of important items on her seventh grade “to do” list.  Among them are getting a new dad, getting her older brother Henry to “chill out,” and getting the role of the Sugarplum Fairy in her ballet school’s Nutcracker.  Unfortunately, her goals have unexpected challenges and complications.  Having a step-dad is more difficult than she thought it would be, and her ballet rivalry with Mary Catherine Kelly may have ended their friendship for good.  On top of all of that, Henry seems far from chilling out and may end up in a military academy.  Thank goodness for Grampa Joe, Becky Soo, and yellow sweaters.  But will they be enough to get Ginny through seventh grade?

This story is told in an interesting style–as a scrapbook with notes and documents from Ginny’s life.  It may take a while to get settled into the pattern of reading the story, but in the end it captures the story of Ginny’s life very nicely.  This book will likely appeal most to middle grade girls, and the creative storytelling style may appeal to reluctant readers as well!

If you liked Middle School Is Worse Than Meatloaf, you might like Dumped by Popular Demand, Dork Diaries,  Babymouseand Smile. 

CHASING REDBIRD by Sharon Creech

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Zinny Taylor has so many brothers and sisters that her home is constantly noisy and no one seems to remember her name.  She has always spent a lot of her time next door with Uncle Nate and Aunt Jessie, but everything changes when Aunt Jessie dies.  As Zinny struggles to adjust to the changes in her life, she begins a project to clear an old trail that leads from her home in Bybanks, Kentucky, to the neighboring town of Chocton.  She also rekindles a friendship with Jake Boone, who recently moved back to town and seems to have a strange interest in giving Zinny gifts, as well as an abundance of secrets that he tries to keep away from her.

Chasing Redbird is a sweet story of friendships and family relationships.  Its pace is slow, but it has enough mystery threads to unravel that it will keep your interest.  If you like Chasing Redbird  you might like Missing May by Cynthia Rylant and Savvy by Ingrid Law.

Thanks for the suggestion, Laura!

THE UNUSUAL MIND OF VINCENT SHADOW by Tim Kehoe

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Vincent is not a normal middle school boy.  For one thing, he is completely obsessed with the inventor Nikola Tesla.  For another, he is also periodically hit by brilliant visions of his own future inventions, visions which have similar effect to migraines, literally blinding him with pain.  And he has a secret laboratory in his bedroom closet.  His mom helped him build the lab before she died.  She was the only one who unconditionally supported his artistic gift.  Now he’s stuck in a house with his evil stepmother and three annoying stepsisters.  As if that weren’t bad enough, his father decides to move the family from New York to Minneapolis for a new job.  For Vincent, this means leaving his laboratory–and consequently, his inventions–behind.  But when he finds out about a contest for young inventors, hosted by a toy company, he knows this is his one chance to prove himself to his family and the world–if his competitors don’t get in his way.

This book is a funny, quirky, and quick read.  I definitely recommend it to upper elementary schoolers, especially boys.

MISSING MAY by Cynthia Rylant

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Summer grew up with Uncle Ob and Aunt May, in the first home where she felt she truly belonged.  But May’s death leaves a gaping hole in her life and Ob’s, and they both find themselves spending all of their time just missing her.   With the help of their strange neighbor, Cletus, Summer and Ob begin searching for May’s spirit and for the peace to continue living their own lives.

I often hear complaints from people who do not like Newbery Award winning books because they are always about death and dealing with grief.  Missing May certainly fits that profile.  But this novel deserved its Newbery for more than just its weighty subject matter.  Missing May is very well-written, with wonderful characters.  Rylant takes you through a realistic heart-warming journey from grief to hope and renewed joy in life.  I highly recommend this book!

If you liked Missing May, you may like Chasing Redbird by Sharon Creech.

IDA B: . . . AND HER PLANS TO MAXIMIZE FUN, AVOID DISASTER, AND (POSSIBLY) SAVE THE WORLD by Katherine Hannigan

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Ida B spends most of her time with her mother and father in their Wisconsin orchard.   She has no brothers and sisters or neighbors to play with, but she has an incredibly creative imagination, and befriends all of the trees, the river, and the animals in the orchard.  She tried going to public school in kindergarten, but the rules and rigid structure of her strict teacher’s classroom were so suffocating to her that her parents decided to let her stay at home and be homeschooled.  But when her mother is diagnosed with cancer, everything changes for Ida B and her family.  They will have to sell part of the orchard—the trees who were Ida B’s friends—in order to pay for her treatment, and perhaps worst of all, Ida B will have to start public school for fourth grade.   Horrified by her parents’ betrayal, Ida B decides to harden her heart.  She will go to school, but she will not enjoy herself.  She will not make friends.  She will not allow herself to like her warm-hearted teacher.  She will feel nothing.  At least she will try. . . .

Although the premise may sound depressing, Ida B is an incredibly uplifting, funny, endearing book, with a spirited, witty narrator and the wonderful teacher who softens Ida B’s hard heart.  Its intended audience is upper elementary readers, although I suspect many adults will find it as relatable and touching as I do.  I highly recommend it!

THE STRANGE CASE OF ORIGAMI YODA by Tom Angleberger

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This book is a casefile compiled by sixth grader, Tommy, as he struggles to figure out the truth:  does Origami Yoda have magical powers?  Dwight, who created Origami Yoda and wears him on his finger, is the weirdest kid in school, and it seems like he never does anything right.  So how is it possible that when Dwight is speaking as Origami Yoda, he gives the best possible advice and even sees into the future?  It is vitally important to determine whether or not Origami Yoda is really magic or just a hoax, because Tommy needs to decide whether to take Origami Yoda’s latest advice in a matter of life-changing proportion.

This book is incredibly funny and great for upper elementary and middle school students; it is especially popular among boys.  It includes instructions for creating your own personal Origami Yoda (magic powers not included).

If you liked The Strange Case of Origami Yoda, you might also be interested in How to Train Your Dragon by Cressida CowellDiary of a Wimpy Kid by Jeff Kinney, and the Big Nate books by Lincoln Peirce.

THE GOLLYWHOPPER GAMES by Jody Feldman

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Gil Goodson has had a very difficult year.  Since his father was accused of embezzling money from his employer, the Gollywhopper toy corporation, no one has treated his family the same way.  Even though his father was found not guilty, all of Gil’s friends believe that he did it and have forced Gil out of their social circles and off of his sports teams.  But now, one year later, Gil has the chance to escape it all.  Gollywhopper is hosting a huge scholarship competition called the Gollywhopper Games.  If Gil wins the games, his family could afford to move to a new city and leave The Incident behind them.  Much to the dismay of the Gollywhopper CEO, Gil is determined to solve every puzzle they throw at him.  But personality differences among his teammates make the task much more difficult than he had previously anticipated.

If you like brainteasers, solving puzzles, and unraveling mysteries, this is a very fun book!  It is aimed at an upper-elementary school audience.