A book is considered realistic fiction if events in the story did not really happen but could have. Fantastic elements such as magic, aliens, talking animals, or ridiculous exaggerations move a book out of this category and into other genres. Biographies or true stories, even if written in novelized form, are considered non-fiction.
Realistic fiction is usually divided into historical and contemporary fiction. Contemporary fiction takes place today or in the recent past; historical fiction takes place further in the past. This distinction seems simple enough, but the line between the two categories is somewhat blurred. Should a story such as Beverly Cleary's classic Henry Huggins be considered contemporary fiction even though the setting is America in 1950, the year it was written? Most sources put in into the contemporary category, yet the recent award-winning novel The Watsons Go to Birmingham -- 1963 is considered historical fiction even though it takes place over a decade later. Because of this issue, some authorities suggest that a book should expressly try to convey the everyday life and/or important events of a period in the past to be considered historical fiction. By this definition, both Henry and the Watsons can be put into their proper places with little debate.
Most children don't really care how the experts label a book as long as it is a good read. Quality historical and contemporary realistic fiction books are populated with characters as real as people we meet every day. Main characters are usually children, so they should think, behave, and express themselves as children. Both historical and contemporary fiction deal with feelings and issues that children can relate to, such as friendships, family life, school, and growing up. Many books in these genres also deal with serious issues such as death, divorce, war, and other disruptions. If well written, these powerful books can help a child (or even an adult) deal with problems and feelings they are experiencing in their own lives.
Historical fiction has the added burden of being historically accurate. If the author did not experience the time period themselves, they must carefully research their subject and try to correctly portray both historical events and everyday life. For example, no matter how poignant the tale of a boy and his dog, the mention of canned dog food in a book set in colonial America would seriously distract and detract from the story.
Because kids feel a strong connection to characters dealing with familiar issues and feelings in a true to life world, realistic fiction accounts for far more books sold than any other kind of children's literature. Below are just a tiny sampling of the thousands of excellent titles in these genres.