Realistic fiction is a wide genre with many subgenres. Each subgenre shares the characteristic of believability. While the stories are fictional, readers feel that they could have happened, making the story, in many instances, relatable and approachable to the reader. Because the genre has evolved to reflect real life challenges, it has also become increasingly inclusive and discusses heavier, sometimes more controversial topics.
According to Tunnel (2016) subgenres within the realistic fiction genre include animals, humor, mysteries, problem novels, school and family novels, series books, sports, and survival and adventure. There is certainly overlap within these genres – and readers who enjoy one set of books may in turn discover a whole new, but related, genre. For example, many serieses for young readers are about animals. Readers who are fans of the Puppy Place series by Ellen Miles, may also enjoy other animal stories such as Beverly Cleary’s Strider. Fans of the Matt Christopher Sports Classics series, may also be drawn to books like Jerry Spinelli’s Crash.
Problem novels focus on serious or challenging situations. These include topics that were historically considered off limits for young readers until the 1960s, when literature for youth changed reflecting societal changes. Topics like disabilities, prejudice, and bullying are now dealt with regularly in realistic fiction stories such as Freak the Mighty by Rodman Philbrick.
School & Family Novels
Fans of problem novels may also be drawn to school and family novels, as the settings and characters may be similar. Though, generally, the problems in school and family novels are not as severe as one typically finds in the problem novel genre. Andrew Clements author of beloved books such as The Landry News and Frindle, writes about realistic characters in familiar accessible school and home settings. Many school and family stories are also humorous. Stories like Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing include hysterical, yet highly believable characters. Young readers think, “At least my little brother isn’t that bad!” Humor is an understandably popular genre with young readers, and is often a way to engage reluctant readers.
Survival & Adventure Stories
Survival and adventure stories push readers past what they may have actually experienced in their own lives, but remain believable and plausible enough that they could have happened. Gary Paulsen’s Hatchet and the subsequent books in this series are exciting examples of the genre. When readers are introduced to Brian, they learn that Hatchet shares some of the characteristics of a problem novel – infidelity, divorce, and death, but the overriding story is one of adventure and survival in an unfamiliar wilderness.
Mysteries, like adventure stories, may be unfamiliar to readers – and may include problems that are outside the realm of a typical child’s personal experiences, but they feel authentic and conceivable to the reader. Characters are often relatable. Even a prodigious genius like Encyclopedia Brown is curious like his readers. By sharing solutions to the mysteries, Sobol lets readers in on the secrets, and engages them in the story – adding to the realism.
Realistic fiction is an understandably popular genre drawing in readers of all ages because it feels credible and familiar.
Tunnel, Michael O., Jacobs, J. S., Young, T.A., & Bryan, G. (2016). Children’s Literature Briefly (6th ed.). Boston, MA: Pearson.