Focus on the Family


Jerusalem Interlude

A book review for parents

This fourth historical book in the "Zion Covenant" series by Bodie and Brock Thoene is published by Tyndale House Publishers and is written for adults but is sometimes studied by kids ages 16 and up.

Plot Summary


In 1938, Hitler's plan to annihilate all Jews extends to Israel and all of Europe. Letters sent from Leah Feldstein to her musician friend, Elisa, are pieced together to reveal the pre-World War II plights of several European Jewish families. Leah and her husband, Shimon, both Messianic Jews, flee Germany for Israel only to land in a refugee camp. There, Leah befriends a young woman named Victoria.

A bomb set off by Victoria's Muslim half-brothers injures Leah. Victoria falls in love with Eli, a Jewish rabbi student, and they secretly marry. Lies and deceit end in false accusations by Victoria's family and other militant Muslims that Eli raped Victoria. Victoria's brother and the Muslim leader Mufti Haj Amin stir up a Muslim crowd into believing a dead body is Victoria. Rumors of Victoria's death bring Eli out into the open where Eli's brother leads the Muslim mob in killing him.

Meanwhile, Elisa and her husband flee to England where her father, Theo Lindham, resides. Theo, a former German department store owner, Messianic Jew and sole survivor of the Dachau prison, is tricked into returning to Germany for a meeting that promises relief for Jewish refugees. The Germans plot to kill Theo but allow him to escape in an effort to send a strong message to England that Jews will suffer death. During his visit, Theo angers Field Commander Göring, second in command to the fuehrer, when he reads a poem from a collection Göring had confiscated years earlier from Theo. Goring orders the books to be burned. The bonfire sparks Kristalnacht (the night of broken glass).

Other subplots include a Polish family's struggle with attempted rape, bribes and false arrests and a young Jewish boy in France hidden by a Nazi and driven mad enough to commit a murder that moves Hitler's plans forward.



Christian Beliefs


Leah and her husband, Shimon, explain to Eli how Jesus is the Messiah. They also say that some people follow a false Christ and use his name to justify persecuting Jews. Eli then studies the Torah and writings of the prophets and chooses to follow Jesus.



Authority Roles


Hitler, Muslim Grand Mufti Haj Amin, Hans Schumann and Ibrahim are evil leaders who wield their authority to destroy Jews with lies, deceit and violence. Dr. Letzno counsels a Polish woman and helps with a police investigation when Leah is injured. Theo trusts God and leads his family in wise choices. Rabbi Lebowitz struggles against the violence and changing atmosphere in Israel. He continues to hold services and follow his faith. Polish police use bribery and false witnesses to oppress Jews while Israeli police seek truth and work to help their citizens.



Other Belief Systems


Hitler's allegiance to the false idol Wotan, god of creation and destruction, fuels his belief that he can create a super race. A painting of the god closely resembles Hitler. Militant Muslim beliefs reveal hatred and the desire to annihilate Jews. Jewish family life centers around Shabbot and Jewish customs. Rabbi Lebowitz often pauses to pray.



Profanity/Graphic Violence


In Israel, several violent scenes take place: street riots, a bombing, gun fire, a fight with daggers and a hot fire poker and Eli's death at the hands of a Muslim street mob. In Poland, the police storm a synagogue, club many men, drag out the rabbi and imprison him. In Germany 12,000 Jews are rounded up and crammed into cattle cars to deport them to Poland while Germans spit on them and throw sacks of excrement on them. As the Jews exit the trains at the border, attack dogs chase and bite them, and soldiers shoot, whip and beat the Jews. A Nazi traitor is caught and tortured. In France, a Nazi masquerades as a Jew and slowly drives a young German Jew mad. The lad recalls Hitler Youths filling mouths of Jews with excrement, causing vomiting and then beating them. Herschel ends up shooting the German Nazi traitor Von Rath at close range. Throughout the book, enemies of Jews use derogatory words to taunt the Jews, calling them filthy pigs and vermin.



Kissing/Sex/Homosexuality


Scenes include married couples Elisa and Murphy, as well as Shimon and Leah, in bed snuggling, kissing and talking about pregnancies. Leah miscarries as a result of a bombing. Etta's and Aaron's desire for each other is evident. He takes a day off from work to spend in bed with her, quoting the Song of Songs about being lovesick. Eli desires Victoria, and they share kisses. On their wedding night, Victoria asks Eli to touch her. Muslim businessman Kadar notices Victoria's body and arranges a marriage contract for her to be his first wife. Etta's daughter, Rachel, has an arranged marriage to a boy she has never met, and she wonders about him. Rachel notices her own budding breasts. There is a description of Etta giving birth to her third child. Etta leaves the Jewish community to get passport photos and is surrounded by Catholic men who torment her, pull up her dress, lift her in the air and tug at her arms and legs. She struggles to ward them off until a priest stops it.



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.


John Hancock, Independent Boy

A book review for parents

This biographical book in the "Young Patriots" series by Kathryn Cleven Sisson is published by Patria Press, Inc.

John Hancock, Independent Boy is written for kids ages 9 to 12. The age range reflects readability and not necessarily content appropriateness.

Plot Summary


Johnny Hancock grows up in New England in the 1700s, a time when the French threaten their safety and the British refuse to forfeit control over the American colonies. When Johnny's father dies, his mother sends him to live with his wealthy aunt and uncle in Boston. His new, loving caregivers provide him with fine material goods and the best education. He has many opportunities to learn about the day's political issues and be around other patriots including George Washington, Paul Revere and Samuel Adams. In his adult years, John becomes a well-known freedom fighter and, because of his uncle's inheritance, is the richest man in New England. Wanted by the British for treason, he participates in famous events, such as Paul Revere's Ride, and is the first man to sign the Declaration of Independence.



Christian Beliefs


John Hancock's father is a parson whose speaking abilities draw crowds from far away. John and his contemporaries discuss whether having wealth and celebrating Christmas are sins. John's friends and family members use phrases such as "God bless you" and "Thank the Lord," and prayer is common before meals and in school. Sam Adams, who writes a newspaper promoting freedom from England, asserts that liberty is a gift from God. In preparation for an attack by the French, many New Englanders fast and pray that God will sink the enemy ships with His mighty winds. Just then, winds tear at the building and cause the church bell to ring, and later, they learn the French are too badly injured to attack. Delighted, they cry, "If God be for us, who can be against us?



Authority Roles


John's parents are loving Christians. When his father dies, his mother is forced to send John to his aunt and uncle because of tight finances. John's aunt and uncle provide a stable, caring home. Uncle Tom, in particular, demonstrates a passionate interest in John's future and opens many doors for the boy. John later notes how Uncle Tom helped several young men learn a trade and succeed in businesses of their own. The British strong-arm the colonies into paying high taxes. They even kidnap American men and force them to work on their warships.



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 Joys of Love

A book review for parents

This coming-of-age book by Madeleine L'Engle is published by Farrar, Straus, Giroux and is written for kids 12 and up. The age range reflects readability and not necessarily content appropriateness. This title also was made into an audio book.



Plot Summary


Twenty-year-old orphan Elizabeth Jerrold, whose dream has always been to be an actress, has landed a scholarship for a summer internship in a seaside theatre company, much to her maiden aunt's chagrin. Elizabeth, who has a naïve enthusiasm for everything having to do with the theatre, falls in love with the director of the company, Kurt Canitz, a womanizer. Ben Walton, the assistant stage manager, warns her that she is setting herself up for a fall, but Elizabeth believes Kurt loves her as much as she loves him.

Kurt leads her on and then has her visit him in his room. He tries to force his attentions on her. She refuses and escapes. The next morning, she sees another woman leave Kurt's room and becomes disillusioned with both Kurt and the theatre. Kurt later seeks her out, hoping she isn't angry about what happened. He points out that she should have expected him to want her in that way. She realizes that they don't understand love in the same way, and she asks him to leave her alone.

Ben, who is her best friend and has loved her all along, tells her that the theatre has both good and bad, and she needs to wade through the bad without letting it taint her. He tells her he wants to marry her but will wait six months to court her honorably. Elizabeth appears to accept his plan. She returns home because her aunt stops paying her room and board midsummer, but her friend's aunt, a professional actress, offers to help her get started in the theatre as a paid understudy if she comes to New York in September. Elizabeth accepts.



Christian Beliefs


Elizabeth says that her aunt thinks the theatre is Satan's invention and that her aunt decided to raise her out of Christian duty but didn't really want her. Elizabeth asks a friend to stop her if her friend ever sees Elizabeth do something out of Christian duty, but the friend says that Elizabeth's too good a Christian to do that. There is one instance of a man saying grace, and Elizabeth has a general sense of good morals, which she seems willing at times to reconsider. Sundays are for sleeping in and going to the beach.



Authority Roles


Elizabeth never knew her mother, and her father died when she was young. Her maiden aunt finished raising her. Elizabeth shows little respect for her aunt. The woman is portrayed as cold, unloving and prudish, someone who doesn't understand Elizabeth's need for love or her passion for becoming an actress. A character calls the aunt an old witch.



Other Belief Systems


None, however, Kurt talks about an "outmoded moral code."



Profanity/Graphic Violence


There are several uses of d--n, d--ned, h---, b--tard, and a single use of a-- and b--ched. The name of God is used flippantly.



Kissing/Sex/Homosexuality


Several instances of kissing occur throughout the story, and one is of a couple embracing passionately on a couch in the darkened living room. One girl jokingly refers to the common ruse of a man asking a woman to his hotel room to view his etchings. The young people mention "a House," implying a house of ill repute, and one comments that people on the second floor should change their profession, implying frequent sexual activity. Kurt asks Elizabeth if another couple they both know sleeps together. Elizabeth goes to Kurt's room and comments that her aunt would consider her a fallen woman for doing so. While dancing, Elizabeth feels Kurt's legs and body pressed against hers. Kurt and Elizabeth philosophically discuss her falling in love with a married man. Kurt invites Elizabeth back to his room and tries to force himself on her. The next morning Elizabeth sees another woman leaving Kurt's room, implying that the other woman had spent the night with him. Kurt asks whether Elizabeth didn't expect him to want her physically.



Awards


Unknown



Discussion Topics


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

Note:

There are references and some occurrences of drinking, drunkenness and smoking throughout the book, all done by adults. Elizabeth refuses to drink because she is under 21. There is one instance of poker playing, apparently with betting.

The author, Madeleine L'Engle, won the 1963 Newbery Medal for A Wrinkle in Time and her book A Ring of Endless Light was a 1981 Newbery Honor book. This book was found by her granddaughters and published after her death.

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.


Judy Moody

A book review for parents

This first humor book in the "Judy Moody" series by Megan McDonald is published by Candlewick Press, an imprint of Walker Books.

Judy Moody is written for kids ages 6 to 9. The age range reflects readability and not necessarily content appropriateness.

Plot Summary


Judy Moody dreads the end of summer vacation and her first day of third grade. But she and her best friend, Rocky, manage to keep each other entertained as they attempt to avoid Judy's little brother, Stink, and complete their "Me Collages" for class. In creating collages, Judy and Rocky must visually describe themselves and their lives for their classmates. Judy's ever-changing collage — which is altered even moments before her presentation — speaks to the fluidity of moods, circumstances and friendships that constitute the life of a third-grader.



Christian Beliefs


None



Authority Roles


The text and pictures indicate that Judy's parents are frequently present and involved in their kids' lives. They accompany Judy's younger brother on a class field trip to the White House. They take Judy, her brother and her friends out for ice cream. They also show an interest in the kids' school projects. They do force Judy to attend the party of a classmate she dislikes, but because she gets to know him better at the event, she and the boy become friends.



Other Belief Systems


None



Profanity/Graphic Violence


Nothing graphic — just a little grossness — is present. Judy collects scabs, and she and her friends start the Toad Pee Club after her toad urinates on each of their hands.



Kissing/Sex/Homosexuality


None



Awards


American Library Association Notable Children's Book, 2001; Beverly Cleary Children's Choice Award, 2003; and others.



Discussion Topics


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

For older siblings:

For younger siblings:

For all:

When Judy can't heal her doll, she bandages her. When her collage is ruined, she turns the juice stain into the state of Virginia. Even her brother finds ways to turn problems around: When Judy crushes his moon rock, he sells bags of moon dust.


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.


Julia Gillian (and the Art of Knowing)

A book review for parents

This realistic book by Alison McGhee is published by Scholastic Press and written for kids ages 9 to 12. The age range reflects readability and not necessarily content appropriateness.



Plot Summary


Nine-year-old Julia Gillian's best friend is Bigfoot, her Saint Bernard. The two often go for walks around her neighborhood while Julia's parents study for their summer classes. Julia likes to keep a list of her accomplishments, but she hasn't been able to finish reading a book about a boy and his aging dog because she is afraid it will have an unhappy ending. Enzo, Julia's neighbor and baby-sitter, helps her conquer her fear, and Julia finishes the book.



Christian Beliefs


None



Authority Roles


Julia's parents are not always attentive because they are preoccupied with their schoolwork, and Julia is allowed to explore their nine-square-block neighborhood on her own. When Julia's mother and father realize Julia is feeling overlooked, they apologize for their actions and make plans to spend more time with her. Enzo is a perceptive, as well as consistent, figure in Julia's life, and she provides Julia with practical advice when Julia needs help.



Other Belief Systems


Julia's family dines at a Vietnamese restaurant that has an altar with a Buddha figurine on it.



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:
The illustrations of Julia's masks include a ghost and a vampire.


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.


Junie B. Jones and the Stupid Smelly Bus

A book review for parents

This first humor book in the "Junie B. Jones" series by Barbara Park is published by Random House Children's Books.

Junie B. Jones and the Stupid Smelly Bus is written for kids ages 6 to 8. The age range reflects readability and not necessarily content appropriateness.

Plot Summary


Starting kindergarten doesn't make Junie B. Jones nervous — but riding the bus is another story. She thinks the bus smells like egg salad and black smoke, has screechy brakes and no glove compartment for Kleenex, and is filled with pushy boys and girls. Rather than ride home in the bus, Junie decides to hide in a classroom closet. After that, she roams through several rooms trying out various school supplies and equipment in the nurse's office. Finally, her mom, teacher and others find her, and Junie's mother arranges for Junie to sit with a girl from her class on the next day's bus ride.



Christian Beliefs


None



Authority Roles


Most of what we learn about Junie's mom is based on her inaction — and Junie's resulting behavior. Whether Junie is yelling and interrupting her mom and the teacher or running freely through the school after hours, Junie is neither reprimanded nor punished. Additionally, Junie demonstrates a disturbing lack of remorse for or understanding of the error in her antics — even for a 5-year-old. All of this suggests Junie's mother may be failing to provide her with appropriate communication skills and a basic understanding of right and wrong.



Other Belief Systems


Miri sometimes communicates with her friends and the boy she loves through a telepathic language used by the local miners called quarry-speak.



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.


Just Ask

A book review for parents

This first drama book in the "Diary of a Teenage Girl: Kim" series by Melody Carlson is published by Multnomah Kidz.

Just Ask is written for kids ages 14 to 18. The age range reflects readability and not necessarily content appropriateness.



Plot Summary


Kim Peterson, a Korean adoptee, has little use for the Christian faith of her parents and best friend, Natalie. She toys with Buddhism when a classmate's death gets her thinking about eternity. She's not the only one with questions — her dad has her writing a teen advice column for his newspaper called "Just Ask Jamie." She fields tough inquiries on topics like romance, family problems and body image. Only when she becomes a Christian is Kim able to start giving helpful advice to those with questions about death and the meaning of life. As Kim grows in her faith, she confronts issues like dating, self-esteem, friendship struggles, alcohol use and lying. At the end, her mom is diagnosed with ovarian cancer, and Kim must trust God to work out the future.



Christian Beliefs


Just Ask is the story of a girl accepting Christ and learning to apply His principles in the "real world" of today's teens. Once Kim becomes a Christian, she lays out the message of salvation for readers. The prayers of Kim's Christian friends, and their support after her conversion, play an important role in her faith journey; Kim begins to attend church and go to a youth group, and her "Just Ask Jamie" answers reflect her newfound convictions. From the time she begins struggling to when she accepts God's role in her life, Kim frequently prays.



Authority Roles


Kim's parents are Christians, but the story begins with Kim's dad "blackmailing" her. He says he won't tell Kim's mom about a traffic ticket Kim got if she will write a teen advice column for the newspaper he manages. Kim's mother later tells Kim that she knew about the ticket. Kim's dad had secretly told her. Kim's mother cries when Kim starts exploring Buddhism, but Dad assures her that Kim is a smart girl who will discover the Truth in time. The father of her friend Natalie runs off with a co-worker, and Natalie's mom has, in Kim's words, some "pretty weird mood swings" since he left. Natalie's mom relies excessively on Natalie to care for her two younger siblings. Teens in Kim's "Just Ask Jamie" letters talk about parents failing to act their age and using or abusing their children.



Other Belief Systems


Buddhism is explained and discussed in detail as Kim examines the belief system of her Korean heritage. The author uses this as a tool to explain some of the tenets of that faith and to contrast it with Christianity. Kim ultimately determines that only following Christ makes sense.



Profanity/Graphic Violence


None



Kissing/Sex/Homosexuality


Kim kisses her boyfriend several times; no extensive description is included. A girl writes to "Jamie" wondering how to restore her reputation after she and another girl kiss and pretend to be lesbians. Two girls who write in mention having sex with boyfriends. One fears she is pregnant and/or has HIV. A young girl writes in to "Jamie" wanting to get breast implants. Kim refers to it as a "boob job" (but she does advise the girl against it). As Kim reflects on her birth parents, she acknowledges that her mother may have been a prostitute or her father a rapist.



Awards


Unknown



Discussion Topics


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

Between Kim's personal experiences and the topics she addresses in the "Just Ask Jamie" column, this book covers numerous hot teen topics including appearance and body image (weight, how to be "girlfriend material" and belly button piercing), parental issues (Mom tries to act like a teen, stepmother uses girl for baby-sitting, stepfather "puts the moves" on stepdaughter and regains parents' trust after lying to them), dating problems (girl sleeps with HIV-positive boyfriend and may be pregnant, ex-boyfriend uses girl for sex, friend dates a jerk and guy lies to girlfriend about being a vegan), overcoming embarrassment (girl's shorts fall down in front of the whole school and she's wearing "granny panties" and two girls kiss and pretend to be lesbians and now worry about their reputations), and other serious issues such as cutting and drug addiction. In most cases, the answers are not cut-and-dry (though "Jamie's" responses are fairly solid). Parents can use this book to begin a discussion on these topics.


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

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.