Focus on the Family


Dangerously Alice

A book review for parents

This fiction book is the 16th book in the "Alice" series by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor and is published by Atheneum Books for Young Readers, an imprint of Simon & Schuster.

Dangerously Alice is written for ages 14 and up. The age range reflects readability and not necessarily content appropriateness.



Plot Summary


Sixteen-year-old Alice McKinley resents the fact that a few of her classmates have nicknamed her MGT (Miss Goody Two-shoes). Concerned that they may be right, she decides to try to increase the excitement factor in her life by dating a "fast" boy named Tony, sneaking out of the house to write an exposé for the school paper and staging a protest at school, among other things. Along the way, she works through issues with her stepmother, frequently visits a friend with leukemia and contemplates her feelings about when is the right time to have sex. Her friend's involvement in a near-fatal drunk driving crash helps her gain additional perspective on the value of living each day as if it were the last.



Christian Beliefs


Alice infrequently attends church with her dad and stepmom and mentions with disdain a class she took there about sexuality. After she witnesses her dad and stepmom having sex, she tells her brother she wishes she could confess to a priest; he offers her a tongue-in-cheek absolution by saying, "Go and sin no more." Alice's Catholic friend Liz mentions praying for someone. A minor character contemplates joining the priesthood. Alice is surprised when a priest agrees to let her and Liz (posing as runaways) sleep at his parish rather than turning them out on the street. A concerned mother (Mrs. Shoates) objects when her daughter is forced to give a speech in favor of pre-marital sex; the woman comes across as hostile and close-minded, and the students who rally against her objections are considered heroes.



Authority Roles


Alice's widower dad is a caring father who worries about his daughter's safety. His new wife, Sylvia, Alice's former teacher, hides some of Alice's more questionable actions from Dad to keep his stress level down and to maintain better relations with her stepdaughter. Aunt Sally appears silly and old-fashioned when she is shocked and unhappy to learn her daughter (Alice's cousin, Carol) is living with a boyfriend. Mrs. Cary, Alice's speech teacher, is depicted as a trailblazing educator when she makes her class write speeches about both sides of a controversial issue. She appears calm and rational in contrast to the militant, overbearing Mrs. Shoates.



Other Belief Systems


On a day that's going right for Alice, she says it feels as if the gods have prepared the way.



Profanity/Graphic Violence


Language includes b--ch, s---, p-ssed and a form of the f-word.



Kissing/Sex/Homosexuality


Dangerously Alice is brimming with sexuality, from numerous off-handed conversations between teens to frank discussions (even with many adults) indicating sex is just what people do when they reach a certain age. Alice accidentally witnesses her dad and stepmother having sex. Her older, unmarried brother gives a girl sexy underwear for Christmas. Alice's cousin tries to figure out how to tell her parents she's living with a man. Alice engages in some intense and graphic foreplay with an older boy. She contemplates going "all the way" but decides against it. The teen characters attend naked parties, praise each other when they increase their sexual experience and discuss the merits of living with someone before marrying. Virginity is considered embarrassing and unrealistic.



Awards


None



Discussion Topics


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

Note:
Alice's friend Brian drinks and later that evening, gets into a serious alcohol-related accident. Parents could take this opportunity to discuss the dangers of drunk driving and underage drinking.

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.


Dating Do-Over

A book review for parents

This fourth teen relationships book in the "Real TV" series by Wendy Lawton is published by Moody Publishers.

Dating Do-Over is written for kids 13 years and up. The age range reflects readability and not necessarily content appropriateness.



Plot Summary


High school senior Bailey wants to go to prom with Trevor, who has begun attending her youth group. To look more attractive, she takes off her glasses and ends up spilling her lunch tray on him. When she pretends to love sports, she calls out a football term in the middle of his baseball game. Jenn's brother Luke is nice to Bailey and works for the reality show "Dating Do-Over." During Jenn and Bailey's tour of the set, a contestant drops out of the show, and the producers decide Bailey's prom date woes will make good entertainment. Trevor turns down Bailey's request for a prom date during the show's filming. Luke steps in as her date. Later, they learn Trevor's sister's illness requires expensive treatment the family can't afford and it's during prom weekend, which is why Trevor rejected Bailey. The TV show has Bailey and Luke visit Trevor — who has recently turned his life over to Christ. The show ends up doubling as a fundraiser for Trevor's sister's treatment.



Christian Beliefs


Bailey's family is Christian, and they attend church, as do Jenn, Luke and their family. Bailey prays silently, and the family prays before breakfast. The friends attend youth group and pray together. Trevor isn't a Christian in the beginning of the book but eventually accepts Christ. Characters talk about dating fellow Christians to avoid falling in love with someone not of their faith.

Bailey grows in understanding that a prom date isn't as important as Trevor's sister getting treatment. She also realizes Luke's kindness and friendship are a better basis for a relationship than admiring someone, such as Trevor, from a distance.



Authority Roles


Bailey's parents gently guide her toward thinking about Luke as a viable prom date, since their families attend church together. Pastor John gives a talk at youth group about prom dates and recommends starting with prayer and having fun with friends instead of focusing on an individual to date.



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.


Dazzle's First Day

A book review for parents

This first talking animal, coming-of-age book in the "Butterfly Meadow" series by Olivia Moss is published by Scholastic, Inc.

Dazzle's First Day is written for kids ages 5 to 9. The age range reflects readability and not necessarily content appropriateness.


Plot Summary


Dazzle, a brand-new butterfly, leaves her chrysalis and teaches herself to fly. She meets ladybugs and learns that there is something called a mom. She wonders where her mom is. A blackbird spies Dazzle and almost eats her, but a blue butterfly, Skipper, shows Dazzle how to hide in a rambling rosebush. Once the bird is gone, the two butterflies get to know each other. They sip nectar, then go to the meadow. Skipper introduces Dazzle to animals and insects; cows, hedgehogs, bees and others. At the meadow, Dazzle meets hundreds of butterflies and learns that she is a pale clouded yellow butterfly. She also learns that she doesn’t have a mom. The butterflies decide to have a party to welcome Dazzle, and they invite all the friendly animals and insects. Skipper teaches Dazzle the butterfly dance, and when the party ends, Dazzle curls up beneath a leaf and sleeps.



Christian Beliefs


There is no mention of God being the Creator.



Authority Roles


The ladybug mother takes care of her children. The book’s focus, other than the first day in the life of Dazzle, is Dazzle’s mother. The question is raised at the beginning of the book and is resolved by the end. Dazzle does not have a mother, which empowers her to bring herself into the world. So the butterfly that lays the eggs is not seen as a mother. Dazzle accepts that there is no one in authority over her, such as a parent. She is responsible for her own future. All the animals and insects are her equals, and they learn from each other.



Other Belief Systems


Dazzle doesn’t understand what a mom is, so the ladybugs tell her that moms are responsible for bringing children into the world and taking care of them until they can take care of themselves. Dazzle is proud that she doesn’t need a mother.



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.


Dear John

A book review for parents

This romance novel by Nicholas Sparks is published by Warner Books, a division of the Hachette Book Group USA, and is written for adults. The age range reflects readability and not necessarily content appropriateness.



Plot Summary


Weary of alcohol, meaningless relationships and a lack of direction, John Tyree joins the Army. He’s on leave for a few weeks in his hometown of Wilmington, N.C., when he meets Savannah Lynn Curtis on a beach. Savannah, a college student, is leading a group of coeds in building Habitat for Humanity homes. She and her group have rented a beach house to use during their stay. John and Savannah hail from different backgrounds: Savannah grew up in a Christian home with two devoted parents, while John was raised by a quiet, meticulous father with a passion for coin collecting. Nevertheless, they feel an instant connection and begin to spend every free moment together. By the end of John’s leave, the two have fallen in love and promise to be married when he’s discharged. Meanwhile, they will write.

The novel follows the ups and downs of their long-distance relationship, including their joyful moments and arguments during John’s short Army leaves. When John’s time in the army is nearly complete, September 11 rocks the nation, and he decides it is his patriotic duty to re-enlist. Savannah understands but can’t hide her disappointment. Time and distance begin to take their toll, and Savannah sends John a letter saying she’s in love with someone else.

John tries to deal with his emotions by burying himself in his military career, and he spends his leaves with his ailing father. When Savannah met John’s dad years earlier, she suggested he might have Asperger’s syndrome, a disorder resembling autism. As John begins to understand the disorder, he learns to relate to his father and comes to deeply appreciate the man who raised him. When his father’s health finally fails, John learns his dad has left him a coin collection worth a small fortune.

Grieving his dad’s death, John visits Savannah’s hometown. He finds her at the farmhouse she and her husband own, and he learns she married her friend Tim, with whom she’d been building homes the summer she met John. Tim had always been kind and respectful to John, though John knew Tim loved Savannah, too. Savannah seems unhappy with life, and John learns it’s because Tim is in the hospital battling cancer. She believes an expensive experimental treatment may help him, but they can’t afford it. She bares herself emotionally and physically to John in the midst of her pain. Though it’s heartbreaking, he declines her advances and leaves town. He sells his father’s coin collection and anonymously funds the treatment Tim needs. Later, he returns in secret to Savannah’s farm. The treatment has worked, and she and Tim are happily resuming their lives.



Christian Beliefs


Savannah is a devoted Christian. As a teen, she spent a number of summers building houses with her church group. Savannah tells John how she struggled to fit in when she first started college but found Christian student groups and volunteer work to keep her busy. She says she has a hard time understanding people’s desire to freely experiment with sex, drinking and drugs during college. Upset by the sexual exploits of some of her building crew, Savannah tells John she’s trying not to let it get to her. It’s only God’s judgment that matters, she says, and no one can presume to know the will of God.

Savannah’s friend Tim comes from her hometown where they attended the same church. Savannah raves to John about how patient Tim is with his autistic brother, Alan. She says Tim inspired her to work with disabled children. Savannah’s parents told her maybe the Lord had special plans for Alan. Savannah and Tim pray for John while he’s away in combat. Tim tells John his cancer has tested his faith, but not ended it.

Savannah takes John to church with her and Tim a few times while they’re in Wilmington. John says he was baptized as a kid, but he and his dad hadn’t gone to church for a long time. His dad always insisted that John include his absent mother in his prayers. John says he knows miracles are always possible no matter how sick a person might be.

John praises an Army chaplain named Ted for his trustworthiness and his willingness to listen. Ted called people on the carpet when their behavior was inappropriate, but they still wanted to talk to him. He talked about God as naturally as one would talk about a friend and didn’t pressure people to attend church.



Authority Roles


Savannah’s parents are still happy after 25 years of marriage. Mom stays at home and always volunteered, drove kids to soccer or helped out in the classroom during Savannah’s childhood. Dad, a history teacher, coached girls’ volleyball, ran the youth group and served as a deacon in the church. John’s dad was 45 when John was born. He raised John alone after his wife left. His Asperger’s made it difficult for him to communicate with John and to be in social situations, but he devoted his life to caring for his son.



Other Belief Systems


John says it was just luck — or perhaps, bad luck — that made two marines jog by him, convincing him to join the military. Savannah says she loves full moons because they seem like an omen of good things to come. John thinks a shooting star may be an omen regarding his relationship with Savannah. Several times, John and Savannah talk about the role fate played in their relationship. In her goodbye letter, Savannah regrets that she and John lost the magical bond they had. John carries a buffalo nickel that belonged to his dad and says it is a talisman of sorts.



Profanity/Graphic Violence


Several dozen uses of words like p-ssed, screw, d--n, h---, crappy and a--appear. When a guy on the beach is cursing, Savannah politely asks him to watch his language because of the families around. John briefly describes some of what he’s seen in Baghdad, including soldiers torn in pieces when hit by bombs and blood pooling in the streets, flowing past body parts.



Kissing/Sex/Homosexuality


John’s military buddy Tony urges him to come along for a night of alcohol and women, but John refuses. There is mention of John’s previous girlfriends and how they slept together. Savannah’s friend talks about frat guys who get sorority girls pregnant. John says everyone in the Army has a box of dirty magazines under his bed. Savannah’s Habitat for Humanity crewmembers strike John as college kids looking to "hook-up” with someone of the opposite sex. He’s proven right when he and Savannah overhear some of the kids discussing their sexual escapades. John admires Savannah in a bikini when they surf and looks down her shirt when she bends down to grab a bottle. Savannah tells John how she was drugged and nearly raped by a co-ed, and John promises he will always be a perfect gentleman. John and Savannah kiss a number of times. When John stays at Savannah’s parents’ house, Savannah sneaks into his room and sleeps in the same bed without having sex. John doesn’t pressure Savannah to go against her beliefs and sleep with him, but she eventually offers herself to him. They have sex one night, and John can tell their relationship has changed for the worse afterward. After Savannah takes John to see Tim in the hospital, John sees her getting dressed at her home, and she does not turn away, as if showing her willingness to be with him again.



Awards


The New York Times Bestseller, 2010



Discussion Topics


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


Note:

Alcohol use: John drinks and parties a lot in his late teens. He drinks much less in the military. John’s military buddy says tequila is an aphrodisiac, and he urges John to pick some up before his date with Savannah. Savannah never touched alcohol when they were together, so John is surprised to see her drinking wine when he visits after his dad’s death. She says now she’s the kind of person who enjoys a glass of wine in the evenings. She figures since Jesus turned water into wine, it can’t be too much of a sin.

Smoking: John says everyone in the Army smoked, but he quit after joining the military.

Other: John’s Army buddy talks him into getting some tattoos.

Producers often adapt books or use them as a springboard for a movie idea or change them to earn a specific rating. Because of this, a movie may differ from a novel. To better understand how this book and movie differ, compare the book review with PluggedIn Online'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.


Destiny’s Dilemma

A book review for parents

This contemporary fiction book is No. 2 in the "Faith & Friends" series by Wendy Witherow and is published by Mission City Press.

Destiny's Dilemma is written for girls ages 8 to 10. The age range reflects readability and not necessarily content appropriateness.



Plot Summary


Destiny is an only child. When her parents want to adopt a girl from China, Destiny decides the adoption is too expensive. Her best friend, Mickie, disagrees and blames Destiny's reaction on selfishness. After talking with her parents and Miss Cassie, an adult friend from church, Destiny decides that she has been selfish. Her parents assure her that the new baby will not take Destiny's place in the family. By the time her new sister arrives, Destiny is excited.



Christian Beliefs


Destiny's father pastors a church. He tells Destiny he and her mother chose the name Destiny because he knows God has a wonderful plan for her. Destiny's mother explains that adoption is a picture of what God does for us when He adopts us into His family (Ephesians 1:4-5). She tells Destiny that God is guiding them to adopt. Destiny's mother explains how God convicts her of wrong feelings and suggests that Destiny ask God to search her heart. Destiny carries on informal conversations with God throughout the book. Miss Cassie meets with Destiny and offers biblical counsel.



Authority Roles


Destiny's parents respect her feelings about the adoption. They give her a chance to share her negative thoughts. The parents tell Destiny she is special to them. When Destiny tells her parents that she knows she hasn't been "exactly agreeable" lately, her parents say that she doesn't have to be "good" to merit their love and affection. Miss Cassie serves as a positive role model for Destiny.



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.


Diamonds in the Shadow

A book review for parents

This mystery/suspense novel by Caroline B. Cooney is written for kids ages 11 to 14 and is published by Waterbrook Press, a division of Random House. The age range reflects readability and not necessarily content appropriateness.



Plot Summary


Jared Finch does not want refugees from Liberia staying in his home. But his parents and sister, Mopsy, agree to the plan when their church asks them to be a host family. So the Amabo family is welcomed into the Finch household, and both families begin to learn a little more about godly love and the terrors of evil. Mattu, the teen son, wants an education and is excited about getting a part-time job. Alake, the teen daughter, does not make eye contact or speak. Most of the time, she seems to be mentally incoherent. Only Jared notices that the teens do not look like each other or their parents. Even stranger, the adults, Celestine and Andre, do not treat either teen with the love of a parent. Eventually the reader learns that a man named Victor killed the real Amabo family and forced this assortment of people to smuggle uncut diamonds into the United States. Then the Amabo imposters and Victor were sent to different refugee sponsors in different states. When Victor murders his way through Texas to reach the Amabo imposters in Connecticut, Alake, who is considered a child-soldier because she murdered others in the hope of saving her sister, is willing to sacrifice herself in order to save Mopsy. In the end, Celestine and Andre embrace Mattu and Alake as their own children, and a small apartment is found for the family.



Christian Beliefs


Victor is an evil man who murders and maims people at his whim. His presence strikes terror into the hearts of refugees, and he uses their emotions to do whatever he wants to do. When Alake was 12, he forced her to kill her teachers in order to save her sister. After Alake did what he asked, he murdered her sister. Celestine and Andre appear to be good people, but they do not have compassion for Mattu and Alake, their supposed children, until the end of the book when they choose to become their parents. Celestine lies to the Finches about their identity and family relations. She lies to Mopsy about Victor in order to conceal the truth about the diamonds. She tells Alake that Americans always want to believe the best about people and so they will easily believe a lie if it keeps them from knowing there is true evil in the world. Drew Finch lets his wife run the household and is gone most of the time. When he is home, though, he takes an active interest in his children and is kind to the Amabos. Kara Finch's over-the-top optimism runs her household. Although Jared is embarrassed by it, the family and the Amabos seem to rely on it.



Authority Roles


Jared struggles with the idea of how a God can let bad things happen in the world. He and a girl from his class question the hypocritical actions of the church after a deacon running their building fund gambles away the money that Jared's father and others worked so hard to collect. Jared is amazed by Andre's thankfulness toward God. Still, Jared only prays out of necessity and when in dire circumstances. By the end of the book, Jared seems more open to having God in his life, but no decision is made. Celestine and Andre pray from the heart before their meals and appear to have a deep faith in God, but they don't let their religion interfere with the lies they are living that keep them in America. Celestine thinks that most Americans are Christian because they treat each other with brotherly love. Mattu asks Jared if God can ever forgive someone who is evil enough to cut off someone's hands without justification. Jared does not think God could ever forgive someone like that. Alake struggles internally with her guilt and grief. She hears hymns and phrases at church and wonders if God can forgive her; after singing a hymn about faith, she reasons that she can't be forgiven and must bear her burden alone. Kara Finch shows Christ's love to the wife of the man who stole the church's money and invites her to service. Kara exhibits godly compassion.



Other Belief Systems


None



Profanity/Graphic Violence


There is one occurrence of God's name being misused and a mention of women in Africa being raped. Alake remembers her whole school being murdered by Victor and his child-soldiers. The scene where she must decide between killing her teachers or watching her sister die is described in detail. Andre's arms are stubs. He explains that in his country's civil war, the enemy cut off a person's hands so the person would suffer before he died. When that happened to him, he ran with his arms in the air until he found his wife, and she was able to stem the flow of blood. Victor murdered the real Amabo family because they wouldn't smuggle his diamonds into America. Victor kidnaps young boys to make them into soldiers who are crueler than adult soldiers. Victor kills his refugee coordinator, and he kills a woman to get her car. In the end, he intends to kill Alake and Mopsy. When Victor is about to shoot Jared, Alake grabs him, and they plunge into icy water. Victor dies.



Kissing/Sex/Homosexuality


None



Awards


Christopher Award for Books for Young People, 2008; ALA-YALSA Quick Picks for Reluctant Young Adult Readers, 2008; NCSS-CBC Notable Social Studies Trade Book for Young People, 2008; Junior Library Guild Selection



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.


Not-So-Simple Life

A book review for parents

This first teen-life book in the "Diary of a Teenage Girl: Maya" series by Melody Carlson is published by Multnomah Books.

Not-So-Simple Life is written for kids ages 16 to 18. The age range reflects readability and not necessarily content appropriateness.



Plot Summary


Fifteen-year-old Maya Stark, daughter of the famed '80s singer Nick Stark, lives with her alcoholic, drug-addicted mother. Her father, who is traveling the world to revive his career, has little idea of the struggles she faces or the depth of her desire to become emancipated from her family. Despite her disdain for the fashion industry, Maya lands several jobs in high-end retail and modeling. She plans to divorce herself from her parents and prove herself legally and financially worthy to become independent at age 16. Maya hits a turning point when her mother is arrested on drug charges, and her Uncle Allen and Cousin Kim invite her to live with them. In the comfort of their “normal” home, a depressed and suicidal Maya finds God and begins a new life serving Him.



Christian Beliefs


Maya's grandmother takes her to church when she's young, but Grandma Carolina's death leaves Maya angry and skeptical about God. Maya's cousin, Kim, and uncle, Allen, are Christians. Kim urges Maya to keep a journal, ask Jesus into her heart and begin meeting with the youth pastor's wife weekly. Kim's youth pastor encourages Maya's difficult questions about God and assures her He is big enough to handle them. Maya accepts Christ and discovers a sense of peace and belonging that she's not known before.



Authority Roles


Maya's mother, Shannon, is an alcoholic and a drug addict who frequently disappears for days at a time, fails to pay bills, physically and verbally abuses her daughter, squanders child support and steals the money Maya earns at her job. Maya's dad is too busy to be bothered by a teenage daughter, though he does step in to help when Shannon is arrested on drug charges. Maya's bosses in the fashion/modeling industry are harsh and snooty. Maya's uncle and older cousin, Kim, invite her into their home when she has nowhere else to go and offer kindness and patience — as well as God's love.



Other Belief Systems


When Maya does something nice for her photographers, she mentions feeling good, "kind of like karma." At the end of each of Maya's journal entries, she puts in a "green tip." Maya's a vegan and into saving the earth. Throughout the book, the author seems to have an environmental agenda. At the very end, Maya does come to the conclusion that God (the Creator of the earth) comes first, not the planet.



Profanity/Graphic Violence


The word crap appears a few times.



Kissing/Sex/Homosexuality


A couple of the girls Maya meets in the fashion/modeling industry live with their boyfriends. Maya mentions that there are some sleazy people in the modeling industry who want to take advantage of young talent.



Awards


Unknown



Discussion Topics


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


Note: Other series characters include Caitlin, Chloe and Kim.

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.


Diary of a Wimpy Kid

A book review for parents

This realistic book is the first in the "Diary of a Wimpy Kid" series by Jeff Kinney and is published by Amulet Books, an imprint of Harry N. Abrams, Inc.

Diary of a Wimpy Kid, also known as Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Greg Heffley's Journal, is an illustrated novel written for kids ages 8 to 12. The age range reflects readability and not necessarily content appropriateness.



Plot Summary


Greg Heffley decides to keep a journal, not only because his mother wants him to, but also because he wants something he can give to people who ask him questions once he is rich and famous. In handwritten type and through the use of cartoon illustrations, Greg details his day-to-day life as a middle school student and gives his opinion on bullying, why girls like boys, where to sit on the first day of class, how to draw cartoons and numerous other topics, such as the cheese touch.

The cheese touch is a middle school ailment similar to cooties that comes from touching an old piece of cheese that rests beneath the basketball hoop on his school's playground. If you touch it, you have the cheese touch until you touch someone else. Then they have it.

At home, Greg is a middle child. Greg's older brother, Rodrick, plays practical jokes on him; Greg thinks his younger brother, Manny, is spoiled. He believes that his parents don't understand him. They do unforgivable things, such as telling him to stop playing video games and go outside. When that happens, Greg goes to someone else's house and plays video games.

Greg's best friend is Rowley. They became friends because Greg felt sorry for Rowley. All the mean things that Rodrick does to Greg, Greg does to Rowley, along with a few ideas of his own. One day, Greg goes too far and lets Rowley take the blame for chasing kindergartners all the way home, instead of walking them home, as a Safety Patrol person should. As a result, Rowley stops hanging out with him. Greg does not understand why. But later, when his classmates ask how the cheese under the basketball hoop disappeared and Greg knows that a group of older bullies made Rowley eat it, he tells his classmates that he (Greg) threw the cheese away. Although his class now flees his cheese touch, he and Rowley resume hanging out together.



Christian Beliefs


None



Authority Roles


From Greg's point-of-view, his mother is seen as crazy for wanting him to write his feelings in a diary, but he appreciates her help when she steps in to keep a chain-saw guy from chasing him on Halloween night. His mother uses her authority to force Greg to go out for the school play. After he pits his father and mother against each other, they argue, but he still has to go out for the play. His mother brings a bouquet of flowers to give to Greg after the play. But when he destroys the entire performance by not singing and throwing apples at a classmate, his mother tosses the flowers in the trash on their way out.

When Greg asks for a Barbie dollhouse for Christmas (he wants to use it as a fort for his soldiers), his mother is OK with him experimenting with different toys. After his parents argue, he is not given the dollhouse.

When Greg has a personal problem, his mother does not ask for details but tells him it's important to do the right thing. As a result, Greg does what is right for him, not others. When he tells her that he did the right thing, once again, not going into any details, she takes him out for ice cream.

From Greg's perspective, his father is not normal because he gets up early on Saturdays to clean the house. His father badgers him about not playing video games and doing something that requires physical movement. When his father shuts off his console and tells him to go outside, Greg goes to Rowley's house and plays video games. Greg thinks his dad is smart but doesn't have common sense and isn't capable of dismantling Greg's game system.

Greg's father loves Halloween. He fills up a trash can with water and throws it at teenagers who walk past their house.

To show Greg that he shouldn't have destroyed his younger brother's snowman, his father destroys the enormous snowman-base that Greg and Rowley made. His parents let his older brother listen to heavy metal music with parental warnings on them, but not Greg. When his father punishes Greg for doing something wrong, he throws whatever is in his hands at Greg. When his mother punishes Greg, she takes a few days to figure out his punishment.

In many ways, Greg feels that his parents slow him down, but he tries to tolerate them and their ways. When his parents do not immediately give him an expensive weight set that he asks for, Greg concludes that, once again, he has to take charge of the situation.

Rowley's dad monitors his son's games and actions. He also stops the boys from scaring others in their homemade haunted house at Halloween.

Mrs. Norton, the director of the school play, whispers the lines to students instead of forcing them to memorize the script.



Other Belief Systems


Greg thanks his "lucky stars" that he is on the other side of the gym from the girls because his wrestling outfit doesn't completely cover him during wrestling matches in gym class.



Profanity/Graphic Violence


A lot of mild variations of words, such as jerk, stupid, dumb, dork, heck, shoot, freak, and butt, are used. Even milder expressions, such as stinky poo, screw loose, and suck it up, are also employed. Greg gives his friend Rowley noogies for asking if he wants to play instead of saying hang out.



Kissing/Sex/Homosexuality


A side comment is made that girls may like boys because they have cute butts. Younger brother Manny brings Rodrick's magazine with a woman in a bikini lying on a car to show-and-tell at his day care.



Awards


Nickelodeon's Kids' Choice Awards, 2009; Dorothy Canfield Fisher Children's Book Award, 2009



Discussion Topics


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

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 for Diary of a Wimpy Kid.


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.


Dicey's Song

A book review for parents

This second family-life, coming-of-age book in the "The Tillerman" series by Cynthia Voigt is published by Aladdin Paperbacks, an imprint of Simon & Schuster Children's Publishing.

Dicey's Song is written for kids ages 10 to 12. The age range reflects readability and not necessarily content appropriateness.



Plot Summary


Dicey Tillerman and her younger siblings, James, Maybeth and Samuel, have watched their mentally ill mother deteriorate. Now Gram (their mother's mother) has taken them in. Each child has special challenges as well as unique gifts. Gram and the children work to bring out the best in each other. Dicey is used to taking care of the younger children, so she feels both relief and confusion now that she has Gram's help. But as Dicey begins to "come of age" in her new life, she often ponders Gram's advice about how she must both hold on to and let go of the past. As the book concludes, Dicey's mother dies in the mental institution, and the family brings her ashes home.



Christian Beliefs


James reads the Bible because a teacher has told him it's one of the "underpinnings of Western civilization" and because he likes reading thick books. Gram's Bible contains a record of family members. Dicey's friend Wilhelmina, a minister's daughter, talks in class about the conflicts between Bible characters (such as Jesus, Paul and John the Baptist) and their societies. Some of the kids briefly discuss Jacob and Joseph.



Authority Roles


Though some in town whisper that Gram is strange, if not crazy, she provides a solid home for her grandchildren and even adopts them. She ensures that their needs are met and that they're given opportunities to thrive in their areas of interest, even though it means she must abandon her pride and accept financial help from others. Dicey, once the main authority figure in her siblings' lives, now shares the responsibilities and the decision making with Gram. The younger children's needs remain her utmost priority. Maybeth's piano teacher, Mr. Lingerle, becomes a family friend. He helps Gram learn to accept help as he watches the kids and gives her money to pay for her daughter's cremation. Two of Dicey's teachers criticize her work ethic, failing to understand her personal circumstances and educational needs.



Other Belief Systems


None



Profanity/Graphic Violence


Dicey says cripes a couple times.



Kissing/Sex/Homosexuality


Dicey's breasts "point out" under her T-shirt. Later, Gram makes her buy some bras. Gram also tries to discuss sex and menstruation with Dicey, but Dicey says she already knows how those things work. Wilhelmina is surprised that Dicey never asked if anyone had French-kissed Wilhelmina. Dicey's friend Jeff sings a song about a woman who is having an affair and how her husband finds out and slits her throat.



Awards


Newbery Medal 1983.



Discussion Topics


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


Note: The Margaret A. Edwards Award in 1995 honored Voigt's lifetime contribution of writing for teens.

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.


Disguised: A Wartime Memoir

A book review for parents

This memoir by Rita la Fontaine de Clercq Zubli is published by Candlewick Press, an imprint of Walker Books and is written for kids ages 14 and up. The age range reflects readability and not necessarily content appropriateness.


Plot Summary


Rita is 12 years old when she and her family are first sent to a Japanese-run prison camp during World War II. Concerned about her safety, Rita's parents decide to disguise her as a boy. So for over three years and in various POW camps, Rita poses as "Rick." Despite her circumstances, the Dutch-Indonesian girl uses her intelligence and ingenuity to learn Japanese and English. She soon becomes a well-respected translator for a number of Japanese commanders. As young "Rick" gains the trust of Japanese leaders, she is able to stand up for fellow prisoners and instigate positive changes. In this true account, Rita la Fontaine de Clercy Zubli takes readers into her secret world of danger, loss, personal victories and coming-of-age as a prisoner of war.



Christian Beliefs


Rita and her family members pray to God at various times, both giving thanks and asking for His protection. When Rita feels distressed at seeing her fellow prisoners cavorting with the enemy, she prays that God will forgive them. A nun in Rita's camp becomes her adviser and confidante.



Authority Roles


Rita essentially has two mothers, her own mom and her aunt, Tante Suus. Both are her confidantes and offer comfort and wisdom as she faces many adult situations. Tante Suus takes over the mother role after Rita's mom dies. Rita's dad, though away in another POW camp for most of the book, shows great pride in Rita and praises her for her efforts to improve her standing with the Japanese officers. Stern Japanese commanders and employers warm up to Rita when they discover her trustworthiness and work ethic. They provide her many privileges unavailable to other POWs. Most of the Japanese captors make some efforts to accommodate and even sometimes befriend their prisoners in spite of the hostilities taking place in the outside world.



Other Belief Systems


Rita feels as though her father has telepathically urged her to be courageous, and this gives her comfort. The Japanese erect one of the women's prison camps on an old burial ground. Many of the POWs become desperately ill, and rumors circulate that angry spirits are causing the sicknesses. The Japanese, unsure of what to believe, relocate the prisoners, who quickly regain their health.



Profanity/Graphic Violence


Words like God, h--- and d--n appear several times. S--- appears once in reference to a maggot-infested outhouse. After Rita's mother miscarries, Tante Suus shows Rita a "jellylike substance floating in blood" and explains that it is a fetus that would have been her brother or sister.



Kissing/Sex/Homosexuality


Rita witnesses and experiences situations that repulse and confuse her, starting when she sees her fellow POW women voluntarily attending parties with their Japanese captors. Drinking heavily, the women and officers giggle (and presumably do other things) in curtained booths. Later, one couple has sex in the women's barracks while others are present. A prisoner who avoids a rape attempt by a guard and a woman pregnant with a guard's baby are sent away. A Japanese homosexual tries to seduce, then force, "Rick" to have sex with him. Most descriptions are somewhat detailed but stop short of being gratuitous.



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 Door in the Dragon's Throat

A book review for parents

This first suspense book in the "Cooper Kids Adventures" series by Frank E. Peretti is published by Good News Publishers, Crossway Books.

The Door in the Dragon's Throat is written for kids ages 8 to 12. The age range reflects readability and not necessarily content appropriateness.



Plot Summary


Dr. Cooper, a Christian archeologist, is invited to Nepur on an expedition to discover great treasure beneath the cavernous hole in the ground called the Dragon's Throat. His crew consists of three men and his two children, Lila, 13, and Jay, 14. Gozan, the assistant to the President of Nepur, accompanies them in order to report their discoveries back to the president. The crew finds an ancient and enormous door at the bottom of the Dragon's Throat, and the Cooper's and their crew attempt to open it. Then, an older man, the Shaman of the Desert, kidnaps the Cooper children. He is under a curse and must protect the key to the door. He believes that the children's God is powerful and asks the children to pray for him so he will be released from the curse. They pray with him, and he accepts their God as his God. Then Gozan steals the key from the Shaman and gives it to the president, who travels to the Dragon's Throat himself. Meanwhile, after reading Revelation 9, Dr. Cooper realizes that there is no treasure behind the door, only demons waiting to be released. The Cooper family rushes to the Dragon's Throat only to discover that the president has unlocked the closed door. Afraid of what he has done, the president hurries away, but in the wrong direction, and falls over a ledge. In the process, he drops the key, which the Coopers retrieve. Jay puts the key back into the door to lock it, and a boulder rolls against the door and closes it. The Cooper family is thankful for God's power and that they will not be present when God opens the door and releases Satan and his demons.



Christian Beliefs


Dr. Cooper and his crew are very vocal with their belief that God is more powerful than Satan and any other powers here on earth. They understand the power of prayer and continually ask for God's help. They also thank Him for His protection. When others express their views about Christianity, Dr. Cooper and his crew are remain faithful to Christ. After the Shaman kidnaps Jay and Lila, the Shaman confesses that his god is not as powerful as theirs. He expresses his desire to know their God and to be released from his family's curse. Jay and Lila explain the Gospel to him and he gladly accepts Jesus as his Savior.



Authority Roles


The first character with a role of authority is Al-Dallam, the President of Nepur. He is a wealthy man, but even with all of his riches, he is still greedy. He does not care who gets hurt or what happens at the Dragon's Throat. All he wants is the treasure that is supposedly behind the Door. He is even willing to double-cross Dr. Cooper through Gozan's trickery. Al-Dallam tells Gozan to take care of the Coopers while Al-Dallam goes to open the door himself, implying that Gozan is to kill the Coopers. Dr. Cooper is the leader of the expedition and the father of Jay and Lila. His whole team thinks highly of him, and they follow his orders without question. Dr. Cooper has a strong belief in God. When faced with superstition and the fear of curses, Dr. Cooper is solid in his belief that neither has power over him. He encourages his team to be vocal about their belief in God. As a group, they stop frequently to ask God for help and to thank Him for His protection. Even in dangerous situations, Dr. Cooper's first response is to pray.



Other Belief Systems


Gozan expresses his opinion of the Dragon's Throat, which is a mixture of legend and superstition. He strongly believes in the power of the curses supposedly surrounding the Dragon's Throat. The Shaman of the Desert is a man whose family, throughout many generations, has been the Keeper of the Sacred Chest of Shandago, which holds the key to the door in the Dragon's Throat. He is descended from a long line of Chaldean magicians. He and his family have always worshiped nature, the moon and stars. Shandago, which means dragon, is another name for Satan. The Shaman's father and grandfather were killed when they tried to open the chest. The Shaman wanted to be released from the curse.



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 Door in the Wall

A book review for parents

This historical adventure book by Marguerite DiAngeli is published by Doubleday Books for Young Readers and is written for kids ages 10 and up. The age range reflects readability and not necessarily content appropriateness.



Plot Summary


Robin's father is a knight, and his mother is an attendant to the queen. In medieval times, a young man of Robin's standing should also train for knighthood. But after Robin's father leaves for war and his mother goes to a secret location to attend to the queen, Robin becomes ill and loses the use of his legs. Brother Luke comes to Robin's aid. He not only brings the boy to live in the monastery, but he helps Robin regain some physical strength and teaches him to hone talents that don't require the use of his legs. Robin and Brother Luke eventually join a man named Sir Peter and live at his palace. When it comes under attack, Robin alone is able to escape and call in reinforcements. Robin's parents visit at Christmastime, and the king rewards Robin for his bravery in saving Sir Peter's castle.



Christian Beliefs


Brother Luke prays with Robin on a number of occasions. He encourages the boy to maintain a positive attitude of faith and thanksgiving. Through his compassion for Robin, as well as for the sick and poor who pass through the monastery, Brother Luke is a Christlike example of being a servant. Robin sings "Gloria" ("Angels We Have Heard on High") and plays his harp after being honored by the king.



Authority Roles


Despite Robin's fear that people will think less of him because he can't walk, Robin's parents and all in Sir Peter's household respect and admire how Robin has handled his physical challenges. Brother Luke, Robin's most constant companion, attends first to Robin's basic needs for food, shelter and healing. He then encourages Robin in other pursuits, such as woodcarving. He attends to Robin's spiritual needs as well, giving him opportunities to pray and learn about church history. He explains that we all have "walls" in our lives (Robin's wall being his leg problems), but we must find the "door in the wall" rather than surrender to self-pity and despair.



Other Belief Systems


None



Profanity/Graphic Violence


None



Kissing/Sex/Homosexuality


None



Awards


Newbery Medal, 1950



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 Door Within

A book review for parents

This first fantasy book in the "The Door Within Trilogy" by Wayne Thomas Batson is published by Thomas Nelson Publishers.

The Door Within is written for kids ages 10 to 14. The age range reflects readability and not necessarily content appropriateness.



Plot Summary


When Aidan Thomas moves to Colorado with his parents to care for his aging grandfather, he begins having strange dreams about knights warring in a distant realm. In the basement, he finds ancient scrolls that tell the story of a kingdom called Alleble, its wise King Eliam and its former sentinel, the traitor Paragor. Following his grandfather's advice and the scrolls' message to "believe and enter," Aidan crosses into The Realm — a world full of knights, unicorns and dragons — and finds himself at the heart of a struggle between good and evil. By relying on the strength of his king, who is always with him in spirit, he wins a great battle for Alleble.



Christian Beliefs


The story is a clever and clear allegory of the battle Christians wage against Satan. Though God is never mentioned, savvy readers will recognize that King Eliam represents God, and Paragor is the Devil. Aidan confesses loyalty to the king before his fellow knights in a serious but joyful ceremony. Though King Eliam's warriors are trained for physical battle, they're frequently reminded that their message depends on truth, not bloodshed. You will not find Bible quotations, but biblical concepts are woven throughout the story; and Aidan realizes he must convince his family and friends back home that King Eliam is real before they face a dark fate at the hands of Paragor.



Authority Roles


At the outset, Aidan's parents appear overly concerned with work and highly skeptical when Aidan mentions the scrolls he's found. They've heard "The Story" contained in the scrolls before but believe it to be a fairy tale. Aidan's father (whose double, or "glimpse" in The Realm was a doubting ruler) becomes a believer in the end. Aidan's grandfather (who also turns out to be Captain Valithor of the King's Elder Guard in The Realm) urges Aidan to believe in himself and the purpose to which the king has called him.



Other Belief Systems


None



Profanity/Graphic Violence


Soldiers and civilians die, sometimes at the hands of Aidan and King Eliam's other knights. The portrayals are not particularly graphic, and the king's soldiers don't take killing lightly.



Kissing/Sex/Homosexuality


Grateful that Aidan has saved her life, Gwenne kisses him on the cheek.



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.


DragonSpell

A book review for parents

This first fantasy book in the "DragonKeeper Chronicles" by Donita K. Paul is published by WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group, a division of Random House.

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



Plot Summary


Kale has spent her young life blindly following orders — but everything changes when she's called by the great Wulder to go on a quest as his dragon keeper. Alongside other followers of Wulder — and with the assistance of Wulder's earthly counterpart, Paladin — Kale undertakes a perilous journey to find an important dragon egg that was stolen by the evil Risto. Along the way, she helps other dragons hatch, embraces allies and fights foes of various races and backgrounds. Most important, she learns more about herself and Wulder's power working within her.



Christian Beliefs


Dragonspell is an overt allegory of the Christian's faith journey: Kale lives as a slave at the beginning, and she spends the book examining who Wulder (God) is, why he chose her to serve him, and how she can learn to trust his will and timing. With the help of Paladin (Christ) and kimens (angels), Kale and her comrades battle the evil, deceptive wizard Risto (Satan).



Authority Roles


As Wulder's earthly champion, Paladin is not always present but always available to "mindspeak" with Kale. He's a jovial, hopeful man full of assurances about Wulder and His plan for the uncertain heroine. He assures Kale that she should do what is set before her and let Wulder handle whatever seems impossible. Paladin is strong enough to make the evil characters cower, but he doesn't destroy them because he says the time isn't right and they are serving a purpose. Risto wants to use the dragon egg he's stolen to help him create a race of creatures that will do his bidding; he whispers lies into Kale's mind, pretending to be Paladin, so that she will doubt herself. Granny Noon, Dar, Leetu, Wizard Fenworth and others Kale meets along the way direct her toward Wulder and help her to follow his leading.



Other Belief Systems


Wizards cast spells, dragons heal people and many communicate by mindspeaking (talking with one another telepathically). Though the Christian author clearly points her readers to God at every turn, parents concerned by the use of magical elements should be aware that enchantments and wizardry play key roles in the Dragonspell plot.



Profanity/Graphic Violence


People and creatures are injured and killed in a number of battles. The author avoids using graphic imagery to describe the scenes.



Kissing/Sex/Homosexuality


None



Awards


2005 Christy Honor Book



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.


Duck for President

A book review for parents

This talking animals book by Doreen Cronin is published by Atheneum Books for Young Readers, an imprint of Simon & Schuster Children's Publishing and is written for kids ages 5 to 10. The age range reflects readability and not necessarily content appropriateness.



Plot Summary


Duck doesn't like the chores that Farmer Brown gives him, so Duck holds an election. Upon ousting his opponent and becoming head of the farm, he realizes his new job is hard work. He decides to leave the farm and campaign for governor — which, he learns upon winning, is also hard. A subsequent presidential campaign lands him in the Oval Office, but it is also too much work, and it gives him a headache. Finally, he returns to Farmer Brown's farm to write his memoirs.



Christian Beliefs


None



Authority Roles


Hard-working Farmer Brown gives the animals chores. He and the governor, whom Duck defeats, show anger and indignation over losing to their feathered foe.



Other Belief Systems


None



Profanity/Graphic Violence


None



Kissing/Sex/Homosexuality


None



Awards


The Children's Choices 2005 (Children's Book Council); NAPPA Honors Award Winner 2004; The New York Times Best Illustrated Books 2004; and many 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.