Enola Holmes and the Black Barouche

Enola Holmes is the much younger sister of her more famous brothers, Sherlock and Mycroft. But she has all the wits, skills, and sleuthing inclinations of them both. At fifteen, she’s an independent young woman—after all, her name spelled backwards reads “alone”—and living on her own in London. When a young professional woman, Miss Letitia Glover, shows up on Sherlock’s doorstep desperate to learn more about the fate of her twin sister, it is Enola who steps up. It seems her sister, the former Felicity Glover, married the Earl of Dunhench and, per a curt note from the Earl, has died. But Letitia Glover is convinced this isn’t the truth, that she’d know—she’d feel—if her twin had died.

The Earl’s note is suspiciously vague and the death certificate is even more dubious, signed by a John H. Watson, M.D. (who denies any knowledge of such). The only way forward is for Enola to go undercover—or so Enola decides at the vehement objection of her brother. And she soon finds out that this is not the first of the Earl’s wives to die suddenly and vaguely—and that the secret to the fate of the missing Felicity is tied to a mysterious black barouche that arrived at the Earl’s home in the middle of the night. To uncover the secrets held tightly within the Earl’s hall, Enola is going to require help—from Sherlock, from the twin sister of the missing woman, and from an old friend, the young Viscount Tewkesbury, Marquess of Basilwether!

The interaction between Sherlock and Enola is humorous and although Enola usually doesn’t include Sherlock in her plans, he does acknowledge her ability to come up with a creative scheme to solve the mystery. Like Sherlock, Enola is a capable character who uses her mind to solve problems. To Sherlock’s dismay, Enola’s unconventional upbringing has allowed her to grow into a spunky, self-sufficient teen. Enola explains, “My mother saw to it that I was not taught to knit, crochet, embroider, or play the piano; she wanted to make quite sure that I would never become domestic or decorative.” Enola Holmes and the Black Barouche is an engaging mystery, and also explores women’s roles during the Victorian Era.

Springer excellently narrates the adventure with old fashion language, British colloquial language, as well as difficult vocabulary such as crepuscular, galvanization, and pulchritude. Despite this, most readers will be able to use context clues to understand unfamiliar words. The different types of language are part of the book’s charm and help distinguish different characters. For example, when Dr. Watson is worried about Sherlock’s behavior, he seeks out Enola. Dr. Watson tells her, “I exhorted him to shave and get dressed as a rudimentary step in exerting himself toward recovery, but to no avail.”

Enola Holmes and the Black Barouche takes readers on an action-packed adventure that is pure fun. Readers will fall in love with Enola, who is the story’s narrator. The unconventional character isn’t afraid to take risks, use stealth, or ask for the assistance of others. Even as Enola galivants through England, she takes the time to discuss her fashionable clothing which will delight fashion-conscious readers. Readers who want a delightful mystery should add Enola Holmes and the Black Barouche to their must-read list. More mature readers who enjoy historical mysteries should also read Glow by Megan Bryant.

Sexual Content

  • When Sherlock was investigating a case, he fell into a deep hole. Enola shows up to help and “the Lord of the manor came out with a shotgun and fired upon us!” Both Sherlock and Enola were able to escape.
  • Women could be committed to an insane asylum if they had “adulterous thoughts or tendencies.”
  • When the Earl of Dunhench’s wife is freed from an insane asylum, she says, “I could not cease brooding over Caddie, his infidelities, how he doomed me for not being complaisant. . .”

Violence

  • The Earl of Dunhench and his butler grab Enola and lock her in a bedroom. She is able to escape.
  • Tish dressed up as her sister who was committed to an insane asylum. Mistaking Trish for his wife, the Earl of Dunhench, puts her in a black barouche and sends her back to the asylum. On the way, Tish gets upset with Dawson (a servant). “Tish reacted like a viper striking. Screeching something inarticulate, she coiled, snatched off her sow, and flung it at Dawson’s face.”
  • While Dawson is distracted, Enola comes out from underneath the black barouche’s seat. When Dawson goes to scream, Enola “pounced, clamping my hand over her mouth before she got past her initial squeak. Kneeling on her bosom, with one hand silencing her and the other flourishing my danger, I warned her.”
  • When the driver goes to help Tish out of the carriage, Enola “charged. . . I knocked them both sprawling, Tish back into the carriage on her posterior, and the coachman similarly into a formidable rose bush.”
  • When Sherlock confronts the Earl of Dunhench, Watson “stationed himself at the main entry and stood guard with his pistol in hand.” When the conversation “deteriorated,” Sherlock “pulled out my life preserver—a handy pocket truncheon made of rope and weighted wood—and showed it to him.”

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • When Sherlock injured himself falling into a deep hole, Enola tossed “down brandy and bandages.”
  • In order to help Sherlock, Enola lists drugs that help with depression. “Laudanum, belladonna, antimony, all highly efficient if they do not cause your untimely demise.” Sherlock does not take any of the drugs.
  • Enola falls off a horse. As she lay on the ground, she “saw the clodhopper boots of comment men surrounding me and smelled alcohol on the breath of those leaning over me.” The men take Enola into a tavern and offered her “a nip of brandy.”
  • The Earl of Dunhench offers Enola wine, but she “sipped only water.”
  • Enola goes into an insane asylum and is told, “In order to calm them enough for bathing, we must drug them.”

Language

  • Sherlocks gets angry at Enola and says, “Your mission be damned!”
  • Hell is used twice. When Sherlock enters the Earl of Dunhench’s house unannounced, the earl yells, “Who the hell might you be?”
  • A woman calls the Earl of Dunhench a “great parlous pile of pig dun” and a “cad.”

Supernatural

  • When someone dies, mirrors are covered “supposedly so that the soul of the departed might not blunder into one and get trapped inside the house.”

Spiritual Content

  • Enola finds a woman picking fruit on a Sunday. The woman had been stung by a honeybee. She tells Enola, “Some would say it’s what I deserve for working on the Sabbath. But I can’t believe God will mind, being as these will make such good cider.”

George Washington’s Socks

When five kids take a walk along Lake Levart late one night, a mysterious wooden rowboat beckons them aboard. As if in a trance, they all step inside. But what they don’t realize is that this enchanted boat is headed back in time—to the time of George Washington. And their neighborhood lake has been transformed into the icy Delaware River on the eve of the battle at Trenton. Matthew, Quentin, Hooter, Tony, and Katie experience the American Revolution firsthand and learn the sobering realities of war. But how will they ever find their way home?

The first six chapters of George Washington’s Socks are slow, but readers who stick with the book will be glad they did. Matt and his friends time jump and end up in the middle of George Washington’s rebels crossing the Delaware. The rebels are preparing to attack the enemy, in a surprising way. Matt is soon separated from his sister and his friends and marching to battle. Along the way, Matt befriends Isaac, who didn’t join the Army because he believed in the cause, but rather because he needed to help support his younger siblings. While marching with Isaac and the other soldiers, Matt gets firsthand experience with the difficult situations that the rebels faced. Once Matt jumps into the past, he’s in for an action-packed adventure.

George Washington’s Socks gives readers a close look at war; while none of the descriptions are bloody, Matt sees several people whom he considered friends die. During the war, the rebels faced danger, death, and harsh conditions and yet they carried on. Seeing these experiences changes the way Matt views the rebels and the enemy. For example, Matt sees some of George Washington’s rebels being disrespectful to a Hessian soldier that they killed. “Matt suddenly felt sick to his stomach. He hated to see them acting so badly, for these were his rebels. They were the special brave men that he had always dreamed about and suddenly they seemed neither special nor brave.” Because of his experiences, Matt realizes that the line between good guys and bad guys isn’t always clear. Instead, “there’s no such thing as just good guys fighting bad guys. It seems like there’s good and bad on both sides.”

George Washington’s Socks will appeal to history lovers and readers who want a great time travel adventure. Even though the story focuses on colonial America and the Revolutionary War, the story highlights the kindness of others and has pockets of humor. In addition, Matt is a compassionate and relatable protagonist who learns that history books do not tell the whole story. Readers who enjoy historical fiction and want to learn more about the Revolutionary War should read Daniel at the Siege of Boston 1776 by Laurie Calkhoven.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • Adam Hibbs was supposed to take the kids to safety, but “Adam Hibbs lay bleeding, with his head resting in Hooter Melrose’s lap. It seemed the young corporal had been standing in a boat looking up the shore when he stumbled and fell onto his bayonet. . . Adam Hibbs was not expected to live the night.”
  • Two Indians find Matt alone in the woods. “One raised a tomahawk while the other held a bow with a long arrow pointed directly at Matt’s heart.”
  • When Katie wanders off, Hessian soldiers find her. When Matt and his friends discover the group, “Matt took a deep breath and reached for a musket. Tony and Hooter did the same. At the sound of their footsteps, the Hessians swung around and drew their swords. . . The soldiers waved their swords and shouted until Matt and the boys put their hands over their heads.”
  • A Hessian soldier, Gustav, was helping the kids when there was “the sound of musket fire.” The kids “looked on in horror as Gustav cried out in pain, for a musket ball had ripped through his back. He took a step, then fell forward, toppling to the ground with his face in the snow.”

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • One of the soldiers has “sour rum breath.”
  • A young soldier is eating snow when he says, “I wish we had a small beer to wash it down with.”
  • A soldier’s father “has a likeness for rum. . . He spends most of his day in the tavern.”

Language

  • One of Matt’s friends asks if Matt’s grandfather is “a little bit batty.”
  • Several times the soldiers refer to the enemy mercenaries as “Hessian pigs.” They are also said to be “blood-thirsty.”
  • While traveling to attack the enemy, Colonel Knox says, “We’re hours behind because of this damn storm.”
  • When Matt decides to stay close to his dying friend, a soldier calls Matt a “little fool.”
  • After killing Hessian solider, a man refers to the dead man as “scum.”

Supernatural

  • Matt’s grandfather tells a story about a friend, Adam Hibbs, who disappeared. Adam “was out on the lake in a rowboat, a rowboat my grandpa had never seen before. . . Grandpa ran to the tent to get a lantern. But when he got back to the lake it was too late. Adam Hibbs was gone, disappeared, boat and all, and no one to this day knows what happened to him.”
  • When Matt and his friends see a mysterious rowboat, “he was the first to come under the boat’s spell. It was the same desire to board the boat that he’d felt when he first saw it. . . Smiling, as if in a trance, Matt reached for an oar.”
  • After their adventure, Katie tells the rowboat to take them home. A soldier is surprised when it looks like the kids “disappeared into thin air. . . They were in a boat on the beach and suddenly they started to spin around and then they vanished!” The general thinks the soldier imagined it because of his “harsh whisky breath.”
  • While the kids were gone, no one missed them because, “a person traveling through time can experience days, weeks, and even years, and then return home to find that he’s only been gone a few hours.”

Spiritual Content

  • A soldier thinks Matt and the kids are enemy spies. The soldier says, “God forgive the cold Tory heart that would send children out to face the dangers of this night.”
  • General Washington says, “God willing, we’ll all live to remember this night.” Later he says, “God granting, the day will be dark.”
  • When Matt’s friend dies, a man says, “He’s no longer here, but in God’s glorious kingdom.”

 

The Eureka Key

When middle school puzzle master Sam and history wiz Martina win a contest for a summer trip across the U.S., they discover they’ve been drafted into something vastly more extraordinary. Joining another kid on the trip, Theo, a descendant of George Washington himself, they must follow clues to find seven keys left behind by the Founding Fathers.

Together, the keys unlock Benjamin Franklin’s greatest invention – a secret weapon with the intention of defending the country. Each key is hidden in a unique location around the U.S., protected with puzzles, riddles, and traps. This has kept the weapon safe . . . until now! Gideon Arnold, a dangerous descendant of the infamous Benedict Arnold, is on the chase.

Readers of The Eureka Key will enjoy learning about one of America’s founding fathers, Benjamin Franklin, in this fast-paced story. The action begins from the very first page and never stops. To find a weapon hidden by the Founding Fathers, Sam, Martina and Theo must find clues and answer the riddles left by Benjamin Franklin. With the villain’s goons just steps behind them, the kids must focus on deciphering the clues. Similar to Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, each new clue can also lead to a potentially deadly trap which makes for some very suspenseful moments. The clues are based on Franklin’s real inventions and readers will attempt to figure out the clues along with the characters.

While the action drives the plot, both Sam and Martina are well-developed but imperfect characters. Girl Scouts has taught the nerdy Martina to always be prepared, and her quirks make her very likable. At first, Sam laughs at everything Martina packs and teases her for her encyclopedic knowledge, but Sam soon realizes that without Martina he wouldn’t have survived the journey. Sam begins as a reckless troublemaker, but after the near-death journey, Sam asks himself, “So which Sam Solomon was he? The one who hacked into school computers to change his friend’s grades, or the one who did his best to save the country from treachery that went back more than two hundred years?” In the end, Sam’s character growth and maturity will please and surprise readers.

The Eureka Key will appeal to a wide range of readers. Those who love mystery, puzzles, history, and action will enjoy The Eureka Key. Even though the story has many historical facts, they are integrated into the story, and they never read like a history textbook. Some of the characters are descendants of historical figures and one character is a descendant of Benedict Arnold. While some believe Arnold was a traitor, his descendant reminds readers, “History sometimes forgets the truth.” Readers interested in learning more about Benedict Arnold should read George Washington’s Spies by Claudia Friddell. The characters, mystery, and history combine to make a highly entertaining story that will have readers reaching for the next book in the series, The Eagle’s Quill.

 Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • A man who Sam calls “Aloha” kidnaps Sam, Martina, and Theo. Sam tries to leave clues for others to follow. “A second later, the loudest sound he’d ever heard nearly split his eardrums open. He yelped, and Martina jumped about a foot. . . Aloha was standing behind them with his gun pointed at Sam’s hat, which lay on the ground with a smoking hole through the brim.”
  • Several times someone points a gun at the kids to force them to comply with orders.
  • To find the eureka key, the kids must answer riddles. If they answer incorrectly, a deadly trap awaits them. While trying to figure out a clue, the kids make a mistake and, “The light around them seemed to flare, and Sam stumbled back, blinking madly. . . Then a scream filled the air. It came from Aloha. . .The orange flowers on Aloha’s shirt burst into red flames. He howled in pain, staggering across the plateau, as the fires took hold.”
  • As Aloha is flailing, “Aloha was still holding his gun; it swung toward Theo as the man twisted and wailed. Theo dodged to the side as a bullet cracked in the air, and at the same moment Aloha’s left heel vanished off the edge of the cliff. He toppled and was gone, his screams lengthening.” Aloha dies.
  • The villain, Flintlock, pulls a gun on the kids. When the kids open a secret door, “Theo snapped upright, driving a fistful of rocks into the man’s stomach.” Theo and Martina run, but someone has a hold on Sam. Then, “Something whizzed past Sam’s face, and then Martina’s flashlight cracked his captor right on the bridge of his nose. The hand around Sam’s arm loosened as the man howled.” The kids escape.
  • To escape a trap, Martina connects an electrical circuit to herself. “Martina’s body shook as if she were a puppet with a madman yanking at the strings. . . Martina dropped to the floor as if the puppeteer had tossed her away and lay there—still as death.”
  • The bad guys and the kids are in a room that has a lot of keys hanging from the ceiling. One of the bad guys, Jed, “grabs a key. Sam was sure he could hear electricity leaping from the key to Jed’s hand. The instant his huge fist closed around the key, he was flung across the room, so quickly he didn’t have time to cry out. He crashed to the floor and lay still.”
  • Sam tries to sneak away from the bad guys. Sam “took two steps toward the way out, only to have a bullet blast into the wooden floor in front of him.”
  • A man falls into a mine shaft. “There was a sharp, panicked yell that started loud and got softer and softer. . . until it stopped.” The man dies.
  • During the revolution, Benedict Arnold left one of his contacts to be hanged.
  • One of the villains slaps “Theo across the face. . . Theo stood as solidly as a deeply rooted tree and didn’t make a sound.”
  • To get Sam to comply, one of the thugs grabs Martina. “He grabbed hold of her arm, clamping his other hand over her mouth and nose. He grinned as she made a startled, choking sound.”
  • When Sam makes a smart-aleck remark, “the back of Arnold’s hand smacked into the side of his face.”

Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • Oh my God and Oh, Lord are each used as an exclamation once.
  • Sam thinks someone is a jerk.
  • A man calls someone a pinhead.
  • Martina calls Sam a moron.
  • Heck is used once.

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • Martina tells Sam about Benjamin Franklin. “Franklin said people should try to ‘be like Jesus and Socrates . . . Sacrificing themselves for the common good.’”

Mary and the Trail of Tears: A Cherokee Removal Survival Story

Twelve-year-old Mary and her Cherokee family are forced out of their home in Georgia by U.S. soldiers in May of 1838. From the beginning of the forced move, Mary and her family are separated from her father. Facing horrors such as internment, violence, disease, and harsh weather, Mary perseveres and helps keep her family and friends together until they can reach the new Cherokee nation in Indian Territory. Will Mary and her family survive the terrible move forced upon them?

Mary and the Trail of Tears is told from Mary’s point of view, which allows the story to be told with kid-friendly descriptions. While the descriptions are not graphic, some readers will be upset by the brutality that the Cherokees faced. For example, Mary’s grandfather is killed by a man who says, he “wouldn’t be happy until every Cherokee in Georgia was dead.” The Cherokees faced the constant threat of being shot or dying from disease. However, the story ends on a positive note when Mary and most of her family are reunited in Oklahoma.

The story highlights the difference between the Cherokees and the soldiers. The Cherokees loved nature and respected all people. In contrast, the soldiers were motivated by greed and hate. “Since gold had been discovered on Cherokee land a decade earlier, many Georgians were convinced we had gold hidden away. They didn’t understand that to us the most valuable things were other Cherokees.” Throughout the story, the soldiers show cruelty or indifference to the Cherokees’ suffering.

Each chapter begins with the date and location, which makes it easy for readers to follow the events that take place between May of 1838 and March of 1839. To help readers visualize the story’s events, black and white illustrations appear every 7 to 10 pages. The book ends with nonfiction support material including a glossary, and three questions about the Indian Removal Act of 1830. These accounts will help readers learn more about the removal of the Cherokees from Georgia, Tennessee, Alabama, North Carolina, and the ten prison camps that were set up in Tennessee.

Mary and the Trail of Tears focuses on one girl’s story and the suffering that the Cherokee people faced during the Trail of Tears. Because readers will sympathize with Mary, the death of her family members will be upsetting. Despite this, Mary and the Trail of Tears should be read because of its educational value. By writing this informative story, the author—who is a member of the Cherokee tribe—sheds light on “one of this country’s darker chapters.”

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • Mary’s family and neighbors are forced out of their homes and the whites fight over the Cherokee’s belongings. “Georgians marched Raven out of his house with his hands tied in front of him. His hair was messy, and his cheek was swollen. . .They had hit Raven and bound his hands.”
  • When Mary’s grandpa runs back into his house, she “was afraid they were going to beat my grandpa or whip him when we got to the fort. Grandpa was only in the house a moment when a single rifle shot exploded.” Grandpa is killed.
  • The man who shot grandpa said that “he wouldn’t be happy until every Cherokee in Georgia was dead.” The man is not punished for his crime.
  • When Mary’s family is in the prison camp, they meet a man who had run away from the prison camp and then returned. He says, “The soldiers who were escorting us were cruel. I came back here because there is no place else for a Cherokee to go. . . There is no food or water, and many drowned falling from the overcrowded boats.” Through the man’s story, they learn many had died, including enslaved Africans.
  • While traveling, the children were slowing them down, so “the soldiers took babies from their mothers and put them in wagons with the sick and the dead.”

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • None

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • Mary thinks about her grandma, who looked for medicinal plants found in the woods. Mary thinks, “The creator provided food and medicine we couldn’t grow in the garden.”
  • Grandpa sings a song after dinner. He explains that “It’s about us. It means the creator wants us to take care of each other. If a child is alone and crying, we need to take care of them.” Later a group sings the song.

Long Road to Freedom  

Ranger is a time-traveling golden retriever with search-and-rescue training. In this adventure, he goes to a Maryland plantation during the days of American slavery, where he meets a young girl named Sarah. When Sarah learns that the owner has plans to sell her little brother, Jesse, to a plantation in the Deep South, it means they could be separated forever. Sarah takes their future into her own hands and decides there’s only one way to escape – to run north.

Told in third-person, Long Road to Freedom includes the inner thoughts of both Ranger and Sarah. Sarah’s thoughts add suspense by focusing on her fear of being caught and sent back to her master’s plantation. Ranger perceives other characters’ emotions through smell, which conveys people’s feelings to the reader in a non-scary way. For example, when Jesse runs into the forest alone, Ranger goes to look for him. “Jesse’s scent was still there, with a mix of new smells that make the hair on Ranger’s neck stand up. Deer. Blood. And wolves.” Unfortunately, Jesse is snotty and stubborn. His behavior almost attracts the attention of slave hunters. Jesse’s attitude is annoying, and readers may wonder why he isn’t willing to save himself.

Long Road to Freedom explores the Underground Railroad in kid-friendly terms. As they run north, Sarah and Jesse find safe passage with people who are willing to hide them. When a group of men tries to bully their way into a barn where the two children are hiding, Ranger alerts the neighbors. When the bad men are surrounded, they back down. Ranger thinks, “They didn’t have tails to lower, but Ranger understood that they were submitting. The challenge was over.”

The Ranger in Time Series format will appeal to young readers. The book has large text and full-page, black-and-white illustrations that appear approximately every six pages. The author’s note includes information about the historical people and places in the book, as well as a list of resources for readers who want to learn more about the Underground Railroad.

Even though readers will learn many facts about the time period, the facts are integrated into the plot, so the book never feels like a history lesson. Readers will fall in love with Ranger, who loves squirrels, his family, and helping people in need. Long Road to Freedom uses a lovable dog and a unique premise to teach readers about history.

 Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • Sarah and Jesse are hiding in a barn when a group of men appears, demanding to see what’s behind the stacked hay. The farmer tries to stop the men but is unable to. Ranger knows the kids are in trouble so he “leaped out at him. The man started and fell. Ranger stood over him, barking his toughest bark. He turned and saw another big man holding Mr. Smith with his arms pinned behind him.” Ranger jumps on the man holding Mr. Smith, who manages to free himself from the man’s grasp.
  • Ranger wakes up the neighbors, who come to Mr. Smith’s aid. “Men and women streamed into the barn, carrying farm tools—axes and hoes and pitchforks.”

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • None

Supernatural

  • Ranger travels through time with the help of a first aid kit. When the first aid kit hums, Ranger puts the strap over his head. “The box grew warm at his throat. It grew brighter and brighter… He felt as if he were being squeezed through a hole in the sky. . .” When Ranger opens his eyes, he is in the past.

Spiritual Content

  • Sarah heard stories about the Quakers helping runaway slaves. “But when Master Bradley brought Reverend Hayworth to give a sermon on the plantation, he preached how slaves ought to obey their masters. He said those who didn’t would see the wrath of God along with the overseer’s whip.”

Mac Saves the World

The Queen of England calls on her trusty spy, Mac B., once again. This time, Mac must navigate secret tunnels beneath the Berlin Wall to retrieve cheat codes from a Soviet scientist. Floppy disk in hand, our hero finds himself trapped in East Germany, stuck between the wall and the Stasi. How will he escape? Well, it is 1989, and walls do fall down.

Before he leaves for his mission, the Queen of England gives Mac a short lesson on the Cold War and the Iron Curtain. However, the information is surface level and doesn’t show how the Berlin Wall affected the people of Germany. Even though Mac sneaks into East Germany, the story has little suspense, and the plot is not well developed.

The sixth installment of the Mac B. Series lacks the puns and wordplay that make the other books so much fun. Some of the story’s humor comes from jokes about floppy disks; unfortunately, younger readers who have never seen a floppy disk may not find the floppy disk scenes funny.

Despite the lack of humor, readers will enjoy the large pink, gold, and black illustration that appear on every page. The short chapters—many are just one page—use simple vocabulary and lots of dialogue. Any words that may be confusing are defined within the text, making the story easy to read. Mac Saves the World will appeal to reluctant readers as it helps readers build confidence. Although Mac Saves the World can be read as a stand-alone book, for maximum enjoyment the books should be read in order.

The Queen of England, her corgi, and the KGB man all make an appearance in all the Mac B. books; these characters add plenty of silly moments that will leave readers giggling. While Mac B isn’t successful in his mission, he doesn’t lack courage. Throughout the story, Mac gives historical facts that sound outlandish, but he reminds readers, “But it’s true. You can look it up.” And if you look it up, you will find it is true. Readers who love humorous mysteries should also read the Investigators Series by John Patrick Green.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • East Germany and the Soviets wanted to keep people from leaving the country. “They rolled out barbed wire, right in the middle of the streets. People panicked! They crawled under the wire and tore their clothes and cut their skin! West Berliners held out blankets for East Berliners who jumped out of windows into West Berlin.”

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • None

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • None

 

The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle

 

Thirteen-year-old Charlotte Doyle leaves her boarding school in England to reunite with her family in America. She leaves England a prim and proper lady with a notebook from her father to detail her travels. However, Charlotte quickly discovers that her voyage home is not going to be smooth sailing.

On board The Seahawk, Charlotte fears the majority of the ship’s male crew, including the lone black man Zachariah, who gives her a knife the first time they meet. He warns Charlotte to keep the knife for protection, as “she might need it.” This is the first hint that things aboard The Seahawk aren’t all they seem, but Charlotte’s determined to keep her ladylike composure, especially in front of Captain Jaggery. Jaggery is a refined and educated man, unlike his crew, which prompts a friendship between him and Charlotte. Yet, Charlotte wonders if something more is awry when Jaggery asks that Charlotte become his “informant” and report any talk of rebellion to him.

After her promise, Charlotte discovers that the crew intends to mutiny. When Charlotte reports the threat, Jaggery responds with violence, killing some of the sailors including Zachariah. Suddenly, Charlotte’s journey turns into one of atonement. To fill the gap left by the now dead sailors, Charlotte joins the crew. Then, during a hurricane, the first mate is found with Charlotte’s knife in his chest. After a trial by Jaggery (who now scorns Charlotte because she has sided with the crew), Charlotte is proclaimed guilty, even though she didn’t commit the crime.

In the end, it’s discovered that Zachariah lived through his beating. He helps Charlotte create a plan to rid the ship of Jaggery and prove her innocence. They discover that it was Jaggery who murdered the first mate as a ploy to get rid of Charlotte, whom he hates for being an “unnatural” girl. Charlotte is able to dispatch Jaggery and sail home as a young captain with Zachariah by her side. However, her greatest conflict is the one she faces back on American soil, when her father burns her journal and forces her to be a “lady” again. Charlotte runs away from home when she remembers the words Zachariah once told her: “A sailor chooses the wind that takes the ship from a safe port. . . but winds have a mind of their own.”

The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle is a thrilling and detailed story for young adults. The book is told from Charlotte’s perspective, and she is a compelling narrator. At first, she’s somewhat difficult to like because she’s stuck in her ways, but the reader will sympathize with her desire to do what is right despite the criticism she faces as a woman. While it is unlikely something like Charlotte’s story ever happened at the time, the story is realistic in the context of the era – such as the behavior of the characters, the dialogue, and the use of religion. The end of the book also includes a glossary of ship terms which the author uses for the reader to feel as if they’re on board a ship just like Charlotte is. The overarching message of this story is to follow one’s own path, even in the face of adversity, and Charlotte is a character that embodies that until the end.

Sexual Content

  • Ewing, one of the crew, kisses Charlotte on the cheeks to say goodbye.

Violence

  • Zachariah gives Charlotte a knife for protection.
  • Charlotte uses the knife to scare an animal. “I heard a sound. I looked across the cabin. A rat was sitting on my journal, nibbling at its spine. Horrified, I flung the dirk at it.” The rat runs off.
  • Zachariah describes a past incident where Captain Jaggery punished one of the crew for not tying a knot properly. “Captain Jaggery said Mr. Cranick’s laboring arm was his by rights. Miss Doyle, Mr. Cranick has but one arm now. He was that much beaten by Captain Jaggery, who, as he said himself, took the arm.”
  • Captain Jaggery shows Charlotte that he keeps guns in his cabin.
  • Charlotte describes Jaggery’s violent behavior. “If provoked sufficiently, the captain might resort to a push or a slap with his own open hand. . . I saw him strike Morgan with a belaying pin, one of the heavy wood dowels used to secure a rigging rope to the pin rail. In dismay, I averted my eyes. The fellow was tardy about reefing a sail, the captain said and went on to catalog further likely threats. Confinement in the brig. Salary docking. No meals. Lashing. Dunking in the cold sea or even keelhauling, which, as I learned, meant pulling a man from one side of the ship to the other – under water.”
  • Charlotte finds a gun in one of the crew member’s chests. Another man, Morgan, who catches her, threatens her so she won’t tell the captain. “He lifted a hand, extended a stiletto like a forefinger, and drew it across his own neck as if cutting A spasm of horror shot through me. He was – in the crudest way – warning me about what might happen to me if I took my discovery to the captain.”
  • Captain Jaggery kills a crew member, who tries to start a mutiny. “Captain Jaggery fired his musket. The roar was stupendous. The ball struck Cranick square in the chest. With a cry of pain and mortal shock he dropped his sword and stumbled backward into the crowd. They were too stunned to catch him, but instead leaped back so that Cranick fell to the deck with a sickening thud. He began to groan and thrash about in dreadful agony, blood pulsing from his chest and mouth in ghastly gushes.”
  • Captain Jaggery has Zachariah whipped for starting the unsuccessful mutiny. The first mate “turned Zachariah so that he faced into the shrouds, then climbed up into these shrouds and with a piece of rope bound his hands, pulling him so that the old man was all but hanging from his wrists, just supporting himself on the tips of his bare toes. . . I turned to look at Captain Jaggery. Only then did I see that he had a whip in his hands.”
  • Jaggery says that the first mate, Mr. Hollybrass, will give Zachariah 50 lashes. “Hollybrass lifted his arm and cocked it . . .with what appeared to be the merest flick of his wrist, the whip shot forward; its tails hissed through the air and spat against Zachariah’s back. The moment they touched the old man’s skin, four red welts appeared. . .” Hollybrass continues to whip Zachariah.
  • Charlotte begs the Captain to make it stop. When Captain Jaggery refuses, Charlotte whips him. “He took another step toward me. In a gesture of defense, I pulled up my arm, and so doing flicked the whip through the air, inflicting a cut across the captain’s face. For an instant a red welt marked him from his left cheek to his right ear. Blood began to ooze. . . When [Captain Jaggery] saw they were bloody he swore a savage oath, jumped forward and tore the whip from my hand, whirled about and began beating Zachariah with such fury as I had never seen.” Later, Charlotte sees the sailors dump a hammock overboard, which is said to contain Zachariah’s dead body.
  • After Charlotte joins the crew, Captain Jaggery punishes her. “He struck me across the face with the back of his hand, then turned and walked away.”
  • Charlotte finds Mr. Hollybrass’s body after he’s been killed. “A knife was stuck in his back, plunged so deeply only the scrimshaw handle could be seen. I recognized the design. . .This was the dirk Zachariah had given me.”
  • Charlotte is accused of murdering Mr. Hollybrass since the knife belongs to her. Captain Jaggery threatens to hang her if she can’t prove who killed him.
  • After Charlotte realizes that Captain Jaggery has killed Mr. Hollybrass, he chased her with a pistol to kill her. Jaggery chases Charlotte out to the bow, where he falls into the sea and drowns.

Drugs and Alcohol

  • One of the sailors, Morgan, has a tobacco pouch.

Language

  • Charlotte describes the sailors as “men recruited from the doormat of Hell.”
  • Captain Jaggery says that the men on the ship are unable to understand kindness. He says, “they demand a strong hand, a touch of the whip, like dumb beasts who require a little bullying.” He also calls the crew, “the dirtiest, laziest dogs” and “a poor set of curs.”
  • When Charlotte tells Jaggery that she suspects a mutiny, Jaggery says, “why the devil did you not tell me before?”
  • Captain Jaggery shouts, “damn you!” once.

Supernatural

  • Charlotte considers that Zachariah might’ve appeared to her as a ghost or an angel.

Spiritual Content

  • References to God, the Bible, and Heaven occur occasionally throughout the text. Captain Jaggery occasionally has a Bible with him, and a church service is held on the ship on Sundays, where Charlotte reads passages from the Bible to the crew. Captain Jaggery sometimes refers to himself as a Christian. “And was ever a Christian more provoked than I?”
  • Zachariah compares God to a ship’s captain. “When a ship is upon the sea, there’s but one who rules. As God is to his people, as king is to his nation, as father to his family, so is captain to his crew.”
  • After Cranick’s death, Zachariah wishes to give him a funeral, but Captain Jaggery wants him thrown overboard. Zachariah says, “Even a poor sinner such as he should have his Christian service.” Captain Jaggery replies, “I want that dog’s carcass thrown over.”
  • Charlotte feels responsible for what happened to the crew and Zachariah since she revealed their plot. She prays to God for forgiveness.
  • During Charlotte’s trial, each man swears on the Bible to tell the truth.
  • Zachariah tells Charlotte an old saying, “the Devil will tie any knot, save the hangman’s noose. That Jack does for himself.”

by Madison Shooter

Maria and the Plague: A Black Death Survival Story

Years of bad weather and natural disasters have choked Italy’s food supply, and the people of Florence are dying of starvation. Breadlines are battlegrounds, and twelve-year-old Maria must fight for her family’s every loaf. Adding to the misery, the Black Death is rapidly spreading through the country, killing everyone in its path. Maria has already lost her mother and sister. Will she be strong enough to survive the challenges ahead of her?

Maria and the Plague educates readers about the challenges of living during the black plague. Maria mentions the death of her mother and baby sister; however, their deaths took place before the events in the story and are not described. But tragedy follows Maria’s family. When her father is infected, Maria says goodbye to him and then he goes off into the woods to die. With her father gone, Maria is not left alone for long. She soon meets up with a group of survivors and the adults willingly take Maria under their wing.

Even though the story tackles a difficult topic, the engaging tale describes the events in a kid-friendly manner. While Maria makes it clear that some of her loved ones will die, the actual deaths are not described. Although the story doesn’t go in-depth, it does include some interesting facts. For example, the song “Ring Around the Rosie” began during the plague. A “part of the song was about the rash that appeared on people’s skin. It was also about the flowers and herbs we carried near our faces to stop the smell of the sickness.”

Each chapter begins with the date and location, which makes it easy for readers to follow the events which take place between April 13, 1347 and September 10, 1348. Black and white illustrations appear every 7 to 10 pages. The book ends with a note from the author that describes some of her thoughts while writing the story. There is also a glossary, and three questions about the story.

Maria and the Plague will help readers understand the events that revolve around the black plague. Readers will connect to Maria because she is a relatable character who loves her family. Throughout Maria’s ordeal, she shows determination, bravery, and compassion for others. Maria and the Plague is a fast-paced story that will entertain as it educates. Readers who enjoy historical fiction should also check out the Imagination Station Series by Marianne Hering & Paul McCusker.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • While Maria was in line for bread, “two people behind me started arguing over who got there first. Their raised voices turned into blows.”
  • After leaving the breadline, a man stops Maria and demands her food. “He wrenched my arm and grabbed for my bag. I kicked him, hard, and ran. As I sped away, I heard his heavy steps pounding after me.”
  • An old woman, who was carrying a basket, walks by Maria’s house. “Two men ran up to her. One of them grabbed her and held her tight. The other wrestled the basket from her hands. . . The men shoved her to the ground.”
  • A group of men tries to steal Maria’s bag. Her dog, Speranza, “launched herself at him. Her jaws clamped down hard on his leg. The thin man howled in pain.” A group of adults intervenes, and the men leave.

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • A man calls Maria’s dog a “stupid mutt.”

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • Maria’s father says that the plague will not kill any of their family because “The saints will protect us.” Maria’s brother disagrees saying, “The saints are in heaven, not on Earth. We mustn’t rely on them.”
  • As Maria and her Papa are leaving the city, they are “forced to step around the bodies in the road. I [Maria] tried to say a prayer for each person I saw, but I soon lost my voice.”

 

Stormy, Misty’s Foal

A raging storm slashes across Assateague and the Chincoteague islands. Water is everywhere! The wild ponies and the people must battle for their lives.

In the midst of the storm, Misty—the famous mare of Chincoteague—is about to give birth. Paul and Maureen are frantic with worry as the storm rages on…will Misty and her colt survive? This is the story of the hurricane that destroyed the wild herds of Assateague, and how strength and love helped rebuild them.

Readers looking for a good horse story will be disappointed in Stormy, Misty’s Foal. Throughout the story, people talk about Misty and worry about Misty, but Misty appears for only a brief time. Stormy, Misty’s Foal is similar to a survival story because it focuses on Paul’s and Maureen’s experiences with the hurricane. While the story has some tense moments, the realistic story has little action and readers may quickly become bored.

Paul and Maureen are both hard-working children who rarely complain. Throughout the hurricane, the community comes together to help those in need. While the main characters have positive attributes, none of the supporting characters are memorable. In addition, readers may have a difficult time understanding the colloquial language spoken by many of the characters. For example, Grandma says, “This ain’t easy, but I got eenamost enough to make a nice pot of cocoa.”

Readers looking for a story of action and adventure will be disappointed by Stormy, Misty’s Foal. The focus on Misty will become tedious especially for those who did not read Misty of Chincoteague. Even though Paul and Maureen have many positive attributes, their story is not unique or engaging. Readers who want a story that focuses more on horses should skip Stormy, Misty’s Foal.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • The storm floods much of the island and many animals are pulled out to sea. Paul “was staring, horror-struck, at the neighbors’ houses. Some had collapsed. And some had their front porches knocked off so they looked like faces with a row of teeth missing. And some were tilted at a crazy slant.”
  • In order to keep people from loitering, “Grim soldiers were patrolling the watery streets, rifles held ready.”
  • Grandpa helps to load the corpses of the dead horses. He says, “That all the days of my life I’ll hear that slow creakin’ of the crane liftin’ up the dead ponies, and I’ll see their legs a-swingin’ this way and that like they was still alive and kickin’.”
  • While the men were cleaning up the dead animals, the preacher “put up a prayer to the memory of the wild free things.”

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • Grandpa sees one of his stallions dead and says, “Oh God!”

Supernatural

  • Grandpa says, “A goose washin’ in the horse trough/ Means tomorrow we’ll be bad off.” Grandpa’s uncle told him that “geese in the trough is a fore-doomer of a storm.”

Spiritual Content

  • Paul and Maureen tell their grandma a verse from the Bible in the hopes of missing a day of school. The two kids say, “There’s a time to sow and a time to reap. . .There’s a time to cry and a time to laugh. . .There’s a time to love and a time to hate. . .There’s a time to go to school and a time to stay home.”
  • When the storm starts, Grandpa “began to pray for all the wild things out on a night like this.”
  • Paul and his grandpa go out into the store and Paul prays, “Please, God, take the sea back where it belongs. Please take it back.”
  • When Paul and his grandpa make it home, Grandma exclaims, “Praise be the Lord! I been so worried I couldn’t do a lick o’ work. Just sat by the window praying double-quick time.”
  • To keep everyone’s spirits up, Grandma sings a hymn. “Jesus, Savior, pilot me, Over life’s tempestuous sea; Unknown waves before me roll, Hiding rock and treacherous shoal; Chart and compass come from Thee; Jesus, Savior, pilot me.”
  • Maureen is dismayed that she can’t help more. She asks, “Why was I born a girl?” Grandma says, “It’s God’s plan.”
  • The men prepare to go back to the island. Grandpa says, “But I say the Lord helps them as helps theirselves.”
  • When Grandpa starts to cry, Grandma says, “Let the tears out if they want to come. King David in the Bible was a strong man and he wept copiously.”
  • Grandpa and his kids sing Glory, Glory, halleluiah.
  • Grandpa, Grandma, and the kids go to church. The preacher says, “The earth is the Lord’s. He hath founded it upon the seas, and established it upon the floods. . . God is in the rescue business and every believer is a member of His rescue forces.” The church scene is described over three pages.

 

The Dust Bowl

Thimble is Ginny’s best friend on the Oklahoma farm where they live. But during the 1930’s Dust Bowl, the land has dried up and Ginny’s family can no longer afford to care for Thimble. Thinking she can help her family and save Thimble, Ginny develops a plan to move to California and runs away with her horse. But things don’t turn out as Ginny planned. Can she and Thimble make it to California on their own?

The Dust Bowl is historical fiction that will engage readers of all ages. Ginny tells her story using a conversational tone that doesn’t waste words on unnecessary details. The horse-loving Ginny is instantly likable and relatable because of her love for Thimble and her misunderstandings with her father. Even though her parents are loving, Ginny thinks they would be better without her so she runs away. In the end, Ginny’s experiences highlight the importance of family, helping others, and communication.

Along her journey, Ginny meets Silvio, a boy her age who is traveling to California so he can send money home to his mother. When Ginny meets Silvio, she thinks, “There weren’t many Mexican folks in Keyes, but I’d seen a sign or two in Boise City about places that wouldn’t serve them food or let them buy things. It wasn’t fair to treat people differently on account of what they look like.” While the theme of discrimination isn’t explored further, Silvio is portrayed in a positive manner.

The Dust Bowl is an entertaining story that will spark readers’ interest in the Great Depression. While the story doesn’t go into great detail about any one event, Ginny’s story shows how the Dust Bowl affected different families. Even though Ginny and Silvio have no money, they still take the time to help others. When Ginny and Silvio see two men with a broken down car, Silvio doesn’t know how two poor kids can help “rich looking men.” But Ginny is determined to help because her father “always said we should never turn away from a stranger in need, even if we don’t have much to give.”

Even though the book focuses on how the Dust Bowl negatively affected families, the story is surprisingly upbeat. Through every event, the characters find a way to look at the bright side. Even though many parents had a hard time providing food and many had to leave their homes, readers are reminded that “even when everythin’ seems bad, somethin’ good always comes from it.”

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • None

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • When Ginny upsets her father, he says, “Darn it, girl—these days are hard enough without you always makin’ ‘em harder!”
  • Heck is used once.
  • Ginny’s sister calls her “dumb bunny.”

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • Ginny and Silvio help two stranded travelers. Ginny says, “But Pa always said we should never turn away from a stranger in need, even if we don’t’ have much to give. It’s in the Bible.”
  • When Silvio tells Ginny that she should go home, she “closed my [Ginny’s] eyes and sent up a silent prayer for Silvio Hernandez, the only boy I’d ever met brave enough to tell me I was wrong.”

Molly and the Twin Towers: A 9/11 Survival Story

Life in lower Manhattan is normal for Molly, her dads, and her younger sister. But on September 11, 2001, everything changes. Molly and her younger sister, Adeline, are at school when the first plane hits the World Trade Center. When the Twin Towers fall, the city is thrown into chaos. Papa, a pilot, is flying, Dad can’t be reached, and Gran, an EMT with the New York Fire Department, is at Ground Zero. It’s up to Molly to find her sister and navigate a city she no longer recognizes.

The book begins with a short introduction to Molly’s family, which allows readers to connect to the people Molly cares about. Because the attack on the Twin Towers occurs when Molly is at school, her fears and confusion are understandable. When the school begins to evacuate, Molly searches for her sister. Once the two are together, Molly tries to protect her sister from falling debris, she also worries about her dad, who is an airplane pilot, and her Gran, who is an EMT stationed close to the towers.

Afterward, Molly’s dad tries to explain why the terrorists flew a plane into the Twin Towers. He says, “There are people in the world who believe that violence, hurting others, is how they’ll get what they want.” Her dad doesn’t think that terrorists will win because “for every person who wants to cause harm, there are thousands more who want to protect. To do good.”

Molly and the Twin Towers will answer basic questions about the events of 9/11. While Molly’s fear is obvious, the events are described in kid-friendly terms. Some of the information is told through news sources, which allows the reader to get basic facts without bloody details. Despite this, Molly’s shock, confusion, and fear are at the forefront of the story. Afterward, Molly and her family go to therapy in order to deal with post-traumatic stress disorder.

In order to make the story easy to follow, each chapter begins with Molly’s location and the time. Every 7 to 10 pages there is a black-and-white illustration. The illustrations mostly focus on Molly and the events surrounding her. Some of the illustrations show the Twin Towers engulfed in smoke and ash. The book ends with a note from the author that describes some of the heroes of 9/11, a glossary, and three questions about the story.

Molly and the Twin Towers will teach readers about the events of 9/11. The short chapters, fast-paced plot, and suspense will keep readers interested until the very end. Molly is a likable character who shows bravery in the face of fear. Readers who want to learn more about the attacks should also read I Survived the Attacks of September 11, 2001 by Lauren Tarshis.

Sexual Content

  • Adi and Molly have two dads. “Our dads had used a different surrogate for each of our births. I got Dad’s light eyes and dusty hair. Adi got Papa’s beautiful darker features and curly hair, which she claimed to hate.”

Violence

  • While at school, Molly hears a huge boom. “It almost sounded fake, as if I was in a movie theater and the surround sound was turned all the way up. . . The noise shook our entire school like a humongous, angry clap of thunder. The glass in the windows next to me shuddered.”
  • A little later, Molly hears another explosion. “This one I felt in my chest. The blast made my ribs rattle, and the sound echoed within.”
  • Molly overhears an adult say a plane ran into the towers. Molly “couldn’t believe one airplane had hit, let alone two. It had to be something else.”
  • Molly leaves the school so she can look for her sister. Once outside, “fire and smoke raged and billowed out of the top portion of the North Tower. The South tower, now also on fire, was quickly catching up. Debris rained down as if the sky was falling.”
  • Molly hears a radio broadcaster say, “This just in . . . my lord . . . excuse me. . . I-I’m getting reports that another passenger plane has crashed into the Pentagon building in Washington D.C.”
  • As Molly runs towards home, “a sound like nothing I’d ever heard before seized the air. It was a deafening thunderclap followed by the roar of a thousand train engines. . . The smoke and debris began where the tower stood and tumbled forward. It was like a large wave, quickly engulfing everything in its path, threatening to wash us all away.”

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • None

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • While looking for her sister, Molly “prayed I would find my sister sitting safely among the cushions and chairs. But when I reached the top, the loft was empty.”

Ophie’s Ghosts

Ophelia Harrison used to live in a small house in the Georgia countryside. But that was before the night in November of 1922, and the cruel act that took her home and her father from her– which was the same night that Ophie learned she can see ghosts.

Now, Ophie and her mother are living in Pittsburgh with relatives they barely know. In the hopes of earning enough money to get their own place, Mama has gotten Ophie a job as a maid in the same old manor house where she works.

Daffodil Manor, like the wealthy Caruthers family who owns it, is haunted by memories and prejudices of the past and, as Ophie discovers, ghosts as well. It is filled with ghosts who have their own loves and hatreds and desires, ghosts who have wronged others, and ghosts who have themselves been wronged. And as Ophie forms a friendship with one spirit whose life ended suddenly and unjustly, she wonders if she might be able to help—even as she comes to realize that Daffodil Manor may hold more secrets than she bargained for.

Ophie’s Ghosts pulls the reader into the story from the very first page and will keep readers engaged until the very end. While Ophie’s tale shows the harsh realities of living in the 1920s, the story is spun using kid-friendly descriptions. However, younger readers could be disturbed by Ophie’s encounters with ghosts, many of whom died tragically. The ghosts are from every walk of life and include people of all ages and races. While Ophie interacts with many ghosts, none of the ghosts try to harm her. For Ophie, the danger comes from the living.

Readers will empathize with Ophie, who is thrown into servitude at a young age. Through Ophie’s experiences, readers will come to understand the difficulties African Americans faced during the 1920s. The story gives many examples of discrimination and explores the topic of passing as caucasian. In the end, Ophie cries because “girls who believed in happily ever afters could be murdered in attics, and because men who just wanted to have their voices heard could have their words choked off forever.”

Throughout the story, Ireland references people and events of the time. However, the text doesn’t explain the references and most readers will not understand their significance. For example, Ophie’s mother makes several comments about bootleggers, but the term is never explained. In addition, the story uses some difficult vocabulary such as irksome tomes, incandescent, tincture, fluffing, and blotto. Despite this, most readers can use context clues to understand the term.

Through Ophie’s point of view, Ophie’s Ghosts paints a vivid picture of life in the 1920s. Ophie points out the unfair circumstances that rob her of her childhood. However, despite the hardships Ophie faces, she is never bitter. Instead, she thinks about her Daddy. “Daddy had often said that when presented with two choices, a hard thing and an easy thing, the right thing was usually the more difficult one.” Because of her Daddy’s words, Ophie has the courage to listen to the ghosts and help them move on.

Readers who enjoy historical fiction, should also read Sweep: The Story of a Girl and Her Monster by Jonathan Auxie and The Player King by Avi. For readers who want to learn about history, but aren’t ready for more mature books, Survival Tails by Katrina Charman and American Horse Tales by Michelle Jabés Corpora would be good choices.

Sexual Content

  • Ophie asks Cook about a woman she saw. Cook replies, “Sometimes Mr. Richard likes to bring home . . . a bit of company, but those girls are not business of yours.”
  • Ophie likes to read romance books. “Mama would have had a fit if she knew her daughter was reading such things, stories of girls who were compromised, whatever that meant, and kissed boys who left them heartbroken.”
  • Sophie asks Clara, a ghost, about her beau. Clara said, “A lady never kisses and tells.”
  • A woman in a dressing room goes into the kitchen. Ophie wonders, “Did Clara know that Richard was having friends over, friends who walked around the house half-dressed after sleeping in most of the day?”

Violence

  • Ophie’s father is murdered because he voted. His death is not described.
  • After killing Ophie’s father, a group of men burn down Ophie’s family home. Ophie and her mother hide from the men. “The snap and crackle of fire slowly grew louder than the voices of the men, a roar of consumption, followed by thick smoke that twined sinuously through the treetops. . .”
  • When a group of men are standing around talking, Ophie thinks, “The men who were in her yard, yelling and laughing, were the kind of white men who had beat up Tommy Williams just because he accidentally looked the wrong way at a white lady from Atlanta. After they’d pummeled Tommy, they’d dropped him off in the woods near Ophie’s house, most likely because they’d figured no one would find him.”
  • Even though Ophie is young, she still understands that “Colored folks who’d broken some unspoken rule, gotten uppity and acted above their station, paid the price for such an error with their lives.”
  • Sophie meets a ghost who is just a boy. He has “bloody welts crisscrossing his back.”
  • When Ophie tries to help her cousin with her homework, “the result had been a vicious slap without any kind of warning.”
  • Caruther tells about a boy who was whipped “until the white meat showed.”
  • A man is hit by a trolley. “He boarded the trolley right through the closed door, his suit torn and bloody, his hat missing entirely. . . his gray suit and pale skin made the blood dripping from his head all the more vivid.”
  • The ghost of Clara possesses Penelope’s body. Clara goes after Penelope’s murderer with a pair of scissors. To prevent another death, Ophie throws salt. “The container burst into a shower of salt as it hit the girl in the chest. There was a sound like the room was inhaling, the air grew thick . . . Clara crumbled to the floor.”

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • Ophie sees a ghost who was “still wearing his service uniform and drinking to numb the pain of a heart broken by a war fought in trenches.” Later, Ophie finds out that the ghost died because of his drinking.
  • After Mrs. Caruther has a “fit,” “the doctor gives her laudanum.”
  • A ghost asks Ophie, “Do you think you could get your hands on a bottle of gin. Spirits for the spirit!”
  • One of Mrs. Caruther’s servants “snuck drinks from a flask tucked into her garter when she thought no one was looking.”
  • Caruther’s son has friends over to the house and they “spent most of their time all blotto.”
  • When Mrs. Caruther’s son announces his engagement, he serves champagne. One of the guests has red wine.

Language

  • Ophie’s cousins call her stupid and “a dope.”
  • Caruther calls a servant a “jigaboo.”
  • Ophie’s mother says she misses her husband “every damn day.”

Supernatural

  • Ophie and her aunt can both see and communicate with ghosts.
  • Ophie’s Aunt Rose tells her not to trust the dead. “You keep iron and salt in your pockets at all times. That way they can’t take hold of your body, which some of the more powerful ones will try to do.”
  • Aunt Rose educates Ophie about ghosts. Aunt Rose says, “Ghosts are attracted to feelings—sadness and happiness, and all the other betwixt and between.”
  • Ophie wonders if ghosts are “too terrible for Heaven.”
  • Aunt Rose tells Ophie about a ghost who was “stealing her husband’s breath, using it to make her stronger.”
  • The ghost of Clara possesses a young woman.
  • To keep a ghost out of a room, “someone had placed a thick band of salt across the threshold just inside the bedroom door.”

Spiritual Content

  • While at church, Ophie likes to watch the pastor and his wife. “It made Ophie feel that maybe some of those Bible words were actually true, even if she didn’t entirely believe they were meant for her.”
  • After Ophie’s father dies, the pastor tells her, “Your daddy has gone to heaven to be with Jesus.”
  • Ophie says a quick prayer several times. For example, when Ophie and her mother take a trolley car, Ophie “prayed for the trolley to hurry.”
  • Ophie wonders why Mrs. Caruther is so mean. Ophie thinks about the pastor’s wife who “once talked about sin as a heavy burden that folks carried around: ‘When you carry that sin around, when you let it weigh you down, you want to make sure that everyone around you is suffering as well . . .let Jesus take it and hold that burden so that you can carry on as a light in the world.’”
  • Ophie’s father told her, “The good Lord is always testing us, Ophie, in big ways and small. You do the thing you know to be right, always, no matter what.”
  • Ophie’s teacher told her that it was “the Christian thing to do to turn the other cheek.”
  • When someone steals, Ophie’s mother tells the lady, Jesus will give you yours.”

Somewhere Among

Ema is used to spending her summers in California with Bob and Nana, her mother’s parents. But this year, she and her mother are staying with her father’s parents in Japan, as they expect the arrival of a baby. Her mother’s pregnancy has been shaky, making everyone anxious for her health. Despite her mother’s physical wellbeing, Ema is happy because, finally, there will be someone in her immediate family who understands what it is like to fit in and not fit in at the same time.

Ema’s happiness is dashed when Obaachan, her Japanese grandmother, scolds her for the smallest mistakes. When she and her mother must stay in Japan longer than anticipated, and Ema has to attend a new school, her concerns about not fitting in become bigger. And when the tragedy of 9/11 strikes the United States, Ema and her parents watch the Twin Towers fall and the aftermath of the attack.

Her mother grieves for the United States, her home country. Ema also worries about her mother’s health, which threatens the safety of the baby. Alongside the grief, Jiichan gets ill, which worries Ema. Ema feels lonely, but then Obaachan shows a kinder side of herself and reveals the reason for her sternness—she had done so to prepare for her family for the worst.

As a whole, the story occurs from June 2001 to December 2001. Each month has an illustration relevant to a seasonal theme. Each chapter is told from Ema’s perspective, which helps the reader understand her solitude and the Japanese culture from her point of view. The story is written in free verse and portrays a detailed and orderly environment, with the descriptions grounding the reader in Ema’s headspace and forestalling confusion about Japanese folklore, language, and cultural norms. Though Ema is lonely, she is a happy and optimistic child, always taking part in traditional holidays or outings with her parents.

Since Ema lives with a lot of adults, the story details a lot of current events and the repercussions of historical events. Somewhere Among portrays the Japanese perspective on domestic tragedies, such as the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and the observance of abroad tragedies, such as the attack on Pearl Harbor. However, the incidents are a backdrop in Ema’s life and the weight of the tragedy is with the adults in the room. Through these incidences, the story reinforces the importance of having “peace among nations/ peace among peoples/ peace in the heart.”

The story also hits on Ema’s identity as a “hafu,” or a person who is half-Japanese. Middle grade readers will relate to Ema, who is struggling to exist in a foreign country. For example, Ema’s classmates scrutinize her because of her mixed heritage. They make fun of her facial features and her name, and ignore it when Masa, a boy in her class, bullies her. In the end, Ema stands up for herself and feels like she has a place in Japan. The story ends on a light note and shows Ema’s family after the end of their struggles. Readers who would like to read more about historical events in Japan would enjoy reading Somewhere Among.

 Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • When Obaachan insists Ema’s mother should bathe in warm water, Ema’s mother, tells Ema’s father that “Obaachan is trying to kill us [her and the baby].”
  • Throughout most of the novel, Maribeth “vomits” frequently due to her pregnancy.
  • Updates about the Ehime Maru, “a Japanese fishing ship/ struck and sunk/ by an American submarine” are shown throughout the novel. In July, “its mast will be dynamited/ girded/ and lifted/ from the sea.” Later, US Navy officials explained their “plans to bring/ nine boys and men. . . up from the sea.” After searching for the sunken fishing ship and failing to rescue the crew members, “one hundred and twenty boxes/ of personal items/recovered from victims…are given to their families…to the principal [of Uwajima Fisheries High School]/ the school flag from the ship/ to the captain/ a bell from the steering room.”
  • Five people die from “mudslides/in Japan” after two typhoons go through Japan.
  • Masa, one of Ema’s classmates, “rams [her] thigh with his broom.” At first, her grandparents do nothing, but then Obaachan calls the teacher. Her teacher apologizes for Masa’s behavior but says asking Masa’s mother for an apology “is not possible. . . it cannot be helped.”
  • When they are in the classroom, Masa bullies Ema aggressively. He asks Ema if she “knows how to use a futon” as if she was a baby. Later, he “grabs, crumples and tosses my math homework.” Masa’s bullying occurs six more times throughout the book.
  • On September 11, 2001, Ema and her family watch the attack on the Twin Towers and the Pentagon. “We watch the towers go down/ over and over and over…a plane went down in Pennsylvania/ and/ the war department of the United/ States of America/ in Washington, DC is in flames.” Ema’s mother would not believe the attack happened “until the TV is turned on.” The aftermath and the rescue efforts continue for four pages.
  • After 9/11, Nana and Grandpa Bob were scared when they considered traveling to Japan from the United States. “Nana and Grandpa Bob are worried/ about flying./ They don’t say so/ but I know so./ Everyone is/ after seeing planes go through/ buildings/ and down in a field/ on September 11.”
  • Ema’s father mentions that George Harrison, a member of the Beatles, a British rock band, has died. “’He was a man of peace,’ Papa/ says./ ‘He knew how to treat people.’”

Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • When Ema’s mother began speaking Japanese, she thought she was saying “Great-Grandfather” to Obaachan’s father, but she was saying “honorable old fart,” because she made a mistake with a vowel.
  • Ema’s classmates say she “looks weird” because of her “upside-down crescent-moon eyes” and her skin color, as Ema is half-white and half-Japanese.
  • Masa teases Ema with a common mispronunciation of her name. Her name, pronounced Eh-ma, sounds like the word “for wishes and prayers” in Japanese, but most foreigners miscall her as Em-ma, which means “God of Hell.”

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • Ema’s name “sounds like the name for shrine prayers”
  • “Tanabata” is a Japanese holiday on July 7, a day that celebrates the meeting of the deities Orihime and Hikoboshi. The traditions for this holiday are described over eight pages.
  • Ema describes her mother as “calm as Buddha.”
  • Obaachan goes to a shrine to “pray for Little Sister and Mom.”
  • On December 7th, the anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor, “Prayers are said/ on all shores.”
  • Maribeth goes to a church with Ema, who has “never been in a church,” to light a candle for the lost lives on 9/11. Jiichan prays for “the dead and the living without incense.”
  • Obaachan and Ema go to a shrine gate. Obaasan shows her the proper way to pray at a gate. “She bows twice, throws a coin,/ pulls the thick rope with two hands,/ claps twice/…bows once.”
  • Ema states that the Americans use the “jack-o’-lanterns/ from pumpkins/ to scare away spirits” during Halloween.

by Jemima Cooke

Salt to the Sea

Set during the end of World War II, Salt to the Sea follows the story of four refugees seeking shelter from the rampages of war. With the rapid advance of Soviet forces against Hitler’s Reich in Poland, Latvia, East Prussia, and Lithuania, thousands of refugees flood toward the port of Gotenhafen with the dim hope of escape. For these thousands, Gotenhafen is a chance to flee the inevitable onslaught and destruction created by the oncoming Soviets. Amidst this hurried procession of souls are four teenagers who witnessed the innumerable tragedy wrought by war. Each teen is from a different homeland and has a different background, yet all have equally dangerous secrets.

Joana is a nineteen-year-old Lithuanian expatriate who previously spent the entirety of the war as a conscripted nurse, tending to wounded and dying soldiers. Florian is an eighteen-year-old Prussian thief and forgery master wanted by the Nazis because of his shameful past. Alfred, also referred to as “Frick”, is a delusional seventeen-year-old Nazi Kriegsmarine soldier who is attempting to overwrite his troubled past through enlistment. Emilia is a fifteen-year-old Polish refugee running from the destruction of her homeland as both the Nazis and Soviets hunt her and her countrymen. Each character carries their own mysteries, whether shameful or perilous.

Salt to the Sea is told in first person point of view, with the main narrative being split between the four characters. Each chapter shifts from one character’s point of view to another, creating a cleverly knitted narrative that explores the ongoing tumult of their lives. Although each of our four protagonists have their own agendas, the audience can sympathize with each character as they struggle to not only survive but to also find themselves.

Salt to the Sea is a fast-paced, intense, and emotional story that will have readers gripped to the very last page. Sepetys does an incredible job weaving multiple narratives into one effortless adventure. Each chapter provides the reader with an increasingly dark understanding regarding the horrors of war and the vast challenges that refugees must overcome. As this book follows the inevitabilities of war, there are distinct violent moments and deaths which Sepetys has written to be intentionally jarring.

Although distressing and dark, Salt to the Sea tells the hopeful story of refugees fighting for a better future and their personal growth along the way. Salt to the Sea is a must-read for all those interested not only in history but also in the human condition as Sepetys colorfully illustrates the horrors of war.

Sexual Content

  • There are references to rape or other non-consensual sexual content. A passing elderly refugee asks Joana if she carries any poison. The woman says “I understand. But you are a pretty girl. If Russia’s army overtakes us, you’ll want some [poison] too.”
  • While on the boat, Joana kisses Florian. “She stood on her toes, took my face in her hands, and kissed me.”
  • When she was fifteen, Emilia became pregnant when she was raped.

Violence

  • While fleeing through a snow-laden forest, Florian kills a Russian soldier who was harassing Emilia. Florian “stood in the forest cellar, my gun fixed on the dead Russian.” The killing was not described.
  • Multiple references are made to Hitler’s Final Solution. “Hitler aimed to destroy all Poles. They were Slavic, branded inferior. . . Hitler set up extermination camps in German-occupied Poland, filtering the blood of innocent Jews in the Polish soil.”
  • While fleeing westward, Soviet planes drop bombs on top of forests which poses an immediate threat to Joana, Emilia, and Florian. “The bombs began falling. With each explosion, every bone in my body vibrated and hammered, clanging violently against the bell tower that was my flesh.”
  • Joana mentions the wartime atrocities committed by the Soviets. “Women were nailed to barn doors, children mutilated.” In addition to such terrors, Soviet soldiers were infamous for raping and pillaging entire villages, which involved the wholesale slaughter of male populations and the rape of a village’s women.
  • Eva, another refugee, references the potential violent fate of Emilia’s father. Eva says, “The senior professors in Lwów, they were all executed.”
  • While fleeing, Emilia saves Florian by shooting a wandering German soldier. The soldier “had a gun. He was pointing it. [Emilia] jumped up and screamed. Bang.”
  • Joana and a group of refugees stay at a deserted manor. Prior to this, soldiers brutally slaughtered the residents in their sleep. As Joana explores the rest of the manor, she discovers the house’s previous tenants and exclaims, “Dead in their beds. They’re all dead in their beds!” The bodies are not described in detail.
  • On their way to Gotenhafen, another refugee laments that the Soviets “shot his cow.”
  • While approaching the Frauenberg, the Soviet air forces shell the road. “A cluster of human beings behind us exploded with a bomb.”
  • As Joana and her group of refugees cross an icy river, one refugee falls through the ice and joins other unfortunate souls trapped beneath the frozen surface. “The ice in front of Ingrid was red, frozen with blood.”
  • Sepetys makes multiple mentions of refugees and their suffering, such as parents missing their children, or the children being abandoned.
  • Joana, a nurse, cares for the wounded on the Wilhelm Gustloff. Joana “would get these wounded men on the big ship.”
  • The Wilhelm Gustloff is struck by three Soviet torpedoes causing the ship to sink, killing thousands of refugees, including children. As the ship tilted deeper into the water, a passenger said, “The woman was right. We were all going to drown.” As the ship sinks, the ocean is strewn with dead bodies floating amidst the wreckage. “Thousands of dead bodies, eyes wide, floated frozen in life vests.”
  • A mother attempts to throw her child to a lifeboat, yet the baby tragically drowns. “The dark air was full of screams” of thousands of drowning men, women, and children.
  • Alfred attempts to throw Emilia off the raft, yet in doing so accidentally he kills himself. Alfred slams his head against the metal raft and falls into the freezing depths of the surrounding water. “Alfred was sent tumbling, crashing his head against the metal raft with a deafening scream”

Drugs and Alcohol

  • Before the start of the book, Florian is wounded with shrapnel which he sterilizes using vodka. Florian “turned the top of the soldier’s flask and raised it to my nose. Vodka. I opened my coat, then my shirt, and poured the alcohol down my side.”
  • Joana and Florian share cigarettes in a moment of respite from danger. Joana “pulled out a cigarette and ran it through my fingers, trying to straighten it.”

Language

  • None

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • None

by Daniel Klein

 

Annie John

Annie John is a young, genius schoolgirl who wants to grow up to be just like her mother. Annie finds her mother beautiful – physically and internally – and her greatest wish is to stay forever with her, in their matching dresses, repeating their familiar daily routine of preparing dinner and washing clothes. They even share the same name: Annie. However, as young Annie starts to come of age, she is hit with the realization that she and her mother are not so similar after all.  When Annie points out a fabric to make a pair of dresses for them both, her mother replies, “You are getting too old for that . . . You just cannot go around the rest of your life looking like a little me.”

Annie’s world crumbles. As she advances to a new school, the differences between Annie and her mother become more apparent. Annie likes girls – especially those who don’t have to bathe and comb their hair every day like Annie is forced to. She likes to play marbles – even though her mother forbids it, since it isn’t ladylike. And Annie steals. To have what she wants, Annie is forced to steal things like trinkets, money, and marbles. She begins to resent her mother’s strict ways and desires her own, free existence.

When Annie falls ill for a long time, she is nursed back to health by her mother. After which, she leaves her family in Antigua behind to go to England to become a nurse, since she “would have chosen going off to live in a cavern and keeping house for seven unruly men rather than go on with [her] life as it stood.”

While Annie’s young teenage rebelliousness sounds familiar to many, she struggles deeply with the divide between the life she wants and the life her mother wants for her. Annie says, “In the year I turned fifteen, I felt more unhappy than I had ever imagined anyone could be. My unhappiness was something deep inside me, and when I closed my eyes, I could even see it . . . It took the shape of a small black ball, all wrapped up in cobwebs. I would look at it and look at it until I had burned the cobwebs away, and then I would see the ball was no bigger than a thimble, even though it weighed worlds.”

Annie John is not a difficult story to read in terms of language or length, but as a story it is tough to swallow since it is about growing up, which comes with the heavy realization that you must become your own being. Mostly, the story focuses on events from Annie’s life that are narrated rather than her depression and related illness. These topics are not discussed in detail, rather left open for the reader to think about.

Annie John is not told chronologically, which can be confusing at times. This story is historical fiction and showcases some of the culture of Antigua, an island in the Caribbean, whose native population has been impacted by colonization. This is most apparent in the strict gender norms emphasized by Annie’s mother and the teachings in Annie’s school. This story is wonderfully crafted. While these issues seem like major ones, they are carefully blended into Annie’s life so subtly that the reader can fully understand what it’s like to live as Annie John. The events of the story are personal to Annie’s life, however, the sadness that comes with growing older is universal. Because of that, this story is timeless and a must-read for those who seek to understand a genuine, flawed character, as she escapes from her restrictive past and sails to a new future.

Sexual Content

  • The schoolgirls wonder when their breasts will grow larger. Annie tells the reader, “On our minds every day were our breasts and their refusal to budge out of our chests. On hearing somewhere that if a boy rubbed your breasts they would quickly swell up, I passed along this news. Since in the world we occupied and hoped to forever occupy boys were banished, we had to make do with ourselves.”
  • Later, Annie thinks about spending time with her friend, Gwen, who she is in love with: “Oh, how it would have pleased us to press and rub our knees together as we sat in our pew . . . and how it would have pleased us even more to walk home together, alone in the early dusk. . . stopping where there was a full moon, to lie down in a pasture and expose our bosoms in the moonlight. We had heard that full moonlight would make our breasts grow to a size we would like.”
  • The Red Girl, one of Annie’s crushes, pinches her, then kisses her. “She pinched hard, picking up pieces of my flesh and twisting it around. At first, I vowed not to cry, but it went on for so long that tears I could not control streamed down my face. I cried so much that my chest began to heave, and then, as if my heaving chest caused her to have some pity on me, she stopped pinching and began to kiss me on the same spots where shortly before I had felt the pain of her pinch. Oh, the sensation was delicious – the combination of pinches and kisses. And so wonderful we found it that, almost every time we met, pinches by her, followed by tears from me, followed by kisses from her, were the order of the day.”

Violence

  • Annie torments a girl she likes. “I loved very much – and used to torment until she cried – a girl named Sonia . . . I would pull at the hair on her arms and legs – gently at first, and then awfully hard, holding it up taut with the tips of my fingers until she cried out.”
  • Annie recounts an incident with one of her friends. “In a game we were making up on the spot, I took off all my clothes and he led me to a spot under a tree, where I was to sit until he told me what to do next. It was long before I realized that the spot he had picked out was a red ants’ nest. Soon the angry ants were all over me, stinging me in my private parts, and as I cried and scratched, trying to get the ants off me, he fell down on the ground laughing, his feet kicking the air with happiness.”

Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • After Annie’s mother sees her talking to boys, she calls Annie a slut. Annie narrates the event like this: “My mother said it had pained her to see me behave in the manner of a slut in the street and that just to see me had caused her to feel shame. The word ‘slut’ was repeated over and over until suddenly I felt as if I were drowning in a well but instead of the well being filled with water it was filled with the word ‘slut,’ and it was pouring in through my eyes, my ears, my nostrils, my mouth. As if to save myself, I turned to her and said, ‘Well like father like son, like mother like daughter.’”

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • The kids sometimes go to choir and church on Sunday, and carry bibles, but this is rarely described, only referenced. For example, Annie’s mother “checked my bag to make sure that I had my passport, the money she had given me, and a sheet of paper placed between some pages in my Bible on which were written the names of the relatives with whom I would live in England.” Annie does not discuss God or her beliefs.
  • When Annie is sick, an obeah woman from her family tries to help her by giving her herbs and using other remedies, although Annie is too sick to note them.
  • The obeah women of Annie’s town believe that Annie falls ill because of a “scorned woman” from her father’s past. There is no further elaboration on this topic.

by Madison Shooter

 

The Curse of King Tut’s Mummy

The desert hides many secrets. Day after day, Howard Carter and his crew search the sand for signs of Egypt’s ancient kings. Many tombs were looted long ago, but he was sure that one was still out there—the tomb of King Tut! But were the old stories true? Did King Tut’s mummy and the royal treasure come with a deadly curse?

Follow Howard Carter’s story, beginning when he was just a sickly child who fell in love with ancient Egypt. Through Carter’s experiences, readers will begin to see how education, perseverance, and endurance helped Carter find King Tut’s tomb. Even though Carter was thrilled to find King Tut’s treasures, he knew the importance of recording every artifact’s location and preserving the find for future generations. The end of the book contains Tut’s Mummy Timeline, photographs, and additional interesting facts.

The Curse of King Tut’s Mummy uses short chapters and easy vocabulary, which makes the book accessible to young readers. Large black and white illustrations appear every 3 to 7 pages and bring many of the ancient artifacts to life. While the book is easy enough for young fluent readers, the content will be interesting to older readers as well.

The Curse of King Tut’s Mummy explores ancient Egypt’s culture and beliefs in a way that makes archeology fun. The book is full of interesting facts. Detailed illustrations show the inside of many of the tombs. Anyone who is interested in Egypt’s ancient kings will enjoy The Curse of King Tut’s Mummy. Zoehfeld discusses some of the curses written on the tombs and some of the Egyptian superstitions, but she makes it clear that curses are not real. Younger readers who want to learn more about King Tut can jump back into time by reading Escape from Egypt by Wendy Mass.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • Carter was an archeologist who had to fight off rude tourists who came to visit a tomb. Carter “asked the rowdy visitors to leave. They demanded to be let into the tomb. The guards tried to block their way. The tourists threw chairs. They swung their walking sticks at the guards.” Two tourists were injured. The tourists also “damaged the walls and broke chairs.”
  • The reason King Tut died is still unknown, but “the bone just above his left knee was broken.” Some speculate that “the young king had a bad accident during a battle or a hunting trip. The accident that broke his leg might have also crushed his chest.”

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • During ancient times, there was a funeral for the dead king where the guests’ “cups had been filled with beer and wine.”

Language

  • None

Supernatural

  • When an ancient Egyptian official and his wife were buried, their tomb had a warning: “All people who enter this tomb. Who will make evil against this tomb. And destroy it: May the crocodile be against them on water, and snakes against them on land. May the hippopotamus be against them on water. The scorpion against them on land.” Many believed that anyone who destroyed the tomb would be cursed.
  • When Carter went to Egypt, he took his pet canary. Carter’s Egyptian housekeeper and his three foremen thought, “the bird of gold will bring us good luck!”
  • Later that summer, a cobra got into the canary’s cage. “The deadly snake was gulping the poor bird down, headfirst. . . Carter’s housekeeper and foremen were horrified. They thought it was a sign of terrible things to come.”
  • When there was a blackout, “many believed this blackout was a bad omen.”
  • King Tut’s tomb had a warning: “For those who enter the sacred tomb, the wings of death will visit them quickly.” There were many stories of curses, but they “were all made up.”

Spiritual Content

  • Ancient Egypt’s gods and goddesses are occasionally discussed because there were many statues of them. For example, “the Egyptian goddess of good health was always shown as a woman with a lion’s head.”
  • In the 14th century B.C., “Akhenaten felt that Egyptian priests were getting too powerful. So he banned all the gods the Egyptian people were used to worshiping. He created a new religion with only one god.”

The Detective’s Assistant

Eleven-year-old Nell Warne couldn’t have imagined what awaits her when she arrives on her long-lost aunt’s doorstep lugging a heavy sack of sorrows.

Much to Nell’s surprise, her aunt is a detective, working for the world-famous Pinkreluctanceational Detective Agency! Nell quickly makes herself indispensable to Aunt Kate. . . and not just by helping out with household chores. As her aunt travels around the country solving mysteries, Nell must crack codes, wear disguises, and spy on nefarious criminals.

Nation-changing events simmer in the background as Abraham Lincoln heads for the White House, and Aunt Kate is working on the biggest case of her life. But Nell is quietly working a case of her own: the mystery of what happened the night her best friend left town.

Nell’s adventure paints a picture of life in the 1800s. When she is forced to live with her Aunt Kate, Nell quickly realizes that her aunt isn’t like most women—instead Aunt Kate takes on many disguises while solving mysteries. At first, Aunt Kate doesn’t trust Nell and doesn’t want to give the grieving girl a home, giving readers a small peek into the life of an orphan. The Detective’s Assistant also uses letters between Nell and her friend to delve into the topic of slave hunters. Even though the topic is explored in a kid-friendly manner, sensitive readers may be upset by the death of so many people.

Despite her aunt’s reluctance to give Nell a home, Aunt Kate makes sure Nell learns vocabulary, grammar, and math. Throughout the story, Aunt Kate is always correcting Nell’s speech. For example, Aunt Kate tells Nell, “And the proper word is isn’t, not ain’t. Mind your grammar, even in times of distress.” Nell also learns new vocabulary such as somnambulist. This highlights the importance of getting an education and adds fun to the story.

The Detective’s Assistant is sure to delight readers because of the interesting, complex characters as well as the cases that Aunt Kate and Nell help solve. Since the story is told from Nell’s point of view, the readers get an intimate look at Nell’s emotions. Nell struggles with the death of her family, how the slave trade affected people, and the possibility of being sent to an orphanage. All of these aspects make The Detective’s Assistant a fast-paced story with many surprises. In the end, Nell learns that “family meant taking the folks we’re stuck with and choosing to love them anyway.”

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • A pickpocket takes Aunt Kate’s purse. Nell sees him “and with one swift stomp of my foot, I crashed the heel of my big brown boot onto his toes. The bandit let out a howl and began hopping on one leg.”
  • When others notice their money is missing, the crowd “pounced on the skinny pickpocket like a pack of wolves.”
  • In a letter, Nell’s friend tells her about slaves who were trying to go to Canada so they can live free. “And the next thing Mama knows, her friend’s neck is in a noose hanging from a tree.”
  • Aunt Kate investigates a “murder by poison.” A woman’s “lover has succeeded in putting his wife in a pine box.”
  • While babysitting a young girl, the girl treats Nell poorly. Her “shins ached from unexpected kicks, my arms were sore from vicious pinches, and my pride was wounded from insults to my general appearance and intellect.”
  • Aunt Kate investigates a bank robbery. “A bank teller was murdered in cold blood, and money was stolen.” The bank teller was killed with a hammer and “three blows to the head.” Later the criminal confesses.
  • Slave hunters stole a family and they “got sold off to the highest bidder.” The family was torn apart.
  • Nell’s father, Cornelius, accidentally shoots and kills his brother. Cornelius was helping slaves escape to Canada. At night, “a man came riding up toward us—we could almost feel the hoofbeats. . . [a man] called for us to stop. . . And in a rush of panic that swept over all of us, your daddy fired his gun.”
  • While Cornelius was helping slaves escape, slave hunters killed him. “His body washed up in the Chemung River.”

  Drugs and Alcohol

  • Nell’s father, “saw the jailhouse for drinking and cheating at poker.” Nell’s father is often referred to as a drunk liar who gambles.
  • Nell names her dog Whiskey. Nell “didn’t know a thing about liquor when I named her. But I heard my daddy say whiskey was pure gold.”
  • While walking down the street, “a few menacing drunks pushed past, knocking both Aunt Kate and me off balance.”

Language

  • “Heck and tarnation” is used twice.
  • Darn is used twice
  • Nell calls a bratty girl a “little jackanapes.”
  • Nell thinks that some boys are “dunderheads.”
  • When a rebel starts talking about John Wilkes Booth, Nell thinks the rebel is an “illiterate oaf.”

Supernatural

  • In order to gain a suspect’s trust, Aunt Kate pretends to be a fortune-teller. The suspect believes that “her brother’s ring warned him of storms at sea.”
  • A man thinks the detectives use “voodoo magic to get those criminals to talk.” Others think the detectives use whiskey to get people talking.
  • Nell couldn’t go to a funeral because “Daddy thought it was bad luck to have a child so close to the Grim Reaper.”

Spiritual Content

  • Nell writes to a friend, saying her daddy “is splitting logs with the angels.”
  • Someone asks Nell how her father made it “to the pearly gates of heaven.” Nell replies, “Through prayer, ma’am. Mine mostly, since he wasn’t the praying kind. . .”
  •  Aunt Kate says, “Frugality is a virtue. It says so in the Bible.”

The Legend of the Shark Goddess: A Nanea Mystery

Ever since the war started, Nanea has done her best to follow all the new rules. When she meets a boy named Mano in her grandparents’ market, Nanea is shocked to hear him admit to breaking some rules—and bragging about getting away with it.

When things start to go missing from the market, Mano is the first person Nanea suspects. Nanea is determined to protect her grandparents, but Mano, whose name means “shark” in Hawaiian, seems to be hanging around the market more and more. What can Nanea do to keep her family safe from this dangerous boy?

Nanea’s story focuses on the effects of World War II in 1941. In a kid-friendly way, The Legend of the Shark Goddess illustrates some of the discrimination that Japanese Americans faced. Even though the story takes place after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, the story also revolves around Nanea’s efforts to discover who is stealing from her family. As the mystery evolves, Nanea realizes it is difficult to tell if someone is a “good shark or a bad shark.”

Nanea is obsessed with following the rules, which is one reason she focuses on her first impressions of others. For example, when Nanea meets Mano, she is convinced he is the thief because he breaks curfew. Nanea is so focused on proving that Mano is a thief that she never really considers that anyone else could have taken the items. While most of the suspects are not well developed, the story provides enough mystery to keep readers entertained.

The Legend of the Shark Goddess does an excellent job describing Hawaii during the 1940s. Readers will learn many facts about this time period as well as several life lessons. The story focuses on two main lessons: don’t spread rumors and don’t judge others. The repetition of the lessons is a little tedious, but the conclusion helps reinforce the story’s lesson in a surprising way.

Readers who love mysteries may be disappointed that Nanea doesn’t do much sleuthing and there are no clues to follow or riddles to solve. Instead, the story relies on Nanea’s impressions of others to build suspense. However, Nanea’s story is interesting and many middle school readers will relate to Nanea. At the end of the book, readers will find a glossary of Hawaiian words and facts about Nanea’s world. Even though The Legend of the Shark Goddess lacks mystery, readers will still enjoy spending time in Nanea’s world. Readers who like history with a dash of fantasy should also read The League of Secret Heroes by Kate Hannigan.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • None

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • None

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • Nanea often thinks about the shark goddess Ka’ahupahau, “who guarded the entrance of Pearl Harbor with her brother, Kahi’uka. . . She was born a human with fire-red hair. But as a shark, her body could take many forms. She could become a net, difficult to tear. And with her net body, she captured man-eating sharks that entered her harbor.”

Lovely War

In a hotel room in Manhattan in the midst of World War II, the Greek gods Aphrodite and Ares are caught in an affair by Aphrodite’s husband, Hephaestus. Hoping to understand Love’s attraction to War, Hephaestus puts Aphrodite on trial. Her defense is to tell the tale of one of her greatest successes, the intersecting love stories of Hazel Windicott and James Alderidge, and of Aubrey Edwards and Colette Fournier. Aphrodite’s witnesses are Ares (god of war), Apollo (god of music), and Hades (god of death). Each contributes their own different, but overlapping, perspectives to the proceedings.

The story begins as piano player Hazel and soldier James meet at a parish dance and fall into instant, dizzying love, only to be separated three days later when James is sent to the front. Desperate to distract herself from anxiety about her soldier’s well-being, Hazel joins the YMCA where she meets Colette, a singer who lost her whole family in an attack on her home in Belgium. There, they happen upon ragtime musician Aubrey, a Black soldier who desires to make a name for himself on stage and on the battlefield. Aubrey and Colette bond over their music and realize their affections go beyond an appreciation for each other’s talents.

While the story addresses dark and violent subject matter due to its historical period, the frame narrative allows for light moments as well. The banter among the gods, and their respective belief that their part of the story is the most memorable, allows the mood to lift as needed. The darker moments hold meaning within the larger narrative and the smallest joys are heralded as gifts from the gods.

The human characters hold their own amongst their immortal narrators. Each character is likable and humorous in his/her own way. Over the course of the war, Hazel emerges from her meek demeanor, learning to stand for what she sees is right, while not losing her innocence and goodness of heart. James is goofy and sincere, making his experience in combat all the more tragic, as he must reconcile that what he does on the battlefield does not have to mean a loss of himself. Colette is strong-willed and a fierce defender of her friends, though internally she fears that anyone she loves is destined to die. She opens up, however, to the charming dreamer Aubrey. Aubrey’s experiences with racial violence show that the enemy to their happiness is not only the German soldiers they encounter on the battlefield but also those who perpetrate violence and discrimination against black Americans within their own neighborhoods and war camps.

Teenage readers who enjoy romance, Greek mythology, and historical fiction may enjoy this book. It is recommended that readers proceed carefully, as the book does address racism and racial violence as well as the terrors and destruction of war. Despite the hate and violence which surround them, the couples find their way back to love amidst it all. Their fragility as mortals in wartime allows for precious love to shine, as even the impermeable gods come to admire. After Aphrodite reminds Hephaestus that the mortals die, he responds, “They do. But the lucky ones live first. . . The luckiest ones spend time with you.”

Sexual Content

  • Two characters are briefly described as having an affair. “In an instant they are in each other’s arms. Shoes are kicked off, hats tossed aside. Jacket buttons are shown no mercy.” Their kisses are “like a clash of battle and a delicious melding of flesh, rolled together and set on fire.”
  • Athena and Artemis are called, “Those prissy little virgins.”
  • Some of the gods make brief jokes about paying attention to women’s bodies.
  • Hazel’s attraction to James sparks “a series of little explosions” which “began firing throughout her brain and spread quickly elsewhere.”
  • Stéphane admires Colette’s spine and thinks that “he could run his fingers along her back.” He does not act on his thought.
  • Colette is attracted to Aubrey’s musical talent, saying, “It was sexy. And so was its athletic high priest at the piano bench.”
  • During an attack on Aubrey, a racist soldier implies that Aubrey is after white women. Aubrey retorts asking if the man has “ever been with a black girl.” When the soldier laughs, Aubrey “had no illusions about her being a willing participant.”
  • Joey assumes an encounter between Aubrey and Colette was sexual in nature. He asks Aubrey, “Did you . . .?” Aubrey informs him, “It’s not like that,” and then scolds him for presuming that Colette is a “hooker.”
  • Aubrey hides so as not to be seen by a supervisor and realizes “he was free to ogle Colette from the shoulders down just at that moment, and he took advantage of it.”
  • Colette tries to understand Hazel’s fear about meeting up with James. Colette assumes that Hazel’s fear might be due to the possibility of one of them “taking advantage” of the other. Hazel admits that “if anyone found out, there’d be such a scandal.” She explains, “When I’m around James, I do the most outrageous things.”
  • Colette recognizes that being “alone in the dark” could lead to “dozens of ways a young man could try to take advantage of this situation,” although nothing comes of it.
  • A couple says goodbye, and “the brief kiss she gave him at the door was filled with neither passion nor desire, but sweetness, affection, gratitude.”
  • Hazel removes her stockings at the beach, and it is said, “The sight of her bare feet was just about enough to give poor James a stroke there on the spot.”
  • Hazel is pushed into James’ arms and, “The feel of her body pressed against his went through him like an electric shock.” They hold each other for a moment, spinning in circles.

Violence

  • There are multiple instances of racial violence perpetrated against Aubrey and his bandmates. There are also third-party historical sources referenced. Words such as “darkie,” “coon,” “negroes,” and “colored” are frequently used by other characters to address these men. At one point a southern soldier states, “An ape’s an ape.” Other racist comments permeate the experience of the black soldiers at home and abroad.
  • The black soldiers face fears of waking to a “lynch mob.”
  • The narrator describes an instance of police brutality. “A white police officer had entered a black woman’s home without a warrant, searching for a suspect. When she protested, he beat and arrested her, dragging her from her home though she wasn’t fully dressed. When a black soldier saw this and tried to intervene to defend the woman, the white policeman pistol-whipped the black soldier, seriously injuring him.” She then briefly mentions the “shooting that followed” which killed many people.
  • When addressing the possibility of looking at white women, Aubrey states, “No pretty face is worth swinging from a tree.”
  • The “Rape of Belgium” is described in detail over five pages. The narrator notes that German soldiers “pulled men from workplaces and homes and hiding places and executed them in the streets. Women, children, and babies were executed too. As old as eighty-eight. As young as three weeks.” Later, Aphrodite goes on to reference “the stories of women raped, children crucified, nailed to doors, of old men executed. . .”
  • The story frequently finds itself in the midst of trench combat. There are descriptions of the training process, of learning how to kill another man with minimal remorse, and of soldiers often encountering death and the bodies of those lost in battle. The men learn about the effects of gas attacks and how “those poor buggers in the first gas attacks drowned in their own blood.” At one point the trenches are described as “slick with blood.”
  • James imagines his own brother ending up the way his fellow soldiers have. “He saw Bobby’s burnt and blood-soaked body lying in the mud at the bottom of a trench.”
  • The soldiers travel “past live horses and dead horses and trucks and motorcycles.”
  • Multiple racially motivated murders take place in the camps. Two men are “strangled” and the discovery of one body is described over 6 pages. Aubrey and Lieutenant Europe come to the realization that “that was blood on the snow. His head. His face. His bloated, blackened face.” They assume the killers “beat his face in with their rifles.” They note, “You almost wouldn’t know it’s him” and they “gently [close] his gaping lower lip to hide the horribly broken jaw.”
  • Aubrey is held at gunpoint by a racist soldier who says, “We ain’t gonna let you Negroes get a taste for white women.” Aubrey took the man’s gun and “pressed the cold muzzle of the revolver against his victim’s temple.” Then, Aubrey warns his attacker not to mess with the Black soldiers again.
  • The narrator cynically describes how little detail is provided in the notifications of soldiers’ deaths, explaining, “They never said, ‘hung for hours on a barbed wire fence with his bowels hanging out, pleading for rescue, but nobody dared go for fear of hostile fire.’”
  • James partakes in trench warfare. He is a sniper and frequently must shoot German soldiers. After he shoots a man, “a red throat pours blood down a gray uniform.” James actively tries to not think about what he is doing in order to protect his friends.
  • A flamethrower is used in combat. The soldiers try to distinguish the fire, and the narrator notes that “the smell of flesh on fire reminds James of food, of cooking meat.” Ares goes on to narrate that “Chad Browning has stopped his screaming. His clothing is half melted away, half fused to his skin.”
  • Hazel is sexually assaulted by a prisoner of war. The attack is thwarted quickly but not before, “He licked her lips and teeth with his foul tongue, then forced it inside her mouth.”
  • Multiple explosions occur throughout the text. For example, after one explosion “the smoke lifted, and James scrubbed the grit from his eyes, Frank Mason wasn’t there anymore. Just a fire, a helmet, a torn pair of boots, and a little charred prayer book.” It is later implied that there would not be a body to bury.
  • Later, another explosion occurs. “The engine and the first two cars were annihilated. The cars beyond buckled and crashed into one another. Soldiers and war workers were thrown all about the cars. Shards of glass from shattered windows flew like shrapnel. Colette emerged unscathed, for Hazel had thrown her body over her friend’s.” James must treat Hazel’s injuries. Hades goes through the necessary course of action to “apply pressure to the bleeding and summon a medic. Clear airflow, release tight clothing.”
  • Hazel receives a blood transfusion. She notes the “tubes of red blood dangled from jars mounted to a metal frame and ran, Hazel realized, into a needle injected into her arm.”

Drugs and Alcohol

  • A character jokes about how the soldiers of the 369th “were knocked on their backs by the routine daily allotment of wine for French soldiers.”
  • While under treatment for shell shock, James is given sedatives.

Language

  • The narrator quotes real news articles about the 369th infantry; these include racist comments and one censored use of the n-word.
  • Offensive terms for opposing soldiers are often used. These include “Jerry,” “Russkies,” “Fritz,” and “Boche.” They refer at one point to Kaiser Wilhelm as “Wee Willie Winkie.”
  • Audrey calls the racist behavior of another soldier “shit” twice.
  • A trainer tells soldiers that in the event of a gas attack, “‘If you’ve lost your mask, you still stay calm. If all else fails, piss on a hankie and breathe through that.’” He warns that they will “break out in damnable sores everywhere” and that they “hurt like hell.”
  • Joey calls Aubrey a “jackass.”
  • Men are called “bastards” twice.
  • Aubrey calls his own behavior “damnably stupid.”
  • There is one use of the oath “Chrisssake.”
  • Emile regrets not being injured sooner, saying, “But non, you stayed away, leaving me healthy and sound, so the Germans could piss on me with their shells and bullets year after year…”
  • Aphrodite calls her husband a “blooming ass.”

Supernatural

  • Spirits occasionally observe their loved ones from the afterlife. At one point, James feels Frank’s presence and begins speaking to him. James wonders if he is going mad.

Spiritual Content

  • The story is told from the rotating perspectives of four Greek gods. Their influence and powers are often employed as catalysts for plot developments.
  • Hades comes dressed as a Catholic priest, as that is how he presents himself to humans.
  • Many of the human characters are Christian and are described praying, visiting churches, and lighting votive candles. They also reference Christian stories and practices.
  • After losing everyone she loves to the war, Colette struggles with her faith. She believes herself to be a “plaything to a vindictive god.” She calls god “it” and explains that “a loving god would never allow this. And if there was no god at all, surely chance would occasionally favor me, non?”
  • After standing up to an authority figure, the narrator says that Hazel “wasn’t a Catholic, but at the rate she was going, she probably needed a priest to take her confession. Before she was struck by lightning and cast down to hell.”

by Jennaly Nolan

 

14+    480   4.7   4 worms   AR   hs  (World War I)

Diverse Characters, Strong Female Character

 

 

 

 

 

The Berlin Boxing Club

Karl Stern is Jewish in heritage only. No one in his family practices and Karl doesn’t even see himself as Jewish. However, in Nazi Germany, Karl is Jewish, whether he or his family practice the religion. Despite this fact, Karl’s concerns are less about the Nazis and more about becoming a cartoonist, flirting with his neighbor Greta Hauser, and learning how to box from his father’s friend, the great Max Schmeling. But as the restrictions tighten around Jewish people, Karl must learn what it means to be a man, to be Jewish, and to be strong.

Although The Berlin Boxing Club is set in Nazi Germany and has a Jewish protagonist, the events lead up to Kristallnacht, or night of the broken glass, instead of describing a concentration camp. Although the reader will be familiar with the Holocaust, the characters do not know what’s to come. The historical events, like the laws passed against Jewish people, did actually happen, and the reader gets to experience discrimination and hatred through Karl’s eyes. As a form of escapism, Karl draws cartoons that depict him and his sister fleeing the bullies in their lives. These cartoons appear throughout the book and help them keep up hope, even when the situation is dire.

The Berlin Boxing Club contains some characters who are real historical figures. Most prominently featured is Max Schmeling, who was a real German boxer who lost in a historic fight against African American boxer Joe Louis. Although Schmeling was beloved in Germany before this event, his loss failed to prove Hitler’s assertion that the so-called “German race” was superior. This loss helped move Schmeling out of the spotlight. Most importantly, Schmeling historically helped hide two Jewish children. Schmeling’s history is closely tied with Karl and his family, and it is a clever way of mixing fiction with historical facts. It should be noted that Karl and his family are fictional.

The main theme shows Karl’s evolving understanding of manhood. Karl desperately wants to be a boxer because he hates getting beaten up at school, and he would like to be strong to defend himself and exact revenge against his bullies. At the beginning of the book, Karl ties manhood to physical prowess, causing him to knock heads with other characters. Then, Karl meets his father’s friend, the Countess, who is a man dressed as a woman who lives with his male partner. Initially, Karl reacts very negatively towards both of them. But as the story progresses, Karl learns that the Countess fought in the Great War, and he eventually risks his own safety to help hide Karl and his sister. Through characters like the Countess, Karl unpacks his negative baggage around masculinity and learns that courage and strength come in more forms than just physical.

The Berlin Boxing Club is sometimes upsetting due to the events that took place in Nazi Germany and due to Karl’s own internalized issues that stem from damaging propaganda about Jewish people, women, and homosexuality. Karl’s personal journey shows that he can unlearn those terrible things that he thought were true, and that people are far more complicated than Karl gives them credit for. Readers who have already read other fictionalized and real accounts of life from Jewish people under Nazi rule will find that The Berlin Boxing Club is a change of pace, and they may enjoy the different perspectives that the book brings to the conversation. As Karl unpacks his own preconceived ideas, The Berlin Boxing Club is also worth unraveling to find its heart.

Sexual Content

  • Item number three on Karl’s list of biggest concerns in his life is, “Getting inside Greta Hauser’s pants and having her find her way into mine.” Karl mentions that he “was also obsessed with the recently bloomed chest of Greta Hauser, who lived with her family in [Karl’s] apartment building.” Karl mentions Greta’s breasts several times.
  • Karl talks about how he finds abstract art difficult to digest. He says that he prefers “paintings and drawings of whores, exposing themselves to men on the street and in brothels.”
  • In pursuit of a flyer about one of his father’s artists, Karl finds an ad lying on the floor that he describes as a “sexy message.” It reads, “Berlin is still hot ladies—You just have to look in the right cracks. The countess has just what you’ve been waiting for . . . ” An “ink smear” prevents Karl from reading the rest of the page.
  • The building superintendent of Karl’s apartment reads a Nazi tabloid. Karl swipes his copies “because of the pinups, not because of the Nazi propaganda.”
  • On his morning run, Karl passes a “weary prostitute walking home from a long night.”
  • Greta kisses Karl in the furnace room. Karl describes how “she wrapped her arms around me, rubbing the back of my neck. Goosebumps spread down my spine, and our kisses became more intense as she pressed her body against mine, so close that I could feel the pulse of my heart beating against hers.”
  • The apartment superintendent catches Karl and Greta kissing. As Greta leaves, he says to Karl, “Hope she tasted good, Stern. I’ve had my eye on that for a long time.” Karl and Greta are 14 and 15, respectively.

Violence

  • To “prove” that Karl is Jewish and humiliate him, three of Karl’s classmates pull down his pants to show that he is circumcised. Karl describes, “Franz roughly unbuckled my belt and unbuckled my trousers . . . my penis bobbed in front of them in all of its circumcised glory.”
  • The boys who humiliate Karl then fight him, though Karl wants no part of any physical confrontation. One boy punched him several times, “catching me on the edge of my chin and sending my head snapping back. More laughter. Franz (the one boy) then threw several punches at my face, landing on my eye and the side of my mouth. My top lip caught on the corner of my right canine tooth, and blood gushed out of my mouth and dribbled down my chin, eliciting more howls.”
  • When the boys hear a teacher’s voice from down the hallway, they shove Karl down the stairs. Karl says, “I fell hard against the side of the stairwell, knocking my face against the metal handrail as I went down. I slid down a few steps until I came to a stop face-first on the landing.” One of his teeth gets knocked out.
  • When Karl, his father, and his sister come home one night, they find Uncle Karl “bending over the sink with his bare ass hanging in the air. A small dark bloody hole had punctured his left buttock, which my mother was probing with long tweezers.” The adults won’t tell Karl or Hildy what happened, though it is implied that it has something to do with the political climate exacerbated by Hitler.
  • Karl wants to know what happened to Uncle Jakob when they find that one of his butt cheeks has been punctured in an altercation. Uncle Jakob jokes that “One of [Jakob’s] girlfriends found out about one of [his] other girlfriends, and the next thing [he] knew [he] had a hole in [his] Hintern [butt].”
  • Karl knows some things about Uncle Jakob, including that “Uncle Jakob was a member of an underground Communist group that was trying to organize against the Nazis.” From that, Karl guesses that Uncle Jakob “was part of a secret meeting that had been broken up by the Gestapo and that he’d gotten shot while he fled the scene.”
  • The boys in the Hitler Youth continue to harass Karl at school. One day they “grabbed [him] by the arms and pulled [him] back, pinning [his] arms behind [him]” so he couldn’t escape.
  • The boys in the Hitler Youth have a new initiation for their members, that requires they “baptize a Jew.” They grab Karl and plunge his head into a toilet in the school bathroom. Karl describes, “I quickly held my breath as I felt my hair and top of my face plunge into the water.”
  • Karl is upset when Max hasn’t come to get him for boxing lessons. Karl imagines in his “most exaggerated fantasy . . . becoming a heavyweight contender and defeating Schmeling himself, with [Karl’s] long arms snapping off a series of rapid-fire punches.”
  • When their mom won’t respond, Karl and Hildy break into the bathroom. Upset about having to let the housekeeper go, their mom falls asleep in the bathtub and it seems that she has come close to drowning. Karl describes how “she choked and gasped as water went up her nose.”
  • Karl learns how to box from Max Schmeling, who was a real professional boxer in Germany in the 1930s. Boxing is a violent sport, and Karl gets beaten up regularly during training. Max says about boxing, “There’s an art to boxing and plenty of skills to learn, but at the end of the day, boxing is just fighting, plain and simple.”
  • Karl describes what it’s like landing his first punch in a spar. Karl narrates, “The punch had mass and weight, and a wonderful electric thrill ran down my hand and across my body as I sensed his muscles tighten.”
  • Neblig, one of Karl’s friends at the boxing gym, reveals that he is blind in one eye because some other boys tried to beat him up. He also has a stutter, which comes through his dialogue. He says, “I held th-th-them off good. But then one of them hit me in the eye, and it almost p-p-p-popped right out.”
  • Karl reads a profile in a magazine about the Jewish American boxer Barney Ross. The magazine says that Ross’s father “was killed during an armed robbery.”
  • Uncle Jakob is arrested because his “political group doesn’t agree with the Nazis . . . They took him to a concentration camp in a place called Dachau.” The family only hears “rumors of torture and murder in the camps,” but at this point Karl’s family is unsure.
  • After Uncle Jakob’s arrest, Karl’s parents have a loud fight about leaving Germany. Karl describes the scene. Karl’s father “kicked the suitcase so it slid into my mother’s leg with a dull thud. She grabbed her shin in pain where the suitcase had struck her. ‘Goddamn you!’ she screamed. She picked up the suitcase and hurled it toward my father. He ducked out of the way, but it struck him on the shoulder and then bounced against the wall.”
  • Karl and the few other Jewish students are expelled from their school because of the implementation of the Nuremburg laws (which barred Jewish people from doing a host of activities and jobs, and defined who was “a Jew”). Afterward, some of the boys at school run to beat up Karl and the others. Karl is faster than Benjamin, another Jewish student, and Karl looks back to see a student “grab [Benjamin] by the back of his jacket and swing him to the ground . . . he was completely covered by the kicking and punching bodies of the other boys.”
  • Bertram Heigel (the Countess) tells Karl about his experience in the First World War with Karl’s father, who had saved Heigel’s life. Heigel notes, “Your father had already made it and was returning fire to give us cover when a mustard gas cloud swept over us . . . We had lost our masks during the retreat, and I started gagging as the gas hit the back of my throat.” Karl’s father pulls them from the trenches. This description lasts for a couple of pages.
  • Karl’s apartment superintendent ambushes Karl and Greta’s meet up one night, and he grabs Greta with the intent of sexually assaulting her. He tells Karl to go away or he’ll throw Karl’s family out on the street. Karl discovered “Greta pressed up against a tree by Herr Koplek [the building superintendent].” Karl then “lunged forward and gave [Koplek] a quick shove, which sent him tumbling to the ground.”
  • Koplek gets revenge by forcing Karl’s family to move out, claiming that Karl was “making sexual advances” on Greta. Although untrue, the rumor has spread, and no one can afford to believe Karl.
  • Karl’s family receives word that Uncle Jakob died of “dysentery” according to the records at Dachau.
  • After school, the boys from the Hitler Youth hit Hildy. They throw rotten eggs and say, “Ten points to whoever can hit the first Jewess.”
  • In the news, Karl hears that “a Polish Jew living in France…had entered the German Embassy and shot and killed a German diplomat.”
  • Karl and his family experience what would become known as Kristallnacht, or the night where Nazis were “attacking Jews and Jewish businesses.” Karl is badly injured by Nazis when the rioters break into the art gallery, and Karl watches as “the man plunged the piece of glass into my father’s side.” Karl’s father is alive, but his doctor friend takes Karl’s parents away so they can hide. The scenes from Kristallnacht last for several chapters, and Karl sees scenes like Nazis “kicking an elderly Jewish man” who was lying in the street.
  • The Gestapo takes Karl’s father. Nothing is heard of him afterward.

Drugs and Alcohol

  • Karl and his sister Hildy help serve wine at their father’s art gallery openings and exhibitions. Karl’s job was “to redistribute the wine from the full bottles into the three empty bottles and then fill up the difference with water.”
  • Karl takes “a small taste from each one.” Hildy, who is eight, asks if she can try some, and Karl says, “When you’re thirteen.” Germany’s legal drinking age and drinking regulations for minors are much different than those in the United States, though this is not outright stated in the text.
  • Max has a string of rules for Karl, including “no tobacco . . . no booze.”
  • Karl’s father comes home one night “smelling of cigars and the peppermint-flavored liquor he preferred.”
  • While listening to Schmeling’s fight with Joe Louis, Karl drinks some beer with his fellow boxers. At this point in the story, Karl is almost seventeen. Karl notes that the beer makes his “brain tingle pleasantly.”
  • Karl gets drunk on beer during Schmeling’s fight. Karl says, “After an hour of steady drinking, I had to get up and relieve myself. I pushed myself up from the table, and my legs felt rubbery as I staggered into the men’s room.” He blacks out while in the men’s room.

Language

  • The Nazis and Nazi-sympathizing townsfolk use slurs and negative stereotypes towards the Jewish characters. Some of Karl’s classmates call him a “dirty pig” and say, “You should’ve been honest with us . . . We might’ve wanted to borrow money from you, Jew,” and “Jews are destroying our country.”
  • Profanity is fairly common throughout the book. Swear words (in both German and English) include: scheiss (shit), verdammt (damned), schwein (pig; swine), crap, ass, bastard, and retard.
  • Karl says of people who practice Judaism, “I disliked Jews as much as they did. I didn’t identify with them at all . . . To me, most of the Nazi propaganda about Jews had a ring of truth to it . . . And just like Adolf Hitler, I believed they were ruining everything. Only Hitler saw the Jews as ruining Germany, while I merely saw them as threatening my standing at school with my friends.”
  • Sometimes characters use exclamations like “God.” For instance, when Herr Boch finds Karl injured at the bottom of the steps, he says, “Du Lieber Gott! My God! What happened?”
  • Some of the students in Karl’s class call Karl a “Red,” referring to Russian communists. One of his classmates also comments that “All the Reds are Jews anyway, aren’t they?”
  • There are discussions about Hitler’s book, Mein Kampf. Much of the book is known for Hitler’s demonization of many groups of people, including Jews, LGBTQ+ folks, and many others. This book would go on to influence the Nazi party as well as much of Hitler’s regime in Germany. But The Berlin Boxing Club also discusses the parts where Hitler “specifically advocated for boxing to be part of the standard physical fitness program for all German boys.”
  • The apartment superintendent of Karl’s apartment was “an avowed fan of Hitler and kept a Nazi flag pinned to the outside of his door. He loyally read the Nazi tabloid, Der Stürmer, which featured the most virulent anti-Semitic articles and cartoons.”
  • At school one day, Karl notices that many of his classmates are wearing the regalia of the Hitler Youth. Karl notes, “I saw many boys wearing some sort of Nazi or Hitler Youth insignia, from buttons to belt buckles or kerchiefs around their necks . . . The Hitler Youth uniforms filled me with envy rather than fear. What boy wouldn’t want to wear a military uniform?”
  • During an assembly, a teacher wearing a “green Bavarian jacket with a small enamel swastika pin” leads the students in the Nazi salute and shouts, “Heil Hitler.” Karl participates because he “doesn’t want to draw attention to [himself] for not doing it.”
  • There is a lot of rhetoric against Jewish characters. For instance, the new principal at Karl’s school says that Jewish people “are the greatest threat to our fatherland.”
  • In biology classes at Karl’s school, the students “received long lectures on the purity of Aryan blood versus Jewish, African, [and] Gypsy blood.”
  • One of the boys in the Hitler Youth points at Karl and says, “Take a good look, boys. On the outside, he appears like us, but his blood and his cock are pure Jew.”
  • Karl’s father asks Karl to make a delivery to the Countess. Karl peeks at the package and sees “a simple illustration of two people dancing . . . both of the people were men with slicked-back hair, wearing tuxedos. The caption above the image read: The Countess presents another private winter ball for the beautiful boys of Berlin.” Karl, upon seeing this, reveals that he is homophobic. He says that his father “was somehow in league with homosexuals. It was risky enough being Jewish, but associating with homosexuals would put us at an even greater risk. Even Jews didn’t like homosexuals. It was the one thing everyone seemed to agree on.”
  • Karl meets the Countess, and he discovers that the Countess is a man dressed as a woman. Karl is not sure how to address him, and thinks to himself, “What were you supposed to call those people?”
  • Karl suspects that because his father is friends with the Countess, that his father is “a homosexual.” Then Karl wonders, “Did [he] have homosexual blood in [his] veins too?”
  • The girls at school call Hildy a “rotten apple” in reference to a very antisemitic book the class reads of the same name. On the cover, Karl sees the depictions of the apples. He notes, “The tree was filled with beautiful apples, except some of the apples had strange human faces with large noses and droopy eyes.” The book also praises Hitler for “cutting [Jews] out of Germany.”
  • Some of the boxers at the gym discuss a new and upcoming American boxer named Joe Louis. One of the boxers thinks he’ll take the heavyweight belt in no time. To this statement, another boxer says, “A Negro champion? It won’t happen.” When someone points out that Jack Johnson, an African American boxer, had already won the belt, the other boxer responds with, “A fluke . . . Negros don’t have the brainpower to be champions.” This conversation continues for about a page. The term “Negro” is used when referring to Joe Louis and other black characters.
  • Karl talks about how he makes deliveries for folks who live in the Berlin underworld— “homosexuals, Gypsies, Jews, Communists, anyone whose lifestyle or beliefs forced him or her to live in secret.”

Supernatural

  • Greta sees Karl shoveling coal in the apartment basement and says, “Well, if it isn’t Vulcan at his forge.” When Karl is confused, she clarifies, “The god of fire.” She then notes the difference between Vulcan and Hephaestus, saying, “Vulcan was a Roman god . . . Hephaestus was the Greek god of fire.”
  • Karl and Greta talk about mythology again in the furnace room, and this time Karl brings up the story of Pandora. Karl says, “Zeus ordered Hephaestus to create Pandora to punish mankind for stealing the secret of fire . . . Her box released all the evils of mankind—vanity, greed, envy, lust . . . ”

Spiritual Content

  • Karl is Jewish, but he was “raised by an atheist father and an agnostic mother, I grew up in a secular household. I had absolutely no religious background or education.”
  • Karl’s father fought in the First World War, and he hates religion and politics. He says, “I learned everything I needed to know about politics and religion during the war. They’re all worthless.”
  • Karl talks about pseudoscientists “proving Hitler’s theories of racial superiority” and who were also perpetuating “medieval myths about Jews’ kidnapping Christian children and drinking their blood in strange religious rituals.”
  • Greta’s family is Catholic, so her father “doesn’t want [her] talking to Lutheran boys” or Jewish boys.
  • Greta tells Karl that she’ll “have to say a special prayer” for him before his first real boxing match.
  • Greta confesses that “she was not sure that she believed in God at all.”
  • Jewish-American boxer Barney Ross’s father was an “Orthodox rabbi.”
  • Karl and Hildy’s mother sends them to attend a Jewish school since their old schools expelled them for being Jewish in the eyes of the Nuremburg laws. Karl is told on the first day that he is required to wear “a yarmulke,” or a small cap while at school even though he does not practice Judaism.
  • Karl has some thoughts on attending a Jewish school. He notes, “I felt no connection to the religious Jews and didn’t believe in any of their traditions. Why should God or anyone else care if I ate a pork sausage or walked around without a hat?”
  • The Jewish owner of the store where Karl buys his ink is suffering because of the laws against non-Jewish people doing business with Jewish people. He says a prayer over Karl before Karl leaves the store one day. The owner tells Karl, “That was the Tefilat HaDerech; it’s a prayer for a safe journey.”

by Alli Kestler

A Thousand Splendid Suns

A Thousand Splendid Suns is set against the volatile events of Afghanistan’s last thirty years—from the Soviet invasion to the reign of the Taliban to post-Taliban rebuilding. It puts the violence, fear, hope, and faith of the country in intimate, human terms. It is a tale of two generations brought jarringly together by the tragic sweep of war. In war, personal lives—the struggle to survive, raise a family, and find happiness—are inextricable from the history playing out around them.

Mariam and her mother live as outcasts. With little contact with the outside world, Mariam dreams of a time when her father will accept her. When Mariam’s mother dies, Mariam has no choice but to show up at her father’s house. Her father quickly arranges for Mariam to marry Rasheed. At first, Mariam is hopeful that living in a new city with a new husband will be the beginning of something good. But after a string of miscarriages, Rasheed becomes violent and forbids Mariam from seeking friendship.

Meanwhile, Laila grew up with parents that believe everyone deserves an education, including girls. While Laila’s childhood is far from perfect, she is surrounded by loving people. Then, just when her family plans to leave their war-torn city, Laila’s parents are killed. With no family or friends left, Laila isn’t sure where to turn. When Rasheed offers marriage, Laila reluctantly agrees to become his second wife. However, she wasn’t prepared for his first wife’s hate or Rasheed’s violence.

A Thousand Splendid Suns has worked its way onto many schools’ required reading lists because the story helps readers understand Afghan history. More importantly, it is a story of family, friendship, and hope. Mariam and Laila’s friendship gives them strength to live in a brutal environment, where their husband is cruel and abusive. Through their plight, readers will begin to understand the role women play in Afghanistan and how the Taliban changed their world overnight.

Readers will be deeply moved by the story’s events. However, the brutality of war, the massacre of innocent people, and the harsh physical abuse of both Mariam and Laila is graphic and disturbing. Hosseini paints a realistic picture of living in a war-torn country, and the images of death will remain with readers for a long time after they close the cover of the book. Even though A Thousand Splendid Suns has a positive message, sensitive readers will find the descriptions of Rasheed’s abusive behavior and the constant death upsetting.

Before you read A Thousand Splendid Suns, grab a box of tissues because the story will bring you to tears. Because of Laila’s friendship, Mariam makes a decision that will forever alter both of their lives. Through Mariam’s experiences, readers will come to understand how powerless women were under the Taliban’s rule, but they will also see how friendship and kindness have the power to change one’s life.

Sexual Content

  • After Mariam’s mother got pregnant, the baby’s father told his wives that her mother had “forced” herself on him.
  • Mariam is forced to marry a much older man. Before the marriage, Mariam thinks about her mother’s words. “It was the thought of these intimacies in particular, which she [Mariam] imagined as painful acts of perversity, that filled her with dread and made her break out in a sweat.”
  • One night, Mariam’s husband comes into her room. “His hand was on her right breast now, squeezing it hard through the blouse. . . He rolled on top of her, wriggled and shifted, and she let out a whimper. . .The pain was sudden and astonishing. . . When it was done, he rolled off her, panting.”
  • Mariam finds pornography in her husband’s room. The women in the pictures, “their legs were apart, and Mariam had a full view of the dark place between.”
  • Mariam’s husband desires intimacy. “His appetite, on the other hand, was fierce, sometimes boarding on violent. The way he pinned her down, his hand squeezes at her breast, how furiously his hips worked.”
  • Laila’s feelings for her best friend, Tariq, begin to change. She wonders “what would it be like to kiss him, to feel the fuzzy hair about his lips tickling her own lips?” Later, they have sex. “Laila thought of Tariq’s hands, squeezing her breast, sliding down the small of her back, as the two of them kissed and kissed.”
  • Laila hears a story about three sisters who were raped and then “their throats slashed.”
  • After Laila’s parents die, an older man asks Laila to marry him. He implies that if she says no, she may have to work in a brothel. Laila agrees to marry him because she is pregnant.
  • After Laila and the man are married, he has sex with her. “Laila had a full view of his sagging breast, his protruding belly button. . . she felt his eyes crawling all over her.” They have sex several times, but the action is not described in detail.

Violence

  • The book often describes the violence of war. For example, someone says that the Mujahideen forces boys to fight. “And when soldiers from a rival militia capture these boys, they torture them. I heard they electrocute them. . . then they crush their balls with pliers. They make the boys lead them to their homes. Then they break in, kill their fathers, rape their sisters and mothers.”
  • After Mariam goes into town, she comes back and sees “the straight-backed chair, overturned. The rope dropping from a high branch. Nana dangling at the end of it.”
  • After Mariam has a miscarriage, her husband becomes different. It wasn’t easy tolerating him talking this way to her, to bear his scorn, his ridicule, his insults. . . [Mariam] lived in fear of his shifting moods, his volatile temperament, his insistence on steering even mundane exchanges down a confrontational path that, on occasion, he would resolve with punches, slaps, kicks. . .”
  • Russians took over Afghanistan and people talked about “eyes gouged and genitals electrocuted in Pol-e-Charkhi Prison. Mariam would hear of the slaughter that had taken place at the Presidential Palace.” The president was killed after he watched the “massacre of his family.”
  • Mariam’s husband was angry because of her cooking. “His powerful hands clasped her jaw. He shoved two fingers into her mouth and pried it open, then forced the cold, hard pebbles into it. Mariam struggled against him, mumbling, but he kept pushing the pebbles in, his upper lip curled in a sneer . . . Then he was gone, leaving Mariam to spit out pebbles, blood, and the fragments of two broken molars.”
  • A teacher would slap students. “Palm, then back of the hand, back and forth, like a painter working a brush.”
  • A boy shoots a water gun, spraying a girl with urine.
  • After a girl is bullied, her friend fights the bully. “Then it was all dust and fists and kicks and yelps.”
  • A rocket hits one of Laila’s friend’s houses. “Giti’s mother had run up and down the street where Giti was killed, collecting pieces of her daughter’s flesh in her apron, screeching hysterically. Giti’s decomposing right foot, still in in its nylon sock and purple sneaker, would be found on a rooftop two weeks later.”
  • A rocket hits Laila’s house. “Something hot and powerful slammed into her from behind. It knocked her out of her sandals. Lifted her up. And now she was flying, twisting and rotating in the air. . . Then Laila struck the wall. Crashed to the ground.” Laila sees her dead parents.
  • Laila hears a story about soldiers “raping Pashtun girls, shelling Pashtun neighborhoods, and killing indiscriminately. Every day, bodies were found tied to trees, sometimes burned beyond recognition. Often, they’d been shot in the head, had their eyes gouged out, their tongues cut out.”
  • Rasheed, Laila’s husband, hits both of his wives often. “One moment [Laila] was talking and the next she was on all fours, wide-eyed and red-faced, trying to draw a breath. . .” She drops the baby she was carrying. “Then she was being dragged by her hair.” Her husband locks her in a room and then goes to beat his other wife. “To Laila, the sounds she heard were those of a methodical, familiar proceeding. . . there was no cussing, no screaming, no pleading. . . only the systematic business of beating and being beaten, the thump, thump of something solid repeatedly striking flesh.”
  • When the Taliban take over Afghanistan, they kill the Afghanistan leader. The Taliban “had tortured him for hours, then tied his legs to a truck and dragged his lifeless body through the streets.”
  • After Rasheed hits Laila, she “punched him . . . The impact actually made him stagger two steps backward. . . He went on kicking, kicking Mariam now, spittle flying from his mouth. . .” At one point Rasheed put the barrel of a gun in Laila’s mouth.
  • Rasheed gets upset at Laila and begins “pummeling her, her head, her belly with fists, tearing at her hair, throwing her to the wall.” Mariam tries to help Laila but Rasheed hits her too.
  • After an old friend comes to see Laila, Rasheed gets angry. “Without saying a word, he swung the belt at Laila. . . Laila touched her fingers to her temple, looked at the blood, looked at Rasheed, with astonishment. Rasheed swung the belt again.” Rasheed begins to strangle Laila. “Laila’s face was turning blue now, and her eyes had rolled back.”
  • In order to save Laila, Mariam hits Rasheed with a shovel. “And so Mariam raised the shovel high, raised it as high as she could, arching it so it touched the small of her back. She turned it so the sharp edge was vertical . . . Mariam brought down the shovel. This time, she gave it everything she had.” Rasheed dies from his wounds.
  • When an Afghanistan leader is killed, Laila thinks about some of the violence that he caused. “She remembers too well the neighborhoods razed under his watch, the bodies dragged from the rubble, the hands and feet of children discovered on rooftops or the high branches of some tree days after their funeral. . . “

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • Someone is given morphine after being injured.
  • Laila overhears a story about her husband. He was drunk when his son “went into the water unnoticed. They spotted him a while later, floating face down.” The boy died. Someone says, “This is why the Holy Koran forbids sharab. Because it always falls on the sober to pay for the sins of the drunk.”

Language

  • Profanity is rarely used. Profanity includes ass, piss, shit, and damn.
  • As a child, Mariam’s mother reminds her that she is a bastard because she was born out of wedlock.
  • Mariam yells at her half-brother, saying “he had a mouth shaped like a lizard’s ass.”
  • Mariam pleads with her father, asking him not to make her marry a stranger. He yells, “Goddamn it, Mariam, don’t do this to me.”
  • A child yells at a bully, saying, “Your mother eats cock!” The child does not know what the words mean.
  • Someone calls Laila a whore. Later, Laila’s husband also calls her a whore.

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • The story focuses on characters who are Muslim. They often pray.
  • Mariam’s mom said she had a difficult labor. She said, “I didn’t eat or sleep, all I did was push and pray that you would come out.”
  • Mullah Faizullah teaches Mariam about the Koran’s words. He tells her, “You can summon them [God’s words] in your time of need, and they won’t fail you. God’s words will never betray you, my girl.” During difficult times, Mariam thinks about verses from the Koran.
  • Mariam asks Mullah Faizullah to convince Mariam’s mother to let her go to school. He replies, “God, in His wisdom has given us each weaknesses, and foremost among my many is that I am powerless to refuse you, Mariam.”
  • Mariam’s mother tells her, “Of all the daughters I could have had, why did God give me an ungrateful one like you?” Later that day, her mother commits suicide.
  • After Mariam’s mother commits suicide, Mullah Faizullah says, “The Koran speaks the truth, my girl. Behind every trial and every sorrow that He makes us shoulder, God has a reason.” Later, he tells Mariam that Allah “will forgive her, for He is all-forgiving, but Allah is saddened by what she did.”
  • After Mariam’s father forces her to marry, her father says he will come to visit her. She tells him, “I used to pray that you’d live to be a hundred years old. . . I didn’t know that you were ashamed of me.”
  • When Mariam learns that she will have a baby, she thinks about a verse from the Koran. “And Allah is the East and the West, therefore wherever you turn there is Allah’s purpose.”
  • When Mariam has a miscarriage, she gets angry, but thinks, “Allah was not spiteful. He was not a petty God. . . Blessed is He in Whose hand is the kingdom, and He Who has power over all things, Who created death and life that He may try out.”
  • When the Taliban took over Afghanistan, flyers were passed out with new rules including “all citizens must pray five times a day. . . If you are not Muslim, do not worship where you can be seen by Muslims. If you do, you will be beaten and imprisoned. If you are caught trying to convert a Muslim to your faith, you will be executed.”
  • A man tells Mariam, “God has made us differently, you women and us men. Our brains are different. You are not able to think like we can.”

They Called Us Enemy

Following the attack on Pearl Harbor, Japanese Americans are forced into internment camps. While George knows there is a war against the Japanese, he does not understand why he and his family are being forced to leave their home. Unable to grasp the injustices that George, his family, and other Japanese Americans are being forced to endure, George describes his joyful, yet troubled boyhood in two of America’s ten internment camps.

As George and his family adjust to life in the internment camp, George cannot help but notice the anguish and anxiety his parents and families around them are experiencing. When will the war end? How long will Japanese Americans suffer under this legalized racism? Will George, his family, and the other 120,000 Japanese Americans in internment camps ever be able to return home?

As he grows older, George angrily questions how his parents and so many other Japanese Americans could have let this happen. George’s later successes as an actor, activist, and author force him to reflect not only on his time in the camps but also on his understanding of his parents and their situation.

This heartfelt story highlights the themes of family, sacrifice, and empathy. As readers learn George’s story and watch his growth physically and emotionally, they will view all stages of George’s life—from blissful childhood ignorance to teenage anger and thoughtful adulthood. In addition, George includes his thoughts on his incarceration. Through simple, captivating images and storytelling, readers are given the chance to grow alongside George as the story progresses.

They Called Us Enemy utilizes compelling visuals and accessible language to engage and educate readers on the difficult and often overlooked subject of Japanese internment. The animated illustrations and comic style make this difficult subject more palatable for young readers while still depicting the tough reality of the characters’ situations.

From the eyes of a young George Takei, readers are able to join George in his journey to understanding and coming to terms with his and his family’s imprisonment. The combination of George’s conversation and a short, accompanied narrative tells not only George’s autobiography but the evolution of Japanese sentiment during and following World War II. Overall, this 2020 American Award Winner lives up to the praise. With its engaging historical background and cultural depictions, They Called Us Enemy is a must-read for readers of all backgrounds.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • When residents become seemingly more radical, George notes the unrest that exists throughout his second camp, Tule Lake. This results in “hostile words quickly erupt[ing] into violence throughout Tule Lake.”
  • As George and his family prepare for Christmas, they hear on the radio that Pearl Harbor has been attacked by the Japanese which would “naturally mean that the President would ask Congress for a declaration of war.”
  • Thousands of volunteers from Hawaii and across internment camps form the 442nd regimental combat team of all American-born-Japanese Americans. George narrates that, “the 442nd suffered over eight hundred causalities.”

Drugs and Alcohol

  • After leaving the internment camp, George and his family live on Skid Row in Los Angeles where they lived among “derelicts and drunkards.”

Language

  • Older boys teach George and his brother the phrase “sakana beach” in order to prank the young boys and upset the guards. The words do not hold a negative meaning in Japanese but are meant to imitate the phrase “son of a bitch.”
  • Before yelling “sakana beach,” an older boy warns George to “run like hell” in order to avoid being caught by the angry guards.
  • While being arrested by a guard, a man yells, “Damn Ketoh,” which George’s father later explains is an offensive term used against white people. Ketoh translates to “hairy breed.”
  • During a fight between the guards and the internment camp residents, a man yells, “Go to hell ketoh!”
  • The term “Jap” is used in a derogatory manner by non-Japanese individuals throughout the story.

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • None

by Katie Ng Ross

I Survived the Great Chicago Fire, 1891

Oscar Starling never wanted to come to Chicago. But then Oscar finds himself not just in the heart of the big city, but in the middle of a terrible fire! No one knows how it began, but one thing is clear: Chicago is a giant powder keg about to explode.

An army of firemen is trying to help, but this fire is a ferocious beast that wants to devour everything in its path – including Oscar! Will Oscar survive one of the most famous and devastating fires in history?

While the story’s focus is the Great Chicago Fire, Oscar is also dealing with his father’s death and his mother’s new marriage. Even though Oscar’s father has died, Oscar thinks about his father often, which helps him be brave during the fire. Oscar’s father gives the story added depth and interest. Because of his father’s stories, Oscar is able to help two parentless kids and stand up to a street gang leader.

The Great Chicago Fire, 1891 jumps straight into the action, which continues throughout the story. The compelling story focuses on the fire, but also includes information about homeless street children. The two subplots are expertly woven together to create an interesting, suspenseful story that readers will devour. Full of surprising twists and unexpected danger, The Great Chicago Fire, 1891 brings history to life.

The story is told from Oscar’s point of view, which allows the reader to understand the danger and confusion associated with being surrounded by the fire. One of the best aspects of the story is Oscar’s changing opinion of a street kid named Jennie. When Jennie helps a gang of boys steal from Oscar, he thinks she is a terrible criminal. But his opinion of Jennie changes when he learns about her circumstances. In the end, the two kids work together to survive the fire.

The story is accessible to all readers because Tarshis uses short paragraphs and simple sentences. Realistic black and white illustrations are scattered throughout the story and will help readers visualize the events. While the story weaves interesting facts throughout, the book ends with more facts about the Chicago fire. The historical information about the cause of the fire would be an excellent opportunity for parents to discuss journalists reporting “fake news” and how gossip can “harden into established fact.”

Readers who enjoy history and fast action stories will enjoy The Great Chicago Fire, 1891. If you’re looking for more historical fiction, Survival Tails by Katrina Charman takes a look at historical events from an animal’s point of view. Both series use engaging stories to teach about history.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • Oscar thinks back to when his papa was a sheriff. “Papa heard that Earless Kildair was a killer. And sure enough, by morning the town’s bank had been robbed, and one of Papa’s friends was sprawled out dead in the street.”
  • Oscar’s father followed Earless to Chicago. “He finally found him in a stinking tavern near the river. Papa pulled out his gun, ready to arrest him. But Earless was too quick. He jumped behind the bar and started shooting. . . A bullet whizzed just past Papa’s head. . . The bullet hit Papa in the chest.” His father survives, but later dies.
  • Oscar gets trapped in Chicago during the fire. Burning embers “were all around him, attacking like a swarm of fiery bees. They seared his scalp, burned through the wool of his clothes, scorched his lips. Pain lashed him, and the sickening smell of his burning hair made him gag.” Oscar is injured, but otherwise okay.
  • Oscar goes into a burning house to help two kids escape. “Oscar felt as though he were being attacked by a wild animal. It grabbed him, clawed at him, and spun him around.” Oscar thinks he will not be able to escape, but “then he felt a hand on his arm, pulling him up.”
  • Otis, a gang member, tells Oscar’s friend that she can’t quit the gang. “And before he realized what he was doing, he sprang forward and gave Otis a hard push in the chest.” Otis smacks Oscar and “Oscar fell to the ground, the flash of pain in his head burning brighter than the blazing sky.”
  • As people are fleeing, they cross a bridge. The bridge catches fire and “next came splashes, and Oscar refused to think about what—or who—was falling off the bridge and into the river.”

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • None

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • A child tells Oscar, “My mama got sick. She is in heaven.” Oscar tells the boy, “my papa’s in heaven too.”

Mare’s War

Mare’s War is a Coretta Scott King Award honoree and a tale of family, history, and resistance. Told in alternating “then” and “now” perspectives, the book follows Mare’s time in the Women’s Army Corps during World War II and as well as a road trip she takes back home to Bay Slough, Louisiana with her grandchildren in the present day.

The “now” sections are told from the perspective of Octavia, who is 15 and struggling to learn how to drive and fit in as a teenager. She tells about her conflicts with her older sister, Talitha.  Both sisters’ perspectives are given through postcards they write home to their mom and friends. Octavia does come to appreciate Talitha, at one point saying, “I’m actually kind of proud of my evil sister.”  Talitha is nearing her 18th birthday, and (through Octavia’s eyes) the readers see her struggles with boys, friendships, and growing up. Both sisters are reluctant to go on this road trip with their grandmother, thinking it will be boring, but the trip eventually brings the three women together, all with a greater appreciation for each other and their stories.

The “then” sections are told from Mare’s perspective. The story follows her from basic training all the way to Birmingham, England, and Paris, France. After an incident with Toby, a man her mother is involved with, Mare lies about her age to join the Women’s Army Corps. While she worries about her younger sister Josephine, Mare finds freedom and agency through her time in the army. She is relegated to some unsavory jobs as a member of a Black women’s unit.  In addition, Mare compares the discrimination she faces in the Southern U.S. to what she experiences in the military. When she returns home to Bay Slough, she sees how much has changed.

Mare’s War includes themes of family, growing up, and the importance of history. These themes teach readers to understand Talitha, Octavia, and Mare as they learn from each other. The reader sees the various forms of discrimination Black women experience at all ages, from the 1940s to the present day.

Mare’s War is an engaging story and one of the few books that address Black women’s role in World War II. However, the difficult scenes with Mare and Toby may upset younger readers even though these scenes are sexually charged, but not explicit. Mare’s sections use a form of African American Vernacular English, which could be confusing to readers who are unfamiliar with the dialect. At times, the easy-to-follow plot is slow. However, the characters make the story interesting and worth reading.

Sexual Content

  • When introducing Mare, Talitha and Octavia talk about finding her “panties” in the bathroom that have a “fake butt” attached. They describe them as “fanny pants”
  • There are two scenes where Toby, a character from Mare’s arc, makes unwanted sexual advances on Mare and other young women. “Toby been bumping me, touching me, cutting his eyes at Mama when he thinks she don’t see. He’s been talkin’ filth to Josephine…”

Violence

  • Mare’s younger sister Josephine (“Feen”) hides under the bed while Mare and Toby interact. Mare knows she must keep Josephine safe, so she defends herself with a hatchet. “[Toby] smacks me in the mouth before I can get my hand up. Feen hasn’t stopped screaming, but I have. I tighten my hands on the hatchet.” Mama eventually saves Mare and Josephine by shooting Toby, but he survives.

Drugs and Alcohol

  • Present-day Mare is a smoker, so there are many scenes that involve her and cigarettes.
  • Toby drinks and smokes in ways that impact his personality, character, and actions. Mare describes Toby. “I can smell that nasty pipe Toby always be smoking… his voice is slurred.”
  • While out at dinner, seventeen-year-old Octavia drinks an alcoholic beverage with Kahlua in it.
  • While out in London, Mare and her friends go to a cafe and a club where Mare drinks for the first time. She is 18, so it is legal, but the scenes do depict her enjoying drinking. When she first drinks, Mare says “when I take a sip, it’s not too bad at all.”

Language

  • Dad says Mare drives “like a bat out of hell”
  • When Mare goes out in London, she is racially targeted. Someone says “forgot who you are, n——found out you can get a white girl here. Been seeing you and them other c—ns of yours stepping out with them English whores.” Some of these words appear more than once in this section.

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • When Toby attacks Mare and Josephine, Josephine prays to Jesus asking him save her.
  • While Mare is in service, she communicates with Sister Dials, a religious figure.

by Talia Marshall

 

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