ReaderKidZ is pleased to introduce our newest contributor, Kristen Remenar! Children’s librarian, national speaker, mom, and wife to illustrator Matt Faulkner, Kristen brings a wealth of experience and talent. Join us in welcoming her!
He was distraught. “I need a realistic fiction book. No mysteries, not an adventure story, no graphic novels.” It’s a challenge I welcome as a children’s librarian, but this one was coming from my panicked 10-year-old son. His teacher’s requirements for his book report pretty much wiped out most of what my son likes to read.
My son loves his family very much, but he doesn’t want to read about families, or school, or anything to do with relationships, and these are the most common elements in contemporary realistic fiction for kids. So I found books that met the requirements that are funny, or have an irresistible plot twist, or tell a story where the reader wishes he could be there, too.
For the chapter book gang:
Millions by Frank Cottrell Boyce (HarperCollins, 2004)
This book will definitely spark some interesting conversation. What would you do if you found a bag full of money? What if you had to spend that money within three weeks before it all became worthless? Anthony and Damian find over 200,000 pounds in a bag by the railway just before England plans to convert all its pounds to euros. Should they tell their dad, or maybe make a few purchases first? This is the book that hooked my son.
The Big One-Oh by Dean Pitchford (Puffin Books, 2007)
Charley Maplewood is a huge fan of comic books, horror movies, and making lists, but not a fan of birthday parties. Birthday parties involve friends, and Charley doesn’t really have any. He wants to celebrate his “big one-oh” with a party that will impress Donna and keep Cougar from making his life miserable, and he knows the cowboy theme his mom has picked out will not cut it. I won’t tell you how Charley pulls of the celebration of the century, but it involves rubber eyeballs, and it made me laugh so hard I snorted. Read by the author, this is fantastic on audio.
Andrew Clements is the king of realistic fiction. Two identical twin boys find that being mistaken for each other can come in handy. When Ray stays home sick on the first day of sixth grade, Jay finds out the school in their new town has mixed up the records and thinks there’s just one boy. Rather than correct the mistake, the twins wonder how long they can take turns going to school as Jay. Just how identical are identical twins?
For the picture book crowd:
Metal Man written by Aaron Reynolds and illustrated by Paul Hoppe (Charlesbridge, 2008)
Devon’s mom thinks “makin’ junk out of junk ain’t a real job” but Devon loves to watch Mitch, the Metal Man, work with his torches and saws to transform junk metal into art. One day, Metal Man asks Devon if he has an idea, and if he wants to “bring it on out to play”. Together they use those tools that draw in boys like magnets to create a star-house. For tool guys, this one hits the nail on the head.
Wink: the ninja who wanted to be noticed by J.C. Phillips (Viking, 2009)
“ ‘Silence is the weapon of the ninja,’ Master Zutsu said. But Wink could not be silent. ‘Look at me!’ he hollered.” I love everything about this book. I love the cut-paper illustrations, I love how hard Wink tries to achieve his ninja dream, and I love that he finds a way to use his magnificent ninja skills without denying his desire to be noticed. Mini-ninjas everywhere will be inspired, especially the less-than-stealthy ones.
A Couple of Boys Have the Best Week Ever by Marla Frazee (Harcourt, 2008)
James and Eamon spend a week with Eamon’s grandparents one summer. The grandparents have planned a week of “nature camp” for the boys, but, like so many of our kids, James and Eamon prefer “quiet meditation” downstairs (they’re playing video games), building a fort with the inflatable mattress, and making stuff with rocks and sticks. The sly humor of the art will draw boys in, and you may find your young reader declaring this Newbery-Honor winner the best book ever.