Vardell says that contemporary realistic fiction is appropriate for and popular with “intermediate grade readers who want stories that seem true to life and characters with whom they can identify.” (p. 139)

I found it interesting that Vardell echoes what many experienced librarians have insisted time and again: that for tweens age is a major factor in their involvement in the story. This is to say that they typically prefer to read about protagonists who are about one to two years older than they are. I can see how this is true for many tweens, but I must say that it is my experience that some tweens actually prefer books with younger protagonists– these are usually the kids who are reluctant readers (and who may struggle with more difficult language in books for older kids) or kids who are less emotionally and physically mature than others their age, who take a certain comfort in reading the books of their “childhood” rather than looking forward. Some of these, (usually girls), may also be nostalgic for “the days of their youth” (in this case youth being back in grade two or three). However, I can see that what Vardell asserts is probably true for the majority of tweens, who are, as she says, ostensibly looking for “a glimpse of the growing up years ahead.” (p. 140)

Vardell mentions that studies of tween preferences show that that they have a preference for realistic fiction in the following categories (see below). Below each bulleted category I have listed some of the authors and titles she highlights as well worth reading and popular draws for kids and tweens.

  • self, family, friends
  • mysteries (in my opinion this section was someone dated in terms of authors and titles mentioned, and bears some more research)
    • Nancy Drew series
    • Hardy Boys series
    • Ellen Raskin
    • Zilpha Keatley Snyder
    • Avi
  • adventure and survival stories
    • Gary Paulsen
    • Carl Hiaasen
  • animal stories
  • sports stories
    • Matt Christopher
    • Mike Lupica
    • John H. Ritter
    • Gary Soto
    • Dan Gutman
  • humorous writing
    • Beverly Cleary
    • Judy Blume
    • Betsy Bryars
    • Sara Pennypacker
    • Lisa Yee
    • Lauren Child
    • Jack Gantos
    • Andrew Clements

On page 143, there is a section written by international school librarian Mia Steinkamp, in which she discusses an intriguing idea for developing more connections between youth and literature at the library. This idea is the “Readers Theater Club.” Steinkamp says that scripts for well-known and loved works of contemporary realistic fiction are freely found on the Internet, and can be used as a basis for a Readers Theatre Club. Here is how Steinkamp organizes her club:

  1. pass out scripts to all participants and have them highlight their own part
  2. give them time to read the script silently to get to know the story and get used to the language (also an opportunity to sound out difficult words)
  3. divide them into groups who will present together and give them time to practice with their group
  4. they then present their story to the rest of the club – and perhaps even to a larger audience!

The beauty of this type of program is that it yields a high level of active participation and engagement with a minimal input of energy and preparation. No actual “acting” is necessary, so there is no need for a stage, so this can be done even in a library (like mine) that has limited space. Simultaneously, it seems to me that the amount of potential satisfaction and excitement that this activity can create is incredibly high, as long as care is taken to choose the right stories and scripts for the children and tweens.

While Steinkamp says that the majority of children participating in her Readers’ Theatre club are in second through fourth grade, I think this would be a great activity for my Creative Writers group (consisting of 5th graders and middle school students) to try, as they are a verbally active bunch, and would love the opportunity to try telling a story in this manner. This could also be a bridge activity to a future writing activity.

One point made by Vardell that will stay with me as I read and evaluate various works of realistic fiction for children and tweens is that contemporary realistic fiction needs to reflect “society and the child’s place in it.” (Vardell quoting Tunnell and Jacobs’ 2008 work, Children’s Literature, Briefly.) Vardell goes on to say,”Child readers, in particular, want a book that is realistic, and will often discard novels that are overtly didactic or moralistic, in favor of stories with strong character, exciting plots, and subtle themes.” (p. 158)