Focus on the Family


Lady Carliss and the Waters of Moorue

A book review for parents

This medieval fantasy book is fourth in the "Knights of Arrethtrae" series by Chuck Black and is published by Multnomah Books, a division of Random House, Inc., New York.

Lady Carliss and the Waters of Moorue is written for kids ages 10 to 14. The age range reflects readability and not necessarily content appropriateness.



Plot Summary


While returning home from an aid mission, Lady Carliss is convinced by fellow travelers to stop at her friend Salina's farm. Upon their arrival, they find that marauders have abducted Salina's family. Sir Dalton has been searching for Carliss and arrives at the farm around the same time. Two esca dragons (huge lizards) attack Dalton and Carliss, and Dalton is bitten by one of the poisonous creatures. Carliss and Salina hastily leave for Moorue in search of Salina's family and an antidote to the poison.

They arrive in Moorue and discover that most of the citizens have become addicted to the waters of Moorue, a powerful drug-like drink produced by Lord Malco and made from esca dragon crystals. Carliss has only 10 days to find the antidote to the poison — the antidote comes from lilies that grow in the middle of a swamp. The swamp is home to hundreds of esca dragons. Running out of time, Carliss is forced to choose between saving Dalton and saving dozens of innocent prisoners held by Malco. She decides to save the prisoners and then defeats Malco with the help of an army of Silent Warriors. To ensure that the intoxicating waters of Moorue will no longer be produced, she kills the queen mother esca dragon. In the meantime, an eagle named Spirit flies the antidote to Dalton, and his life is spared.



Christian Beliefs


In this Christian allegory, Carliss is a Knight of the Prince. The Prince (Jesus) was sent to Arrethtrae (earth) by the King to prepare his followers for battle against Lucius (Satan) and his minions (Shadow Warriors). The Silent Warriors represent God's angels. The haven represents a church where knights are trained and the battles in which the Knights of the Prince engage are similar to the spiritual battles Christians face in the world.



Authority Roles


It's clear that Carliss and Koen respect their parents. Carliss, however, is by herself throughout the book and takes on the authority role herself. She is presented as a strong and mature young woman. Si Kon, a Knight of the Prince in Moorue, is presented as a strong believer. He lives to serve the Prince and dearly loves his wife and daughters.



Other Belief Systems


None



Profanity/Graphic Violence


A marauder on horseback runs into a tree branch and breaks his neck while being pursued by Carliss and Salina. Two vicious esca dragons attack Dalton and Carliss in a barn. Carliss kills one of them with bow and arrow; the other one bites Dalton, poisoning him. Ganoaf cuts down two of Malco's guards with his sword. Carliss' sword tears into the side of a Vincero knight, killing him. A massive caged hog is lowered into a pit teeming with hundreds of esca dragons. The dragons repeatedly sting the hog, which is then raised out of the pit. Men extract the poison from the hog, which is used to make esca crystals and subsequently the Waters of Moorue. Malco grabs Carliss by the neck, squeezes and then presses his finger into the base of her jawbone to open her mouth. He then drugs her by pouring a vial of esca crystals beneath her tongue. She tries to spit it out but Malco stops her. He forces her jaw closed and slams her back into her chair. He then lifts her from the chair and throws her into a door. Carliss finds a badly beaten Ganoaf in prison and wipes blood from his mouth. Carliss slays the queen mother esca dragon during a violent battle in the swamp.



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.


Last Breath

A book review for parents

This Christian suspense novel is the second book in "The Rayne Tour" series by Brandilyn and Amberly Collins and is published by Zondervan.

Last Breath is written for kids ages 13 to 18. The age range reflects readability and not necessarily content appropriateness.



Plot Summary


16-year-old Shaley O'Conner wants to leave her chaotic daughter-of-a-rock-star life and to return to her home in Southern California. Unfortunately, the murders of two friends and arrest of another have kept her in Denver, along with her mother, Rayne. When a swarm of paparazzi push Rayne into the path of an oncoming car, she stays in a Denver hospital to recover. Shaley remains with her mother and learns the real story about her father, Gary Donovan. Rayne and Gary fell passionately in love in French class. Twice a month, he even sent Rayne a white rose as a declaration of his love. Before long, Rayne found he was involved with a dangerous California gang called Westrock — assisting in drug runs and a slew of other illegal activities because the gang threatened his grandmother, who raised him. Eventually, Gary burned down his grandmother's house and fled the state with his grandmother, but by that time, Rayne was pregnant.

Shaley tells her mother about the white rose with the mysterious message she received only days before. They enlist the help of the police and discover Gary has been released from prison where he served a sentence for armed robbery. They also learn that his cellmate was none other than Jerry Brand, the man who was originally sent to protect Shaley and ended up murdering two of her closest friends. Living under the alias Franklin Borden, they find that Gary has purchased a plane ticket and is on his way to Denver. They are startled at the news and beef up the patrols around Rayne's room. Gary remembers Shaley's cell phone number from a conversation with Jerry, and he calls her from an empty hospital room. After Shaley realizes where he is, she informs police. A standoff ensues, but Shaley intervenes on his behalf after he persuades her that his intentions are honorable. Gary and Rayne are reunited in the hospital room, and Shaley is glad to have finally met her father.



Christian Beliefs


Shaley and Rayne are not believers, but Shaley's encounter with death has left her reeling. She repeatedly pleads with God for help and clings to the words spoken to her by Carly Sanders, a back-up singer who is a Christian: "Remember. God is always watching." Shaley also demonstrates the power of forgiveness when she encounters her father for the first time and gives him the chance to redeem his past mistakes.



Authority Roles


Rayne takes a brave stand when she defends her daughter from the paparazzi, nearly losing her life in the process. As a result, Shaley has a renewed respect for her mother. Though young Gary's parents are deceased, his grandmother raises him. He honors and protects her. When Shaley finally meets Gary, he turns out not to be a criminal, but a broken man who wants only forgiveness and a fresh start.



Other Belief Systems


None



Profanity/Graphic Violence


There is mention of cursing, but profane language is not used. In the third chapter, Rayne is hit by a car and is severely injured. As a teenager, Gary is inadvertently involved with a violent gang; the events come to fruition after a drug drop ends in a shootout between rival gang members. After failing to complete the task, Gary is beaten severely. On the same night, Rayne receives phone calls threatening her life. Gary burns down his grandmother's house in the middle of the night, but only as a last attempt to save those whom he loves. In the hospital, the police confront Gary. They use guns and physical tactics to subdue him.



Kissing/Sex/Homosexuality


Gary and Rayne share a kiss after their first date. It is inferred that they sleep together because 17-year-old Rayne becomes pregnant.



Awards


Unknown



Discussion Topics


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


Note: Last Breath makes minor references to gang warfare and illegal drug use. One of Rayne's band members has a tattoo and several are mentioned as having piercings.

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 Last Invisible Boy

A book review for parents

This emotionally realistic fantasy book by Evan Kuhlman is published by Ginee Seo Books, Simon & Schuster Children's Books and is written for kids ages 10 and up. The age range reflects readability and not necessarily content appropriateness.



Plot Summary


Finn Garrett feels like a big eraser has fallen on him. His skin and hair keep getting lighter, and he fears he's becoming invisible. It starts the day his dad dies unexpectedly. While onlookers, from doctors and psychologists to spectators at a basketball game, theorize about why he's literally fading, Finn journals (with illustrations) about his dad, his concern for his mom and brother, his love for his friend Melanie, and his own journey through grief. When Finn realizes that he really does want to be visible to the world, his color starts to return.



Christian Beliefs


Finn says living on a hill puts his family a tiny bit closer to heaven, and he contends that all people and objects were either born or created. Finn is interested in the meanings of names, and many of the ones he mentions have biblical origins. Finn prays that his dream of growing old with Melanie will come true. The two try to be respectful when they visit the cemetery where his dad is buried so they won't make God mad. Finn also likes to be at the cemetery alone sometimes so he can talk to his dad or pray. He is put off by the sentiment in a sympathy card, which suggests that every time it rains, God is crying with him, though later he stands in the rain and feels like God is washing all of the muck off of him. At his dad's funeral, the minister from the Presbyterian Church his family rarely attends says nice words about his dad and God. Finn worries that he's being erased for the sin of failing to save his father's life. Mom says a “prayer” (which is really just parting words addressed to Dad) when they plant a tree in his memory.



Authority Roles


Finn offers in-depth insights about his dad's character through his narrative and by relaying others' memories, since his objective is to keep his father's story alive. Finn's father worked long hours as manager of a sporting goods store. He always feared he wasn't giving enough time and energy to his family, so he often made up for it by taking them to play baseball at 2 a.m. or treating them to some other memorable bonding activity. When a friend of Dad's was beaten and robbed outside a dance club, Dad flew out to care for him. Dad died of "natural causes" on the plane ride home. Mom, a loan officer in her mid-30s, is sad and forgetful in the wake of her husband's death. Finn says he gets away with more now, like watching an R-rated movie on TV. Mom still tries to play games with and encourage her boys. She bleaches her hair white to support Finn as his hair becomes lighter. Grandpa Vic (Dad's father) comes to fix things around the house and make sure the car is running well after Dad dies. He's also with the family when they get the full story about Dad's death, and he is part of the informal tree-planting ceremony. Finn says Melanie's father is overbearing and critical, and her mother is only around two weeks a year.



Other Belief Systems


Finn says the truth is made of clay and is malleable. If it were made of stone, he says, you couldn't twist it but only break it. His mother doesn't believe in anything she can't prove. Finn draws a picture of what he'll look like when he's reincarnated, and he ponders what he might have been in another life. Finn's science teacher lectures about fish evolving into land dwellers. Finn tells his psychologist that death is when you are no more, like a notebook that's run out of pages. He writes about Pegasus and his role in Greek mythology as though he believes the story is true. Finn doesn't know whether his father is in heaven, floating around the universe or starting his next life. He says some people believe zombies and demon spirits hover around graveyards.



Profanity/Graphic Violence


The words suck, crap, h---, darn, and fart appear a few times. The school nurse exclaims, when she sees how pale Finn is becoming. Mom says she will kick the boys' butts in Scrabble, and she takes God's name in vain when she learns her husband has died.



Kissing/Sex/Homosexuality


Melanie kisses Finn on the cheek and says it is medicine. Finn and Melanie like to hang out at the cemetery where Finn's dad is buried. There, they sometimes hold hands and engage in nonsexual tickling and wrestling. One such time, Finn realizes he thoroughly loves Melanie, not just for what she looks like but for all that she is. He expresses these overwhelming feelings by telling her she is cool. When they sit, legs touching, on the bus, he feels little sparks in the air. A female is buried on either side of Dad, and Finn thinks his dad would like being squeezed between two women for all eternity. Mom tells a story about a date with Dad, on which they had their first kiss.



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 Last Straw

A book review for parents

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

The Last Straw is an illustrated novel written for kids ages 8 to 12. The age range reflects readability and not necessarily content appropriateness.



Plot Summary


Once again Gregory "Greg" Heffley meanders through half a semester of middle school and captures his thoughts in a journal. Rodrick, his older brother, is still a bully; Manny, his younger brother, is still spoiled; and Rowley, his best friend, is someone Greg continues to use. A new character is Holly Hills. Greg pursues her — trying to talk with her, to ask her to skate and to call her on the phone — but to no avail.

Greg doesn't feel as though he was given good Christmas gifts, only books and clothes. When he is given a basketball hoop laundry hamper, his mother decides that he can start doing his own laundry. Greg is suddenly glad he received so many clothes for Christmas. He hopes his expanded wardrobe can get him through the second half of the school year without his having to do a load of laundry.

Much of this book is about Greg's relationship with his father. Greg's father is worried about his son because he catches Greg wearing his mother's fluffy bathrobe and doing other unmanly things. He signs his son up for soccer, but Greg lets the team down and embarrasses his father. His father signs him up for military school, which will begin with boot camp during the summer. To convince his father not to send him there, Greg joins the Boy Scouts. Greg would have signed up sooner if he had known how much this action impressed his dad.

When Greg's family attends a neighbor's party, his dad mentions that if Greg can get him out of having to act like a fool in front of the neighbor's child to try and make the baby laugh, which is expected of every guest and is the point of the party, he will owe Greg a favor.

Greg can't imagine anything he can do to help his dad. Then he sees Manny opening the baby's presents. When Greg tries to get one of the presents from his younger brother, it falls over a balcony and into a tree. As Greg tries to reach it, he becomes stuck in the tree, hanging onto a branch with his hands. His pants, which are Rodrick's because Greg didn't do laundry and didn't have a clean pair, fall to his ankles. Unfortunately, he is wearing his Wonder Woman Underoos, something he would never wear, except that he hasn't done laundry for a whole semester. Fortunately, Greg did all this right before his father was supposed to try to make the neighbor's baby laugh, and his father thinks Greg did it to get his father out of having to do something silly. As a result, his father says Greg doesn't have to go to boot camp.



Christian Beliefs


The family goes to church on Easter. Manny's Easter bunny melts on Greg's pants, which make his pants look like Greg had an accident. Holly, the girl Greg likes, goes to his church. Greg asks his mother for a dollar so he can show off in front of Holly by putting it in the collection plate. When Greg realizes that he has put in $20 instead of $1, he tries to get change. When he can't, he hopes he gets extra points in heaven for giving that much money. Greg doesn't believe in hiding his good deeds. He's afraid that God and others will miss those hidden acts. When Greg calls Manny ploopy in church, Manny starts bawling, and the whole family has to walk down the center aisle to leave. His father tries to cover his face with a church bulletin.



Authority Roles


Greg's father dislikes teens. He would be happier if all teens were sent to another planet. As Greg approaches his teen years, he knows his father wishes he were gone, also. Greg feels that his father constantly tries to compare his family with his boss's family. His dad sees the boss's kids doing constructive activities, but not his kids. His father does not understand why Greg is wearing his mother's very feminine robe (to keep warm) and is concerned when he catches him in the laundry basket beneath his mother's underwear (a place where Greg hides to catch the person stealing his lunch snacks). Neither talks about their motives, so each assumes the worst of the other: his father at Greg's actions with his mother's clothes and Greg as to why his father was stealing the kids' junk food snacks meant for their lunches. His father grows depressed because a neighbor's family, the Snellas, has a new baby. At the six-month mark, they invite all the neighbors over to try and make the baby laugh. The neighbors film this party and hope to get their videos on the "America's Funniest Families" TV show and win the grand prize.

Greg's father doesn't know much about his children. For example, he accidentally throws away the two strings that are the remnants of his youngest son's favorite blanket, which throws Manny into an uproar. Manny gets back at his father by playing with his father's prized Civil War set. When their father is tired of being shown up by the boss, he makes Rodrick and Greg do things, such as signing up for the SAT test and joining a soccer team. Dad takes Greg and Rodrick to the movies one night, not because he wants to do something with them; he wants to escape the house.

Greg's parents — especially his mother — embarrass him. Greg gets his mother to drop him and Rowley off in back of the school so no one will see him with her. When he leaves his backpack in the car, she brings it to him on her way to the gym and is wearing spandex. Greg's mother will only buy so much junk food during the school year. When someone in the family sneaks the junk food, Greg has to do without it at school. He hides to investigate and finds his father, who is supposed to have given up junk food, snacking. Greg's mother becomes annoyed with Greg because he tells on his younger brother for calling him "ploopy." Later, she comes down hard on Greg for making Manny cry when Greg calls him the made-up word ploopy. She bans that word from their home, just as she bans all profanity.

When Mrs. Craig leaves the classroom and doesn't put Patty Farrell in charge, the kids go crazy and some hit each other. Because her dictionary is stolen and the class has to stay in from recess until it's found, two large boys try to intimidate kids to confess, which they all promptly do. When Greg and Corey Lamb find the book, Corey puts it back on the teacher's desk just as Mrs. Craig walks in the room. She had said that there would be no consequences if the book was returned, but Corey has to stay in for recess for three weeks following that incident.

The principal forces students to dance at the school dance by saying that what they do on the dance floor will count for one-fifth of their physical education grade.

Mr. Litch is Greg's soccer coach. He is described as a "drill sergeant." Because of having him for a coach years before, Rodrick no longer goes out for any sports team.



Other Belief Systems


Greg believes that things turn out OK if he doesn't get caught. When he doesn't get to his mid-semester report card before his mother sees it, that's a bad thing. Rowley doesn't catch him opening the time capsule they buried together, so his betrayal of Rowley's trust is OK. Greg gets a kid in detention into more trouble, but since Greg is able to run home before that boy is released from school, it turns out OK, too.



Profanity/Graphic Violence


Mild variations of words such as dag nab, heck, butt, stupid, wimp and jerk appear throughout. Greg's father is seen as saying, "@#$%!," when he breaks something, and Manny repeats it. Greg's mother bans all of those words from their home. The family has to put money in the "Swear Jar" when they mess up. Rodrick and Greg get around this by making up their own words that mean the banned words to them, such as spooky story and raspberry plastic tickle bear. A few bathroom words such as butt and heine also appear. Greg is also in his underwear or does underwear-related things a lot in this book. For example, Greg has to do his own laundry and doesn't. One day, he wears clothes out of his dirty laundry basket and a pair of dirty underpants sticks to the leg of his pants and falls off in the hallway at school. Another underwear incident happens when Rodrick pushes Greg out the door and locks him outside of their hotel room. Greg is only wearing his underwear. At the end of the book, Greg wears his only remaining clean pair of underwear, his Wonder Woman Underoos, a package he has never opened before this day. Unfortunately, he hangs from the branch of a tree, his pants drop to his ankles and the neighbors film him in them.

Rodrick shoots Greg with a paint gun when he bends over. Marcus and Darren, two Boy Scouts, fight and bite each other on the Boy Scouts' campout. Greg's father has to separate them and then take Darren to the emergency room. When Greg and Rowley meet a new cute girl at the beginning of the summer, Greg thinks about hitting Rowley over the head with a club so that Rowley doesn't get in Greg's way with her.



Kissing/Sex/Homosexuality


Greg is focused on Holly Hill in this book. The closest he comes to talking or kissing her is to give her a "Peace be with you" handshake at church and write in her yearbook as if he were Rowley.



Awards


Children's Choice Book Awards, 2010 (Author of the Year for this book and Dog Days, the next book in this series)



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 Legend of Gid the Kid and the Black Bean Bandits

A book review for parents

This first Bible allegory/Western book in the "Heroes of Promise" series by the Miller brothers is published by Warner Press, Inc.

The Legend of Gid the Kid and the Black Bean Bandits is written for kids ages 5 to 10. The age range reflects readability and not necessarily content appropriateness.



Plot Summary


The townspeople of Promise fear the masked Black Bean Bandits, who steal and bring havoc to their town. The White Rider challenges a boy, Gid, to stand up to the bandits and not live in fear.



Christian Beliefs


The White Rider gives Gid and the people of Promise the strength they need to overcome their fears and stand up to the Black Bean Bandits. Like God, the White Rider rides alongside Gid and the people of Promise but is usually not seen by the people of Promise. This cowboy tale recounts many of the same elements as the Bible story about Gideon. The Black Bean Bandits (Midianites) were bullies to the people of Promise (Israelites). During a night fight, the White Rider’s cowboys (God’s army) are seen on the horizon to fight the battle for Gid and his three companions.



Authority Roles


The White Rider is the ultimate authority, and Gid accepts responsibility to lead the townspeople. Gid asks cowboys to leave his posse when the White Rider says he has too many people to beat the bandits.



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 Legend of Ten-Gallon Sam and the Perilous Mine

A book review for parents

This second biblical allegory/Western book in the "Heroes of Promise" series by the Miller brothers is published by Warner Press, Inc.

The Legend of Ten-Gallon Sam and the Perilous Mine is written for kids ages 4 to 7. The age range reflects readability and not necessarily content appropriateness.



Plot Summary


The White Rider tells a Western couple that they will have a baby boy. Their boy, Sam, will be strong as long as he wears the White Rider’s hat. What the White Rider says comes true. When Sam is old enough, the White Rider asks him to stop Phil the banker from tricking the people of Promise, Sam’s town. Sam thwarts Phil’s scheme to rob people of their farms through a shady livestock trade. Over time, Sam begins to like Phil’s niece, Delilah, who is into fashions. To keep her affection, he buys a new suit that comes with a new hat. Immediately, Delilah burns his old hat, and before long, Phil kidnaps and holds Sam in a secret mine. Without his hat, Sam is powerless. When Sam tells the White Rider he’s sorry, the White Rider gives him a new hat, and Sam’s strength returns. To stop Phil and his gang, Sam collapses the mine with himself and all of Phil’s gang inside.



Christian Beliefs


This is the story of Samson told as a Western allegory.



Authority Roles


Sam’s parents prayed for him long before he was born. The White Rider takes care of His people in the city of Promise.



Other Belief Systems


None



Profanity/Graphic Violence


Cows are killed, Sam hurts coyotes and people who get in his way, but the illustrations are well-handled. In the end, Sam, Phil and all of Phil’s gang die. Nothing inappropriate is shown in the illustrations.



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.


Less is More

A book review for parents

This contemporary fiction book is the third in the "Real TV" series by Wendy Lawton and is published by Moody Publishers.

Less is More is written for kids ages 13 and up. The age range reflects readability and not necessarily content appropriateness.



Plot Summary


Abby Lewis gains 30 pounds after her father's premature death by heart attack. When she moves with her mother from Suwanee, Georgia to San Francisco to live with her grandmother, she is reluctant to make new friends because of her appearance. Damien, the youth group leader at their new church, nicknames her Flabster. Abby's prayers for weight-loss help are answered when Parker, a school football player who is physically fit, and Isabella, the daughter of a nutritionist, befriend her. Coach Matthews, her female P.E. instructor and a youth group sponsor, encourage her, also. Coach Matthews gets Abby on as a contestant for the reality TV show Less is More since a teen losing weight with help from her friends appeals to the show's producers. Abby attains her weight goal; plus, Isabella goes from being a nonbeliever to becoming a Christian by seeing Abby's faith in God sustain her through grief and weight-loss challenges. Damien stops using nicknames when his youth pastor tells him it's wrong. He also sees just how hurtful nicknames are by watching himself on the show and apologizes to the youth group members. Isabella begins going to the youth group after she finds out that Damien's nicknames are a thing of the past.



Christian Beliefs


Abby is a Christian. She prays and quotes Bible verses to Isabella, a nonbeliever. Abby and Parker pray together. Abby doesn't understand why her dad died but leans on her faith in God and his plan for her life to comfort her. She grows in faith as she shares her beliefs with Isabella, who begins reading the Bible and looking for answers. Isabella brings up questions about how to live out the Christian faith when she questions Damien's use of nicknames at youth group.



Authority Roles


Coach Matthews is the strongest role model in Abby's life. She discusses Christian beliefs with Abby and Isabella, prays with the girls and advises Abby not to artificially bring up she's a Christian on the show, unless it comes up naturally. At youth group, Pastor Doug reads a passage about the importance God places on names, indirectly letting Abby know her nickname of Flabster is not good for her. Abby's mom and grandmother are Christians and her mother helps her by sharing her own grief and acknowledging the challenges the cross-country move has caused for them both. Abby's grandmother changes her meals to making healthy foods to help Abby's weight loss.



Other Belief Systems


Isabella is not a Christian. She is searching and sometimes uses the slang of the day, like "drawing on your higher power." Coach Matthews tells Isabella that the phrase is part of a New-Age belief.



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.


Life of Pi: A Novel

A book review for parents

This adventure book by Yann Martel is published by Alfred A. Knopf, an imprint of Random House Books For Young Readers and is written for kids ages 14 to 17. The age range reflects readability and not necessarily content appropriateness.



Plot Summary


Piscine Molitor Patel, Pi for short, grows up on the grounds of a small zoo in Pondicherry, India, where his father is the owner and zookeeper. A spiritually sensitive boy, Pi finds himself drawn to religion — all religions. He was born a Hindu and worships Hindu gods, but soon he also embraces Jesus, Mary and Mohammed. Every week, he worships at the Hindu temple, the Catholic church and the Islamic mosque. Although his parents tell Piscine that he can't be more than one religion and his religious mentors from the three faiths have an ugly argument in front of him, Piscine persists. He believes that all religions are true and finds peace and satisfaction in the rituals of all three faiths.

When Pi is 16, his family plans to emigrate from India to Canada. Some of the zoo animals, to be sold in America, accompany them on a cargo ship. One night, Piscine wakes to what sounds like an explosion. He goes on deck to explore and soon finds himself alone in a lifeboat with an injured zebra, a hyena, an orangutan and a Bengal tiger named Richard Parker. The ship sinks with Pi's whole family inside, and after the tiger finishes eating the other animals, Pi and the tiger are the only survivors.

For seven months, Pi and the tiger survive because Pi works to provide food and water for them both and trains the tiger to respect him and stay in his own part of the boat. Pi holds onto his belief that God, alternately called God, Krishna, Allah, Allah-Brahman and other names, is watching over him. The boy and tiger finally land in Mexico, and the tiger runs off into the forest. Officials from the shipping company have trouble believing Pi's story, so he makes up a gruesome tale of murder and cannibalism instead. The officials leave believing that there is indeed a Bengal tiger loose in the forests of Mexico. Pi is placed with a Canadian foster mother and eventually graduates from the university, marries and has children of his own.



Christian Beliefs


Although the author presents some Christian beliefs accurately, such as the fact that Jesus died to pay for mankind's sin, the overall presentation is misleading, implying that both the Christian faith and the Bible have weaknesses and that Christianity is just one way to worship and work toward unity with the Brahman, the universal soul.



Authority Roles


Both parents and religious leaders are presented as proper authority figures. However, Pi follows his own conscience in order to worship as he pleases.



Other Belief Systems


Pi believes that Lord Krishna led him to Jesus, Mary and Mohammed. The author presents Hinduism as an ideal belief system and Islam as the most peaceful and beautiful of religions. Pi's pantheistic ideas cause him to compare himself to Cain and cry over killing his first fish. He talks of always remembering to pray for the souls of the dead animals. One time when he is trying to cheer himself up, he calls himself "God" and talks about everything around him belonging to this god (himself).



Profanity/Graphic Violence


There are several uses of p---, p---ing and one case of d--n and h---bent. Other uses of h--- refer to the almost unbearable conditions of Pi's life on the lifeboat. The book includes references to animal genitals and one to human genitals. Animals' sexual habits and excretion are mentioned several times, sometimes humorously. Pi tastes and handles the tiger's excrement and tastes human flesh. The descriptions of the deaths and dismemberments of animals and people by the tiger are detailed, but the worst graphic violence is Pi's invented story of murder and cannibalism at the end of the book. It is excessively gory. In Chapter 87, Pi practices a form of mild asphyxiation as a method of escape.



Kissing/Sex/Homosexuality


There is one kiss between a husband and wife; one reference to a little girl's kiss as a simile for the power and gentleness of scriptures (note: When Pi refers to scriptures, he means all scriptures, including the Koran, the Bible and the Hindu holy writings); and one reference to a man undressing to put on swim trunks.



Awards


Winner of the Man Booker Prize for Fiction, 2002



Discussion Topics


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

Note:
This book misrepresents Christianity and the Bible. It presents the idea that Hinduism, Islam and all religions are good.

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 Lightning Thief

A book review for parents

This fantasy adventure is the first book in "Percy Jackson and the Olympians" series by Rick Riordan and is published by Miramax Books, a division of Hyperion Books for Children.

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



Plot Summary


Twelve-year-old Percy Jackson, diagnosed with dyslexia and ADHD, is about to get kicked out of another boarding school when monsters start chasing him. His mother and best friend, Grover, rush him to a summer camp called Half-Blood Hill. A half-man/half-bull attacks him as he prepares to cross the property line, and Percy wakes up in the camp, knowing the creature has either taken or killed his mother. Grover (who turns out to be a satyr, or half man/half goat) and others nurse Percy back to health with ambrosia and explain that he and the other campers are children of Greek gods.

The gods of mythology are alive and well, ruling over the current center of the universe, America. They still have affairs with humans, creating children with special powers, who often struggle in the human world. Many of these kids stay at Half-Blood Hill to hone their demi-god skills and avoid the monsters that attack them outside of the camp. Percy learns he is the only living son of Poseidon, the sea god, and that he possesses many powers that are enhanced when he comes in contact with water.

Because of a misunderstanding between Poseidon, Zeus and Hades, a war seems imminent. Half-Blood Hill administrators send Percy (along with Grover and another camper named Annabeth) to the Underworld to retrieve Zeus' thunderbolt from Hades, who supposedly stole it. The modern-day Underworld exists beneath the city of Los Angeles, while the modern Olympus is above New York City. The kids travel cross-country by train and bus. Along the way, they encounter numerous creatures and gods who strive to prevent them from reaching California.

After a tour through the Underworld and a meeting with Hades, the kids realize Kronos, king of the Titans — and father of Zeus, Hades and Poseidon — is trying to pit his sons against one another with the help of Ares, god of war. Percy visits Olympus (via an elevator inside the Empire State Building). He meets his father for the first time, as well as Zeus, and explains Kronos' plan. Percy, Grover and Annabeth return as heroes to Half-Blood Hill. Hades restores Percy's mother to life, and Percy decides to put up with monster attacks in order to try living with her again outside of Half-Blood Hill.



Christian Beliefs


In the Underworld, Percy and his friends see a televangelist who raised millions for orphanages but got caught spending it on his mansion and cars. Grover says really bad people like him get special attention and torture from Hades.



Authority Roles


According to myth, Kronos kept five of his children prisoner in his stomach until they got out, sliced him to pieces and scattered his remains in the darkest part of the Underworld. In The Lightning Thief, Kronos (though still in pieces) is alive, regaining some of his power and using demi-gods to help him bring disunity among his sons. Luke, a counselor at the camp, is one of Kronos' pawns. Luke trains Percy to use a sword and pretends to befriend him, but ultimately tries to kill him. Percy's mom (Sally) tells him he was born from an affair and that his father was an important man who was lost at sea. She does her best to protect Percy from the monsters, even to the point of marrying Gabe, a man so rude, mean and foul smelling that his stench covers Percy's demi-god scent. (This keeps the monsters away.) Gabe hits Sally, drinks a lot, smokes cigars and constantly plays poker with his buddies, while demanding that Sally makes them food. Sally rids herself of Gabe in the end by turning him to stone with the severed head of Medusa. In the beginning, Percy's boarding school English teacher (Chiron) challenges him to excel and refuses to let him use his learning disabilities as excuses. Percy later learns Chiron is a staff member at Half-Blood Hill. At camp, he continues to support and encourage Percy. Poseidon reveals to Percy and the campers that he is Percy's father, but this may be because he needs the boy's help in his feud with Zeus and Hades. When Percy meets Poseidon, the god shows some level of pride in his son's actions but makes no particular effort to bond with him. Many of the demi-god kids are resentful toward their Olympian parents, who are busy and ignore them.



Other Belief Systems


The premise of The Lightning Thief is that the gods of mythology exist today and control world events with their magical powers. For example, Percy says the visits of agriculture goddess Demeter, not the tilt of the planet, create the seasons. As in the ancient myths, the gods and goddesses still have affairs with humans. Their children, such as Percy, are powerful demi-gods. Children of the Big Three gods (Hades, Zeus and Poseidon) have greater powers than other demi-gods and also have a stronger aura that attracts more monsters. When Percy asks whether there is a God, Chiron tells him that God with a capital G is a different than the Greek gods, and he doesn't want to address the metaphysical. He says that gods — the immortal beings that control the forces of nature and human endeavors — are a smaller matter, but they are real. He tells Percy that the concept of Western Civilization is a living force that was heavily shaped by the influence of the gods. As the centers of power have moved throughout history, so have the gods, who now live in, above and below America. The gods cannot be held responsible for the actions of mortals, so they always operate through humans. Many famous people in history, including George Washington, were demi-gods. The monsters that pursue them are primal forces without souls so they cannot die, only re-form themselves. The Oracle of Delphi (a spirit that lives in the attic at Half-Blood Hill) provides prophesies concerning what the demi-gods will or must do. The oracle has given Chiron prophesies about Percy, which Chiron keeps mostly to himself. When Percy arrives at the camp, Annabeth believes it is an omen that she'll finally get to go on a quest. Prior to his quest, Percy visits the Oracle and is met with the nightmarish image of a powerful spirit in the form of a mummy's body. When Percy says he doesn't believe in gods, the camp director says he'd better start believing before they incinerate him. Later, when he does believe, he says that as a half-blood, he knows that a bad day isn't a result of simple bad luck but of the intervention of a divine force. Grover calls Pan (god of wild places) the satyrs' lord and master. Evenings at Half-Blood Hill include camper rituals such as toasting the gods and giving the best part of their dinner as an offering. Later, they sit at the campfire and sing songs about the gods.

Percy visits the Underworld to retrieve Zeus' thunderbolt from Hades, also called Lord of the Dead. Percy first encounters desperate souls in a waiting room. Then, as the spirits ride the down elevator toward the Underworld, their modern clothes turn to grey hooded robes. Percy and his friends pass the heavily polluted River Styx and see people tortured as they're chased by hellhounds, burned at the stake, forced to run naked through cactus patches and worse. People who don't want to face judgment can plead "no contest" and be sent directly to the Asphodel Fields. Percy describes the fields as a gigantic stadium packed with millions of fans, but there are no lights and no noise, and people just mill around forever. A small section of the Underworld called Elysium is beautiful and inviting, similar to a resort in the Bahamas. It is reserved for people who have been reborn three times and have been good and heroic. Mainly, Percy describes the Underworld as a place with evil and deathly scents, skeleton guards and images on the walls of various earthly disasters and wars. Hades, who possesses an intense evil charisma, such as that seen in pictures of Hitler, sits on a throne of fused human bones. When he moves, his robe shows tormented human faces. He tells Percy that if Percy crosses him, he will let the dead pour back onto the earth, and Percy's skeleton will lead them.

Percy "prays" a number of times. Sometimes he prays to his father (Poseidon), and other times he seems to be making a wish more than praying to anyone. The three-headed dog in the Underworld tells Percy and his friends that they can pray to the god of their choice before he eats them. When Percy learns he's being sent to the Underworld, he is overcome with a desire for revenge rather than being afraid.

Sally tells Percy she doesn't want him to save her from Gabe. She says that if her life is going to mean anything, she has to live it herself and not let a god take care of her.



Profanity/Graphic Violence


The Half-Blood Hill crowd uses phrases like Oh Styx, Olympus knows…, Di immortals!, gods forbid, by the gods, oh my gods, and may the gods curse him. Heck, darn, suck, and butt each appear a time or two, and a few characters curse without profanity appearing in the text. Percy thinks about how he'd like to kick Gabe in his "soft spot" and make him sing soprano. Percy is injured and bloodied when he's cut with a sword then attacked by a hellhound in a capture the flag game that gets out of control. Though many battles rage, particularly between Percy and various monsters, the scenes are rarely graphic. Mortally wounded people and creatures vaporize into dust or crumble into sand rather than end as bloody, broken bodies. When Percy decapitates Medusa, he sees and feels drippy green juice and little snakes coiling around his feet, but he can't look at the head or he'll turn to stone.



Kissing/Sex/Homosexuality


None, other than a brief explanation that gods and humans have had relationships resulting in children.



Awards


School Library Journal Best Book of the Year, 2005; The New York Times Notable Children's Book, 2005; Young Adult Library Services Association (YALTA) Best Book Award, 2006; and others



Discussion Topics


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

Note:
Lying/Cheating: Percy lies to his mom about his school activities so she won't worry. On their quest, Percy, Annabeth and Grover lie repeatedly to those who ask what they're doing, where their parents are, etc. Percy also deceives his friends by not telling them the entire prophesy he received from the Oracle. Percy admits to turning in a paper he copied off of the Internet while in boarding school.

Alcohol: The camp director is Dionysus, the god of wine. His father, Zeus, tortures him by forbidding him to have alcohol and making him work at Half-Blood Hill.

Environmental stewardship: Grover, as a satyr who hails to the god of wild places, notes several times that humans have done devastating things to the world and its creatures. His point is proven when the kids encounter and help some mistreated animals in a truck marked "humane zoo transport." In the Underworld, Percy's guide says that the horrible pollution of the River Styx has been caused by poor human waste management.


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.


Little Klein

A book review for parents

This coming-of-age, unlikely champion book by Anne Ylvisaker is published by Candlewick Press, an imprint of Walker Books and is written for kids 8 to 12. The age range reflects readability and not necessarily content appropriateness.


Plot Summary


Harold Klein, known to most of the town as "Little Klein," is the youngest of four boys. If his brothers aren't leaving him out of their games, his mother is coddling him and reminding his brothers and mostly absent father how frail he is. Mother Klein reluctantly allows the boys to adopt a stray dog they name LeRoy, and the dog becomes Little Klein's best friend. When Little Klein's brothers fall off their raft and become trapped near a waterfall, Little Klein is the only one who can rescue them. After saving their lives, he gains the respect of his family and the townspeople, and he insists upon being called by his name, "Harold," instead of his diminutive nickname, "Little Klein."



Christian Beliefs


Mother Klein, who seems to view faith as important, but perhaps not church attendance, sings numerous hymns by heart and frequently utters phrases like, Mercy, L--d! She named her first three sons Matthew, Mark and Luke — and though Harold's name is an anomaly, the text says he was baptized (presumably at birth). Mother Klein sometimes threatens God, saying she'll stop following Him — and even use her musical abilities to sing for Satan — if He takes Little Klein from her. She also prays for her boys' protection when they are missing. The Presbyterian reverend's wife, believing she's meant to help the Kleins with their garden, offers frequent, unsolicited advice. The boys call a giant fish they want to catch "The Minister" because they first saw him on a Sunday, and he pounds the water the way the minister pounds the pulpit.



Authority Roles


Mother Klein loves her boys, though she often gets after the older three for delinquent behavior (such as shoplifting cigarettes or stealing a neighbor's pie) and coddles the youngest because she perceives him to be feeble. Mother Klein frequently requires the older brothers (Matthew, Mark and Luke) to take Little Klein with them, though they usually exclude him in their games or involve him in their criminal antics. Stanley, the father, is a traveling salesman who rarely appears in the story. He shows up long enough to complain about the dog and make several failed attempts to physically toughen up Little Klein. Widow Floam graciously offers to keep LeRoy for the boys until the Klein parents can decide whether to let their boys keep the dog.



Other Belief Systems


The narrator suggests that the nickname "Little Klein" may have jinxed the boy. Little Klein briefly ponders whether a spider is good luck and whether breaking a mirror is bad luck. In describing how a creek's water is pulled into the air and drops back down again in the form of rain, the narrator says the water is being reincarnated.



Profanity/Graphic Violence


The mother frequently utters phrases like, Mercy, L--d! Darn appears a few times. When Little Klein says it, his mother chastises him. Luke cusses, though none of his actual words appear in the text. A neighbor girl says crap twice.



Kissing/Sex/Homosexuality


None



Awards


Midwest Booksellers' Choice Award, 2008; McKnight Artist Fellowship for Writers Loft Award in Children's Literature, 2005; and others.



Discussion Topics


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

Note

Alcohol is mentioned briefly in a few places. Little Klein's brothers swig from a nearly-empty whisky bottle, and the narrator points out a bar where drunks are leaving at closing time.

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.


Little Sister Is NOT My Name!

A book review for parents

This contemporary slice-of-life book by Sharon M. Draper is the first in the "Sassy" series and is published by Scholastic, Inc.

Little Sister is NOT My Name is written for kids ages 8 to 10. The age range reflects readability and not necessarily content appropriateness.



Plot Summary


Sassy Sanford, age 9, is tired of everyone calling her Little Sister. Not only does Sassy feel small, but she also feels drab in her school's blue and white uniform when she longs to sparkle. Her saving graces are her good friends Jasmine, Travis, Holly and Carmelita, and her Sassy Sack, a glittery bag made by her grandmother (Grammy). She keeps every imaginable item from shoelaces to superglue to a mini flashlight in it. Life gets exciting when Grammy, a renowned storyteller, makes a surprise visit to see Sassy's family and demonstrate her art at an assembly at Sassy's school. After the family enjoys a goodbye dinner with Grammy in a fancy restaurant at the top of Mom's office building, they become trapped in the elevator. The only one small enough to crawl out and get help is Sassy. The newspaper hails her a hero, and she comes to realize that sometimes being the smallest — the little sister — isn't so bad after all.



Christian Beliefs


None



Authority Roles


Sassy's parents are loving, attentive and present in her life and the lives of her siblings. Her father's name is Samson, and Sassy thinks it fits him because he has muscles like Samson in the Bible. Cool, creative Grammy is Sassy's hero; not only did she use many shimmery fabric scraps to make Sassy's much-envied Sassy Sack, but she's also traveled the world and shares her knowledge and stories with others. Grammy also has the unique ability to make everyone she talks to feel special. Sassy's teacher, Miss Armstrong, can laugh at herself (such as when she wears two unmatched shoes) and with others (such as when Travis gets his head stuck in the chair; she takes pictures of him to commemorate the moment). Students like her because of her warm sense of humor.



Other Belief Systems


Sassy tells her friends that her grandmother is magic and tells her grandmother she doesn't really like reading books about fantasy or magic. When Sassy's older siblings ask why Grammy never came and spoke at their schools, Grammy says Sassy was just lucky.



Profanity/Graphic Violence


None



Kissing/Sex/Homosexuality


Sassy, her sister and her friends make a few innocent comments about kissing. Her sister, Sadora, who is old enough to drive, says she hasn't been kissed yet.



Awards


Children's Media and Toy Reviews Parents' Choice Award, 2009



Discussion Topics


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

Note:
When a boy asks Sassy for some Kleenex (as he does frequently) and requests something other than pink, she lies and says that is the only color she has. She actually has several other colors, but she gives him pink because she knows it bothers him.


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.


Little Toot

A book review for parents

This adventure by Hardie Gramatky is published by G.P. Putnam's Sons Books for Young Readers, Penguin Group and is written for kids ages 4 to 8. The age range reflects readability and not necessarily content appropriateness.



Plot Summary


Little Toot the tugboat hates the job of pulling ships down the ocean; the wild seas scare him, and he prefers to spend his time making figure eights in the water. When some of the other boats tease him for his frivolity, Little Toot sails off to sulk. He decides to do better at his job, but no one will give him a chance to prove he can change. Then he sees an ocean liner stranded in a storm and is able to signal the other tugs with his smoke — but only he can get over the waves to save the ship. The experience changes him, and he begins to work much harder.



Christian Beliefs


None



Authority Roles


Big Toot, Little Toot’s father, is a hard-working boat — the biggest, fastest and smokiest tugboat on the river. Both he and Grandfather Toot rush to the rescue when they see Little Toot’s SOS. Grandfather Toot, an old sea dog, tells stories of his mighty deeds; he is equally proud to broadcast his grandson’s success when Little Toot rescues the ocean liner.



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: Written in 1939, Little Toot became a Library of Congress children’s classic with five sequels.

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.


A Living Nightmare

A book review for parents

This first horror book in the "Cirque Du Freak: The Saga of Darren Shan" series by Darren Shan is published by Little, Brown and Company, a division of the Hachette Book Goup.

A Living Nightmare is written for kids ages 10 and up. The age range reflects readability and not necessarily content appropriateness.



Plot Summary


Darren and his friend Steve — both fascinated by the macabre — sneak out of their houses to attend an "underground" freak show, Cirque Du Freak. Steve recognizes one of the performers, Mr. Crepsley, who charms a spider using telepathy, an act performed by a vampire whom Steve has read about. Steve secretly confronts the man and asks to be his apprentice. Darren, who is obsessed with spiders, uses the conversation he's overheard to steal the spider (Madam Octa) and blackmail Mr. Crepsley, who is a vampire. Mr. Crepsley refuses Steve's request to be his apprentice, but Darren finally reveals to Steve that he's stolen the vampire's spider and has been training her. While she is uncaged, Madam Octa launches herself at Steve and bites him. He is close to death. Darren's only hope to save Steve is to get Mr. Crepsley's help. The vampire will only save Steve if Darren agrees to die and become reborn as the vampire's apprentice.



Christian Beliefs


Darren begs the comatose Steve to recover, and then says (when his friend doesn't regain consciousness) that his "prayers" were not answered. Mr. Crepsley laughs at Darren when the boy tries to destroy him with a cross and holy water. Mr. Crepsley is amused that people believe what they see in movies instead of using real weapons. A priest presides over Darren's funeral.



Authority Roles


Darren's mom and teacher, Mr. Dalton, both recoil at the idea of freak shows, saying they exploit the performers. Mr. Dalton is so upset when he learns about Cirque Du Freak that he goes to the police in an effort to get the show shut down. Darren's parents try to be involved and talk to him when they sense he's upset. They understand his emotions but have no clue about what he's up to or what sort of danger he's in. Steve lives with his mom, and the two fight regularly. Though he's a vampire, Mr. Crepsley comes across not as evil as much as someone doing what is necessary for his survival. In the end, he is rather pleasant and nurturing to Darren. Darren's friend Tommy says anything that adults hate is normally awesome. Steve shares plans to take money from his mom's money jar and sneak out to buy Cirque Du Freak tickets. Darren's parents share a bottle of wine at dinner.



Other Belief Systems


Both Mr. Crepsley and Darren control Madam Octa using mental telepathy. Darren sometimes "senses" things that lead him down a certain path. He calls it destiny. Mr. Crepsley asserts that vampires are not necessarily evil. They just have a thirst for blood now and then.



Profanity/Graphic Violence


The words h--- and crap appear a few times. At the freak show, the wolf-man bites off a woman's hand, and it is sewn back on. That same evening, Madam Octa sinks her fangs into a goat and paralyzes it before killing it. Steve is envious that Darren is a vampire and he isn't. Steve tells Darren the violent ways he'll kill him when he gets a chance. Darren offers a morbid description of his death, burial and being exhumed by Mr. Crepsley. The next book in this series is previewed after A Living Nightmare ends. In it, Mr. Crepsley and Darren feed on a nice scout leader with a wife and kids.



Kissing/Sex/Homosexuality


Darren reads adult comics that he knows his parents would disapprove of.



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.


Looking for Alaska

A book review for parents

This coming-of-age book by John Green is published by Dutton Children's Books, an imprint of Penguin Young Reader's Group and is written for kids ages 13 and up. The age range reflects readability and not necessarily content appropriateness.



Plot Summary


Miles (Pudge) Halter goes to boarding school in search of the "great perhaps," — a phrase attributed to French humanist Francois Rabelais about discovering the possibilities of life beyond the present — along with his new classmates Chip (the Colonel) Martin, Takumi and beautiful but troubled Alaska. Alaska spends most of her free time drinking, smoking and musing. She is legendary for instigating pranks against the school's rich kids and leadership. But one night after a prank and a drinking binge with Pudge and the gang, Alaska crashes her car and dies. Alaska's friends spend the rest of the book trying to piece together the events of that night, to forgive themselves for not stopping her and to understand what really happens to someone after death.



Christian Beliefs


While Dr. Hyde, the aging world religions teacher, doesn't provide false information about Christ and Christianity, he gives a textbook presentation, empty of any discussion about Christ's power to restore broken lives. He also places Christianity on a level playing field with Islam and Buddhism. When Pudge's school competes against a Christian school's basketball team, the Christians do a "hellfire" cheer, and Pudge and friends yell out faith-mocking comments from the bleachers.



Authority Roles


Pudge's parents support his desire to attend boarding school. His father (an alumnus of the school) even helps him pull a prank on the faculty. Mr. Starnes (the dean of students, known to Pudge's crew as The Eagle) allows a student jury to mete out punishment. Mr. Starnes is the subject of many pranks but remains fairly good-natured about them. He displays deep, genuine sorrow when Alaska dies, even though she was one of his worst troublemakers. Dr. Hyde gains the respect of Pudge and others with his philosophical explanations of religious leaders and the afterlife. For his class final, he asks each student to use his newly enlightened mind to determine how he, personally, will escape what Alaska had always called the "labyrinth of suffering."



Other Belief Systems


Pudge and friends study Buddhism and Islam alongside Christianity in their world religions class.



Profanity/Graphic Violence


The teenagers' dialogue is littered with f--- and s---, as well as other, milder profanities. The bulk of their discussions rapidly turn crass and/or sexual.



Kissing/Sex/Homosexuality


When everyone else is gone for Thanksgiving, Alaska and Pudge ransack people's rooms in search of porn. Alaska, a self-proclaimed sex addict, tells the guys a story about getting her breast "honked" and provides Pudge's girlfriend with graphic instructions on how to give him oral sex (which the girl promptly does). While dating another guy, Alaska makes out with Pudge. Pudge obsesses over Alaska's body. Prior to meeting her, however, he confesses that he wouldn't care who his girlfriend was as long as he had someone to make out with.



Awards


2006 Michael L. Printz Award and an ALA Best Books for Young Adults.



Discussion Topics


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


Note: Rights to produce a screenplay were purchased in 2005.

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 Looking Glass Wars

A book review for parents

This first fantasy book in the "Looking Glass Wars" series by Frank Beddor is published by Dial Books for Young Readers, a division of Penguin Group.

The Looking Glass Wars is written for kids ages 14 and up. The age range reflects readability and not necessarily content appropriateness.



Plot Summary


Alyss Heart celebrates her seventh birthday in Wonderland when Redd (the want-to-be Queen of Hearts and Alyss' aunt) shouts, "Off with their heads," and murders her sister (Alyss' mother). Alyss escapes her aunt through a looking glass mirror and ends up in 1859 England. The Rev. Mrs. Liddell adopt her but they don't believe she is a princess. The Rev. Dodgson (a character representing Lewis Carroll, whose real name was Charles Lutwidge Dodgson) listens to her tale and turns her story into a nonsensical children's book, Alice in Wonderland. Years later as Alyss is about to wed Leopold, the prince of England, Redd's henchmen attack. Before they can kill her, Dodge Anders, a childhood friend, helps her return to Wonderland. Alyss joins the fight against Redd, along with Hatter Madigan, General Doppelganger, Bibwit Harte and others. She defeats Redd and becomes the new Queen of Hearts.



Christian Beliefs


The marriage ceremony between Alyss and Prince Leopold takes place in a church, and their marriage vows are performed with reverence. The Rev. Liddell (her adopted father and the dean of Christ Church College) and the Rev. Dodgson (the author of Alice in Wonderland) are cited as two of the main factors that cause Alyss to almost lose her imagination completely.



Authority Roles


Alyss' mother, Queen Genevieve, sacrifices her life to save her daughter. Redd, Alyss' aunt, tries to kill Alyss, and Redd kills Alyss' parents. The Rev. and Mrs. Liddell adopt Alyss in England, and they punish Alyss for having an imagination. Bibwit Harte (representing the white rabbit in Alice in Wonderland), a 7-foot albino man with blue-green veins, teaches the girls in the Heart dynasty how to discipline their imagination. He remains true to the Heart dynasty on the inside, but on the outside, he serves both Queen Genevieve and Redd. Miss Prickett, a governess for the Liddell children, scolds Alyss for spelling her name different than Alice. As a teacher, she forces Alyss to conform. Hatter Madigan (mimicking the Mad Hatter in Alice in Wonderland) is actually a leader of Alyss' elite security force, known as the Millinery. He searches for Alyss for 12 years without concern for his personal life or safety. Soldiers in England mock Alyss. An English boy named Quigly takes pity on her and introduces her to his group of street kids. When the police catch her stealing, Quigly deserts her. The Rev. Charles Dodgson transforms Alyss' memories into a nonsensical children's book, Alice in Wonderland. Alyss feels he has betrayed her more than anyone, which seems excessive since Redd used her assassin, The Cat, to trick Alyss. That trickery led to the death of Alyss' mother and the loss of the kingdom.



Other Belief Systems


Wonderland's source of power is an enormous Heart Crystal. Once something passes into the crystal, the item flows through the imaginations of people in other worlds. When the story opens, Alyss' imagination is the most powerful of any 7-year-old. Alyss belongs to the Heart dynasty, which is guided by their duty toward their subjects, justice and love, but each Heart must choose to use his or her imagination for good or evil. The peace and harmony of Wonderland is derived from White Imagination. Her aunt, Redd, has an undisciplined imagination known as Black Imagination. When Alyss returns to Wonderland as a young woman and goes through the looking glass maze, she attains full power and control of her imagination. The caterpillars, that constantly smoke an opium-like substance, are seen as the wisest of all creatures, the oracles. They give people strange visions of what is to come. There is also a slight mention of the importance of women and the prejudices of men who don't feel women can be leaders. The central characters — Redd and Alyss — are women. Their second-in-commands are men (or partially men, since The Cat is part man and part feline). In the end, the hope and future of Wonderland rests on Alyss and her White Imagination.



Profanity/Graphic Violence


Queen Genevieve and King Nolan are brutally murdered. Other characters are suffocated, cut and tortured by Redd and her forces, which includes The Cat, who is her assassin, playing cards that unfold into soldiers, banshees that scream in pain and are called Seekers, the Glass Eye and an organization called The Cut. Redd has a labor camp, Blaxik, which consists of unventilated factories where people work for 17 hours a day and are fed infla-rice and water. At 14, Dodge Anders makes a name for himself by fighting Redd's forces. He wants to avenge his father's brutal death and assassinate The Cat. The book has plenty of slashing swords, agonizing moans, bloody stabs and explosions. People die or are injured by sabers, claws, spinning knives, steel-tipped cones, white bolts of energy, choking, spears, a jaberwock tooth, black rose thorns, flesh-eating roses, orb generators, S-shaped blades that spin toward the enemy and other weapons.



Kissing/Sex/Homosexuality


In an opening scene, Dodge and Alyss are dancing. Dodge's feelings are described in detail through his heightened senses—the sweetness of her hair, how she smells, her breath, how he likes being close to her and his desire to continue holding her. The physical reaction seems too sophisticated for a 10-year-old dancing with a 7-year-old. Wonderland has a class system where a princess may only marry into a suit family — a Heart, Club, Diamond or Spade family — which means that Dodge can never marry Alyss.



Awards


Unknown



Discussion Topics


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


Note: Aspects of the book were first published as a graphic novel and comic, which was nominated for an Eisner Award in 2007.

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.


Lord of the Flies

A book review for parents

This coming-of-age book by William Golding is published by Riverhead Books, a division of Penguin Group and is written for ages 13 and up. The age range reflects readability and not necessarily content appropriateness.



Plot Summary


When a plane wreck strands a group of British boys on a tropical island without adults, the children initially revel in their freedom and try to develop a society by holding assemblies, appointing hunters, and tending a signal fire to alert passing ships. It isn't long before their "savage natures" take over; they argue, paint their faces and hunt bloodthirstily, eventually even killing some of their own. They fear and stalk "the Beast," whom they believe to be a dangerous creature on the island. In fact, there is no such animal — their anxiety about the Beast symbolizes their fear of the emerging monster within each of them. In the end, they are rescued and returned to the "civilized" world — a world in the throes of a war.



Christian Beliefs


Literary critics consider Simon a "Christ figure." He demonstrates compassion for his fellow man and looks for goodness in a rapidly-declining civilization. His conversation with The Lord of the Flies (which is a rotting pig's head the boys have left as an offering to the Beast) is likened to the temptation Christ experienced during his fasting in the wilderness (Matthew 4:1-11). The loss of innocence the boys experience is sometimes compared to the fall of man (Genesis 3:1-21).



Authority Roles


The boys initially elect Ralph as their chief; he chooses Jack and Simon to assist him. Ralph's primary concern is to keep a signal fire going in case a ship passes; he tries to maintain order and structure within the group. As Jack's lust for hunting and blood increases, he convinces most of the boys to join a new tribe under his leadership. He is dominating and brutal, rousing the boys to kill pigs and, eventually, other humans for sport.



Other Belief Systems


Lord of the Flies contrasts democracy and anarchy.



Profanity/Graphic Violence


Ralph makes fun of Piggy's asthma (a----mar). Characters use God’s name in vain, and d--n you once or twice. Violence intensifies as the characters become less civilized: First they kill pigs with spears, enjoying the pigs' squealing and blood. They often dance and chant, "Kill the pig. Cut her throat. Spill her blood. Bash her in." They even spear the head of one pig, leaving it as an offering for the Beast. By the end, boys are killing other boys by mobbing and hunting them, simply because they "get caught up" in the frenzy of their savage rituals.



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: Golding was awarded the 1983 Nobel Prize in literature.

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.


Losers, Inc.

A book review for parents

This drama by Claudia Mills is published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux and is written for kids ages 8 to 12. The age range reflects readability and not necessarily content appropriateness.



Plot Summary


Self-proclaimed losers Ethan and Julius never try very hard at anything. Why should they, when the world is obviously against them? Then the beautiful Ms. Grace Gunderson becomes their student teacher. At first, Ethan improves his work ethic and behavior simply to impress Grace — but he soon realizes that his new activities leave him too busy to keep track of how unfair life is. As Ethan starts enjoying his nonloser status, his friendship with Julius gets rocky.



Christian Beliefs


Ethan offers two quick prayers to God. In the first, he asks that his brother make an important free throw. In the second, he requests that he not have to sit next to the girl who has a crush on him.



Authority Roles


Ethan's loving, supportive parents provide a solid foundation for his healthy family. Teachers are portrayed as wise and competent. The kids listen to them and treat them with respect.



Other Belief Systems


None



Profanity/Graphic Violence


None



Kissing/Sex/Homosexuality


None



Awards


Bank Street College of Education Best Children’s Books of the Year



Discussion Topics


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


Note: Book club selection for the Junior Library Guild and the Arrow Book Club

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 Love Killer

A book review for parents

This contemporary Christian book in the "The Powerlink Chronicles" by Josh McDowell and Bob Hostetler is published by Word Publishing Group, Thomas Nelson Publishers.

The Love Killer is written for kids ages 15 and up. The age range reflects readability and not necessarily content appropriateness.



Plot Summary


This novel contains a plot about the lives of teens at Eisenhower High School, a subplot about demons trying to persuade teens to stop praying and a commentary on teen issues from the authors. In the main plot, Brad meets Krystal, a young woman with a worldly past who is now a Christian and part of a strong youth group called the Liberation Commandos. Brad and Krystal have feelings for each other and Brad tries to convince Krystal that safe sex is good if two people are in love. She challenges Brad to a debate on condoms. Her youth group helps her prepare for the debate. Meanwhile Krystal's seemingly perfect sister, Kathy, breaks her engagement and overdoses on drugs when unable to cope with her out-of-wedlock pregnancy. Brad discovers he's HIV positive. He hears the message of salvation and considers becoming a Christian.



Christian Beliefs


The Liberation Commandos is a Christian group that plans events when they share the Gospel message. Throughout, the group gathers to pray and remains serious about their commitment to God. The youth pastor presents clear messages about topics of sex and love. Co-author Josh McDowell uses Scripture and offers commentary that expands on the youth pastor's talks.



Authority Roles


Krystal is not living at home and does not view her parents as having authority over her. She left home when her father's drug habit made it difficult for her to stay away from drugs. She moved in with a friend and her friend's mom. During middle school years, Krystal had rebelled against her parents' curfews and demands that she not date. She tried to honor her mother and visited her when she knew her dad was away. Krystal respects her youth group leaders and her teacher Mr. Detweiler. The youth director uses Scripture to share wisdom as he counsels the teens. Mr. Detweiler remains neutral and gives advice on how to conduct a debate.



Other Belief Systems


Brad uses humanistic arguments to explain that sex is OK for consenting couples and that people can choose to change partners as they make new choices about whom to love.



Profanity/Graphic Violence


None



Kissing/Sex/Homosexuality


In the past, Krystal ran away from home to be with her boyfriend Jimmy. She eventually returned home but continued to have sex with other boys and sold drugs that she stole from her father. Jimmy later died of AIDS, while Krystal tested negative for HIV. Once Krystal became a Christian, she changed her life, chose to be sexually pure and stopped dealing drugs. Krystal meets Brad, and they discuss their physical desires. And after Krystal's sister, Kathy, overdoses on pills, Kathy reveals that she is pregnant in spite of using protection. The debate over condoms includes statistics and facts about sexually transmitted infections, AIDS, pregnancies and condom failure rates. Brad argues that mature teens should be free to engage in sex, and that since some teens are already choosing to be sexually active, they should use what protection is available.



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.


Lucky Breaks

A book review for parents

This slice-of-life sequel to The Higher Power of Lucky by Susan Patron is published by Ginee Seo Books, an imprint of Simon & Schuster Children's Books and is written for kids ages 8 to 12. The age range reflects readability and not necessarily content appropriateness.



Plot Summary


The entire town of Hard Pan, Calif., (population 43) is preparing for Lucky's 11th birthday party. Once she is an 11-year-old, Lucky wants to do wonderful and "intrepid" things that 10-year-olds can't. She's thrilled when a visiting scientist's niece about her age (Paloma) becomes her new best friend, but she struggles to manage her long-standing friendship with the serious-minded Lincoln. Sometimes, Lucky's newfound passions — such as her quest to heroically unearth a 100-year-old brooch from an abandoned well — result in cruel and selfish behavior toward others, and even putting them and herself in danger. With the help of her adoptive mother, Brigitte, and her quirky Hard Pan "family," Lucky celebrates her birthday and learns to embrace and respect friendships, new and old.



Christian Beliefs


As Lucky looks up into the night, she wonders if God had a mischievous second cousin who poked a bunch of holes in the sky to make the stars.



Authority Roles


Lucky's absent, twice-divorced father occasionally sends a little money. His first wife, Brigitte, came from France to care for (and later, adopt) Lucky when his second wife (Lucky's biological mother) died. Though completely out of her element, as a new parent and an aspiring American citizen, Brigitte takes an online restaurant course and opens a café in Hard Pan. She tries to provide a balance of freedom and rules for Lucky and help Lucky understand why her father isn't around, which isn't Lucky's fault. Short Sammy, a former alcoholic who lives in an old water tower, is a good listener, meal provider and friend to Brigitte, Lucky and other kids and adults in Hard Pan.



Other Belief Systems


Lucky's hero is Charles Darwin. She wants to be a scientist like him and has even named her dog after a ship on which he sailed. She mentions him a number of times, has conversations with him in her head and even makes a list of all the ways she and Darwin are alike. Lucky wonders what the evolutionary reasons are for her friend Paloma's interesting eyelashes, and she says Paloma was destined to come to Hard Pan. She believes the Hard Pan bus driver's willingness to fill in as a waitress at Brigitte's café is a good omen. When she is trapped in the well, Lucky believes her luck has run out.



Profanity/Graphic Violence


Scrotum appears twice in reference to Short Sammy's dog, who years earlier was bitten on his genitals by a rattle snake. Short Sammy says h--- once. Lucky's friend Paloma calls one of Lucky's bad ideas arsy varsy. Miles, Lincoln and Lucky discuss a woman who was shot in the heart a 100 years ago. The conversation makes Lucky recall a time when she tripped and blood gushed from her own chin, and Lincoln helped her stop the bleeding. She later talks about how Egyptians mummified their dead by sticking long-handled spoons in through the nostrils and scooping the brains out a little at a time. Lucky believes she's suddenly intrigued by murder and blood (as well as love and kissing, and other things that are precious and fragile) because she's turning 11. A stray burro wanders into Lucky's yard at night and pees large quantities of urine. She wishes she could measure the amount of urine and knew how long it took for the burro to pee, in the interest of science.



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:

Lucky tells a lot of lies. Some are "smaller," like when she tells restaurant customers that tomato worms are a delicacy. Some are to her friends — to hurt them or to keep them away from people she doesn't want them to meet. She seems to have an easy time spewing out an untruth when the "need" arises.

Mentions of alcohol: Brigitte poaches fresh pears in red wine, and a minor character sometimes loans his tools to people for a six-pack of Bud Light.


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.