Archive for Realistic Fiction

Fly Away by Patricia MacLachlan

Fly AwayLucy can’t sing. She wishes she could, but she just can’t seem to carry a tune. Her sister Gracie has a lovely voice. Even her brother Teddy who is not quite 2 and who hardly even talks, can sing perfectly in tune. However, only Lucy really knows that Teddy can sing at all. It’s their secret until a family crisis brings his talents to light. Every year Lucy and her family pack up their van, chickens and all, and go to help her mom’s aunt Frankie in North Dakota during the rainy season when the river floods. This year the raging river looks particularly fierce to young Lucy. When little Teddy goes missing one afternoon it is up to Lucy to overcome her fear of not only the river, but also singing, in order to find him.

In Fly Away Patricia MacLachlan has captured the essence of the child’s point of view beautifully. Told from Lucy’s perspective, the family trip to Aunt Frankie’s takes on a childlike wonder. While the flooding river and the storms that cause it are certainly precarious, Lucy’s perspective adds a level of intensity that is specific to her youth. In addition, something as simple as her inability to sing carries extra feeling because we are experiencing the emotions through Lucy’s filter.

Fly Away is a short, but moving story about what it means to be part of a family and accepting the talents we have been given instead of lamenting those we have not. It would make a good choice for fans of Arnold Lobel’s Frog and Toad books or Tomie DePaola’s memoir series. Readers who enjoy Fly Away should also try MacLachlan’s White Fur Flying as well.

Posted by: Staci

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Finding Ruby Starling by Karen Rivers

Finding Ruby StarlingAs someone who bears almost no resemblance to any members of my (awesome) family, I am fascinated by siblings who look alike, and by people who ‘look’ Irish or German or like they come from some other country. I’ve always wanted to find out that I look like someone.

Ruth Quayle isn’t really expecting to find out that she looks like anyone — she just using FaceTrace, an Internet bot that searches for pictures that match her own. What she doesn’t expect to find are several pictures of someone who looks exactly like her, but ISN’T her. The mystery girl is Ruby Starling, who lives in England, and, since Ruth is adopted, just might be Ruth’s identical twin sister.

Ruby isn’t sure who this crazy person sending her emails is, and her mother has DEFINITELY never mentioned that she gave away one of her babies. But her artist mother is kind of flighty . . . and Ruby’s birth DID take place in America . . . and maybe Ruby and Ruth really ARE identical twins!

Finding Ruby Starling is one of the most engaging, heart-warming — and HILARIOUS — books that I’ve read all year. Written entirely in the form of emails, letters and Tumblr posts, the book perfectly delineates the two girls’ separate lives, and shows how similar — and how different — they are. Ruth’s best friend Jedgar, with whom she makes YouTube horror movies, is contrasted with Ruby’s older, fashionable friend Fiona. Ruth’s zany-yet-loving parents (a paleontologist and a heart-surgeon) are contrasted with Ruby’s artist/sculptor mother, and her recently deceased, very English Nan.

Very few books can make you laugh uproariously while still touching your heart, but this book succeeds perfectly. It is, as Ruth would say, Totes Amazeballs!

Posted by: Sarah

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Ungifted by Gordon Korman

UngiftedNo one would ever call Donovan Curtis a gifted student. In fact, even average might be considered a generous label for Donovan’s academic abilities. However, when a seemingly harmless prank goes horribly wrong and there is a mix-up with some paperwork in the Superintendent’s office, Donovan Curtis finds himself on a very prestigious list of students who are being transferred to the Academy of Scholastic Distinction. Not wanting to ruin a good thing (or face the consequences of his actions), Donovan does his best to skate by under the radar in his new school for as long as possible, but being ungifted in a class of geniuses is not easy to hide. As his teachers and fellow classmates grow more and more suspicious, Donovan must work harder to become an indispensible member of the robotics team and his class in general or face being found out as an impostor or worse. Along the way, Donovan’s new classmates, teachers, and even his family come to realize that people are gifted in a variety of ways, and sometimes it can be the least likely addition that can make all the difference. Donovan may not be book smart, but he knows plenty about being average, and average may be exactly what the students at the Academy really need.

Told from multiple points of view, Ungifted is more than just the story of Donovan trying to keep his head above water at the Academy of Scholastic Distinction. Unlikely friendships are formed, fences are mended, and stereotypes are smashed in this clever, funny and often heart-warming story of friendship and acceptance. Gordon Korman does a wonderful job giving each narrator a distinct voice. Donovan and his classmates are the stars of the story, but even among those stars, super-genius Noah Youkilis is a stand-out with his quirky fashion sense, obsession for trying to get kicked out of the Academy, and a newly ignited passion for wrestling. This is a fun, fast-paced read for middle school students looking for realistic fiction along the lines of Wonder without the heavy subject matter.

Posted by: Staci

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The Categorical Universe of Candice Phee by Barry Jonsberg

Categorical Universe of Candice PheeCandice Phee marches to the beat of her own drummer. Candice might tell you, though, that she doesn’t see any drummers around, and that she’s sitting still at the moment, thank you. Candice is very literal, and very sure of her world. She knows quite well that none of her schoolmates like her, but she likes everyone anyway. I’ve seen several reviews which assert (as does Candice’s friend Douglas Benson’s mother) that she must be autistic, or somewhere ‘on the spectrum.’ Candice’s response? “I’m me.”

Candice’s outlook may be generally positive, but this doesn’t mean her world is an easy one–her baby sister died of SIDS; her mother has had a double masectomy and is (understandably) suffering from depression; her father had a business blow-up with Rich Uncle Brian before Candice was born, and has been frustrated in his job ever since. More than anything else, Candice wants to fix her family. She knows it won’t be easy, but she has to try. And when Douglas Benson confides that he believes that he is from another dimension and needs to get back to his real family, Candice is skeptical, but can’t quite bring herself to NOT believe him.

Candice is one of the most endearing, engrossing characters that I’ve read about in a long time. From her hilarious interactions with her teachers (regular and substitute) to her philosophical worries about her pet fish (does the fish think of her as a deity? Is it ethical for her to allow the fish to think so?), to her heartfelt attempts to heal her family’s wounds, every moment in this lovely novel was affecting. The book comes to a satisfying conclusion, so there’s no reason for the author to write a sequel, but I wouldn’t be at all upset to spend more time with Candice.

Posted by: Sarah

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All Four Stars by Tara Dairman

All Four StarsIt’s the end of August, and school is starting (or has already started!) everywhere in the country. Starting school can be busy and chaotic, and not a little bit stressful. What’s the best way to combat that? A light, fun, cheerful book!

10-year-old Gladys Gatsby loves to cook — but her parents don’t care ANYTHING about good food. They prefer badly-microwaved things that are simultaneously overcooked, mushy, raw and rock-hard-crunchy. Gladys has to sneak around and cook delectable dishes (like creme brulee!) behind her parents’ backs, but nothing stays a secret forever. When disaster strikes and her parents forbid her to do any cooking (or reading about cooking or watching T.V. shows about cooking) whatsoever, her life seems ruined (and a lot less tasty).

Little does Gladys know it, but things are about to look up for her. A fabulous new teacher, Ms. Quincy, assigns her class at school to write an essay on their hopes for the future, to be submitted to the New York Standard’s state-wide essay contest. Due to a series of misunderstandings and erroneous assumptions, Gladys’ essay is misplaced and is assumed to be an application for a job — the job of restaurant critic for the New York Standard!

How will Gladys — who lives in a suburb an hour away from New York, has no transportation, and, let’s not forget, is forbidden by her parents to have anything to do with cooking — manage to get her reviews written? Who can she rely on to help her? Gladys discovers that she has more friends — young and old — than she thought she did, and makes other friends where she would never have expected to.

All Four Stars is a rollicking good read, with fun characters, a delightful setting, and just enough zaniness to be appealing while remaining realistic. It’s just the sort of book to leave a smile on your face after a long, hard day. If only every copy came with a serving or two of the delicious desserts that Gladys makes — THAT would be perfect!

Posted by: Sarah

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Road Trip by Gary Paulsen & Jim Paulsen

Road TripNothing says “Summer” like a good old fashioned family road trip! Now take that family road trip, throw in a reformed juvenile delinquent, a feisty waitress, an ornery auto mechanic, and an introspective border collie, put them on a big yellow school bus, and send them off to rescue a puppy. What do you get? You get Road Trip, a fun summer read by Gary Paulsen and Jim Paulsen!

Road Trip is the first collaborative effort by prolific author Gary Paulsen and his sculptor son Jim. Similar to a game of Exquisite Corpse, the father-son duo took turns writing chapters and sending them back and forth to one another. As they did, the story and characters grew in ways neither could have expected. Despite what might sound like a disjointed writing method, the Paulsens manage to maintain a cohesive feel to this short novel. Quirky characters abound throughout this madcap story of a father and son struggling to understand one another. Road Trip is a perfect quick read for vacationing 5th graders and up. Perhaps it will even inspire an impromptu road trip or two along the way.

Posted by: Staci

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The Five Lives of Our Cat Zook by Joanne Rocklin

The Five Lives of Our Cat ZookYou probably have deduced from the title that this book has a pet with questionable health and are ready to move on to the next review because you don’t like sad stories about animals…but please don’t! This is a certainly a story that features a very sick cat, but also manages to be a feel good story, a slice of Oakland, CA urban life, a sweeping fairy tale, a love story, and realistic tale about a 10-year-old girl navigating her world.

Oona Armstrong is that 10 year-old girl and her life is a complicated one. Her father passed away after a long battle with cancer, her 5 year-old brother Freddy just recently started talking and eating again after the loss of their father, and her cat, Zook (short for Zucchini) is very old and very sick, and her mother has a new boyfriend named Dylan, but Oona refers to him only has “The Villian.”

Oona copes by telling whoppers; so many whoppers that she has a color coding system for all of the different types of whoppers she tells. The best whoppers are the stories she creates for Freddy. Fairy tales that are crafted from memories their father told her that help explain the world to a 5 year-old, including the four lives prior to the one that their cat Zook is currently living.

Oona’s whoppers get her into some trouble, but they also make her and Freddy’s life much more bearable and the beauty of this book is watching how those whoppers eventually help her family move on from very tough times. We have to experience some sorrow to find joy and this book is a perfect example of that.

Posted by: Kelly

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Charlie Joe Jackson’s Guide to Not Reading by Tommy Greenwald

Charlie Joe Jackson's Guide to Not ReadingCharlie Joe Jackson is in middle school and he has never read an entire book cover to cover. In fact he does everything he can to avoid reading. Luckily, Charlie Joe’s friend Timmy has been a huge help to his non-reading habits. For the past two years, Charlie Joe buys Timmy an ice cream sandwich and in exchange Timmy explains what happens in the books they are required to read for school. This agreement is perfect for Charlie Joe, until Timmy decides he is no longer happy with their arrangement. To make matters worse, he has a huge position paper due at the end of the school year that involves a lot of research. A lot of research means reading a lot of books. Charlie Joe comes up with a creative scheme to keep his perfect record of non-reading. However, he knows this scheme could get him into a big trouble while also pushing away the girl he has had a crush on since kindergarten.

Tommy Greenwald has written a humorous story about a child who simply does not enjoy reading. I am someone who loves to read so this title immediately caught my attention. Charlie Joe is a likeable character who will appeal to many children. Throughout the book Greenwald includes twenty-five of Charlie Joe’s non-reading tips, though at times Charlie Joe doesn’t follow his own instructions. Comical illustrations are woven throughout the book to further enhance the story’s appeal. This book would be a great choice for any middle school child who is a reluctant reader. If you enjoy this book, you can read more about Charlie Joe’s antics in Charlie Joe Jackson’s Guide to Extra Credit and Charlie Joe Jackson’s Guide to Summer Vacation.

Posted by: Katie

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The Year of Billy Miller by Kevin Henkes

Year of Billy MillerBilly Miller is about to begin 2nd grade and he is worried. He’s worried that he won’t be smart enough; especially after hearing his dad read the letter from his new teacher saying how 2nd grade will be a “wonderful, exciting challenge.” It’s the word “challenge” that worries Billy.

Billy gets off to what he worries might be a rocky start with his teacher, Ms. Silver, who is wearing red chopsticks in her hair on the 1st day of school. He feels his joke of making “devil’s horns” with red crayons could have been misunderstood and that Ms. Silver might have thought he was making fun of her. After thinking about how he can make things right with her, he comes up with an idea to give her a special gift to show her that he really is a nice boy.

Papa, an artist, is also a stay-at-home Dad who takes care of Billy and his younger sister. Billy struggles with how to tell Papa that he wants to start calling him Dad, instead of calling him by the childish name of Papa. The conversation goes great and Dad takes the name change like a champ! Billy is also somewhat responsible for helping his Father with a much needed breakthrough in his art work.

His sister, Sal, may not be his favorite person, but Billy hopes she will help him with his master plan of staying awake all night. Their parents are away overnight and Billy patiently waits for their babysitter to go to sleep before he quietly creeps into his sister’s room. He wakes her up to be his “stay up all night” partner and entertains her to keep them both awake. They make it to about midnight before drifting to sleep.

Toward the end of the school year, the 2nd graders are going to put on a show about Families and each student will recite or read an original poem that they have written for a special person. Billy struggles with who to write about, but finally chooses his Mother. He discovers that writing a poem isn’t exactly easy. Armed with some advice from his teacher, he spends some wonderful moments with his Mother discovering some things about her that are “poem worthy.” Billy Miller’s poem entitled “Quiet Mom” couldn’t be sweeter and more heartfelt.

This book is divided into four separate episodes that are each devoted to a significant person in Billy’s life – Teacher, Father, Sister and Mother. There are many humorous and heartwarming moments that are delightful to read about from the viewpoint of Billy, who is a very sensitive and thoughtful 7-year- old boy. It would be a great read aloud, especially to someone about to enter 2nd grade.

Posted by: Wendy

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Ling and Ting: Not Exactly the Same! by Grace Lin

Ling and Ting are twins. They have the same hair, same smile and same eyes, but don’t let those similarities fool you – they are not exactly the same. Ling likes books about dogs, but Ting loves fairytales. Ling struggles with using chopsticks, while Ting finds chopsticks to be very easy to use. Ling is very good at sitting still and concentrating, but Ting has a tendency to be a bit more fidgety and forgetful. Each chapter of this amusing episodic book tells a different story to illustrate just how not the same these two twins really are.

Grace Lin manages to create adorable, relatable characters and place them into entertaining situations while maintaining a reading level appropriate for those who are still honing their reading skills. The cheerful, clear illustrations add charm to the story, provide helpful clues for decoding potential trouble words and, thanks to a mishap while at the barbershop in the first chapter, knowing which girl is Ling and which is Ting. Fans of Biscuit, Henry and Mudge, and the Elephant and Piggy books who are looking for a bit more of a challenge should definitely give Ling and Ting a try. If you like this one, make sure to read Ling and Ting Share a Birthday as well.

Click here for a link to a book trailer on Grace Lin’s website for Ling and Ting.

Posted by: Staci

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