Focus on the Family


Baby

A book review for parents

This drama by Patricia MacLachlan is published by Yearling Books, an imprint of Random House Children's Books and is written for kids ages 10 to 13. The age range reflects readability and not necessarily content appropriateness.



Plot Summary


A grieving family finds an abandoned baby in a basket on their driveway and decides to keep the baby until the mother can return for her. Caring for Sophie and then letting her go help the family deal with a death in their family.



Christian Beliefs


A verse from "Amazing Grace" is quoted. However, "Dirge Without Music," a poem by Edna St. Vincent Millay that provides a bleak, inaccurate depiction of a grieving person, is also quoted and is pivotal to the plot. Noticeably absent is the presence or comfort of God. The family does not attend church, but a minister presides over a family member's funeral.



Authority Roles


Parents and other adults are plainly flawed, but they are treated respectfully. In the early pages of the book, Larkin mentions that her father had two whiskeys before dinner: "He danced . . between the first glass of whiskey that made him happy and the second that made him sad."



Other Belief Systems


None



Profanity/Graphic Violence


None



Kissing/Sex/Homosexuality


None



Awards


Unknown



Discussion Topics


If your children have read this book or someone has read it to them, consider these discussion topics:


Note: Patricia MacLachlan is an award-winning author (Newbery, ALA, etc.).

Book reviews cover the content, themes and worldviews of fiction books, not their literary merit, and equip parents to decide whether a book is appropriate for their children. A book's inclusion does not constitute an endorsement by Focus on the Family.


Babylonne

A book review for parents

This historical adventure book by Catherine Jinks is published by Candlewick Press and is written for kids ages 12 and up. The age range reflects readability and not necessarily content appropriateness.



Plot Summary


In 1227, 16-year-old Babylonne lives in Toulouse, France, with her grandmother, abusive Aunt Navarre and several other women of the Cathar faith. During this violent period in history, Babylonne's devout order strives to avoid French persecution and skirt-chasing, gluttonous Roman priests. When Aunt Navarre decides to marry Babylonne off to a crazy old man, the girl runs away with the intention of serving exiled knights battling the king of France. While escaping, she meets a Roman priest (Father Isidore) who says he knew and loved her father, Pagan. Babylonne has always been told that Pagan was a vile priest, who raped her mother, so she's skeptical of Isidore's claims about Pagan's goodness and her parents' mutual love. She can't imagine Isidore's motives toward her are pure either, but he's intent on journeying with her to keep her safe, and she knows she needs his help. Along the way, Isidore's repeated messages of hope begin to penetrate Babylonne's bitter heart. She spends part of the trip disguised as a boy, but she's recognized and captured to be returned to Aunt Navarre. Isidore finds and rescues Babylonne just as the French are attacking the village in which she's imprisoned



Christian Beliefs


Babylonne prays for Isidore's safety and asks God to help her escape treacherous situations. She likes the city of Toulouse, so she calls it her spiritual home. The Cathar order, of which Babylonne is part, is pious, and its members abstain from numerous things, including cheese and eggs, because they are products of fornication. They also engage in long prayer rituals. Babylonne frequently says scathing words about Roman priests, particularly in reference to their gluttony and lust for women. Whenever Babylonne sees something beautiful, she says it's hard to believe such things could exist in a God-forsaken world. Isidore swears on the life of the Holy Virgin that he won't touch Babylonne sexually, but she says that doesn't mean much. She says he probably knows all of the Holy Scriptures, even the bad parts that aren't holy at all. She blames the Roman Church for sending French knights to kill all the "good Christians," those with her same beliefs, in the name of a false god. Isidore and a prefect named Gui have a lengthy debate about the apostle Paul's words on eating and drinking. They also discuss whether the world is the Devil's realm or God's, and they quote a number of Scriptures. Isidore's arguments convince Babylonne that perhaps the negative, legalistic teaching she grew up with is not the true path God intends for man. When Isidore and Babylonne are reunited, he tells her he prayed every night that he would find her and now he has, by God's mercy.



Authority Roles


Aunt Navarre, who leads Babylonne's order, is brutally abusive to Babylonne, physically and emotionally. She often calls her a b--tard and a whore (among other names), smacks her across the face with a broom, bangs her head against the house's stone wall and locks her in a small trunk. The Roman priests, rather than demonstrating a godly posture, have earned themselves a reputation of being liars, murderers and lechers. It appears that Father Isidore and the red-haired priest (another man who knew and revered Pagan) are the only men who treat Babylonne with respect and without a sexual agenda. Father Isidore's devotion to her and his expressions of his belief that God has put good and beauty in the world opens her eyes to a life she finds worth living.



Other Belief Systems


Babylonne and others (including the priests) frequently hope for good luck. She tells herself an ongoing fantasy story about sorcerers and princesses. It's her way of using her imagination to obtain a small measure of happiness.



Profanity/Graphic Violence


The words whore, fart, b--ch, p---, crap, balls, a--, h--- and d---, (including d--- him to h---) appear frequently. Babylonne is often called a b--tard because she was conceived out of wedlock. God's name taken in vain is common in Babylonne's often-vulgar narration and dialogue. Babylonne accidentally kills a chicken by strangling it while trying to steal an egg. Several gruesome and bloody scenes describe bodies cut open, faces scraped off, amputations, blood-soaked guts coming out of a body, vomit-covered floors and eyes gouged out. Babylonne describes the open, seeping scabs and sores on a man's face. She says she'd like to see a particular man's brains boil and his flesh hanging from him in ribbons.



Kissing/Sex/Homosexuality


Babylonne talks throughout the book about men lifting women's skirts, chasing them, talking about bedding them, pinching their bottoms, making lewd sounds and gestures and otherwise taking advantage of them in any way they can. According to Babylonne, most priests are at least as lascivious as common men, but they're a little more subtle. Babylonne says everyone knows the priests don't wear undergarments. She initially distrusts the red-haired priest and Isidore, and she repeatedly tells them she's no one's whore and assumes they mean to take advantage of her. Other girls in Babylonne's order tell her the man she's to marry is too old to have sex so she won't have to be guilty of the sin of fornication. Babylonne has always been told she was born out of rape, but Father Isidore says her mother and the priest were deeply in love when she was conceived. A man on a pilgrimage invites two women to sleep in his bed. Women in the village where Babylonne stays make sexual jokes, and Babylonne walks in on one of them with her legs wrapped around a man. A drunken man, just one of several who tries to take sexual liberties with Babylonne, is thwarted when a commanding officer orders him back to his post.



Awards


Unknown



Discussion Topics


If your children have read this book or someone has read it to them, consider these discussion topics:

Note:
Lying: At the beginning of the book, Babylonne steals an egg from Roman priests and then lies about it to Aunt Navarre. When she's caught, she's not allowed to speak for three days because Navarre believes she is cursed with the venom of deceit. Father Isidore and Babylonne lie to keep Babylonne's identity a secret.

Alcohol: Wine flows freely in the story. Isidore gives it to Babylonne several times.

Value of life: A paragraph in the first chapter tells how Babylonne looks for an egg and accidentally kills a chicken. In her defense, she explains how a person can't kill an egg because it's not alive. And even if the egg had been fertilized, the world belongs to the Devil, so making sure the egg doesn't hatch is actually doing the unborn chicken a favor.


Book reviews cover the content, themes and worldviews of fiction books, not their literary merit, and equip parents to decide whether a book is appropriate for their children. A book's inclusion does not constitute an endorsement by Focus on the Family.


Backstage Pass

A book review for parents

This first friendship book in the "Chosen Girls" series by Cheryl Crouch is published by Zonderkidz.

Backstage Pass is written for kids ages 9 to 12. The age range reflects readability and not necessarily content appropriateness.



Plot Summary


Melody "Mello" McMann and her friend Harmony have been a duo for years, so Mello doesn't know what to think of Harmony's new friend, Trinity. Harmony and Trinity, who are both guitar players, convince Mello to overcome her inhibitions and play drums for their band. With the help of their neighbor Lamont, the girls create an award-winning music video. In the process, they overcome jealousy and other relational obstacles and discover that God is the power source behind their music and their friendship.



Christian Beliefs


All three girls are Christians and attend church, and Trinity's influence (and eventual suggestions that they pray together) seems to strengthen the other two in their faith. They pray together and discuss how God inspires their band name, Chosen Girls. Trinity has a favorite Scripture she calls her life verse. She selected John 15:16, and she helps Mello find one of her own (1 Peter 5:10). Mello's life verse becomes the catalyst for the lyrics of their contest-winning song. The girls rule out a number of clothing items that aren't modest enough for costumes.



Authority Roles


As mayor, Mello's dad makes various appearances and jokes with audiences. He and Mello's mom comfort her when they all think Harmony is ill, and the parents express their pride in Mello when Chosen Girls wins the video contest. Lottie, the kind and slightly eccentric owner of the girls' favorite coffee shop, encourages the band in its efforts.



Other Belief Systems


None



Profanity/Graphic Violence


None



Kissing/Sex/Homosexuality


None



Awards


Unknown



Discussion Topics


If your children have read this book or someone has read it to them, consider these discussion topics:


Book reviews cover the content, themes and worldviews of fiction books, not their literary merit, and equip parents to decide whether a book is appropriate for their children. A book's inclusion does not constitute an endorsement by Focus on the Family.


Back to School

A book review for parents

This Amish-life book is the second in the "Rachel Yoder" series by Wanda E. Brunstetter and is published by Barbour Publishing.

Back to School is written for kids ages 7 to 10. The age range reflects readability and not necessarily content appropriateness..



Plot Summary


On the first day of school, Rachel Yoder, a young Amish girl, can only find one dress shoe and one tennis shoe. So she starts the year by wearing mismatched shoes. This catches the attention of Orlie, the new boy at school, who calls Rachel a silly child. Orlie continues to make fun of Rachel as the year progresses. She decides to get even with him by putting a mouse in his desk. This plan goes awry, and the mouse ends up on the teacher's desk instead. Rachel attempts to make peace by giving Orlie a piece of the cake she bakes, but Orlie makes fun of it in front of the class. He gives Rachel an apple that has a worm in it. Rachel thinks the worst thing in the world has happened when she and Orlie are chosen to play Mary and Joseph in the Christmas play. During the play, Rachel forgets her lines, and Orlie comes to her rescue by saying the lines as though they were his. Afterwards Orlie tells Rachel that he was only teasing her at school to get her attention because he likes her. They each apologize for being mean to the other and determine to be friends.



Christian Beliefs


The teacher reads from the Bible at school. The Amish have a church service every other week. They also perform a nativity play.



Authority Roles


The teacher talks about the Bible with the class. The parents do their best to guide the children. Rachel's grandfather moves in with the family and helps Rachel deal with some of her questions and problems.



Other Belief Systems


None



Profanity/Graphic Violence


None



Kissing/Sex/Homosexuality


None



Awards


Unknown



Discussion Topics


If your children have read this book or someone has read it to them, consider these discussion topics:


Book reviews cover the content, themes and worldviews of fiction books, not their literary merit, and equip parents to decide whether a book is appropriate for their children. A book's inclusion does not constitute an endorsement by Focus on the Family.


The Bad Beginning

A book review for parents

This adventure, or what some refer to as a dark comedy, is the first book in "A Series of Unfortunate Events" by Lemony Snicket and is published by HarperEntertainment, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers.

The Bad Beginning is written for kids ages 10 and up. The age range reflects readability and not necessarily content appropriateness.



Plot Summary


When the parents of Violet (14), Klaus (12) and baby Sunny Baudelaire die in a house fire, Mr. Poe, the will executor, places them with a distant relative named Count Olaf. Olaf is an evil actor who intends to steal the Baudelaire orphans' fortune. He gives the children unreasonable chores, threatens their lives and makes them share one small bed. The children experience small pockets of joy by spending time with neighbor Justice Strauss (a judge) and perusing her vast library.

Olaf discovers that he can legally obtain Violet's fortune by making her his wife. He disguises his plan by telling the children and Justice Strauss that they'll all be performing in a play called "The Marvelous Marriage." Violet and Klaus read up on inheritance law in Justice Strauss' library and figure out Olaf's scheme. When they confront the count, Olaf puts Sunny in a birdcage suspended high in the air and threatens to drop her if Violet and Klaus don't cooperate.

After the wedding scene in Olaf's play, the count stops the performance and announces that the marriage is legal. Poe, Justice Strauss and other audience members are shocked but recognize that Olaf's actions are official and binding. Violet then announces she hasn't signed the marriage document "in her own hand" as the law requires, but that she's used her left hand. Justice Strauss rules the loophole valid, and Poe assures the children he'll place them with someone else. But when the theater lights suddenly go out, Olaf and his henchmen escape, promising to return to claim the money and kill the kids.



Christian Beliefs


None



Authority Roles


The Baudelaire kids fondly remember their parents for letting them participate in adult dinner parties. The demanding, short-tempered and bad-smelling Count Olaf drinks a lot of wine and keeps company with a motley bunch of actors, who share his interest in the Baudelaire fortune. Olaf strikes Klaus across the face and puts Sunny in a birdcage suspended from a 30-foot tower. Mr. Poe fulfills his obligations as executor of the will but fails to give the children his attention when they come to tell him about Olaf's abuse. Justice Strauss shows kindness and affection to the kids, though she is blind to the problems they're encountering under Olaf's guardianship. She offers to adopt them in the end, but Poe won't allow it because the will specifies they live with a family member.



Other Belief Systems


The author blames the children's many woes on the fact that they are extremely unlucky.



Profanity/Graphic Violence


Though Olaf and his men do cruel things to the children, the text excludes graphic depictions of the events.



Kissing/Sex/Homosexuality


Violet briefly cringes over the idea of having to sleep next to Olaf when they're married, but nothing more is mentioned.



Awards


This book won multiple state-level awards in 2003; other books in this series have won national awards



Discussion Topics


If your children have read this book or someone has read it to them, consider these discussion topics:

Note: Producers often use a book as a springboard for a movie idea or to earn a specific rating. Because of this, a movie may differ from the novel. To better understand how this book and movie differ, compare the book review with Plugged In's movie review.

Book reviews cover the content, themes and worldviews of fiction books, not their literary merit, and equip parents to decide whether a book is appropriate for their children. A book's inclusion does not constitute an endorsement by Focus on the Family.


Bad Idea: a novel with coyotes

A book review for parents

This contemporary book is the first in the "Bad Ideas" series by Todd and Jedd Hafer and is published by NavPress.

Bad Idea: a novel with coyotes is written for teens. The age range reflects readability and not necessarily content appropriateness.



Plot Summary


Eighteen-year-old Griff is on a road trip with his dad, best friend, kid brother and his dad's very young fiancée. From Kansas to California, every stop along the way is an opportunity for the unraveling of relationships and witty, candid insight into Griffin's inner struggles with faith, self-abuse, family problems, death and girls. Though Griff is college-bound, his narration bounces from the present to events during his formative years.



Christian Beliefs


Forgiveness is central as each member of the group is forced to forgive or be forgiven and more firmly grasp the concept of grace. Griffin's dad is a Christian, who models a prayer life and reliance on Jesus. Griff's high school friend Amanda is the most mature Christian in the story. Her faith manifests itself in her friendship with Griffin as she supports him through his parents' divorce, prays for him, publicly defends the name of Jesus and honors her parents. Griff straddles Christianity and a sinful life. He has a sincere belief, yet struggles to overcome harmful behaviors. His discovery of a dead body helps him recognize that earnest prayer has no pretense. The road trip covers more than asphalt as the reader experiences Griff's painstaking faith journey. In the final analysis, he realizes that God has a hold on him in spite of his many shortcomings.



Authority Roles


Bryant, Griffin's dad, is caring, patient and forgiving (to a fault). He loses his grip on parenting as he goes through depression following his divorce. Bryant's engagement to Rhonda, 18 years younger, raises questions as her immature character is revealed. She is ill-prepared to assume the role of step-mother and unaware of her effect on teen boys as she walks around their apartment and pool area in a bikini. At one point, she is caught kissing Griffin's best friend. Griff's mother, Lynette, becomes involved in adultery and abandons the family for another man. She later apologizes to Griff for her failure as a mother. Bryant's fiancée, Rhonda, only 10 years older than Griff, talks hip-hop when she converses with Griff, which generates a sense of insincerity. She confesses to Griff that she used Cole as a test to determine whether young men were still attracted her and whether she truly is prepared to marry a man 18 years her senior. She asks forgiveness of everyone for her behavior with Cole.



Other Belief Systems


A couple of references to Star Wars' Jedi mind tricks, Yoda and the Force are used  as a humor device.



Profanity/Graphic Violence


There are several uses of the word crap. Griff's mother throws glass plates when she and Bryant fight. Cole beats up two attackers and thinks he broke the eye socket of one. In an imaginary scene, Robin (of Batman and Robin) says he was in a gay bar and was hit on so much that he later had to take a shower. Griff threatens to cut off his legs and use his bloody stumps as transport to get across his message that he wants to get over the state line the same day. Bryant delivers a hard punch to his son's shoulder when Griff defines Rhonda's behavior as ho-baggity. A car runs over a puppy, killing it, and its intestines spill out.



Kissing/Sex/Homosexuality


Griff imagines Amanda kissing him. Rhonda, Bryant's attractive fiancée, wears a bikini at the pool and parades around the Smith's apartment in it, making Griff wish for summer's end, along with his feelings of embarrassment and sexual tension. Griff becomes self-conscious about using the bathroom ("peeing") and releasing gas because of Rhonda's presence. She announces to her four male traveling companions that "it's that time of the month." At a homecoming dance, one of the boys grinds on a girl who is drunk and invites Griff to make a sandwich of the girl with him. Griff declines, saying "I'm not going to help you treat your girlfriend like a piece of meat." Then he flips him off. Cole searches for cheerleaders to make out with after admonishing Griff not to flip off somebody when wearing a WWJD band. Griff sees Cole kissing Rhonda in his and Cole's motel room. Griff regretfully recalls spending two hours with a high school girl in his bedroom, giving her a hickey by her belly ring. He has been sexually active with her more than once. He is disappointed that his dad doesn't supervise him and reasons that God and his dad don't love or care about him. Griff finds himself lusting after a cover model on an abstinence book. In an imaginary scene, Griff imagines a version of hell where a dyslexic has to play Wheel of Fortune and if the dyslexic loses, his private parts will be chopped. Lynette's stepson, Dalton, has posters of women wearing bikinis or less in his bedroom and a sign above them that reads: Ban the objectification of women. The posters came from Dalton's dad, who subscribes to soft-porn magazines. Griff mentally, and repeatedly, admonishes himself not to look at a girl's breasts while she's talking to him.



Awards


Unknown



Discussion Topics


If your children have read this book or someone has read it to them, consider these discussion topics:


Book reviews cover the content, themes and worldviews of fiction books, not their literary merit, and equip parents to decide whether a book is appropriate for their children. A book's inclusion does not constitute an endorsement by Focus on the Family.


The Basilisk's Lair

A book review for parents

This fantasy book is the second in the "Nathaniel Fludd, Beastologist" series by R.L. LaFevers and is published by Houghton Mifflin Books for Children, an imprint of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company.

The Basilisk's Lair is written for kids ages 7 to 11 years. The age range reflects readability and not necessarily content appropriateness.



Plot Summary


In book one, 10-year-old Nathaniel Fludd's adventurous parents are proclaimed dead in 1928, and he is sent to live with his Aunt Philomena (Phil), a beastologist. After flying to Arabia (the name used for this country in 1928) and helping save a phoenix, Nathaniel Fludd (Nate) feels he's a real beastologist like his Aunt Phil. Since beastologists study and aid rare and mythical creatures, Nate and Aunt Phil respond quickly when summoned by the Dhughani people of Africa to locate their lost basilisk. Nate is daunted when he reads about the basilisk in Aunt Phil's Book of Beasts. The creature has a rooster's head, wings, feathers, fangs, reptilian skin and bright colored scales. Even its gaze is highly poisonous, not to mention its venom. Nate, Aunt Phil and the Dhughani's spiritual leader, called a Dolon, climb a treacherous cliff to reach the basilisk's cave. Each person follows a different tunnel, unwinding roles of twine behind them to keep from getting lost. Nate, along with his gremlin, Greasle, finds a hole in the cave wall and a pick axe nearby. They return to tell the others the basilisk may have been stolen and not lost. Nate and Aunt Phil follow a trail to the creature. As Nate tries to lure it into their trap, the basilisk shoots its poison at Aunt Phil. Nate cures her with ashes of the phoenix and Greasle disables the basilisk's poisonous gaze by putting goggles over its eyes. After chloroforming the basilisk and returning it to its caretakers, Aunt Phil and Nate head home in search of answers about Nate's parents' disappearance, Nate's former guardian and the man they believe freed the basilisk.



Christian Beliefs


None



Authority Roles


Aunt Phil determines to make an adventurer out of Nate. She refuses to let him go home or sit out any of their explorations. She teaches him all she knows about beastology, which helps him gain self-confidences and overcome fear.



Other Belief Systems


Nate reads in The Book of Beasts that the basilisk's venom is highly valued by those who practice the dark arts. The Songhay Empire, ancestors of the Dhughani, made a sacred contract with the basilisk. They would bring it sacred offerings. The Dhughani follow the tradition by bringing skulls and bones of animals sacred to the basilisk to its cave. Nate cures Aunt Phil of her basilisk injuries by sprinkling a pinch of ashes from the fire of the phoenix on her. The Book of Beasts says these ashes can cure any human illness. The Dolon has a sacred duty to care for the basilisk.



Profanity/Graphic Violence


None



Kissing/Sex/Homosexuality


None



Awards


Unknown



Discussion Topics


If your children have read this book or someone has read it to them, consider these discussion topics:


Book reviews cover the content, themes and worldviews of fiction books, not their literary merit, and equip parents to decide whether a book is appropriate for their children. A book's inclusion does not constitute an endorsement by Focus on the Family.


The Battle of the Labyrinth

A book review for parents

This fantasy adventure is the fourth book in the "Percy Jackson and the Olympians" series by Rick Riordan and is published by Hyperion Books for Children, an imprint of the Disney Book Group.

The Battle of the Labyrinth is written for kids ages 10 and up. The age range reflects readability and not necessarily content appropriateness.



Plot Summary


Percy Jackson, half-mortal and half-Greek god, has known his demi-god (or "hero") status for several years. As the son of Poseidon, the sea god, he's already been on several quests to aid and rescue gods or other half-bloods like himself. He spends his summers at Camp Half-Blood, where he and other heroes find magical protection from monsters and learn how to cope with — perhaps even to embrace — their unusual heritage.

Ninth grade begins badly for Percy, who discovers the cheerleaders at his new school are she-demons called empousai. Their appearance proves that Kronos, leader of the Titans whom the gods cut into pieces, is rapidly re-forming. Kronos is recruiting monsters and half-bloods to battle the Olympian gods.

Percy and his half-blood friend Annabeth return to camp to warn the others. Percy meets the mysterious new sword instructor, Quintus. He learns that his best friend, Grover, is running out of time to save Pan, the missing god of the wild. Annabeth has a theory: Since they can't find Pan above ground, maybe he's trapped underground in the Labyrinth created by the ancient genius Daedalus. The expansive maze is supposed to contain dangerous illusions and insanity-causing traps. When Percy and Annabeth find a portal to the Labyrinth on the camp's land, they're convinced Kronos and his army will attack through it. With Grover and Tyson (Percy's Cyclops brother), they enter the Labyrinth in search of Daedalus. They want to ask him for Ariadne's string, the only tool with which they can safely navigate the Labyrinth.

Meanwhile, Percy dreams about Nico, son of Hades. Nico blames the death of this sister, Bianca, on Percy and seeks revenge. The spirit of King Minos, with his own vendetta against Daedalus, assists Nico.

In the Labyrinth, the group saves the Hundred-Handed-One (Briares) from one of Kronos' monsters, gets advice from the goddess Hera and stops a three-bodied creature named Geryon from mistreating sacred cattle. They find Nico and help him summon Bianca's spirit. Bianca urges Nico to forgive Percy. They visit the god Hephaestus, who says he'll lead them to Daedalus if they will investigate what has invaded his workshop beneath Mount St. Helens. Grover and Tyson search for Pan while Percy and Annabeth enter the volcano and find creatures called telekhines. Percy blasts out of the volcano and lands on Calypso's island, where she nurses him back to health. Hephaestus helps Percy get back to camp, where he walks into his own funeral. Annabeth, pleased to find Percy alive, tells him Quintus has disappeared.

Percy enlists help from Rachel Elizabeth Dare, a mortal from the last book, because she can see through the Mist. She guides them to Daedalus (who is actually Quintus). They beg Daedalus to help them, but he has already given Ariadne's string to the Titan army. Nico arrives to save them from the approaching King Minos.

Once reunited with Grover and Tyson, the group finds Pan. Pan is dying because humans no longer cherish the wild. He tells Grover and the others that they must carry on his message when he dies. The kids return to camp and join the other half-bloods in battling the Titan forces. Daedalus and the Hundred-Handed-One show up to help ensure victory.

Back at Percy's home, Poseidon appears at Percy's birthday celebration. He tells Percy, "You are my favorite son." Nico arrives later and tells Percy he knows how they can beat the Titan army for good.



Christian Beliefs


A half-blood child of Nemesis, goddess of revenge, uses the phrase "an eye for an eye" (see Matthew 5:38-39).



Authority Roles


Hera, goddess of marriage, speaks of the importance of perseverance and rising above chaos, keeping your goals in mind. Her son, however, tells how she threw him off Mount Olympus because he didn't fit into her image of the "perfect" family. Rachel's dad is a wealthy land developer, vilified in the book because he is destroying the wild. Percy's mother demonstrates concern for Percy, but knowing who and what he is, she tries not to be overprotective. Poseidon, who is physically and emotionally distant, visits Percy and affirms his pride and joy in Percy.



Other Belief Systems


The premise of the "Percy Jackson and the Olympians" series is that the gods of mythology exist today and control world events with their magical powers. As in the ancient myths, the gods and goddesses still have affairs with humans. Their children, such as Percy, are powerful demi-gods. Percy and other half-bloods frequently pray to the gods, especially their own fathers or mothers, for help or direction. As the centers of power have moved throughout history, so have the gods, who now live in, above and below America. The evil monsters that pursue them are primal forces without souls so they cannot die, only be momentarily beaten before they re-form into their old selves. Many demi-gods attend Camp Half-Blood because life in the real world proves difficult. The camp has magic borders, which monsters are unable to penetrate. Campers begin their meals by blessing the gods and giving them a portion of their food. The Oracle of Delphi provides prophesies concerning what the demi-gods will or must do. The Oracle has given Chiron, assistant camp director, prophesies indicating that one of the half-blood children of the "Big Three" gods (Zeus, Hades and Poseidon) will face a monumental challenge on his or her 16th birthday that could destroy Mount Olympus.

Rachel Dare can see through the Mist, a veil that hides the real appearances and actions of gods and monsters from human eyes. When Percy sees Rachel initially, he considers it bad luck. Empousai are demons, who say dark magic formed them from animal, bronze and ghost. They exist to feed on the blood of young men. The telekhines betrayed the gods and practiced dark magic, so Zeus banished them to Tartarus. The telekhines sanctify Kronos' weapon in blood.

Percy and other half-bloods get messages or glimpses of the future in their dreams. As Poseidon's son, Percy calls out to the sea for help on several occasions. Percy speaks telepathically to horses.

Nico, son of Hades, spends much of the story summoning spirits of the dead to reincarnate his sister, Bianca. He chants and gives the spirits offerings of Coke and cheeseburgers. He knows when people die because he gets a buzzing sensation in his ears. Bianca says holding grudges is the fatal flaw of the children of Hades. When the Titan army attacks Camp Half-Blood, Nico summons armies of undead soldiers to help the demi-gods fight.

Percy and Annabeth meet a creature that speaks in an ancient language. Tyson says it is the tongue used before the gods were born, the language Mother Earth spoke to the Titans. A naiad tells Percy about some shells that are millions of years old, from a time before the gods ruled.

Grover says even immortal gods and monsters can die if they are forgotten and lose the will to live. Pan, god of the wild, says he's dying because people no longer care about his domain. He says Grover and the others — and everyone — must make salvation for themselves by spreading the message of the need to save the wild. In Pan's presence, Percy's skin tingles with "living energy," and he feels his weariness vanish.

The red cows on Geryon's farm are sacred (or holy) to Apollo. Geryon kills them for meat and otherwise mistreats the animals, violating many ancient laws for his own profit. Daedalus, who is thousands of years old, has transferred his "animus" (perhaps translated soul or spirit) into different mechanical bodies over time. The Labyrinth reads people's thoughts and tries to trick them.



Profanity/Graphic Violence


Butt, sucks, Hades (used in the same way many people use h--- today), thank the gods, Holy Poseidon and Di immortales appear. Several people swear oaths on the River Styx. A number of battles take place, but little if any graphic violence appears in the text.



Kissing/Sex/Homosexuality


Annabeth kisses Percy before he enters a dangerous situation. Calypso kisses Percy on the forehead to say goodbye. Annabeth tells Percy that she, as with all of Athena's children, wasn't conceived the normal way. Athena's relationships are purely intellectual, and her children are sprung from her divine thoughts and the mortal ingenuity of the father.



Awards


Kirkus Starred Review, 2008; Publishers Weekly Starred Review, 2008



Discussion Topics


If your children have read this book or someone has read it to them, consider these discussion topics:


Book reviews cover the content, themes and worldviews of fiction books, not their literary merit, and equip parents to decide whether a book is appropriate for their children. A book's inclusion does not constitute an endorsement by Focus on the Family.


Being Nikki

A book review for parents

This teen chick-lit book is the second in the "Airhead" series by Meg Cabot and is published by Point, a division of Scholastic, Inc.

Being Nikki is written for kids ages 12 and older. The age range reflects readability and not necessarily content appropriateness.



Plot Summary


Emerson Watts is an average, if not nerdy, 17-year-old, until her body is destroyed by a falling plasma TV in a Stark Megastore (see Airhead review). Around the same time, Stark Enterprises' popular teen supermodel, Nikki Howard, dies of a brain aneurism. Stark strikes a deal with Em's parents: In exchange for the family's silence, Stark's neurosurgery institute will implant Em's brain into Nikki's body.

Now Em must model in the skimpiest fashions (including a $10,000 diamond bra and panties), attend glitzy events, dress lavishly, and convince everyone she's a promiscuous party-girl model. Nikki's brother, Steven, returns from military duty and tells Em (whom he believes to be his sister) that their mother is missing. Em asks Christopher, a pal from her previous life whom she's always secretly loved, for help finding Steven's mom. By hacking into Stark's computer system, Christopher finds the real Nikki (in another body) and Steven's mom. Nikki's brain was supposed to have been destroyed because she learned company secrets. Brandon Stark, heir to Stark Enterprises, agrees to hide Nikki and her mom from his father, but only if Em (still in Nikki's body) will be his girlfriend.



Christian Beliefs


None



Authority Roles


Richard Stark, owner of Stark Enterprises, puts profit over people. He pays little attention to his stars, and even his son, unless the paparazzi are watching. Rendered helpless by their deal with Stark, Em's parents can only see their daughter infrequently and must tell people she's dead. Though Dr. Fong, a surgeon at Stark's neurosurgery institute, is told to dispose of Nikki's brain, his conscience won't allow it. He secretly transplants her brain into another body and hides Nikki and her mother at his home. Christopher's father, a poly-sci professor at NYU, instills in his son a deep-rooted distrust for authority. Lulu says her dad used to hire private detectives to follow her mom around when he thought she was cheating.



Other Belief Systems


Em reminds Nikki's workaholic agent that even God took Sunday off. The agent replies that, if God hadn't, maybe the world wouldn't be such an "effed-up" mess. Em's mom is Jewish and her dad isn't, so they celebrate both Christmas and Hanukkah. When things don't go her way, Em says karma is getting her back for slacking off in PE. Lulu doesn't know why Nikki is suddenly acting different, but she believes her roommate has undergone a spirit transfer. She's also convinced she was meant to be with Steven because her astrologer said she'd end up with a Libra.



Profanity/Graphic Violence


Words like b--ch, p---ed, butt, crap, a--, suck, B.S., and h--- are used repeatedly, and the Lord's name (God, Jesus and Christ) is taken in vain a number of times. From a plane, Em sees the island of Manhattan sticking out like a middle finger.



Kissing/Sex/Homosexuality


Nikki's promiscuity is noted repeatedly. Being in Nikki's body sometimes makes Em do and feel things of an erotic nature that she didn't do or feel in her old body. For example, Nikki's body causes Em to make out with Brandon, even though she doesn't want to. She can't stop herself. Lulu tells Em that Christopher won't be able to resist her if she eats oysters, an aphrodisiac. Brandon buries his face in the cleavage of a waitress he's been kissing. Em thinks Lulu likes Steven because he's the first non-gay guy that hasn't wanted her. Em mentions Nikki's lack of hair in her bikini area. Christopher and Em engage in an intense (and somewhat detailed) make out session on her bed.



Awards


Unknown



Discussion Topics


If your children have read this book or someone has read it to them, consider these discussion topics:

Notes:

Modesty: Nikki poses in a small bikini for a photo shoot, and later wears a tiny diamond-crusted bikini for Stark's version of a Victoria's Secret fashion show. Em leans forward in Brandon's presence, knowing her position will reveal her cleavage. Then, recalling Lulu's words that girls should give and take away, she strategically withdraws the seductive view. Lulu dresses provocatively and flaunts her cleavage to get Steven's attention. Em says Christopher's form-fitting jeans don't leave much to the imagination. She is disappointed that, although she's worn a painful push-up bra, Christopher still pays no attention to her breasts. A female acrobat Lulu hires for her party performs nearly nude. Em wears a slinky dress to Lulu's party, as does her younger teenaged sister.

Partying/Drinking: Nikki's roommate gets Em into the best parties, which result in many late nights and painful early mornings. Nikki's art director recalls a time they drank a lot and went skinny dipping. Brandon has a reputation for being frequently drunk. The tabloids wrongly suggest that Em (as Nikki) is using drugs. Steven says that a party doesn't have to be an elaborate event: A person can just get a keg and pour out a bag of pretzels. Lulu promises to have every imaginable type of liquor at her party. Though some of the characters using alcohol may be legally old enough to do so (this isn't clarified in the text), Em is only 17. Her younger sister, Frida, idolizes her sister's new friends and lifestyle. She attends Lulu's party, where someone gives her enough alcohol to get her drunk while telling her it's non-alcoholic. Nervous that Stark will learn he operated on Nikki, Dr. Fong drinks a shot of whisky. Brandon offers champagne to everyone in his limo, including under-aged Em as Nikki.

Lying: As Nikki, Em's entire life is a lie. She must constantly pretend to be someone else to keep her identity hidden, and she tells many other lies along the way in her efforts to uncover Stark's deception. Other characters, including Christopher, Richard Stark, Dr. Fong and Em's younger sister, Frida, lie in order to keep their plans or current circumstances secret.

Other deviant/criminal behavior: Christopher and his cousin, Felix, plan to hack into Stark's computer system and take down the company. They feel their actions are justified because of what Stark Enterprises has done to Em. Felix, a 14-year-old, is already under house arrest for a computer hacking crime, yet he still has access to his computer equipment. Em and friends steal Brandon's limo to track down Steven's mom. Dr. Fong tells them that folks in the Stark Corporation could kill them as they have done to others. Em recalls how she and Christopher used to save their money to buy "adult only" video games. Stark Enterprises tries to destroy Nikki Howard's brain because she learns company secrets. Dr. Fong forges documents so Stark won't discover that he's saved Nikki's life.


Book reviews cover the content, themes and worldviews of fiction books, not their literary merit, and equip parents to decide whether a book is appropriate for their children. A book's inclusion does not constitute an endorsement by Focus on the Family.


The Believer

A book review for parents

This Christian historical romance book is by Ann H. Gabhart and is published by Revell, a division of the Baker Publishing Group.

The Believer is not age level ranked. It has been marketed for adults and young adults.



Plot Summary


After her father's sudden death, 20-year-old Elizabeth Duncan finds herself an orphan and in charge of her younger brother and sister. With winter just around the corner, she realizes she must either marry the unsavory Colton Linley, the owner of the cabin and land they live in and on, or her family must find their way to the Shaker village in the next country. Believing God is leading them to the Shakers, people known for their kindness to orphans, they make their way to Harmony Hill. The Shakers welcome the children, but in return for their kindness, the children are expected to work hard and learn the ways of the Shakers. Raised a Christian, Elizabeth finds some of the Shaker beliefs strange and difficult to follow, but she is thankful to have plenty to eat and a place for her family to stay.

What she doesn't count on are the feelings she develops for a Shaker named Ethan. Ethan started with the Shakers as an orphan. Although Ethan tries to keep his Shaker vows, which includes a life of singleness, he finds he has feelings for Elizabeth. Having promised her siblings that they would leave in the spring if things didn't work out with the Shakers, Elizabeth leaves the village for her siblings' sake and to keep Ethan from breaking his vow of chastity. However, only her sister, Hannah, comes with her. Payton, her brother, elects to stay with the Shakers. Elizabeth and Hannah find refuge with a shopkeeper in the village and are safe until Colton Linley tracks them down. Ethan, who has followed them, keeps them safe until the sheriff arrives to arrest Colton for the murder of Elizabeth's father. Eventually, Ethan decides his place in the world is with Elizabeth as his wife.



Christian Beliefs


Elizabeth and her siblings have been raised as Bible-believing Christians by their parents, especially their mother. Among their father's things was the family Bible. The family believes in praying and seeing God answer those prayers. A Christian couple, Preacher and Mama Joe, raised Ethan until he was 6. The Shakers are devoted to following the Lord, especially in adhering to hard work, vows of chastity, confession of sins and separation from the world. Most of the Shakers desire to be seen as devout, and they focus on wanting a relationship with God. Most also read their Bibles, participate in worship and strive to be kind to each other.



Authority Roles


Elizabeth's father is the family head and is lovingly obeyed. Elizabeth acknowledges the authority of Colton Linley as the rightful owner of their home and acreage. After the death of their father, her brother and sister obey Elizabeth. The Shakers have a well-developed system of authority, which includes mentors to young believers, individual confessors for sins and watchers who insure that everyone in the community obeys the rules. The sheriff is the town's authority.



Other Belief Systems


The Shaker belief system is presented as it was lived and perhaps strangely thought of, but not particularly as a cult or wrong in their beliefs on Jesus Christ and salvation through grace. Theirs is a works-based belief with the ideas and words of their founder, Mother Ann, having as much or more importance than the words of the Bible.



Profanity/Graphic Violence


Ethan's biological father, Hawk Boyd, kidnaps Ethan as a young boy at knifepoint. Hawk also threatens to kill Preacher Joe. An unknown arsonist sets several fires. Hawk robs Ethan and Brother Issachar, Ethan's mentor, with a knife. Hawk stabs Brother Issachar without provocation. His wound becomes infected, leading to Issachar's painful death. A gun is pointed at Ethan, and a fight ensues for the weapon. The intentional poisoning of Elizabeth's father is not seen but is insinuated.



Kissing/Sex/Homosexuality


Ethan and Elizabeth share one kiss. Fully clothed, Ethan and Elizabeth enjoy a swim together that awakens sexual tension between the two. Once aware of their emotional feelings for each other, even a slight brush against his/her hand or an innocent glance across the room in either ones' direction brings that excitement back into their minds.



Awards


Unknown



Discussion Topics


If your children have read this book or someone has read it to them, consider these discussion topics:

Note:
The Shaker community of Harmony Hill is obviously a part of The United Society of Believers in Christ's Second Appearing. The book does not question whether the beliefs of this group are in line with the teachings of the Bible. You may want your child to do some research on the Shakers to better understand the differences between the Shakers' views and yours, especially about Jesus Christ and the element of grace. The Shakers see Jesus as the male Christ in human form, and Mother Ann as the female Christ in human form. They adhere to four major tenets: remaining chaste, living in community, confessing their sins and separating from the world.


Book reviews cover the content, themes and worldviews of fiction books, not their literary merit, and equip parents to decide whether a book is appropriate for their children. A book's inclusion does not constitute an endorsement by Focus on the Family.


Ben-Hur

A book review for parents

This historical adventure book by Lew Wallace is published by Signet Books and is written for adults but is sometimes studied by high school classes.

Plot Summary


When Judah Ben-Hur's childhood friend, Messala, returns from school indoctrinated by Roman teachings, he cruelly mocks Ben-Hur's Jewish beliefs. Messala works for the new Roman governor, Gratus, who stages an inaugural parade through Judaea. As Ben-Hur watches the scene, he accidentally dislodges a loose tile from his house, which hits the leader. Messala, enraged, ensures that Ben-Hur is harshly sentenced without trial and that his mother and sister are imprisoned. The tale that follows explains how Ben-Hur is relieved of his sentence and returns to a life of prosperity while looking for his family and seeking revenge against Messala. Amid it all, Ben-Hur becomes a follower of the carpenter who he believes will make war against the Romans — although he learns that earthly revenge is not the way of Christ.



Christian Beliefs


The story begins with Wallace's account of the biblical wise men meeting and following the star to Christ. Later, he provides an account of Mary and Joseph seeking a birthplace for Jesus. Ben-Hur, his friends and his family live in the time of Jesus' ministry and crucifixion, and they follow the Savior, initially anticipating His creation of an earthly kingdom to overthrow Rome. In Wallace's account, Ben-Hur witnesses and tells others about Jesus' miracles, including how He heals Ben-Hur's mother and sister of leprosy. Ben-Hur is the man who offers the wine-vinegar to Christ on the Cross.



Authority Roles


Arrius, a Roman officer at sea, listens sympathetically to Ben-Hur's story, even though Ben-Hur is merely a prisoner on rowing duty. Arrius not only frees Ben-Hur, but also adopts him and leaves him his fortune. Simonides, a former servant of Ben-Hur's father, cautiously investigates Ben-Hur to ensure he's who he claims to be. When Ben-Hur proves himself, Simonides (the doting father of Ben-Hur's future wife, Esther) offers to give Ben-Hur all the wealth he's accumulated through his stewardship of the Hur family money. Ben-Hur's mother demonstrates a spirit of love and protection with regard to her children. She reminds them of God's goodness even in the most desperate circumstances. Messala attempts to destroy the Hur family by using his Roman power and influence.



Other Belief Systems


Frequent references are made to idol worship, gods, goddesses and other pagan beliefs and worship practices of the time. Pagan characters often use exclamations involving the gods, such as "O Bacchus!" or "By Apollo." Fortunetelling is commonly practiced at the Grove of Daphne, a temple.



Profanity/Graphic Violence


The words a-- and b--tard occur a few times.



Kissing/Sex/Homosexuality


The text mentions orgies at the temple in the Grove of Daphne, but provides no other detail.



Awards


Unknown



Discussion Topics


If your children have read this book or someone has read it to them, consider these discussion topics:


Note: Producers often use a book as a springboard for a movie idea or to earn a specific rating. Because of this, a movie may differ from the novel. To better understand how this book and movie differ, compare the book review with Plugged In's movie review.

Book reviews cover the content, themes and worldviews of fiction books, not their literary merit, and equip parents to decide whether a book is appropriate for their children. A book's inclusion does not constitute an endorsement by Focus on the Family.


Beyond the Deepwoods

A book review for parents

This first fantasy book in the "The Edge Chronicles" by Paul Stewart is published by David Fickling Books, an imprint of Random House Children's Books.

Beyond the Deepwoods is written for kids ages 9 to 11. The age range reflects readability and not necessarily content appropriateness.



Plot Summary


When Twig turns 13, his surrogate woodtroll mother, Spelda, reveals he's adopted and sends him away to discover his destiny. Although woodtrolls are taught not to "stray from the path," Twig has no choice but to forge his own way through the Deepwoods. Twig encounters various creatures on his journey — slaughterers, hover worms, caterbirds, bloodoaks and rotsuckers. Some befriend him; some attempt to devour him. At last, he meets a crew of sky pirates and learns the truth about his past.



Christian Beliefs


A creature called the Gloamglozer could be likened to Satan; he calls himself "a deceiver, a trickster, a cheat and a fraud." He undermines Twig's confidence by telling him, "You are nothing."



Authority Roles


Twig's woodtroll guardians send him away because he isn't one of them, and they believe his destiny lies elsewhere. Twig is on his own for most of the book, except for the creatures he encounters. At the end, the father, who was forced to abandon Twig as a baby, welcomes him back into his life



Other Belief Systems


Twig and Spelda pray while touching the lucky charms and amulets worn around their necks. Twig does question whether "small pieces of wood and leather can really keep [his enemies] at bay." Twig and Spelda also use phrases like "Sky willing," "Thank Sky" and "Sky d--n you."



Profanity/Graphic Violence


Twig uses the word d-- once.



Kissing/Sex/Homosexuality


None



Awards


Unknown



Discussion Topics


If your children have read this book or someone has read it to them, consider these discussion topics:


Book reviews cover the content, themes and worldviews of fiction books, not their literary merit, and equip parents to decide whether a book is appropriate for their children. A book's inclusion does not constitute an endorsement by Focus on the Family.


Beyond the Grave

A book review for parents

This mystery adventure book by Jude Watson is the fourth book in "The 39 Clues" series and is published by Scholastic, Inc.

Beyond the Grave is written for kids ages 9 to 12. The age range reflects readability and not necessarily content appropriateness.



Plot Summary


In the first book in "The 39 Clues" series (The Maze of Bones), Dan and Amy Cahill's wealthy grandmother, Grace, dies and leaves a challenge to her large extended family: Whoever finds the 39 clues she's left behind will gain wealth and prestige beyond their wildest dreams. Orphaned Amy (age 14) and her brother, Dan, (age 11) are determined to outplay their vicious, devious family members.

In book four, Irina Spasky (former KGB agent and 39 clues competitor) chases Dan and Amy through the marketplace in Cairo, Egypt. A young archaeologist named Theo rescues them and guides them through several museums and tombs where they're seeking clues. Using a frequent traveler card they've stolen from rival Uncle Alistair, the kids and their young au pair, Nellie, check into a fancy hotel suite. Inside the room, they find a secret passage to the Ekat stronghold. (The Ekats are one of the four Cahill family branches, the group to which Alistair and his uncle, Bae, belong.) Bae traps the kids in the Ekat lair, and they begin to wonder why their supposedly loving grandmother involved them in such a dangerous quest without providing more help. After Nellie rescues Dan and Amy, Grace's best friend, Hilary, who lives in Cairo, tracks down the children. She renews their faith in their grandmother by producing a clue Grace left specifically for them, as well as the artifact (a statue of the goddess Sakhet) they've been searching for since arriving in Egypt. A map hidden inside the Sakhet statue leads them to Queen Nefertari's tomb. Theo and Hilary try to steal the Sakhet figurine when Irina offers them money for it, but they are foiled by Nellie. When the kids realize their next clue is buried beneath the Nile, Alistair takes them in his homemade submarine. The Ekat stronghold is ransacked, and Dan and Amy learn it was the work of the most mysterious Cahill family branch, the Madrigals.



Christian Beliefs


One of Grace's clues is a Christmas card with a manger scene on it. Dan finds a Bible in the hotel drawer. The kids eventually refer to it, looking up Matthew 2:11 when they realize that Grace is leading them to a clue involving myrrh.



Authority Roles


Nellie, the young punk-rocker au pair, serves as Dan and Amy's primary adult figure. She often allows them to hunt for clues by themselves and treats them as equals rather than children in need of guidance and discipline. Hilary tries to steal an artifact from Dan and Amy; she feels slighted because Grace didn't leave her money in her will. Theo betrays the kids' trust by helping Hilary (his grandmother). Alistair, Dan and Amy all question the sincerity of Grace's concern and love for her grandchildren; they wonder if, by sending them on this hunt for clues, she has encouraged them to be criminals and/or placed them in excessive danger. Alistair bugs Dan and Amy's room, partially out of concern for their well-being. Though he is a competitor, he feels affection for the orphaned children. He helps them look for underwater clues and get to a safe hotel until they can travel to their next destination.



Other Belief Systems


Dan and Amy search for a statue of Sakhet, most powerful of all Egyptian goddesses, who is known for her divine retribution and vengeance. She nearly destroyed the whole human race once on orders from the god Ra, according to a legend. In Nefertari's tomb is a painting of Osiris, god of the underworld. His wife, Isis, is pictured leading Nefertari into the underworld. Natives believe that people who disturb the tombs of the dead will themselves die quickly. Nellie says that Hilary's greed has led to bad Karma. Dan says Nellie worships her iPod. He also says luck is like Halloween candy: For a while you get to eat good things, then you're scraping the bottom and break your teeth on old, hard pieces.



Profanity/Graphic Violence


Dan uses the word fart. Discussing the mummification process, he explains how brains were extracted by pulling at them until they liquefied and oozed out the nose.



Kissing/Sex/Homosexuality


None



Awards


Unknown



Discussion Topics


If your children have read this book or someone has read it to them, consider these discussion topics:

Notes: Lying: The kids, Nellie and other characters do a fair amount of lying. When Irina is chasing them, Amy lies and tells Theo that Irina is just someone on their tour. Theo lies about writing a book so he can get himself and the kids into a tomb that has limited public access. Alistair notes that none of the Cahills know how to trust, and with good reason, since they've all betrayed each other so many times.


Book reviews cover the content, themes and worldviews of fiction books, not their literary merit, and equip parents to decide whether a book is appropriate for their children. A book's inclusion does not constitute an endorsement by Focus on the Family.


Beyond the Reflection's Edge

A book review for parents

This first Christian fantasy book in the "Echoes from the Edge" series by Bryan Davis is published by Zonderkidz.

Beyond the Reflection's Edge is written for kids 14 to 18. The age range reflects readability and not necessarily content appropriateness.



Plot Summary


Nathan Shepherd is no stranger to adventure, with a father who investigates strange phenomena and a famous violinist for a mother. But when Nathan's parents are murdered, he finds himself in the midst of a dangerous mystery. With the help of Kelly, his new legal guardians' daughter, Nathan learns how a special mirror, photographs, light and even music can help him see the future and travel between four distinct dimensions. As the two teens dodge the murderous villain Mictar and his goons, they begin to fall for each other. Nathan must eventually choose between rescuing his parents — who are actually alive in another dimension — or saving Kelly's life.



Christian Beliefs


Nathan, a moral, church-going boy, sometimes prays as a means of dealing with his grief and navigating tough decisions. He urges other characters to pray, but they seem only to know the Lord's Prayer. Many of the reassuring words Nathan recalls from his parents involve urgings to trust in God. They tell Nathan that the music people play (literally or figuratively) in their lives that honors God is an act of worship to the Creator. A violin teacher explains how God can create masterpieces ex nihilo (out of nothing). By loving Kelly, Nathan believes he can help her discover God's love.



Authority Roles


The evil Mictar, enemy of Nathan and his family, will kill or destroy anyone who threatens his plans. He and his henchmen persistently stalk Nathan, his parents and Kelly through various dimensions. Nathan's deeply loving parents — his dad in particular — have instilled insightful and godly truths into his mind and heart that he recalls at dark moments. Kelly's promiscuous parents cause her embarrassment and make her strive to live in a different way than they've chosen. Pater, the little-seen good brother of Mictar, tells Nathan that power results when we faithfully respond to what we can see in difficult situations.



Other Belief Systems


None



Profanity/Graphic Violence


Kelly's friend Daryl uses God's name in vain. Somewhat gruesome and bloody descriptions appear when the author talks about characters dying. For example, he mentions eyeballs removed from eye sockets, the odor of charred flesh, dead and mutilated corpses in coffins, and dismembered bodies strewn on the ground after a plane crash.



Kissing/Sex/Homosexuality


Although Nathan is careful to keep his mind and body pure, there are moments of obvious sexual tension between him and Kelly where he must refocus his thoughts. Kelly hasn't gone the way of the world regarding modesty, language and jokes. Both of her parents, not yet divorced from each other, sleep around. Nathan recalls (in a lengthy paragraph) his father's urging for him to remain pure so he and his future bride will not be haunted by regret.



Awards


Unknown



Discussion Topics


If your children have read this book or someone has read it to them, consider these discussion topics:


Book reviews cover the content, themes and worldviews of fiction books, not their literary merit, and equip parents to decide whether a book is appropriate for their children. A book's inclusion does not constitute an endorsement by Focus on the Family.


The Big Bike Mystery

A book review for parents

This Christian mystery is the second book in the "New Sugar Creek Gang" series by Pauline Hutchens Wilson and Sandy Dengler and is published by Moody Publishers.

The Big Bike Mystery is written for kids ages 8 to 12. The age range reflects readability and not necessarily content appropriateness.



Plot Summary


Les Walker, a member of the Sugar Creek Gang, discovers the bicycle of his dreams. After showing it to others in the gang, the kids determine to earn enough money to buy the expensive bikes. Unfortunately, one of their members can't participate. Mike must work to help support his family, because his father has just lost his job. As the others move forward in their venture, Les' and Bits' church is set on fire. When an easily identifiable bike belonging to one of the gang is placed at the scene of the crime, Les and friends are distracted from their bike-buying plans to help solve the mystery before Mike is charged as an arsonist. The gang finds that in their case, the little things people did were important: Someone spilled oil and didn't clean it up. Someone else left a candle burning. The result was a fire and a lot of destruction. Once the Sugar Creek Gang earns the money they need, they decide not to buy the most expensive bikes, but good ones, so they will have the money to buy Mike a matching bicycle, as well.



Christian Beliefs


Prayer, church and the Bible are interwoven throughout the story, and it explores what seeking God's direction means and how the little things in life matter. At one point, Bits speaks in a derogatory manner about Tiny preaching to them.



Authority Roles


With the exception of Bits, the Sugar Creek Gang members are obedient to their parents and respect authority. A police detective is portrayed in a negative light when he makes harsh comments against young people and demonstrates his dislike by the way he handles his investigation. Bits' father kicks her off of their home computer, so she goes to the Walkers' house to use their computer. A lady that Tiny, Les and Lynn help at the scene of a car accident later takes them to lunch and shares how she was rebellious as a teenager. She acknowledges that she was wrong during those years and knows better now.



Other Belief Systems


None



Profanity/Graphic Violence


None



Kissing/Sex/Homosexuality


None



Awards


Unknown



Discussion Topics


If your children have read this book or someone has read it to them, consider these discussion topics:


Book reviews cover the content, themes and worldviews of fiction books, not their literary merit, and equip parents to decide whether a book is appropriate for their children. A book's inclusion does not constitute an endorsement by Focus on the Family.


The Black Circle

A book review for parents

This mystery adventure book by Patrick Carman is the fifth book in "The 39 Clues" series and is published by Scholastic, Inc.

The Black Circle is written for kids ages 9 to 12. The age range reflects readability and not necessarily content appropriateness.



Plot Summary


In the first book in "The 39 Clues" series (The Maze of Bones), Dan and Amy Cahill's wealthy grandmother, Grace, dies and leaves a challenge to her large extended family: Whoever finds the 39 clues she's left behind will gain wealth and prestige beyond their wildest dreams. Orphaned Amy (age 14) and her brother, Dan, (age 11) are determined to outplay their vicious, devious family members.

While investigating a clue in the Cairo airport, Dan and Amy receive their first of many mysterious messages from someone called NRR. The note leads them to a locker containing a clue, a travel guide, a credit card, disguises and two tickets for a flight to Russia leaving in an hour. With competitor cousins the Holts and the Kabras on their tails, Dan and Amy learn they have just 36 hours to get to NRR before a secret room containing clues and information about their parents closes forever. The kids fly to Russia, leaving their au pair, Nellie, behind in Cairo. When they and cousin Hamilton Holt simultaneously find a clue inside a statue, the kids decide the only way to meet their time deadline is to work with the Holt family. The Holts go to Siberia in search of half of the clues while Dan and Amy follow a lead involving the infamous Rasputin to St. Petersburg. Since their disguises make them look older, Dan and Amy are able to get a motorcycle, then a small car, to drive themselves around. The kids travel to the royal village, summer home of the czars, and realize they must find the Amber Room, which was stolen from one of the village castles by the Nazis in World War II. (Note: The whole room was historically stolen.) They find a clue in the village that guides them to a theater at the Kremlin in Moscow, and a theater trap door leads them to NRR. Her real name is Nataliya Ruslanovna Radova; she is a descendant of Anastasia Romonov, as well as a member of the Lucian branch with 39 clues competitors Irina Spasky and Ian and Natalie Kabra. For reasons she won't explain, Nataliya betrays her own family branch to help the kids get into the Amber Room, which is hidden in a church. There, they find their next significant clue, a gram of melted amber.



Christian Beliefs


None



Authority Roles


Nellie, Dan and Amy's young au pair and primary authority figure, is in Cairo for most of the book while the kids make their way across Russia alone. They contact her and tell her what happens; she makes plans to meet up with them in Moscow. The kids frequently follow clues on their own, which mildly worries Nellie but never results in discipline or increased oversight. Eisenhower Holt is concerned about his son, Hamilton, who is working with Dan and Amy to find clues. He lectures the boy on not going soft or failing the family. Eisenhower's mother died young, and readers get the impression that his father was hard on him in his youth. Irina lost a child (though no detail is given as to how or when), and she attributes much of her heartless behavior to this event. After her dad makes a joke about his muscles, one of the Holt cousins says, "My father is a dork." Nataliya puts herself at great risk to help the kids find a clue and learn more about their parents.



Other Belief Systems


Amy reads that Rasputin convinced the Russian royals he had supernatural healing powers. In several places throughout the book, the kids suggest that maybe he did. Irina says that when you lose a child, you lose your soul.



Profanity/Graphic Violence


Dan mentions sores on a butt when he mistakes the word hemophilia (a disease from which both Alexie Romanov and Nataliya suffered) for hemorrhoids.



Kissing/Sex/Homosexuality


None



Awards


Unknown



Discussion Topics


If your children have read this book or someone has read it to them, consider these discussion topics:

Note:
Lying: The kids leave a note for Nellie saying they're going out to get doughnuts when they're actually looking for a clue in the Cairo airport. Dan skillfully fools his cousin Hamilton about a clue because Grace taught him to bluff like a Vegas poker player. The kids pay someone to help them deceive Irina to get her off their trail.


Book reviews cover the content, themes and worldviews of fiction books, not their literary merit, and equip parents to decide whether a book is appropriate for their children. A book's inclusion does not constitute an endorsement by Focus on the Family.


Blood Ransom

A book review for parents

This Christian romance and adventure book is the first in the "Mission Hope" series by Lisa Harris and is published by Zondervan.

Blood Ransom is written for readers ages 18 and older. The age range reflects readability and not necessarily content appropriateness.



Plot Summary


Natalie Sinclair, a young woman originally from Portland, Ore., is on a two-year contract working for a nonprofit health organization to prevent the spread of diseases in the Republic of Dhambizao in Africa. Joseph Komboli is a 15-year-old young native boy, who has the only known photos and proof of the existence of "ghost soldiers" — men whom the government denies exist but are rumored to attack the small villages to garner slaves to work the mines. Joseph, on his way home with his new birthday camera, chances upon the ghost soldiers as they attack and kidnap the people of his village, including all of his family, and captures the horrific event on his digital camera. Joseph, realizing the importance of these photos, makes his way to Natalie, the only person he knows and trusts who might be able to help him rescue his family. Joseph is hurt in the process of escaping, and Natalie brings him to a small clinic close to her office for treatment. Dr. Chad Talcott is a surgeon on sabbatical leave from his Portland medical practice. He works as a volunteer in this Dhambizao clinic.

Natalie convinces Chad, with Joseph's pictures, to help them get to the capital before it is too late for Joseph's family. This decision launches them into the middle of a modern-day slave trade, but also unexpectedly into high-ranking political intrigue, including the potential rigging of the upcoming presidential election. Chad's friendship with a local missionary, who has access to a small, private airplane, gets them halfway to the capital of Bogama. When the plane is shot down, they know that whomever is responsible does not want them to get to the U.S. Embassy in Bogama. Because of Joseph, the trio is protected and hidden in a village, then put on a boat headed for Bogama. They are followed and must jump from the boat and run for their lives into the jungle, but they eventually find a canoe driver who takes them to Bogama. The three of them spend the night at a friend's apartment before heading out separately to the U.S. Embassy in the morning. Chad and Joseph make it; Natalie does not. She is spotted and kidnapped on her way to the embassy. However, since Joseph has the photos, the people at the embassy have proof of the slave trade.

The people behind the ghost soldiers bomb the embassy in hopes of terrorizing, if not killing those in it. Hopes dim for Natalie's release, but Chad, Joseph and Natalie know that their prayers connect to a real God, and He is their only hope of help. When Natalie is finally rescued, she and Chad discover that a high-ranking general is behind both the slave trade and the political tampering. A political coup is stopped, and young Joseph is reunited with what remains of his family.



Christian Beliefs


Natalie and Chad both have a deep and personal faith in God, and believe He is alive and is their help in times of trouble. They often pray in Jesus' name for protection and success. Natalie believes that God is watching out for Joseph's family. Joseph talks about his village as being Christian. Joseph prays to Jesus for the safe return of his family. The bush pilot, Nick, was part of a Christian mission in Dhambizao.



Authority Roles


Natalie respects Stephen as her boss. The authority of the U.S. Embassy is respected and trusted. The president of Dhambizao is respected as the leader of the country.



Other Belief Systems


Might is right for many who trust the military rulers. They believe in the strength and power of wealth and money.



Profanity/Graphic Violence


Joseph witnesses a bloody fight between the ghost soldiers and his village when those in the village are taken captive. Joseph is hit in the head with the butt of a rifle and barely misses being hit by a bullet. Natalie finds a dried pool of blood at the remains of Joseph's family's village. The Cessna airplane that Chad, Natalie, Joseph and Nick are using to fly to Bogama is shot out of the sky. The villagers who befriend Chad and Natalie are attacked. Natalie is shot in the shoulder, and the wound frequently oozes blood. Nick is beat up after he tries to escape in his Cessna. Natalie's friend Gabby is followed, shot at and almost kidnapped. Chad and Natalie steal a cab. Natalie's friend Rachel is murdered and is found in a pool of blood. Natalie is kidnapped and held bound in a small hut. The U.S. Embassy is bombed. Natalie's boss is blown up by a car bomb. His charred remains are found sitting in the car.



Kissing/Sex/Homosexuality


One gentle kiss is exchanged between Chad and Natalie.



Awards


Unknown



Discussion Topics


If your children have read this book or someone has read it to them, consider these discussion topics:

Book reviews cover the content, themes and worldviews of fiction books, not their literary merit, and equip parents to decide whether a book is appropriate for their children. A book's inclusion does not constitute an endorsement by Focus on the Family.


The Book of Names: A Novel ("Legends of Karac Tor")

A book review for parents

This fantasy book is first in the "Legends of Karac Tor" series by D. Barkley Briggs and is published by NavPress, a division of The Navigators.

The Book of Names: A Novel is written for kids ages 13 and up. The age range reflects readability and not necessarily content appropriateness.



Plot Summary


Brothers Hadyn and Ewan Barlow find an ancient portal to the world of Karac Tor and discover they have been called to this land to serve as champions for the great Aion, who has been absent for many years. The country is in peril as Nemesia, a witch following the orders of the Devourer, turns young people into an army of nameless and mindless followers. The grey, black and white monks remain faithful to Aion and discover that the Book of Names, a magical text that contains all the names and accomplishments of every person who has been and will be in Karac Tor, has nothing but blank pages for the future generations as a result of Nemesia's actions.

Both Hadyn and Ewan have been given special gifts to battle against the evil taking over the land, and the Devourer orders Nemesia to have the boys stopped. She captures Hadyn and begins a ceremony to free darkness from the otherworld into Karac Tor. Ewan, along with a handful of Aion's followers, rescue Hadyn and the Nameless, but not before Nemesia releases evil throughout the land. Archibald, the ruler of Karac Tor, seems oblivious to the danger his people are in, and the majority of the monks are unsure of what role the Barlows are to take in bringing about Aion's return. Hadyn and Ewan discover that their younger brothers, Garrett and Gabe, have been called to Karac Tor to be champions as well, and Hadyn declares that they will all stay and fight for Aion.



Christian Beliefs


Aion, son of the great King Olfadr, is the Ever King of Karac Tor. He was good friends with Yhu Yoder, the first man, and also kept company with Kr'Nunos, a deceiver. Kr'Nunos convinced Yhu Yoder to kill Aion. Kr'Nunos' plan did not go as he hoped as Aion was reborn and promptly banished Kr'Nunos from the kingdom. Known now as the Devourer and Keeper of Hel, Kr'Nunos seeks to take advantage of Aion's long absence to completely cover the land in darkness and evil. Aion's faithful followers, however, wait for his promised return in the Final Days.



Authority Roles


Although Reggie Barlow is struggling over the loss of his wife, he is a loving and involved father to Hadyn, Ewan and their two younger brothers. Archibald is a good man, but a weak leader. While he is not blind to the growing problems in Karac Tor, he doesn't do anything about them and allows Jonas, an evil and manipulative man, to remain in an influential position within the court. In order to control the Nameless, Nemesia preys on their weaknesses and past hurts and often reminds them of how worthless they are.



Other Belief Systems


Nemesia, once a follower of Aion, practices witchcraft and sorcery to fulfill the plans of the Devourer. More and more people are turning away from Aion and are embracing pagan rituals, such as participating in blood sacrifices.



Profanity/Graphic Violence


Hadyn is tempted to swear after injuring himself, but he doesn't do so out of respect for his father. In order to have visions about the future, Nemesia boils live mice; the red steam from their blood fills the room. In a moment of rage, Nemesia kills a cage full of mice, drinks their blood and then proceeds to cut herself. Cruedwyn, a warrior seeking to protect Hadyn and Ewan, stabs and kills one of the Nameless and later wounds many more. Nemesia cuts the throat of one of the Nameless in order to get the attention of the Mismyri, a group of evil creatures she has released from Hel. The Mismyri proceed to eat the flesh of the dead girl in order to gain strength. The Devourer brutally stabs and kills Eldoran, the Father of the grey monks.



Kissing/Sex/Homosexuality


Nemesia talks about a past lover, and she has an illegitimate child with Sorge, a former warrior who is now a monk. Kr'Nunos enjoys transforming into the shape of wild animals partly due to the way they mate.



Awards


Unknown



Discussion Topics


If your children have read this book or someone has read it to them, consider these discussion topics:

Note: Eldoran consumes wine with a meal.


Book reviews cover the content, themes and worldviews of fiction books, not their literary merit, and equip parents to decide whether a book is appropriate for their children. A book's inclusion does not constitute an endorsement by Focus on the Family.


The Book of Time

A book review for parents

This time-travel mystery, the first book translated from the French "The Book of Time" trilogy by Guillaume Prévost, is published by Arthur A. Levine Books, an imprint of Scholastic, Inc.

The Book of Time is written for kids ages 9 to 13. The age range reflects readability and not necessarily content appropriateness.



Plot Summary


Ever since Sam Faulkner's mom died in a car accident three years earlier, Sam's dad, Allan, hasn't been the same. It's not unusual for Allan to disappear for several days at a time, but when his absence grows more lengthy — and he misses his son's birthday — Sam starts to poke around in the basement of his dad's dilapidated bookstore for clues to his father's whereabouts. There, he finds a strange statue and an old coin. By placing the coin in the center of the statue, he is transported to Viking-era Scotland. In his efforts to get home, he also lands in various places in time such as in the midst of a World War I battle, in medieval Europe and in Egypt during the building of the pyramids. With the help of his cousin Lily, the only one with whom he shares the truth about his travels, Sam finds evidence that his father is trapped in Dracula's castle during a much earlier time period. A confirming clue invites readers into book two of the trilogy.



Christian Beliefs


Several of the historical circumstances in which Sam finds himself involve God-fearing people. Some are monks, who talk about the Lord's wisdom and believe Sam is a miracle sent from God to help them protect sacred documents. The monks believe St. Colm Cille (after whom their island was named) battled monsters, spoke with angels and God, and performed miracles. The soldier Sam helps also believes Sam was sent by the Lord. A man Sam meets in Europe says his wife's death was God's will; the same man later says something will happen if it's God's wish. One man in Europe accuses another of not being Christian because he appears to practice magic in his laboratory. Sam himself offers a few brief "prayers" for help, but they seem to be directed at no one in particular.



Authority Roles


Allan, once a fun-loving father, is now described (though never actually portrayed in the book) as depressed and distant, disappearing for days at a time without telling anyone. Sam lives with his grandparents, who offer love, concern and support. Sam's grandparents take in stride the judgmental and condescending advice of Sam's aunt (Lily's mom) and her boyfriend. Sam meets many kind adults on his travels, including the monks in Scotland, an Egyptian laborer and a European artist, and they take Sam into their homes and care for him, despite not knowing who he is or where he's from.



Other Belief Systems


The statue that transports Sam back in time looks, he says, like some sort of totem or voodoo object that might have a terrible curse on it. A soldier gives Sam his "good luck" coin and says Sam's appearance is proof that it works. In ancient Egypt, a priest takes a ritual bath and recites prayers at the Temple of Ramses; the people also worship the god Thoth, who is the patron of magicians, the master of time and the juggler of days and seasons. One Egyptian priest who has traveled in time advises his son to serve his gods and cherish his family, and that nothing else really has much meaning based on what he's seen. The old neighbor living near Allan's bookstore says some believe the store has the evil eye. Grandma tells Sam she believes she can tell when his father is OK, which causes Sam to ponder whether he believes in ESP and premonitions. When Sam wins a judo match, he says he is lucky.



Profanity/Graphic Violence


There are a few uses of the words darn, heck, turd, butt and God's name is included in phrases such as for ---'s sake, oh my --- and Good --- almighty. Sam also swears and curses, though no specific words appear in the text. Whenever Sam is transported into another time, the trip makes him vomit violently. A villain from the past nicks Sam's Adam's apple with a knife and causes him to bleed.



Kissing/Sex/Homosexuality


Sam says some of his friends seek to improve their knowledge of women while traveling abroad. At the judo match, one competitor sits in the stand and eagerly kisses his girlfriend all over. She wears a belly-bearing top.



Awards


Unknown



Discussion Topics


If your children have read this book or someone has read it to them, consider these discussion topics:


Note:

Mentions of alcohol: Sam finds two cans of beer (along with some other miscellaneous leftovers) in his dad's fridge after his dad goes missing. Sam later offers one of these beers to his aunt's boyfriend. An Egyptian servant complains that there is no beer left at his house, and the water is stagnant. An Egyptian priest gives Sam some honey beer. Sam enjoys its resulting feelings enough to make a mental note not to become an alcoholic. Later, the alcohol makes him feel sick. The old man living near Allan's shop drinks whiskey in front of Sam and Lily, though he gives them soda. A man in Europe serves hot-spiced wine to his guests.

Mentions of smoking: Several World War I soldiers smoke in their break room. Sam notes that some of his friends try smoking on their trips overseas.

Lying: Sam lies frequently and shamelessly. He lies to his grandparents and other adults about his hunt for his father, and he lies to the historical people he encounters about who he is and where he's from. Lily also lies to her mom and her mom's boyfriend. Both kids casually talk about how they'll try to make something up to cover for each other.


Book reviews cover the content, themes and worldviews of fiction books, not their literary merit, and equip parents to decide whether a book is appropriate for their children. A book's inclusion does not constitute an endorsement by Focus on the Family.


The Boy Who Dared: A Novel Based on the True Story of a Hitler Youth

A book review for parents

This historical fiction book by Susan Campbell Bartoletti is published by Scholastic Press, Inc. and is written for kids ages 9 to 12. The age range reflects readability and not necessarily content appropriateness.



Plot Summary


A fictionalized version of a true story. Helmuth Hübener, a young man, boldly disagrees with the tactics of Hitler and the Nazis during their rise to power. At the book's start, Helmuth is on death row, awaiting the executioner. Then in flashback format, the events that led him there are revealed. During Helmuth's middle-school years, he joined the Hitler Youth after being stirred by the future führer's persuasive speeches, but he can not accept Hitler's actions against the Jews. Knowing that his freedom is at stake, Helmuth listens to BBC radio broadcasts from which he learns the implications of Hitler's war strategies, and he feels a moral obligation to inform his fellow German citizens. He and his friends write, print and secretively distribute leaflets that reveal the truth. When their work is discovered, they are charged and tried as traitors to the German cause. Though these events lead to Helmuth's death, he heroically takes all the blame and in doing so is able to spare his friends' lives.



Christian Beliefs


None



Authority Roles


When Helmuth's mother and grandparents back Hitler, believing that he will restore their national honor and strengthen the faltering economy, Helmuth continues to respect them despite his questioning of Hitler's motives. Herr Vinke, Helmuth's middle-school teacher, is outspoken in his support of Hitler. Helmuth first internalizes Herr Vinke's comments, hoping to be seen as loyal, but he later questions the teacher, and this leads to Helmuth being perceived as a troublemaker. When Helmuth's mother dates and eventually marries Hugo, a highly regarded SS officer, Helmuth thinks Hugo is morally corrupt, but he maintains a respectful attitude toward his stepfather. He eventually is adopted by Hugo and even takes his surname. When Helmuth and his friends are interrogated for their alleged distribution of propaganda, Helmuth willingly cooperates with the SS, although he tries his best to avoid implicating his friends.



Other Belief Systems


As members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, Helmuth, his family and friends refer to their Mormon beliefs (nothing overt). Because the story is set during World War II and the years leading up to it, readers learn many details of German nationalism and the worldview of Adolf Hitler and the Nazis. In addition, references to Jews who were persecuted for their beliefs and exterminated by the Nazis are included.



Profanity/Graphic Violence


While there is no profanity, the descriptions of Nazi torture and imprisonment are graphic. Realistic details may be too intense for younger readers.



Kissing/Sex/Homosexuality


None



Awards


Unknown



Discussion Topics


If your children have read this book or someone has read it to them, consider these discussion topics:


Book reviews cover the content, themes and worldviews of fiction books, not their literary merit, and equip parents to decide whether a book is appropriate for their children. A book's inclusion does not constitute an endorsement by Focus on the Family.


Breaking Dawn

A book review for parents

This fantasy/romance book is the fourth in the "Twilight Saga" by Stephenie Meyer and is published by Little, Brown and Company Books for Young Readers, an imprint of the Hachette Book Group.

Breaking Dawn is written for kids ages 12 and up. The age range reflects readability and not necessarily content appropriateness.

PluggedIn.com, an entertainment and media ministry of Focus on the Family, has written an article that offers an overview of the whole "Twilight" series: Darkness Falls After Twilight.

Book reviews cover the content, themes and worldviews of fiction books, not their literary merit, and equip parents to decide whether a book is appropriate for their children. A book's inclusion does not constitute an endorsement by Focus on the Family.


Bridget's Blog

A book review for parents

This second family life book in the "Faith and Friends" series by Wendy Witherow is published by Mission City Press.

Bridget's Blog is written for kids ages 8 to 12. The age range reflects readability and not necessarily content appropriateness.



Plot Summary


The summer before Bridget starts middle school, she blogs to express her thoughts with her closest friends and family. In one post she shares that she is writing a story about her doll, Star, and a challenge Star must face. Bridget will read the story at open-mic night for new sixth graders at a coffee shop at the end of summer. In her blog, she asks readers to share their biggest challenge and a Bible verse or tips that helped them overcome it. With challenges still on her mind, Bridget prepares for a trip to visit her aunt in New York. Bridget looks forward to shopping for stylish clothes and practicing hairstyles with her aunt. Right before the trip, Bridget learns that her aunt has cut her hair short and donated the clippings to be used to fashion a wig for a child who lost her hair due to cancer treatments. Bridget, who hopes to have the longest hair in sixth grade, is shocked. Bridget's mother tells her that her aunt's personal sacrifice and generosity are a reflection of her inward beauty. Bridget has a fun visit with her aunt in New York and before she leaves, she also has her hair cut short to provide a wig for a child. When Bridget returns home, she reads her story about Star at open-mic night and also tells about the program that provides wigs for children with cancer.



Christian Beliefs


Bridget prays about decisions in her life. She posts Scripture on her blog. Bridget's family shares Bible verses with Bridget through blog comments.



Authority Roles


Bridget's dad, mom and aunt are positive role models. They guide her through difficult issues and give her what she needs to reach her own conclusions.



Other Belief Systems


None



Profanity/Graphic Violence


None



Kissing/Sex/Homosexuality


None



Awards


Unknown



Discussion Topics


If your children have read this book or someone has read it to them, consider these discussion topics:


Book reviews cover the content, themes and worldviews of fiction books, not their literary merit, and equip parents to decide whether a book is appropriate for their children. A book's inclusion does not constitute an endorsement by Focus on the Family.


The Bronze Bow

A book review for parents

This Christian book by Elizabeth George Speare is published by Houghton Mifflin Books and is written for kids ages 12 and up. The age range reflects readability and not necessarily content appropriateness.



Plot Summary


After his parents' untimely deaths, Daniel bar Jamin escapes to the hills and joins a rough band — led by a man named Rosh. They plan to conquer the hated Romans. Five years later, Daniel runs into an old friend and learns his grandmother (who cares for his younger, demon-possessed sister, Leah) is dying. His senses of guilt and responsibility lead him to return to his home in the village and take over his friend Simon's blacksmith shop while caring for Leah. Still driven by his hatred for the Romans — who, readers learn, killed his father — Daniel aids Rosh from a distance by assembling a band of like-minded young men to fight. But when Daniel meets a carpenter named Jesus, all of his notions are turned upside-down.



Christian Beliefs


Set in the time of Christ's ministry, the book includes many accounts of His miracles. Jesus is a character in the story. His message and healing power profoundly influence the main character.



Authority Roles


Rosh shows less concern for his men than for his hate-driven mission. He steals — everything from livestock to money to slaves — even from his own people (the Jews) in order to fund and feed his army. Simon is a blacksmith who gives up his shop to follow Jesus. He shows constant concern and friendship for Daniel, and even turns his home and business over to him. He tries to help Daniel see the hope offered by the man he believes is the Messiah.



Other Belief Systems


Initially, every action in Daniel's life is fueled by hate and a thirst for vengeance. After meeting Jesus and getting to know Him, Daniel discovers that love is a more powerful weapon.



Profanity/Graphic Violence


None



Kissing/Sex/Homosexuality


None



Awards


Newbery Medal, 1962



Discussion Topics


If your children have read this book or someone has read it to them, consider these discussion topics:


Book reviews cover the content, themes and worldviews of fiction books, not their literary merit, and equip parents to decide whether a book is appropriate for their children. A book's inclusion does not constitute an endorsement by Focus on the Family.


Bucking the Sarge

A book review for parents

This coming-of-age book by Christopher Paul Curtis is published by Random House Children's Books and is written for kids ages 12 and up. The age range reflects readability and not necessarily content appropriateness.



Plot Summary


At 15, Luther T. Farrell already runs a group home for disabled men. The home is owned by his slumlord mother, Sarge. Besides his many work responsibilities, Luther is an aspiring philosopher, three-time science fair winner and loyal companion to the not-so-brilliant Sparky — who longs to come up with a bogus lawsuit that will make him rich. When Sarge's unethical and dangerous activities finally catch up with her — largely because Luther has inadvertently "outed" her with his science fair project — she throws him out of the house. Luther goes, but not before he has extracted some serious revenge on Sarge.



Christian Beliefs


Luther talks about a girl so beautiful that she looked like she had life breathed into her by "a kind and loving God." Sarge hides her petty cash in a Bible she made Luther hollow out.



Authority Roles


Sarge ruthlessly cheats her renters and the men at her group home. With the help of her go-to guy, Darnell, she endangers families with lead paint, burns houses for insurance money and lies to Luther for years about the wages she's saving for him. Other adults in the story include a slick, unethical lawyer, a teacher who accepts bribes from Sarge and a drug-addicted mother whom Sarge puts out on the street. A few respectable adults appear briefly, and one of the elderly men at the group home acts as a father figure to Luther by listening and encouraging him to break free from Sarge.



Other Belief Systems


As a wannabe philosopher, Luther briefly mentions karma and quotes various thinkers in history. He believes some things that happen are signs sent to direct him, but he doesn't say from whom the signs come.



Profanity/Graphic Violence


Several crass words and phrases appear, and men allude to having sex with each other's mothers as a way of demonstrating disrespect. Sarge's and Darnell's cruel behaviors and threats are pervasive, though violence is not depicted in extreme detail.



Kissing/Sex/Homosexuality


The book alludes a number of times to Luther's masturbation (though the "M" word is never actually used) and to magazines under his mattress. Though a virgin, Luther carries a condom named Chauncy in his wallet. In kindergarten, he touches a girl's knee and is sent to the principal for sexual harassment.



Awards


Golden Kite Award (2004), ALA Best Book for Young Adults (2005).



Discussion Topics


If your children have read this book or someone has read it to them, consider these discussion topics:


Book reviews cover the content, themes and worldviews of fiction books, not their literary merit, and equip parents to decide whether a book is appropriate for their children. A book's inclusion does not constitute an endorsement by Focus on the Family.


Bud, Not Buddy

A book review for parents

This drama book by Christopher Paul Curtis is published by Yearling Books, an imprint of Random House Children's Books and is written for kids ages 9 and up. The age range reflects readability and not necessarily content appropriateness.



Plot Summary


Ten-year-old Bud Caldwell is tired of living in an orphanage and going to bad foster homes. He searches for his father, but the only clues he has are some rocks with mysterious writing on them, a childhood photo of his mother and flyers about Herman E. Calloway and his band. Bud is convinced that Herman E. Calloway is his dad. When he finds Calloway, the man is not what he expected. Still, his search brings closure to his mother's death and offers him a real home.



Christian Beliefs


God is mentioned a few times as if faith were a natural part of everyday life.



Authority Roles


Bud's foster parents are cruel, and his grandfather is too strict. Librarians are portrayed as supportive friends, and Bud's memories paint his mother as a loving parent. Some policemen are kind, while others threaten people and tear apart their shantytown with no compassion for the homeless.



Other Belief Systems


None



Profanity/Graphic Violence


Jesus' name is used in vain. Bud imagines shooting the foster family after the son beats him and the parents lock him in a shed after threatening him.



Kissing/Sex/Homosexuality


Bud and a girl his age share one kiss and hold hands.



Awards


2000 Newbery Award, Coretta Scott King Award, 2000 ALA Notable Children’s Books winner, 1999 School Library Journal Best Books of the Year, 1999 Publishers Weekly Best Books of the Year



Discussion Topics


If your children have read this book or someone has read it to them, consider these discussion topics:


Book reviews cover the content, themes and worldviews of fiction books, not their literary merit, and equip parents to decide whether a book is appropriate for their children. A book's inclusion does not constitute an endorsement by Focus on the Family.


The Burning Bridge

A book review for parents

This fantasy adventure is the second book in the "Ranger's Apprentice" series by John Flanagan and is published by Puffin Books, a division of Penguin Young Readers Group.

The Burning Bridge is written for kids ages 10 and up. The age range reflects readability and not necessarily content appropriateness.



Plot Summary


Sixteen-year-old Will, an apprentice Ranger, lives with his teacher, Halt, and learns the surveillance and battle techniques of the secretive protectors of the kingdom. A banished Baron named Morgarath readies his army of mind-controlled creatures (Wargals) to attack Will and Halt's kingdom, and he ensures that a set of spurious battle plans fall into the Rangers' hands. The King asks Gilan, a Ranger who once served as Halt's apprentice, to enlist the help of the Celts in the conflict. Halt sends Will and Horace (Will's friend and a Battleschool student) to travel with Gilan to Celtica.

Gilan and the boys frequently practice battle maneuvers on their trip. As they proceed farther into Celtica, they find deserted towns where people seem to have left quickly. Gilan and the boys also encounter a young woman named Evanlyn who tells them the Wargals made a surprise attack on the area and are capturing miners. Gilan goes ahead of the group to warn the King, and the boys and Evanlyn travel together. The youths see some Wargals herding a group of miners and beating one to death. Will says they must follow the creatures to learn their plans. They discover Morgarath is using the miners to dig a tunnel and build a bridge that will allow him to move his troops down from the steep terrain of his lair and trap the King's army. Another group called the Skandians is also working on the bridge, which will be completed in a matter of days. Realizing they don't have time to warn the King, Will, Horace and Evanlyn decide their only choice is to burn the bridge to keep the Wargals trapped. Will and Evanlyn successfully destroy the bridge, but a group of Skandians captures them.

Meanwhile, Gilan arrives at the King's camp. The leaders realize that Evanlyn is actually Cassandra, the King's daughter. With the intelligence he and Horace provide, the King's army revises its battle plan. They've nearly captured Morgarath when he surrenders and challenges Halt to a duel. Horace jumps in and challenges Morgarath, who accepts before the King can prevent it. Since the laws of chivalry must be upheld, Morgarath and Horace battle. When Horace has nearly lost, he suddenly defeats Morgarath by using a Ranger technique Gilan taught him early in the trip. When Morgarath dies, the Wargals are free from his mind control and rendered harmless. Halt goes after the Skandians to rescue Will and Evanlyn. He's unable to catch the ship they're on but vows to find and save Will.



Christian Beliefs


None



Authority Roles


Morgarath is only concerned about his own plans and desires. He leads his army of Wargals by controlling their minds, and he brutalizes his underlings. Halt, a rough-around-the-edges Ranger, serves not only as a mentor but also as a father figure to Will. Halt's former apprentice, Gilan, also takes Will and his friend Horace under his wing. He provides the boys with intensive training, even teaching Horace the moves that allow him to destroy Morgarath. The King fights on the battlefield alongside his men, refusing to let his concern for his daughter's life keep him from leading his troops.



Other Belief Systems


Celts superstitiously won't meet with messengers in a timely manner unless three of them come together. Will says it would be bad luck if his rumbling stomach let his enemies know he was there. Halt feels a cold hand of premonition clutch his heart when he gets a message about the war. Sir Montague, a rogue ruler, treats Will's friend Alyss badly when she's sent to give him a message. He rails on her and her teacher, Lady Pauline, and says women are only good for cooking and raising children. Villagers think Rangers are sorcerers because they can hide themselves so well. Gilan says Halt does have a way of knowing things, so maybe he's a kind of sorcerer in his own way.



Profanity/Graphic Violence


Several dozen uses of swear words like d--n, h--- and the Lord's name in vain appear. There are also single uses of mild words such as darn and where the devil. The book includes a number of fight scenes, though most describe the warriors' movements rather than the injurious results. Several mildly gory scenes depict Wargals beating and bloodying miners, Will being bloodied and knocked unconscious by a Skandian and Morgarath whipping his bugler until blood pours down the man's forehead and into his eye.



Kissing/Sex/Homosexuality


Will thinks about a time Alyss kissed him. Alyss kisses Halt twice on the cheek, once for himself and once for Will.



Awards


Children's Book Council of Australia, 2006; and others



Discussion Topics


If your children have read this book or someone has read it to them, consider these discussion topics:


Book reviews cover the content, themes and worldviews of fiction books, not their literary merit, and equip parents to decide whether a book is appropriate for their children. A book's inclusion does not constitute an endorsement by Focus on the Family.