Focus on the Family


The Wheel on the School

A book review for parents

This drama by Meindert DeJong is published by HarperCollins Publishers and is written for kids ages 9 to 12. The age range reflects readability and not necessarily content appropriateness.



Plot Summary


Lina asks why the storks no longer nest in her city, Shora. Her teacher urges all his pupils to wonder along with Lina. The children's curiosity leads to an investigation. Soon they're involving their whole Dutch fishing village in efforts to learn about storks and find a way to bring them back to Shora. As they hunt for an old wagon wheel to use as a nest, even elderly and disabled townspeople try to bolster the children's efforts. Not only do the people of Shora get the storks back, but they also discover what can happen when a community works together.



Christian Beliefs


Most townspeople attend church, and Janus, a lapsed churchgoer, rejoins the congregation when he feels his bond with the community deepening. The fishermen and their families readily attribute their safety to intervention from God, who protects them through life's literal storms, and they seem eager to attend church to demonstrate their gratitude for His provision. When the men of the village are badgered into helping put a wheel on the schoolhouse roof, the teacher humorously references Solomon and his proverb about it being better to sit on the roof of a house than inside with a nagging wife.



Authority Roles


Despite having only six students, the town teacher relishes the opportunity to inspire Shora's youngsters. He urges them to wonder and encourages them to act on their curiosity. The children's fishermen fathers, normally out at sea for long periods, grow restless and agitated when forced to stay home because of the weather. (They do help the children get their wheel mounted on the school and seem to gain some satisfaction from the project.) Some of the greatest allies in the stork project are two elderly people (Grandma Sibble III and Douwa) and a man with no legs (Janus). Their ability to provide useful services and information restores their sense of dignity and purpose, and allows them to rediscover joy in their lives.



Other Belief Systems


None



Profanity/Graphic Violence


None



Kissing/Sex/Homosexuality


None



Awards


Newbery Medal, 1955; Lewis Carroll Shelf Award, 1973; ALA Notable Children's Books of 1940 to 1970



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.


When You Reach Me

A book review for parents

This futuristic, coming-of-age book by Rebecca Stead is published by Wendy Lamb Books, an imprint of Random House Children's Books (a division of Random House, Inc.), and is written for kids ages 9 to 14 years old. The age range reflects readability and not necessarily content appropriateness.



Plot Summary


Miranda, a sixth-grader in the late 1970s, lives with her mother in a run-down New York apartment. Mom's boyfriend, Richard, spends much of his time with them. A latch-key kid, Miranda always walks home from school cautiously, particularly trying to avoid an insane old vagrant who hangs out near her building. Because of his crazy cackling, she and Mom refer to him as the laughing man.

When Miranda's best buddy, Sal, gets punched by another boy for no apparent reason, Sal abruptly ends his friendship with Miranda. Then Miranda starts getting strange notes. The anonymous writer says he's coming to save her friend's life and his own, and he needs Miranda to write a letter for him. The notes frighten Miranda, partly because they correctly predict future events, such as the date her mom appears as a contestant on "$20,000 Pyramid."

Miranda develops new friendships with classmates Annemarie (who has also "broken up" with her best friend, Julia) and Colin. Later, she meets Marcus, the boy who punched Sal. Seeing a copy of A Wrinkle in Time that Miranda always carries, Marcus provides thought-provoking commentary on the book. As they discuss the plausibility of time travel, Miranda realizes Marcus isn't mean, but he is extremely intelligent.

On her way home one day, Miranda sees Sal running from Marcus. Sal runs into traffic and is nearly hit. The laughing man kicks Sal out of the way and dies in his place. She finally realizes the laughing man, who is actually Marcus as an old man, sent her the notes. He has come back from the future to save Sal's life. Miranda's job is to write a letter to present-day Marcus, explaining the events that will transpire and reminding him to return to the past when he discovers how to travel through time.



Christian Beliefs


The driver who almost hits Sal repeatedly cries, "Thank God," when he realizes the boy is fine.



Authority Roles


Mom, who was unable to finish her law degree because she became pregnant with Miranda, is a secretary for a law office. The more she hates her job, the more she steals office supplies. A concerned parent and compassionate individual, Mom volunteers with pregnant, incarcerated women, and her law firm, for which Richard also works, often provides free legal aid to the poor. Richard, a lawyer, is a loving companion for Mom and father figure for Miranda. Miranda doesn't understand why her mother won't let him have a key to their apartment. Miranda never knew her own father, and she says you can't really miss something you never had. She doesn't hold any grudges against her father, though she blames him for her flat brown hair. Jimmy, the temperamental owner of a restaurant near their school, pays Colin, Annemarie and Miranda in sandwiches to work at his shop. They finally quit when he makes racially bigoted comments about Julia, who is black.



Other Belief Systems


Mom's appearance on "$20,000 Pyramid" falls on the same day as Richard's birthday, and Mom thinks that may be a good omen. In a school assembly, Miranda tries to use her brain waves to make Sal turn around and look at her. She ponders the world millions of years ago and the evolution of it since then, including how animals became people. Mom says people walk around with invisible veils over their faces, and that at certain critical moments, the veils are lifted, and everything becomes clear. She says it isn't due to magic or God or angels, but it's because people get distracted by little things and ignore the big ones. Miranda and Marcus discuss Einstein's theory of relativity in relation to time travel and events that take place in A Wrinkle in Time. By the end of the book, Marcus proves that time travel is a possibility and that the end of something can come before its beginning (time-wise).



Profanity/Graphic Violence


Miranda says her mother calls something "a whole different bucket of poop," but that Mom doesn't use the word "poop." H--- and darn appear a few times. The Lord's name is taken in vain a few times, too. Mom drops something in the kitchen, and Miranda hears a bunch of cursing, though no actual swear words appear in the text.



Kissing/Sex/Homosexuality


Mom fears change, so she refuses to give Richard a key to her apartment. She's also nervous about letting him move in or accepting his offer of marriage. After her win on "$20,000 Pyramid," she gives him a key. The text also implies that he stays the night. Miranda mentions that she has kissed Colin a few times and that another boy kissed Annemarie.



Awards


Newbery Award, 2010; The New York Times Notable Book, 2009; Kirkus Reviews Best Children's Books, 2009; Publisher's Weekly Best Children's Book of the Year, 2009; and others



Discussion Topics


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

Notes:
Nudity: The school shuts down its off-campus lunch policy a few times when a naked man is seen running down a nearby street. Miranda also thinks she sees a flickering image of a naked man standing near the laughing man. She ultimately realizes it was Marcus (as the laughing man) on one of his earlier time travel trips, practicing for his stay in New York. Time travel allows one to bring very little, including clothing.

Lying: Colin lies about where he's been when he is snooping through Jimmy's things. The school dentist lies to help hide Marcus when the police are after him.

Stealing: Colin takes bread from Jimmy's restaurant, but he says he wouldn't take money because that would be stealing. The laughing man steals Jimmy's bank full of $2 bills. Mom pilfers office supplies from work.


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 Whipping Boy

A book review for parents

This adventure by Sid Fleischman is published by HarperCollins Publishers and is written for kids ages 6 to 10. The age range reflects readability and not necessarily content appropriateness.



Plot Summary


Jemmy, an orphan, is whipped whenever Prince Horace disobeys. The prince, also known as Prince Brat, is an extremely naughty boy and does not learn his studies. Instead, Jemmy learns them because he is frequently beaten in the schoolroom during class instruction. One night, the prince demands that Jemmy run away from the castle with him. Once on the outside, they are kidnapped. Because of Jemmy's ability to read and write, the kidnappers think Jemmy is the prince and Prince Horace is the whipping boy. Twice Jemmy comes up with a plan to free the prince, but the prince refuses to go along with either plan. Even though the whole mess has been the prince's fault, Jemmy knows he'll be blamed for it. When Jemmy tries to escape, Prince Horace tells the kidnappers where Jemmy has hid. Jemmy and Prince Horace finally escape together, and only then does Prince Horace realize how little he knows about the real world. Together, they find driftwood to sell, help pull a wagon out of the mud and flee into the sewers to escape the kidnappers. In the end, Prince Horace outsmarts the kidnappers and saves their lives. Prince Horace and Jemmy return to the castle as friends.



Christian Beliefs


None



Authority Roles


The king wants to train his son without disciplining him. The king makes a whipping boy (Jemmy) receive all of Prince Horace's punishments. As a result, Prince Horace doesn't learn his lessons, and everyone calls him Prince Brat behind his back. Two cutthroats, Cutwater and Hold-Your-Nose Billy, kidnap Jemmy and Horace and are easily fooled. They think Jemmy is the prince because Horace can't read or write.



Other Belief Systems


None



Profanity/Graphic Violence


There is talk of beatings, torture and boiling in oil. Jemmy is whipped for Prince Horace, and the outlaws whip Prince Horace when they think Jemmy is the prince. Cutwater threatens Jemmy with death if Horace doesn't deliver their demands to the king.



Kissing/Sex/Homosexuality


None



Awards


Newbery Medal 1987, 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.


The Winter Room

A book review for parents

This realistic fiction book by Gary Paulsen is written for kids ages 9 and up and is published by Scholastic, Inc. The age range reflects readability and not necessarily content appropriateness.



Plot Summary


Eleven-year-old Eldon grows up with his brother, Wayne, their parents and two uncles on a rustic Minnesota farm. Each season on the farm presents new experiences, which shape Eldon's view of both farm life and family. Winter is special because the family gathers in the winter room to hear Uncle David's stories, but when Uncle David tells a new story, he loses the respect of Eldon's brother, Wayne — a respect that is restored when Uncle David, unaware that the boys are watching, draws energy from the ground and appears to be youthfully strong, again, at least momentarily.



Christian Beliefs


Uncle David and Uncle Nels each have a Bible on their bedside table. Father thanks God for a meal. Wayne condemns bragging and compares it to lying.



Authority Roles


In Eldon's home, Mother controls the household and finances, while Father works hard on the land and takes every opportunity to involve his sons in what he does. Mother brings lunch to Father while he's working in the field and helps him complete the demands of farm work. Father gently teases his sons but takes a firm stance against their fighting. The boys are expected to stay out of the room their two uncles share. In one of Uncle David's stories, a manager refuses to tolerate an employee's pranks. Later, Wayne accuses Uncle David of boasting about himself in his story, and David responds with only a sad look.



Other Belief Systems


Other belief systems This story begins suggesting that books need to appeal to readers through the use of all five of their senses for stories to come to life. Eldon cryptically muses on where there are spaces between time, the pauses between days that turn into a different season. In one of Uncle David's stories, a kidnapped woman uses magic to enact revenge. Mother says that Uncle David's stories are not necessarily to be believed, but may be fantasy. In a surreal sequence, Uncle David draws power from the ground to make himself young again, and the boys watch in what is described as prayerful worship.



Profanity/Graphic Violence


Though no profanity is used in the story, Eldon often uses crude comparisons to describe things on the farm, such as walking through manure so deep it comes up to his crotch or the effect of a horse urinating in a man's ear. Several people are said to have died in bizarre ways — one girl drowns herself in a lake, another is eaten by pigs and a man willfully allows himself to freeze to death. One of Uncle David's stories refers to Vikings killing and kidnapping. The process of slaughtering farm animals is described in graphic detail.



Kissing/Sex/Homosexuality


Uncle David has calendar pin-ups of women on his walls, but there is no indication that the pictures contain nudity.



Awards


Newberry Honor Book, 1990



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.


Words Unspoken

A book review for parents

This contemporary Christian drama by Elizabeth Musser is published by Bethany House Publishers, an imprint of Baker Publishing Group and is written for young adults ages 16 and up. The age range reflects readability and not necessarily content appropriateness.



Plot Summary


When a tragic car accident kills Lissa Randall's mother, Lissa's life comes to a standstill. Many things frighten her now, particularly getting behind the wheel of a car. When she seeks the help of a driving teacher named Ev MacAllister, he and his wife, Annie, take Lissa under their wings. Readers subsequently learn about Ev and Annie's daughters. Janelle is a missionary suffering severe depression, and Katy Lynn, the estranged elder daughter, is a socialite on the brink of divorce. The narrator also introduces Silvano, a young, handsome Italian hungry for money and fame, and Ted, a stockbroker whose desire to succeed leads to illegal trading.

The common thread in the lives of these diverse characters is a mysterious, reclusive best-selling author named S.A. Green. As Lissa, Katy Lynn and Janelle find courage and comfort in the author's books, Ted steals money from the author's portfolio, and Silvano vows to discover the writer's identity and sell an exclusive story on it. Ev and Annie, who have a secret, sordid past of their own, strive to help the other characters realize that life experiences, events and interactions are not random, but orchestrated by a loving Creator. When Silvano threatens to expose Ev as S.A. Green, Ev has a heart attack, which leads to his death. Silvano decides not to write his expose after all. Lissa learns to drive again and goes back to college.



Christian Beliefs


Janelle and her husband, Brian, are missionaries in France. Suffering from depression over the death of her 3-year-old, she often prays and quotes Scripture to herself for comfort and to be reminded of her purpose. Janelle wrestles with God over why He would allow her son to die. When faith-skeptical Katy Lynn comes to visit, Janelle tries to explain that as a missionary, she's not trying to change people's minds herself but aiding the Holy Spirit in changing hearts. People have sometimes mistakenly referred to Ev as a prophet or like Jesus because he has the uncanny ability to predict what may happen to individuals based on their behaviors. Ev and Annie frequently pray about their children, Lissa, people they support and sponsor, and other life concerns. They also pray out of thankfulness to God for the beauty of His Creation and the change He's brought to their lives. Some of Ev's statements, coupled with phrases from S.A. Green's books, cause Lissa to consult her Bible and keep it nearby. After reading S.A. Green, Ted entertains the idea that there may be a God and urgently pleas for help in the wake of his illegal activities because he knows he will be caught.



Authority Roles


Lissa's deceased mother is described as someone who always supported and encouraged her daughter's educational and equestrian activities. Lissa's dad, experiencing grief in his own way through most of the book, is cold, distant and easily angered by Lissa's inability to overcome obstacles. He admits, in the end, that he's afraid of losing her, too. Ev and Annie take on parental roles in Lissa's life. They invite her into their home, share spiritual insights and even stay with her when she's contemplating suicide. They also do a lot of volunteer work with a rehabilitation center and support many Christ-centered causes. Ev and Annie have kept a number of secrets about their past from their children in an effort to protect them. For example, they don't tell Janelle about Ev's drinking problems and infidelity before she was born, and they don't let either daughter know that Ev is really a famous author.



Other Belief Systems


Janelle briefly mentions hearing about some of the dangerous incidents taking place around Halloween time in America. She's glad the holiday hasn't taken hold in France, because she fears that French people's interest in the occult would render it a particularly frightening event.



Profanity/Graphic Violence


Janelle and Brian refer to Katy Lynn's first visit to their home as the visit from h---, and Ted is sure his talk with S.A. Green will be a trip through h---. The word darn also appears once or twice. Lissa's mom is thrown 20 feet onto the interstate when a car slams into her. Lissa recalls the thud, a scream and the splattering of blood on the pavement. When Katy Lynn's teenage daughter, Gina, learns about her father's affair, she carves "I hate Dad” into her arms.



Kissing/Sex/Homosexuality


Several passages suggest that married couples are preparing to have or have just had sex with one another. When Katy Lynn visits France, she buys Janelle French lingerie, and Brian enjoys it. Without much detail, readers learn that Ev was often unfaithful to Annie prior to accepting Christ. Katy Lynn silently mocks Janelle's and Brian's faith and thinks Brian probably secretly enjoys all of the bare-breasted women on the beaches. Silvano tries several times to kiss Lissa on their first date, but she tells him to slow down.



Awards


None



Discussion Topics


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

Notes:
Alcohol: Many characters, including Christian missionaries in France, drink alcoholic beverages. Ev no longer drinks because of the way his past alcohol intake nearly destroyed his family. He also saw how alcohol abuse contributed to the death of his younger sister.

Smoking: A few characters, including Katy Lynn and Silvano, smoke cigars or cigarettes.

Depression/Suicide: A handful of the characters experience depression in the book or have in their pasts, most due to losses of loved ones. Lissa considers taking her own life on a number of occasions, either by overdosing on her medication or running her car into something. She tells her father she hates him and wishes he had died instead of her mother: She feels if she and her mom had been left alive, at least they could have worked through their pain together. Ev's teenage sister kills herself in a car wreck one of the many times she had been drinking too much.

Drugs: Ev briefly mentions a young man who came to his driving lesson high and cursed at Ev for refusing to take him driving. A few days later, the teen killed a mother of three in a hit-and-run accident.

Lying: Both Silvano and Ted lie regularly to their employers and other people to achieve their career and financial goals. Silvano steals an unpublished manuscript, and Ted steals money from S.A. Green's account to put into someone else's in an effort to cover up his illegal trading. Lissa lies to her dad about where she's been because she doesn't want him to know she's been riding her horse (which he feels is dangerous).


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 Wrinkle in Time

A book review for parents

This first science fiction/fantasy book in the "Time Quartet" series by Madeleine L'Engle is published by Square Fish, an imprint of Roaring Brook Press.

A Wrinkle in Time is written for kids ages 9 to 12. The age range reflects readability and not necessarily content appropriateness.



Plot Summary


No one has heard from Meg Murray's physicist father in more than a year — then Meg and her precocious brother, Charles Wallace, meet Mrs. Who, Mrs. Whatsit and Mrs. Which (the Mrs. Ws). The strange women tell the children that their father is in danger, and it's up to them (the kids) to travel through space and time to find him. Along with their new friend, Calvin, Meg and Charles Wallace learn about tessering or traveling into a fifth dimension through a "wrinkle" in time. Their father discovered how to tesser, which led to his imprisonment on the planet Camazotz by an evil disembodied brain known as IT. As they attempt to rescue Mr. Murray, Charles Wallace falls prey to IT's mind control. Meg, Calvin and Mr. Murray escape to the planet Ixchel where the Mrs. Ws and helpful, blind creatures (including Meg's caregiver, Aunt Beast) teach Meg what she must do to rescue her brother and return home.



Christian Beliefs


Charles Wallace, the Mrs. Ws and Aunt Beast all acknowledge God and Christ, though they don't all know Him by the same name because of language differences on their various planets. On one planet, creatures sing verses from Isaiah 42. Aunt Beast, after saying that good and light guide her people, quotes from 2 Corinthians 4. Mrs. Who quotes 1 Corinthians 1, and Mr. Murray notes that all things work together for good for those who love God. Mrs. Who speaks about the light shining in the darkness but the darkness not understanding it. Christ is mentioned in this discussion as One who brought light, but so are well-known authors, scientists and religious leaders (including Ghandi and Buddha). Charles Wallace has Calvin read him the book of Genesis as a bedtime story. The Dark Thing and IT both exemplify evil. The Dark Thing hangs over the earth and other planets like a smoky haze, and IT manipulates and controls everyone it can inhabit.



Authority Roles


Mrs. Murray is a scientist who writes faithfully to her husband and tries to find him, despite not hearing from him in more than a year. Meanwhile, she maintains a brave face in front of her four children. Mr. Murray, also a scientist working for the government, has been trapped by IT on Camazotz. He longs to protect his family but has been unable to get back to them and, ultimately, can't be the one to save his young son from IT. Calvin's mother beats her children and screams at them. The Mrs. Ws, Aunt Beast and others on the planet Ixchel care for Meg, Calvin and Mr. Murray. They are loving but firm, refusing to allow Meg in particular to behave in a hateful manner to others. IT cruelly manipulates everyone he can, attempting to convince them that life will be much easier if they leave the thinking to him.



Other Belief Systems


The Mrs. Ws use magic to travel through space and change themselves into other forms. These ladies take the children to visit the Happy Medium, a turban-wearing woman who can look at other worlds through her crystal ball. The Happy Medium tells Calvin that kissing her will bring him good luck. Mrs. Whatsit tells Meg if she stays angry, she won't have room for fear.



Profanity/Graphic Violence


None



Kissing/Sex/Homosexuality


Kisses are innocent. Each of the children gives the Happy Medium a goodbye kiss. Calvin kisses Meg before she tessers back to Camazotz to get her brother. Charles Wallace gives Mrs. Whatsit a kiss of appreciation when he learns she was once a star who gave her life to fight the darkness.



Awards


Newbery Medal, 1963 and more



Discussion Topics


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


Note: The author received the Margaret A. Edwards award in 1998, honoring her lifetime contribution of writing for teens.

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.