This historical adventure by Peter Marshall, David Manuel and Sheldon Maxwell is second in the "Crimson Cross" series and is published by the B&H Publishing Group.
Nate Donovan: Revolutionary Spy is written for kids ages 10 to 14. The age range reflects readability and not necessarily content appropriateness.
During the Revolutionary War, talk of war and rebellion in Philadelphia creates increasing tension for the Donovans, a Quaker family. When the oldest son, Charles, joins the Continental Army, Nate Donovan stumbles upon his mother's diary, which indicates that she, too, is sympathetic to the patriot cause. The British Army occupies the Donovan home and uses it as a meeting place, assuming that this carpenter's family will not participate in political unrest because they are Quakers. Captain Andre insists that the 3-year-old Donovan twins cannot stay at the home because of the disruption they might cause for his meetings. As Lydia Donovan, the mother, prepares the boys to go live with an aunt, she makes Nate wear Charles' coat beneath his own in order to smuggle the coat to Charles while he is at war. When Nate arrives at the aunt's tavern, he discovers that her tavern is a meeting place for patriot spy missions. The patriots there invite Nate — his bravery proven by smuggling the coat — to join their efforts. Upon returning home, he discovers Lydia is also an informant for the patriots.
A number of daring and dangerous missions unfold with the help of an Indian named Running Fox. On one mission, Nate must speak to General Washington, who then uses Nate for other spy missions. Eventually, the enemy captures Nate and Running Fox, throws them in prison and makes plans to hang them. Nate's father, William, appears at the prison the next day to pick up the body of a dead prisoner. Another prisoner suggests smuggling Nate out instead of the dead prisoner since no one at the prison keeps a body count. William frees Nate, who then begins working with the Continental Army to come up with a plan to free the others. At the farewell party for British General Howe, the patriots stage a grand commotion of explosions on the wharf to distract the soldiers while they empty the prison. The Donovan family must flee the city now that their identity as patriot supporters is known. At a ceremony for the Continental Army, Lydia, Running Fox and Nate receive awards from General Washington for their bravery. The British evacuate Philadelphia, and life resumes for the Donovan family.
The Donovan family is a God-fearing Quaker family. At first Nate is doubtful of God's role in his life. However, he begins to see God's intervention when he loses his way and rescued from a river. A fellow prisoner asks Nate if he believes in God, but Nate avoids the question by replying that his parents do. The prisoner tells the Daniel story to give hope for escape and reminds Nate that God is their only hope. But Nate is still doubtful. By the end, Nate believes God has been with him.
The Presbyterian pastor across the street from the Donovans' home is an outspoken patriot who shows integrity and an ability to stand up for his beliefs. Lydia Donovan is a God-fearing woman who compares General Washington to Moses. She prays for her family and trusts God for their safety.
The oldest brother, Charles, defies his father's Quaker beliefs and joins the war effort. His father sees this son as lost and foolish until the end of the book. Rachel, who is Nate's teenage sister, is a self-centered young lady who feels she should be allowed to flirt and speak with whomever she chooses. She is outspoken and disobeys and disagrees with her parents. Her mother warns her about Captain Andre, and the mother is proven right about her judgment of the British captain. Nate is sensitive to his father's Quaker beliefs, so he doesn't mention his spy efforts.
Colonel Cadwalader, who gives Nate his second spying mission, tells Nate that he must get the approval of both his parents before the patriots will continue to consider him for these missions. Nate complies and tells his father what he is doing. His father objects, but Nate sneaks out at night to complete the mission. Nate believes the cause of the patriots and the safety of his brother outweigh his obedience to his father. Lydia keeps her patriot ties a secret from her husband until it becomes known that she is supporting the cause in order to save her oldest son.
Running Fox talks with Nate about the Great Spirit; it becomes clear he is referring to the Christian God. Running Fox prays for the Great Spirit to revive Nate when Nate almost drowns. As the two become closer, Running Fox convinces Nate of God's protection and guidance.
Violence is present although not graphic. Two men are hung early in the book, and Nate throws up after witnessing this spectacle. A barn burned down at night causes screams from the American soldiers inside. Descriptions include being hit by gunshot, but the book does not go into detail other than binding a wound. One drama tells of primitive torpedoes blowing up the British farewell party and throwing people onto the decks and into the water. Also mentioned are the cut and torn feet of the soldiers who are starving at Valley Forge.
Rachel flirts on a balcony at church and later with the British Captain Andre. Andre is overtly interested in Rachel, interrupting his secret meetings to flatter her when she is present. She attends the British farewell party as Andre's escort. A courier spy named Sally is interested in both Charles and Nate. She kisses Nate while Charles looks on. The brothers begin to argue over the girl only to decide she has played one against the other.
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.
This adventure book in the "Amazing Indian Children" series by Kenneth Thomasma is published by Grandview Publishing Co.
Naya Nuki: Shoshoni Girl Who Ran is written for kids ages 9 to 12. The age range reflects readability and not necessarily content appropriateness.
In a mix of fiction and historical events, Shoshoni Indians Naya Nuki and Sacajawea are 11 years old when they're captured by an enemy tribe. Though Sacajawea feels an escape attempt is too dangerous, Naya Nuki makes careful plans and stealthily gathers supplies for the journey home. After Naya Nuki gains the trust of her captors, she flees. The book gives an account of her harrowing, month-long journey. She faces wild animals, human enemies, debilitating illness and hazardous weather. The tribe rejoices at her return, and she is later reunited with Sacajawea when the famous guide — along with explorers Lewis and Clark — visits the Shoshoni to buy horses.
Naya Nuki remembers that her mother always cared for her when she was ill. When Naya Nuki's mother lost one of her children as a baby, she grieved according to Shoshoni custom: She burned the crib, chopped off her own hair and cut her legs with sharp rocks until they bled. Her actions demonstrated to Naya Nuki the great love of a mother for her child.
Naya Nuki and her tribe sought to please the spirits, including The Great Spirit. They performed a special dance prior to the hunt to please the spirits, and they attributed bad weather to the spirits' anger. Naya Nuki wouldn't take items she needed from a burial site for fear of angering the spirits.
Indian Paintbrush Book Award, 1986
This first mystery book in the "Mandie: Her College Days" series by Lois Gladys Leppard is published by Bethany House Publishers, an imprint of Baker Publishing Group.
New Horizons is written for kids ages 10 to 15. The age range reflects readability and not necessarily content appropriateness.
Mandie and her friend Celia begin their first year at Charleston Ladies' College. Their excitement soon turns to frustration as they realize the other girls at school don't like them, although they have no idea why. To complicate matters, the boarding house they want to move into, to get away from other girls at the college, is said to be haunted. They decide to move into the house with another friend, and together the three of them work to solve the mystery of the supposed ghost and a local burglary.
There are not a lot of blatant references to Christianity, although Mandie does go to church with her friends, and her college holds chapel every morning. Grace Wilson says she prays for Mandie's grandmother every day because of the kindness her grandmother showed Grace.
All of the authority figures in Mandie's life provide positive role models for Mandie. Her grandmother can appear a bit controlling at times, but she has Mandie's best interest in mind. Mrs. Dunnigan, who becomes a temporary authority figure in Mandie's life, treats Mandie as a member of her family, expecting Mandie to respect her rules.
This fantasy/romance book is the second in the "Twilight Saga" by Stephenie Meyer and is published by Little, Brown and Company Books for Young Readers, an imprint of the Hachette Book Group.
New Moon is written for kids ages 12 and up. The age range reflects readability and not necessarily content appropriateness.
PluggedIn.com, an entertainment and media ministry of Focus on the Family, has written an article that offers an overview of the whole "Twilight" series: Darkness Falls After Twilight.
This memoir by Elie Wiesel was written for adults but is on reading lists for kids ages 12 to 18. The age range reflects readability and not necessarily content appropriateness.
In 1941, Eliezer Wiesel lives in a Jewish community in Sighet, Transylvania. An avid student, he wants to know God and studies the Kabbalah with Moishe. Moishe is deported with other foreign Jews but returns near the end of 1942. He warns the Jews that the Nazis massacred all the other deportees. No one listens. In spring 1944, the Hungarian police empty the two ghettos in Sighet and herd Eliezer, his family and the rest of the Jewish population into crowded boxcars for transport.
At Birkenau, 15-year-old Eliezer sees flames rising from the chimneys and smells the odor of bodies being burned. He sees his mother and sister for the last time there. A Jewish inmate tells him that Jews are being exterminated at this camp.
Eliezer's memories of the camps revolve mainly around two relationships: his relationship with God and his relationship with his father. Though Eliezer states that the events in camp during his first night killed God, he continues to reflect on God throughout the book, but his bitter rejection of God deepens as he experiences and witnesses the cruelties of the camps. When 10,000 Jewish men gather to observe Rosh Hashanah, Eliezer stands apart, quietly denouncing God to himself, and he does not fast on Yom Kippur. During a death march from Buna, he startles himself by praying to a god he no longer believes in.
Many of Eliezer's other memories revolve around his determination to support his father and receive support from him. While in Buna, father and son endure starvation, hard labor, threats, beatings, betrayals and the constant fear of being chosen for the crematorium. They also watch hangings and shootings. Eliezer's greatest desire is to be a good son, but his father's frailties are sometimes burdensome, and Eliezer struggles with his responses. He chastises himself for failing to be a perfect son.
In January as the Red Army approaches Buna, the camp is evacuated. Eliezer has an injured foot, but he leaves with the prisoners because he will not be separated from his father. Many die on this march and during their train ride in open boxcars. At Buchenwald, Eliezer's father dies from dysentery, but this death is hastened by an SS officer’s beating. Eliezer writes that nothing was important to him after his father's death. The camp is liberated on April 11, 1945. Eliezer becomes ill and nearly dies. In the hospital he sees himself in a mirror, and he looks like a corpse.
None are stated in the text. In the foreword, the French writer Mauriac suggests that all human suffering, even that of the Jews, can be reconciled in the Cross of Jesus.
Eliezer's father is a respected leader in the Jewish community. In the camps, Eliezer relies on his father for advice and support, but Eliezer also portrays him as a broken man. At times Eliezer resents his father's weaknesses and resists looking after him. Although subtle, Eliezer's father also protects and encourages Eliezer. Eliezer's father seems to have given up on God when Eliezer finds him after the Rosh Hashanah service. The elders of the community cooperate with the civil authorities, and at Auschwitz, they discourage the young men from fighting SS guards.
The Hungarian police, using clubs and verbal threats, round up the Jews and herd them onto the train. In the camps, the SS guards are callous toward their prisoners. While marching them to another camp, they flirt with young German girls. During the death march from Buna, the SS shoot any man who falls behind. During an air raid, guards shoot a man who is trying to eat from the soup cauldron.
Some inmate overseers, Kapos, are just and protective. A young Pole Kapo tells Eliezer and the other new prisoners that they should help each other. Eliezer remarks that the young Pole is soon after removed from his position because of his humanity and replaced with a cruel overseer. Other Kapos and their assistants are vicious and misuse their positions of authority. Idek, a Kapo in the Buna camp, has a reputation for being explosive. He gives Eliezer an undeserved beating. He also beats Eliezer's father. Idek takes the work detail to the warehouse so that he can have sex with a young girl. Another Kapo, Franek, beats Eliezer's father ostensibly because his father cannot march in step, but Franek is actually trying to force Eliezer to give him something he wants. A Jewish dentist extracts gold teeth from prisoners for his own use. He is discovered and hung. A Jewish doctor is trustworthy, operating successfully on Eliezer's foot and helping him get well.
Before going to the concentration camps, Eliezer studies the Talmud, which is a collection of rabbinic writings that discuss Jewish law and life. He also studies the Kabbalah, mystical Jewish writings that attempt to explain how a divine and infinite God relates to the physical, created world, including mankind. Jews do not recognize Jesus as the Messiah or the Son of God. Moishe, Eliezer's religious teacher, says that according to the Kabbalah, the redemption of the divine is yet to be. He also tells Eliezer that human beings get close to God by asking God questions and listening for God's answers. However, human beings will not understand God's answers. Eliezer reads one of the pages of the Kabbalah again and again in hopes of finding God. He thinks his study will bring him into eternity.
Eliezer shows the Jews pleading to God for mercy, believing that God can do miracles, giving God thanks in times of hope and saying kaddish, prayers of mourning for the dead. Seeing and suffering the horrors of the camps, Eliezer rebels at glorifying God. He says that God, who is all-powerful, caused the Jews to be so cruelly treated. He describes himself and others in the camp as lost souls forced to endlessly wander in an abyss with no hope of redemption or release. After being in the camps for a number of weeks, he accuses God of being uncaring and unjust and believes himself stronger than God because he is now separate from God.
One Jew in the camp says that the camps are God's test. God is watching to see if they can purify themselves and murder the evil that is within each of them. And if they are being punished by God, it demonstrates that He loves them even more. Another Jew says that the camps signify the end of the world and that the Messiah is coming.
A young Pole, who may be a communist because he refers to the men as comrades, tells them to not give in to despair; they need to put their faith in being alive and believe that liberation will come. In the meantime, he says they should all help one another.
These words are used once: h---ish, H--- (as a place), d--ned (as in people who are separated from God's mercy)
So many people are crowded into a boxcar that they must sit in shifts. When a hysterical woman will not stop screaming, people in the boxcar beat her into silence. The men are marched past pits filled with the burning dead bodies of children and adults. Brutality in the camps is commonplace. Several beatings are vividly, but succinctly, described: Eliezer's father is slapped so hard he falls and crawls back to his place; Eliezer is whipped and passes out; his father is beaten with an iron bar; an SS officer strikes his father on the head because his father is crying out for Eliezer. Men and boys are forced to run naked in front of Nazis to see if they are unfit for work and should be chosen for the crematoriums. Men are shot. A dentist using an old spoon removes a gold crown.
Two hangings are described. In both instances, the other prisoners are forced to watch and then look into the faces of the hanged people. In the second case, the hanged boy, still alive, twists and turns on the rope. (His emaciated body was too light to bring him a quick death.)
The descriptions of the death march and the train ride to Buchenwald are heart wrenching. Emaciated men and boys are forced to run on a snowy march. SS guards shoot any prisoner who cannot keep the pace. A young boy collapses and is run over by the others coming behind him. Given permission to stop, exhausted prisoners collapse on the snow and die. During the long train ride in open boxcars, the SS occasionally stop the train and tell the prisoners to throw the dead into the frozen fields. The men do, but not before stripping the dead of their clothing. Men are forced into overcrowded barracks, where they pile on top of each other, smothering those beneath them.
In the boxcar on the way to the camps, young people under the cover of darkness caress without thinking of others present. In the camps, the men are forced to be naked for a time. While the author and some others are being marched to a different camp, their German guards flirt with, kiss and tickle young German girls. Nothing is described, but Wiesel says that he learned later that homosexuals in the camps were trafficking in children. Eliezer stumbles on a Kapo and a young Polish girl having sex. The girl is half naked.
Because of this book and other writings, Elie Wiesel eventually won many awards. In 1978 Wiesel was made Chairman of the President's Commission on the Holocaust. In 1980, he became Founding Chairman of the United States Holocaust Memorial Council. In 1986 Wiesel received the Nobel Peace Prize, and in 1992, he was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
Note:The teenage Eliezer relied on his father's presence to help him survive the horrors and humiliations of the camp experience. In the same way, your teen may derive great comfort from your reading and discussing the book with him or her, if this is a required school reading, your have allowed him/her to read it.
Some scenes in the book are vividly portrayed, while others are only touched on. It is difficult to know how a young person's imagination will fill in those understated scenes if a teen does not have a historical basis for what took place. The graphically horrific scenes will impact a young person’s mind.
Some will be overwhelmed with the suffering and hopelessness that the author both speaks and whispers. Parents may want to spend time praying with and for their teen if their teen is required to read this book for school and the parent has agreed that he or she can read it.
This science fiction book by George Orwell is written for adults, but is studied in some high school classes.
Winston Smith works as a clerk in London, the chief city of Airstrip One in the provinces of Oceania. The dystopian nation where Winston lives is ruled by the Party, a totalitarian regime whose key phrases include "War is Peace," "Freedom is Slavery" and "Ignorance is Strength." The face of Big Brother, the Party's figurehead, graces posters on every wall and street corner; the signage warns: "Big Brother is Watching." Inside every home and workplace, telescreens monitor individuals to ensure their behaviors, facial expressions and even dreams show no indication of dissension. Children are urged to spy on their parents and turn them in for any action that might indicate Party disloyalty. The Party has created its own language, newspeak, that is constantly evolving to eliminate words that don't promote their orthodoxy. They also preach "doublethink," where people must believe two opposing thoughts at once if the Party requires it.
Ultimately, the Party seeks to control reality, believing whoever controls the past controls the future, and whoever controls the present controls the past. Government offices, like the one in which Winston works, ensure that any unsavory information about the past is wiped out and rewritten in all publications. The old information is then destroyed as though it never existed. One moment, Party members believe they are at war with the nation of Eurasia. A moment later, they're told they've always been at war with Eastasia, and they are compelled to believe it. Individuals caught rebelling against the Party vanish and are written out of history, becoming "unpersons."
Winston, unconvinced that the Party is right, begins to rebel in subtle ways. He starts an affair with a co-worker named Julia. He also seeks out a man in his office named O'Brien, whom he believes to be working for the rogue anti-Party group, the Brotherhood. O'Brien gives Winston a book that explains the Party's tactics. The book talks about the importance of three people classes (in Oceania's case, the Inner Party, the Outer Party and commoners called proles) and the power struggles between nations that are necessary for keeping these classes intact.
Shortly after Winston has read the book, he and Julia are arrested at their love nest. O'Brien, an operative for the Party, turns them in. He is also Winston's chief persecutor over the time he spends in prison. Winston is starved, beaten and physically tortured. Worse than that, however, is the mental anguish inflicted to convince him Big Brother and the Party are right. O'Brien explains that the martyrs of old died clutching their beliefs, but that the Party would not allow anyone to die unconverted. In session after session, O'Brien tries to convince Winston that reality exists only in his own mind. If Winston tries hard enough, he can make himself believe what the Party preaches. Winston is finally sent to room 101, where each prisoner meets his deepest fear. Winston's is rats. When faced with the prospect of being eaten alive by them, he betrays Julia and begs O'Brien to torture her instead of him. Eventually, Winston is completely brainwashed into loving Big Brother and sent back into the world where the Party finds him completely harmless. He encounters Julia once more. They confess their betrayals and no longer have any interest in one another.
The narrator says the proles would be allowed to practice religion if they'd shown any signs of wanting or needing it. A man is imprisoned partly because he allowed the word "God" to remain at the end of a Kipling poem he was revising for the Party. O'Brien's book likens the Party to the Catholic Church in that one does not achieve membership by inheritance but by opting in.
The Inner Party consists of the elite Party members, those who rule and are allowed life's luxuries. They go to great lengths, including maintaining a constant state of war, to ensure they remain in power. Big Brother is the Party's figurehead, always watching the actions of Party members. O'Brien will not tell Winston whether Big Brother is a real person, only that he will never die. O'Brien tricks Winston into thinking he (O'Brien) is a dissenter, then betrays Winston. O'Brien shows occasional tenderness in the midst of torturing Winston. He exudes a sense of wisdom and confidence in his beliefs about the Party that intimidates Winston.
A woman in Winston's office cries out that Big Brother is her Savior. Winston tells O'Brien that the world was uninhabited for millions of years. O'Brien objects, saying it is only as old as we are. O'Brien says people could control the laws of nature, such as gravity, if they tried hard enough. He believes power can only be truly asserted when it is done through pain and humiliation. He says God is power, and Party leaders control life, so they are the priests of power. Only in a group setting is power found, he believes, and individuals are infinitely malleable. Winston says he doesn't believe in God but believes there is something deeper in man, perhaps man's spirit, that will defeat evil.
The word d--n appears half a dozen times. A woman in prison calls someone the f-word along with b--tard. The Party urges its members to develop passionate, violent tendencies. It televises bloody events, such as a little boy's arm being blown off. It holds daily and annual Hate festivities to stir the masses into frenzies where they desire to kill or injure others. In one such Hate moment, Winston fantasizes about tying Julia naked to a stake and shooting her full of arrows before raping her and cutting her throat. Adults and children alike revel in the violence of the Party's monthly public hangings. After a bombing, Winston sees a severed hand and kicks it into the gutter. He tells Julia he's sorry he didn't shove his wife off a cliff when he had the opportunity. Winston and Julia tell O'Brien they will do whatever is necessary for the Brotherhood, including distributing addictive drugs, giving others sexually transmitted diseases, throwing sulfuric acid in a child's face or otherwise killing people. Prisoners, including Winston, are beaten and bloodied until their teeth come out (or are yanked out). Winston is starved and beaten on numerous occasions with fists, boots and steel rods. He often rolls around in his own blood and vomit. As O'Brien prepares to torture Winston with rats, he says the creatures sometimes attack the head and the eyes first and other times burrow through the cheeks and devour the tongue. In terror, Winston begs O'Brien to let the rats tear off Julia's face or strip her flesh to the bones rather than doing it to him.
The Party does not permit its members to marry for love or have sex for pleasure. They look upon sex as a "disgusting minor operation" and train people this way from childhood. Young Party members are urged to join the Anti-Sex league. Party leaders are working on a scientific way to abolish the orgasm altogether; they want that level of excitement and energy reserved for pro-Party sentiment. They fear losing control if men and women are permitted to form passionate relationships. Winston talks about his wife's rigidity and sexual "submission" to him so they could produce a child. He details a sexual encounter with an old prostitute.
The proles have no restrictions on sex and are even granted divorces. The Party produces pornographic, astrological and sensational literature and films for the proles in the Pornosec department. Julia worked there for a while, an indication that the Party felt she had good character.
Winston dreams of Julia flinging off her clothes. Later, they begin a secret love affair. She confesses she's had many and tells him she wants nothing to do with purity, virtue or goodness, but wants to be corrupt. For both, the affair is as much about rebellion against the Party as it is about sex and relationship. He comments on her breasts and about nakedness in general, and they have sex a number of times.
After his capture, Winston wonders if he'll be sent to a prison camp. He's heard they allow homosexuality, prostitution and illicit alcohol use. He confesses (dishonestly) to sexual perversion when he is being tortured.
Prometheus Hall of Fame Award Winner, 1984
Alcohol: Party members drink a sickly, oily spirit called Victory gin, which burns like nitric acid going down but eventually makes the world look more cheerful. When Julia and Winston visit O'Brien at his home, he gives them wine, a drink reserved for Inner Party members.
Smoking: Winston and other Party members smoke poorly made Victory cigarettes. One of Winston's co-workers smokes a pipe.