Focus on the Family


The Old Man and the Sea

A book review for parents

This adventure, drama book by Ernest Hemingway is published by Scribner Book Company, an imprint of Simon & Schuster Adult Publishing Group and is written for adults but is sometimes studied in high school classes.

Plot Summary


Santiago, an old fisherman, hasn't caught anything in 84 days. He's discouraged. His friend and former sailing mate, Manolin, longs to help him, but Manolin's parents refuse because of Santiago's poor fishing record. On day 85, Santiago feels a tug he knows to be the fish he's been looking for. But the fish is so enormous and strong that for several days it pulls him farther out to sea. Hemingway details the valiant struggle between man and fish, lauding the old man for his perseverance despite the fact that sharks ultimately eat his prize fish.



Christian Beliefs


Santiago has religious pictures on his wall. He questions the purpose of sea swallows, birds that are really too weak and delicate to survive against harsher sea birds. Santiago tells God he isn't religious, but that he would say "Hail Mary" and "Our Father" prayers and make a pilgrimage if he catches the fish. He follows this with additional prayers that are more repetitive than heartfelt. Santiago contemplates whether it is a sin to kill the fish. Hemingway employs a fair amount of crucifixion imagery throughout the book to portray Santiago as a Christ figure who transcends death and defeat.



Authority Roles


Santiago is Manolin's hero. Santiago teaches Manolin a great deal about fishing. However, Manolin keeps a close eye on Santiago to make sure Santiago gets the nourishment and care needed. At times, Santiago is under the authority of both the sea and his great fish. At other moments, he masters them with his skill and perseverance.



Other Belief Systems


The old man talks quite a bit about luck concerning fishing. Manolin's parents are happier now that he is working with a "lucky" boat.



Profanity/Graphic Violence


Phrases like "God knows," "Christ knows" or "God help me" appear; few, if any, are an intentional misuse of the Lord’s name. In demonstrating his passionate faithfulness to the old man, Manolin uses the words d--n and h---.



Kissing/Sex/Homosexuality


Santiago calls the dangerous Portuguese man-of-war invertebrate a whore. He later talks about the same animal heaving and swinging as though “the ocean were making love with something.”



Awards


Nobel Prize in Literature, 1954; Award of Merit Medal for the Novel from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, 1954; Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, 1953



Discussion Topics


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


Note: Other issues: The boy buys the old man a beer. (There is no clear indication as to whether the boy has one himself.) When the old man asks if he'd steal some sardines, the boy says he will, but he doesn't.

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.


On the Run

A book review for parents

This Christian adventure book (with an element of science fiction) is the first in "The Elijah Project" series by Bill Myers (with James Riordan), published by Zonderkidz.

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



Plot Summary


The Dawkins are a family on the run, pulling up roots four times in six years. Elijah Dawkins, an inexplicably silent 6-year-old, was born with a supernatural ability to perform miracles and thus becomes the target of three thugs from an evil organization pursuing his family in order to catch him. Acting as decoys, Elijah's parents flee home when the criminals are closing in and the children are away. As they lead the thugs away from their home, they hope their kids will figure out what's going on and make their own escape from the trio of bumbling bad guys. The children elude the thugs for a time, but later they are lured into a trap set by the evil Shadow Man because their parents are used as bait. This is where the authors abruptly end the story.



Christian Beliefs


The parents always include Bible verses in notes to their children; the verses later serve as comfort. Zach, Piper and Mom pray during tense moments. The reader wonders whether Elijah is meant to parallel the life of Jesus when Elijah brings to life a dead dog, heals an injured girl and multiplies hamburgers and fries. Mom recalls when she was pregnant with Elijah. A crazy man foretells the amazing things Elijah will do one day and the Bible talks about him. From time to time, an unknown old man (somewhat of a guardian angel) appears from nowhere and helps the children.



Authority Roles


In the absence of parents, 16-year-old Zach, the oldest, is the least responsible and often makes bad decisions. His 13-year-old sister, Piper, is the smart, tough, responsible one who looks out for the welfare of the family, especially Elijah. Mom and Dad offer them no explanations about why they suddenly relocate the family, though as a maturing teen, Piper realizes a connection between their sudden relocations and Elijah.



Other Belief Systems


None



Profanity/Graphic Violence


A thug totes a gun. One scene describes how he shoots off the head of a toy dog to silence its mechanical bark. The evil, hissing Shadow Man shrieks and throws Dad across the room. Later, Shadow Man's fingers wrap around Mom's head (a mind control method). Her eyes shudder and she collapses.



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.


One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich

A book review for parents

This historical fiction, drama by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn is published by Greenhaven Press, an imprint of Thomson-Gale and is written for adults but is sometimes studied by kids 16 years and up.

Plot Summary


Ivan Denisovich (Shukhov), like his fellow prisoners in the communist work camp, was wrongly imprisoned. This novel — based on some of Solzhenitsyn's own experiences in similar camps — chronicles just one of the 3,653 days of Shukhov's sentence. Through Shukhov's eyes, readers feel the chill of sub-freezing conditions while prisoners lay brick, sense the hunger resulting from inadequate food rations and grasp the dehumanizing effect that life in these camps has on prisoners. Shukhov and members of his work gang watch out for each other like family, and each man seeks, in his own way, to discover some meaning and fulfillment in horrific conditions.



Christian Beliefs


Alyoshka is a Baptist who is always reading the New Testament. He sometimes quotes Scripture about suffering for the cause of Christ. Alyoshka's selfless giving and positive attitude despite his wrongful imprisonment baffle Shukhov — after all, confessing to be a Baptist entitles a man to 25 years of incarceration. Toward the end of the novel, Alyoshka and Shukhov have a conversation about God and heaven and hell (Shukhov says he doesn't believe in the latter two.) Alyoshka says he's glad to be in prison because it keeps his faith strong, like the apostle Paul, and he urges Shukhov to concentrate on the eternal rather than the temporal. Though Shukhov fails to see the purpose in his own suffering, he does suggest that a man cannot fail to believe in God upon hearing thunder in the skies.



Authority Roles


Tyurin, the foreman of Shukhov's gang 104, comes across as a tough, frightening figure until he reveals how he ended up in the camp. His transparency causes the gang to embrace him. At one point when Tyurin is standing up for his men, Shukhov says he's like a father to them. Pavlo, the gang's deputy foreman, is respected for his kindness. The men work hard for him because of this. The Soviet government's inhumane treatment of these men — most imprisoned for no good reason — becomes increasingly clear as readers walk through a day in their lives.



Other Belief Systems


There is an overarching theme of communist tyranny that forces the events in this story to take place.



Profanity/Graphic Violence


B--tard, bulls---, d--n, h---, son of a b--ch and pr--k appear.



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:

Parents or teachers could use this text to introduce or complement discussions about communism, Stalin or Russia and its heritage.


Note: Solzhenitsyn was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1970.

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 One Hundredth Day of School!

A book review for parents

This thirteenth school-life book in the "Ready, Freddy!" series by Abby Klein is published by The Blue Sky Press, an imprint of Scholastic, Inc.

The One Hundredth Day of School is written for kids ages 4 to 8. The age range reflects readability and not necessarily content appropriateness.



Plot Summary


Freddy's mother sews a button on his pants so he can wear an outfit identical to his friend Robbie's for Twin Day at school. Once Freddy arrives, Mrs. Wushy tells her students they will need to bring 100 of something to celebrate the hundredth day of school. Freddy's family tries to help him decide what to bring, but Freddy grows discouraged. Their suggestions seem boring until his father suggests shark teeth, but their shark jaw only has 98 of them. His classmates have already chosen what they will bring: rocks, glass animals, baseball cards and other things. Freddy's sister, Suzie, suggests he bring 100 homemade, chocolate chip cookies. Freddy loves the idea. His mother and sister help him make the cookies, but after work his father eats one before he knows that they are meant for Freddy's class. Freddy goes to his room to cry. Although he does not want his family to enter, they do and tell him about another possibility: buttons. His grandmother had a button collection, and most of the buttons have a history. One was from a military uniform and another from a wedding dress. Freddy's class enjoys the stories behind the buttons, and he shares the remaining cookies with them. This makes Freddy happy.



Christian Beliefs


None



Authority Roles


Freddy's sister, Suzie, calls her brother ding dong, baby waby, crazy, Frankenstein, dancing queen, weirdo, shark breath and makes some references to his underwear (tightie whities). After about six pages of Freddy's sister insulting Freddy and Freddy retaliating, their mother tells them to stop. Their father makes Suzie quit criticizing Freddy on another occasion. His mother reminds Freddy of his manners at the dinner table. Mrs. Wushy, Freddy's teacher, reprimands Max when he threatens to punch another kid. When Freddy is upset with his father, he tells his parents to stay out of his room. His parents enter his room anyway. They try to assuage his feelings but do not allow him to limit their authority.



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.


One False Note

A book review for parents

This mystery book by Gordon Korman is the second in "The 39 Clues" series and is published by Scholastic, Inc.

One False Note is written for kids ages 9 to 12. The age range reflects readability and not necessarily content appropriateness.



Plot Summary


In the first book in "The 39 Clues" series (The Maze of Bones), Dan and Amy Cahill's wealthy grandmother, Grace, dies and leaves a challenge to her large extended family: Whoever finds the 39 clues she's left behind will gain wealth and prestige beyond their wildest dreams. The winners will even have the power to change the course of history. The orphaned Amy (age 14) and her brother, Dan (age 11), lack the wealth and notoriety that many of their competing relatives already possess, but they're determined to outplay their vicious, devious family members.

In this installment, Dan and Amy travel to Vienna because of a Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart clue and visit several locations where the composer lived. They discover that Mozart's sister, Nannerl, kept a diary and two pages are missing. Searching for Nannerl's grave, they spot both their Uncle Alistair (a family competitor) and a stranger they've seen before known only as the man in black. When they follow extended family member Jonah and his father into a music store, it turns out to be the secret gateway to the Jonas lair. (Jonas is one of four competing branches of the Cahill family, the branch to which Jonah belongs.) In the elaborate art gallery that is their hideout, Dan and Amy narrowly escape with the two missing pages from Nannerl's diary. Pursued by Jonah, as well as competing relatives Ian and Natalie Kabra from another Cahill branch, the kids hide the pages on a boat they pass. Once they retrieve the pages, their au pair, Nellie, translates a German clue that leads them to a museum containing an old harpsichord once played by Mozart. When they play a Mozart composition on the instrument, a trap door opens revealing two Samurai swords. They decide to continue their quest in Tokyo, where the steel was forged.



Christian Beliefs


Several characters use the phrase Thank G-- when they're relieved that a situation has worked to their advantage. As Dan attempts to get away from the Janus clan by boat, he says all he can do is pray. The catacombs where Nannerl is buried have biblical passages on the walls.



Authority Roles


Dan and Amy's parents died in a fire years earlier. Dan and Amy are on the run from the mean aunt who serves as their guardian. Their au pair, Nellie, is barely an adult herself and acts as their companion as they search for clues. Nellie can drive and plays the token adult for the Cahill kids, but they primarily tell her what they're going to do next, and she complies. Jonah's father, Irina Spasky (a former KGB agent and Cahill relative) and the Holt parents (Eisenhower and Mary-Todd) look out only for themselves or their immediate family members. They pursue, threaten and bargain with Dan and Amy with no regard for the kids' youth or the fact that they're family. Alistair is the only grown-up with any concern for the children. His conscience bothers him when he fears he's injured rather than simply scared them by setting off an explosion in the catacombs, and he says he'd never forgive himself if something bad happened to Grace's grandkids.



Other Belief Systems


A few times, Dan and Amy use the word miracle to describe a human act or device that gets them out of a tight spot.



Profanity/Graphic Violence


The word butt appears several times. Nellie uses God's name in vain once or twice. Though no swear words appear in the text, a group of Benedictine monks curse Dan when he steals from them. Alistair curses Grace for pitting family members against each other with her contest. Dan makes a rude gesture in the direction of a competitor's boat.



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:

Alcohol: On the yacht where Dan and Amy have hidden the lost pages from Nannerl's diary, the kids watch members of a wedding party toast with champagne.

Online component: Numerous relatives, both living competitors and famous historical figures, constitute the complex genealogy of the Cahill family in this series. Readers can learn more about the rival Cahill branches and discover additional clues online. Kids are also encouraged to collect the game cards that come with the books, and they can win cash and prizes for solving clues.


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 Outsiders

A book review for parents

This teen-life book by S.E. Hinton is published by Viking Children's Books, an imprint of Penguin Group and is written for kids ages 12 to 18. The age range reflects readability and not necessarily content appropriateness.



Plot Summary


Ponyboy Curtis has seen a lot in his 14 years. His parents are dead, and now he lives with his older brothers, Soda and Darry. They're all "greasers," underprivileged kids who are known for fighting and for wearing their hair slicked back. They fight with the wealthy "socs" who seem to have it all. When Ponyboy's friend Johnny accidentally kills a soc named Bob, the murder sets off a chain of troubling and violent events for the greasers. But through the turmoil, Ponyboy has heart-to-heart talks with some of Bob's soc friends, and he realizes that the greasers and socs aren't as different as he once thought.



Christian Beliefs


Johnny and Ponyboy hide out in an abandoned church. While there, Ponyboy recalls how he and Johnny used to go to church regularly until some of the gang joined them one Sunday and made a scene. They never went back.



Authority Roles


Twenty-year-old Darry has sacrificed his dream of college to serve as the sole parent for his younger teenage brothers. He works long hours to support them and would do anything to protect them. He insists Ponyboy keep his curfew and maintain good grades, but he also permits the boys to smoke, fight and engage in a number of other questionable and unsafe behaviors. The boys' deceased parents are remembered as loving individuals. Jerry Wood and Mr. Syme, both teachers, are the adult characters in the story, and both demonstrate their belief that Ponyboy is something more than a worthless thug.



Other Belief Systems


None



Profanity/Graphic Violence


Although the author implies frequent profanity, she stops short of actually using it. The greasers and the socs regularly fight one another, often beating each other. They draw blood, inflict deep wounds and concussions and even kill.



Kissing/Sex/Homosexuality


Ponyboy says he knows what goes on in bedrooms during parties. Darry insinuates that Soda's girlfriend left town because she was pregnant and Soda was hurt to learn it wasn't his child.



Awards


New York Herald Tribune Best Teenage Books List, 1967; Chicago Tribune Book World Spring Book Festival Honor Book, 1967; Media and Methods Maxi Award, 1975; American Library Association Best Young Adults Books, 1975; and Massachusetts Children's Book Award, 1979.



Discussion Topics


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


Notes: Many underage characters in the book use alcohol and drugs, shoplift, fight (sometimes with weapons), cheat, lie and have criminal records. Most smoke habitually. Ponyboy says it's calming, and he and others display behaviors when they can't smoke that reveal their nicotine addictions. Dally Winston, a tough greaser who loves Johnny like a brother, purposely threatens police with an empty gun so they will fire on him. His desperate death is essentially a suicide.

In 1988 the author won the Margaret Alexander Edwards Award for her contribution to books for young adults.

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 Owling

A book review for parents

This science fiction/fantasy book is the second in the "The Shadowside Trilogy" by Roger Elmer and is published by Zondervan.

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



Plot Summary


In book 1 of "The Shadowside Trilogy," Oriannon (Ori) Hightower learned about the existence of a nation of people called Owlings, who are living on the opposite side of her planet. In this volume, Ori's personal mission to help the Owlings is sabotaged when a charismatic leader named Sola promises to bring peace to the planet. Sola, playing on Ori's desire for a mother-figure, pulls Ori into a media frenzy and sets the young girl up as a champion for her (Sola's) cause. Ori's fascination with Sola quickly turns when she realizes Sola has destroyed the Owlings' homes, put them into prison camps and plans to bring them to Ori's side of the planet as slaves. Ori knows she must save her Owling friends, and she calls on her former teacher, Jesmet, for aid.



Christian Beliefs


"The Shadowside Trilogy" is a biblical allegory in which Jesmet, once a teacher at Ori's school, is killed by the Assembly (representing the Pharisees) and then comes back to life to share a message of love with the planet. Jesmet promises his followers that he will bring them a special power called the Numa (representing the Holy Spirit), which He does just when they feel all hope is lost. Jesmet has the power to heal and even raise the dead. He urges Ori and his other followers to take his "song" to everyone on the planet.



Authority Roles


Jesmet returns intermittently to help his followers through difficult situations. He also sends Numa so they will know he is always with them. Sola, hungry for power, imprisons the Owlings and uses them as slaves, all the while telling the nation of Corista that she is saving the Owlings. She raves about how they were living in horrible conditions, which she has actually brought on them herself. Ori's father, an Assembly leader who appeared unyielding and harsh in book one, recognizes the threat Sola poses and begins to listen more closely to his daughter regarding the Owlings' plight.



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.