Staff Picks 4 Kids Category: Realistic Stories

Sam the Man & the Chicken Plan by Frances O’Roark Dowell

Cover image for Sam the Man & the chicken planEveryone else in his family has a job. Sam wants to earn money too, so he turns to his neighbors to see if they need help doing chores. He lands himself not one, but two jobs! –walking cranky old Mr. Stockfish, as well as helping Mrs. Kerner care for her chickens. Luckily, Sam the Man has a knack for watching chickens, and sets out to get a chicken of his own– one that lays blue eggs, which he can then sell to his classmates to make even MORE money! What will Sam the Man do with all his earnings?

Book reviewed by Erin E., Youth Services Programming Coordinator

Blind Guide to Stinkville by Beth Vrabel

Cover image for A blind guide to StinkvilleImagine moving across the country and leaving your best friend when your Dad gets a new job. Now imagine doing all of that with a depressed mom who barely gets out of bed and an older brother who barely speaks to you. Oh, you are also blind and have albinoism. Sound rough? Well, Alice handles it all like a champion and proves along the way the difference between having a vision and having sight.

Book reviewed by Keary B., Youth Collection Librarian

I am Drums by Mike Grosso

Cover image for I am drumsDrums are Sam’s life. She hears music everywhere she goes, even when she is dreaming. She even makes her own drum kit out of her encyclopedias and her Calvin and Hobbes books so she can practice all the time. Sam wants to become a better drummer, and she has to figure out how she can pay for lessons. This story is funny, sad, and cool.

Book reviewed by Anne W., Youth Services Assistant

Save Me a Seat by Sarah Weeks

Cover image for Save me a seatImagine starting fifth grade at a new school in a new country. It’s tough! Ravi, who has just moved from India, is stunned to learn that his classmates and teacher at Albert Einstein Elementary do not seem impressed by his previous stellar grades, popularity among his former classmates, and his athletic prowess at cricket. At first, he feels his only hope for climbing the social ladder involves befriending Dillon Samreen, an outgoing classmate. Joe, a fellow student who sits behind Ravi, is bullied frequently by Dillon and notices that he has his sights now set on Ravi. With viewpoints of Ravi and Joe alternating every chapter, you’ll root for each one as they both do their best to navigate life in the fifth grade.

Book reviewed by Amy M., Youth Services Assistant

As Brave As You by Jason Reynolds

Cover image for As brave as youEleven-year old Genie and his older brother Ernie are sent to live with their grandparents in rural Virginia for the summer while their parents go on a trip to work on their relationship. Coming from Brooklyn, and barely knowing their grandparents, this comes as a shock– there is no internet, no TV, and they have to do chores, including shoveling dog poop! What also comes as a shock is that Grandpop is blind. Genie has so many questions, about Grandpop and just about everything else. From, “Where do crickets go when it rains?” and “Why am I so stupid?” To, “How does [Grandpop] match his clothes?” and “Why would a blind man have a gun?” Genie keeps a notebook of these burning questions and also grills Grandpop at every opportunity…especially about the private room he calls his “nunya bidness” room and also why Grandpop never leaves the house. The dialogue and growing bond between Genie and Grandpop is hilarious and heartwarming. Readers learn about generations of family and community issues, as Genie and Ernie question what it means to be brave. This book is one of my favorites of the year because it just feels so real, and is also one of the best audiobooks I’ve listened to in a while. Reader Guy Lockard has the perfect intonation and pace.

Book reviewed by Erin E., Youth Services Programming Coordinator

Absolutely Almost by Lisa Graff

Cover image for Absolutely almostAlbie is not the smartest in his class or the best at sports or even the greatest artist. In fact, Albie is considered “almost.” When he gets his spelling test and doesn’t get an “A” on it, it’s “almost” an “A” to his Dad. The fact that his favorite book series is Captain Underpants and not the book, Johnny Tremaine, is an “almost” since his mom thinks he should be reading something harder. The same for all the other things he does. When his parents send Albie to a new school, he thinks that maybe he can finally be better than “almost,” but that’s before he meets the bullies in his class. However, then his parents hire a new babysitter for him after school named Calista.  Calista doesn’t think he is an “almost,” but rather that he is good and that he has talent. Sometimes, you just need to work really hard to make that talent shine. However, soon Calista is gone, the bullies are at school are starting to be meaner, and his parents just don’t understand him. Albie realizes that he needs to be the good kid Calista thinks he is, but can he do it?

Book reviewed by Laura B. Youth Technology Librarian

Booked by Kwame Alexander

Cover image for BookedThis novel-in-verse follows Nick, a boy who LOVES soccer and has a crush on April,  a girl at his school.  When a double-whammy comes up in his life in the form of his parents deciding to separate (with his mom moving away) and an emergency stay in the hospital, Nick struggles with staying calm and facing his fears.  Nick wants things to be like they were before, but that isn’t an option anymore.  If you enjoy lightning-fast reads that take place in a school setting, this one’s for you!

Book reviewed by Amy M., Youth Services Assistant

The Girl in the Well is Me by Karen Rivers

Cover image for The girl in the well is meEleven-year-old Kammie only wanted to be friends with the popular girls. When they say she has to pass an initiation to join their club, Kammie agrees and lets them cut off her hair. Next, she follows their demands to stand on top of some boards that cover a well, and she falls through. The girls try half-heartedly to help her, but then they run off. As it grows darker, Kammie doesn’t know whether they have gone to get help or if she’ll die alone in the well. Cold, hungry, thirsty, and scared, Kammie begins to imagine that a French-speaking coyote, goats, and all kinds of creepy-crawlies are in the well with her. During this time Kammie also reflects on her past: her dad, who is in prison for stealing money from a fund to help children with cancer; her older brother Robby, who used to be nice until he turned 14 and her former home and friends before moving to “Nowheresville, Texas.”

If you like stories about trying to fit in and finding your true friends—and with a little bit of suspense—check out The Girl in the Well is Me.

Book reviewed by Dana F., Assistant Head of Youth Services

Listen, Slowly by Thanhha Lai

Cover image for Listen, slowlyMai is ready for summer vacation in California. She plans to spend it on the beach with her best friend and maybe even talk to the guy she likes, but her parents have other ideas. Mai’s family is from Vietnam. Her grandmother left with her children after the Vietnam War. Her grandfather was never found after the war. Now, a detective thinks he has found some information on what happened to her grandfather and her grandmother wants to return to Vietnam for answers. Mai’s parents insist that Mai accompany her grandmother on the trip, which means no beach for Mai. Soon, Mai is in Vietnam, a place she considers hot, smelly, and with a lot of extended family. She doesn’t speak the language well and Vietnam is very different than California. It’s even worse when she finds out that her best friend in California is on the beach hanging with the guy she likes. If only the detective and grandmother could work something out. Then, she would get to go home, but that doesn’t seem likely. Now, she must try to find a balance between California life and Vietnam life, and maybe even try to give Vietnam and her extended family a chance.

Book reviewed by Laura B. Youth Technology Librarian

Lost in the Sun by Lisa Graff

Cover image for Lost in the sunIn Lost in the Sun by Lisa Graff, 12-year-old Trent used to love sports and had lots of friends, but 6 months ago all that changed—a boy died after getting hit in the chest with a hockey puck. And guess who hit that hockey puck? So Trent is having a rough year to say the least. His tense visits with his standoffish dad aren’t helping. His homeroom teacher, who he calls the “wrinkled old crone,” forcing him to water her plants after school isn’t helping. The only things that may be helping are his “Book of Thoughts” and the unexpected friendship that’s springing up with Fallon Little, the outcast girl with the scar across her face. Lost in the Sun is a heartfelt and emotional story from a boy’s point of view, with a little bit of sports thrown in.

Book reviewed by Erin E., Youth Services Programming Coordinator