Got a 6th grader or advanced elementary schooler who loves fiction rooted in reality? Then these realistic fiction books for 6th graders will interest you. Typically, 6th graders are new middle schoolers, many of whom are strong readers. Still, I like to recommend gentler fiction for kids in this age group. So on this list, you’ll find books that tackle serious issues in a sensitive way and some others that are just heaps of fun.
Look out for a graphic novel about moving and Black hair, a book about a house swap with many surprises, a story of a young Black boy who loves a good card game, and many more. I’ve added a little “award” containing subject/theme buzzwords for each book to help you match it to its perfect reader.
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20 Fantastic Realistic Fiction Books for 6th Graders
Here are 20 realistic fiction options for 6th graders:
For the Animal Lover
Published: March 2, 2021
Let’s start with this crowd-pleaser! Allergic is a sweet, realistic depiction of what it’s like to suffer with allergies. This graphic novel features stunning illustrations, a lovable protagonist, and a rambunctious family.
Maggie loves animals and has been waiting patiently to get a dog, only to discover that she’s allergic. She’s also dealing with a changing family in which she feels less and less like she belongs. Her two little brothers are seemingly obsessed with each other and couldn’t care less about her. Her mother is heavily pregnant and excited for the new baby.
Maggie starts getting shots to get her allergies under control while on the hunt for a hypoallergenic pet. Things appear to be looking up when Maggie meets Claire, an only child living with her single dad, who indulges her every whim. Claire is one grade above Maggie, but the two become fast friends — until Claire gets a dog.
For the Math Whiz
Published: September 7, 2021
This is a sadder but important middle grade book with moments of levity in theater, school friendships, and repairing a fractured family.
In the aftermath of her little brother’s death, Lucy and her parents move to a small town that is still healing from a school shooting four years ago. It’s jarring for Lucy to be around all these kids who lost friends when they were in the third grade, but it’s even harder because, unlike the situation in her home, the kids talk a lot about the shooting, their grief, and seeing therapists.
However, in all their sharing, the students have cast the shooter’s younger sister and their classmate, Avery — whom Lucy befriends — as an outsider. Will Lucy ever find her place and deal with her grief?
Funny with Plenty of Heart
No Fixed Address
Published: September 11, 2018
12-year-old Felix Knuttson is a sweet kid whose brain soaks up trivia like a sponge. His mom Astrid (whom he calls by her name), is loving but unreliable and can’t seem to hold on to a job or a house. When they lose their apartment in Vancouver, Astrid “borrows” a camper van from an ex and moves them in there “just for August” until she finds a job.
But September comes, and there’s still no job or house, and Felix needs an address to enroll in school. Astrid figures out a way to do that, but Felix can’t tell anyone about their home situation. At the new school, he makes two new friends and finds out about a trivia contest that might change their housing situation. Unfortunately, things don’t go as planned.
I loved this one so much but heads up for some content issues. Please read my full review before purchasing.
Perfect for the Foodie
The Thing About Leftovers
Published: July 19, 2016
Although the start of this one was a bit slow for me, I warmed up at about the 15% mark — and then I loved every word. Fizzy is the daughter of divorced parents. Her father has remarried, and her mother is in a serious relationship. Fizzy is also an excellent cook — so good that she’s entering the Southern Living cook-off. But she has other struggles to contend with.
At school, she doesn’t have any real friends, and then her mom announces that she’s marrying her boyfriend, Keane (whom Fizzy dislikes). Fizzy also has to shuttle between both parents’ homes, and she’s constantly feeling like the “leftover” child since both her parents are moving on and forming new families.
Eventually, she does make two friends at school, a Japanese-American girl Miyoko, and a foster kid named Zach. As she gets to know both kids, Fizzy realizes that family comes in different shapes and sizes — and that each family has its quirks. But will she finally find her place in hers?
For the Friendship (or Hair) Enthusiast
Culfriends: New in Town
Published: October 10, 2023
Charlie is the new kid for the umpteenth time, but this time things will be different. Her dad is no longer in the military, and this is a more permanent home, so she feels more pressure to find and impress some new friends. When she meets a cool group of Black girls with varying interests, she decides to hide her “babyish” style and hobbies to befriend them. But she soon learns that with true friends, you can be your whole self.
I love that this book exists because there are so few stories about Black hair for middle schoolers, and I love how different all four girls are and the fact that the story is about mundane day-to-day life, which is rare for POC stories. This is a cute first book in a new graphic novel series perfect for readers looking for stories about Black hair, girlfriends, fashion, and adjusting to change.
For Coping with a Friend Break-Up
My Not-So-Great French Escape
Published: March 14, 2023
My Not-So-Great French Escape is a funny, emotional, and adventure-filled book about changing friendships, cultivating self-worth, and learning the value of hard work. It does start a bit slow, but the protagonist has. a nice sense of humor that propels the story.
Rylan agrees to work as a farm hand in France in order to reconnect with his used-to-be best friend, Wilder. Both their moms are friends, and Wilder’s wealthier mom is happy to pay Rylan’s way. Wilder and Rylan’s friendship has been shaky since Wilder has been ditching Rylan for the cool kids. And the trip is about to get more complicated when Rylan’s mom tells him that his estranged father lives in France and wants to reconnect with him.
When they arrive in France, Wilder quickly joins a different group of kids on the farm from Rylan’s deflating his hopes of reconnecting. Rylan has to find his way and decide whether or not to meet his dad. Will his French escape be worth it?
For Finding Your Voice
Make a Move, Sunny Park!
Published: August 15, 2023
Sunny Park is a socially anxious girl obsessed with her favorite K-Pop band, Supreme Beat. She has one friend, Bailey, and tries to be there as much as possible (to a fault) for her—even when it means quitting ballet which she loved.
But when Bailey drags her to audition for her school’s dance team, Sunny gets in, and Bailey doesn’t. Sunny’s mom insists that Sunny continues on the team, to Bailey’s dismay. As Sunny makes new friends, she starts to realize that maybe Bailey isn’t such a great one.
This was a fun, relatable (at times frustrating) story about standing up for oneself, dance, fandom, and finding true friends. Like Kim’s Yumi Chung, this is on the longer side, but Sunny is an engaging character who I think young readers will identify with.
For the Anxious Artist
Published: February 6, 2024
Deena struggles with anxiety (although she doesn’t know that’s what it’s called yet). She likes to paint and wants to be an artist when she grows up (even though her parents don’t think it’s a real career). They have some financial challenges, so Deena decides to help promote her mom’s business using art and social media.
But when things pick up and her cousin who’s modeling her mother’s merchandise, starts getting plenty of attention, there’s an extra reason for anxiety. Soon Deena realizes that she can ask for help. Like everything Hena Khan writes, this book is warm and relatable and centers a Pakistani-American family. Hand to fans of Amina’s Voice and kids who want stories about anxiety.
For the Future Gardener
The Summer of June
Published: May 31, 2022
Meet June Delancey. June is tired of having anxiety rule her life and has made a plan to kick it to the curb this summer. She’s going to put herself out there—she and her fierce single mom who works at the library. Fortunately, June meets Homer, a middle school boy who loves reciting poetry and believes in June! But there are a few bumps in the road for June. Will she win this summer?
I loved how realistic, heartrending, and satisfying this story is. If you’re looking for a book about anxiety (June is so anxious she pulls her hair out—LITERALLY), summer, and friendship set in the library (June’s mom works there!), don’t miss this one!
Unlikely Friends Unite
Honeybees and Frenemies
Published: June 4, 2019
Flor’s parents’ mattress store is struggling this summer, and her parents are fighting more than ever. The summer seems to get brighter when she gets a chance to be in their town’s local honey pageant with her frenemy (former friend turned bitter enemy) Candice. The girls’ friendship was ruined when Flor won the pageant in third grade, and Candice (the runner-up) suggested that she only won because she was half-Indian. Can the girls make it work now? And with Flor make it through the summer with her family intact?
This is a warm, humorous, and relatable middle grade book about bees, family, and frenemies.
The Relatable Graphic Memoir
Published: May 2, 2023
Sixth grade is off to a rocky start for Rex. His district moved most of his elementary school to another middle school, his best friend ditches him for the popular crew, and his blurry vision means he has to get clunky new glasses–the only kind his family can afford. This sweet graphic novel for fans of Telgemeier is an ode to middle school, family, and finding your people.
Published: July 19, 2022
Twins Teresa and Fernando are starting 6th grade on different paths. Teresa is ready for some independence and is happy to start school in the US, just across the border, while her twin loves being part of a duo and is remaining in Mexico because he thinks most of his friends are staying too. As Teresa crosses the border daily for school while facing new challenges, and Fernando attends middle school without a friend, both kids need each other more than ever.
This is a beautiful graphic novel in terms of art and story! It’s the best kind of slice-of-life story, with both kids’ lives depicted in separate panels, complete with representations of Mexican food and scenes. Heads up for a teeny content issue (one of the kids is offered weed by a friend and does take it — although this is implied), but it’s portrayed in a very negative light.
For the Dance Fan
Published: October 18, 2022
Cory’s dance crew is getting ready for a major competition. It’s the last one before they graduate eighth grade and go their separate ways to high schools all over New York City, so they have to make it count! The group starts to have problems as their crew captain gets increasingly intense about nailing the routine, and things go from bad to worse when Cory’s parents ground him for not taking his grades seriously.
He gets stuck with a new tutor, Sunna, who he dismisses as a boring nerd… until he catches her secretly practicing cool yo-yo tricks. Cory wants to learn the art of yo-yo, and as his friendship with Sunna grows, he ends up missing practice and bailing on his crew — and they are not happy about it. With mounting pressure coming from all sides, how is Cory supposed to balance the expectations of his parents, school, dance, and his new friend?
Rethinking Body Image
A Work in Progress
Published: May 2, 2023
Will feels like the only chubby kid in his class and feels insecure about his weight. Add to that the bullying he faces and his observations of his mother’s attitude toward food, and he falls into a pattern of disordered eating and over-exercising. Thankfully, a budding friendship with a new classmate changes his view. This is a great book about body image issues, and it’s done in an illustrated verse format that I think kids will love.
A Protagonist to Root For
The Wild Journey of Juniper Berry
Published: August 15, 2023
Juniper and her family live off-the-grid, and she loves it. Her mom has warned her that life in society is stressful, but Juniper’s older sister still wants to try living there. Unfortunately, regardless of the family’s desires, they all have to move to the nearest town when their youngest family member becomes seriously ill. Juniper’s dad even has to work to pay the hospital bills while the girls live with their uncle and his daughters.
It turns out that school is hard for Juniper. The kids treat her like a weirdo, and her cousin doesn’t even want to be seen with her — she prefers to hang out with the kids who bully her. Juniper wants to help her dad pay the bills, so she gets a job helping a neighbor with her garden and starts a YouTube channel to teach people about the woods, which leads to more bullying but also heartwarming surprises.
I loved learning about off-the-grid living, and this one reminded me a lot of Carr’s 365 Days to Alaska. This is one of my favorite books this year, and I think kids will love learning about Juniper.
For the Business Savvy
Published: May 23, 2023
Mariana is a shy girl looking for friends in a new town. Things seem to be looking up when she befriends two creative kids, and they start running a salon together. Soon, though, they have more demand than they can keep up with. This is a great graphic novel for kids who are always thinking about starting a business, love being creative, or just love a good graphic novel.
The Perfect Cozy Read
The House Swap
Published: February 28, 2023
Allie and Sage are forced together when their families’ plan to swap houses goes awry. Allie is a British girl living in the countryside and preparing to be a spy when she grows up. She’s also the (overlooked, she feels) middle child, stuck between a teen brother and a talkative little sister.
Sage is an only child in sunny California, growing up with parents who seem to be growing apart. She gets more worried when she discovers that only her mom will be coming with her to the English countryside. Both girls realize that they have more in common than they think and decide to help each other — Ally with Sage’s parents and Sage with being Allie’s friend.
This is a cozy, charming middle grade book about family (history & secrets), new friendships, and navigating parental divorce. Reminiscent of the beloved movie, The Holiday, this middle grade book is perfect for anyone looking for a feel-good reading experience
From the Bully’s POV
Jennifer Chan Is Not Alone
Published: April 26, 2022
Tae Keller’s newest middle grade book, Jennifer Chan Is Not Alone, opens with new girl Jennifer Chan declared missing at her middle school. As whispers begin, her next-door neighbor Mallory Moss worries that Jennifer may have been abducted by aliens (which Jennifer believed existed). Mallory reunites with two former friends begging them to help her find Jennifer following clues from her time with Jennifer and the diary Jennifer left behind.
The story alternates between past and present as readers discover that Mallory’s search is also motivated by an ulterior motive: the need to prove that she and her popular friends didn’t run Jennifer Chan out of town with their bullying.
A New Type of Masculinity
Playing the Cards You’re Dealt
Published: October 5, 2021
Ten-year-old Anthony Joplin is finally old enough to play in the spades tournament every Joplin Man before him seems to have won. Then Ant’s best friend gets grounded, and he’s forced to find another spades partner. And Shirley, the new girl in his class, isn’t exactly who he has in mind. But she’s smart and tough and pretty and knows every card trick in the book. So Ant decides to join forces with Shirley — and keep his plans a secret.
Then Ant’s best friend gets grounded, and he’s forced to find another spades partner. And Shirley, the new girl in his class, isn’t exactly who he has in mind. She talks a whole lot of trash — way more than his old partner. Plus, he’s not sure that his father wants him to play with a girl. But she’s smart and tough and pretty and knows every card trick in the book. So Ant decides to join forces with Shirley — and keep his plans a secret.
Only it turns out secrets are another Joplin Man tradition. And his father is hiding one so big it may tear their family apart. I loved this one on audio and think it’s a fantastic pick for 6th graders about toxic masculinity, addiction, and male friendships.
Finding Your Roots
I Can Make This Promise
Published: October 1, 2019
All her life, Edie has known that her mom was adopted by a white couple. So, no matter how curious she might be about her Native American heritage, Edie is sure her family doesn’t have any answers.
Until the day when she and her friends discover a box hidden in the attic—a box full of letters signed “Love, Edith,” and photos of a woman who looks just like her.
Suddenly, Edie has a flurry of new questions about this woman who shares her name. Could she belong to the Native family that Edie never knew about? But if her mom and dad have kept this secret from her all her life, how can she trust them to tell her the truth now?
There they are: 20 of the best realistic fiction books for 6th graders! Which of these books have you read and loved? Which ones did I miss?
More Books for 6th Graders
- A huge list of all kinds of 6th grade books
- Great books for 11 year olds
- Mystery books for 6th graders
Get a printable of this list to take to your library. Just pop your email in the box below and it’ll come right to you!