Focus on the Family


Raiders from the Sea

A book review for parents

This first historical fiction book in the "Viking Quest" series by Lois Walfrid Johnson is published by Moody Publishers.

Raiders From the Sea is written for kids ages 10 to 14. The age range reflects readability and not necessarily content appropriateness.



Plot Summary


Briana O'Toole (Bree) felt that her life was going to change on her 13th birthday. What she did not realize is how drastically this change would be for herself and her whole village. Viking marauders take her and her brother, Devin, to their ship. Both children must figure out how to fight for their freedom, while still trusting that God knows what is happening and has a plan for their lives.



Christian Beliefs


God's provision and faithfulness is the main theme. As Bree and Devin encounter life-changing circumstances, they are constantly reminded of God's provision. He is still there for them and wants to lead them. God leads Bree to a place of forgiveness for the Vikings who have taken her away from all that she knows and loves. Because Bree is willing to forgive, God works through her to perform a miracle for her fellow prisoners and the Vikings. This shows the Vikings how powerful the One True God is.



Authority Roles


Devin and Bree have respect for their parents and Brother Cronan who is their teacher. Their parents are God-fearing adults who do their best to raise their children as God wants them to. Brother Cronan does his best to teach the children a love of the Scriptures. Mikkel, one of the Vikings, shows respect for his mentor, Hauk. Originally he disobeys Hauk's orders but then tries to make amends by offering Hauk a gift. Mikkel does not want Hauk to be displeased with him.



Other Belief Systems


During a serious storm, Mikkel, Hauk and the rest of the Vikings call out to their god, Thor. They wonder why he is upset with them, and they offer to throw the prisoners overboard to appease him.



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 Raider's Promise

A book review for parents

This historical fiction book is the fifth in the "Viking Quest" series by Lois Walfrid Johnson and is published by Moody Publishers.

The Raider's Promise is written for kids ages 10 to 14. The age range reflects readability and not necessarily content appropriateness.



Plot Summary


As Bree, Devin, Mikkel and Leif explore a new land, Mikkel is excited about starting a new chapter in his life. Under Leif and Devin's examples and teachings, Mikkel's Christian life continues to grow. Mikkel shows signs of being a good and just leader like his father when he helps to decide Hammer's punishment for attempted murder. As Devin sees Mikkel's feelings for Bree grow, he feels the need to warn him off. Devin wants Bree to have a chance to marry an Irishman not a Norseman. Mikkel promises to keep his distance, but still keeps an eye on Bree because he knows the kind of trouble she can get into. As the group returns to Greenland after their great adventure, Mikkel immediately prepares to take Devin and Bree to Ireland as he has promised. Much to their amazement, Mikkel plans not only to pay back what he has taken, but also to make full restitution. Devin and Bree are thrilled to see the change that God has worked in Mikkel's life.



Christian Beliefs


The story mainly focuses on how to walk the Christian faith. Mikkel has become a Christian but needs to figure out how to live the daily life of a Christian. Devin and Bree have been Christians for a long time, but they also need to live their lives in a way that is honoring to God. Because Devin and Bree have chosen to continually forgive Mikkel, they are able to form a strong friendship with him. As God changes Mikkel, Mikkel is surprised at how his former goals hold no allure for him. Another theme that runs through the book is forgiveness. Mikkel is surprised by the forgiveness readily given to him by Brother Cronan, Bjorn and the O'Toole family.



Authority Roles


Leif has authority over Mikkel, Devin and Bree during the voyage. Leif is a kind, just, Christian leader, who mentors Mikkel before and during the voyage. Brother Cronan, Bjorn, Aiden O'Toole and Mam O'Toole are in authority over Mikkel when he travels to Ireland. They show compassion and mercy toward the person who has changed their lives forever. Mikkel also submits to Aiden and Mam's authority when he wishes to marry Bree.



Other Belief Systems


None



Profanity/Graphic Violence


None



Kissing/Sex/Homosexuality


When Mikkel leaves Bree the first time, he kisses her hand. At the end of the book, Mikkel holds Bree's hand and puts his arm around her as he proposes marriage.



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.


Ransom's Mark: A Story Based on the Life of the Pioneer Olive Oatman

A book review for parents

This book is in the "Daughters of the Faith" series by Wendy Lawton and is published by Moody Publishers.

Ransom's Mark is written for kids ages 8 to 12. The age range reflects readability and not necessarily content appropriateness.

Note: If parents pursue additional study, they will learn that the Oatmans were a Mormon family.



Plot Summary


When Olive Oatman and her large family head West with a large party of pioneers, she longs for peace and security. But when her family splits from the group, a renegade band of Yavapai Indians massacre them, taking the surviving Olive and her younger sister, Mary Ann, with them. Treated cruelly, the sisters cling to each other and the faith taught to them by their parents. They are surprised to find their prayers answered in the unexpected figure of Topeka, a Mohave chief's daughter, who pays a ransom for them. She takes them to her people. Over time, Olive and Mary Ann regard the Mojave as family and suffer through drought and famine with them. Olive even wears the facial tattoo of the Mojave, a permanent reminder of her ransom and rescue. Failing health and malnutrition finally claim Mary Ann, and Olive's faith falters under the weight of the "Why?" she repeatedly asks God. To her surprise, Olive learns that one of her brothers not only survived the massacre but has been searching for her. The Mojave release her to her people, despite the fact that she feels like a young woman caught between two cultures. She learns that ultimately she belongs to the God who never abandoned her and paid her ransom on the Cross.



Christian Beliefs


The author draws parallels to Christianity in the following ways:

The Oatmans' faith is present on nearly every page. Olive's mother is a nurturing mother and a submissive wife who values her Bible most among her possessions. Olive's father is troubled by the strange religious teachings and use of divination by the group's leader, which prompts him to separate his family from the leader. When Olive is discouraged, her mother reminds her that God is always with them, even when things are tough. Psalm 18 becomes important to Olive throughout her trials in the story. In the hours after her family is massacred, Olive has a strong sense that God is still with them and weeps at the evil that has been done.

After the massacre, Olive and Mary Ann encourage each other by remembering Scripture and God's faithfulness. They adhere to the family tradition of praying before work every morning. Together and individually, the sisters pray for someone, somehow, to rescue them from their captivity. When the Mojave, Topeka, ransom them, they learn that God put the desire in Topeka's heart to rescue the girls. Olive learns that God's answers to prayers do not always come in the form she expects.

As the Oatman sisters work their small field given to them by the Mojave, they pray over every shoot to prosper. Mary Ann senses the coming of her own death but tells Olive not to worry because she [Mary Ann] will be in heaven with the rest of the family. When Olive struggles with her own faith, she knows enough to pray for more of it. Her Mojave friend helps her learn to tap into her own faith by remembering God's provision and protection in her life. When Olive has a chance, she shares with her Mojave family about Jesus.

Lawton establishes the Christian themes of substitution and ransom early and often. Early on when Olive's brothers play Indians, Olive gives herself to be their captive in place of her younger sister. Olive explains clearly to her sister that Christ provided the original example of substituting one more valuable for the one in need of rescue. Olive also tells Mary Ann the story of Beauty and the Beast, emphasizing Beauty's willingness to take her father's place in the castle of the Beast. As a captive herself, Olive learns about being ransomed and being claimed. She understands that the tattoo she wears on her face forever marks her as a Mojave, just as her faith in Christ forever marks her person as His.



Authority Roles


Mr. and Mrs. Oatman are fair in their parenting, and the children demonstrate love and respect for them. Mr. Brewster, the leader of the wagon train, tries to convince the others that he is a prophet, but many of the men he is leading question his authority and reliability. When Olive and Mary Ann live with the Yavapai, the authority over them is wielded with cruelty, but the Mojave leaders (tribal and family) are welcoming, encouraging and even sacrificial.



Other Belief Systems


Little is explained about the Mojave beliefs, although they are called pagans, and Olive understands that they do not believe in God the same way she does. When members of the tribe die, they are wrapped and burned, although the chief allows Olive to bury her sister in the ground.
Note: If parents pursue additional study, they will learn that the Oatmans were a Mormon family.



Profanity/Graphic Violence


No profanity. Lawton handles the horror of the massacre appropriately for this age group. The confusion and fear Olive feels is described more than the scene itself. One of her brothers is briefly described being clubbed; one of her sisters is struck and falls on her; and after the massacre, Olive sees the bodies on the ground.



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:

If parents pursue additional study, they will learn that the Oatmans were a Mormon family.


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.


Raven's Gate

A book review for parents

This science fiction/fantasy suspense thriller book is the first in "The Gatekeepers" series by Anthony Horowitz and is published by Scholastic Publishing.

Raven's Gate is written for kids ages 10 and older. The age range reflects readability and not necessarily content appropriateness.



Plot Summary


After 14-year-old Matthew Freeman helps an older boy rob an electronics warehouse and is caught, he is sent to a remote English town called Lesser Malling for foster care and rehabilitation. A strange, cold woman named Mrs. Deverill is Matt's new guardian, and the townspeople are odd. When Matt begins seeing lights and hearing chanting at night, he tries to escape the town, but every path he takes leads him in a circle, right back to Lesser Malling.

Matt discovers an abandoned power station called Omega One and realizes it is the source of the strange lights he's seen. The man guarding it (Burgess) warns him to leave town right away. Burgess gives Matt a necklace — a talisman — that will allow him to escape the confines of Lesser Malling, and he promises to explain the mysteries of the town to Matt the next day. But when Matt goes to Burgess's home, where they had agreed to meet, Matt finds Burgess's mutilated body. Burgess has left one clue scrawled in paint on the wall: Raven's Gate.

Matt seeks the help of a bored, skeptical newspaper reporter named Richard Cole in a nearby town. The reporter initially rejects Matt's story but later saves Matt from a nightmarish creatures conjured up by Mrs. Deverill and the villagers, who are modern-day witches. In their efforts to learn about Raven's Gate, Matt and Richard consult a scientist name Marsh who helped build the Omega One. He dismisses their concerns, saying that anyone could be using the old power plant now. They also visit a psychic named Miss Ashwood, who directs them to Professor Dravid, a renowned anthropologist.

Dravid meets Matt and Richard after hours at the London Natural History Museum and explains he is part of a covert group called the Nexus, which keeps the story of Raven's Gate alive. Raven's Gate, he tells them, was an ancient circle of stones pre-dating Stonehenge. Powerful, evil creatures called the Old Ones created chaos on earth until a group of five special children overthrew them, sending them into another dimension and sealing off their re-entry point with the stone circle. Somehow, Matt is one of these five children. Though the stones were destroyed, the gate still exists. As Dravid, Richard and Matt try to exit the museum, dinosaur bones come to life and battle them. Dravid dies, and Richard is nearly killed.

Mrs. Deverill captures Matt and Richard and returns them to Lesser Malling, where they are held until the witches' Black Mass celebration. The villagers place Matt in the Omega One chamber, which, with the help of Marsh, is back in working order and powered with uranium. Marsh and the witches believe that, by using a combination of witchcraft, technology and Matt's blood, they can reopen Raven's Gate and free the Old Ones, whom they worship. Matt and Richard escape, foiling the experiment. Most of the witches die, Mrs. Deverill falls into a vat of acid and an Old One gets through Raven's Gate just long enough to kill Marsh before being returned to its prison.

The Nexus arranges for Matt to stay with Richard and provides money for all of their needs until the group is ready for additional help from Matt.



Christian Beliefs


The ancient writings of a Spanish clergyman led to the discovery of Raven's Gate. The Nexus has connections within all-important corridors of power, including the Christian church. A bishop who is a Nexus member tells the group that, officially, the church doesn't believe in the Old Ones anymore than it believes in demons or devils. Miss Ashwood says they should pray Matt finds the Nexus before the Old Ones are set free.



Authority Roles


Matt's parents were killed in a car crash when he was 8. Aunt Gwenda, a half-sister of Matt's mom, only agreed to serve as Matt's guardian because of Matt's inheritance money. She whines and complains about what a burden he's been. Her live-in boyfriend, Brian, sometimes beats Matt but was careful not to leave visible bruises. Mrs. Deverill has stalked Matt for years. She doesn't allow him to leave Lesser Malling because she and her fellow witches plan to use his blood for their ceremony. Richard helps Matt and takes him into his home, primarily to get a good story he can sell to the papers.



Other Belief Systems


Mrs. Deverill and the residents of Lesser Malling are all witches and warlocks. During what Matt thinks is a dream, Mrs. Deverill and other townspeople perform a ritual and give him snake's blood to drink. They frequently chant the Lord's Prayer backward and conjure up ghastly, deformed dog-like creatures from fire. While trying to rescue the Old Ones, they hang a cross upside down with a goat-horn knife underneath it. Because she has been tracking Matt, Mrs. Deverill believes that he has precognitive abilities, and Matt later admits to Richard that he had foreseen in detail the accident that killed his parents. Matt's powers once allowed him to break a glass with his mind. He harnesses them again and keeps Marsh's knife from killing him inside Omega One. Matt and Richard consult with Miss Ashwood, a psychic and spiritualist who speaks with people on the other side just like she speaks with living humans. Miss Ashwood is a Nexus member who expresses her deep sense of foreboding about the future. She says all history has been preparing itself for the return of the five special children and the battle ahead. Miss Ashwood also tells Matt she feels the power in him and has never felt such strength before. Dravid tells Matt and Richard that the witches will try to release the Old Ones on Roodmas, which begins at sundown on April 13; it is the day of Black Sabbath when dark powers are their strongest. Dravid tells them the Old Ones were the original evil, and that the Christian church's talk of Satan, Lucifer and other devils is just memories harkening back to the greatest evil. Another Nexus member, Fabian, tells Matt about a prophesy that says five children saved the world and they will do it again. As Marsh prepares to sacrifice Matt, Marsh says that blood is the most powerful form of energy on the planet, which is why it has always been used in magical rituals.



Profanity/Graphic Violence


The words crap, sucks and d—n each appear once. Kelvin knifes a security guard to death in the warehouse he and Matt are robbing. Mrs. Deverill uses her powers to make a street criminal stab himself in the heart with a kitchen knife. She says she wants to be the one to slit Matt's throat. Some Lesser Malling children play a game where they lure ducks with food then kill them with BB guns. Matt visits Burgess, only to find the man has been killed in a gruesome manner as if by an animal. Richard destroys the witches' dog-like creatures by setting them on fire with gasoline. The scene where dinosaurs come to life is dark. Other gruesome, descriptive death scenes include Mrs. Deverill's farmhand falling on his sickle, Marsh being crushed by an Old One and Mrs. Deverill falling into a vat of acid.



Kissing/Sex/Homosexuality


Matt initially lives with his Aunt Gwenda and her boyfriend. Richard lived with a girlfriend until she left him for another man.



Awards


Lancashire's Children's Book of the Year, 2006; Redbridge Children's Book Award, 2006



Discussion Topics


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

Note:
Evil: Marsh explains how he came up with his theory for rescuing the Old Ones this way: "Do you really think it's so crazy to draw parallels between the power of the nuclear bomb and the power of black magic? Do you really believe that a weapon capable of destroying cities and killing millions of people in a few seconds is so far removed from the devil's work?"

Stealing: Matt shoplifts a number of times, under Kelvin's direction. Matt searches Mrs. Deverill's room for money to steal when he prepares to escape from her custody.

Alcohol use: Steven, a juvenile crime specialist looking after Matt's welfare, drinks two miniature whiskeys on the train. Richard has a beer at his home.

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.


Redwall

A book review for parents

This first adventure book in the "Redwall" series by Brian Jacques is published by Puffin Books, an imprint of Penguin Group and is written for kids ages 8 to 12. The age range reflects readability and not necessarily content appropriateness.



Plot Summary


The mice and other peaceful creatures of Redwall Abbey celebrate the Summer of the Late Rose — until an evil rat named Cluny the Scourge arrives to shatter their serenity. Cluny decides he wants Redwall for himself, and he plots with his army of vermin to destroy the current inhabitants. Matthias, a young, novice mouse, begins receiving signs from a legendary Redwall hero of ages past called Martin the Warrior. As Redwall comes under siege from Cluny's army, Matthias faces adventures and dangers in a quest to find Martin's sword. In the end, Matthias retrieves the sword, conquers Cluny and saves Redwall.



Christian Beliefs


Matthias and the other mice are members of an order of monks who believe in doing good and living peacefully — but they never mention God or any "higher power" as the motivating force behind their monastic lifestyle. On one occasion they say grace, but they aren't actually praying to anyone. Martin the Warrior's sword is stolen and hoarded by an evil snake named Asmodeus; this may or may not be an allusion to the serpent in the Garden of Eden.



Authority Roles


Abbot Mortimer and Brother Methuselah look out for Matthias and offer him direction concerning his future. Brother Methuselah reveals secrets to Matthias about Redwall's history and gives him clues to finding Martin's sword. Though both are strong believers in peace, Mortimer and Methuselah don't prevent Matthias from fighting when they come to believe he's destined to be a warrior. Cluny the Scourge treats his underlings with contempt. He assembles an army by threatening reluctant soldiers and their families, and he has no difficulty brutally injuring or killing those who disobey.



Other Belief Systems


Martin the Warrior seems to reincarnate himself in Matthias. Cluny calls for a healer — a fox named Sela — to cure him with her charms, spells and magic herbs.



Profanity/Graphic Violence


A few words including d--n, darn, and a-- appear in the book. Cluny the Scourge and his army perpetrate many brutally vivid, scary acts of violence. Cluny talks freely about hell and Satan, and his cruelty is punctuated by his lack of regard for life and his willingness to kill.



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.


Return of the King

A book review for parents

This high fantasy adventure book is the third book in the “The Lord of the Rings” series by J.R.R. Tolkien and was first published by Allen & Unwin, a former British publishing house.

The Return of the King is often read by kids 12 and up. The age range reflects readability and not necessarily content appropriateness.

Boundless.org, a ministry of Focus on the Family for young adults and newly married couples, has written an article that offers insight into this series: The Lord of the Rings


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 Reveal

A book review for parents

This coming-of-age book is the fourth in the "Becoming Beka" series by Sarah Anne Sumpolec and is published by Moody Publishers.

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



Plot Summary


Beka goes to Haiti on a missions trip to spend more time with Josh but ends up spending very little time with him. He leaves for college, and she starts her senior year. When Mr. Madison tells his girls, Beka and Lucy, that he and Gabby are going to start dating, Beka uses this opportunity to get her dad to relent and let her date Mark. Mai befriends Lucy and tells her that the only way to popularity is through sleeping with boys. Beka rescues Lucy from inappropriate situations a couple of times, but Lucy still thinks Mai is her friend. Mai wants the editor's job at the school paper, which is Beka's position. Mai threatens to reveal Beka's secret about having spent time in a psych hospital if Mai doesn't get her way. Beka's friend Lori catches her dad looking at porn and doesn't know what she should do. As Beka and Mark are dating, he tries to get too physical with Beka. She is uncomfortable with aggression. While contemplating all her problems at the beach, Beka ends up rescuing a friend, Gretchen, from committing suicide. Mai eventually reveals Beka's secret, and Mark breaks up with her. Josh and Beka exchange letters. Gabby's brother and sister-in-law come to town over the holidays and listen to Beka's song at the holiday concert. Gabby's brother likes it enough that he asks her to make a demo for his company. Mr. Madison proposes to Gabby on Christmas. Beka visits her mom's grave and understands that she is beginning to open up to love others and to let them love her.



Christian Beliefs


Beka is a Christian but struggles with her day-to-day choices and doing things God's ways. Beka works on forgiving her mother and others. Beka realizes how upset she has been at her mom for dying and how she has been taking that anger out on Gabby. Beka asks for forgiveness from God and Gabby.



Authority Roles


Beka's father consistently is portrayed as attempting to do what is right for his family. When he is confused about a situation, he chooses not to make an immediate decision but rather prays about it before he decides.



Other Belief Systems


Mark says he is a Christian, but he also states that Beka is way too serious in her beliefs. He believes that he can be a Christian but still have worldly "fun."



Profanity/Graphic Violence


None



Kissing/Sex/Homosexuality


Mark and Beka kiss throughout the book. He pushes Beka further in their physical relationship. When they finally are permitted to date, Mark tells Beka that since they are dating, they are allowed to do more than just kiss. They don't have to have sex, but they can do a lot of other stuff. Beka does not agree. When Mark and Beka go to Mai's party, there is a make-out scene between Mai and Lance. Beka also finds Lucy in a bedroom with Ethan. Nothing has happened, yet, but Lucy believes that in order to be popular, she needs to have sex. David, Lori's dad, is caught four different times watching pornographic movies on his computer. When confronted, he is angry because he does not think that pornography is a big deal.



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.


Rilla of Ingleside

A book review for parents

This historical novel is the eighth book in the "Anne of Green Gables" series by L. M. Montgomery and is published by Starfire, an imprint of Random House Children's Books.

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



Plot Summary


Teen Rilla Blythe, the youngest of Anne's children, grows up during World War I. The war affects everyone in the community, and their lives revolve around news and the latest battles. Rilla saves the child of a soldier when his wife dies. She changes from a girl who dislikes children to one that loves the baby she has saved. She hopes for her brother, boyfriend Kenneth and neighbors to return unharmed from the war and wonders if Kenneth and she are actually engaged. Rilla leads a Junior Red Cross chapter in her town to provide a way for young women to assist with the war effort. Her dearest brother, Walter, dies in battle, and Rilla later receives his last letter to her. At the end of the war, friends return. When Kenneth returns, he comes to see Rilla.



Christian Beliefs


Rilla, her family and the community hold firmly to the belief that God is on their side in the war that Germany began. They sing hymns and Psalms at church. Walter shares the visions he has of a piper calling him to fight. He believes God has given him the vision. When Kitchenere, England's Secretary of War, dies, Susan, the Blythe's housekeeper, declares that God was the sole one for the allies to trust. Mr. Meredith, Rilla's pastor, shares how the sacrifice and bloodshed of so many would also bring a new vision and understanding of life and faith. He talks about how the kingdom of heaven is within a person. Mr. and Mrs. Meredith struggle over Bruce's act of sacrifice. He offers up his beloved kitten, bargaining with God to keep Jem safe. His parents know the lad is too young to understand that God doesn't always answer our prayers as we hope and that we can't bargain with God.



Authority Roles


Gilbert Blythe, her father, tells Rilla that she must take full responsibility for the baby she has rescued and brought home and not expect her mother to take over. Rilla obeys and uses the authority of a book she reads to care for the child. Mr. Meredith's words bring hope to the Blythe household.



Other Belief Systems


Gertrude is considered superstitious, especially because she has dreams about the war, although they tend to be prophetic.



Profanity/Graphic Violence


Their neighbor, Cousin Sophia, shares true stories about a girl who drops dead dancing and a boatload of youth who drown. Jem shares a story about a doctor who has both legs smashed in a war, yet as he died he held a bandage around a bleeding soldier and saved the man's life. When Germany declared war, Walter explains how the war would last years and they would grapple with death and millions of hearts would break. The news reports Germans bayoneting babies and soldiers gassing people. Walter shares his fear of bayoneting a man and of lying torn, mangled and thirsty on a battlefield. Jem writes home about the first soldier he saw shot and describes how rats and cooties fill their trenches. Walter writes home about a rat-spearing contest they hold. Women and children share fantasies about hurting the German Kaiser by boiling, caging or poking him. News reports tell about the sinking of the Lusitania and how babies and women drown and their bodies floated in ice-cold water. Susan, the housekeeper, entertains Rilla and Kenneth with memories of the childhood spankings that have been given and of a child who dies from swallowing his mother's medicine. Norman Douglas, a church member, shakes the town pacifist at a church meeting and calls the man derogatory names. Mr. Pryor chases away a government man with a pitchfork. Jims, the war baby, is sick and a friend heals him by holding his head over hot coals and sulfur vapors until he coughs up the membrane that was choking him. Jerry Meredith is shot in the back in battle. Mary Vance reports that her beau, Miller Douglas, is wounded and has had his leg amputated. Carl Meredith is shot in the eye and loses his vision in that eye. Jem is shot in the thigh, is captured, grows delirious with fever, is imprisoned, escapes and then is hospitalized. Susan struggles with the temptation to swear and said darn twice. Rilla watches a movie where a German soldier tries to drag away a heroine who grabs a knife and stabs the soldier. Little Bruce Meredith drowns his kitten as a sacrifice to ask God to spare Jem's life. By the end of the book, news reports that 50,000 Canadian boys have died in the war.



Kissing/Sex/Homosexuality


Ken gives Rilla her first kiss and asks her to promise not to kiss anyone else until he returns from the war.



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 Ring of Rocamadour

A book review for parents

This mystery by Michael D. Beil is the first book in "The Red Blazer Girls" series and is published by Knopf Books for Young Readers, an imprint of Random House Children's Books.

The Ring of Rocamadour is written for kids ages 8 to 12. The age range reflects readability and not necessarily content appropriateness.



Plot Summary


Sophie, her best friends Margaret and Rebecca, and the new girl, Leigh Ann, are excited to don their red blazers — a sign that they're now freshmen at St. Veronica's, a school for girls. Their lives consist primarily of intensive study, baby-sitting siblings and pursuing their art and music hobbies, until an elderly woman (Ms. Harriman) enlists their help to solve a mystery. By following a series of clues involving complex math problems, puzzles and questions from literature and the Bible, the girls learn that a valuable artifact — a ring supposedly touched by St. Veronica — is buried in the church next to their school. Several individuals, including Ms. Harriman's ex-husband, her maid and a man working at the church, arouse the girls' suspicion when they seem overly curious about the case. The girls solve the case, retrieve the ring and return the jewelry to its rightful owner. In the process, Sophie learns how to better handle relationships with her friends and Raf, the boy she likes.



Christian Beliefs


The girls believe Veronica (their school's namesake) is the name of a woman in the Bible, although the name itself is not mentioned. In Catholicism, Veronica wipes Jesus' face with a cloth as He carries the Cross. Supposedly, His image is imprinted on her veil, and the fabric then has divine powers. While wandering through the church, Sophie and her friends make fart jokes from the Monty Python movie The Holy Grail. Sophie says she's such a good girl that she actually embellishes her confessions to make them seem more penance-worthy. Raf teases Margaret about having a Bible in her backpack, and she quickly assures him that it's because she has religion homework. Ms. Harriman's father (who planted the clues about the ring) was a leading authority on second- and third-century Christianity. One of his clues leads the girls to Luke 23:24 and a painting depicting Pilate sentencing Christ. Sophie thinks, "Lord, forgive me," for dozing off in religion class. When the girls have a sleepover the night they retrieve the ring, they feel some force (perhaps St. Veronica) has compelled each of them to wake up in the night and put the ring on the finger of one of the other girls so that they can each wish for a miracle.



Authority Roles


Sophie's parents work a lot and are frequently away from the house. They do attend her school play, and the family enjoys movie nights together. Mr. Eliot, the girls' English teacher, is a kind, enthusiastic man, who tries to instill a love of literature by hosting an annual skit night where students perform scenes from Dickens' novels. He helps the girls find some of the information they need to solve their case and urges them to be safe and smart while snooping around. He lies to a priest about why he and the girls are in the church. Mr. and Ms. Harriman encourage Sophie and her friends to hone their talents by introducing them to people who can help them improve their skills. When Rebecca fears she'll have to drop out of St. Veronica's because her mother has lost her job, they help her mom get another one. The priests at St. Veronica's, including Fathers Julian and Danahey, show patience and respect for the girls by allowing them to continue their investigation in the church and trusting their motives.



Other Belief Systems


Mrs. Harriman suggests that her cat may be psychic, possibly the reincarnation of her great aunt. She believes karma brought her and the girls together. Margaret pretends to meditate, turning her palms up and chanting, "ohm." Sophie sees a man sneaking out of the church, and she believes it is an ominous sign. Another time, she sees artwork in the church bearing her last name (St. Pierre) and wonders if it is a good omen. The girls say on several occasions that they're going to cross their fingers for luck.



Profanity/Graphic Violence


Sophie and her friends use the Lord's name in vain numerous times. They mainly use God's name in versions of Oh my ---, but readers also see phrases like Oh good ---, I wish to ---, --- knows what, etc. D---n and crap also appear frequently in their dialogue. At one point, a priest says holy crap. Less frequent uses of words such as butt, heck, gosh, jeez, bite me and fart can also be found. Rebecca blatantly swears in front of her younger siblings. The girls mock their nemesis, Mr. Winterbottom, behind his back by calling him names, such as "Winterbutt" and "Winterbooty." They also laugh about a word in one of their clues that sounds like ovaries. The girls chat with their teacher's doorman about how much they enjoy gory, "dead teenager" movies like Halloween and Friday the 13th.



Kissing/Sex/Homosexuality


Sophie recalls a time when her parents embarrassed Margaret by talking about their first sexual experiences. Raf puts his hands on Sophie's hips in an attempt to demonstrate some of the overly sexy moves kids were trying at a recent school dance. At the end of the book, Raf kisses Sophie once. The church security guard, Robert, is always reading women's magazines like Cosmopolitan and Glamour.



Awards


Booklist Top 10 Crime Fiction for Youth, 2009



Discussion Topics


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


Note:
The girls lie to their parents and other adults quite a bit. Sophie says she generally tries not to "out-and-out lie" to her mother because she doesn't feel the need, in light of her relatively good behavior. If she were going to nightclubs, getting tattoos or becoming a Wiccan, she could understand her mother being concerned.

The girls break into St. Veronica's Church and admittedly use peer pressure to get the hesitant Rebecca to join them. They also use a hairpin to open a locked door inside the church.

Several characters, such as Sophie's dad and Raf (when in sixth grade), used to smoke. Sophie's dad stops because his wife is pregnant, and Raf stops because his mother catches and threatens him. Ms. Harriman's maid (Winefred) smokes, and her partner in crime, Mr. Winterbottom, smokes so much the girls call him an ashtray with legs.

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.


Rodrick Rules

A book review for parents

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

Rodrick Rules is written for kids ages 8 to 12. The age range reflects readability and not necessarily content appropriateness.



Plot Summary


Gregory "Greg" Heffley's mother buys him a second diary, which he calls a journal. From the beginning to the end of it, Greg has a difficult time with his older brother, Rodrick, who is a bully. After Rodrick finds Greg's first journal, Greg gets it back and hides in the bathroom at his grandfather's retirement center to keep Rodrick from getting it again. Too late, Greg realizes he is in the women's bathroom. Rodrick holds this embarrassing secret over Greg and forces him to do many things because of it.

Greg spends a lot of time getting out of things. To get out of swim practice, he hides in the locker room. To get rid of the Cheese Touch, which he got at the end of the last journal and makes classmates run from him, he gives it to an unsuspecting new kid at the school. He attempts to get out of studying by sitting next to smart kids and out of book reports by writing about short stories instead of books. He is OK with copying other people's papers, but won't buy an assignment from anyone unless he is desperate. The only person he can't trick or bully is his brother Rodrick.

The one time Greg compliments his brother is when they have to rake leaves for their grandmother and are being paid per bag. Rodrick shows Greg how to only partially fill the bags so they run out of bags before the job is done and are paid for each bag. When Rodrick throws a party because their parents are gone for the weekend, he locks Greg in the basement for the duration but then makes Greg help him clean after it is over. The next time their parents leave town, the boys have to stay with their grandfather.

Because Greg won't videotape Rodrick's band at the talent show, Rodrick tells everyone about Greg's embarrassing secret. Instead of being teased and humiliated at school, guys treat him well, and he is suddenly popular. The original story that Rodrick told was placed in the women's bathroom in a retirement home but as one person tells another, the place becomes the bathroom in the high school girls' locker room.

In the end, Greg realizes that Rodrick isn't nice to him, but Greg doesn't want his brother to fail science because he didn't turn in a science project; therefore, Greg does the project for him.



Christian Beliefs


When Rodrick gives Greg a ride home in his van, Greg is tossed around the back of it because he has to sit with Rodrick's band instruments. Greg prays that the instruments don't hit him in the head, but in this use, it really refers to "hoping" versus a prayer to God. There is mention that the family goes to church. Greg forgives Rowley for ratting on him when a situation turns to Greg's advantage after the truth is told.



Authority Roles


Greg's father forces him to join the swim team, which Greg hates. His father doesn't like when Rowley comes over because he thinks Rowley is clumsy and doesn't want him destroying his miniature Civil War battlefield in the basement. His father sneaks out of watching romantic movies with his wife so he can work on his battlefield. His father goes to the mall on Saturdays and takes Greg with him, not to spend time together, but to get away from the noise that Rodrick's band makes at the house. Instead of telling teens to leave his property, he puts on classical music via a boom box, and soon they all leave. Their father can't stand the idea of Rodrick not writing a good paper for school, so he rewrites and types all of Rodrick's papers. When Greg needs a middle school paper completed, his father tells him to do it himself. When his father can't stand the relatives in his house on Thanksgiving, he turns up the thermostat, and they eventually leave.

For swim practice, Greg's mother makes Greg wear skimpy racing trunks that used to belong to Rodrick. Everyone else wears swim trunks, and Greg is teased for wearing the racing trunks. His mother does not forget his "screwups" and reminds him of them. She writes a parenting column for a local newspaper and discusses Greg's failures and problems, using his name. Greg thinks this is one way she gets back at him. He blames the reason he lies on his mother. When he was young, she deceived him by pretending to call the dentist and ask about dentures because Greg refused to brush his teeth. This lie made him brush his teeth.

Because Greg has promised his mother to be honest, he goes around being rude to others (honest from his perspective). When his rudeness hurts his mother, she no longer requires him to keep his promise not to lie. His mother went with Greg to Leland's house to watch Leland (a neighborhood baby sitter), Rowley and Greg play Magick and Monsters. In the game, she keeps Greg from buying Meade and doesn't support his killing of so many monsters. Still, she encourages Greg and Rodrick to play the game together.

Greg's grandmother shows favoritism toward Manny, Greg's younger bother, and his grandfather shows favoritism toward Greg.



Other Belief Systems


Greg writes a paper that includes the evolution of people versus the evolution of a moose. He also illustrates the evolution. People get arms, and the moose get horns that are worthless in Greg's opinion.



Profanity/Graphic Violence


Mild words, such as jerk, sissy, dumb, geek, stupid, and freaked out, are used in a derogatory way.

After Greg calls Rodrick a jerk for making him sit in the back of the van, they get into a fight on the front lawn. Their mother makes them draw a picture of what they did wrong so they won't do it again. Rodrick draws a picture of pushing Greg over a cliff to a waiting shark.

Greg is relieved that Rowley, his best friend, sits on the tin-foil ball with toothpicks sticking out of it that Greg's younger brother made for Greg. Greg's mother wouldn't let him throw it away, and he was afraid he might sit on it himself some day. He does not empathize with Rowley's pain.

Greg slugs Rowley for suggesting that they could be "diary twins" after Rowley buys a journal. Greg justifies treating other boys at his school poorly because he isn't big or tall and doesn't have many victims from which to choose.



Kissing/Sex/Homosexuality


Greg's male classmates see him as a hero because of the rumor that he not only gained access to the high school girls' locker room, but also was there for some time. In actuality, he accidentally entered the women's restroom in his grandfather's retirement center.



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.


Romeo and Juliet

A book review for parents

This play by William Shakespeare is published by Signet Classic, Penguin Group and is written for adults but is sometimes studied by high school classes.

Plot Summary


An early fight scene introduces readers to the Capulet and Montague families and their long-standing feud. Romeo, son of Lord Montague, believes he's in love with a girl named Rosaline until he and Juliet (a Capulet) lock eyes at a party and determine they must be together. The lovers marry in secret, with the help of Juliet's nurse and Friar Lawrence — but all hope for their happiness seems lost when Romeo is banished for killing Juliet's cousin, Tybalt. Juliet, who is being forced by her father to marry Paris, drinks a concoction that will put her in a coma so she appears dead. She's entombed and Friar Lawrence promises to let Romeo know of the plot so he can come wake her. The plan goes awry and Romeo, thinking Juliet is really dead, kills himself in her presence. She wakes to find him lifeless and stabs herself with his dagger.



Christian Beliefs


Friar Lawrence marries Romeo and Juliet and plots to help them stay together. While his actions may seem well-intentioned, his scheming, deception and knowledge of mystical elements (such as the sleeping potion Juliet drinks) render him a holy man of questionable character.



Authority Roles


Lord and Lady Capulet push for Juliet's marriage to Paris, believing it is in her best interest. Lord Capulet's temper flares when Juliet protests. Juliet's nurse essentially raises her, even breastfeeding her as an infant. She serves as Juliet's confidante and messenger, helping the lovers execute their secret romantic schemes and putting Juliet's happiness above her loyalty to her employers. Romeo's parents demonstrate concern about his depression, and his mother dies of grief when he's banished from Verona. Prince Escalus demands peace in Verona at all costs.



Other Belief Systems


Even the earliest lines of the play, which state that Romeo and Juliet are "star-crossed lovers," indicate that cosmic destiny, not God, will guide the actions in this story. The tragic events that follow, culminating in the death of the young lovers, are attributed to fate. "Love" itself becomes a religion for Romeo and Juliet: Their passion causes them to reject nearly all of the people, values and laws they once held dear. After they first meet, Juliet even refers to Romeo as "the god of my idolatry."



Profanity/Graphic Violence


God's name is used in vain several times. The bulk of the profanity in this play appears in the off-color innuendos and double-entendres for which Shakespeare is famous. Mercutio and other minor characters often jest about sex and the intimate parts of male and female anatomy. As far as violence, there is swordplay, and the main characters' suicides are emphasized.



Kissing/Sex/Homosexuality


Romeo and Juliet kiss. The first time is on the night they meet. A few days later (though no explicit detail appears in the script) they consummate their marriage. Veiled sexual humor appears throughout.



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 Ruins of Gorlan

A book review for parents

This fantasy adventure is the first book in the "Ranger’s Apprentice" series by John Flanagan and is published by Puffin Books, a division of Penguin Young Readers Group.

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



Plot Summary


On "Choosing Day" in Redmont Fief, 15-year-old Will feels anxious. It's the day he and his four friends, all orphaned wards of the generous Baron Arald, will be selected by local Craftmasters to learn a trade. Each of Will's companions already has an aptitude for his or her career of choice. But Will, who wants to go to Battleschool because he's been told his father was a brave warrior, is too small to be selected. A Ranger named Holt offers to take Will as his apprentice. Will is apprehensive; he's heard the superstitious villagers suggest that the Rangers, a secretive group that guards the kingdom, are black magicians. Will goes to live with Holt and begins to enjoy his training with the somber but kind man. He learns the weapons, tools and tactics of Rangers, which involve more skill and stealth and less brute strength than typical warriors use.

Meanwhile, Will's friend Horace, who was chosen for Battleschool, demonstrates unique skill that gains the attention of his commander, Sir Rodney. But Horace is miserable. He struggles at the hands of three older bullies who pick on him mercilessly. His frustration with life causes him to behave rudely toward Will and the other orphans when they reunite for a holiday.

When Holt learns about a large wild boar causing the locals trouble, he enlists the help of Baron Arald and Sir Rodney to kill it. Sir Rodney invites Horace along. During the intense hunt, a second boar attacks. Will saves Horace's life. Townspeople talk about Will's victory, but the Battleschool bullies taunt and beat on Horace all the more for allowing a Ranger to make a fool of him. When the bullies decide to go to Will’s home and teach him a lesson, Holt turns the tables and makes the bullies fight Horace one-on-one. The bullies are defeated.

Will and Holt attend a Ranger Gathering, where they meet up with Holt's former apprentice, Gilan. The Rangers learn that Morgarath, an evil Baron who seeks to overthrow the kingdom, is preparing for battle. His armies include two types of vicious creatures: Wargals and the even more evil bear-like assassins, the Kalkara, who can paralyze their prey by looking in its eyes. Holt, Gilan and Will hunt for the Kalkara in a distant area called the Solitary Plain while the other Rangers prepare for war. When they determine the Kalkara may be after the king, Holt sends Will to Redmont Fief to enlist Baron Arald and Sir Rodney as reinforcements. The Baron, Sir Rodney and Will arrive just in time to help Holt battle two Kalkara, ultimately destroying both with fire.

Will becomes a hero, and Baron Arald honors him at a public ceremony. The Baron offers Will the chance to attend Battleschool, but Will chooses to remain a Ranger. He learns that part of the reason Holt recruited him was that Will’s father once saved Holt's life.



Christian Beliefs


None



Authority Roles


Baron Arald, Lord of Redmont Fief, is a generous and compassionate man who makes sure orphaned children are raised and given proper care. Holt, though not demonstratively warm with Will, treats the boy with respect and kindness. He patiently trains him in the ways of the Rangers, stressing virtues such as honesty and teamwork. Sir Rodney, who leads the Battleschool, recognizes Horace’s special talents. He encourages Horace to improve, yet doesn’t reveal the full scope of Horace’s potential to him so the boy won’t become conceited. All of these men are upstanding and protective of the young men under their supervision.



Other Belief Systems


Superstitious villagers believe the Rangers practice a black magic that makes them invisible to normal people. In reality, the Rangers are just trained to conceal themselves well. Will thinks it’s bad luck that he hasn’t had long to train before a huge confrontation takes place. The Kalkara have hypnotic powers that allow them to control the minds of their enemies. Morgarath controls the Wargals with his mental orders.



Profanity/Graphic Violence


The words d--n, h--- and the Lord’s name taken in vain each appear a time or two. Several violent and mildly gory images are presented, including a wild boar hunt, a fight between Horace and bullies from his school and attacks on the Rangers by the nightmarish Kalkara creatures.



Kissing/Sex/Homosexuality


Will’s old schoolmate, Alyss, gives him a brief kiss and tells him she’s proud of him.



Awards


Rebecca Caudill Young Readers Book Award, 2008; Great Stone Face Children’s Book Award, 2006-2007



Discussion Topics


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

Note:
Alcohol: Two of the Battleschool leaders drink a jug of beer together.

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.