Realistic Fiction Booktalks Part 1

This month’s theme for the 3rd/4th grade book talk is Realistic Fiction. A huge genre and a with a broad range of reading levels in this group makes this a challenge. I am going to include some classic titles, some newer titles, and some so new I had to call down to cataloging/processing to ask if they could rush it for the program! I plan on bringing a whole bunch of books, with a book list, but only focusing on a few highlights.

I think I’ll start with one of my favorite picture books, which I think this grade level will appreciate, plus is applicable. It’s Not Fair by Amy Krouse Rosenthal covers all the ways that life is not fair, from your brother getting the bigger half of the cookie, to the babies in bassinets complaining about how unfair they’ve gotten it in life. In some ways this is realistic fiction: all the things in life that are unfair in one way or another.

Zelly in When Life Gives You O.J. thinks life is pretty unfair, not only did her family move to Vermont, but her loud obnoxious grandfather Ace has moved in–and to top it all off her parents still wont let her get the one thing she wants more then anything–a dog! One day her grandfather tells her he has a plan to solve her problem and get her that dog she wants, Zelly just has to agree to do EXACTLY what he tells her to do. Of course she agrees–she wants that dog! But then he gives her an empty O.J. jug and tells her it is the answer–but what does orange juice have to do with dogs? Ace tells Zelly it will be a “practice dog,” and that if she can show her parents she can take care of it, then they might relent on the real dog issue. Zelly is skeptical–how can she treat the O.J. jug like a real dog, it is nothing alike! Ace tells her she has to feed it and water it (put food and water inside the jug) and take it on walks three times a day (twice to empty out the food and water and once for exercise) and she has to pick up the pretend poo. While Zelly really wants a dog, she is not sure that anything is worth the embarrassment of walking down the street dragging an orange juice carton. But she gave her word she’d do whatever her grandfather told her to do to get the dog, so she agrees. To find out what happens when Zelly takes on her practice pet, and to see if she ever gets a real dog, read When Life Gives You O.J. by Erica Perl.

Unlike Zelly, Peter in Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing already has the pet of his dreams Dribble, that’s not his problem. His mom isn’t his problem either, even though she is convinced that Dribble stinks, and makes Peter wash up a million times before she’s satisfied he’s clean. No, Peter’s problem is his brother Fudge. In Peter’s own words:

If you’ve ever had an annoying little sibling, or been one, you might enjoy reading about the crazy things Fudge does that Peter has to put up with–especially to poor Dribble.

While Peter makes no secret of the fact his brother drives him crazy, Jack in Small as an Elephant keeps his family problems hidden. When he wakes up on the first day of vacation in Maine and his mom is gone–along with all of the camping equipment, the car, and the food and money–he knows he can’t tell anyone. If he does they’ll never have the chance to be together again, so Jack sets off to find his mom. Relying on his wits and luck, Jack has to survive on his own, while looking for his mom, and keeping the fact that she is missing at all a secret. How long do you think you could survive with no money, no food, no parents, far away from your home and the people you know? To find out how Jack survives, and if he finds his mom, and what the big secret is, as well as figuring out about the small elephant Jack carries with him read Small as an Elephant by Jennifer Jacobson.

Zitally’s father also had a secret–he wasn’t in the country legally–and when the cops pulled him over they sent him back to Mexico. She’s worried about him, far away, alone, and wonders if he will try to rejoin them, and if he does will he be safe. One day, as she’s wandering in the junk yard behind the trailer park where she lives, she finds a beautiful dog chained to a rusted out heap of junk. Starved, wounded, and afraid, the dog seems to have been left for dead. Zitally slowly befriends the dog, nursing it back to health. Right as she receives news that her father has been kidnapped while trying to return to them, Zitally finds that her dog has also mysteriously disappeared. Will she ever find her missing dog? Will her father be safe? To find out read Star in the Forest.

Ruby Lu’s life also changes due to immigration–when her aunt and uncle and cousin move from China to stay with them. But for Ruby it is pretty much a party every day–she gets to show her cousin Flying Duck off to all of the neighborhood kids, and be a smile buddy at school. But not everything goes right, even for the self proclaimed “Empress of Everything.” Ruby has a list of tasks to conquer this summer, including dreaded swimming lessons, and getting along with her grumpy neighbor. But if she’s lucky it also might include a new furry friend. To find out all about Ruby Lu’s adventures read Ruby Lu, Empress of Everything.

Like Ruby hated swimming, Jack in Love that Dog started out hating poetry. As he wrote:

I don’t want to

Because boys

Don’t write poetry.

Girls do.

But he finds that boys can write poetry, and that while some poems might not ring any bells for you, sometimes a poem can help you express your feelings better then just plain words. And while it takes a while for Jack to get around to it, he finds he can write about his dog where he could not speak about him. To find out about Jack’s dog, and how poetry can be cool for boys and girls, read Love that Dog.

While Jack wasn’t sure if he should listen to his teacher and write poems about what he was feeling, Tommy in The Strange Case of Origami Yoda isn’t sure if he should listen to one of his classmates. See Dwight has what may be called the most unusual pet of all the kids in these books–stranger than a small elephant, or even an O.J. practice dog–he has an origami Yoda. That’s right, he has a piece of paper folded in the shape of Yoda that he carries around with him. And what is worse, it talks. Well, Dwight talks for it, but Yoda says stuff, and when people listen, sometimes good stuff happens. So Tommy needs to know if he should take the origami yoda’s advice. In order to figure this out, he gets all the kids he can find who had a origami yoda experience write down what happened to them. He hopes that by looking at all the evidence he can decide if he should take the advice. To find out for yourself if Origami Yoda has wisdom that Tommy should follow, read The Strange Case of Origami Yoda by Tom Angleberger.


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