Focus on the Family


Sam the Minuteman

A book review for parents

This historical book in the "I Can Read Book" series by Nathaniel Benchley is published by HarperCollins Publishers and is written for kids ages 7 to 10. The age range reflects readability and not necessarily content appropriateness.



Plot Summary


Sam Brown's quiet life on a farm in Lexington, Mass., ends abruptly with the start of the American Revolution. Although still a boy, he's expected to join his father and other males in their efforts to thwart British control. In addition to fighting British soldiers, Sam battles his own fears — particularly after his friend is shot in the leg. Accompanying two-toned sketches capture the action and emotion of this significant period in our nation's history.



Christian Beliefs


None



Authority Roles


Sam's parents are both industrious workers prior to the American Revolution. Despite Sam's mother's fears and objections, Sam's father insists Sam join him as the men in their community stand against the British soldiers. The British army appears brutal and heartless in its efforts to ensure that the new land remains under England's rule.



Other Belief Systems


None



Profanity/Graphic Violence


Several illustrations depict men firing muskets and bodies lying on the ground. One shows a small amount of blood from a leg wound.



Kissing/Sex/Homosexuality


None



Awards


The New York Times Outstanding Book of the Year



Discussion Topics


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


Note: This book was first published in 1969; it is often used in second-grade classrooms.

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.


Sarah's New World: The Mayflower Adventure (1620)

A book review for parents

This first historical book in the "Sisters in Time" series by Colleen L. Reece is published by Barbour Publishing, Inc.

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



Plot Summary


John and Sarah Smythe's parents want to give their family the opportunity to worship God freely. Along with other Pilgrims, they decide to leave Holland in 1620 for America. Their first ship, the Speedwell is deemed unfit to sail after they've lived aboard it for many months, and they are transferred to the Mayflower. John and Sarah struggle to maintain faith, hope and a sense of humor despite the hunger, sickness and death around them. As they reach America, they feel torn: They know their lives won't be easy, but they eagerly anticipate making the New World their home.



Christian Beliefs


Nearly all of the main characters' actions and decisions are based on their faith in God. They frequently quote Scripture and share Bible stories to encourage one another on the difficult journey. They also pray often for direction and give thanks for God's providence.



Authority Roles


John and Sarah's parents are kind, God-fearing people who care about their children's feelings and opinions. Prayerful Pilgrim leaders firmly commit to following God's will regarding a life in the New World. Even one of the gruff sailors (Klaus) on the Mayflower befriends John and Sarah after they're kind to him.



Other Belief Systems


The sailors on the Mayflower demonstrate a general attitude of superstition; they're not sure what to make of the God their passengers worship.



Profanity/Graphic Violence


None



Kissing/Sex/Homosexuality


None



Awards


None



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.


Saving Sailor

A book review for parents

This contemporary Christian book is the first of two by Renee Riva and is published by David C. Cook.

Saving Sailor is written for kids ages 12 and up. The age range reflects readability and not necessarily content appropriateness.



Plot Summary


In 1968, 10-year-old A.J. Deguilo and her boisterous Roman Catholic Italian family spend the summer at Indian Lake in Idaho where her father, Sonny, is the park ranger. With her dog, Sailor, always at her side, A.J. perfects her fake southern drawl and spies on her teenage sister, Angelina, who likes to kiss boys. Her family's oddities include her mother getting dressed up, finding strangers and pretending to be Sophia Loren, right down to signing autographs. They all ride around the lake in a pink boat like the one in the movie The African Queen. A.J. goes to confession several times and goes to catechism weekly. She is always getting into trouble but seems to settle down and grow up a little after meeting Danny, a boy her age who's visiting the lakes with his mother. The two have a platonic relationship, and A.J. is saddened to learn Danny's father had "a slumber party" with a lady friend back home. Danny's problems give A.J. a new perspective on her crazy family and an appreciation that her mother and father are devoted to one another. Danny's dad, who routinely drinks to excess, comes to the lakes to ask his wife and Danny for forgiveness. A.J. witnesses to Danny's dad. One night A.J.'s family goes out without A.J., who is sick and stays home. She can't resist going for a drift in the canoe. A storm comes up. A.J. finds herself in danger and prays to God for safety. Sailor helps her, but A.J. bashes her head and needs 40 stitches. Danny's dad learns to appreciate people more, and he accepts Christ as his Savior. The summer ends, and A.J.'s family heads for an extended visit to see family in Italy. Danny keeps Sailor for A.J., and the two of them exchange letters. At age 18, A.J. goes to visit Sailor and Danny, who is a youth minister. They drift away in a canoe, which is where the story ends.



Christian Beliefs


A.J.'s family is Roman Catholic, and they attend mass, are taught by nuns, go to confession and take catechism classes. Her grandmother has lots of statues of saints at her house because she thinks they protect her. Her grandmother is portrayed as needy, and her father dreads her calls. A.J.'s parents share their faith, and the family prays together and individually. A.J. doesn't get to know Danny's mother, and A.J. takes a leadership role in Danny's dad's life because she explains why Danny is so hurt. Danny's dad doesn't seem to understand how deeply he has hurt his family until A.J. speaks to him.



Authority Roles


Nuns tell A.J. about sin and confession. Her parents teach her their philosophy of life and belief in Jesus. Her mother acting like Sophia Loren seems odd, but she is shown as a strong Catholic.



Other Belief Systems


Some of A.J.'s relatives have a lot of money and put her family down for not having a boat that is nice and for other things. A.J.'s dad tells her that money doesn't add to a person's value or give people a better life. Before he became a Christian, Danny's dad drinks and has an affair. He doesn't initially feel bad about his actions. Danny's dad comes to the lakes because he wants them home, not because he feels he has done something wrong and wants forgiveness.



Profanity/Graphic Violence


None



Kissing/Sex/Homosexuality


A.J. observes her teen sister kissing a boy a couple of times. A.J. feels sorry that her sister seems to need boys in order to feel secure and that she is somewhat promiscuous. Danny's Dad's affair is referred to as having "a slumber party."



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.


Savvy

A book review for parents

This coming-of-age fantasy book by Ingrid Law is published by Dial Books for Young Readers, Penguin and is written for kids ages 9 to 11. The age range reflects readability and not necessarily content appropriateness.



Plot Summary


Mississippi (Mibs) Beaumont nervously anticipates her 13th birthday. She knows that at 13, everyone in her family has discovered their savvy and can't wait to find out hers. Savvy is a supernatural power that manifests itself differently in each Beaumont. It's an inherited quality — a special kind of know-how that goes beyond an average person's ability — that one must learn to control. Examples of savvy in the Beaumont family: One of Mibs' brothers can control electricity with his mind; another can control water. Her grandfather's moods can make the earth shift and quake.

A tragic car accident leaves Mibs' dad (Poppa) unconscious in a hospital far away. Mibs is determined to get to him. At first, Mibs thinks her savvy is that she can wake things up, which is what she wants to do to her father. She, two of her brothers and the pastor's kids stow away on the pink bus of a Bible salesman named Lester, hoping he will take them where they need to go. But when the bus heads in the opposite direction, the kids find themselves on an unforgettable road trip.

Over time, Mibs realizes her savvy is that she can actually hear people talking to her through ink on their bodies, whether it's a tattoo or someone writing on his hand with a ballpoint pen. The stowaways finally reach Poppa, and Mibs urges him not to give up fighting for his life. Poppa survives, though not without the need for extensive rehabilitation, and Mibs learns that there is good to be found even in the midst of difficult experiences and pain.



Christian Beliefs


Mibs isn't always sure whether God hears or understands her. When Will Junior (the Pastor's son) says he's praying for her father, Mibs tells readers that she sometimes prays about her impending savvy and has occasionally prayed for sick relatives, but she hadn't thought to pray for her Poppa. Later, she prays no one will attend her birthday party that Miss Rosemary (the pastor's wife) is planning. Though Mibs feels Miss Rosemary believes God will help make the party a success, she (Mibs) hopes that God has better things to do and will stay out of it. Momma makes the whole family go to church every Sunday, which Mibs refers to as the Lord's Day. Momma also notes that everyone should keep hoping and praying for Poppa, because those are the things they can all do. Mibs says Poppa's recovery may be a miracle.



Authority Roles


Poppa is a kind man, but he technically doesn't have savvy because he's married into the Beaumont clan — though Mibs later tells him his savvy is that he never gives up. Poppa's perseverance gained him the wife of his dreams and may have also saved his life after the car accident. Momma's savvy is perfection. She's a compassionate, involved parent like Poppa. Miss Rosemary, the pastor's rule-driven wife, expects others to follow her beliefs. Out of Christian duty, she takes charge of the Beaumont kids when Mibs' father has his accident and Momma leaves to be at his bedside. Pastor Meeks gives Lester a loud tongue-lashing in the church office for bringing him pink Bibles. In the final pages, he seems a little more humble as he appears to be thanking God for the safe return of his children. Lill, the waitress Lester picks up on their journey, is motherly and protective of the kids as they try to get to Poppa.



Other Belief Systems


Mibs says at one point that Bobbi's eyes look like they're shooting out voodoo vibes. Mibs also suggests her younger brother has a type of "human magic" that manifests itself when a person demonstrates concern for his fellow man.



Profanity/Graphic Violence


Some of Mibs' classmates nickname her "Missy-P---y." Bobbi curses a few times, as does a maintenance man in the hospital, but no actual profanity appears in the text.



Kissing/Sex/Homosexuality


Will kisses Mibs (once, quickly) in the hotel pool. She later tells him she really likes him, but she's not ready to be kissing him yet. He tells her he can wait. While on the run, 13-year-old Mibs shares a motel bed with Lill. It's completely innocent, but Mibs has just met Lill so it might not have been the wisest move.



Awards


Newbery Honor Book, 2009; Publishers Weekly Best Book of the Year, 2008; Boston Globe-Horn Book Award, 2008; and others.



Discussion Topics


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

Note:

Several people in the story have tattoos. Poppa has a mermaid from his Navy days; the preacher's daughter, Bobbi, wears a temporary tattoo of an angel with a devil's tail; Lester, the Bible salesman, has several in honor of an old girlfriend and his mother; bikers and a homeless man have them as well. Since Mibs' savvy involves hearing people's thoughts through the ink on their skin, these tattoos are integral parts of the story. Tattooing is neither applauded nor condemned in the book.

The kids lie to Lill, telling her they have called their parents to let their parents know they're safe. In fact, Bobbi has faked her mother's voice on another phone line for Lill's benefit (which she has also apparently done to get out of going to school at times). The kids also lie to Lill about why they're on the road with Lester. Mibs later feels remorse for her lies and deception, fearing in part that they will get Lill and Lester in trouble with the law.

As the group escapes from the diner where Lill has just been fired, they steal a pie.

Walden Media has acquired the rights to turn this book into a feature film.

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.


School's Out

A book review for parents

This Amish-life book is the first in the "Rachel Yoder" series by Wanda E. Brunstetter and is published by Barbour Publishing.

School's Out is written for kids ages 7 to 10. The age range reflects readability and not necessarily content appropriateness.



Plot Summary


Rachel Yoder, a 9-year-old Amish girl, looks forward to celebrating the last day of school with a picnic. Her 11-year-old brother, Jacob, smashes a stinkbug on Rachel's chicken, and a bee stings her. When Rachel goes to the creek to relieve the pain, she falls in the creek. The next day when she follows a mother cat and kittens into a neighbor's underground root cellar, a gust of wind slams the door shut, and Rachel is locked in the cellar until that neighbor eventually finds her. For her birthday, Rachel wants a skateboard and puts one on layaway. Although she works hard, she cannot afford it. Her brother gives her a homemade skateboard, and her older sister gives her another skateboard. At the end of the book, Rachel falls asleep in the buggy, and the new horse runs away with it. Jacob runs after the buggy and is able to grab the horses' bridle and stop him. Rachel learns that her brother loves her, even though he constantly teases her.



Christian Beliefs


The Amish hold church services in homes or schools every other week. The women sit on one side of the church and the men on others.



Authority Roles


Rachel is expected to obey her mother and father immediately and without question. Her father works in the fields along with other boys and men, and the mother and daughters do the housework, garden, feed the chickens and gather eggs.



Other Belief Systems


Old Order Amish wear plain clothing. They avoid anything modern such as electricity, automobiles and telephones. They travel by horse and buggy, only renting a driver when they need to go on longer trips.



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 Sea of Monsters

A book review for parents

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

The Sea of Monsters is written for kids ages 12 to 18. The age range reflects readability and not necessarily content appropriateness.



Plot Summary


Thirteen-year-old Percy Jackson’s strange dreams tell him something’s wrong at Half-Blood Hill, a summer camp for demigods. He also receives desperate midnight messages from his satyr friend, Grover. Annabeth, a half-human, half-god camper, similar to Percy and Grover, appears at Percy’s school and confirms his fears. She saves him from a gang of monsters trying to slaughter him on the dodgeball court. Then she delivers him and his hulking new friend, Tyson, to Half-Blood Hill.

Percy, Tyson and Annabeth find the camp in chaos. Monsters are attacking, and campers desperately try to defend themselves. When Zeus’ daughter Thalia turned into a tree six years earlier, her spirit protected the camp from monsters. Now, someone has poisoned Thalia’s tree. Percy’s mentor, a centaur named Chiron, has been blamed and fired from Half-Blood Hill. A spirit from the fields of punishment named Tantalus has assumed Chiron’s position as assistant camp director.

Annabeth reveals that Tyson is a Cyclops, and Poseidon himself claims Tyson as his son (and Percy’s half-brother). Percy and Annabeth ask the camp leaders for permission to seek the Golden Fleece, which they believe will heal Thalia’s tree. The leaders give the quest to another camper, a belligerent daughter of Ares named Clarisse. Urged on by Hermes, the messenger god, Percy, decides to find the Fleece himself. Annabeth and Tyson join him on this unauthorized journey.

The trio lands on a cruise ship, only to find Luke, a former camper and Percy’s nemesis from the first book in this series, The Lightning Thief, is its captain. He is recruiting half-bloods to help him start a new civilization with Kronos at the helm. Kronos, the Titan king and enemy to the gods, was previously cut into pieces but re-forms a little each time a half-blood joins Luke’s army.

After escaping from Luke and subsequently battling a multi-headed monster, Percy, Annabeth and Tyson are saved by Clarisse. They all sail on her ghost ship full of dead Confederate soldiers toward the Sea of Monsters (i.e., the Bermuda Triangle) in search of Grover and the Fleece. As they enter the Sea, monsters attack the ship. Percy and Annabeth, thinking they’re the sole survivors, sail into the lair of Circe, where Percy is temporarily transformed into a rodent by the man-hating sorceress. They escape once more and sail toward the island of the Sirens. Annabeth desperately wants to hear them. She asks Percy to tie her to something so she can listen but not be lured by their songs. Percy plugs his own ears with wax. Annabeth is so mesmerized that she cuts her way out of her ropes and swims to the island. Percy narrowly saves her.

Percy and Annabeth reach the island of the Cyclops Polyphemus, where they find both Grover and the Fleece. They also discover that Clarisse and Tyson are alive. The heroes battle and trick the Cyclops, escaping with the Fleece. In keeping with the prophesy Clarisse received from the Oracle, the group sends her back to camp via airplane with the Fleece. Luke recaptures Percy, Annabeth, Grover and Tyson. Then Percy sends a message telling the Half-Blood campers that Luke poisoned Thalia’s tree. Chiron and his relatives save Percy and friends, returning them to camp where Chiron’s name is cleared and he is reinstated. The Fleece heals Thalia’s tree, and Thalia herself emerges from the tree as the half-blood she once was.



Christian Beliefs


None



Authority Roles


Poseidon acknowledges his sons as his own and brings the two together to help each other. He aids Percy in his quest by providing transportation and allowing him to command the sea, and he gives Tyson an internship. He rarely communicates directly with his children. Chiron cares about the campers, especially Percy. He keeps tabs on the camp even after he’s fired so he can help Percy accomplish his mission. Hermes, Luke’s dad, cares about family and hopes Percy can help his son make better choices. He tells Percy that sometimes gods have to act indirectly, even with their own kids, or more problems are created. Urging Percy to look for the Fleece, he suggests that sometimes even if young people disobey, they can escape punishment if they are able to accomplish something extraordinary. Percy’s mother, barely seen in this book, loves her son. She’s concerned for his safety from monsters and tries to help him live a normal life as much as possible.



Other Belief Systems


The premise of the "Percy Jackson and the Olympians" series is that the gods of mythology exist today and control world events with their magical powers. As in the ancient myths, the gods and goddesses still have affairs with humans. Their children, such as Percy, are powerful demi-gods. Though some appear fully human, others are hybrids of humans and animals. Luke’s assistants, for example, are children of a woman who fell in love with a bear and produced twin sons. Percy and other half-bloods frequently pray to the gods for help or direction. As the centers of power have moved throughout history, so have the gods, who now live in, above and below America. The monsters that pursue them are primal forces without souls so they cannot die, only re-form themselves. The Oracle of Delphi (a spirit who lives in the attic at Half-Blood Hill) provides prophesies concerning what the demi-gods will or must do. The oracle has given Chiron prophesies about Percy, indicating that he may not live to see his 16th birthday. Evenings at Half-Blood Hill include camper rituals such as giving the best part of dinner as an offering to the gods and singing songs about the gods around an enchanted campfire. Different items and creatures (such as the Fleece) radiate "nature magic."

Percy is able to sense the presence of evil in people and places. He can also control the water and ships sailing on it. He sometimes makes ancient gestures to ward off evil, and he hopes he will inherit the luck of Perseus, the Greek hero after whom he was named. Percy’s headmaster won’t allow him to return to school because he had an "un-groovy karma" that disrupted the school’s "educational aura."

Circe, daughter to the goddess of magic, invites Annabeth to become a sorceress like her. She is angry that men get all the glory and says the only way women can achieve power is through sorcery. The Fleece’s magic rids Thalia’s tree of the poison and fills it with new power. Percy tells Polyphemus that the Fleece should be used to heal and that it belongs to the children of the gods.



Profanity/Graphic Violence


Percy and his friends use phrases like Oh my gods, Thank the gods and Go to Tartarus (rather than go to h---). D--n and darn each appear a time or two. A few characters curse in ancient Greek, or curse each other, without profanity appearing in the text. Annabeth swears by the River Styx that she will try to keep Percy safe. Percy mentions enemies getting their booties whooped. Though many battles rage, particularly between Percy and various monsters, the scenes are rarely graphic. Monsters can’t die, so they vanish rather than leaving bloody, broken bodies. Some scary or disturbing images appear, including dead, skeletal Confederate soldiers on Clarisse’s ship. Annabeth threatens to stab Polyphemus’ eye, and Percy later lands with both feet on the already-damaged eye. Tantalus tells a story about a mortal king with ungrateful, rebellious children. The king made the kids into a stew and served it to the gods.



Kissing/Sex/Homosexuality


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



Awards


Mark Twain Reader’s Award, 2009; BookSense Top 10 Summer Pick, 2006; VOYA Top of the Top Shelf Fiction for Middle School, 2006; and others



Discussion Topics


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

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


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 Shack

A book review for parents

This contemporary allegory by William P. Young is published by Windblown Media and is written for adults.

Boundless.org, a ministry of Focus on the Family for young adults and newly married couples, has written a review for The Shack.


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.


Sidney & Norman

A book review for parents

This Christian book by Phil Vischer is published by Thomas Nelson Publishers and is written for kids ages 4 to 10. The age range reflects readability and not necessarily content appropriateness.



Plot Summary


Two pigs, disciplined Norman and disorganized Sidney, live next door to each other. One day, God asks to meet with them. While Norman can't wait to hear all the good things God will tell him, Sidney is in a panic. He's afraid he's going to be punished for something. When Norman goes to see God, God tells him that He loves Norman. Then He lets Norman know that he is prideful and shouldn't look down on those who are not as gifted as he is. When Sidney goes to visit God, God tells him that He loves him and nothing more. From that day forward, both pigs change their outlook on life. Norman learns to be humble, and Sidney feels more competent because God's love for him is not based on whether he does everything perfectly.



Christian Beliefs


God's love isn't based on human activities or abilities. He loves because He chooses to love each person.



Authority Roles


God is the authority figure, and both pigs acknowledge it.



Other Belief Systems


None



Profanity/Graphic Violence


None



Kissing/Sex/Homosexuality


None



Awards


Unknown



Discussion Topics


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


Book reviews cover the content, themes and worldviews of fiction books, not their literary merit, and equip parents to decide whether a book is appropriate for their children. A book's inclusion does not constitute an endorsement by Focus on the Family.


The Sign of the Beaver

A book review for parents

This adventure by Elizabeth George Speare is published by Houghton Mifflin and is written for kids ages 9 to 12. The age range reflects readability and not necessarily content appropriateness.



Plot Summary


After Matt and his father build a wilderness cabin in Maine, Matt's dad leaves him in charge and journeys to collect the rest of the family. When Matt is attacked by a swarm of bees, a Native American chief and his grandson, Attean, nurse Matt back to health. The chief sends Attean to learn English from Matt. The young Indian behaves badly, however, and Matt learns it's because white men killed Attean's parents. Matt and Attean eventually become friends and teach each other ways to survive. When Matt's family is late in returning, Attean invites Matt to join his tribe.



Christian Beliefs


Matt's father has only one book, the Bible. Matt shares the stories with Attean because they're full of adventure, and he's trying to get Attean interested in learning English.



Authority Roles


Though a kind, encouraging role model, Matt's father leaves him alone for months, out of necessity, as he goes to get the rest of Matt's family. When Matt's mother finally arrives, readers learn she pushed the journey along with no regard for her own serious illness so she could get back to her son. Attean's grandfather looks after Matt and teaches his grandson to do the same, despite the animosity between their cultures.



Other Belief Systems


When Matt tells Attean the story of Noah, Attean says he already knows a similar tale about an American Indian who created people as well as other creatures and objects. Attean also goes on a hunt with the older men as a rite of passage to find his manitou, or the spirit assigned to him.



Profanity/Graphic Violence


None



Kissing/Sex/Homosexuality


None



Awards


Newbery Honor Book, ALA Notable Children's Book, ALA Best Book for Young Adults, Horn Book Fanfare, Booklist Editors' Choice, Christopher Award, Scott O'Dell Award for Historical Fiction, The New York Times Best Book of the Year, among others.



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.


A Single Shard

A book review for parents

This historical fiction by Linda Sue Park is published by Clarion Books, an imprint of Houghton Mifflin and is written for kids ages 10 and up. The age range reflects readability and not necessarily content appropriateness.



Plot Summary


Tree-ear, a 12th-century Korean orphan, lives beneath a bridge with his crippled, old friend, Crane-man. When Tree-ear breaks an expensive piece of pottery created by an artist named Min, he works off his debt and becomes Min's assistant. Though Tree-ear dreams of making his own pots, Min seems bent on using him solely for menial tasks. When a royal buyer wants to see Min's work, Tree-ear offers to make the treacherous journey to the palace with the vases. Robbers attack Tree-ear and destroy Min's pottery, but Tree-ear continues the trip and presents a single shard of a broken vase to the king's emissary. The shard provides enough detail to convince the emissary to offer Min a royal commission. Tree-ear returns home and finds that Crane-man has died. Min and his wife invite Tree-ear to live with them and plan to teach him to be a potter.



Christian Beliefs


None



Authority Roles


Crane-man, though homeless and too crippled to work, has somehow cared for Tree-ear since the boy was 2 years old. With gentleness and love, he shares many wise proverbs while teaching Tree-ear about pride, honesty and the natural world. Min "barks" many commands at Tree-ear and hides his affection for the boy. Min lost his own son, and Tree-ear reminds him of the child. Min's wife stealthily provides food and clothing for Tree-ear and Crane-man, so as not to injure their pride, and asks the boy to call her Ajima (a nickname like “auntie”). In the end, Min and Ajima adopt Tree-ear. Min even agrees to teach him to be a potter, a trade traditionally passed down from father to son.



Other Belief Systems


Tree-ear lives in a Buddhist culture, where monks help the poor and bells ring to summon people to prayer. Crane-man ponders what animal he will be in the next life. He attributes sickness and agitation to demons. Both Crane-man and Tree-ear fear foxes because they believe the creatures "posses an evil magic that can lure a man to his doom."



Profanity/Graphic Violence


In the tale of the "Rock of the Falling Flowers," women jump to their deaths.



Kissing/Sex/Homosexuality


None



Awards


Newbery Medal, 2002



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.


Sir Bentley and Holbrook Court

A book review for parents

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

Sir Bentley and Holbrook Court is written for kids ages 10 to 14. The age range reflects readability and not necessarily content appropriateness.



Plot Summary


In the kingdom of Arrethtrae, young Bentley of Chessington is knighted into the brotherhood of the Noble Knights. He soon finds himself faced with a difficult choice: His superior, Sir York, orders him to kill two Followers, men who have committed no crime other than believing that the Prince is the King's Son. Bentley refuses, feeling in his heart it's the wrong thing to do. Because he doesn’t kill them, Bentley must give up his life as a knight. He travels far away to the land of Holbrook, with the help of Follower Sir Demus. There he lives as a pauper among the downtrodden.

Bentley is intrigued by and befriends a young woman named Eirwyn, who hands out food to the poor. He eventually discovers she is the daughter of Lord Kingsley, the man who rules Holbrook with an iron fist. Eirwyn is kidnapped, and Bentley tracks the ruthless gang that intends to sacrifice her to a huge lake dragon. Bentley rescues Eirwyn and kills the beast.

Upon their return to Holbrook, Bentley and Eirwyn discover that the Dark Knight and his Shadow Warriors are set to attack Holbrook Castle and take over the kingdom. Bentley, Eirwyn, and an army of Silent Warriors and Knights of the Prince defeat the evil marauders. Bentley and Eirwyn eventually marry and rule over Holbrook for many years, teaching the people about the Prince and His ways.



Christian Beliefs


In this Christian allegory, the King who rules the Kingdom Across the Sea represents God in heaven, and the Prince, His Son sent to Arrethtrae, is Jesus. The Noble Knights are similar to the Jews in the Bible — God’s Chosen people, but they do not believe the Prince is God's son. In a flashback, it's mentioned that Lucius, one of the King's Silent Warriors (angels), attempted to overthrow the Kingdom and was cast out of it. He and his minions have gone to Arrethtrae (earth) to wreak havoc and war against those who believe in the Prince.



Authority Roles


Sir Bentley loves and respects his parents, Sir Barrington and Lady Deonne. Bentley is trained and mentored by Sir York, a man he eventually disobeys because Bentley has heard the still, small voice of the King in his heart. After fleeing to Holbrook, Bentley is mentored and discipled by Sir Demus, a man who represents an older, mature Christian.



Other Belief Systems


None



Profanity/Graphic Violence


Sir Bentley and Holbrook Court is action-packed and filled with violent scenes throughout the book. Most of them are sword fights. Sir Demus describes to Bentley how the Noble Knights arrested him, cut off his thumbs and beat him. Bentley uses his sword to kill two of the men who kidnapped Eirwyn. Two Shadow Warriors bludgeon Bentley's friend Walsch until blood flows down his face. Several townspeople are killed during a frightening scene in which Bentley almost drowns attempting to save Eirwyn from the dragon. Bentley and Eirwyn are dragged underwater as the dragon swims back to its lair where it dies. Bentley is hung by a rope around his neck on a tree by Shadow Warriors and left to die. Several warriors are killed and wounded during a climactic battle scene. Eirwyn's twin sister is thrown out a window to her death. Her body hits the marble floor, and blood pools from the back of her head. Bentley, while fighting an Ashen Knight on horseback, receives a sword wound in his side and then kills his enemy with his own sword.



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.


Sir Dalton and the Shadow Heart

A book review for parents

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

Sir Dalton and the Shadow Heart is written for kids ages 10 to 14. The age range reflects readability and not necessarily content appropriateness.



Plot Summary


Young Sir Dalton has recently joined the Knights of the Prince. He is training at a local haven with Sir Dornan. Sir Dornan doesn't seem interested in disciplining the trainees, which rubs Koen (male) and Carliss (female), who are siblings, the wrong way. The rest of the trainees believe Koen and Carliss are strange, but Dalton doesn't have time to decide what he thinks about them. He is sent on a short mission and is captured by a ruthless Shadow Warrior named Lord Drox. Bruised and battered, he finds himself in a cave-like prison where the cells have no doors. The prisoners' own fears keep them from leaving. Summoning the courage to escape, Dalton is found unconscious by an old hermit, Master Sejus, and brought back to health. Master Sejus trains him in swordsmanship.

Dalton returns to his haven to find that no one will believe his story about the prison, except Koen and Carliss. Knowing he must do something about the prisoners, Dalton travels back to free them. Koen and Carliss follow to help. After a furious battle, during which Dalton defeats Drox, some of the prisoners still refuse to leave. Carliss, who has developed romantic feelings for Dalton, detours to Verlaken on the way home to assist in the rehabilitation of some wounded knights. Days later, Koen, whose father is ill, informs Dalton that Carliss has disappeared. The book ends as Dalton sets out at once to find her.



Christian Beliefs


In this Christian allegory, a haven represents a church, and the knights in training are like young Christians being discipled by older, more mature Christians. Lord Drox and his Shadow Warriors represent Satan's minions. They seek to sow seeds of doubt and attempt to destroy the faith of Followers and Knights of the Prince. The battles in which the Knights of the Prince engage represent the spiritual warfare that believers face.



Authority Roles


Sir Dornan is a trainer who doesn't take his role, or his teachings, seriously. He is eventually relieved of his duties. Sir Orland is a trainer who takes his responsibilities very seriously. Master Sejus is a Jesus-type figure. When Dalton first meets him, Sejus is a crippled, old man, but as Dalton's eyes are opened to who Sejus really is, his perception changes, and the mentor transforms into a strong warrior. Lord Drox is malicious and represents evil.



Other Belief Systems


None



Profanity/Graphic Violence


Many battle scenes, primarily sword fights, occur throughout the book. Lord Drox plunges a blade through Dalton. A marauder strikes an innocent woman. An enemy lands two hard blows into Dalton's chest and helmet. Dalton knocks a man off his horse and cuts through the dazed man with his sword. Dalton is stabbed in his shoulder by a sword. Dalton's arm is broken when he's hit by a sword. Dalton slams into a tree with his head. Dalton is attacked by a vicious dog in prison. One of Dalton's fellow prisoners, Si Kon, is attacked by dogs, and he bleeds profusely. Dalton and Drox fight with swords. Ravens attack Dalton, and Carliss kills some with bow and arrow. With his sword, Dalton kills more ravens, and the blood of one splatters Drox. Dalton kills an attacking dog by plunging his sword into it. Dalton plunges his sword through Drox's chest, killing him.



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.


Sir Kendrick and the Castle of Bel Lione

A book review for parents

This medieval adventure is the first book in "The Knights of Arrethtrae" series by Chuck Black and is published by Multnomah Books.

Sir Kendrick and the Castle of Bel Lione is written for kids 9 and up. The age range reflects readability and not necessarily content appropriateness.


Plot Summary


Sir Kendrick and Sir Duncan (Kendrick's trainee) serve the King and his son, the Prince. When they discover evil Lord Ra is luring young people into his service, they travel to Ra's castle in the town of Bel Lione. Ra's warriors capture Duncan before the knights have time to formulate a plan, and Kendrick must seek the help of Landor, a former knight of Ra, to learn how to rescue Duncan from Ra's fortress. Landor and Kendrick help Duncan escape. Still concerned for the youths that Ra is deceiving and the prisoners he has stashed in dungeons below the castle, the knights fight against and eventually conquer Ra in the name of the King and the Prince.



Christian Beliefs


This book is set up as a Christian allegory in that the characters mirror biblical people: Ra is similar to Satan, the King and the Prince represent God and Christ, and Kendrick resembles the apostle Paul, who shuns his past to follow Christ. Kendrick and Duncan often talk about the King's power, and Kendrick sees a change in Landor as Landor learns more about the Prince. The battles fought against Ra demonstrate the clashes Christians experience today between good and evil in the spiritual realm.



Authority Roles


Kendrick is a valiant knight who wrestles with his past and puts aside his own desire for honor in order to serve the King. He patiently trains Duncan, even though he initially feels the boy is impetuous. Landor, a former warrior of Ra, puts himself in danger to help Kendrick and Duncan. Ra, the epitome of evil, employs worldly enjoyment to draw in new recruits. Those who don't follow him are starved and tortured in Ra's dungeons. The King and Prince, though never appearing in the book, demonstrate their influence and power in the lives they've changed and in the way their followers successfully battle evil.



Other Belief Systems


None



Profanity/Graphic Violence


Enemy guards wound Kendrick's horse, and blood wolves, which are Ra's guard animals, attack Kendrick. Readers will also find several bloody battle scenes.



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:

You can discuss the meaning of the word allegory to help young readers understand how the battles described in this book mirror spiritual battles.

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 Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants

A book review for parents

This first drama, romance book in the "Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants" series by Ann Brashares is published by Delacorte Press Books for Young Readers, an imprint of Random House Children's Books.

The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants is written for kids ages 12 and up. The age range reflects readability and not necessarily content appropriateness.



Plot Summary


Four close friends, separated during the summer before their 16th birthdays, use letters and a pair of jeans passed from girl to girl to keep their friendship alive. Lena visits her grandparents in Greece. Bridget attends a soccer camp. Carmen attempts to cope with her father's impending remarriage. Tibby develops a friendship with a younger girl who has leukemia.



Christian Beliefs


Before meals, Carmen's father — who is living with his fiancée and her teenage children — joins hands with them and says grace. The father and fiancée are married later in a Christian church. God is present through cultural or ceremonial events (holiday, grace before meals, weddings, baptisms), except in Carmen's life where He does not appear to be present. Carmen apologizes to God when she takes His name in vain. However, she refuses to pray when she's miserable and ashamed because she doesn't want God to think of her as the girl who only prays when she wants something. The Lord's name is taken in vain over 25 times.



Authority Roles


The girls' parents are mostly absent, ineffectual or the source of the problem. In this teen world, friends provide the needed support and guidance. Serious consequences or discipline for misbehavior are not enforced. The girls come and go with little parental supervision and sometimes without parental knowledge.



Other Belief Systems


None



Profanity/Graphic Violence


Profanity, a few coarse references to body parts and a crude joke. No violence.



Kissing/Sex/Homosexuality


The kissing scenes are intense and involve body contact. Kissing is viewed merely as a pleasant pastime. Talked about, but not detailed — Lena's 14-year-old sister, Effie, spends a lot of her free time kissing a young Greek. Nudity (skinny dipping) is included, and there is also a sex scene between 15-year-old Bridget and the college-aged coach she seduces at her soccer camp. The description of the event is not explicit, and the text fast-forwards to scenes of the girl's sadness and bewilderment. While those scenes could serve to warn teens, earlier scenes, filled with vivid descriptions of Bridget's powerful feelings and provocative actions read like a "how-to seduce a male" manual. While there is regret over losing her virginity, it's only because she's too young, and the girl says her sexual misstep is "fixed" when her friend shows up at the camp to support her.



Awards


2002 ALA Best Books for Young Adults, Regional awards in Indiana, Iowa, Maryland, Missouri, New Jersey, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Texas, Washington, Pacific Northwest Readers Choice, Arizona, and Colorado from 2002 to 2004



Discussion Topics


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


Note: Producers often use a book as a springboard for a movie idea or to earn a specific rating. Because of this, a movie may differ from the novel. To better understand how this book and movie differ, compare the book review with Plugged In's movie review.

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.


Skeleton Key

A book review for parents

This action/thriller book is the third in the "Alex Rider" series by Anthony Horowitz and is published by the Penguin Group.

Skeleton Key is written for kids ages 12 to 16. The age range reflects readability and not necessarily content appropriateness.



Plot Summary


Orphaned 14-year old spy Alex Rider is asked by the British spy agency M16 to be a ball boy at Wimbledon. While at the tournament, he uncovers a sinister plan carried out by a Chinese gang that involves rigging the outcome by drugging certain tennis players. Afterward, the gang members attempt to redeem their reputation by trying to kill Alex. He is forced to go into hiding.

Alex vows — once more — to never work for M16. Of course, as was the case in book two of this series, M16 officials manipulate Alex until he accepts their latest case. Since attempts are being made on Alex's life, M16 feels that Alex should travel to Florida as part of a joint spy mission with the CIA. Alex flies to Miami and meets two agents that pose as his parents, Carver (male) and Troy (female). After a week of training, the three travel to Skeleton Key, an island near Cuba. The CIA agents leave Alex at the hotel while they spy on those in the mansion of a mad Russian general, Alexei Sarov. The CIA had received a report that the general recently bought uranium.

Alex convinces agents Carver and Troy to let him accompany them on a scuba diving excursion, which is really another spy operation. Carver and Troy are killed by a trap set by Sarov in a cave underneath his mansion, and Alex is taken hostage. The mad general doesn't want to hurt Alex, even though he knows Alex is an M16 agent. Alex reminds the general of his only son who was killed in the war between Afghanistan and his country. General Sarov offers to adopt Alex. Sarov thinks Alex is considering his offer as they fly to Russia where the general plans to set off a nuclear bomb in a harbor of outdated and rusted Russian submarines. On the way, they stop in London to fuel their jet, and Alex escapes. Sarov recaptures Alex, but not before the young spy is able to get the attention of the authorities. In Russia, Sarov and his men seize control of a submarine yard and the nuclear bomb is lowered onto the top of a sub. Alex manages to stall Sarov and his men until Russian soldiers arrive to take control of the situation. The bomb is defused. Sarov realizes that Alex does not want to be his son and shoots himself.



Christian Beliefs


None



Authority Roles


Alex's parents are dead and so is his uncle, the man who had been raising him and who was a secret M16 spy. For the most part, Alex is on his own, though he does have a caretaker — a young American woman — who is only briefly mentioned and never appears in the book. Agents Carver and Troy pose as Alex's parents on a spy mission, but Troy does not treat Alex well because she doesn't think a boy should be on such a serious assignment. Carver is nice to Alex and takes him under his wing, treating him like he would a son. After kidnapping Alex, Sarov tries to adopt him and become his father. Alex wants no part of it, as it's obvious that the general is mad.



Other Belief Systems


Sarov claims that he doesn't believe in God.



Profanity/Graphic Violence


Three men attempting to leave Skeleton Key in a plane get bogged down in a swamp surrounding the runway and are eaten by crocodiles. Alex fights a man posing as a guard. The fight is brutal and bloody, and Alex finally knocks the man out and puts him in a freezer. It's implied that the man later dies. CIA agent Carver is captured, and later Alex finds him, beaten and bloody, tied to a chair. A cargo ship full of bad guys blows up, killing all aboard. Alex is attacked by a shark while scuba diving and barely escapes with his life. When he returns to the boat, he finds the driver dead with a knife sticking out his back. One of Sarov's henchmen ties Alex to a conveyor belt used for crushing sugar cane, but the machine is turned off at the last minute by Sarov. An airport guard is found shot between the eyes. Sarov's men shoot five Russian sailors. Sarov shoots himself with a gun in front of Alex.

After nearly dying in a fight at Wimbledon, Alex is furious at M16. A couple of days later he stands on the veranda of a house and thinks to himself, "To h--- with all of them!" Alex's girlfriend is enamored with a tennis player, and Alex, who is a bit jealous, tells her to "Keep her hands on the right balls." There are two instances where characters use God’s name in vain.



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.


Skin Hunger

A book review for parents

This fantasy book is the first in the "A Resurrection of Magic" series by Kathleen Duey and is published by Simon Pulse, an imprint of Simon & Schuster Children's Publishing Division.

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



Plot Summary


Two plots alternate in this novel. In the first, Sadima hides how she can silently talk to animals because magic is banned in her world. Because Franklin understands her, Sadima is drawn to him. But this attraction yields an unwanted acquaintance with Somiss, a nobleman who is focused on restoring all magic and who is Franklin's master. To remain by Franklin's side, Sadima serves Somiss, until she finds that he has caged and hidden boys in a cave. Franklin believes that he is the only thing that stands between Somiss and those boys' deaths. Sadima realizes that she will kill Somiss before she lets him hurt one of those children. She also realizes that she is in love with Franklin, a man who can never fully love her in return.

In the second plot, the unwanted second son of a merchant, Hahp, lives in a land where magic is permitted but only taught at one academy. His uncaring father and obedient mother dropped him off at this academy. Hahp is given a peasant boy, Gerrard, as a roommate, and the two, along with eight other rich young men, compete to be the one who will graduate and survive. In this academy, Somiss and Franklin are their teachers, which implies that this story takes place at a later time than the first plot line, when magic has been restored. The boys must use magic to eat and recite magic chants perfectly or die of starvation. They also must use it to save themselves from predicaments that test their abilities, such as poisonous snakes. Because of those who die, Hahp grows in his hatred of Somiss and the others who run the academy. Both storylines reach a resting point but not a stopping point. It is assumed they will continue in the next book.



Christian Beliefs


None



Authority Roles


Franklin's family sold him as a youth to Somiss' father. From that sale, Franklin's family was able to eat well for five winters. Somiss' father hates his son (Somiss). Somiss' family consisted of businessmen, and Somiss was a scholar, which is the reason his father hated him.

Hahp's father has no need for him because Hahp's oldest brother excels at everything. Therefore, his father is willing to send him to an academy run by wizards. He knows that the class in which Hahp starts with 10 other boys will have only one graduate. The intimation is that everyone else will die. Hahp's mother cares for him, but she tries to keep the peace and does anything she can to keep from angering his father. Celia, his family's cook, always treated Hahp well and made him feel safe, but he suspects that there is more between her and his father's relationship than they acknowledge. Hahp hates his father. When his parents leave him at the academy, they do not turn to wish him goodbye. The wizards mistreat the boys. Their actions cause Hahp and Gerrard, and probably the other boys, to violently hate their teachers. Hahp reaches the point where he doesn't care if he runs away or dies.



Other Belief Systems


The Eridians, a race of people, believe that the mind and what people work for belong to everyone.

There is a stone circle in the area where Sadima grows up that supposedly had people living there who could fly and do other magical things at one time. Magic is outlawed, so Sadima hides the fact that she can hear the thoughts of animals. She is able to return strength to a doe that has been injured and believes that if people were to understand the hearts of animals, they would be kinder as a race because animals are honest. Franklin is able to tell people's fortunes. Sadima sings the song of a long life over Franklin.

Hahp's father has purchased magic for everything about his business and home — good weather for his ships, good plumbing for his house, etc. In Hahp's day, magic is allowed for the upper class, and society allows magic to be taught in an academy of wizards. Wizards teach the boys to use their magic to move inside their minds and to conjure food. Those who can't create their own food eventually die. The boys becoming wizards watch their classmates slowly die of starvation and are forbidden to help them. They do not question the rules but let each other die. The boys are asked to meditate so that they can move their thoughts around their body. Anger is thought to be a good emotion to use to do this. Hahp finds peace after realizing that he wants to go home and kill his father. Hahp searches for a snake's thoughts throughout its body. When Hahp is able to tell the snake that he means the creature no harm, the snake responds and leaves him alone.



Profanity/Graphic Violence


Forms of crap, p--- and s--- are used often. Other words such as stupid, a--, manure, b--tard, and f---ing also appear, but not as often. Levin's roommate curses, but no words are mentioned. When Franklin asks the boys to move their thoughts throughout their bodies, Hahp finds it amusing that Franklin doesn't ask them to move thoughts to their private areas.

A paragraph describes the blood that is all around Sadima's mother's room after a magician is unable to save her mother's life at Sadima's birth. Sadima's brother kills a rat to save her, but she is angry with him because she was communicating with the animal. If Sadima says the wrong thing in her home, her father slaps her and then goes into a depressive state. Beggar children are hungry enough to kill Sadima if they notice she has food. Gypsies kidnap children to raise as slaves. A child's mouth is bleeding as he flees from Somiss. Sadima sees marks on Franklin's back as if he had been dragged across cobblestones. When Sadima strikes Franklin, he does not respond, and she realizes that he is used to this kind of treatment. Franklin realizes that he should have killed Somiss when they were kids, but he couldn't do it. If Somiss touches the boys in the cages, Sadima says she will kill Somiss. Somiss' apartment is set on fire. The carriage that Sadima and others are in tips as they try to escape an angry mob.

The shopkeepers' dogs, which were never fed enough, would be allowed to converge on the boardwalk and attack the beggars. Hahp's mother did not stick up for Hahp because she could tell that his father was about to go into one of his rages. After running on stones in bare feet, Hahp's feet are bloodied. Ants attack Hahp during one of his tests. Only Jux, a wizard, saves him. Food is withheld from the boys until they can perfectly recite magical songs.



Kissing/Sex/Homosexuality


Franklin and Sadima kiss quite a few times, but most are quick. While learning to quiet himself, Hahp learns that his mother's anger stems from his father's affairs with the cook and other pretty servants. Hahp says that sometimes he would touch himself, which implies masturbation. The boys who might become wizards must take a vow of celibacy.



Awards


Unknown



Discussion Topics


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

Note:
Sadima helps a doe birth four kids. The book tells about the placenta and how Sadima ties off an umbilical cord. Hahp mentions how his private parts rubs against the rough cloth he is wearing, and the author describes the boys urinating and squatting over a bedpan.

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.


Sky the Blue Fairy

A book review for parents

This fifth fantasy book in the "Rainbow Magic" series by Daisy Meadows is published by Scholastic, Inc.

Sky the Blue Fairy is written for kids ages 6 to 9. The age range reflects readability and not necessarily content appropriateness.

Plot Summary


As Rachel and Kristy vacation with their families on Rainspell Island, they discover a magical secret. Jack Frost, an evil villain, has cast a spell that has hidden the seven rainbow fairies of Fairyland on Rainspell Island. Until they're all found, Fairyland will remain colorless. Rachel and Kristy, having found four of the fairies in previous books, now save Sky the Blue Fairy from Jack Frost's goblins. Because Sky is weak, the girls return her to her sisters who perform a healing spell. The girls then set off to find the two remaining fairies before their vacation ends.



Christian Beliefs


None



Authority Roles


Kristy and Rachel are on the beach with their moms in the first few pages. Their mothers urge the girls to be careful on the slippery rocks. When the girls request a picnic lunch (largely to distract their moms so the girls can continue their fairy hunt), the mothers return to the cottage to prepare the meal. As they leave, they ask the girls to stay out of the water until they return. The narrator mentions the king and queen of Fairyland. Though they don't appear in this book, readers learn the king and queen gave the girls magic bags to help them battle Jack Frost.



Other Belief Systems


The books in this series revolve around fairies, spells, talking animals and a sorcerer named Jack Frost, who leads an army of mischievous goblins. When the fairy sisters successfully perform a healing spell on Sky, they cheer "Hooray for Rainbow Magic!" Readers also learn that Rachel is no longer afraid of the goblin creatures because she now has the fairy magic to help her fight them.



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.


Slam!

A book review for parents

This sports drama by Walter Dean Myers is published by Penguin Group and is written for kids ages 13 and up. The age range reflects readability and not necessarily content appropriateness.



Plot Summary


Few other black kids attend Latimer High, but Greg "Slam" Harris knows he can prove himself on the basketball court at his new school. The trouble is, the principal and teachers are getting on his case about his grades, and the coach won't start him because he doesn't like his attitude. Grades are the least of Slam's concerns, though; he's trying to woo Mtisha, help a friend who is dealing drugs and most of all, get the attention of NBA scouts. As Slam tries to make sense of his life, the assistant coach (Goldy) helps him realize that he must manage his behavior and attitude both on and off the court if he wants to succeed.



Christian Beliefs


Mtisha's mom and Slam's grandmother know each other because both attend Pilgrim Baptist. Goldy says that if you get the chance to do what you love in life, that's a special gift from God.



Authority Roles


Authority roles Slam's mom shows a lot of positive concern for her son and worries about his poor grades; she's the responsible, if not dominant, parent. Slam's dad drinks a lot when he's out of work, and he feels his manhood is being challenged when his wife encourages Slam to let another man tutor him. Slam's coach, principal and teachers give him a hard time, often because he's quick to fight back. Goldy frequently offers fatherly advice, urging Slam to demonstrate good character and think about his future by being "in the game" even off the court.



Other Belief Systems


None



Profanity/Graphic Violence


The word p---ed appears twice.



Kissing/Sex/Homosexuality


Slam makes out with a girl he's just met. He later admits he's thinking about having sex with Mtisha and hopes she's thinking about it, too. (In the end, we get the impression that she is.) Slam worries about "safe" sex and unexpected pregnancy. He briefly mentions someone who may have been "raped by other dudes" in prison. He also notes that a guy at a party is gay but no one messes with him because he's on the football team.



Awards


Coretta Scott King Award, 1997; ALA Best Book for Young Adults, 1997; and more.



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.


Snow Treasure

A book review for parents

This historical book by Marie McSwigan is published by Dutton Children's Books, a division of Penguin Young Readers Group and is written for kids ages 8 to 12. The age range reflects readability and not necessarily content appropriateness.



Plot Summary


To keep their country's gold from the Nazis, shortly after Hitler's forces had taken over Poland, the adults of Riswyk, Norway, hid it in a cave they made from snow and ice. But once the Nazis fully occupied their land, they had to rely on the children of Riswyk to carry the gold bullion bricks on their sleds to a hidden fjord where a camouflaged boat waited to take the gold to America. This book is based on a true story.

Peter Lundstrom leads the children of Riswyk, with the help of his sister, Lovisa, and friends Helga and Michael, to transport gold bullion bricks past Nazi soldiers and sentries. To do this, their parents create four teams. Two teams make sledding runs to the fjord every day. Their struggle is not just against the Germans, but time. The spring thaw is almost on them, which means the children will no longer be able to sled. They also find creative reasons why the children's school must remain closed, so the children will have time to finish the job.

At the end of six weeks, when the children are close to finishing their task, they feel they are being watched. Jan Lasek, a Pole in a Nazi uniform, discovers what they are doing. Jan is taken to the camouflaged ship, owned by Peter's Uncle Victor. Jan begs Uncle Victor to take him to America. The Nazis robbed Jan of his passport, killed his father and destroyed Poland. He was forced to join the German army because he knew Norwegian, and they needed a translator. While Uncle Victor holds Jan, deciding whether to trust him, the Nazis begin to search for him. Soon after, the Nazis come upon the last group of children, who are delivering gold to Uncle Victor's boat. To keep the Nazis from discovering the gold or the boat, Peter throws a snowball at the Commandant. The Commandant is furious and puts him in a cell in a Nazi barrack. Before Peter can be punished for his crime, Jan rescues him. Uncle Victor, Peter and Jan go to America with the gold.



Christian Beliefs


None



Authority Roles


The parents and adults of the children in this book play a major role in all the decisions made, and they protect the children as much as is humanly possible. When Peter's father leaves to fight against the Nazis, he asks Peter to be the man of the family. When any of the children come up against adult problems, such as finding Nazi spies, they go to trusted adults for direction and wisdom. At one point, Peter is amazed at how the adults of Riswyk have thought of everything. In this instance, he refers to the men who ski all over the town to hide the lone tracks of the children as they get the gold bricks and sled down the hill to a hidden fjord. The adults ask the children to take risks to keep the gold from Nazi hands, but the adults take more risks than the children. When Jan reveals that he has been spying on the children, Uncle Victor and a fellow sailor gag and tie Jan and take him away before most of the children even know he has found their secret. In the end, Uncle Victor does not want to sail to America with the gold if it means leaving Peter behind to suffer the consequences of a Nazi prisoner. He, Jan and others come up with a plan to rescue Peter.



Other Belief Systems


The Nazi Germans believe they are the superior race.

Profanity/Graphic Violence


When Jan tells about what the Nazis did to Poland, he mentions how his father was shot and his mother and siblings fled to Romania. When captured by the Nazis, Jan is thrown into a room and almost dies before he is forced into the infantry as a private. Peter's father leaves to fight in the Norwegian army. The Nazis invade the beach near Riswyk without a fight. When Uncle Victor and Rolls, a sailor, find Jan near Peter, they bind and gag him so he won't scare the children or tell the Germans what the children are doing.



Kissing/Sex/Homosexuality


None



Awards


Young Readers' Choice Award, 1945



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.


Sober Faith

A book review for parents

This second Christian-school-life book in the "Payton Skky" series by Stephanie Perry Moore is published by Moody Publishers.

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



Plot Summary


Payton Skky explains the challenges, choices and character-building experiences of her senior year in high school, which includes exposure to issues, such as alcohol and drug abuse, premarital sex and the consequences of lying. Her black, middle-class, Christian home and community environment provide a backdrop that reinforces the difference between what's right and wrong. Payton struggles with recognizing and sometimes giving in to her own curiosity and temptations while trying to stop judging her friends who don't share her commitment to Christian beliefs. Toward the end of the book and after a friend attempts suicide, Payton seeks spiritual counseling from a church youth group leader and chooses to be transparent with her friends and classmates. She admits that she is tempted just as they are, but she depends on God to help her every day.



Christian Beliefs


Payton, her family, boyfriend and friends are Christians. Payton's boyfriend, Tad, is more mature in his Christian walk than Payton, and Payton is more committed to her walk than her girlfriends. Her family prays at mealtimes, and she frequently asks God for direction. When a friend attempts suicide, Payton and her other friends pray. The friend survives. Payton describes an initial anger with God, but her surviving friend points out that God did help her, and they give God the credit when the friend walks again after being temporarily paralyzed. Payton's boyfriend introduces the concept of discipleship, and Payton seeks spiritual counseling from a church youth group leader. At her class baccalaureate, Payton is asked by her pastor to speak to her classmates. She encourages them to depend on God completely.



Authority Roles


Payton's parents remind her of their expectations and discipline her when she behaves inappropriately. At the beginning of the book, Payton allows her friends to have a party at her home without her parents present. Her friends drink liquor and trash the house. Payton's parents express their disappointment, remind her of house rules, ban her from seeing her boyfriend, take her cell phone and ground her. The high school teachers and administrators are fair at school. When Payton visits her boyfriend's school, an administrator recognizes that she is not a student at the school and explains that she has to leave the campus.



Other Belief Systems


None



Profanity/Graphic Violence


None



Kissing/Sex/Homosexuality


Several opportunities for and references to heavy petting and the possibility of premarital sex are described in the book. At the party at Payton's house, two of her friends are found on her parents' bed in a compromising position but with their clothes still on. At a spring break beach party, the boyfriend of one of Payton's friends starts kissing another girl and says he needs to get his groove on.



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.


So Not Happening

A book review for parents

This contemporary Christian mystery in the "Charmed Life" series by Jenny B. Jones is published by Thomas Nelson Publishers and is written for teens ages 13 to 18. The age range reflects readability and not necessarily content appropriateness.



Plot Summary


Bella Kirkwood isn't thrilled about her mother's remarriage to Jacob Finley, especially because it means she has to leave behind her glamorous life in New York City and move to a farm in Truman, Okla. Between dealing with her two annoying stepbrothers and adjusting to a new school, Bella is convinced that life couldn't get worse. Then, her classmates discover her blog — and the horrible things she has written about Truman High. In an instant, her reputation is ruined. Determined to prove she isn't the spoiled brat everyone thinks she is, she joins the school newspaper where she meets Luke Sullivan, the attractive but cynical editor. While completing her first assignment — an investigative piece about school trash — Bella overhears some football players referring to a group called The Brotherhood. With the help of Brotherhood member Jared Campbell, Bella seeks information about their fraternity and secret parties. Along the way, she discovers that the football team has lost two of their most valuable players to dangerous initiation ceremonies. Zachary Epps, a star player, lies in a coma after a horrible car accident. Carson Penturf is assumed to have committed suicide. Bella intends to unveil the truth. After she witnesses a horrible initiation ceremony involving her friend Matt Sparks, a house fire threatens the lives of herself and her younger brother, Robbie. Later, Jared betrays her with false promises of more information and takes her to an empty lake house. Desperate to keep the truth hidden, he points a loaded gun at her and forces her to overdose on prescription pills. Luke finds Bella unconscious with a bullet in her shoulder. Bella recovers from her injuries, and through the publication of her story, the suspects are brought to justice.



Christian Beliefs


Bella claims to be a Christian; she does admit several times that her relationship with Christ has waned significantly. This distance is obvious in her choices. She attends parties and dance clubs and frequently mouths off to her friends and family members. To her credit, Bella does attend church and a few meetings of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes at her school. She also prays regularly, but most often in moments of personal crisis. Bella's mother and Jacob reveal that they prayed for quite a while about their relationship before making the decision to get married. Also, they try to instill godly behaviors in their kids, but their frequent absences due to work schedules make it difficult.



Authority Roles


Bella's parents have gone through a bitter divorce. She is uprooted and forced to settle in Oklahoma with her stepfather's family. Bella's mother takes a job as a waitress at Sugar's Diner and spends less time at home with her daughter. Jacob, her stepfather, is employed as a factory worker but keeps his after-hours career as a wrestler a secret from his family. After Bella discovers who he really is, Bella has a hard time respecting Jacob. Bella's workaholic parents do make the occasional effort to discipline ungodly behavior. For example, Jacob intervenes when an argument between Bella and her stepbrother Budge gets out of control, and Bella's mother grounds her when she stays out past curfew. Back in New York, her father, Kevin Kirkwood, is a plastic surgeon and television personality. During his daughter's brief visits, he proves to be an inattentive father, preferring to give his daughter free rein of his credit card rather than his time. Bella makes it clear that she craves her father's attention, but he fails to acknowledge her plea. On the school front, the football coaches, especially Coach Dallas, treat the players with disrespect. In fact, Coach Dallas is later revealed to be the driving force behind the initiation ceremony that claims the life of one player and destroys the life of another.



Other Belief Systems


Buddha is mentioned, but only as a decoration for a restaurant specializing in Eastern cuisine.



Profanity/Graphic Violence


No vulgar profanity is present, but language that belittles others is used frequently, such as mutants, idiot, dork, jerk, loser and brat. Sexually demeaning terms, such as skank, perv and boob, also appear in the novel. The phrase oh my gosh appears as a mild substitute for taking the Lord's name in vain. There are several arguments between Bella and Luke (school paper editor) and Bella and Budge (stepbrother), and they engage in unkind verbal banter. Other offensive terms include words such as turds and crap.

When it comes to graphic violence, there are three particularly frightening scenes. In the first, Bella stumbles on an initiation ceremony involving The Brotherhood and her friend Matt Sparks. Two of the group's leaders, Dante and Adam, have tied one end of a bungee cord to Matt's ankles and the other to the train trestle. Matt plays chicken with the oncoming train before leaping off the bridge at the last moment. In a later scene, Bella is at home watching her youngest stepbrother, Robbie, when the house goes up in flames. Bella carries Robbie out an upstairs window and into the branches of a tree. After she loses her balance, the two of them fall to the ground but live. Last, in the book's final conflict, Jared takes Bella to a vacant lake cabin and confronts her about her investigation. She realizes that he was responsible for the fire and was also involved with Carson's death and Zachary's life-threatening accident. In a desperate effort to keep the truth concealed, he aims a loaded handgun at her, forces her to overdose on a cocktail of pills from the medicine cabinet and makes her write a suicide letter that he intends to place beside her dead body. When she protests, he slaps her across the face. Fortunately, Luke arrives to help her, but not before Bella sustains a gunshot wound to the shoulder and falls into drug-induced unconsciousness.



Kissing/Sex/Homosexuality


At the start of the book, Bella refers to one of her father's previous girlfriends as a stripper. In one instance, she describes her boyfriend, Hunter, as her "tower of studliness." After several weeks apart, she and Hunter meet up in a New York club and share a long kiss. Later, after Bella discovers Jacob's secret passion for wrestling, she tells her mother that she found him "with his legs wrapped around another man." She makes frequent remarks about men in tight pants — football players and Jacob's wrestling buddies. She also imagines The Brotherhood as guys in tight pants who slap each other on the backside. Bella tells Jared that she has no intention of entering a relationship with him and doesn't want to "get horizontal on the couch" with him. Bella later encounters Jared wearing nothing but a towel. When caught snooping, Luke and Bella hide their faces by engaging in a deep and lengthy kiss in his car. In a trip back home to New York, Bella catches Hunter cheating on her and making out with her friend Mia. Also, Bella's friend Lindy mentions that a contestant in the Miss Truman pageant of 2007 was a transvestite.



Awards


Unknown



Discussion Topics


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


Note:
So Not Happening includes several scenes at parties and clubs where alcohol flows freely. Coach Dallas wears a tattoo on his upper arm.

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.


Stargirl

A book review for parents

This romantic, slice-of-life book is not in a series but it does have a sequel. Written by Jerry Spinelli, Stargirl is published by Knopf Books, a division of Random House, Inc., and written for kids ages 10 and up. The age range reflects readability and not necessarily content appropriateness.



Plot Summary


No one knows how to react to the new girl at Mica High. She wears long pioneer dresses, sings to people in the cafeteria and calls herself Stargirl. The students are stunned at first, then enamored by the passionate young lady who leads cheers for their mediocre sports teams and brings about a revival of school spirit. Leo, the story's shy narrator, finds himself attracted to her, and she returns his affection. But when Stargirl starts cheering not only for her school's team, but also for the other teams during a game — and the school's sports team starts losing — everyone turns on Stargirl. At Leo's suggestion, Stargirl tries to become more like everyone else so she can fit in better. In doing so, Stargirl begins to surrender everything that made her special and unique.



Christian Beliefs


When Leo tells his mentor, Archie, (see "Authority roles") that the kids at school are ignoring him and Stargirl, Archie mentions the Amish practice of "shunning." He explains that sometimes someone who sins is excommunicated from the church and completely ignored by the whole community until he repents.



Authority Roles


Archibald "Archie" Brubaker is a former paleontologist and teacher, who still offers makeshift classes on Saturdays to interested local kids. While he demonstrates genuine friendship and concern for Leo and his other students, he also has peculiar and/or negative beliefs and habits. He smokes, talks to the cactus in his backyard and shares his mystical/evolution-based views with his students. Leo describes Stargirl's parent as "normal" (as opposed to their daughter). They support and praise her and don't seem particularly surprised when she succeeds in the speech competition. Mr. McShane is a good-natured teacher who drives Stargirl and Leo to the speech contest and stays to support his student.



Other Belief Systems


Stargirl meditates in her "enchanted" place in the desert. She tells Leo that she tries to "erase herself" so she can feel the earth and universe speaking to her without her own senses getting in the way. Stargirl has a vision that she's going to win the speech contest (which she does). Archie shares his humanistic theories with Leo and later claims people originally came from stars.



Profanity/Graphic Violence


The word crap appears once or twice.



Kissing/Sex/Homosexuality


After Stargirl kisses Leo, he says, "That was no saint kissing me." The text specifically notes that Leo and Stargirl have separate rooms while they're staying at a hotel for Stargirl's speech contest. After a mean classmate slaps Stargirl, she kisses the bully on the cheek.



Awards


ALA Top 10 Best Books for Young Adults, 2001; a Publishers Weekly Best Book, 2000; and more.



Discussion Topics


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

Note:
There are Stargirl Societies (clubs) in schools across the nation. Members are encouraged to develop their creativity and demonstrate secret random acts of kindness.


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.


Starlighter

A book review for parents

This fantasy adventure book is the first in the "Dragons of Starlight" series by Bryan Davis and is published by Zondervan.

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



Plot Summary


Jason, 16, and Koren, 15, live on separate planets. About halfway through the book their lives intersect.

There is a legend on Jason's planet that many years ago a dragon kidnapped a group of people and took them through a portal to a dragon-ruled planet where they became slaves. Jason's older brother, Adrian, leaves to find the portal. Jason replaces him as the governor's bodyguard. When the governor is murdered and Jason is falsely accused, he sets off to find the portal. Elyssa, who is a friend with special gifts, goes with him, along with Tibalt, who is the son of an escaped slave, and Randall, who is a warrior.

A ghost, known as a snatcher, warns Jason and the others against crossing a field of flowers. The group ignores the warning. The flowers' odor induces sleep, but before their poison can take effect, Jason and Elyssa fall into a deep pit and land in an underground river. Carried along on the icy waters, they reach the portal. They can't open the stone wall, but Jason, by placing his fingers in special holes in the wall, can reverse the flow of the river. Deducing that Tibalt may have the ability to open the portal, Elyssa goes back for him. As Jason stands at the portal, he stares at an oval-shaped, glassy area on the wall. He sees Koren, a slave on the dragon planet.

Koren possesses an unusual gift for storytelling. Using her gift, she hypnotizes the dragon on watch and gains entrance to the dragons' administrative building. She searches for information that will help a fellow slave, Natalla. The watch dragon regains his senses and hunts for her, intending to turn her to ashes. Arxad, another dragon, intervenes. When Arxad learns that Koren's storytelling hypnotized the watch dragon, he tests her. The test reveals her extraordinary abilities. The dragons call people with these abilities starlighters.

The unexpected appearance of Magnar, the chief dragon, prevents Arxad from taking Koren to safety in the Northlands. Accompanied by Magnar, Arxad takes Koren to the black egg. (Dragon prophecy says that when the dragon prince within the egg comes into power, he will bring a time of bliss and end the dragons' dependence on the despised humans.) Koren is tested again and unlike the dragons, she is able to communicate directly with the unborn prince. She will now be his slave and his spokesperson.

Looking into the egg, Koren sees Jason standing at the portal. He sees her. They converse by reading lips. The river rises around Jason.

The water engulfs him. Elyssa returns with Tibalt and resuscitates Jason. Tibalt opens the portal. Jason and Elyssa find themselves in a mine. After watching a dragon whip one of the miners, a small child, Jason rashly kills the dragon. Other dragons arrive to punish the miners. Jason and Randall attempt to kill or drive off these dragons.

In town, Natalla is put on trial for trying to escape. When the dragons find her guilty, Koren interrupts the proceedings. She hypnotizes the dragons with a story about an endangered young man (Jason) who reveres the black egg. The dragons agree she and Natalla should leave immediately to rescue Jason. Arxad flies the girls to a safe place and tells them to run away while he confronts the hostile dragon accompanying them. The girls come upon the mine where Jason and Elyssa are.

The dragons, which now include Magnar, begin to flood the mine. Koren surrenders herself to the dragons in exchange for the lives of the people in the mine. The dragons transport her and Jason back to the town.

Magnar, recognizing that Jason comes from the other planet, demands that Jason give him a missing peg that would open the portal. Jason doesn't have it. Magnar threatens to turn Jason to ashes unless Koren tells the story of Uriel's escape and the missing peg. Jason frees Koren from most of her bonds. She manages to reach the black egg and threatens to destroy it. Koren agrees to let Arxad take her and Jason to a place of safety where she will give the egg to Arxad.

Meanwhile Elyssa stops the flooding and finds the hidden peg. As she attempts to open the portal, bees pour into the mine. Allender, the foreman, makes himself the bees' target and then rushes from the mine, declaring that everyone else is dead. The dragons turn him and the bees to ashes. The portal opens, and the slaves under Randall's leadership flee to the other world. Elyssa stays behind saying that she will look for Jason.

Koren and Jason return to the deserted mine and then start a journey to the Northlands where they hope to find help to free more of the slaves.



Christian Beliefs


The novel draws on Christian symbols and principles, but there is not a Christ-like figure.

The slaves on the planet Starlight have sacred teachings, the Code, that tell them how to live. The slaves pass a book of these teachings around, memorize passages of it and try to live by the teachings. This same book has been almost destroyed on Jason's planet. Only parts of it remain.

The Code teaches that love is demonstrated through self-sacrifice. Jason, Elyssa, Koren and other human beings risk their lives to help or protect others. A number of people on Jason's planet and the slaves on the dragon planet believe in a supreme being who created everything. Koren and other slaves pray. They see the Creator as a father, guide, holy being and the source of wisdom and courage. Elyssa and Koren have faith in the omniscience and in the loving provision of the Creator. Koren and other slaves believe in an afterlife.

Elyssa and Koren are referred to as prophets. The Creator gave them these gifts. However, their prophetic gifts are not portrayed in the way Christians usually define prophecy. Elyssa is hypersensitive to her surroundings and can detect subtle differences in the air, etc. She can read Jason's mind and know what he will be thinking. Koren's storytelling enables her listeners to view the people and events she is describing. The experience is hypnotic for the dragons, and after listening to her, they temporarily submit to her point of view. She also can converse with the unborn prince within the black egg. Placing her hands on a large oval-shaped crystal, she is able to foretell the future and relate the past.

Koren believes that love happens only when a person is free to choose to love. The unborn dragon prince tries to convince her that choice and freedom are unnecessary. A relationship can be forced on another. Koren refuses to accept that. She believes such a relationship would empty a person of his soul.

Koren and Natalla struggle with regrets about some choices they have made. They know that forgiveness would bring relief but they are unable to receive it.



Authority Roles


Jason lives in a stringently classed society. The government policies are overly restrictive. The peasants are poor, demeaned and denied many opportunities. They work hard, doing mostly manual labor. The wealthy, noble classes benefit from the peasants' efforts.

Jason comes from the peasant class. His parents believe in the Creator and are loving, humble and hardworking people. They believe in the stories about the enslaved peoples and are willing to let a second son, Adrian, try to rescue them.

Adrian is an admirable man — prudent, respectful, compassionate and skillful. He counsels Jason to think through problems and not just react emotionally. Adrian models respect for authority even when a person disagrees with that authority's policies. Jason looks up to Adrian and states that in some matters Adrian has had a greater influence on him than their father. Adrian's compassion for the slaves on the dragon planet motivates him to leave his respected position as the governor's bodyguard and search for the portal. Though an excellent warrior, Adrian does not flaunt his skills. He diligently trains Jason, and he avoids competing with the governor's other staff members.

He is a sharp contrast to Drexel, one of the palace guards. Devious and ambitious, Drexel orders the governor's murder and frames Jason. Drexel conspires to have Jason and Randall, the governor's heir, killed. He plans to become the new governor.

Uriel Blackstone is a legendary figure. He is one of the human beings Magnar captured years ago. Uriel refused to be enslaved. On the day he escaped, he courageously hid one of the pegs so the dragons could not open the portal. On his own planet, he told government officials what had happened to the missing people. The officials refused to believe him. Their rejection didn't stop him, and he told his story to his countrymen. He was tried and sent to prison. He did not give up in prison, but wrote down his story and his prophecies. Officials later sent him to a mental institution where he died. A number of his countrymen formed a secret group that continues to circulate his story and look for the portal.

Prescott, the country's governor, is a dictator. He is vain, corrupt and deceitful. He knows the dragon planet is not a myth but suppresses the truth. He is greedy for the dragons' riches and has secret business dealings with the dragons. (Prescott is in contact with Arxad, but the author does not show how these contacts take place. The dragons and Prescott do not use the portal.) Only pieces of a sacred book remain because Prescott's men burned existing copies. He imprisons Elyssa because she found information in his room about the dragon planet. He makes her disappearance look as if a mountain bear had kidnapped her.

Orion, the head priest on the human's planet, wants to capture Elyssa and execute her because of her gifts. He sees her as a witch.

In contrast Arxad, a dragon and an important priest on the dragon planet, recognizes Koren's gift and risks his reputation and life to protect her. Though the truth about the slaves' history (the human beings were not brought to the dragon planet for their safety, but were stolen to do hard labor for the dragons) goes against everything he has been taught, he accepts it when Koren reveals it. He is compassionate to humans and defends Natalla before the dragon council to the best of his ability. He helps Koren and Natalla escape, and he kills another dragon that wants to harm them. However, he deceives Magnar about the murder. He sagely sees a way to free Koren and Jason and still protect the black egg.

Magnar, the chief dragon, stole the humans from their planet and forced them into slavery. He lied to the other dragons and created a myth that he had rescued the humans. He is cruel and harsh in his dealings with humans. He orders the other dragons to kill all the miners despite the bargain he made with Koren to let them live. Magnar is scornful of the priests and their prophecies.

The unborn prince in the black egg is not trustworthy. He twists virtue and evil as he tries to manipulate Koren to do his will.



Other Belief Systems


The Creator has given green-eyed people special gifts. The dragons believe that redheads have special powers.

The dragons study the stars and the planets in a building called the Zodiac. It is not stated what they gain from their study. However, the Zodiac is the building where they perform religious rites.

Objects shaped like ovals or spheres have special properties including the power to reveal things outside the physical arena. When Arxad tests Koren to assess whether she is a starlighter, he has her place her hands on a crystal sphere. In her mind she is drawn up to the stars. She then relates events from the past and foretells the future.

Ghosts appear as both good and evil. A ghost, known as a snatcher, warns Jason and the others against crossing a field of flowers. Other ghostly figures harass people.



Profanity/Graphic Violence


A palace guard is described as fighting dirty, trying to strike Jason below the belt (the word groin is used).

This adventure novel has numerous scenes of peril and combat, however there are several levels of intensity. Some scenes contain elements that merely add tension such as the scurrying of rats in a dark dungeon, the presence of a potentially explosive gas, the harassment of ghostly figures and the cold-heartedness of the keeper of the black egg.

Though many of the acts of violence toward the slaves on Starlight are not described in detail, there are numerous mentions of the dragons' cruelty. For example, slaves are sold at auction; a young girl's tongue is cut out; a man who can no longer work is starved to death; small children are starved and forced to live in pens; other small children must do hard labor in the mines.

Some violent scenes in the story are not depicted, but characters relate them in detail. Lattimer, wanting to warn Koren, tells her how a former starlighter was tortured to death. Arxad tells Magnar how he killed another dragon. Randall hints that the dragons ate the remains of the roasted Allender.

In other scenes, the violence is less explicit. For example, the first swordfight in the novel is a contest that tests and exhibits the skills of the swordsmen. It ends with a slight wounding. The second swordfight begins as a serious encounter, but there is no bloodletting. It is merely the governor's test of Jason's skills as a bodyguard. The governor is murdered while he sleeps in his bed, but the murder is not described. Jason only discovers the governor is dead when he crawls out from underneath the governor's bed and sees the knife in his chest and the blood.

The combat scenes following Jason's escape from the dungeon are short. The fighting between Jason and the palace guards is fierce, but no one dies. Elyssa joins the fight, hitting one of the guards on the back of the head with a stout branch. Later, a guard betrays Randall and shoots him in the back. He is wounded, but not seriously.

Other scenes of peril and violence are high drama. Jason is struck by lightning during a freak storm. Elyssa and Jason, swept into the currents of an icy underground river, find themselves on the verge of hypothermia. Several times characters nearly drown: Randall and Jason in the rain-swollen creek, Elyssa as she returns with Tibalt to the portal, and Elyssa as she attempts to stop the flooding in the mine. Elyssa and Tibalt find Jason with no pulse, perform CPR and revive him.

A man-eating bear breaks into the cabin intending to devour Jason, Randall, Elyssa and Tibalt. The boys try to fight it off. Elyssa stops the bear when she throws an axe at its back. The bear doesn't die. A dragon whips a small child, and Jason slays the dragon. Jason and Randall attempt to kill or drive off other dragons. The dragons force angry bees into the mining tunnels, hoping the bees with their deadly stings will kill the hiding slaves or drive them from the mine. One miner, protecting another, draws the angry swarm to himself. He then runs from the mine where the waiting dragons unleash their fire on him.

Magnar threatens to burn Koren and Jason. He bloodies them and tortures them with a device that converts and amplifies his fiery breath into searing heat rays.



Kissing/Sex/Homosexuality


Jason says his brother has taught him to show women respect and honor. Elyssa sleeps next to Jason in the cabin. Elyssa wraps her arms and legs around Jason in a nonromantic way when they are in the icy waters of the underground river. She does this so they will keep each other warm and not die from hypothermia. Elyssa blows kisses to Jason and Randall. The kisses are viewed as signs of friendship. She kisses Jason on the cheek, but it seems to be a sign of gratitude and friendship. Randall kisses Elyssa's hand in farewell. Koren takes Jason hand and he takes hers. It is a sign of their agreement to work together.

Elyssa thinks the dragons may be arranging marriages for their human slaves in order to breed fitter slaves. There is an allusion to Koren's mother being used by the dragons as a breeder.



Awards


Unknown



Discussion Topics


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

Note:
As well as discussing biblical tenets, the novel contains teaching about what it is to be a warrior — to be tough and don't quit — and teaching about what it is to be a man — to learn to deal with difficult people.


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.


Stealing Bradford

A book review for parents

This teen chick-lit book is the second in the "Carter House Girls" series by Wendy Lawton and is published by Zondervan.

Stealing Bradford is written for kids ages 13 to 16. The age range reflects readability and not necessarily content appropriateness.



Plot Summary


The "Carter House Girls" series centers on a boarding house run by a former supermodel, Mrs. Carter. The house is home to teen girls who are interested in fashion and modeling. Among the residents is DJ, Mrs. Carter's granddaughter. As a new Christian, DJ struggles with finding her identity in Christ, understanding what it really means to be a Christian and why so many Christians do un-Christian things, and making biblically based decisions.

Another girl in the house, Rhiannon, loses her boyfriend, Bradford. He breaks up with her so he can date a different Carter House girl, Taylor. This sends the house in an uproar. Because Rhiannon and Taylor are roommates, DJ offers to trade rooms with Rhiannon. Although Taylor and DJ do not get along, DJ begins to sympathize with her former nemesis.

Doctored Internet photos of Taylor devastate her and prompt Taylor to run away. Meanwhile, the other girls at Carter House realize how much they actually care about Taylor and do something they have never done together — pray for her safe return.



Christian Beliefs


DJ is open about her new decision to follow Christ, and she and her friend Rhiannon discuss matters of faith. Rhiannon teaches DJ that the purpose of prayer is not to tell God what to do, but to get closer to Him. DJ takes a Bible that once belonged to her mother and begins to read and apply what she has read. DJ prays frequently, and she is surprised at how praying changes the way she sees things. DJ encourages the girls of Carter House to gather together in prayer for Taylor, and she is moved by how prayer bonds the girls together. DJ also begins visiting a youth group and a church with Rhiannon, and DJ even asks her boyfriend Connor if he would join her.

DJ learns that being a Christian does not make a person perfect, and knowledge of the faith is more complicated than she thought. Her boyfriend Connor identifies himself as a Christian, but no longer attends church because his family's pastor had an affair. Casey, the outcast of the Carter House girls, has been reared in a Christian home, yet posts scandalous, doctored photos of Taylor online.

Taylor knows a lot of Bible verses, but does not live according to them. DJ sees that there is more to being a Christian than saying a prayer and reading the Bible.



Authority Roles


The main authority figure in the book is Mrs. Carter, who runs the boarding house. Mrs. Carter is tied to her schedule of naps and dating "the general" than she is to the girls' lives. However, she does clearly state her expectations of their behavior, curfew and other boundaries. The girls have a moderate respect for the rules of the house, but Taylor does not feel guilty about breaking curfew. More importantly, Mrs. Carter offers the girls no closeness or mentorship to go with her rules.



Other Belief Systems


None



Profanity/Graphic Violence


The words crap and h---hole are used.



Kissing/Sex/Homosexuality


Taylor and Bradford are caught in the back room of his mother's art museum. Some of the girls say they were "doing it," but Taylor insists it was just a heavy make-out session. She adds that if they had not been interrupted, it might have gone farther, although she did not think having sex in the back room of a museum would have been a good idea. She later tells DJ that she wants a boyfriend who is interested in her mind, not just interested in her for sex. There is a brief scene where Taylor is in her bra in front of DJ, and DJ wonders if Taylor has implants beneath her lacy bra.

The kids at school believe that the girls P.E. coach is a lesbian and make jokes — using the word dyke — about it. DJ is teased because the coach likes her, and other girls claim that the coach stares at them and that they are uncomfortable in the showers. Similarly, when DJ hugs Casey at school, others call them lesbians and dykes.

Casey posts altered photos online that look like Taylor is making out and being provocative with other girls. She then makes this information public for the whole school to talk about the pictures. There is a brief conversation about whether Taylor is bisexual.



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.


Stone Fox

A book review for parents

This animal adventure by John Reynolds Gardiner is published by Harper Trophy, an imprint of Harper Publishers and is written for kids ages 7 to 11. The age range reflects readability and not necessarily content appropriateness.



Plot Summary


Willy's grandfather becomes severely depressed and incapacitated. Willy tries to save their potato farm. In an effort to win $500, he enters a local sled-dog race with his canine companion Searchlight. He stands little chance against a disgruntled American Indian known as Stone Fox. The Indian and his team of Samoyeds have never lost a race — but Willy refuses to give up.



Christian Beliefs


The old church in the center of town simply serves as a landmark for Willy as he races.



Authority Roles


Willy's grandfather has raised him with wisdom, discipline and manners. (Willy's parents are not around.) However, during Grandfather's illness, Willy assumes the authority role by caring for Grandfather and their farm. Adults in town offer help, too. Willy, mostly, is respectful to them, though he does lie to protect Stone Fox when they ask Willy how he got hurt.



Other Belief Systems


Willy adopts his grandfather's philosophy that "there are some things in this world worth dying for." This refers to his country, nature and animals.



Profanity/Graphic Violence


The doctor uses the word darn.



Kissing/Sex/Homosexuality


None



Awards


Publishers Weekly No.72 top-selling paperbacks, Southern California Council on Literature for Children and Young People Award, The New York Times Outstanding Book of the Year



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.


Stormbreaker

A book review for parents

This action-adventure book is the first in the "Alex Rider" series by Anthony Horowitz and is published by Speak Books, an imprint of the Penguin Group.

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



Plot Summary


Ian Rider was a cautious man. So when he dies in a crash without wearing his seatbelt, his nephew, Alex, suspects foul play. Alex wonders why someone would murder a banker — then he discovers clues that convince him his long-time guardian was not the man he claimed to be.

When Ian's "bank" calls Alex to discuss the will, the 14-year-old sneaks into his uncle's old office and finds suspicious files. Security guards shoot him with a tranquilizer gun, and Alex wakes up in a posh house where he's escorted to dinner with Ian's former employers, Mr. Blunt and Mrs. Jones. They tell him they're executives for the British intelligence agency known as MI6 and that Ian was one of their agents. Ian was investigating a billionaire inventor named Herod Sayle, and they want Alex to help them finish the mission. They threaten to send Alex to an institution if he refuses. Alex reluctantly agrees to work for them and receives a two-week crash course in MI6 operations training.

Alex poses as a boy genius, and Sayle invites him to test out his new, state-of-the-art computer system, Stormbreaker. Sayle's seemingly altruistic plan — to give Stormbreakers to every secondary school in England — has aroused the suspicion of the MI6. Just before the crash, Ian had sent an urgent message to Blunt insisting that the Stormbreakers not leave the plant.

Alex visits Sayle's estate, meeting the small but menacing inventor, his butler, Mr. Grin (whose face was deformed in a circus knife throwing accident), and Sayle's enormous jellyfish. When he's not testing the Stormbreaker, Alex sneaks around the factory buildings and follows clues left by Ian. A makeshift map leads him to a series of underground tunnels, and he discovers a lab where Sayle's workers are inserting biological weapons into each computer.

When Sayle realizes Alex has discovered his secret, he explains that the British prime minister bullied him when they were kids. He plans to avenge himself when the nation's unsuspecting leader accepts the Stormbreakers (already distributed throughout the country). The prime minister will press a button, thinking he's activating the computer network, when he'll actually be releasing Sayle's genetically altered smallpox virus, which will kill thousands of children.

Sayle orders his people to get rid of Alex, while Sayle heads to the ceremony. Alex is released into the enormous tank with the killer jellyfish and uses special MI6 tools to break the tank open in the nick of time. He hides out on a plane and gets to the ceremony just before the virus is released. Sayle tries to escape by using Alex as a human shield, but Yassen Gregorovich (Sayle's Russian business contact who killed Ian) saves Alex's life before escaping by helicopter.



Christian Beliefs


A vicar who attends Ian's funeral seems disappointed that Alex refuses to cry.



Authority Roles


Ian was a solitary man with no girlfriends. He enjoyed fine wine, classical music and books. Never one to give lectures, he let Alex make up his own mind about things. He lied to Alex for years about his career and the reasons for his extensive travel, and he trained his nephew in climbing, martial arts and other skills so Alex could take over his work. Mrs. Jones and Blunt doubt that Alex can complete his mission, but they still send him to gather information with little concern for his survival. Sayle uses his wealth, power and influence to exact revenge, despite the fact that it means killing thousands. Alex operates as a grown-up in a world full of violent adults.



Other Belief Systems


When Alex is able to get back to his room with no one catching him, he feels as though his luck is holding out.



Profanity/Graphic Violence


Alex curses about his circumstances, though no swear words are seen in the text at that point. H--- appears several times, sometimes as a curse word but more often to describe something horrific. The word d--n is also found a time or two. When Sayle says his jellyfish reminds him of himself, Alex asks if it's because jellyfish have no brain, no guts and no anus. The book contains several disturbing descriptions, including that of the tongueless Mr. Grin whose mouth was deformed in a knife-throwing accident, a man crashing his motorcycle into an electric fence and an account of Sayle's jellyfish wrapping itself around and killing Sayle's assistant. Alex is involved with shootings, fiery car crashes and plane explosions. Russian assassin Gregorovich kills people without thought. He urges Alex to get out of the spy business and go back to school, because killing is for adults.



Kissing/Sex/Homosexuality


None



Awards


"The Alex Rider Series," New York Times Bestseller, 2010



Discussion Topics


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

Note:
A movie based on this book, titled Alex Rider: Operation Stormbreaker, was released in 2006 in the UK.

Smoking: A few minor characters, including the sergeant and Alex's fellow trainees, smoke cigarettes.

Alcohol: Blunt, Mrs. Jones and Sayle drink red wine with dinner.

Nudity: In Sayle's house, Alex sees a semi-nude sculpture that looks like Sayle and a statue of a naked Greek goddess.

Lying: Alex realizes everything Ian told him about his (Ian's) life was a lie. Alex lies to his sergeant during training to protect one of his teammates and about his identity in his efforts to infiltrate Sayle's operation.


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 Subtle Knife

A book review for parents

This second science fiction/fantasy book in the "His Dark Materials" series by Philip Pullman is published by Knopf Books for Young Readers, an imprint of Random House Children's Books.

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



Plot Summary


The second book in Philip Pullman's "His Dark Materials" trilogy continues Lyra's story and introduces us to the series' other main protagonist, Will Parry. Will, like Lyra, is a headstrong 12-year-old who hails from a different world than Lyra: Late 20th-century Earth (i.e., our own world). While trying desperately to take care of his mentally ill mother and solve the mystery of his father's disappearance 10 years before, Will stumbles into a portal to another world — the very world that Lyra entered herself at the end of The Golden Compass. It's not long before they find one another and begin to develop a friendship as fellow strangers in a strange land. They learn that the world is populated primarily by children because most of the adults have been attacked and driven away by soul-eating wraiths known as Specters. The plot turns around Will's discovery of the subtle knife, an implement of immense capability that allows him to cut portals between the myriad of alternate realities that exist simultaneously. And, it turns out, it's a weapon that could be the deciding factor in the coming war that Lord Asriel is planning against the God-like figure known as the Authority. Subtle knife in hand, Will and Lyra try to stay one step ahead of Church forces that are pursuing them, led by the wicked Mrs. Coulter — even as they continue to try to sort out the mystery of Dust and what role they have to play in the coming conflict. Most of the supporting cast that readers met in the first book returns, and this time several important angel characters are introduced. Another significant new character is Mary Malone, an ex-nun turned physicist from Will's world.



Christian Beliefs


This volume begins to criticize more explicitly both the Church's practices and its beliefs. Mrs. Coulter brags about the Church's long experience with torture: "Oh, there is more suffering to come. We have a thousand years of experience in this Church of ours. We can draw out your suffering endlessly." Lord Asriel's longtime servant says of his master, "Lord Asriel has never found hisself at ease with the doctrines of the Church, so to speak. I've seen a spasm of disgust cross his face when they talk of the sacraments, and atonement, and redemption, and suchlike." Given such sentiments, it's not a shock when readers learn that Lord Asriel is planning a rebellion against the Authority himself. "He's a-going to find the Authority and kill Him," says Asreil's servant. Finally, the same character introduces readers to the Church's idea of angels. "[Angels are] beings of pure spirit, the Church says. The Church teaches that some of the angels rebelled before the world was created, and got flung out of heaven and into hell." With the help of those very same angels, as well as many other creatures from various worlds, Lord Asriel begins to assemble an army to challenge the Authority again. Angels are described as incredibly ancient, awe-inspiring and naked spirit beings. "Each angel was distinctly an individual. ... What they shared was a shimmering, darting play of intelligence and feeling that seemed to sweep over them all simultaneously. They were naked, but she felt naked in front of their glance, it was so piercing and went so deep." A witch delivers a scathing commentary on what the Church means to her. "I know whom we must fight. It is the Magisterium, the Church. For all its history — and that's not long by our lives, but it's man of theirs — it's tried to suppress and control every natural impulse. And when it can't control them, it cuts them out. ... Sisters, you know only the north; I have traveled in the south lands. There are churches there, believe me, that cut their children too, as the people of Bolvangar did — not in the same way, but just as horribly. They cut their sexual organs out, yes, both boys and girls; they cut them with knives so that they shant feel. That is what the Church does, and every church is the same: control, destroy, obliterate every good feeling. So if war comes, and the Church is on one side of it, we must be on the other." Near the end, it's revealed that Lyra is a second Eve, and that she will have to undergo a temptation that will have ramifications for all of creation.



Authority Roles


More so than The Golden Compass, Lyra and Will are mostly on their own in this story as they explore a world that's not their own. Mary Malone and Lyra form a friendship, and Mary's influence will be even more significant in the third book.



Other Belief Systems


Will Parry eventually learns that his father, John Parry, has found a portal to other worlds as well. The elder Parry has learned much in his 10 years traveling between worlds, becoming, in his own words, a shaman. He says of his new capabilities, "As a shaman, I can discover things in the spirit where I cannot go in the body, and I spent much time in trance, exploring that world." The narrator describes the witch Serafina Pekkala's occult and pagan powers in more detail: "She could track any animal, catch any fish, find the rarest of berries; and she could read the signs in the pine marten's entrails, or decipher wisdom in the scales of a perch, or interpret the warnings in the crocus pollen; but these were children of nature, and they told her natural truths. The witch also casts a long spell of healing that begins with her saying, "Blood! Obey me! Turn around, be a lake and not a river." The spell involves apparently sacrificing a hare (which is later restored to life). Mary Malone, the ex-nun, has apparently lost most of her belief in good and evil ("D'you know how embarrassing it is to mention good and evil in a scientific laboratory? ... One of the reasons I became a scientist was not to have to think about that kind of thing"). She also establishes contact with dark matter particles, a.k.a. Dust, and finds that they actually have consciousness. Evolution plays an increasingly prominent role in explaining how Dust coalesced into the first sentient beings. Specters are described as something like "soul vampires" that devour the souls of their adult victims and leave people wandering around aimlessly, like zombies, after they've been attacked. Lyra continues to consult the alethiometer. Likewise, Will must enter a trance-like state to use the subtle knife.



Profanity/Graphic Violence


Mr. Lee Scoresby continues to occasionally use the words h--- and d--n. Will loses two fingers in a battle for the knife and has to keep rewrapping bandages on his bloody hand for the remainder of the story. The use of a hare in a witches spell involves slicing open its stomach ("The animal was panting, wild-eyed, kicking furiously, but the witch's hands were merciless. In one she held its forelegs and with the other she grasped its hind legs and pulled the frenzied hare out straight, its heaving belly upward. Serafina's knife swept across it. ... The real hare fell still, eyes bulging, breast heaving, entrails glistening"). There's more fighting and killing overall in The Subtle Knife than there was in The Golden Compass.



Kissing/Sex/Homosexuality


There's a veiled allusion to a witch named Ruta Skadi having sex with Lord Asriel.



Awards


Parents' Choice Gold Book Award, an ALA Best Book for Young Adults, Booklist Editors' Choice, a Publishers Weekly Best Book of the Year



Discussion Topics


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


AUTHORITY OF SCRIPTURE


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 Summer Before

A book review for parents

This tween chick-lit book is a prequel to the first book in the original "The Baby-Sitters Club" series. It is written by Ann M. Martin and is published by Scholastic Press, a division of Scholastic Inc.

The Summer Before is written for kids ages 9 to 12. The age range reflects readability and not necessarily content appropriateness.



Plot Summary


As the summer before seventh grade begins, Kristy and Mary Anne are sad because their friendship with Claudia seems to be changing. Claudia feels she is growing up faster than Mary Anne and Kristy, and she wants to explore other interests, such as fashions and boys. At her birthday party, Claudia meets Frankie, who becomes her first crush. Claudia's older sister, Janine, likes Frankie as well, and Claudia's friendship with Frankie creates tension between the sisters. Miles away, Stacey is helping her parents prepare for their upcoming move to Stoneybrook. She is looking forward to a fresh start after being ostracized by her friends in New York City, a situation that has been further complicated by her parents' decision to keep her diabetes diagnosis a secret from those outside of the family.

All four girls enjoy baby-sitting, and Mary Anne is especially happy when her father, a strict widower, allows her to baby-sit on her own. When Watson, the boyfriend of Kristy's mother, asks Kristy to baby-sit for his children, she refuses because she dislikes the possibility of the two families becoming one. Kristy is devastated when her father fails to attend her birthday party, so Mary Anne uses baby-sitting money to throw a special celebration to show Kristy how much she is loved. After Claudia's friendship with Frankie ends, she realizes she has been neglecting her other relationships. Claudia, Mary Anne and Kristy have a heart-to-heart talk and decide that they have shared too much over the years to let their friendship go. Stacey and her parents settle into their new house, and she meets Claudia on the first day of school — the same day Kristy decides to start the baby-sitters club.



Christian Beliefs


Mary Anne's father says a blessing for his deceased wife before every meal.



Authority Roles


Kristy's father rarely has contact with her or her siblings, but her mother provides a stable home and responds with understanding to Kristy's frustrations regarding Watson. Mary Anne's father controls much of Mary Anne's life, including selecting the clothes she wears and her hairstyle. He realizes he can be overprotective at times, but he explains to Mary Anne that he only does this because she is all he has. Mimi, Claudia's grandmother, is sensitive to the changes Claudia is experiencing, and she helps Claudia mend her friendships and her relationships. While allowing Stacey a great deal of independence in some areas, her parents carefully supervise all aspects of her life relating to her diabetes. Although they keep her diagnosis a secret out of a desire to protect her, she feels that not disclosing this information has pushed her friends further away.



Other Belief Systems


None



Profanity/Graphic Violence


None



Kissing/Sex/Homosexuality


None



Awards


Unknown



Discussion Topics


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

Note:
Stacey's parents consume alcohol with a meal.

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.


"SummerHill Secrets" Volume 1

A book review for parents

This contemporary teen collection is the first of two volumes in the "SummerHill Secrets" series by Beverly Lewis and is published by Bethany House Publishers, an imprint of Baker Publishing Group.

Summerhill Secrets is written for kids ages 13 to 16. The age range reflects readability and not necessarily content appropriateness.



Plot Summary


Volume 1 in the "SummerHill Secrets" series holds five books about Merry Hanson, a modern 15-year-old girl living in Lancaster, Pa., near Amish country. Through each book, Merry is challenged in her relationships with others and with her faith in God.


Whispers Down the Lane

Merry's classmate Lissa Vyner appears on her doorstep beaten and in tears. With the help of her Amish neighbor and friend Rachel Zook, Merry helps to lead Lissa — and her family — down a road of healing. Meanwhile, Merry struggles with her own bottled grief over the childhood death of her twin sister and questions the reality of God's love.


Secrets in the Willow

The Zooks' family farm is vandalized. Along her journey to unveil the perpetrator, Merry meets Elton, an autistic classmate with a gift for art. Later, he saves her from a fire in the Zooks' barn, but he is accused of starting the blaze. Merry fights for Elton's innocence, and when another Amish boy named Ben Fisher is discovered to be the true culprit, Merry learns an incredible lesson about the power of friendship.


Catch a Falling Star

Merry and her childhood friend Levi Zook have a complex relationship. When Merry is asked to complete a family tree for school, she enlists the help of the Zooks, with whom she shares a distant heritage. Hurt that Lissa has taken an interest in Merry's secret crush, Jon Klein, Merry gives her attention to Levi instead. Merry suddenly finds herself torn between two worlds: the modern world where she lives and Levi's Amish lifestyle. Levi begins to explore contemporary traditions, and Merry believes their relationship may be expanding beyond "just friends."


Night of the Fireflies

Merry is delighted when Susie Zook takes an interest in her company, especially because the little girl is the striking image of Merry's deceased twin sister. While hunting for fireflies one night, a terrible accident threatens Susie's life, and Merry relives memories of her own sister's tragic death. Inspired by a poem written by Grandfather Zook, Merry eventually accepts her past. Susie recovers, but Grandfather Zook passes away in his sleep. Merry begins to understand that death is not an ending but a beginning.


A Cry in the Dark

A distraught young mother leaves a baby named Charity in Merry's gazebo. When the baby's parents are finally found, they sign away their parental rights and place the child for adoption. At first, Charity appears to be just what Merry and her family need to heal, especially Merry's mother, who never fully recovered from the death of her daughter. Meanwhile, newlyweds Curly John and Sarah Zook experience heartbreak after they miscarry their first child. In the end, they adopt Charity.



Christian Beliefs


Each book in this collection is grounded in Christian truths, such as the supremacy of God, the truth of His Word and the belief in salvation through faith. Whispers Down the Lane focuses on the love of God and on the forgiveness of others. Secrets in the Willows emphasizes the beauty of friendship and on the use of talents to worship God. Catch a Falling Star deals with the consequences of envy while Night of the Fireflies explores themes of grief, death and healing. Finally, Cry in the Dark revolves around selflessness and sacrifice. Throughout these novels, the Amish culture is introduced and explored. Although sometimes legalistic, the Amish believe in the one true God and His Word.



Authority Roles


In Whispers Down the Lane, Lissa's father, who is also a police officer, starts out as an abusive alcoholic. As a result, Lissa fears authority and hides from the police. She distrusts counselors and doctors as well, convinced that their only agenda is to put her in a foster home. Throughout each novel, Merry's elderly neighbor, Ruby Spindler, is portrayed as a meddler and neighborhood nuisance; however, in A Cry in the Dark, readers are shown her motherly side. As far as parental figures are concerned (and except in Lissa's initial situation), they are painted as faithful sources of love, advice, reassurance and comfort.



Other Belief Systems


In Catch a Falling Star Lissa mentions that her parents are experimenting with the occult through the study of mysticism, crystals and mood rings. The author references reincarnation, "folk healing" and the use of charms and incantations to promote health.



Profanity/Graphic Violence


Physical abuse is prevalent in Whispers Down the Lane. Scenes involving the destruction of property, a trash can fire at school and a burning barn resulting in physical injury are played out in Secrets in the Willows. A car accident occurs in Night of the Fireflies. Each story avoids gruesome images and there is no profanity. At one point, however, mildly derogatory terms are used to describe a boy with developmental delays.



Kissing/Sex/Homosexuality


There are only two points in this collection where characters kiss. The first is done within the context of courting (Secrets in the Willows), and the second is between two parents, married to each other (A Cry in the Dark).



Awards


Two books in this volume made the C.S. Lewis Noteworthy List: Cry in the Dark and Whispers Down the Lane.



Discussion Topics


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


Note:
"SummerHill Secrets," Volume 1, deals with difficult themes, such as the death of a child, cancer, unwed pregnancy and child abandonment.

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 Sword Thief

A book review for parents

This mystery book by Peter Lerangis is the third book in "The 39 Clues" series and is published by Scholastic, Inc.

The Sword Thief 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. Orphaned Amy (age 14) and her brother, Dan (age 11), are determined to outplay their vicious, devious family members.

In this book, Dan and Amy find their boarding passes missing after Nellie (the kids' au pair) has boarded their plane to Tokyo. Uncle Alistair, a competitor, offers to take the kids to Tokyo on his private jet. Though Dan and Amy have been warned not to trust anyone, they have little choice but to accept since Nellie, their only adult-figure, is already en route to Japan. Once in Tokyo, Alistair and the kids discuss Japanese history and decide the clues are pointing them to an ancient warrior from the Thomas branch of the Cahill family named Hideyoshi and his descendants, the yakuza. They've just printed out a map of secret subway tunnels when they realize their computer has been hacked by the Holt family, another competitor.

The Holts capture and transport them to the subway, where the whole group looks for clues until they're almost hit by a train. The Holts escape the way they entered, while the kids are saved by Alistair, who pulls them into a secret room within the tunnel walls. Yakuza warriors with swords quickly drive Alistair and the kids above ground, but just as they're about to be captured, Nellie, the two relatives who stole their boarding passes (Ian and Natalie Kabra), and Grace's cat, Saladin, arrive to save them. Alistair and the kids decide to work with the Kabras temporarily. Ian gives Amy a coin with a symbol on it, and in conjunction with a scroll they've found in the subway, the group decides the clues are pointing toward Alistair's homeland, Korea. On the flight, Alistair thinks about his painful discovery: Many years ago his Uncle Bae hired someone to murder Alistair's father.

When the next clue leads them to an alchemy chart and a mountain cave containing a new clue, Ian takes back the coin and uses it to seal Amy, Dan and Alistair in the cave while he and Natalie escape to continue their quest. Alistair and the kids find gunpowder fuses and blow their way out of the cave, but Alistair does not emerge from the rubble. The children appear devastated because they think he died. Bae and the elusive man in black (who appears briefly in each book) watch their reactions from the shadows. They also believe Alistair has been killed. As the children and Nellie resignedly head to Egypt to follow the next lead, Alistair reveals to Bae that he's still alive.



Christian Beliefs


When Alistair and the kids need to start a fire and only have three matches left, Alistair instructs them to pray.



Authority Roles


Elderly Uncle Alistair has a soft spot for Dan and Amy, even though they're the competition. His inner monologue reveals that both his father and their parents were killed so someone could obtain clues.

(Clarifying note: On the one hand, Grace dies and leaves behind a challenge about the 39 clues. But on the other, the book indicates that the various Cahill branches have been looking for clues for generations. Alistair's father was killed when he was 4, and Dan and Amy's parents died seven years ago. Evidently they were killed by some of the clue seekers before Grace died.)

Alistair partners with Dan and Amy for most of the book, helping them get to Japan and sharing his secret information about the contest. He lies to a librarian about what he's researching so she will allow him access to the library's computers. Nellie, a young lady with multiple piercings and tattoos who loves punk rock music, is the token caretaker for the kids now that they're on the run from their mean aunt and legal guardian. Showing no concern for Dan's and Amy's lives, Eisenhower Holt commands his family to get out of a tunnel as the subway approaches. Alistair recalls his painful childhood under the guidance of his greedy, ruthless Uncle Bae, who had Alistair's father killed and raised him when his mother had to be hospitalized due to her grief.



Other Belief Systems


The kids find a collection of golden buddhas. Amy believes she and Dan have had a seven-year string of bad luck, beginning with the deaths of their parents. Alistair says evolution does not favor the Holts' branch of the family.



Profanity/Graphic Violence


Characters use God's name in vain several times. Butt, dang, fart, heck and turd also appear. When Alistair tells the kids they're in a cave full of schist, Dan tells him to watch his language. Eisenhower says that the Holts are viewed as stains on the family underpants. Irina curses violently, though the actual swear words don't appear in the text. Dan and Amy vomit after they escape from an explosion, which they believe has killed Alistair. Dan refers several times to video games he plays, including Warcraft and Ninja Gaiden. He says the ninjas in the latter game will cut off your arms and feed them to you. In their online search for clues, the kids find a picture of a scary Japanese warrior holding a severed head.



Kissing/Sex/Homosexuality


Ian brushes his lips against Amy's, an almost-kiss, after he saves her from a rockslide.



Awards


Unknown



Discussion Topics


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

Note:
Go to PluggedIn for reviews of the online games and video games that kids in this book played: World of Warcraft and Ninja Gaiden II

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.