Train I Ride
By Paul Mosier
New York: Harper, 2017.
Genre: Realistic Fiction Pages 181 Grades 5 and Up
I loved, loved this story. It is one of heart and heartbreak, aloneness but not loneliness. This is the story of twelve year old Rydr as she is headed from California to Chicago on an Amtrak Train with a special box, her backpack and no money (she blew it all in the station before she left). She is alone but not really alone. She has to be accompanied by a train matron who is assigned to minors who are traveling alone without a parent or an adult. That’s where the story begins—Rydr’s grandmother died while she was caring for her in California—it seems she was the logical choice to pick to care for after her mother died. Rydr was just settling in at school (kind of) and was beginning to make great strides with her therapist when her grandmother suddenly died. Although, Rydr was not happy living with gramma she knew that she would always be there for her—unlike her drug addicted mother. Rydr’s meets people aboard this train that the reader will soon not forget. This is a timely coming of age story filled with compassion, kindness, hope, forgiveness and love.
Maxi’s Secrets (Or, What You Can Learn From a Dog)
By Lynn Plourde
New York: Nancy Paulsen Books, 2016.
Genre: Realistic Fiction Grades: 5-7 Pages 262
This is a wonderful heartwarming story about a very short boy, his neighbor who is blind and his dog who is deaf. Timminy, the short boy is bullied at his new school, his neighbor Abby is confident and a confidant and Maxi; is the adorable and loveable puppy. Like many of my readers, I hate sad dog books and this book opens with, “Let’s get this part over with—it’s no secret. My dog, Maxi dies.” I am not sure that really prepares me for when it happens in the book (it did not because I sobbed for a couple of minutes) but I knew the lessons like–#51 “Best friends are forever friends. They make you laugh and cry and laugh some more—even the ones who have moved on.”–would definitely make this story touch my heart and it did!
By Karen Rivers
New York: Algonquin Young Readers, 2017.
Genre: Realistic Fiction Grades: 5 and Up Pages: 279
Mischa is twelve years old, has two older “normal” sisters and her parents might just call her peculiar. Ish, as she is known by family and friends, wants nothing more than to be the first human to live on Mars. She is okay with being up their alone and can deal with the possibility of never coming back as long as she can be the first. First is important to Ish because she has always felt slightly inferior—even when she was adopted she felt her sister was chosen (because she is so adorable) and Ish was just the plain looking little sister who was just part of the package. Ish does not make friends easily; she does not have a sense of humor, often has headaches and is not materialistic. She had a best friend named Tig, who said they would always be friends no matter what but he moved away and she has not heard from him since. Now a nerdy kid has moved into his house; she is hopeful that he might be a friend until the first day of school when he makes fun of her! Then her headaches get worse until one day when she has a seizure and wets her pants right at school. All the kids laugh at her wetting herself. It was that time she is whisked off to the hospital and Ish’s life changes forever. Karen Rivers writes a heart wrenching story about friends, family and making sure you always stay right with the world. Never let a day pass when you do not right all your wrongs.
By Svetlana Chmakova
New York: Yen Press, 2017.
Genre: Graphic Novel Realistic Fiction Grades: 5 and Up Pages: 239
This is a great realistic fiction, graphic novel from the author who brought us Awkward. Yes, middle school students are very awkward but they are also brave! Author Chmakova likens middle school to one of the Top 10 Natural Disasters! Not only does main character Jensen agree but also he thinks he is in a video game where his mission is just to make it through each day… “without getting eaten by the game monsters…” Just who are those monsters? The math teacher who has no mercy for mediocre, the girls who laugh at him and the boys who bully him for being overweight. Therefore, each day he runs “the gauntlet” where the only safe spots are art club and the school newspaper. Jensen is the boy at school who sits alone at lunch and the one not picked for a group in class. However, today when the teacher asks for a volunteer to partner with Jensen, Jorge raises his hand and volunteers! Jorge is a big jock with a soft spot for those who get bullied and so Jensen begins to have some allies in school. This is a great book to help students establish some empathy as you feel the pain of being laughed at, being used and finally cheering as Jensen becomes brave enough to speak up for himself!
By Karen Harrington
New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2016.
Grades 5 and Up Realistic Fiction 344 Pages
Wayne Kovok is fact nerd! He loves to collect facts and whenever there is a lull in the conversation or when he gets anxious and doesn’t know what to say—he spouts out a fact! Now many might think him odd but not Sandy Showalter, the prettiest girl in his middle school—they actually went out!
Wayne tells the story in two parts—before and after. Before—when his divorced mom, retired drill sergeant grandfather who often is very critical of Wayne, and his Uncle Reed are out to lunch. They are all getting together before Uncle Reed gets deployed for the fourth time and life returns to normal.
Then there was a tragic event that makes Wayne get on a plane and on the return to home flight–the after begins. After—the plane crash. During a storm, a back part of their airplane comes apart leaving a gaping hole in the side of the plane. The pilot was able to crash land the plane and some survived; including Wayne and his mother. Wayne suffered a crushed windpipe and a large “L” shaped gash across his face. Wayne was left feeling a loser with survivors remorse, unable to speak and spout off facts. To make things worse his granddad moves in to help out and his estranged father continues to try and establish a relationship with Wayne.
You will not be disappointed in this story about family relationships and healing both physically and emotionally.
Not As We Know It
By Tom Avery
New York: Schwartz & Wade Books, 2015.
Grades 5 and Up Realistic Fiction 159 Pages
Ned and Jamie are twins but they don’t look much alike. Jamie is tall and healthy and Ned smaller and suffers with cystic fibrosis. This is a condition that causes recurrent lung infections which over time causes the lungs to fail. Ned’s breathing is getting worse day by day.
Mom decides to home school the boys to keep Ned away from other germs, granddad, a retired seaman, who teaches the boys geography and shares folktales from his time at sea. These tales include stories of merpeople and of other creatures great and small with mystical powers. Ned and Jamie love to take adventures along the seashore where they live which includes taking in treasures they find along the way and daydreaming about granddads stories. After a good storm and Ned feeling pretty good, the boys go off and find a treasure that both feel confident will change their lives. A creature that looks half human and half fish—they name him Leonard and store him secretly in the garage until it mends. Find out if this creature holds some mystical power that can fulfill both boys hopes and dreams.
A story that will touch your heart for sure!
By Shannon Hale and LeUyen Pham
New York: First Second, 2017.
Grades 3-6 Graphic Novel 213 pages
This amazing memoir is a great reminder to adults that one of the hardest parts of growing up is friends and to students—you are not alone when you struggle with friend relationships and where you fit in.
This is the story of New York Times Bestselling author Shannon Hale. She is portrayed as spunky red head who just wants real friends. But who are our real friends? Are they the popular group, new kids who move in, the ones who moved out? Shannon Hale makes these struggles come alive as she talks about the anxiety symptoms that began to manifest as result of trying to find real friends. This is a beautifully illustrated graphic novel!
The Goldfish Boy
By Lisa Thompson
New York: Scholastic Press, 2017.
Genre: Realistic Fiction / Mystery
Grades: 5 and up
Just what is it like to live with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder? Meet Matthew Corbin a twelve-year-old with OCD who in the beginning of the book has stopped attending school, barely communicates with his family and has completely shut out the outside world. His only connection to the outside world is his bedroom window and his computer. From my psychiatric nursing days, I learned people with OCD are often rigid, stubborn, perfectionists, preoccupied with rules, order and organization and often take no time for leisure or social activities. Lisa Thompson does a great job developing the character of Matthew. His need to have order in his world circles around his need to record habits of his neighbors; when they leave and return from work, who visits them, what lights they routinely turn on etc. To the reader this may seem like a complete waste of time but as the story develops and a toddler goes missing, Matthew might be the key to solving the kidnapping/murder of little two-year-old Teddy.
Matthew expresses his obsession of being germ free by his compulsion for cleanliness. What twelve-year-old would clean (actually disinfect) his entire room daily or sometimes more often. Read from page 14-16. That hardly seems harmful but when he washes his hands over and over and uses bleach to clean his hands become a bloody mess and it begins to incapacitate him.
The author does a fabulous job allowing you to get to know each neighbor their habits, their quirkiness and why each one is a suspect in the case of the missing toddler. She builds a great whodunit which will keep the reader guessing up to the very end!
The book is educational, compassionate and builds empathy!