Reading Set #3 – Contemporary Realistic Fiction


Chapter 5 – Contemporary Realistic Fiction –  Reflection

The genre of realistic fiction is a popular one, especially with middle to upper elementary aged children.  It has characters and plots that children can identify with.   The age that children begin to prefer these books coincides with the stage at which they are starting to explore their own identity more deeply.  In addition, they are being to understand adult relationships, emotions, and behaviors, but because they have not completely left the self-centeredness of early childhood, they focus on how these relationships affect them.  For example, a family divorce might make a child feel that their opinion doesn’t matter, a special needs family member might make them feel pushed aside, the loss of a family member, friend, or pet might make them fear their own mortality, and a new neighbor might make their heart skip a beat.

Readers of this age might not have huge social circles of their own, they might not know a real person who is experiencing the same thing, and that’s when the value of a good realistic fiction book really increases.  A character in a book who is experiencing a similar problem or situation can be used as a role model of what to do, or in some cases what not to do.  An added bonus for the reader is that they are able to see how the character handles the problem all the way through its resolution in a relatively short amount of reading time.  Adopting some of the coping mechanisms might truly help the reader, but in most cases simply reading about someone who is like them is all the reader needs not to feel isolated and/or different.

Because of the psychological impact these written works can have on children, authors have a responsibility to ensure the plots give readers hope that things are going to be okay.  The themes of these types of books are also very important as well.  The good guy wins in the end, things aren’t as valuable as relationships, and there’s always a silver lining to every cloud.  The reader should be left with a sense of closure, an idea of what’s important, and a thirst for another book.

Vardell, S.M. (2008).  Children’s literature in action:  a librarian’s guide. Westport, Conn.:  Libraries Unlimited.


dear mr. Henshaw Author: Beverly Cleary henshaw

Cleary, B. (1983). Dear Mr. Henshaw. New York, NY: Morrow.

Dear Mr. Henshaw is a chapter book written as a series of letter the narrator, Leigh Botts, writes to his favorite author, Mr. Henshaw.  The book covers several years of Leigh’s life in which time his parents divorce, and Leigh and his mother move to a new town and a very small new home.  At the suggestion of Mr. Henshaw, Leigh begins keeping a journal to record events in his life, his feelings towards them, and his attempt to make sense of the world around him.

Author Beverly Cleary says about her book that it was one of the first to tackle the difficult subject of divorce and the effects on the children of a broken home.  Family and divorce are just two of the themes in this book.  Leigh also experiences loss when his dad keeps his dog, Bandit after the divorce, and then loses him at a truck stop.  Many children can relate to the pain of a lost pet, and the sacrifices they have to make when parents divorce.  In addition, many children will be able to relate to Leigh’s financial situation.  He and his mom live on a very tight budget, in a small home, and in today’s world many children will understand what it is like to live in financially strained home environment.

Teachers can use this book to focus on inference skills. The reader only reads Leigh’s letters, and all of Mr. Henshaw’s replies are inferred.  Because this book is written as a series of letter, it can also be used to teach a lesson on parts of a letter and letter writing.  As an extension, students can write a letter to their favorite author.

Dear Mr. Henshaw Book Trailer

Complete audiobook available here:

Dear Mr. Henshaw, Part I

Dear Mr. Henshaw, Part 2

Dear Mr. Henshaw, Part 3

Interview with Beverly Cleary

On the Teachers Pay Teachers website there is a 36 page literature unit geared for Dear Mr. Henshaw, available for $2.00! What is wonderful about this set is that it includes graphic organizers that can be used for any fiction book.

Click on the link below to go to Scholastic’s website for a FREE lesson plan that includes comprehension questions.


out of my mind Author: Sharon M. Draper

out of my mind author

Draper, S. (2010). Out of my mind. New York, NY: Atheneum.

Melody Brooks is a brilliant eleven year old girl who is trapped in her own body.  Born with cerebral palsy, she has never been able to utter a word, although she’s pretty sure she has a photographic memory, and remembers many things vividly from her early childhood.  While her parents and neighbor are convinced that she is very bright, doctors and teachers don’t agree, and poor Melody is subjected to alphabet songs and nursery rhymes day in and day out.

With the help and encouragement of a new teacher and tutor, Melody’s family finally moves forward and gets her an electronic communication device that she can operate with the only part of her body she has control of:  her thumbs.  Eleven years of bottled up conversation and emotion emerges.  Soon Melody becomes an asset to her school’s competitive academic team, but their prejudice over her condition sabotage her shot in the spotlight.

Draper nails Melody’s character, and makes the reader reassess their views towards individuals with special needs.  Multiple themes are present in this novel, including coming of age, fear of loss, family bonds, inclusion, prejudice, acceptance, and determination.

Watch the book trailer here

If you are, or want to become a member of you can click on the link below for a complete literature unit devoted to Sharon Draper’s Out of My Mind.

On Teachers Pay Teachers, Marty-Pants offers a 22-page literature unit with awesome graphic organizers and manipulatives that is geared towards upper elementary and middle school students for $8.99.


untitled Author: Jeff Kinney

diary author

Kinney, J. (2007). Diary of a wimpy kid. New York, NY: Amulet Books.

Keeping a journal as he starts middle school is Greg Heffley’s mother’s idea, but soon he realizes what a time saver having his life story written down will be when he becomes rich and famous.  Greg’s self image isn’t quite on target in this humorous book, and he has a hard time seeing the flaws he points out on others in himself.  As soon as he enters the doors to his middle school, Greg realizes it’s a whole new world.  He wants to fit in regardless of the cost, which turns out to be turning his back on his best friend Rowley.  It takes Greg awhile to see what he’s been missing because he tends to blame others for his mistakes, but eventually he sees that the only way to survive middle school is by being a true friend.

Kinney’s humor is up to date with kids today, and his Greg’s 2nd person point of view makes you feel as if he talking to the reader and not his journal.  His black and white illustrations are comical and add another layer of humor to the already funny story.  Readers will be engaged throughout the story, and hooked on the series.

These books have many themes that can be reflected upon in class, and what better way than to write a “journal entry” as a response!

Diary of a Wimpy Kid book trailer

Q & A with author Jeff Kinney

Books Digital Diary of a Wimpy Kid Enrichment activities can be found on TeacherVision’s site by clicking here:

Diary of a Wimpy Kid Lesson Plans can be accessed here! rowley


rules Author: Cynthia Lord

rules author

Lord, C. (2008). Rules. New York, NY: Scholastic.

For a twelve year old, being viewed as normal is priceless, and Catherine doesn’t want anything more.  It’s a little more complicated for Catherine, however, because she has an autistic younger brother named David.  Catherine really wants to become friends with her popular neighbor, Kristi, so she comes up with a set of rules for her brother to follow to help him understand what “normal” is in the real world.  When she meets and befriends Jason, a nonverbal paraplegic who uses a book of pictures to communicate, Catherine’s idea of normal begins to shift.  She realizes that accepting others as they are is more important than a set of rules for “normal” behavior.

Lord’s book puts autism in the spotlight, exactly where it needs to be when diagnosed cases of autism are on the rise.  The theme of acceptance is so important because students with special needs are included in regular classrooms, and educators need to ensure that they are treated with respect and understanding.  Often ignorance is the root of bullying, and by introducing this topic with a novel, students are able to ask questions, communicate concerns, and learn how to become helpful instead of hurtful.

A character analysis of Catherine will show students that many of the characters in this genre have the same concerns and worries, even if their family units and situations are completely different.

See the movie trailer here:

In 2008, “New Rochelle Reads” Literature Festival offered a free reader’s guide that can be found here: RULES_Study_Guide


bridge Author: Katherine Paterson

bridge author

Paterson, K. (1972). Bridge to Terabithia. New York, NY: Crown.

Upon entering 5th grade, Jess Aarons competes in a race he is sure he going to win.  His hopes are dashed when his new neighbor, Leslie, zips to the finish line.  Even though he was disappointed, Jess and Leslie become best friends, and soon create an imaginary land called Terabithia in the woods near their home.  The pair had to cross a creek on a rope swing to get there and back each time, and after a rainy season Jess feels that crossing is too dangerous.  Always the brave one, Leslie decides to cross on her own one day when Jess is at a museum with his teacher, and has a fatal accident.  Jess is grief stricken and inconsolable, but he feels blessed having had Leslie in his life.  He begins to build a bridge to Terabithia, which connects him to Leslie, and welcomes in his closest sibling, May Belle.

The subject of death, especially of a young person, isn’t a subject that comes up too often in children’s literature.  Paterson does a wonderful job describing the grief process Jess goes through, and she explains in the video below that she used her own son’s experience of losing a friend to model it after.

Beyond death and loss, the themes of friendship, family, courage, religious beliefs, and social class can also be analyzed with this book.

There are plenty of kid-friendly resources that can be used during the novel study of Bridge to Terabithia by clicking on the link below:

The Book Umbrella offers a 32-page Bridge to Terabithia Novel Study that includes worksheets and printable for $6.50.  Available here:

Read Write Think’s website offers a free lesson guide with extension activities and printables.

Author visit with Katherine Paterson (SPOILER ALERT!  – Tip:  watch AFTER reading the novel!)

The following link will take teachers to Read Works. Read Works provides reading comprehension strategies. Here students have chapter by chapter questions.


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