Focus on the Family


A Tale of Two Cities

A book review for parents

This historical fiction by Charles Dickens is published by Puffin Books, an imprint of Penguin Young Reader's Group and is written for adults but is sometimes studied by high school classes.



Plot Summary


During the French Revolution, Dr. Alexandre Manette is released after two decades of imprisonment in the Bastille. Shocked to learn he's alive, his daughter, Lucie, retrieves him. Years later, Lucie and Dr. Manette take part in the trial of Charles Darnay, who is found innocent (in part because he so closely resembles his counsel, Sydney Carton), and Darnay seeks Lucie's hand in marriage. When revolutionaries learn that Darnay is related to an evil aristocrat, they imprison him the next time he is in France. Sydney Carton determines he can bring value to his life by rescuing Darnay.



Christian Beliefs


A key theme is resurrection; several characters who have been imprisoned (literally, or in figurative prisons by virtue of their choices and behaviors) are "recalled to life." Dickens further emphasizes this theme in the book's final climactic moments, when Sydney Carton repeats to himself the John 11:25 passage, "I am the resurrection and the life" for comfort and talks about going to "a better land." Dickens alludes to the de-Christianization of the period by demonstrating the growing love of violence. He shows the excess, greed and godlessness of the aristocracy and talks of the guillotine having replaced the Cross in the French culture. Dickens also pairs several sets of characters as opposites (Lucie with Madame Defarge, Darnay with Carton) to contrast good and evil, peace and violence, love and hate.



Authority Roles


Several noteworthy aristocrats belong to the family Evremonde (ironic, because it means "every man" — they certainly don't see themselves that way). Their disregard for human life, demonstrated in their brutal raping and thoughtless killing, exemplifies the ruling class of the time. Madame Defarge, a leader in the revolution, also acts with excessive violence, driven by her desire for revenge against the Evremondes and their kind.



Other Belief Systems


In a time of revolution, vengeance and violence become a religion for many of the French.



Profanity/Graphic Violence


The word d--ned appears a few times. Violence and blood fill the pages, but the depictions are fairly tame compared to what 21st-century audiences are accustomed to.



Kissing/Sex/Homosexuality


Several innocent, nonromantic kisses pass between friends and family. Carton kisses a seamstress solemnly before he is killed.



Awards


Unknown



Discussion Topics


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


Note: This classic was first published in 1859.

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.


Theodore Boone: Kid Lawyer

A book review for parents

This legal drama is the first book in the "Theodore Boone" series by John Grisham and is published by Dutton Children's Books, a division of Penguin's Young Readers Group.

Theodore Boone: Kid Lawyer is written for kids ages 8 to 12. The age range reflects readability and not necessarily content appropriateness.



Plot Summary


Theodore Boone is an average 13-year-old, except he is obsessed with the law and can't decide if he is going to be a great lawyer or judge. He lives with his parents, Marcella and Woods Boone, who are lawyers. His Uncle Ike lives nearby; Uncle Ike was a practicing lawyer before he was disbarred. Theodore's friend and classmate April is in the middle of a custody battle but doesn't want to live with either parent. Theodore tries to comfort April and explain divorce custody laws to her. Theodore explains the law not only to April, but also to many of his classmates. One needs advice because his parents are behind in their mortgage payments and may lose their house. Another has a brother arrested for the possession of marijuana. Animal control has picked up the dog of a third classmate, and another may have information that could change the verdict in the biggest murder trial that has ever hit Theodore's small town.

In the Pete Duffy trial, Pete is accused of murdering his wife. Both the prosecution and defense lawyers in this case are good, but the prosecution's case is based on circumstantial evidence. Pete had access to the murder scene, and he had a motive, but the defense is able to get the jury to doubt Pete's guilt. In the middle of the trial, Theodore tracks down a classmate's cousin, who saw Pete go into his house and leave it at the time of the murder. The cousin won't testify, though, because he is an illegal immigrant and doesn't want to be sent back to El Salvador.

Theodore must rely on the advice of Uncle Ike, and eventually both his parents, to figure out his next step. The whole Boone family finds a way to help the illegal immigrant work toward getting his legal residency and tells the Duffy trial's judge what they know. To the relief of Theodore and his family, the judge declares a mistrial just before closing arguments.



Christian Beliefs


In the courtroom, the bailiff uses a Bible for witnesses to place their hands on when they swear they will tell the truth. People at the homeless shelter are invited to worship at various churches, and church volunteers help kids in the shelter with their homework.



Authority Roles


Theodore's father, Woods, is a real estate lawyer. In the mornings, he leaves early to have coffee with friends and talk ("gossip"). In addition to their home, Theodore's parents own a house that is converted into a law office. Theodore's mother, Marcella, has her office downstairs with their legal assistants, and Woods has the whole upstairs to himself because he likes to smoke flavored tobacco in his pipe. He works hard for his family and his clients, and he leaves his work at the office. Woods figures out who told Theodore about the murder, and Theodore is glad that someone figured it out without his having to tell anyone. Woods is an OK golfer and likes to give advice to his son when they golf together.

Marcella believes that men can do well in the courtroom even when they look like slobs, but women have to look their best to be successful. She often takes her work home. Theodore's parents go to the soup kitchen on Tuesdays to offer free legal advice while Theodore tutors kids. The Boones are generous with their time and money, especially to those at the homeless shelter. After talking to the judge of the Duffy trial, Theodore looks to his mother for reassurance, and she gives it to him.

Theodore is expected to spend 30 minutes each week with Uncle Ike, even thought his parents don't. His uncle used to be a lawyer, but he was disbarred for unethical behavior. Uncle Ike tells Theodore that the judicial system doesn't always come out right. He suggests that Theodore forget what he knows about the Duffy trial. Uncle Ike gets Theodore out of class by lying that Theodore has to go to a funeral.

Deputy Gossett acts as though he knows more than he does. He tells others what he thinks, even though Theodore knows the deputy doesn't know as much as he thinks he does.

An assistant principal at Theodore's school yells at kids in the hallway to get them to go to class.



Other Belief Systems


The law works when you have men and women as judges and lawyers who aren't afraid to stand up for what is right, regardless of the consequences.



Profanity/Graphic Violence


Pete Duffy is accused of murdering his wife. Cross-examinations are heated and harsh. The mild slang term butt out is used occasionally, as is the mild derogatory term moron. Mention is made that a dog kept at the city's pound would be gassed if it were not adopted within 30 days. A clerk is described as the grouchiest old bag in the courthouse. In a trial, a person learns that his neighbor has four boa constrictors. In his exclamation, he uses God's name in vain. This neighbor buys an ax to kill the snakes if he ever sees them.

The prosecution says that Pete Duffy has been planning his wife's murder for two years. He and his wife have had fights and have talked to divorce lawyers. Forty-six-year-old Myra Duffy was strangled as she was leaving her house to have lunch with her sister. Her carotid artery was pressed firmly from behind for 10 seconds, which made her pass out. Then it was held firmer for 60 seconds, which killed her. Her lack of struggle showed she knew the person. Her death is described as a cold-blooded murder.

Omar Cheepe used to be a federal agent but now works surveillance for hire on Pete Duffy's side. Omar's eyes dart in a way that makes Theodore think he wants to shoot someone.



Kissing/Sex/Homosexuality


Theodore has a crush on a woman named Jenny in the clerk's office at family court. She always treats Theodore nicely, but it bothers Theodore that she is older, has a husband and is pregnant. At one point she pats his knee reassuringly. Theodore is bothered that she patted his knee like she would pat a puppy's head. The classes at his school are separated into boys' and girls' classes.



Awards


Unknown



Discussion Topics


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

Notes:
Drugs and domestic violence: A student at Theodore's school asks Theodore for help. His brother has been arrested for the possession of marijuana. He tells Theodore that the war in his home is between his parents and the kids.

Smoking: Near the carousel, teens hang out. They smoke, and the way they try to stand gives the impression that they're tough.

Condescension: Theodore is portrayed as a very intelligent middle-school student. Throughout the book Theodore thinks that some of the questions that kids and adults ask him are ridiculous. He doesn't say his thoughts out loud; he keeps his condescending opinions to himself, but shares them with the reader.

Alcohol: Uncle Ike drinks too much alcohol. He offers Theodore a Budweiser. When Theodore says he wants one, his uncle hands him a Sprite.


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.


Time for the Stars

A book review for parents

This science fiction/adventure novel by Robert A. Heinlein is written for kids ages 12 and above. The age range reflects readability and not necessarily content appropriateness.



Plot Summary


In a futuristic society, the Long Range Foundation plans to launch a search into deep space for Earth-like planets. They recruit scientists, military personnel and sets of twins. The twins have the ability to communicate via mental telepathy. One twin will leave on a starship, while the other twin remains on Earth to receive and send information. Pat and Tom, two teens, are recruited. Pat, the more dominant twin, maneuvers to go into Space. During training he has a skiing accident, which leaves him paralyzed. To ensure that he will receive the best medical care, Pat demands that Tom go on the mission.

On the first night of Tom's training, he meets Alfred, who asks Tom to call him Uncle Alfred. After take off, Tom discovers that his Uncle Steve, a military man and space traveler, is also on the Elsie. (The Elsie is the nickname for the Lewis and Clark — the spaceship). Uncle Steve advises Tom about how to live on a spaceship. Scientists study how Tom and the other communicators use their telepathy. Pat has surgery on his back, and Tom experiences some of the trauma.

The Vasco da Gama, one of the other ships, suddenly disappears. Tom becomes depressed. The Elsie's psychiatrist tells Tom that neither he nor Pat wanted to go on the mission and suggests that Tom get to know himself by writing in a journal. The novel, though not in a journal format, is Tom's journal. Tom and Pru, another twin on the ship, begin a romance, but she ends it abruptly when her twin on Earth doesn't like him. Tom discovers that he can also mind-read Uncle Alfred and Uncle Alfred's contact on Earth. As the Elsie approaches light speed, the telepaths have difficulty communicating with their earthly contacts. Communication resumes when the ship's speed slows. Tom discovers he can telepath with his niece. (As the journey continues, Tom's principal contact changes from his twin to his niece to his grandniece and to his great-grandniece.)

Those on the ship discover a planet, which they name Constance. Though it has large carnivorous lizards, one of which eats a crew member, the planet is recommended for colonization. Following the Elsie's visit to Constance, a plague breaks out onboard and 32 people die. The mission continues and finds a watery planet that they name Elysia. They encounter intelligent, well-armed sea creatures. The creatures treat the Elsie as an invader and drown the landing groups.

In a staff meeting, Tom voices concern to the new captain about continuing the mission with the Elsie's numbers now so diminished. When Captain Urqhardt learns later that Tom has discussed his concerns with others, he puts Tom under arrest. Tom struggles with submitting to this authority figure but decides that obedience is essential aboard the ship, even when the authority figure may be wrong. Urqhardt dismisses the charges against Tom and orders him to the transmission room. Coded communications go back and forth between Earth and the ship.

Mr. Whipple arrives from Earth in a greater-than-light-speed ship and declares their mission cancelled. Faster ships will carry on the search. Discoveries made from studying telepathic communication have made those ships possible. The Elsie is refitted and returns to Earth in a few hours.

In space, Tom has been away about four years; on Earth, 71 years have passed. Pat insists Tom take over the business they jointly own. Tom refuses. Tom and his great-grandniece (his brother's great-granddaughter) marry.



Christian Beliefs


Tom's dad says the child quota tax is against the will of God. Uncle Alfred believes in a loving, merciful God. His being on the mission will provide monetarily for his grandniece, and he believes God has provided this opportunity. He says that getting into heaven requires more than just doing good deeds, but he doesn't say what the more is. He believes his capacity to telepath with his grandniece is a gift from God. When Uncle Steve tries to help his nephews grasp how their mother feels about her sons' involvement in the mission, he makes references to Bible stories: Solomon and the disputed baby and the lost sheep parable. The Elsie holds a memorial service with a sermon and a prayer after one of the spaceships disappears. Dr. Devereaux, the ship's psychiatrist, says that he may or may not have a private view on a person having a soul, but he does not wish to commit himself professionally. Tom says you should pray that a leader is correct even when you don't agree; it is the leader who must make the decision.



Authority Roles


The boys' parents are depicted as loving, hard-working and principled. They are involved with their teenage sons, though the boys try to keep them in the dark as much as possible. The parents thoughtfully make the decision about the boys signing up for the mission. Though Tom's father is uncomfortable, he does what he believes is right and gives Tom "the talk" about women before Tom leaves home. However, the parents favor Pat and turn a blind eye to his selfish and manipulative actions. His father rebuffs Tom's attempt to show him that Pat has unfairly taken the opportunity to be the twin who goes into space.

Uncle Steve lets them know that he is wise to Pat's schemes and that they do not always lead to success. He advises the twins to respect their father's ability to come to a good decision and stop trying to manipulate him. Uncle Steve sets aside his own desires for the good of others. Though he wants a beer, he changes his mind when teenage Pat also tries to order a beer. On the Elsie, the experienced Uncle Steve helps Tom grasp the requirements of shipboard life. He talks with Tom about courage and models respect for authority. Tom remembers and leans on his uncle's wisdom after his uncle's death.

The other adults on the Elsie are also generally cooperative, congenial and hardworking. Uncle Alfred, an elderly African-American and one of the telepaths, is a saintly man who believes in God and His provision. His faith gives him peace even when he is unable to make contact with his beloved grandniece. A sensitive man, he seeks out the lonely Tom when Tom first arrives for training. Uncle Alfred gives the sermon during the service for the lost ship. He is one of the "chaperones" who informally watches over the romantic doings of younger ship members. When the captain refuses to allow the telepaths to be part of the reconnaissance team to Constance, Uncle Alfred helps to avert a strike. He proposes a variation to the captain's orders that the captain accepts. Speaking with the captain, Uncle Alfred is frank, but respectful. The captain loses his temper, but apologizes. Uncle Alfred enjoys Tom's company and friendship. When Tom discovers that he can also telepath with Uncle Alfred and his grandniece, Uncle Alfred welcomes this new development.

Captain Swenson takes responsibility for the well-being of those on the Elsie. He insists that they take classes when off-duty to escape the boredom. He investigates problems among personnel and takes action such as moving Tom's immature roommate into another stateroom. He tells the crew to stop name-calling and to show respect for the telepaths. He decides who will attempt to rescue the group under attack on Elysia, and he leads that unsuccessful attempt.

Captain Urqhardt seems foolishly stubborn when he first takes command, but he is misjudged. Though his mannerisms are brusque, he does hear and respect other points of view.



Other Belief Systems


Science and scientific methods are highly respected. Ship crews and the number of people assigned are chosen based on scientific models. Creatures on other planets are said to have evolved, though Tom does not believe that the universe's creation is accidental. Einstein's theory of relativity is accepted. At the end of the book it is proven. Tom returns 71 Earth years later, but he has only aged four years. The ship's psychiatrist psychoanalyzes Tom and his relationship with his brother. The interactions of the conscious and unconscious mind are discussed (from a secular and 1950s point of view).

Twins and other people with close associations read minds. Dr. Arnault states that potentially everyone is capable of mental telepathy. When Pat has surgery on his back, Tom "feels" the knife in his own back and experiences surgical shock. When Tom is examined later, he has two painful marks on his back. Dr. Devereaux explains that the incisions made during the operation on his twin were identical. He refers to the incisions as stigmatas.

Hypnosis and drugs are used to keep some mind-reading pairs in contact. The scientists' study of telepathy leads to new discoveries in physics.

The reason given for the space mission is the over-population of Earth. Tom's parents already have three children before he and his twin are born. His parents pay a yearly tax for having given birth to two more children than the government's quota of three. Excessive population, Uncle Steve states, is the root cause of war.

Uncle Steve believes he is lucky and that he will survive dangerous situations. However, he also knows that exploring strange places is hazardous, and he believes that if a person keeps on, he will eventually die on an adventure. He prefers that to dying in bed of old age. Steve is killed on Elysia.

Not all reports of UFOs are considered legitimate, but some reports are believed to be sightings of ships from other planets scouting Earth for possible colonization.



Profanity/Graphic Violence


There is no strong profanity. Milder profanities such as deuce and variations of darn are used occasionally. There is also name-calling such as brats, lard head, little wart and codger.

A crew member fights off a large, carnivorous lizard-like creature. He saves two other members of the Elsie from getting killed, but he is killed. This scene is only a paragraph long. Its focus is on courage in the face of grave danger, not the gory details. Sea creatures on Elysia herd members of the landing party into the ocean and pull them and boatloads of other ship members into the depths. The Elsie attempts a helicopter rescue of the besieged landing troops still on the island. The sea creatures attack the helicopter and its members. Except for one, all are dragged beneath the waters. The scene is described in detail.



Kissing/Sex/Homosexuality


Tom says he and Pat were unplanned children. Tom says he and Pat were unplanned children. Tom wants to kiss Maudie (who has been more Pat's girlfriend than Tom's); but Tom doesn't because via mental telepathy, Pat tells him to kiss her. Maudie kisses Tom "goodbye" when he leaves for the space mission. Before he leaves, Tom's father gives him a talk about sex. (The text does not give specifics.) Tom notes his father's embarrassment and tells him that he already learned most of it in school. He smugly refrains from telling his father what he learned in school was unnecessary because he already knew it. His father ends the talk by saying that Tom's been brought up well and therefore won't make many mistakes. He tells him to consider whether a girl would be suitable to bring home to meet his family.

There are dances and other opportunities for socializing. One couple meets and marries while onboard. Romance on the ship is carefully, though informally, chaperoned. Tom begins a romance with Pru, another telepath. They work together and spend leisure time together. Sparks are said to ignite when their hands brush against each other. One night Tom kisses her, but she breaks away abruptly explaining that her twin on Earth does not like him. Pru ends the romance. After that Tom doesn't have a special girl. When the ship's telepaths temporarily lose contact with their earthly counterparts, Pru, free from her sister's domination, kisses someone else. Tom remarks that at that point she would have kissed almost anyone.

When Tom returns to Earth, he marries his great grandniece. He implies that this is fine since they are genetically distant.



Awards


Unknown



Discussion Topics


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

Notes:
Pat and Tom speak sarcastically of others. Both boys have cheated on tests in school. Pat tells lies in Tom's presence, and Tom goes along with the lies. Pat is an opportunist who takes advantage of people and their vulnerabilities.

Heinlein wrote a number of books for juveniles. This book is one of them. During his long career he also wrote novels that were intended for adults. Several of his books for this audience explore sexual themes and/or espouse his attitude toward organized religion.

This novel was first published in 1956. In 1954 the Supreme Court ruled against school segregation. In late 1955 the African-American community in Montgomery, Ala., began the bus boycott that would last until December 1956. Heinlein's depiction of a color-blind friendship between Uncle Alfred, an African-American, and Tom, a young Caucasian male, was not a common motif in literature before that time.

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


The Time Quake

A book review for parents

This time travel book is the third book in "The Gideon Trilogy" by Linda Buckley-Archer and is published by Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers.

The Time Quake is written for kids ages 10 to 14. The age range reflects readability and not necessarily content appropriateness.



Plot Summary


In book one, 12-year-olds Kate Dyer and Peter Schock accidentally activate a time machine Kate's dad (Dr. Dyer) and other NASA scientists are developing. The kids are transported to 1763, where they meet a thief-turned-gentleman named Gideon and a villain known as the Tar Man (or Blueskin). Dr. Dyer rescues Kate using a second time machine, but he accidentally brings the Tar Man and a teen named Tom to the 21st century while stranding Peter in the past.

In the second book, Peter's father and Kate travel to the 18th century to find Peter, but they arrive at a time when he's already grown up. They cannot get back to their time because the time machine breaks. With the help of a French scientist, the Marquis de Montfaron, they fix the machine and return to the present (bringing the Marquis as a tourist). Meanwhile, Dr. Dyer has rescued 12-year-old Peter with a second time machine. A short-lived reunion takes place at the Dyer home, before the Tar Man kidnaps Kate and Peter, along with both time machines, and sends the kids and himself back to the 1700s. Lord Luxon, the Tar Man's former master, promptly steals one of the time machines.

Book three tells of the strange phenomena on earth due to the "splintering" of time caused by so much time travel. Ghosts appear and portions of the landscape sometimes blur. Kate is losing her strength and literally fading, at times fast-forwarding into the future or inadvertently causing time to stop for everyone but herself.

Lord Luxon and his army of red coats have taken up residence in 21st century Manhattan, where Luxon seeks out a historian (Alice) and interrogates her about the American Revolution. Armed with her hindsight analysis of Britain's failure, Luxon returns to the past to ensure England never loses control of the New World. By killing George Washington, he hopes to earn his family's respect and a heroic name in history.

In modern-day England, Tom and Anjali (the Tar Man's 21st century guide in book two), visit Dr. Dyer, hoping he can send Tom home. The police inspector receives a call from Alice, who has read about Dr. Dyer's time machine and suspects Lord Luxon may be from another century. The inspector, the Marquis and Tom fly to America, and Alice directs them to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, where she arranges to meet Lord Luxon. When Luxon discovers he's being investigated, he pushes the Marquis over a balcony to his death and escapes. Once Luxon has gone back and shot George Washington, he returns to the 21st century to see what it's like without a free America.

Meanwhile in 1763, Peter, Kate and Gideon (along with Gideon's servant, Hannah, and his friends Parson Ledbury and Sir Richard) track the Tar Man to reclaim the time machine. Gideon struggles to accept a revelation that the Tar Man is his older brother, but when Kate and the Tar Man strike a deal that will allow them and Peter to return to the 21st century, Gideon accompanies the Tar Man on a journey to retrieve the machine. The Tar Man has hidden it on Luxon's property, and Kate, Peter, Gideon and the Tar Man use it to return to modern England.

Kate, Peter, Gideon and the Tar Man (and, separately, Lord Luxon) all find themselves in the 21st century on Luxon's property. It is now a sprawling museum. At first, Luxon is pleased with his legacy, until a tour guide explains that the home's owner was later held in contempt by family and acquaintances and died unhappily. Luxon sees Gideon and tries to kill him before Kate accidentally stops time again and then disappears (along with Luxon). Gideon, Peter and the Tar Man realize their only chance to retrieve Kate and undo all of the cracks in time is to travel back to a moment before the first time travel incident. They successfully prevent Peter and Kate from ever going to Dr. Dyer's lab or near a time machine. Gideon and the Tar Man alone remember what they've seen, and the universe returns to normal.



Christian Beliefs


Kate believes Peter is her guardian angel because only he can help her reawaken the world after one of her time-stopping episodes. Gideon and other 18th-century characters use phrases such as, "Lord be praised," "God go with you," "Lord knows" and "Lord preserve us." Since Gideon escaped his hanging at the last moment (in book one), some said he was rescued by angels. Gideon silently prays the Tar Man won't hurt Sir Richard. Hannah and the Parson sing hymns when they think the world is ending. The Parson quotes Scripture (which Gideon later repeats) about each day having enough troubles of its own. Sensing Kate's fears, the Parson asks if he can pray with her. He takes her hand and asks God to give her strength, wisdom and courage to handle the challenges ahead. Peter, pretending to be asleep during the prayer, fervently hopes someone up there is listening.



Authority Roles


Scientists and time machine creators Dr. Dyer and Dr. Pirretti struggle to make moral and ethical choices concerning their use of and revelations to the world about time travel. Gideon and his servant, Hannah, lovingly protect and care for Kate and Peter. Lord Luxon uses and manipulates his people, as well as Alice, to help him achieve personal glory. He kills those who stand in his way, including one of his officers and the Marquis. The Marquis is an inquisitive man of science who balances his desire for knowledge with ethical considerations. With compassion, he offers sage words to Kate's brother, Sam, and others in difficult moments.



Other Belief Systems


The Parson asks if Gideon's luck has improved. Kate's dad has told her that humans and apes share a common ancestor. A sixth sense leads Kate to feel dread just before the Tar Man captures her, and Alice's aunt, led by a sixth sense, calls Alice to see if she's OK after her meeting with Lord Luxon. Luxon says a man he knew in the 1700s had the luck of the Devil. Kate sometimes feels like a sorceress has come through the world and changed everything to stone. A fortune-teller at the fair says Kate is the oracle that has haunted her dreams. She says she can see that Kate has great power, and that Peter is meant to be Kate's guardian. She also reads Gideon's palm, confirming he is the Tar Man's brother and telling him to take care of Peter. Kate senses other events with a sixth sense and doesn't doubt the truth of her visions, often remembering the fortune-teller's predictions about her. She tells Peter she has seen his future. The Marquis says he will submit blindly to whatever fate has in store for him. He says he is profoundly shaken as he starts to learn about the research of Charles Darwin. The Tar Man says he will go back in time and be his own guardian angel since Fortune didn't see fit to give him one. Gideon swears by all the gods that he will shoot the Tar Man if he doesn't drop his pistol. Dr. Dyer theorizes that gravity, left to its own devices, would reverse the expansion of the universe and squeeze everything down to a single point where time would stop. Anjali says if she got stuck in the past, she'd probably be burned as a witch. When Kate touches the Tar Man, it sets off a reaction "like a witch's spell," and the Tar Man later calls Kate a witch. The Parson realizes with a sixth sense that Kate is watching him.



Profanity/Graphic Violence


Lord Luxon uses the word d--n, and he and his sergeant discuss a dog, calling her a b--ch. The Tar Man uses the expression G--'s teeth and says he doesn't care if Kate and Peter survive or rot in h---; both he and Luxon say D--- your eyes. Dr. Dyer says h--- is going to break loose, and when the Tar Man sees one of the cracks in time, he feels Kate is trying to pull him into h---. Sam uses the word heck. Wielding his knife, the Tar Man threatens to cut off Kate's fingers if she doesn't give him the code that activates the time machine. Anjali recalls how, in present-day London, Tom had been thrown down a staircase and cracked his head open. Kate says she hopes Gideon will beat the Tar Man to a bloody pulp. Lord Luxon's sargeant tells him about some of the unpleasant things he's seen in battle, including bloody footprints in the snow, frostbite and gangrene (which, he says, has the stink of h--- about it). Gideon says he once saw a man's hand blown off because a pistol wasn't used properly. The Tar Man injures the Parson, jabs a dagger into Sir Richard's neck and slits an unnamed man's throat from ear to ear in a marketplace. In each case, the text provides grotesque images like fountains of blood spurting and oozing. The Tar Man also yanks Sir Richard's arm out of its socket, and Sir Richard screams in excruciating agony. Lord Luxon pushes the Marquis from a balcony, and he falls with a sickening thud and dies. Luxon shoots Sergeant Thomas and his dog when the soldier fails to kill George Washington.



Kissing/Sex/Homosexuality


Kate thanks Gideon for helping her by giving him a quick kiss on the cheek. Peter and Kate sleep tied together on a mattress one night because if Kate lets go of Peter, time will stop for everyone but her. They sleep in long nightshirts and no inappropriate behavior is indicated.



Awards


Unknown



Discussion Topics


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

Note:

Alcohol: Soldiers mutilated in the war drown their sorrows in gin while a man of the cloth nearby drinks his claret in one gulp. Lord Luxon's soldiers drink beer at a bar they frequent. Lord Luxon orders his assistant to bring him a beer. The parson says he smells gin on the fortune-teller's breath and suggests she is intoxicated. Prior to his efforts to thwart Washington on a cold night, Lord Luxon has rarely endured any discomfort other than what was brought on by drinking too much wine. The old man who helps Peter and Gideon find the Tar Man's house has brandy on his breath, and he shares some with the Parson. A man attacks the Tar Man while he's drinking beer in the town square, and the Tar Man slits the attacker's throat. Alice drinks wine when she has dinner with Lord Luxon. Hannah gives Sir Richard some alcohol to help the pain as the Tar Man pops his arm back into its socket. Gideon and the Tar Man drink tankards of ale together on their way to get the time machine. When the Tar Man wakes up after traveling through time, his head hurts worse than after a night at his favorite bar (called The Bucket of Blood).

Dishonesty: As Sam tries to do his homework while Kate is gone, he thinks that if she were there, she would give him all the answers. When the Marquis damages the wall in the Dyer's home, Sam says he'll tell his mom that his dad was responsible for it.

Tobacco: The parson enjoys some snuff he's offered.

Hatred: Kate tells the Tar Man she hates him for all he's done to her, Peter and Gideon, as well as the trouble he has caused by traveling through time.

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


The Time Thief

A book review for parents

This time-travel novel is the second book in "The Gideon Trilogy" by Linda Buckley-Archer and is published by Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers.

The Time Thief is written for kids ages 10 to 14. The age range reflects readability and not necessarily content appropriateness.



Plot Summary


In book one, British 12-year-olds Kate Dyer and Peter Schock inadvertently activate an antigravity time machine on which Kate's father (Dr. Dyer) and other NASA scientists are working. The kids find themselves in the year 1763, where they meet a new friend, Gideon, and a villain called the Tar Man before Dr. Dyer locates them. In Dr. Dyer's rescue, he returns to the 21st century with Kate, the Tar Man and a street urchin named Tom while stranding Peter in the 18th century.

In The Time Thief, Kate overhears her father and his co-researcher discussing whether they will destroy the antigravity machines. The scientists fear their discovery of time travel will result in untold chaos for humanity. Unwilling to leave her friend in the 18th century, Kate convinces Peter's father to go back in time with her to rescue his son. A glitch lands them in the year 1792, where Peter is a grown man who has long since given up on being rescued. When he discovers Kate and his father have arrived, he befriends them but hides his true identity because he knows they want him as a 12-year-old, not a grown man. He vows to help them get the now-broken time machine repaired so they can return to 1763 to retrieve 12-year-old Peter. Kate, Mr. Schock and Peter travel to France during the French Revolution to find the Marquis de Montfaron, the only scientist who may be able to help them repair their antigravity device. All the while, Kate physically grows pale and nearly fades away. Though she was initially able to "fade," or transport herself briefly back to the 21st century, she often finds herself trapped between the two time periods or fast-forwarding several seconds into the future. The Marquis manages to repair the time machine, and he travels to the 21st century along with Kate and her father. Meanwhile, Kate's father has taken the second machine to 1763 and retrieved Peter. A happy reunion ensues at the modern-day Dyer home. Interwoven throughout this story is an account of the Tar Man and his adventures in the 21st century. With the aid of a young boy, Tom, and a young woman named Anjali, he learns how to scheme, cheat and steal in a new era. But despite all the wealth he accumulates, he realizes he will always be a low-life criminal unless he returns to the 18th century and rewrites history. The Tar Man steals both machines and goes back to the 18th century. The Tar Man's former master, Lord Luxon, steals one time machine from the Tar Man and decides to make his fortune in the 21st century.



Christian Beliefs


Before Gideon was to be hanged, he prayed for himself and the man who falsely condemned him. He later writes that being imprisoned brought clarity to his soul and taught him not to take life for granted. When Peter's horse eats a reverend's flowers, the reverend jovially forgives him saying, "the Lord giveth, and the Lord taketh away." Dr. Dyer's co-researcher silently prays that the world would not suddenly crumble into dust. Peter rescues a woman who is wearing a crucifix. She falls to her knees and makes the sign of the cross when she is safe. Peter, Hannah and others use phrases like "Lord knows," "Lord be praised," "God willing" and "Thank the Lord." Mr. Schock mentions an ex-priest who became a brutal killer in the French Revolution. Several times, Kate wonders if Peter is her guardian angel. Peter says that when the powers of intellect prove insufficient, blind faith is our only alternative. Montfaron says whatever is the truth is the truth; our inability to comprehend it doesn't change anything.



Authority Roles


Although Dr. Dyer disapproves of Kate's decision to return to the 18th century, he ultimately helps her when he sees her determination. He and his co-researcher, as guardians of the time travel secrets, struggle with how to best serve humankind with their knowledge. Peter's father regrets that he's often put work or other activities ahead of his son. His trek back in time to find Peter demonstrates his desire to strengthen their relationship. The Tar Man fiercely protects Anjali and Tom from physical danger, but his protégés are a means to an end. They fear him and know harm will come to them if they cross him. Lord Luxon, the Tar Man's former employer, steals secrets and a time machine from the Tar Man.



Other Belief Systems


The Tar Man believes fate has led him to the magic (antigravity) machine. Kate recalls how she met Erasmus Darwin in the 1700s and told him his grandson, Charles, would discover evolution. A reverend's daughter tells Peter she's certain Kate is possessed or a witch. Dr. Dyer's co-researcher believes that domes are magical, such as the one inside St. Paul's Cathedral. She likes to stand under them in hopes of hearing a higher frequency than humans typically hear and getting a glimpse into some secret world with the help of a benevolent force. Kate's brother, Sam, gives his dad his lucky stone as Dr. Dyer prepares to go back in time. Hannah calls the sunshine after rain a good omen.



Profanity/Graphic Violence


The Tar Man sometimes uses phrases like "D--n their eyes," or "by the devil,"and Dr. Dyer's co-researcher uses the Lord's name in vain once. A man doing business with the Tar Man asks how the heck he is able to get away with his crimes. The Tar Man dislocates one opponent's arm with a loud crack. He nearly strangles a police inspector. There are several mentions of the bloodiness of the French revolution. In one scene, a maid tells in detail of the horror: She says broken, bloody bodies littered the courtyard, and she describes the screams as men were ripped apart. She opened her window and saw the severed head and entrails of a man. Mr. Schock is afraid to get a shave with a straight razor because it conjures up fountains of blood spurting from his throat. Hannah believes a minor character's bruises may have come from a beating by her husband. A man brutally attacks Anjali. When Tom tries to save her, the attacker throws him down the stairs. Tom's head cracks open, and he dies. After the Tar Man and Lord Luxon use the time machines, Peter, Kate and Gideon experience a frightening scene. They hear a great roar, an apocalyptic tremor, and see ghost-like people from other worlds staring at them. The narrator says ghosts seeped through the walls of time like blood soaking through a linen shirt.



Kissing/Sex/Homosexuality


As her husband prepares to travel into the future, the Marquise de Montfaron says she would have preferred a husband who took many lovers rather than one who was so obsessed with knowledge.



Awards


Unknown



Discussion Topics


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

Note:

Lying: Drs. Dyer and Pirretti create a story about Kate having amnesia to keep the police from learning about the time machines. Kate hates having to lie to the police. Kate's friend lies to get Mr. Schock's phone number. Kate lies about planning to go to bed when she's really getting ready to travel to the 1700s in the time machine. Peter lies to conceal his identity from Kate and his father, and he drags servants and friends into his deception. He feels a bit guilty when he realizes what a skilled liar he has become.

Drinking: The Tar Man frequents bars and drinks many types of alcohol, though he tells a drunk man he robs that one should never let alcohol get the upper hand. The Tar Man and the 15-year-old Tom drink a significant amount of beer at the Tar Man's home one night. An 18th-century parson often comes to visit Gideon, bringing a bottle of his best wine. The same parson offers 12-year-old Peter punch that makes his head spin. Another reverend offers wine to the grown-up Peter when he looks pale. The 21st-century police inspector celebrates finding some clues by picking up Chinese food and several bottles of beer. Another time, the inspector drinks at a pub. Louis-Philippe, son of the Marquis de Montfaron, enters the room hung over. He has wagered that he could drink more wine than his friend could eat pickled herrings. Dr. Pirretti brings champagne to toast Dr. Dyer as he prepares to go back in time. Hannah and Kate have to push a man's head back into his carriage because he is passed out after too much rum. At the welcome home party for Kate, Peter and their dads, everyone is hyper because of the champagne.

Smoking: As an adult in the 1700s, Peter smokes a pipe. He recalls the warnings he saw in the 21st century about the dangers of smoking and remembers his parents' dislike for the smell, but he feels so removed from that life, it's like he dreamed it.

Other: Kate removes penicillin from her family's medicine cabinet and takes it back in time with her. It ends up saving someone's life.


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 Time Travelers

A book review for parents

The Time Travelers was previously titled Gideon the Cutpurse.


This fantasy adventure is the first book in the "The Gideon Trilogy" by Linda Buckley-Archer and is published by Aladdin Paperbacks, Simon & Schuster Children's Books.

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



Plot Summary


Peter and Kate, who have only just met at Kate's family farm, suddenly find themselves thrown into the year 1763 by an anti-gravity machine that Kate's scientist father and his colleagues are working on. A man named Gideon, on the run from a former employer (Lord Luxon), witnesses their arrival into the past. They explain what's happened, and he vows to help them return home. Gideon introduces the children to his current employer and her family, all the while helping them track down the scoundrel known as Tar Man, the person who stole their anti-gravity device. When Lord Luxon catches up with his former employee, Gideon is thrown in prison and nearly hanged. Kate's father arrives to rescue the children, but he accidentally takes the Tar Man back to modern times instead of Peter.



Christian Beliefs


Gideon tells Peter the biblical story of Gideon's battle. They use that strategy to startle rogues who have captured their friends. Gideon was somewhat forced into stealing for the man who saved his life (Lord Luxon); he alternates between feeling guilt for his crimes and hope that God will forgive him for his sins. When he's saved from being hanged, he says God has given him a second chance. Kate prays silently for their return to the present. When the band of rogues (the Carricks) are drunk, they allow the parson to preach a sermon to them about their wickedness.



Authority Roles


Kate's father, Dr. Dyer, is described as a compassionate man who deeply loves his daughter yet wants her to stand on her own two feet. He hides information about Peter and Kate's time travel and risks a great deal to go to 1763 to find them. Gideon cares for Peter and Kate, refusing to abandon them even at the risk of his own safety. Peter's parents are largely absent from his life because of their careers; upon losing him, they seem to embrace a new perspective about what's important in life.



Other Belief Systems


Peter and Kate meet Erasmus Darwin (grandfather of Charles Darwin) in 1763. Kate tells Erasmus that his grandson discovered evolution — proving that all creatures, including humans, evolved from the same ancestor — and that this discovery changed modern thinking. The characters from the past who don't understand the science of Peter and Kate's time travel believe the children may be devils.



Profanity/Graphic Violence


D--n appears a half dozen or more times, and one or two instances of God's name used in vain.



Kissing/Sex/Homosexuality


None



Awards


This book's audio version won the Parents' Choice Award, 2006



Discussion Topics


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


Note:
Some of the men from 1763 wager in one scene. A band of thugs that capture Peter, Kate and their friends drinks brandy.

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 Tinker’s Daughter: A Story Based on the Life of Mary Bunyan

A book review for parents

This historical fiction book is the third in the “Daughters of Faith” series by Wendy Lawton and is published by Moody Publishers.

The Tinker’s Daughter is written for girls ages 8 to 12. The age range reflects readability and not necessarily content appropriateness.



Plot Summary


Ten-year-old Mary is poor, blind, stubborn and fiercely protective of her family. When her father, the famous preacher John Bunyan (who wrote Pilgrim’s Progress), is arrested for unlawful preaching, Mary is entrusted with the care of the family. This is no small task, given that the family includes a baby brother, a younger brother, a younger sister and a young pregnant stepmother. Still, Mary takes her job seriously and resolves to provide for the family, get her wayward brother in line and dutifully take food to her father every day. Only after a series of hardships does Mary come to understand what her father means when he encourages her to rely on the Lord for her strength. This conclusion ties together the themes of determined individualism and finding the right path.

For readers who are fans of this series, this story may seem slightly out of place. While other books allow the reader to see the heroine grow over the course of years, this book focuses on a specific and short period in Mary’s life. Although this book does not show Mary reaching a major turning point, it does reveal the growth of her faith.



Christian Beliefs


Mary’s father is a man of strong faith who has tried to teach his children not to shrink from standing up for the truth. He is open about his testimony and how God changed him from being a foul-mouthed hooligan into an evangelist. When Mary visits him in jail, he thanks God and tries to make his daughter understand that she cannot do everything on her own.

A gypsy character named Timoz tells Mary how listening to her father made him see his own need for Christ. Timoz presents the Gospel and tells how it changed his life. The next day, Sofia, who is another gypsy, prays to accept Christ, too.

Mary embraces Philippians 4:13, which tells her she can do all things through Christ who strengthens her. Initially, however, she only repeats the first part. This fits in with her self-image and determination, but until she learns that she can only do all things through Christ’s strength, she is misguided. Sofia tries to explain it to her, but Mary has to learn it on her own. When Mary puts her faith completely in Christ, Sofia is thrilled.



Authority Roles


Mary is close to her father, and she shows him great love and respect. He is very warm and understanding but also seizes teachable moments to share biblical truth with her. Mary is polite to Elizabeth, her stepmother, but does not really embrace her as part of the family until the end of the book. Afraid that loving Elizabeth will lessen her love for her own deceased mother, Mary holds back. At the end of the story, she acknowledges Elizabeth as the head of the house in John’s absence.



Other Belief Systems


None



Profanity/Graphic Violence


The word ‘swounds appears in the book; while the word is not used anymore, it was considered vulgar during this time period. Also, the gypsies are called names such as “scum,” “gypsy spawn” and “Christ killers.”

A boy named Gifre, who is Mary’s brother’s friend, bullies Mary. Gifre is cruel to Mary, setting out dried peas to make her fall, shooting gravel at her with a peashooter, and even catapulting a branch at her face that knocks her over and injures her.



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 Titan's Curse

A book review for parents

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

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



Plot Summary


Percy Jackson, half-mortal and half-Greek god, has known his demi-god (or "hero") status for several years. As the son of Poseidon, the sea god, he's already gone on several quests to aid and rescue gods or other half-bloods. He spends his summers at Camp Half-Blood, where he and other heroes find magical protection from monsters and learn how to cope with — perhaps even embrace — their unusual heritage.

In The Titan's Curse, Percy and his half-blood friends Thalia, daughter of Zeus, and Annabeth, daughter of Athena, respond to a distress call from their satyr friend, Grover. Grover has found a pair of half-blood siblings, Nico and Bianca, at the school where he pretends to be a student. He fears a monster, a manticore posing as a teacher, has discovered them as well. As the heroes try to rescue the kids, the manticore tells Percy the Great Stirring (of monsters) is underway. One monster will even cause the downfall of Olympus, he says. The goddess Artemis and her Hunters arrive to assist the heroes, and they recruit Bianca to join their sisterhood. The manticore captures Annabeth and disappears. When Percy tells Artemis about the manticore's prophecy, she puts her second in command, Zoe, in charge and leaves to hunt the monster.

The heroes and Hunters return to Camp Half-Blood. They know the stirring of monsters means Titan King Kronos, hated father of the gods whom the gods cut into many pieces long ago, is regenerating and regaining strength. He's using Luke, a former camper and friend of Thalia and Annabeth, to draw as many half-bloods as possible to his team. Zoe and Percy both have dreams leading them to believe that Annabeth is alive and that Artemis has been kidnapped. The Oracle of Delphi, a mummy who lives in an attic at the camp, issues a prophecy and the camp leaders send Zoe, Bianca, another Hunter named Phoebe, Thalia and Grover to find Artemis. Percy secretly follows them and is discovered when he saves them from the attacking Nemean Lion.

Percy and the others go to New Mexico, where they fight evil skeletons. Pan sends them a wild boar (the Erymanthian Boar) that takes them on its back to the junkyard of the gods in Arizona. When Bianca removes something from the junk heap, a monster appears and takes her. Fearing that Bianca is dead, the group sadly moves on to the Hoover Dam, where the skeletons attack again and statues come to life to fly them to San Francisco. There, they find a sea cow called the Ophiotaurus, which, according to prophesy, will bring great power to whomever sacrifices it. The manticore appears and tells Thalia that since she's a child of one of the Big Three gods (Zeus, Hades and Poseidon) and is about to turn 16, she can sacrifice the sea cow, bring an end to Olympus, and have great power if she chooses. Thalia is momentarily tempted, but Percy helps her escape while Grover takes the Ophiotaurus to safety.

Percy, Zoe and Thalia find Artemis and Annabeth being held captive by the Titan forces. Atlas, the head Titan general, is also Zoe's father. He's forcing Artemis to hold up the weight of the world, which is the Titan's Curse. Percy temporarily takes it from her so she can battle Atlas. Luke appears and urges Thalia to join him in overthrowing Olympus. After a battle, Zoe dies at her father's hand, Luke vanishes and the weight of the world is returned to Atlas' shoulders. Thalia and Percy, having rescued Artemis and Annabeth, meet with the gods. Grover is already there with the Ophiotaurus, which the gods agree to keep in protective custody. The heroes attend a lavish party.



Christian Beliefs


None



Authority Roles


Chiron, the centaur and assistant camp director, cares about his campers. He is shaken by Annabeth's disappearance, since Percy says Chiron had practically raised her when she was a full-time camper. Percy's mother drives him and his hero friends to Grover's school after the satyr's S.O.S. call. She demonstrates concern for Percy but, knowing who and what he is, tries not to be overprotective. Thalia's mother was killed in a crash after one of her many drinking binges. Zoe's father, Atlas, cares only about overthrowing Olympus and isn't upset about destroying his own daughter. Poseidon and other gods and goddesses show some pride in their children's activities, but primarily remain distant observers rather than acting in a parental capacity.



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. For example, Percy and his friends receive help from Apollo who drives the sun across the sky each day. Apollo tells Percy the sun is made up of human dreams and man's perceptions of its power. As in the ancient myths, the gods and goddesses still have affairs with humans. Their children, such as Percy, are powerful demi-gods. Percy and other half-bloods frequently pray to the gods, especially their own fathers or mothers, 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. Many demi-gods attend Camp Half-Blood because life in the real world proves difficult. The camp has magic borders that monsters are unable to penetrate. A magical tree, which used to draw its power from Thalia, still protects the camp. The Oracle of Delphi provides prophesies concerning what the demi-gods will or must do. The oracle has given Chiron prophesies indicating that one of the half-blood children of the Big Three gods (Zeus, Hades and Poseidon) will face a monumental challenge on his or her 16th birthday.

Girls who choose to follow Artemis and become one of her Hunters must pledge themselves to her, as well as pledge to turn their backs on the company of men. Demi-gods can send Iris-messages, which allow them to speak to others far away, by offering ancient Greek coins to Iris, goddess of the rainbow. Chiron makes a claw-like gesture over his heart, an ancient symbol used to ward off evil. Grover performs a tracking spell to help find Artemis. Grover and Percy are empathic, so they can read each other's emotions. The pegasi (winged horses that transport Percy periodically) speak into Percy's mind rather than talking aloud. Percy says Luke deserves to die, and that he couldn't still be alive because that wouldn't be fair. Tourists at the Hoover Dam rub the toes of statues called the guardians because they think the action will bring good luck. Bianca says Annabeth is lucky to have a friend like Percy, and Percy says he and Thalia won the prize for bad luck when a boar charges them. Thalia suggests that Percy's prayer to Poseidon concerning the safety of the Ophiotaurus is so big that it requires some kind of sacrifice. Nico collects figurines and trading cards of the gods for his game, Mythomagic. He hopes that, as a hero, he can die and be resurrected and just keep fighting. Zoe says she senses the presence of the god Pan, Lord of the Wild, and Grover says the arrival of the boar is a gift from Pan. Thalia can mesmerize people by snapping her fingers and creating a Mist, as can many of the demi-gods. As the heroes try to resuscitate the wounded Zoe, Artemis tells them life is fragile and that if the Fates want to cut the string, there's little she can do to help. Atlas says the sky and the earth long to embrace each other, so someone must hold them apart or the sky would crash down on the earth.



Profanity/Graphic Violence


Percy and his friends use phrases like oh my gods, thank the gods, may the gods be with you and Holy Zeus. A few uses of the words butt, heck, darn, and fart appear. A mortal uses the Lord's name in vain once or twice. A few characters curse each other (saying, "Curse you"). While at the Hoover Dam, Percy, Grover and Thalia amuse themselves by talking about the "dam snack bar," wanting to buy some "dam T-shirts," etc.



Kissing/Sex/Homosexuality


Satyrs chase nymphs playfully around the camp because the nymphs have promised to kiss the satyrs if they're caught. Aphrodite runs around with her boyfriend Ares even though she's married to Hephaestus.



Awards


BookSense Top Ten Summer Pick, 2007



Discussion Topics


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

Notes:
Lying: Percy sometimes lies to his friends to avoid hurting them or admitting his own weakness.

Alcohol: Camp Director Dionysus, god of wine, has been banned from drinking and sentenced to work at Half-Blood Hill by his father, Zeus. He produces wine bottles at a meeting, until the campers remind him wine is banned and most of them are underage anyway. He turns the wine into Diet Coke. Percy's mom and her new boyfriend drink wine together.

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


To Kill a Mockingbird

A book review for parents

This Southern drama by Harper Lee is published by Harper Perennial Modern Classics and is written for adults but is sometimes studied by high school classes.



Plot Summary


In their small Southern town, Scout and Jem Finch start out as innocent youngsters who play, attend school and attempt to communicate with their reclusive neighbor, Boo Radley. Their lawyer father, Atticus, always proffers wise insights for living. For example, he tells them it's a sin to kill a mockingbird, since mockingbirds do nothing harmful but simply sing. Though a peace lover and gentleman, Atticus finds himself in the midst of fierce social turmoil as he defends a black man falsely accused of raping a white woman. The entire town becomes swept up in the trial. Scout and Jem learn hard lessons about social inequity, personal restraint and compassion. When Boo Radley ultimately saves the children's lives, it solidifies their resolve to care for the "mockingbirds" in their society.



Christian Beliefs


Scout asserts that church is their town's "principle recreation"; she says she spent long hours in church copying chapters from the Bible, which is part of how she learned to read and write. The Finch family's most noteworthy ancestor, Simon Finch, was a stingy and pious Methodist. Scout and a neighbor discuss the rift between the city's "foot-washing Baptists" and non-foot washers. (The foot washers criticize a neighbor for having beautiful flowers, because they believe anything that brings pleasure is a sin.) When the children attend church with the black housekeeper, Calpurnia, they witness a pastor who brazenly reports some congregants' sins from the pulpit — but also refuses to let anyone leave the church until they've given enough money to help a family in trouble.



Authority Roles


Atticus Finch teaches his children tough life lessons by talking to them like grown-ups and by allowing them to witness some difficult realities. His actions provide them with an example of how to show compassion to others, and he refuses to force his children to adhere to the social expectations and class distinctions of their day. Calpurnia, a stern but loving black woman, respects her neighbors and friends by not flaunting her ability to read and speak well. Aunt Alexandra comes to live with the family, intending to help Atticus instill some good upbringing into the children; Atticus makes it clear he won't allow his children to absorb her condescending opinions of others and her rigid view of how society should operate.



Other Belief Systems


Prejudice — racial (the term n-gger is used repeatedly) and otherwise — plays a key role in the story. Jem tells Scout and Dill about "hot steams," dead people who can't get into heaven so they walk around sucking out others' breath. He also contends that if a whole stadium full of people would concentrate on the same thing at once, the object would burst into flame.



Profanity/Graphic Violence


Jacka--, son-of-a-b--ch, d--n, h---, b--tard and godd--n whore all appear.



Kissing/Sex/Homosexuality


A black man stands trial for raping a white woman; fairly tame accounts of the event are provided in the courtroom scenes. Dill gives Scout quick kisses.



Awards


To Kill a Mockingbird won a Pulitzer Prize. Librarians across America agree with the New York Public Library in their selection of this book as one of the best of the 20th century.



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.


Tombs of Anak

A book review for parents

This third Christian suspense book in the "Cooper Kids Adventure" series by Frank E. Peretti is published by Good News Publishers, Crossway Books.

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



Plot Summary


Dr. Cooper, 13-year-old Lila and 14-year-old Jay are on an excavation site in Gath. Accompanying them is a two-man crew, Jeff and Bill, and a tag-along named Jerry. Dr. Cooper is there to study, but his employers want him to uncover a treasure. The crew meets a man named Ben-Arba, who insists on accompanying them into the excavation site's tunnels. While attempting to stay clear of his brother, Anak and an attacking group of people called the Yahrim, Ben-Arba learns that his brother, mother, Mara, and the Yahrim have been enslaved by greed and power. Anak lures Jay and Lila into the tunnels, because he is upset that Dr. Cooper and his group have invaded his territory. He is looking for revenge. As Dr. Cooper and his crew search the tunnels for his children, Jay and Lila help Ben-Arba find the true treasure, faith in God. They also find the treasure that Anak has been hoarding. When Anak and Mara are removed from power, Ben-Arba decides that the Yahrim need to find God's love before their earthly treasure can be returned to them.



Christian Beliefs


Dr. Cooper, Bill, Jeff, Jay and Lila all display strong Christian beliefs. They pray when faced with difficult situations and ask God for His wisdom. When God gives Dr. Cooper the answers to Mara's riddles, he immediately thanks God. The excavation team is strong in the belief that there is only one true God. Anak tells Jay and Lila that he will spare their lives if they worship him, but regardless of the outcome, they refuse to bow down to a false god. Dr. Cooper shows the same resolve when he and his children refuse to bow down to Mara. Ben-Arba observes Dr. Cooper and his crew's faith first hand. As he works with them, he sees that their God is loving and merciful. When compared to the god his mother created out of Anak, Ben-Arba realizes that Dr. Cooper's God is the true God.



Authority Roles


Dr. Cooper exhibits godly strength and leads his group with compassion and justice. When a new member of his group disappears, he refuses to give up the search for him. He also shows wisdom and patience when Mara threatens his children. He prays for wisdom and receives it. He is also a good father to Jay and Lila. When the kids find themselves in trouble, Jay and Lila remember what their father taught them. Dr. Cooper also shows his love for his children when he is willing to risk everything for their safety. When Dr. Cooper thinks that he hears Jay's voice, he follows it, knowing that Jay could be in danger. Mara, on the other hand, exhibits a negative authority role. She uses her own son to gain wealth and power, but she realizes too late that her son is the one controlling her. She uses witchcraft and fear to extract her wealth from the Yahrim people. They revere her, and she treats them without mercy. When comparing his mother's beliefs with those of Dr. Cooper's, Ben-Arba chooses to emulate Dr. Cooper's. Ben-Arba wants to rule the Yahrim people with the same wisdom displayed by Dr. Cooper.



Other Belief Systems


The Yahrim believe their god is the spirit of Anak, a ferocious giant from Biblical times. Their god, Ha-Raphah, is a vicious and demanding god that requires sacrifices and rules with fear. Mara, the sorceress, has created and groomed her son to be this god. She does this in order to gain power over the Yahrim and to take their treasure. Eventually, her son Anak believes he is truly a god and takes control away from Mara.



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.


Tour de Force

A book review for parents

This romance novel written by Elizabeth White and published by Zondervan is for teens 17 and up. The age range reflects readability and not necessarily content appropriateness.



Plot Summary


Gillian Kincade is a talented ballet dancer with a passionate love for God. After she replaces an injured colleague, her career takes off. Then she meets Jacob Ferrar, the handsome and charming artistic director of the Birmingham Ballet Theatre in Alabama. Jacob creates his own ballet inspired by the biblical story of a woman named Mary who used her expensive perfume on Jesus' feet. As their friendship grows, Gillian is delighted to find that Jacob shares her faith in Christ, but she begins to sense that there is a darker side to his story. Then, a dancing accident threatens Gillian's career. As she recovers, Jacob receives the offer of a lifetime: a contract with choreographer Maurice Poiroux and Ballet New York to produce his ballet. There is a catch, however: The lead role, originally reserved for Gillian, is to go to Iliana Poiroux, Jacob's former lover. After Jacob reveals his past to Gillian, they pray for a miracle. Along the way, their love deepens for God and each other. Jacob decides not to sign the contract for his ballet, and in the epilogue, he and Gillian become engaged.



Christian Beliefs


Both Gillian and Jacob place God at the center of their lives. Gillian desires to use her talents to express God's love to others. As a dancer in New York, Jacob was once involved in a damaging sexual relationship with Iliana. Upon leaving for Alabama, Jacob's life was transformed by the forgiveness and grace of God. Thus, Jacob emphasizes the importance of salvation by faith. Gillian and Jacob are both avid churchgoers and surround themselves with a network of Christian believers. As Christian dancers in a secular industry, both Jacob and Gillian struggle to stand up for the truth and show God's love without condemnation. For instance, Gillian consistently reaches out in love to her homosexual friend, Dmitri, but she does not condone his lifestyle. Gillian and Jacob advocate the sanctity of marriage and sexual purity.



Authority Roles


Gillian maintains a close relationship with her parents and consistently turns to them for advice. Jacob, after the death of his only sister, Lily, graciously takes his 6-year-old nephew, Graham, into his care. Jacob is a loving father figure, raising Graham using biblical principles. Jacob also demonstrates godly discipline both with Graham and with the young dancers in his company. In one instance, Graham is placed under the watch of Yolanda Needham, the costume mistress, while Jacob rehearses with his dancers. When Graham's mischievous behavior frustrates Yolanda, Jacob tells him what he did wrong and requires Graham to apologize. At another point, Jacob suspends an out-of-control girl so she loses her role in "The Nutcracker," even though her father is one of the board members in charge of approving Jacob's new ballet.



Other Belief Systems


None



Profanity/Graphic Violence


In a moment of grief, Victoria, who is an unbeliever, cries out by taking God's name in vain; later, that cry turns into a plea for His help.



Kissing/Sex/Homosexuality


Gillian and Jacob share a passionate kiss. Gillian's friend Dmitri is a homosexual, but he expresses a keen interest in Gillian's faith and accompanies her to church a few times. Gillian's roommate, Victoria, has a sexual relationship with her boyfriend, Nicholas. She becomes pregnant but decides to abort the baby.



Awards


Unknown



Discussion Topics


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

Note:
Tour de Force deals with the topic of abortion. In the novel, it is revealed that several dancers are smokers, and there is one scene in which Dmitri is drunk.


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.


Toward the Goal: The Kaká Story

A book review for parents

This biography by Jeremy V. Jones is published by ZonderKidz Books, a division of Zondervan Publishers, and is written for kids ages 9 to 12. The age range reflects readability and not necessarily content appropriateness.



Plot Summary


As a young boy, Ricardo Izecson dos Santos Leite knows he wants to play soccer. Nicknamed Kaká (pronounced ka-KA) by his brother, the Brazilian youth attends soccer training programs and begins to gain the attention of prominent adult leagues. Despite a spine injury he sustains on a water slide that should have left him paralyzed, Kaká goes on to play on some of the world’s most prestigious teams and win the coveted FIFA World Player of the Year award in 2007. Throughout his youth and his soccer career, Kaká remains vocal about his faith in God. Toward the Goal not only tells his story but includes many facts and mini-articles on topics such as Brazil, the history of soccer and the sport’s famous players and clubs.



Christian Beliefs


Kaká grows up in a Christian family and has a sense of being born spiritually at the moment of his baptism at age 12. He actively shares his faith with both his best friend, Marcelo, and his bride-to-be, Caroline. Kaká’s faith in God grows throughout the healing process after his accident, and he feels God has a purpose for him in the midst of his pain. On the field, he often wears T-shirts or bracelets with phrases that read “I believe in Jesus.” Sometimes he has “God is faithful” stitched on his cleats. Kaká also gives God glory in post-game and magazine interviews. He always wants to use his fame as a platform to share Christ. More recently, he expresses an interest in becoming a pastor.



Authority Roles


Kaká’s father, a civil engineer, and his mother, a teacher, are emotionally supportive and financially able to provide opportunities for Kaká to hone his soccer skills. As evangelical Christians, their faith guides their home life. They unofficially adopt a good friend and classmate of Kaká’s because they see his need.



Other Belief Systems


Some doctors attribute Kaká’s healing to luck, though he and his family give the glory to God.



Profanity/Graphic Violence


None



Kissing/Sex/Homosexuality


Kaká and his bride tell the media that remaining sexually pure before marriage wasn’t easy, but it was worth it.



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.


Trapped at the Bottom of the Sea

A book review for parents

This fourth Christian suspense book in the "Cooper Kids Adventures" series by Frank E. Peretti is published by Good News Publishers, Crossway Books.

Trapped at the Bottom of the Sea is written for kids ages 8 to 12. The age range reflects readability and not necessarily content appropriateness.



Plot Summary


While in Japan on a teaching assignment, Dr. Cooper and his daughter, Lila, have a huge disagreement about her mother. Dr. Cooper puts her on a military plane to return to the States and stay with his sister. When the plane does not land, and seems to have disappeared, Dr. Cooper and his son, Jay, set out to find her. They discover that the plane was carrying a laser with the capacity to shoot down enemy satellites and missiles from hundreds of miles away. The American Navy and a Russian agent, who employed the help of Philippine rebels, race to find the device. With the help of a trading store proprietor, a missionary, a reporter and Sutolo natives, the Coopers find the weapons pod, where they hope Lila is safe. While awaiting rescue from the bottom of the ocean in the pod, Lila realizes she should consider the needs of others first, and she forgives her dad. Dr. Cooper learns to stop hiding the hurt he feels from the loss of his wife and rescues Lila.



Christian Beliefs


The Coopers demonstrate their strong Christian beliefs. Even though Dr. Cooper and Lila have a falling out, they still look to God for guidance in their situations. While trapped in the pod, Lila spends her time talking and arguing with God. She knows that she can go to God even when she is angry and tell Him anything because He will still love her. Eventually, God leads her to a place of repentance and forgiveness. Mrs. Flaherty, a woman helping Dr. Cooper find his daughter, also reveals her strong Christian beliefs by telling Dr. Cooper that he needs to change his attitude about his wife's death. God uses Mrs. Flaherty to show Dr. Cooper how much he is hurting his children by not grieving. Dr. Cooper and Mrs. Flaherty also acknowledge many times that God is in control of the situation. Regardless of what happens, God's plan will be carried out, and they trust in Him. Lila also comes to this same conclusion while trapped in the pod.



Authority Roles


Dr. Cooper is doing his best to raise his children as a single father. He is also trying to be a godly influence in their lives. However, because he does not want to deal with his wife's death, he refuses to talk about her with his children even though they want to talk about her. This alienates them and hurts Lila deeply. She ends up lashing out at her father and accusing him of not caring for her mother. As God works in both of their lives, Dr. Cooper eventually realizes what he is doing to his children. God shows him how to grieve, and Lila and Jay have the chance to talk about their mother with him. Ivanovich was a negative authority figure because he was only interested in what was best for himself. When taken prisoner on an island of cannibals, he bargains for his own life. When they let him go, he quickly leaves without a thought for the members of his team who were still captured.



Other Belief Systems


Cannibalism is mentioned.



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.


A Tree for Peter

A book review for parents

This drama by Kate Seredy is published by Purple House Press and is written for kids ages 9 to 12. The age range reflects readability and not necessarily content appropriateness.



Plot Summary


"Small" Peter is a lame boy living in Shantytown when he meets a vagrant named King Peter. King Peter befriends the child and opens a world of hope by introducing Peter to the beauty of nature that lies beyond his dirty village. The man, who appears only to Peter, brings the boy a spade and, later, a tree. The whole town eventually is inspired to embark on a clean-up effort of epic proportions. Peter's faith is the catalyst that transforms a squatters' camp into a clean, attractive area alive with vegetation. Peter decides to become a builder when he grows up, and through those efforts, he continues to change the world for the better.



Christian Beliefs


At Christmas, Peter's mother reads to him from the Bible about Jesus, including His death on the Cross. She says Christ is a king who now walks the earth bringing comfort to those who need him. Hearing this, Peter is convinced he's discovered the true identity of King Peter (who does, indeed, serve as a Christ figure by helping and encouraging Peter and, consequently, the whole of Shantytown). When the King brings Peter a Christmas tree, the town calls it a miracle. They come together and sing "It Came Upon a Midnight Clear." Later, when the community feels discouraged about their efforts to rebuild Shantytown, Peter hums "Oh Come, All Ye Faithful" and renews their spirits.



Authority Roles


King Peter teaches small Peter to be brave and kind. He introduces the boy to the beauty of nature through adventure and brings him a spade and a tree to grow his own garden. He suggests that when one person makes an effort to create beauty, others will follow. Policeman John Patrick O'Flanahan visits Shantytown just to check on small Peter. The officer helps Peter plant a garden and befriends the boy's mother, who works most of the time and often falls asleep in mid-activity. Still, she clearly loves her son.



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:

The author writes in a more innocent time (1940s) and depicts Peter immediately crawling into the lap of a vagrant he has just met. Peter keeps this friendship from his mother because he doesn't want to reveal his "secret treasure." In our day of rampant pedophilia and child pornography, these scenarios raise red flags. Parents may want to discuss the difference between fear (which Peter learns to overcome in this tale with King Peter's help) and wise caution concerning strangers.



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 Tree Grows in Brooklyn

A book review for parents

This coming-of-age drama by Betty Smith is published by HarperCollins Publishers and is written for ages 13 and up. The age range reflects readability and not necessarily content appropriateness.



Plot Summary


From her fire escape, shaded by a tree growing through the sidewalk below, Francie Nolan observes and writes about Brooklyn in the early 1900s. Readers walk with Francie through her impoverished childhood and develop an intimate knowledge of the colorful characters and scenes that contribute to her early experiences. Johnny, Francie's singing waiter father, loves to dream; her mother Katie, by contrast, serves as the family's pillar of strength, practicality and security. As Francie grows, she overcomes adversity and thrives by incorporating attributes of both parents.



Christian Beliefs


In Francie's community, obvious animosity exists between Catholics and Jews. Francie's people are Catholic; most go to Mass out of habit or to be absolved of the things they did the night before. Katie enlists God's help when she's pregnant and desperate, explaining to Him that she needs Him when she's “not the boss of her own mind and body,” but she doesn't need Him otherwise. Francie questions her belief in God related to her father's death but indicates at the end of the story that she's gotten to know God better.



Authority Roles


Although Johnny is a proud, jovial father, he rarely works, often comes home drunk and demonstrates little responsibility for his family's welfare. To compensate, Katie works tirelessly to make a better life for her kids; the author tells us Katie has traded tenderness for capability and survival. She believes education will rescue her children from their plight, so she saves every penny she can scrape together for their schooling and has the kids read a page from the Bible and from a work of Shakespeare each night. Unlike other neighborhood parents mentioned, she discusses sex and body changes honestly and frankly with her children. Katie's mother believes her husband is literally the Devil.



Other Belief Systems


Katie's “intensely religious” Catholic mother also believes in ghosts and fairies. The author talks about the qualities that “God or whatever is his equivalent” puts in each soul. Katie becomes pregnant while Francie is still small and sickly; she condemns the comments of some neighbors who say it would be better if Francie died or that Katie should “get rid of” the baby inside of her. The story's strong feminist theme is also illustrated in quotes like this one: While hearing Katie scream during childbirth, a neighbor lady says, “Men have all the fun, and women have all the pain.” Most of the male characters appear thoughtless or clueless, and the story's women demonstrate strength and resilience in the face of hardships.



Profanity/Graphic Violence


The Brooklyn folks do their share of cursing, using the Lord's name in vain and words such as b--tard, b--ch, h--- and a--. The author comments that to these "inarticulate people with small vocabularies," sometimes cursing was really the same as saying, "God bless you." Descriptive language also appears when a mother weans her son by drawing a scary face on her breast. A neighborhood pervert attacks Francie in the hallway of her building, touching her with his private parts before Katie shoots and kills him. Also, the married women of the neighborhood stone a single mother.



Kissing/Sex/Homosexuality


As Francie and children her age start becoming interested in sex, the author says parents in the neighborhood don't know how to answer their kids' questions. They have simply made up their own names for things within their marriages. Sissy, Francie's promiscuous aunt, comforts Johnny in a "maternal" way by offering him alcohol and letting him sleep on her bare breasts. Sissy is also a bigamist, having been married a number of times without getting a proper divorce because it's forbidden in the Catholic Church. Francie considers going to a motel with a soldier she loves, but doesn't.



Awards


Published in 1943, New York Public Library Books of the Century



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.


Trion Rising

A book review for parents

This first science fiction, fantasy book in the "Shadowside Trilogy" by Robert Elmer is published by Zondervan.

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



Plot Summary


Oriannon Hightower of Nyssa is the daughter of a prominent member of the Corista Assembly. She's spent her life memorizing the words of the holy Codex and watching her countrymen follow those laws religiously. But when a music teacher named Jesmet arrives with new ideas, healing powers and a song that stirs Oriannon's heart, she begins to wonder if there's more to life than just the rules of the Codex. The Assembly's hostility toward Jesmet grows; in time, he's banished to Shadowside and Oriannon follows him there to discover he has other followers who really feel and understand his song. Jesmet eventually is killed by the Assembly, but Oriannon returns to Shadowside to help her newfound friends and finds Jesmet is there, and alive!



Christian Beliefs


This unique space-age allegory explores what happens when a young woman from a pharisaical society encounters a teacher (Jesmet) who puts life, meaning and music into the texts she's memorized from childhood. The Assembly spies on Jesmet, looking for a reason to condemn him as he heals, enlightens, and even raises a student from the dead. Phrases from the Codex, as well as incidental situations, clearly bring to mind messages from the Gospels. The theme of sacrifice echoes throughout Trion Rising, as both Jesmet and Oriannon make life-altering choices to save others.



Authority Roles


Jesmet is a kind teacher who uses stories to capture the attention of his listeners. He heals and helps those in need, and he exudes a joy unfamiliar to Oriannon and her people. Oriannon's father, a powerful leader of the Coristan nation, repeatedly puts his loyalties to his coworkers and pharisaical beliefs ahead of his daughters needs and safety. He allows her to be injured by having her memories extracted, uses her to help capture Jesmet, and urges her to lie so that she won't be considered an accomplice in Jesmet's "crimes."



Other Belief Systems


The Assembly (representing the Pharisees and Saducees of Jesus' day) believes the Codex should be followed to the letter; they plot against anyone who challenges their traditions.



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 True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle

A book review for parents

This historical adventure by Avi is published by Scholastic, Inc. and is written for kids ages 10 to 13. The age range reflects readability and not necessarily content appropriateness.



Plot Summary


Charlotte Doyle is 12. It is the 1800s, and her wealthy father has arranged for her passage back to the United States on his merchant sailing ship. Two other families do not show up to sail, and Charlotte is the only passenger aboard. A questionable captain is in charge and tells Charlotte that it is acceptable for her to travel aboard the ship accompanied by a rough and unrefined crew. After the whipping of a sailor reveals an evil side of Captain Jaggery, Charlotte finds herself relating more to the crew than to the deceptive captain. Charlotte decides the only course left for her is to join the crew. She proves her nautical skills to the crew first by climbing the ship's mast. The captain is infuriated that Charlotte has left her station as passenger. When a sailor is killed, the captain frames Charlotte as the murderer. She is tried and sentenced to death by hanging. A mysterious, former crew member becomes her ally, and the captain is hurled into the sea before the ship reaches America. Once home, she realizes the adventures aboard the ship have changed her. The book ends as she sets off for more adventures with her newly found crew.



Christian Beliefs


Many references are made to God in respectful context. Charlotte and the captain both refer to their Bibles. At one point, the captain tells Charlotte to "preach the gospel if you have a mind to." The crew enjoys hearing Charlotte read from the Bible, especially the Jonah story. The captain also permits her to read from the Bible before he announces their daily duties. God or a reference to a Christian heritage is mentioned in nearly every chapter.



Authority Roles


Although the parents are not characters until the end of the book, the patriarchal society is strong and well respected. Charlotte is aware of what is acceptable for a girl her age, both in actions and in proper dress and manners. Captain Jaggery is treated with honor until he loses Charlotte's respect. Charlotte's responses toward her parents may be considered inappropriate at the end of the book when she leaves her home in the night and returns to sea. However, the reader is left with the idea that she is seeking new adventures rather than acting defiantly toward her parents.



Other Belief Systems


Some sailors describe God as a force similar to a heavy fist. Superstition exists among them regarding the strength of the sea and wind as God's wrath.



Profanity/Graphic Violence


H--- and d--- are used a few times. The ragged crew is once described as "men recruited from the doormat of h---." Charlotte thought that seeing a mysterious crew member was like seeing a "tormented soul cast down to h---." The third reference is spoken in anger from the captain: "I'd wondered where you'd gone. Not to h--- as I'd hoped — but here."

In another portion of the story, the crew curses and then apologizes, but no actual profanity is used. As Charlotte enters the crew's quarters for the first time, she sees scandalous pictures. No further description is given. Violent acts are scattered throughout. A crew member is whipped for supposed insubordination; and Charlotte unintentionally cuts Captain Jaggery's face.

A head appears above a portal of the ship's belly, and Charlotte wonders if it is real. She discovers it is a carved coconut head. A man is found with a knife in his back, and another old sailor who had an arm removed as punishment appears in the story.



Kissing/Sex/Homosexuality


The only instance of sexuality is a reference by a crew member wondering whether he and Charlotte being together in a room would appear to be wrong.



Awards


Newbery Honor Book 1991; 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.


True Friends

A book review for parents

This first drama book in the "Carmen Browne" series by Stephanie Perry Moore is published by Moody Publishers and is written for kids ages 8 to 12. The age range reflects readability and not necessarily content appropriateness.



Plot Summary


Ten-year-old Carmen Browne isn't happy about her dad's decision to take a new job out of town. Though she experienced some racial prejudice at her prior school for being black, some kids at her new school accuse her of acting "too white." Carmen tries to set a godly example for the class bully, Layah, but then Carmen turns against her best friend, Riana, in an effort to gain peer approval. Carmen also struggles when her family reveals that her older brother was adopted, and then she's forced to come to some personal conclusions about affirmative action as she does a school project. In the end, her faith in God helps her to find clarity and wisdom concerning her relationships, choices and behavior.



Christian Beliefs


Carmen comes from a strong Christian family. She prays often concerning the daily struggles she faces. Her friend Riana is also a Christian; both girls attend Zion Hill Baptist Church. Although Carmen doesn't initially make the best choices, she's strongly guided by her faith in God and eventually returns to the path she knows is right. Carmen's and Riana's efforts to be Christlike to Layah result in the bully opening up about her past and starting to show kindness to others.



Authority Roles


Carmen's firm but loving parents instill Christian values into their children at every turn. Dad admits to "pushing a little hard" sometimes, especially in his efforts to get his adopted son interested in his favorite activities. But his gracious character shows itself in his treatment of the team he coaches and his willingness to give money to a beggar. Both parents have a heart for adoption and chose to bring Clay into their family even though they were physically able to conceive more children. Mom quotes Scripture, lectures on watching R-rated movies and urges Carmen to go out of her way to be kind to the school bully. At Thanksgiving, other loving family members share opinions about affirmative action for Carmen to include in her research paper.



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 Truth About Forever

A book review for parents

This slice-of-life, grief book by Sarah Dessen is published by Viking Books for Young Readers, an imprint of Penguin Group and is written for kids ages 12 and up. The age range reflects readability and not necessarily content appropriateness.



Plot Summary


Macy Queen and her mother hide behind hard work and perfection to avoid grieving the death of Macy's dad. When Macy's dull, brainy boyfriend, Jason, leaves for the summer, she inadvertently finds herself working for Wish Catering. The colorful staff members, including handsome, artistic Wes, teach her how to feel alive again — but her mom and Jason aren't thrilled with Macy's newfound independence. In the end, Macy helps her mother begin the grieving process, too.



Christian Beliefs


Macy says her family never went to church, and her mom felt guilty about it. Her dad, who loved to make big Sunday breakfasts, said that cooking was "his form of worship, and the kitchen was his church, his offering eggs and bacon and biscuits . . . "



Authority Roles


Macy depicts her late father as someone who supported and spurred her on — particularly with her running track. Besides his failure to encourage church involvement, we learn from Macy that he usually came back from his fishing trips with a hangover. Macy's mom has become a workaholic since being widowed, though Macy offers glimpses of her as a once-vibrant woman. She is somewhat rigid (some might simply say "cautious") with Macy concerning where she can work and with whom she can associate, but she seems to loosen her boundaries in the end, for better or worse. Delia, owner of Wish Catering, is a kind woman who has taken her nephews in after her sister's death — but she does a fair amount of cursing in front of them, the other staff members and even her 4-year-old daughter.



Other Belief Systems


Bert, a 16-year-old who is a bit reactionary since his mother's death, obsesses over his Armageddon club and various scientific end-of-the-world theories.



Profanity/Graphic Violence


You'll find nearly every profanity in this book, including variations of the f-word and a dozen uses of the s-word. God's name is used in vain too often to count.



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.


Truth Slayers

A book review for parents

This contemporary Christian book in the "The Powerlink Chronicles" series is written by Josh McDowell and Chuck Klein and is published by Word Publishing.

Truth Slayers is written for kids, ages 13 to 17. The age range reflects readability and not necessarily content appropriateness.



Plot Summary


The main plot centers on high school student Brittany and her struggles with sex and the truth. She breaks up with her boyfriend, Matt, after she realizes she made a poor choice in having sex with him. To get away from Matt and her own physical desire for him, Brittany joins a teen trip to an archeological dig in Israel. On the trip, Brittany gets into trouble by doing things, such as breaking curfew. If she breaks one more rule, she'll be sent home. Brittany tells Jason, a high school friend on the team, about Matt and her past. Jason applauds her new choices and admits how much he cares for Brittany. He asks her to be his girlfriend. She thinks he is just what she needs.

Police accuse Bryan, a member of the dig that few like, of leaving camp and stealing from a store in town. Brittany knows she must decide whether to tell the truth: She saw Bryan in the camp while she was breaking curfew. If she does, Bryan can stay, but she will have to leave. A traumatic storm and prayer encounter with God help Brittany choose to be truthful. The story ends as Brittany departs for the airport. In the demonic subplot, demons try to use relative truth as a weapon to disrupt relationships between the kids and God. They fail when Brittany and the others all accept God's rules as their standard. In the inside story, author Josh McDowell presents facts about kids who adhere to absolute truth and those who don't. He also explains a four-step process to make godly choices by comparing decisions to God's Word.



Christian Beliefs


This novel contains a story, a sub-plot of demonic activity and an inside story that talk about the difference between absolute truth and the humanistic view of relative truth. Brittany is a Christian and is trying to do what God wants her to do.



Authority Roles


Shebtai, a devout Jew, is the leader of the dig. He patiently explains the reasons behind many of the rules. At first the teens feel he is harsh. Later they accept Shebtai as a wise leader because they realize the camp rules are not arbitrary and truth is not relative. Philip is one of the teens on the dig. His pastor-father is cold, demanding and doesn't listen to Philip. At the end of the book, Brittany realizes that her mom has tried to teach her that God is the standard of Truth, and Brittany is the one who rejected it and accepted her peer's beliefs of relative truth.



Other Belief Systems


Shebati explains how many Jewish traditions and beliefs help people understand the character of God. He shares how God's rule of not committing adultery helps people discover God is pure and that trust and intimacy thrive in an atmosphere of purity. He uses artifacts of the dig to share how Jewish people of the past prayed and lived. He also stops Bryan from loudly denouncing Muslims in public and shares the importance of lovingly tolerating people of other faiths without accepting their beliefs. A town scene depicts Muslims while they are stopping work to pray to Allah.



Profanity/Graphic Violence


Philip flashes back to a party he attended where a student was shot and the bloody corpse lay on the floor. The demonic scenes include name-calling, bashing doors, the slapping of other demons and two gorilla-like demons roughly grabbing a smaller demon.



Kissing/Sex/Homosexuality


The first chapter reveals that Brittany and Matt progressed from dating to being sexually active. However, sexual intimacy did not fill Brittany's emotional needs, and she broke up with Matt. Bryan and Susan, other members of the dig, left in a jeep and made-out. Jason and two friends tried to tease Brittany into thinking they were skinny-dipping. Jason imagined himself kissing Brittany and holding hands with her. The inside story provided facts on sexually transmitted diseases and about abortion, and discusses the emotional effects of sex before marriage. Brittany kisses Jason twice.



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.


TTYL (Talk to You Later)

A book review for parents

This first teen chick-lit book in the "Internet Girls" series by Lauren Myracle is published by Amulet Books, an imprint of Harry N. Abrams, Inc.

TTYL is written for kids ages 13 to 17. The age range reflects readability and not necessarily content appropriateness.



Plot Summary


As high school sophomores, Angela, Zoe and Maddie have a lot to e-mail each other about. They discuss relationships with parents, teachers, boys and the snooty girls at school — all via the Internet. As the school year progresses, each girl experiences a crisis: Angela falls for a two-timing guy; Maddie gets drunk at a party and mean girls from school catch her actions on film; Zoe gets a crush on an unscrupulous teacher. Their traumas threaten to tear apart their friendship and destroy the amazing road trip they've been planning together.



Christian Beliefs


Zoe's English teacher (referred to as "Mr. H.") has a reputation as an outspoken Christian — and someone who ogles female students. Maddie tells Zoe he behaves that way because Christians are sexually repressed. In fact, Maddie rails on Christianity throughout the book, even as Zoe goes to church with Mr. H. and becomes interested in his faith. Maddie mocks everything from the "Footprints" poem to the song "Pass It On." She tells Zoe she's too smart to get caught up in Christianity and intentionally sends Zoe to a porn site called Jesus.com. In the end, Maddie and Angela have to rescue Zoe from Mr. H., who is preparing to take advantage of her in a hot tub.



Authority Roles


Maddie's father is a drunk (who makes a crude remark while he's intoxicated about his son's girlfriend's pubic hair), and Maddie's mom seems to support his habit by buying him alcohol. Zoe's mom has over-the-top expectations of her daughter and is hard on her; she's thrilled about Zoe's teacher taking Zoe to church, but she's misjudged the situation — the teacher is actually endeavoring to seduce Zoe. Few, if any, portrayals of respectable adults can be found in TTYL.



Other Belief Systems


The girls take a quiz to determine their "planetary personalities."



Profanity/Graphic Violence


Profuse uses of f--- and s----, along with many milder profanities. God's name is regularly used in vain. Profanity also occurs in the form of text-message language (OMG for Oh my god; WTF for What the f---), euphemism (such as discussions about biting a boy's hot dog), name-calling (b--ch, a--hole, etc.) and body part slang to describe breasts and male/female genitalia.



Kissing/Sex/Homosexuality


Angela kisses a guy after two dates and suggests he may be the one she'll go all the way with. When the guy Maddie likes isn't "moving fast enough" for her, she jokes to the girls that she'll do a lap dance for him or wear crotchless panties. Other sexual discussions (often graphic and crude) permeate the book.



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.


Twilight

A book review for parents

This first fantasy/romance book in the "Twilight Saga" series by Stephenie Meyer is published by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, an imprint of Hachette Book Group.

Twilight is written for kids ages 9 and up. The age range reflects readability and not necessarily content appropriateness.



Plot Summary


When Bella Swan moves to dismal Forks, Wash., to live with her dad, she never dreams of meeting someone as attractive and mysterious as Edward Cullen. Edward warns Bella to stay away from him, but the electricity between them intensifies. Edward finally reveals his secrets: He loves Bella — but he's a vampire, who desperately lusts for her blood. When an enemy vampire hunts Bella, Edward and his family take extreme measures to protect her.



Christian Beliefs


Edward notes that all the intricate things in the world couldn't have come into being on their own.



Authority Roles


Bella's father has never parented before. He asks casual questions about Bella's activities, but he's easily satisfied by her frequent lies and half-truths concerning her whereabouts. He clearly cares for her but doesn't provide much "authority" (although he does set a few more boundaries toward the end of the story). Bella's real protector is Edward. He sets the tone for their relationship, and Bella follows him fearlessly, despite knowing that he literally wants to devour her. Edward excuses Bella's repeated lying to others because it allows them to be together.



Other Belief Systems


Edward and his family are vampires, so the book includes vampire lore. A local Indian tribe fears the Cullen family because of tribal legends about vampires.



Profanity/Graphic Violence


Main characters use variations of d--n twice. Bella is beaten up and bloodied by an evil vampire who wants to kill her.



Kissing/Sex/Homosexuality


Edward and Bella engage in a number of fairly innocuous kisses. Although Bella and Edward don't have sex, their relationship is extremely intense and sensual. It seems the only thing preventing intercourse is the fact that Edward desires to suck her blood, not to deflower her. He abstains from acting on his thirst because he loves her.

Awards


Editor's Choice in The New York Times book section in 2006, 2006 Top Ten Books for Young Adults by the Young Adult Library Services Association



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.


Twisted

A book review for parents

This coming-of-age book by Laurie Halse Anderson is published by Viking, a division of Penguin Group, and written for kids ages 12 years and older. The age range reflects readability and not necessarily content appropriateness.



Plot Summary


Tyler Miller's summer of community service for vandalizing his school has produced one positive result: The skinny teen has developed muscles, so his dream girl, Bethany, finally notices him. Trapped in a bland life with an overbearing father and a mother with a penchant for gin, Tyler revels in Bethany's attention. When she invites him to a party and offers herself to him sexually (while she's intoxicated), it takes all of Tyler's willpower to refuse her advances. Then nude pictures of Bethany at the party surface on the Internet, and fingers point in Tyler's direction. Other students torture Tyler for his presumed involvement. Then he is isolated from his classmates by the school for his own protection. Meanwhile, police officers investigate him, Bethany's brother jumps him and his dad continues to remind him that he's a loser. Tyler contemplates killing himself with his dad's gun, until he chooses to make a better life for himself rather than die.



Christian Beliefs


When Bethany's mom invites Tyler into the house on a Sunday afternoon, Tyler nervously lies about having church activities. Bethany's mom is impressed that Tyler is both handsome and spiritual, and she says she's sure the Lord won't mind if he takes a few minutes to visit Bethany. Tyler writes a compare/contrast paper about God and Satan and gets a zero. He says everything about Christmas is holy to his mom, not just the church stuff, but all the decorations, family photos, etc.



Authority Roles


Tyler's workaholic dad has vowed never to inflict physical abuse like his father did, but his verbal abuse — screaming matches with his wife and visible disappointment in the family — alienates him from the family. At the end of the book, his father shares some healing moments with Tyler and demonstrates a desire to be a better dad. His mother, Mrs. Miller, is a pet photographer, drinks too much gin and makes constant excuses for her husband's bad behavior. The two attend marriage counseling. Bethany's mom warns her not to have any cake because, with her injured leg, she's not in a position to exercise. Most of the principal's attempts to discipline Tyler involve long, trite lectures.



Other Belief Systems


On a bad day, Tyler prays to every god he's heard about that he will die. He doesn't want to leave a mess for someone else to discover or clean up, though, when he contemplates killing himself. He thinks if he did, it would be such bad karma that his soul might be sent back to live the same miserable life. When Tyler has a dream about kissing Bethany, he says it is a sign, a magical intervention from the saints and spirits of dweeby guys.



Profanity/Graphic Violence


Words like a--, d--n, b--ch, h---, screw, slut, whore, butt, crap, douche bag, b--tard, p---, boobs, BS, WTF, the s-word and the f-word are used frequently, and the Lord's name is often taken in vain. When Tyler vandalizes the school, he misspells the word testicle and makes crude remarks about the principle's manhood. Tyler frequently plays a video game called Tophet [a fictional game] in which he guides and empowers his demon through the 66 levels of hell. The game involves a lot of killing and the casting of spells. Tyler often fantasizes about doing violent things to his dad. Instead, he takes a baseball bat to his father's prized train set and destroys one of his CDs. Tyler is bullied and eventually beat up by classmates, because most think he is guilty of posting the nude photographs of Bethany online. Bullies, also, torment Tyler's friend because his friend is small, and the bullies can get away with it.



Kissing/Sex/Homosexuality


Tyler and the building maintenance crew lust for and fantasize about the wet tennis team members at a car wash. Tyler frequently informs readers of his erections (using terms like penis, trouser snake, hard on, boner and others) and often elaborates on his erotic fantasies about Bethany. He makes allusions to masturbating and to viewing pornography in magazines or on the Internet. On the first day of school, senior guys prowl for virgin freshmen. Tyler is thankful for art history, a class that allows him to look at breasts. While going through Tyler's wallet, Bethany finds a condom. At a party, a drunk Bethany dirty dances with Tyler before coming on to him in an effort to have sex. After an intense inner battle, Tyler stops making out with her and says he won't take advantage of her while she's wasted. She accuses him of being gay because he won't sleep with her. A nude photograph of Bethany appears on the Internet. Tyler is accused of taking it and posting it online.



Awards


ALA Best Books for Young Adults, 2008; International Reading Association Top Ten Books of 2007; The New York Times Bestseller List, 2007 and others.



Discussion Topics


None

Note:
Criminal activity: As the book begins, Tyler is completing a sentence of community service for vandalizing the school. He'd considered bombing it (in the evening, so no one would get hurt), but decided it was too risky so he used spray paint to rage against its authority in his life. The maintenance men he works with, while doing community service, teach him how to steal soda from the vending machine. When Tyler thinks of leaving home, he steals money from his dad's room.

Lying: Tyler frequently lies to his parents so he can go to parties or keep them from fighting as much. His sister also lies so she can attend a party. Tyler's dad lies to his boss and co-workers so they will perceive him as competent.

Alcohol and drug use/abuse: Tyler's mom drinks too much gin and tries to cover up her problem by saying she has migraines. Tyler's dad usually has only one scotch per night, but drinks three on an evening that's especially stressful. Several times, Tyler takes four ibuprofen and chugs half a bottle of NyQuil to get to sleep after a trying day. Bethany's brother's name is Chip. His breath smells like beer and the Tic Tacs he uses to cover it up. Tyler says his school's homecoming game always happens on the Friday of Columbus Day weekend to give everyone an extra day to recover from their hangovers. A party Tyler and his sister attend has kegs and smells like beer-vomit and weed.

Prejudice: Mr. Miller's boss makes a questionable remark about the “illegals” his wife always hires to do their landscaping.

Obsession with death: Tyler says thinking about death relaxes him. His favorite video game is about death. When he's falsely accused of distributing nude photos of Bethany, he thinks through the many ways he could kill himself. He loads his father's gun and puts it in his mouth, nearly pulling the trigger.

Modesty: Tyler mentions a day when many of the girls at his school have dressed provocatively, causing the male students to be awash in lust. When the guys express their desires, the girls get angry. Tyler's 14-year-old sister secretly gets a belly button ring and folds down the top of her mini skirt at school so it will show. Another time, she takes off a parent-approved shirt in the car on the way to school so she can wear a skimpy top.


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 Two Towers

A book review for parents

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

The Two Towers is often read by kids 12 and up. The age range reflects readability and not necessarily content appropriateness.

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


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