Skylark

Angie lives in an old car with her brother and mother. Homeless after their father left to find work, the family struggles to stay together and live as normally as possible. It is difficult though. Between avoiding the police and finding new places to park each night, it is a constant struggle. When Angie discovers slam poetry, she finds a new way to express herself and find meaning and comfort in a confusing world.

Living in a car makes Angie’s life difficult and she tries to hide the fact that her family is homeless. Performing slam poetry gives her an outlet to explore her feelings. While performing, Angie meets several people her age. However, these relationships are superficial and add no depth to the story. For example, one boy continually glares at Angie, but the reason for his hostile behavior is never explained.

Through flashbacks, readers also get a look into Angie’s family life before her father left. While Angie’s father left to find work, Angie still wonders if he will ever return. Through Angie’s experiences, readers get a glimpse into the world of a homeless teen and her complicated family life. However, Angie’s poetry and the poetry slam are the main focus of the story. Because of this, readers who aren’t interested in poetry or language may find Skylark a difficult book to complete.

Written as a part of the Orca Soundings books, which are specifically written for teens, Skylark is an easy to read story that uses large text, short chapters, and a relatable protagonist to keep readers engaged. Despite this, Skylark is not a typical, fast-paced story, but instead, Angie’s thoughts are what drive the story. Readers who love delving into the inner thought of characters will enjoy Skylark. However, none of the supporting characters have any depth; instead, they are flat and add little to the story.

Because of the story’s slow pace and lack of dynamic characters Skylark is not for readers who love action and adventure. Even though the book shines a light on homelessness, readers interested in the topic may want to read books with more depth and character development such as Almost Home by Joan Bauer.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • None

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • Angie’s mom gets injured, and her dad “got her painkillers from the drugstore and fed her a couple every few hours.”

Language

  • Crappy, hell, piss and ass are all used once.

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • None

Horse Girl  

Wills is a seventh-grader who’s head-over-hoof for horses, and beyond excited when she gets the chance to start training at the prestigious Oakwood Riding Academy. But Amara—the queen of the #HorseGirls—and her posse, aren’t going to let the certifiably dork-tagious Wills trot her way into their club so easily. Between learning the reins of horse riding, dealing with her Air Force pilot mom being stationed thousands of miles from home, and keeping it together in front of (gasp!) Horse Boys, Wills learns that becoming a part of the #HorseGirl world isn’t easy. But with her rescue horse, Clyde, at her side, it sure will be fun.

Wills’s embarrassing father, sensitive sister, and the members of the riding academy combine to make her story relatable and humorous. Every preteen will understand Wills’s desire to make friends as well as the embarrassing moments Wills suffers through. While Horse Girl has plenty of funny moments, readers will connect to Wills and understand her desire to find a place where she belongs. In addition to girl drama, mystery is added when someone begins leaving Wills encouraging notes and Wills begins investigating the members of the riding team.

Wills’s relationship with her parents is another positive aspect of the story. As Wills is trying to navigate life, she often thinks about her mom’s words of wisdom: “she says that whether you’re riding or flying or even just brushing your teeth, you have to be ready for surprises—the happy kind or the sad kind or the refreshingly minty kind. She says if you stop looking for surprises, they’ll stop looking for you—and what fun would life be then?”

The short paragraphs, text bubbles with emojis, and the list of Oakwood friend suspects makes the story engaging and fun. Plus, the text has footnotes that explain the horse terminology. The footnotes also include references that preteens may not know. For example, when Wills compares a rider to the movie Breakfast at Tiffany’s, the footnote says, “Breakfast at Tiffany’s is a movie from a million years ago (aka 1961) starring actress Audrey Hepburn wearing a little black dress and pearls.”

Horse-loving readers will enjoy Horse Girl because horses are a pivotal part of the plot. However, Horse Girl will also appeal to a wide range of readers because of Wills’s relatable conflicts, friendship worry, and embarrassing moments. Wills isn’t afraid to embrace her dorkiness, her frizzy hair, or her love of horses. And in the end, she learns a valuable fact about friendship; “Your friends—even the least expected ones, even the ones you thought were out to get you, and especially the ones with four legs—will be there to help pick you up.”

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • None

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • OMG and OMGE are used occasionally.
  • Holy smokes and holy cow are both used as an exclamation once.
  • Heck is used five times.
  • Wills’s father says, “Dang it” once
  • Wills’s sister calls her a weirdo.
  • When Wills is feeling sorry for herself, her dad says, “But you’re behaving like an immature, whiny, selfish. . . brat.”

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • Before Wills’s competition, she takes “a deep breath and says a silent prayer to the #HorseGods.”

 

Of Mice and Magic

Princess Harriet is uninterested in brushing her hair, singing duets with forest animals, or any other princess activities. So when a fairy tells a bored Harriet about the curse of the twelve dancing mice princesses, she is more than willing to accept the quest. Armed with the poncho of invisibility and her trusty battle quail, Harriet goes to the Mouse Kingdom and quickly realizes there is more to the curse than meets the eye.

Of Mice and Magic uses the story elements of The Twelve Dancing Princesses to create a wacky, action-packed adventure that will have readers eagerly turning the pages. Harriet takes the quest, knowing full well that her line will fall if she does not help the princesses break their curse. As she travels with the princesses to their ball, she finds help in one of the attendees and one of the princesses. However, the witch who cursed the princesses wants the princesses to dance so they can power her magic. The witch is more funny than scary, and readers will enjoy seeing how Harriet convinces the witch to dispel the curse.

While Harriet is trying to break the curse, she realizes that the Mouse King is a meticulous and irrational person. For instance, he named his daughters by the months of the year, and his entire castle is themed by color. His conflict with Harriet about the princesses, and later the witch, gives hilarity to the adventure. Readers will enjoy reading the conversations between these three characters.

Purple and white illustrations add to the wackiness of the book. Drawings with dialogue help break up the text and keep the action moving. Of Mice and Magic shows the value of teamwork and will engage even the most reluctant of readers. Of Mice and Magic is the second book in the Hamster Princess Series but can be enjoyed as a standalone book. Younger readers who enjoy humorous books should also read the Two Dogs in a Trench Coat Series by Julie Falatko

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • None

Drugs and Alcohol

  • One of the twelve mice princesses, under the influence of the curse, must give Harriet a hot chocolate laced with a “sleeping potion” every night that she stays in the princess’ room.

Language

  • One of the mice princesses’ dance instructors calls the mice princesses “crazy” because they had learned every single dance. The dance instructors also call their shoes “freaky.”
  • Harriet tells everyone to “shut up” while thinking of a way to escape the Mouse King’s castle with his daughters.
  • The Mouse King calls his knights “idiots” when they can’t decide to cut the rope or climb down the rope to get to the princesses.

Supernatural

  • Harriet noticed that the old shrew, who was a fairy in disguise, did not have a shadow. The shrew fairy’s shadow had been “cavorting with the flickering shadows of some willow leaves, jumped up and came sliding hurriedly across the grass.” When the shrew fairy’s disguise is discovered, she calls her shadow back, and “It fastened itself to her heels and hunched down, looking sheepish.”
  • The twelve mice princesses are under a curse. “Every night, no matter where the princesses are, a door opens in the floor of their room. Whether they want to or not, the mice must climb down, down, into the underworld beneath the castle.” Later, one of the younger mice princesses says they must dance every night, all night. “We can’t not I mean, we stop for a few minutes . . . but it’s like an itch, and you have to scratch eventually.”
  • The shrew fairy gave Harriet a Poncho of Invisibility. “A Poncho of Invisibility is not quite as good as a Cloak of Invisibility…Harriet had to readjust the folds several times to make sure her feet didn’t become visible.” The only effect of the Poncho was that “there was a nasty bit when the poncho was partway on and partway off where he could see Harriet’s innards.” There are no ill effects with this magical item.
  • Harriet figures out the reason behind the curse. “The princesses are compelled to dance. They have to dance, and when they dance over the symbol, it generates magic. . . and I bet there’s some left over for the witch.”
  • An earthquake, one of the measures to prevent the mice princesses from leaving the mouse kingdom, started when “Hyacinth the quail, carrying Wilbur the prince and August the princess, crossed some invisible line. The earth began to dance.”
  • The shrew fairy gives Harriet a charm, as a thanks for freeing the princesses from their curse. “I grant you [Harriet] a very limited charm. You can cliff-dive again safely.” The charm allows Harriet to fall from large heights without hurting herself. There are no ill effects with this charm.

Spiritual Content

  • None

by Jemima Cooke

 

Just Roll With It

As long as Maggie rolls the right number, nothing can go wrong…right?

Maggie just wants to get through her first year of middle school. But between finding the best after-school clubs, trying to make friends, and avoiding the rumored monster on school grounds, she’s having a tough time . . . so she might need a little help from her twenty-sided dice. But what happens if Maggie rolls the wrong number?

Maggie struggles with OCD and feels compelled to roll a dice before she makes any decisions. Soon, Maggie is rolling dice to decide if she should have lunch with a friend, if she should let a friend borrow a book, and other everyday decisions. Maggie’s OCD begins to interfere with her daily life. At the beginning of the story, the reader sees Maggie rolling the dice, but a lack of explanation makes the dice rolling confusing. However, later in the book, OCD is explained in kid-friendly terms that are relatable.

In English class, the students are reading The Crucible, which ties into Maggie’s life. For example, Maggie’s friend, Clara, says, “I think it must be really hard for Sara. She knows she’s not a witch, but when everyone is saying that kind of stuff to you, sometimes it’s hard to remember they are wrong.” Likewise, Maggie wonders if others think she is crazy, because of her OCD.

Maggie’s story unfolds with quick looks at different aspects of her life. While this allows Maggie to be well-developed, the constant change of scene may be confusing for some readers. In addition, part of Maggie’s emotions are shown when she talks to an imaginary dragon. The dragon doesn’t hesitate in making Maggie question her abilities. At one point the dragon tells her, “Every time you forget your homework, or are afraid to ask a question, and even when you’re not sure if you want seconds at dinner? That’s me, reminding you that you’re weak. You’re shy. You’re nothing.”

Just Roll With It has several positive aspects, including Maggie’s relationship with her family and her friend, Clara. Maggie’s sister encourages Maggie that “fear and pain can’t be avoided, no matter how much we try. Coming out to mom and dad was really scary for me. But I’m glad I did it. A lot of the worries I made up in my head ended up not coming true. So I put myself through a lot of heartache for nothing.” With her family’s reassurance, Maggie agrees to see a therapist in order to deal with anxiety. Middle grade readers will relate to Maggie who worries about what other people say about her, forgets to do her homework, and struggles with figuring out what clubs she wants to join.

Maggie’s story comes to life in brightly colored panels. When Maggie is feeling stressed, the pictures use a darker hue to illustrate her anxiety. The illustrations mostly focus on Maggie, her friends, and her family. When Maggie is at school, the students are a diverse group including a girl in a wheelchair and a Muslim. The story also includes Clara’s two moms and Maggie’s sister’s girlfriend. Reluctant readers will enjoy Just Roll With It because it uses easy vocabulary and has a fast pace. Each page has one to seven simple sentences, which make Just Roll With a quick book to read. Readers interested in exploring the theme of anxiety should also read the graphic novel, Guts by Raina Telgemeie.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • A boy shoves Maggie’s friend Clara twice, knocking her to the ground.
  • When a boy goes to hit Clara, Maggie steps in and hits him across the face with a fat book.

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • Heck, darn, and OMG are used several times.
  • Crap is used once.
  • There is some name-calling including jerk, snake bait, and babies.

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • None

George Washington’s Spies

Everyone knows George Washington, but do you know his biggest secret? By the end of 1776, the British army had taken over New York City. General George Washington and his army were on the run, but he had not lost hope—he had a plan. With the help of a trusted friend, he created a ring of spies. They used codes, invisible ink, and more to spy on the British and pass along information . . . but could they do it without getting caught?

George Washington’s Spies teaches about the Revolutionary War and introduces some of the men who helped defeat the British. Readers will be fascinated by George Washington’s spies and their close connections to one another. The book introduces two of the most famous men of the Revolutionary War—Nathan Hale and Benedict Arnold. While the story doesn’t dig deep into any one person’s history, it will leave readers wanting to learn more. Readers can learn more about the Revolutionary War by reading the graphic novel series Nathan Hale’s Hazardous Tales by Nathan Hale and Daniel at the Siege of Boston 1776 by Laurie Calkhoven.

Readers who find history boring will still enjoy George Washington’s Spies. The book is good for reluctant readers because it uses short chapters and has large black and white illustrations that appear every 5 to 9 pages. While the book is easy enough for young fluent readers, the content will be interesting to older readers as well. The end of the book has an appendix that includes photographs, bonus content, and links to primary source materials.

George Washington’s Spies makes reading about history fun. The Totally True Adventures Series introduces readers to different historical topics such as The Curse of King Tut’s Mummy, and Babe Ruth and the Baseball Curse. If you’re looking for a book series that entertains as well as teaches, the Totally True Adventures Series has many options to choose from. If you’re a history buff who enjoys learning about early America, then George Washington’s Spies is the perfect book for you.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • George Washington and 150 colonial soldiers were sent to defend a British Fort. “Washington, forty of his men, and twelve Indian comrades discovered soldiers hiding in a rocky glen nearby. No one knows which side fired first, but a skirmish began and within minutes, thirteen French soldiers were killed. . .”
  • The battle at Fort Duquesne “was a disaster for the British. Braddock was killed along with over half the Redcoats.”
  • Several people are executed, but their deaths are not described.
  • Nathan Hale was “hanged by his British captors.”
  • One man decided to become a spy when he returned home and “found his father beaten and his family terrified.”

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • None

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

None

One More Step

Fourteen-year-old Julian’s parents separated when he was a baby, and he is still angry and hurt. His mother has had relationships since—all of which have ended disastrously—but this time it seems serious. Jean-Paul looks like he might be the real thing. Julian is wary—and critical—as he comes to terms with the fact that he and his brother may have to let down their defenses and allow their mother to find happiness. On a road trip with his mother and her new beau, Julian finds that love and happiness can come in many guises.

Anyone who comes from a broken family will relate to Julian, who is frustrated with his mother’s less-than-perfect boyfriends. Plus, Julian is still angry at his father for leaving when he was just a baby. While the story delves into the relationship between Julian and his father, the father-son relationship is not explored in depth. Instead, much of the story revolves around Julian’s relationship with his mother’s boyfriend, Jean-Paul. Even though Julian is often rude to Jean-Paul, Jean-Paul is always supportive of both Julian and his mother. In the end, he realizes that it is not blood that determines true family, but the willingness to stand together.

In One More Step, Julian also must deal with the death of his grandfather. However, Julian’s grieving process is not explored in detail. Despite that, Julian’s positive relationship with his grandfather is funny and endearing.

Julian’s story is told through his diary and much of the action takes place before the book begins. Since the story’s focus is Julian’s emotions and relationships, there is little action. While Julian’s story is not action-packed, his relationships are realistic and interesting. Written as a part of the Orca Soundings books, which are specifically written for teens, One More Step looks at the complicated nature of families. Readers interested in reading more books that explore family dynamics should add In Plain Sight by Laura Langston to their reading lists.

Sexual Content

  • For Christmas, Chris’s mom gives him “purple condoms in his Christmas stocking. Mom must think things are heating up between Chris and Becca.”
  • After receiving a Christmas gift from her boyfriend, Jean-Paul, Mom gives him a kiss. Julian thinks, “No tongue, just a peck on the cheek. Thank God.”
  • Julian is glad his grandparents are coming over because “Maybe that would mean Mom and Jean-Paul would keep their hands off each other. I saw hickeys on my mother’s neck when she was in her bathrobe.”
  • Julian sees his mother and Jean-Paul outside. Jean-Paul “was planting these little quick kisses on her mouth, her nose, her chin, and her forehead. Kind kisses. Sugar kisses. . .”
  • When Mom and Jean-Paul get married, Julian “boogied the night away with sweet Bernadette. I even got a real French kiss before the night was through. Maybe two. Maybe three.”
  • When Chris comes home from college, Julian thinks Chris “probably finally kissed Becca or used a condom.”

Violence

  • When Julian was being disrespectful during dinner, his Nana “kicked [him] under the table. For eating with my mouth open! She kicked me! In the shin!” Later Julian burps just to be rude and “Nana kicked him again.”
  • Julian upsets his father and “his fist found the wall. He punched a hole right through.”
  • One of Mom’s boyfriends, who Julian calls the Shark, stalked her after they broke up. The man showed up at their house “high as a kite.” The Shark “grabbed a fistful of Mom’s hair and was screaming at her.” When the Shark refuses to let go of Mom, Chris “whacked him a good one across the back of the neck with a bat. The guy was out cold. There was blood. We were bawling and screaming by the time we heard the sirens.”

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • When Julian’s grandfather had a retirement party, “they’d all had a bit to drink.”
  • One of Mom’s boyfriends was “only interested in drinking beer.”
  • Julian’s father is a “harmless drunk who holds down a good paying job.”
  • While at his father’s house, his dad had coke “spiked with rum.”
  • While meeting Jean-Paul’s family, he allows Julian to have a beer. “I realized the other kids my age were sipping beer too.” Later, Julian “was feeling a bit dizzy from the beer.”
  • Julian goes out with his friends and comes home drunk. He “hurried to [his]room and prayed for the ceiling to stop spinning.”

Language

  • Profanity is used frequently. Profanity includes: ass, asshole, damn, frickin’, hell, pisses, and shit.
  • Holy crap is used once.
  • Julian refers to one of his mother’s ex-boyfriends as “the Turd.”
  • Julian tells his brother, Chris, to “Frig off.” Chris replies, “Bite me.”
  • My God and Lord are both used as an exclamation once. Oh, Jesus is used twice.
  • When Julian’s stepmom went to feed the baby, Julian walked into the room just as “Erika popped her breast out of her shirt.” He says, “Oh, Jesus! Sorry, Erika.”
  • Julian’s grandfather calls him a “peckerhead.”

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • On an outing, Mom wants everyone to “hold hands in a circle and listen to the stillness” and say a prayer. Julian thinks, “a wave thumped so loud below us, it seemed to me that God was mocking her.” Mom says that they are praying “to the Source.”

The Search for El Dorado

Towers of gold! Glittering streets! Jewels, coins, and more! Early Spanish explorers heard a story about El Dorado. It was a lost city in the Americans, made of gold. The explorers believed they could find it. Soon the story became a legend, and the legend changed the world. But the city of El Dorado has not been found. . . yet.

The book begins by explaining the Muisca tribe’s traditions and beliefs, which is where the legend of El Dorado most likely started. Then in the 1400s, the Europeans thirst for gold and riches caused explorers to begin searching for the mythical city. In search of a new trade route, Christopher Columbus set sail, looking for a way to get from Europe to Asia. Columbus’s travels inspired others to travel to the Americas in search of gold. The Search for El Dorado explains how the European’s search for gold affected the native people as well as Europeans.

The Search for El Dorado explains the difference between a myth and a legend. “For people who believe, both myth and legends have their own power.” Even though El Dorado has never been found, “El Dorado has become part of our language. It still means something shiny and golden. Mostly, it now stands for an impossible dream that can’t be reached.” Even though El Dorado is a fictional place, the story of El Dorado still inspires people to dream big.

The Search for El Dorado uses short chapters and explains some of the vocabulary, which makes the book accessible to reluctant readers. Large black and white illustrations appear every 5 to 9 pages that show the astronauts in action. Detailed illustrations give readers a glimpse at the time period’s clothing, ships, and people. While the book is easy enough for young, fluent readers, the content will be interesting to older readers as well. The back of the book contains a timeline, additional books to read, and facts about Colombia, Mexico, and Venezuela.

As the Europeans expanded into the Americas, greed was the root cause of their travels. The Search for El Dorado explores how the explorers negatively impacted the indigenous people. The book focuses on Christopher Columbus, Sir Walter Raleigh, and other explorers. While the book has many interesting facts, much of the book reads like a history book. The author explains that the search for El Dorado is “a shameful chapter in the history of the Americas.” Anyone who is interested in history or the colonization of the Americas should read The Search for El Dorado. However, others may want to skip this particular book.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • Pirates attacked Columbus’s ship. “His ship was burned, and Columbus had to swim to shore.”
  • Sir Walter went in search of El Dorado’s gold. He took his son, Wat, with him. Wat “was a young man and didn’t always think about his actions. He attacked a Spanish fort and was killed.”
  • When Sir Walter returned to England without gold, “the king ordered for him to be killed.”
  • In the search for El Dorado, “so many natives were killed, tortured, and enslaved that it’s difficult to believe. . .The Europeans rode into cities and villages and grabbed what they wanted: not only treasure, but men, women, and children to work for them.”

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • None

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • The legend of El Dorado may have started with the Muisca tribe’s culture. When a chief died, a new leader was chosen. Mud and gold dust was smeared all over a young man’s body. “Now he was the Golden man. Would the great god of the lake accept this young man as the next leader?”
  • The Golden Man took a raft to the middle of the lake and “threw jewels into the middle of the lake. These were gifts to the gods.” The Golden Man jumped into the water and dove down. “He went down, down, down to where the gods lived.” If the gods were pleased, the man would swim to the surface. “The gods had accepted him. . . The Golden Man was now chief.”

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

 

Ants in Our P.A.N.T.S.

The Special Undercover Investigator Team has a new plan. “Once we get wind of an evildoer’s schemes to form a team, the Anti-Crime Unit will go undercover as fellow evildoers and follow this simple procedure: pinpoint the possible perpetrator’s position; avoid blowing your cover; neutralize any superweapons; thwart their villainous plan, and stop them from getting away.”

However, the procedure does not go according to plan. When Cilantro (a chameleon) isn’t promoted to an agent, he considers teaming up with other evildoers. When he goes to the New old opera house looking for other evildoers, he feels guilty, but he also discovers important information that will help solve a crime. In the end, Cilantro must decide if he will fight for good or evil.

The mission is made more difficult because Brash is in the hospital, unconscious, and MegaRoboBrash cannot access all Brash’s memories. With the help of a medium, Mango can enter Brash’s mind. While there, Mango discovers that Brash has “regressed into a child as some sort of coping mechanism!” Can Mango discover what is keeping Brash from waking up? Will Mango, Cilantro, and RoboBrash thwart the evil villain?

Ants in Our P.A.N.T.S brings back a host of old characters as well as a sprinkle of new characters. While much of the conflict was established in previous books, the addition of giant ants adds humor and interest. Even though Brash is unconscious, he still appears frequently. Brash appears as a small child (which is adorably cute) and later as an adult. The large cast of characters may be confusing, but they help keep the story fresh and interesting.

Even though Ants in Our P.A.N.T.S is laugh-out-loud funny, it still has a positive message. Brash refuses to wake up because he is battling fear. With Mango’s help, Brash decides, “This is my mind. I decide how much space I’ll let my fears take up.” He learns that he must forgive himself and let go of the fear and guilt. The story also highlights the importance of believing in yourself.

Ants in Our P.A.N.T.S has many positive aspects. The combination of human and animal characters blend to create a ridiculous story that uses wordplay to add humor. The imaginative story comes alive in brightly colored artwork that shows the characters’ wide range of emotions. The text is large and uses different font sizes, which helps emphasize the characters’ emotions and important aspects of the story.

The illustrations and the unique storyline of Brash and Mango will appeal to even the most reluctant readers. Each page has 3 to 11 sentences. The sentences range from one word to more complex sentences. The story does an excellent job of giving enough background information so readers who are new to the series will understand the plot. However, for maximum enjoyment, the series should be read in order.

The Investigators Series is immensely enjoyable to read because of the ridiculously silly scenes, the unique characters, and the fun puns. Each story contains plenty of surprises that will keep readers flipping the pages. No matter your age, you will find something in the series to love.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • An evil villain uses the Embiggerner to supersize ants. The ants then attack the city. People run from the ants, but no one is injured. The “savage beasts” are put to sleep with music. The scene is illustrated over six pages.
  • Two villains team up and use the ants to attack the city, destroying many buildings. They also use the Embiggerner to make “ginormous gemstones,” “jumbo shrimp,” and “big money.” The attack is humorous instead of scary.
  • Brash and Mango trick the evil triceratops into charging a red cape. Chameleon trips him and the triceratops ends up with his horns stuck in a sidewalk.
  • Ants attack MegaRoboBrash, who hits them. Then he ties their antennas together and throws them into space. The scene is described over seven pages.
  • A chameleon and a group of ants attack the triceratops so he can be sent back to jail. They use trickery, knitting, and balls of yarn to retain the villainous triceratops. The scene is described over four pages.

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • People who follow the law are referred to as “Idiot Law-doers.”
  • Darn and dang are both used once.
  • A construction worker is called a dummy.

Supernatural

  • Most of the characters are animals such as an octopus, a chameleon, a skunk, etc. There is also a character that is a squash.
  • Mango needs help to find out why RoboBrash cannot access all of Brash’s memories. Dr. Hardbones tells Mango to go to the Séance Factory. Dr. Hardbones says, “the medium there may have some ideas about how to see into Brash’s unconscious mind.”
  • The medium at the Séance Factory is a tick.
  • In a previous book, an agent was “turned into a radioactive saltine cracker.”
  • Hardbones is a skilled brain surgeon who turns into the Action News helicopter.

Spiritual Content

  • None

 

Kate Middleton: Real-Life Princess

This book describes Kate Middleton’s childhood, family, education, interest and career in fashion, and marriage to Prince William. Readers will learn about Middleton’s college years at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland, where she met the prince, the couple’s royal wedding, and their charity work. From attending events to traveling with guards, readers will discover what it’s like to represent a royal family as a princess! Features include a table of contents, maps, “Did You Know” fun facts, a “Snapshot” page with vital information, a glossary with phonetic spellings, and an index.

Anyone interested in real life princesses will enjoy learning more about Kate Middleton. Each page has large photographs that focus on Kate. Every two-page spread has 3 to 5 sentences in large print. While the book’s format will appeal to reluctant readers, some readers may want a book that gives a more in-depth look at Kate’s life especially since the biography ends with Kate Middleton and Prince William’s wedding.

The biography will give readers insight into Kate’s early life. While the book does not have enough information to complete a thorough research paper, younger readers who are interested in learning about a modern princess will enjoy Kate Middleton: Real-Life Princess.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • None

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • None

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • None

 

Terra-Cotta Soldiers: Army of Stone

Emperor Qin Shi Huangdi, China’s first emperor, was not a popular ruler. Despite this, he was able to unify China’s seven states. He also passed laws to standardize written languages, currencies, weights, and measurements. While these laws helped China build strong trade, Emperor Qin Shi Huangdi is best known for his tomb which is guarded by terra-cotta soldiers. The tomb has about eight thousand terra-cotta statues, including individual soldiers and their horses. Terra-Cotta Soldiers: Army of Stone describes the archaeological discovery of thousands of life-sized terracotta warrior statues in northern China in 1974 and discusses the emperor who had them created and placed near his tomb.

Terra-Cotta Soldiers: Army of Stone will appeal to reluctant readers for several reasons. The text is printed in large font and is broken into small, manageable parts. Most of the two-page spreads have text on one side of the page and a large picture on the other side of the page. Readers will be captivated by the pictures of the soldiers and the paintings of Emperor Qin Shi Huangdi. Throughout the book, there are also two to three sentences describing some of the artifacts found in the tomb. The end of the book has a glossary as well as a short list of other books that readers may want to explore.

Anyone who is interested in history will enjoy Terra-Cotta Soldiers: Army of Stone because the text is both engaging and easy to read. The book includes an interesting mix of Emperor Qin Shi Huangdi’s cruelty and the emperor’s positive impact on China. The pictures of the terra-cotta soldiers are breathtaking and the history behind them will fascinate readers. Whether you’re writing a research paper or just interested in history, Terra-Cotta Soldiers: Army of Stone is an excellent book to start with because even though the book packs in a lot of facts, it doesn’t read like a history book.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • Emperor Qin Shi Huangdi’s army “used deadly weapons such as crossbows that shot arrows with poisoned tips. . . If a soldier brought back the head of an enemy, he was given money or a higher position in the army or government.”
  • Emperor Qin Shi Huangdi made Confucianism illegal. “He burned all books about Confucianism. Emperor Qin Shi Huangdi also had hundreds of Confucian scholars killed by burying them alive.”
  • After Emperor Qin Shi Huangdi’s death, the peasant class “rose up against the new emperor, Emperor Qin Shi Huangdi’s son. . . They looted and burned all of the government buildings as well as Emperor Qin Shi Huangdi’s great palaces.” The tomb was the only thing that survived the uprising.
  • Emperor Qin Shi Huangdi’s wanted his tomb to be safe from grave robbers. “Mechanical crossbows were set up to shoot arrows at anyone who dared to break into the tomb. Then the men who set up the crossbows were buried along with the emperor. . . Women from Emperor Qin Shi Huangdi’s court were also buried alive in the tomb to provide the emperor with companions in the afterlife.”

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • None

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • Emperor Qin Shi Huangdi was not a popular ruler. One reason is that he drafted citizens from all parts of the empire to build his tomb. They were told that they had to be involved in building Emperor Qin Shi Huangdi’s tomb in order to get to heaven.”

Behind the Legend: Unicorns

Are elegant, elusive unicorns real, or just a myth? Behind the Legend looks at creatures and monsters throughout history and analyzes them through a scientific, myth-busting lens, debating whether or not the sightings and evidence provided are adequate proof of their existence.

In Unicorns, readers learn about all the sightings and “proof” of unicorns, from stories in history of people like Julius Caesar and Marco Polo who sought unicorns to why they were hunted so fiercely. This book also discusses additional history about the creatures, such as why their horns were so valued in medieval times, their presence in pop culture, and peoples’ ongoing search for unicorns in modern times.

Even though Unicorns is non-fiction, it is filled with many interesting stories explaining how different myths of unicorns started. The book begins in ancient times and goes in chronological order to modern day. Using factual stories, Peabody explains different cultures’ legends including Persia, Greece, China, and Europe.

Unicorn is incredibly engaging and will appeal to even the most reluctant readers. The oversized text and short passages are easy to read. Plus, large black-and-white illustrations appear on almost every page, and they show the reader different drawings of unicorns that appeared in books through the ages. Plus, the illustrations include pictures of some of the historical figures who believed in unicorns.

Peabody explains the reasons that legends of unicorns persisted throughout ancient times. One reason is that “long ago, the idea of investigating a claim or conducting independent research did not exist.” While the book’s cover says, “fact or fiction, you decide,” the book says that today most people believe that unicorns do not exist. Instead, “You may be bummed to learn that many ancient ‘unicorns’ were likely just rhinos, oryx, and narwhals in disguise.” Despite this, readers will be eager to read Unicorns and the book encourages readers to find out more about unicorns by giving a list of more books about unicorns.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • An ancient Greek scholar helped the king. “When Artaxerxes II’s power-hungry brother Cyrus attacked the king with a javelin and nearly killed him, Ctesias rushed in and successfully treated the Persian leader, thus saving the day.”
  • In the early seventeenth century, Giulia Tofana was an “infamous poison peddler.” She sold poison to women “so if they felt trapped in an unhappy marriage—or worse, were being abused, or hurt, by their husbands—they might have gone to Tofana to plan an escape.” Tofana may have caused an estimated six hundred deaths and she “was eventually put to death herself.”

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • People used to believe a unicorn horn had healing properties. “According to one medieval physician, a horn was an effective treatment ‘for all poisons, for fevers, for bites of mad dogs and scorpions, for falling sickness, worms, fluxes, loss of memory, the plague, and prolongation of youth.’”
  • A physician experimented on two cats. The physician gave both cats poison. “Sadly, the kittens died, but there were some positive outcomes. Starting in the 1600s, educated people began to realize that expensive horns didn’t have medicinal values.”

Language

  • Early scrolls call unicorns “wild asses” and the book refers to unicorns this way a few times.

Supernatural

  • Bones were used to make dice. “Fortune-tellers and vision seekers also consulted early dice to “read the future and make tough decisions.”
  • In Japan and China, unicorns were “considered sacred. Even a fleeting glimpse of the stunning creature was thought to bring good fortune.”

Spiritual Content

  • The Bible mentions unicorns. “The animal doesn’t conduct any miracles, nor does it fly across the heavens wearing a radiant halo. No, the Bible’s unicorn is a very normal, no-big-deal kind of animal. . . If we believe one version of a famous Bible tale, the unicorn also had a reputation for getting a little rowdy.”
  • A “funny Hebrew folktale” talks about Noah’s Ark. When Noah was leading the animals into the arc, the unicorns “refused to listen to Noah. . .. The impertinent horsies try Noah’s patience. With the rains coming and no time to spare, Noah pulls up the plank and closes the arc’s door.”
  • The book explains how different texts describe unicorns. “As for the Bible, many, many writers contributed to the ancient book. The texts of the Old Testament, in which unicorns appear, were originally written in Hebrew, then translated into Greek, then Latin, then into English. Is it possible a language error occurred?”

Blue Moon

Bobbie Jo didn’t set out to buy a limping blue roan mare—she wanted a colt she could train to barrel race. But the horse is a fighter, just like Bobbie Jo. Now all she has to do is train the sour, old mare whose past is unknown. While she nurses the horse back to health, Bobbie Jo realizes that the horse, now called Blue Moon, may have more history than she first thought. With the help of the enigmatic Cole, she slowly turns the horse into a barrel racer.

From the very first page, Blue Moon sets up the conflict in a fast-paced story. Bobbie Jo clearly loves horses and readers will quickly be pulled into her world. Even though Bobbie Jo isn’t well developed, readers will be interested in her life. When Cole begins working on her family’s ranch, Bobbie Jo doesn’t trust him. When the two are forced to work together, Bobbie Jo realizes that Cole’s bad attitude hides his true nature. Bobbie Jo and Cole’s relationship adds interest to the story and readers will enjoy watching their friendship grow.

Blue Moon is specifically written for teens who want to read short, interesting novels. The book has large font and short chapters which will appeal to reluctant readers. The easy-to-read story revolves around Bobbie Jo’s horse and family which makes the story relatable to many teens.

The story is told from Bobbie Jo’s point of view, which allows the reader to understand her thought process. Her relationships with her family, Cole, and her horse give the story enough depth to keep the reader turning the pages. The ending has a surprise that emphasizes doing what is right. More advanced readers may be disappointed in Blue Moon because of the simple plot and lack of character development. However, both struggling readers and horse-loving readers who want a quick read will enjoy Blue Moon.

Sexual Content

  • Bobbie Jo and Cole are in a truck talking. Bobbie Jo’s sister taps on the window and then says, “you guys steamin’ up the windows in there or what?”

Violence

  • None

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • Bobby Jo and her parents have a conversation about Cole’s father. Afterward, Bobby Jo wonders, “Why didn’t anybody ever see this Mr. McCall around? Maybe he was a hopeless drunk who just sat home drinking up the grocery money. . .”
  • Cole’s family was in a car accident. Cole says, “One night we were comin’ home for the city in a thunderstorm and a drunk driver hit our truck. We all got hurt.”

 

Language

  • None

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • None

 

Apollo 13

On April 11, 1970, astronauts Jim Lovell, Fred Haise, and Jack Swigert blasted off to the moon. But while they were flying, part of their spaceship exploded! The ship was quickly losing power and air. They had to think of something fast, or they’d be stuck in outer space forever. How would Lovell, Haise, and Swigert make it back to Earth?

Almost everyone has heard the phrase, “Houston, we have a problem” and know it refers to traveling to the moon. Apollo 13 shows how the brave astronauts were able to safely make it back to Earth. While the book focuses on the astronauts, readers will learn a host of new facts about space travel in general. The book is packed with information explaining Apollo 13’s journey including what went wrong, why it was dangerous, and how the astronauts dealt with the problems. The end of the book also has more space information, such as how a person goes to the bathroom in space.

Apollo 13 uses short chapters and explains some of the vocabulary, which makes the book accessible to reluctant readers. Large black and white illustrations appear every 5 to 9 pages that show the astronauts in action. While the book is easy enough for young fluent readers, the content will be interesting to older readers as well.

Readers who know little about space travel may find it difficult to get to the end of Apollo 13. Even though the astronauts had some scary moments, the story is missing a sense of suspense and action. The factual way Apollo 13 is told may put off readers who were expecting the book to read like a story. However, if you love space and/or need to research Apollo 13, you should definitely check out this book!

If you’ve ever wondered about traveling to space, Apollo 13 should be read along with several other books. Even though Counting on Katherine: How Katherine Johnson Saved Apollo 13 is a picture book, it is a must read for anyone who wants to learn more about Apollo 13. In addition, readers interested in learning more about space flight should also read The Race to Space: Countdown to Liftoff by Erik Slader & Ben Thompson.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • None

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • None

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • None

Illegal

One day Ebo finds that his older brother, Kwame, has left their village in Libya to make the journey to Europe. Soon afterward, Ebo decides he must go after him. Ebo clings to the hope of finding a better life and reuniting with his family.

Ebo’s journey to find his brother is fraught with danger. He faces the possibility of death at every turn.  He often turns to the gift of song to provide comfort for himself and those he meets. He is told by a bus driver, “Ebo, you can’t solve everything with a song.” However, his lullaby calms a baby on the bus and, as a thank you from the driver, earns him passage to Agadez, the next stop on his journey. In fact, it is his song that guides Kwame back to him. When a woman needs a last-minute replacement wedding singer, Ebo steps in. When Kwame hears the voice, he follows it, leading him to Ebo. Ebo’s refusal to stop singing, even in the face of difficulty, and his willingness to help those around him emphasizes the message of perseverance and hope despite all odds being against him.

Throughout his journey to Italy, Ebo encounters many people who offer him aid which develops the theme of kindness and respect for others. After their raft capsizes, Ebo and his friends are saved. Ebo tells readers, “People are so kind . . . Although they hardly have anything, people give us blankets.” For every person who mistreats Ebo, there is another who helps him. These moments show that although not everyone is welcoming and kind, there are still those who help. As Ebo says, “They must help us. We are people.”

Family and friendship are driving forces in Ebo’s story. Even when his “new life” is bleak, Ebo maintains hope that his hard work, kindness, and strength of conviction will result in a better life. His commitment to his family and his new friends gives Ebo purpose. The brothers are finally reunited and in the end, Kwame even urges rescuers to save Ebo before helping himself, which ultimately leads to his death. Kwame sacrifices himself for his brother’s well-being.

Accompanying the powerful storytelling, Giovanni Rigano’s illustrations strikingly capture the characters’ emotions. Some pages of the story are told only through his illustrations, such as when Ebo is alone and not speaking. For example, in the refugee camp, the images show Ebo who is haunted by the death of his brother. The full-color illustrations are occasionally grim. One such picture is of a decomposed dead man. Other images of death are less graphic, and many deaths occur off-page. Many die from drownings and they’re shown disappearing into the water.

Some pages feature word boxes and speech bubbles to distinguish between narration and dialogue. Ebo’s narration is provided in pale yellow word boxes, while speech amongst characters uses white bubbles. Differentiation between past and present, as well as certain contextual details and unpictured dialogue, takes the form of light blue boxes. Each page has 9 to 16 short sentences. The text along with Rigano’s illustration makes the graphic novel easy to follow.

Twelve-year-old Ebo’s youthful spirit makes him a convicting narrator. His story is both tragic and hopeful. However, Ebo’s story shows moments of hope and how familial love can help ease the pain of loss and grief. Older children can learn a lot from hearing an immigration story from the voice of a peer. Readers will gain compassion for refugees when they are shown what children their age have faced. Despite the suggested age range of 10+, younger readers may find the deaths along the journey disturbing. Readers who would like to explore the topic of refugees further should read Refugee 87 by Ele Fountain and the graphic novel When Stars Are Scattered by Victoria Jamieson & Omar Mohamed.

Sexual Content

  • A peer of Ebo’s means to degrade Sisi. The boy says, “I wonder what brothel she’s working in now.”
  • A woman’s wedding singer cannot perform because he “kissed the bridesmaid and upset her fiancé.”

Violence

  • The immigrants could face death at any point. They often voice their concerns to their friends and family.
  • While the immigrants are waiting to go off to sea, a man says, “Move or there’s a bullet in your back.” The illustration shows the men firing large guns into the air.
  • A child in Ebo’s village taunts him about Kwame leaving. The child says, “He’ll be swallowed by the desert sands just like your sister before.”
  • After a boy talks poorly about Sisi, Ebo hits him. The picture shows just after the punch’s impact and the speech bubble reads “Oomph.”
  • Ebo sinks under the water, beginning to drown before someone pulls him out.
  • The wedding singer is shown in a picture holding his nose which is bleeding, presumably after being punched.
  • Razak, a friend Ebo met along the way, tells a story. A group who was going to Europe “died of starvation, and no water, slowly, slowly . . . and their boat became a floating coffin.” He says at least their own deaths will be quicker.
  • A man falls off the back of the truck, but the truck does not stop. Ebo realizes the drivers do not care.
  • A man is told to get out of the jeep. When he does not listen, he is shot. The accompanying images show a gun being pulled from the driver’s waistband, the gun being pointed to the man’s chest along with his speech bubble which reads “Please . . . no!” And finally, the jeep is shown from a distance with the sound bubble “Bdam.”
  • A woman explains her reason for leaving home: “The war came.”
  • Cammo, one of Ebo’s new friends, dies overnight, either from the cold or exhaustion. The image shows him limp, being pulled from under the jeep where he was sleeping. Razak wants to bury him, but they cannot because they’re tired and “the desert ground is too hard.” Instead, they cover Cammo with a cloth. That is the last image of Cammo before they leave him.
  • A woman’s baby flies from her arms when the ship is nearly tipping. Ebo catches him, though, before any harm can come to him.
  • Railing snaps and many people fall overboard. The water is “hard as stone.” The images show people sinking below, though their fates are unclear. Later, Ebo realizes that some screams are coming from inside the sinking ship and that those people have no way out.
  • Ebo is shown working in a well. A dead animal, potentially a sheep, is shown limp in the water, attached to a string.
  • In Tripoli, Razak says they must “steer clear of the street gangs,” not drink the drain water, watch their money, be careful about rabid dogs, and “watch out for the army” and “the police.” Pictures depict each rule. For example, the rabid dog has his teeth bared and is spit flies from his mouth. The gangs do not have weapons, but their fists are balled.
  • While ill and sleeping, Kwame must bat a swarm of rats off of Ebo’s body.
  • In the chaos of the sinking ship, a baby is handed to Ebo. When Ebo and Kwame try to find the mother, she is “gone” and likely drowned.
  • While Ebo and the baby are rescued, Kwame goes under the surface. He emerges only once more before being lost to the sea. The images show him from Ebo’s perspective as well as Kwame’s own view under the water.
  • IN Ebo’s imagination, both Kwame and Razak’s bodies are shown under the water. They float, Kwame with empty eyes, while fish prod them.

Drugs and Alcohol

  • Uncle Patrick, according to Ebo is always either “his bed, his chair, or a bar.” One time, Ebo finds him drunk with blood on his shirt.
  • Ebo finds a pack of antiseptic wipes and trades them for food and other goods. He is shown treating people’s injuries by wrapping them in a wipe.
  • Some cartons of cigarettes are pictured in the cargo of a jeep.
  • Ebo gets very sick with a fever. He must be carried by his family. He says he feels freezing but is told he is too hot. An observer says, “without medicine, that kid won’t last long,”
  • Ebo’s friends find someone who has medicine for Ebo, but they are all aware that “the wrong pills can kill.” However, Ebo is given the medicine and he gets better.
  • It is rumored that one week, none of the ships that left returned. Razak says, “Last month they lost all their boats.” Kwame supports the rumor, saying, “I heard no one got a phone call. Not one family!”
  • In the book’s epilogue, Helen, a refugee, tells her story. This provides a woman’s perspective of the journey to immigrate. Helen gives readers a brief history of her life, from childhood to the present day. She faced the death of her mother and that of her friends during her journey. Helen says that they tried to bury them, but “the sand will not cover them long.
  • During Helen’s journey, a boat of over 400 people capsizes. Helen, who is pregnant, is starved and dehydrated. Helen hides under the floorboards of a truck. The police walk on the floorboards, which results in the loss of her baby. Helen’s story is told over the course of five pages.

Language

  • One man calls another an idiot.
  • The driver calls the jeep a “stupid machine.”

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • Luck is often mentioned. For instance, a man tells Ebo, “I hope you bring this ship luck.”
  • A friend of Ebo, Cammo, does not like that Ebo took the water from a dead men’s jeep. He says, “You cannot disturb the dead.” Later, after they drink the water, Cammo says, “I’m too tired to fight off evil spirits; You rest with the bone men.”
  • When discussing their odds of surviving the journey a friend, says, “We must rely on luck and many prayers.”

by Jennaly Nolan

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.”

Gina: The Girl Who Broke the World

Hundreds of years ago, magic disappeared from Earth. At least…UNTIL NOW. Because suddenly, giant magical beings are appearing and only Gina can see them. Not to mention, Gina can somehow do magic herself. Magic is powerful. But it can also be dangerous. With D.J. and Hilo’s help, can Gina figure out how to protect the magical beings from the creatures who are after them? And can she learn how to use her magic to become who she was always meant to be?

Throughout most of the story, Gina does not want to use magic because she is afraid of the consequences. But when an alien shows up wanting to destroy the Nestors, Gina feels the need to protect the Nestors (even though she knows nothing about them). The story focuses on Gina’s attempt to keep the Nestors safe from other aliens. One of the aliens tells Gina, “You are meddling with forces far beyond your understanding. You will do more damage than good.” Despite this, Gina never questions the aliens to find why they want to destroy the Nestors. Instead, Gina fights the aliens, which allows the Nestors to change Earth’s timeline.

The relationship between Hilo, D.J., and Gina was one of the best aspects of the first six books of the series. Unfortunately, in Gina: The Girl Who Broke the World, Gina is left to fight the aliens alone. Instead of helping Gina, Hilo is trying to figure out his human body. Hilo’s struggle adds some bathroom humor. At one point, Hilo tells D.J., “Holy Mackerel! I just went to the bathroom! Pooping is outstanding.” However, this is not the only bathroom humor. Later, Gina meets another alien and she says, “Wow. . . smells like a possum’s butt.” While the juvenile humor may make younger readers smile, it adds nothing to the plotline.

The graphic novel’s panels are illustrated with bright colors that will capture readers’ attention. The graphic novel’s panels have 1 to 7 sentences which mostly use simple sentences with easy vocabulary. The many fight scenes give the story a fast pace and the many onomatopoeia words add interest because they appear in large, colorful text. Readers must first read the other books in the series or they will be confused, as Gina: The Girl Who Broke the World jumps right into the action and doesn’t explain the relationships between the characters

Gina: The Girl Who Broke the World is a confusing sequel that doesn’t have the same appeal as the first six books in the series. Instead of trying to help Gina fight the aliens, Hilo is more interested in food and his body functions. To make matters worse, the battle scenes are confusing not only because of the many aliens but also because the Nestors are shapeshifters. While Gina’s desire to help the Nestors is admirable, it’s unrealistic that no one tries to find out why the Nestors have come to earth.

While Gina: The Girl Who Broke the World is a disappointing sequel, the book may be worth reading because it sets up what could be an interesting conflict to be explored in the next book. If you’re looking for another humorous and fast-paced graphic novel, check out the Bird & Squirrel Series by James Burks.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • A strange blue alien shoots a laser at Gina. The alien puts Gina in a bubble, but she escapes. Gina jumps on the creature’s back. The creature hits a tree and knocks himself out. The fight is illustrated over nine pages.
  • Two alien creatures that look like “furballs” chase Gina. They snap their teeth at her and then throw up an orange substance that covers Gina. Gina finally lassos the creatures and then they disappear. The scene is illustrated over six pages.
  • A strange snapping bird creature chases two small alien rabbits. Gina saves the alien rabbits. The snapping bird creature ties Gina up. The scene is illustrated over 15 pages.
  • The blue alien appears and starts shooting lasers at Gina, who is trying to protect the Nestors. The alien blows up a house. Gina uses her power to chase the alien, who flees.
  • A giant robot-like alien appears wielding a large sword. The alien tries to kill Gina in order to get to the Nestors. Both Gina and the alien use magical powers during the battle. The fighting is illustrated over ten pages.

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • Hilo uses the phrase “holy mackerel” several times.
  • Dang it is used one time.
  • Crud is used four times. This includes when Gina uses the phrase “crud and scrambled eggs.”
  • J.’s brother, Dexter, calls his siblings dork and dorkus.

Supernatural

  • At first, Gina is the only person who can see the alien creatures. Gina discovers that she is an enchanter, who “draws magic from the planet itself.”
  • Alien creatures appear on Earth. Hilo explains who the creatures are. “Baba Yaga clan members—or, as I like to call them, Bab Yags!—aren’t natural shape-shifters. They need a magic totem or an amulet that enables them to transmogrify!”
  • Nestors have “the ability to enhance magic. To make spells or powers increase a hundredfold,” which is why they have been held captive on another planet. When the Nestors consume food of this planet, it makes them visible.
  • An alien uses magic to turn Gina into a huge otter.
  • The Nestors change Earth’s timeline. “The Nestors went back in time. They went back to the time before magic left earth. They changed the Earth’s history.” However, Gina was able to “shield” herself and three others from the change. Gina and her friends are the only people who know what the Earth used to be like.

Spiritual Content

  • None

Off the Hook

Investigators Mango and Brash are on the hunt for Crackerdile, who has been turned into a bucket of dough. With the help of the plumber who has been combined with a snake, Crackerdile plans to find the perfect secret lair and recruit more villains. But first, Crackerdile must find a way to change forms because “no one’s going to want to join a team led by a soft pile of mush.”

Before Mango and Brash start their investigation, they are given new V.E.S.T.s. However, once outside the science lab, the new V.E.S.T.s cause problems of their own. For instance, Mango and Brash are mistaken for investment bankers and must attend a board meeting, which is a complete bore.

As Brash and Mango are stuck in the meeting, Crackerdile figures out a way to make himself into Waffledile. Then, Waffledile kidnaps a scientist. With the scientist’s help, Waffledile grows to a huge size. But then Waffledile eats Brash. Is there any way to stop Waffledile? And how can Mango free Brash from Waffledile’s stomach?

Off the Hook is a graphic novel that is laugh-out-loud funny. The combination of human and animal characters blends to create a ridiculous story that uses wordplay to add humor. While readers will enjoy all the wordplay, parents might not like the references to butts.

The imaginative story comes alive in brightly colored artwork that shows the characters’ wide range of emotions. The text is large and uses different font sizes, which help emphasize the characters’ emotions and important aspects of the story. Another positive aspect is that the human scientists are a diverse group of characters with a wide range of skin tones. The end of the book shows how to draw Waffledile and includes a few riddles.

The illustrations and the unique storyline of Brash and Mango will appeal to even the most reluctant readers. Each page has 3 to 11 sentences. The sentences range from one word to more complex sentences. The story does an excellent job of giving enough background information so readers who are new to the series will understand the plot. However, for maximum enjoyment, the series should be read in order.

Off the Hook will appeal to even the most reluctant readers because the plot is more silly than serious. Readers may not understand all of the humor regarding investment bankers, but they will still enjoy the silly antics of Brash and Mango. Parents who want their children to read a graphic novel with a more positive message should add the Hilo Series by Judd Winick to their reading list.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • Crackerdile prods Brash with an electric shocker. Then Crackerdile ties up Brash and drops him off a train. Crackerdile blows up the bridge and the train crashes in a puff of smoke. Later, the reader finds out that this five-page scene was a simulation.
  • The plumber tries to hit Brash and Mango, but instead, he breaks a window. The plumber’s snake arm whacks Mango over the head with a stop sign, “Wham Wham Wham.”
  • Waffledile puts an electrical cord around a huge chicken’s neck. He threatens the scientist’s chicken, “You’re going to make me as big as you! Giddy up! Ha Ha! I feel like a cowboy.”
  • The plumber’s snake arm ties Brash and Mango to a pole.
  • Waffledile grows so big that he destroys a roof. The construction workers begin throwing tools and bricks at Waffledile.
  • Waffledile eats Brash. Mango dumps concrete on Waffledile. Then the plumber crashes into the statue of Waffledile and pulls Brash out of its stomach.

Drugs and Alcohol

  • None.

Language

  • There is some humor about butts. For example, as a scientist is flushing Brash and Mango down a toilet, she says, “Hold on to your butts.”
  • After Waffledile eats Brash, Waffledile says, “You can’t dump concrete on me and save your partner. But let me go, and I’ll barf Brash back up! Or you know, he could come out the other way.” A reporter on the scene says, “Inquiring minds want to know. Do waffles have butts?”
  • Darn, drat, dang, and dagnabbit are occasionally used as exclamations.
  • The characters sometimes call other people idiots. For example, Crackerdile says his team’s mission would be “the total annihilation of idiot law-doers!”

Supernatural

  • Crackerdile is “a former-agent-turned-radioactive-saltine-cracker.” In this installment of the series, Crackerdile is a bucket of dough.
  • One of the villains is a “plumber whose arm was combined with a snake, giving him grappling hook powers.”
  • Crackerdile is cooked in a waffle iron. He says, “I, Crackerdile, have been reborn as . . . Waffledile!”
  • Dr. Jack Hardbones is a “news helicopter but also a skilled surgeon.” He can change back and forth from a human to a helicopter.

Spiritual Content

  • None

 

 

Fish Girl

Who is Fish Girl?

She lives in a tank in a boardwalk aquarium. She is the main attraction, though visitors never get more than a glimpse of her.

She has a tail. She can’t walk, but she can speak. She can make friends with Livia, an ordinary girl, and can yearn for a life that includes yoga and pizza. She can grow stronger and braver. With determination, a touch of magic, and the help of a loyal octopus, Fish Girl can do anything.

When Livia meets Fish Girl, she is determined to get to know her new friend. Due to Livia’s curiosity, Fish Girl learns the truth about her origins and the falsehoods that Neptune, her captor, has told. Livia’s friendship gives Fish Girl the inspiration and courage to go against Neptune’s rules.

Fish Girl’s journey comes to life in beautiful watercolor illustrations, drawn in blue hues. While most of the conversation appears in white quote bubbles, Fish Girl’s thoughts appear in square boxes, which helps readers distinguish the speakers. Each page has 6 or fewer sentences, which are written with easy-to-understand vocabulary.

This graphic novel beautifully portrays the power of friendship. When Fish Girl is in danger, the octopus helps protects her. In addition, with Livia’s help, Fish Girl realizes she has the power to free herself from her captor’s grasp. The amazing illustrations of Livia’s underwater home show an array of sea creatures. Fish Girl’s facial expressions will also help readers understand her emotions.

Fish Girl will appeal to many readers because of the high interest in mermaids. The themes of friendship and freedom will also resonate with readers. Fish Girl’s compelling story, coupled with beautiful illustrations, makes Fish Girl a wonderful book to read. The simple plot and vocabulary will appeal to reluctant readers and the heartwarming conclusion will put a smile on readers’ faces.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • Fish Girl goes to the boardwalk. A man begins to follow her, and he grabs her hair. He says, “You’ve got nice hair. . . C’mon. Let’s get out of here—” Fish Girl breaks free and runs.
  • A fisherman gets angry with Fish Girl and begins yelling at her. Her octopus friend grows larger and holds the man so Fish Girl can escape.
  • Fish Girl asks the ocean to destroy the aquarium. In response, the octopus grabs ahold of the building and pulls it towards the sea. “The ocean rises up, and sets the sea creatures free.”

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • None

Supernatural

  • When Fish Girl is in danger, the octopus grows into a giant like the kraken.
  • Fish Girl asks the ocean to destroy the aquarium in order to set the sea creatures free. After it’s destroyed, she says, “It’s dying down. You listened. Thank you, ocean.”

Spiritual Content

  • The fisherman who owns the aquarium pretends to be “Neptune, god of the seas and storms.”
  • The fisherman tells the Fish Girl that “the muses were lovely. They had the form of women and their voices were sweeter than anything anyone could ever dream of.”

 

One on One

Chloe Gordon is super excited to attend summer soccer camp with her soccer sisters and fellow Breakers team members, Makena Walsh and Val Flores—even though she’s not quite as skilled as the other girls and her parents would rather her be spending her time practicing ballet.

When Chloe arrives, she discovers that the Breakers’ arch rival, Skylar Wilson, is rooming down the hall. Chloe worries that her camp experience will be more stressful than fun. Will the soccer sisters be able to band together and ignore Skylar’s bullying? Can Chloe overcome her fear of not being good enough in time for the big inter-camp match?

Former soccer player, coach, and motivational speaker Andrea Montalbano creates a fast-paced soccer story that teaches the value of determination. Readers will relate to Chloe, who is being targeted by Skylar, who has learned how to hide her bullying behavior. Besides the bullying, Chloe also struggles with self-confidence. After all, her mother doesn’t think Chloe should be on the team because “If you can’t be the best, why bother doing it at all?”

Even though One on One has a stereotypical plot, readers will enjoy its fast pace as it combines soccer and bullying into an engaging story. Told from Chloe’s point of view, One on One doesn’t just focus on the game; the story also gives a glimpse of Chloe’s home life, which adds humor and depth to the story. Chloe is a likeable character who has relatable conflicts both at home and at soccer camp.

One on One teaches about Brazil’s culture. Flavia, a camp counselor from Brazil, agrees to help Chloe with her soccer skills. When Chloe doesn’t make the team, Flavia is upset because Chloe doesn’t understand that winning isn’t always the most important thing. Flavia is also frustrated that the campers do not realize how privileged they are. Instead, “all you girls complain if the water is too warm or if you can’t win or if the field is not perfect. You have everything right in front of you, but yet you cannot see it.” Flavia shares her story, which gives Flavia’s cultural perspective as well as highlights the discrimination that girls in Brazil face. For example, in Brazil girls are expected to play with dolls, not soccer balls.

One on One’s high interest topic, advanced vocabulary, and short chapters make the story accessible to proficient readers. While One on One is the third installment of the Soccer Sisters series, each book can be read as a stand-alone book. While the story focuses on sports, the snippets of family life and drama off the field make One on One a book that all readers will enjoy. The book ends with questions, information on soccer in Brazil, a glossary of soccer terms, and a short biography on Olympian Brandi Chastain. Through Chloe’s experiences readers will learn lessons in sportsmanship as well as the importance of practice, determination, and keeping your word.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • Skyler attempts to take down another player, Val. “At the last possible second, just as Skyler launched herself into the air, Val pulled the ball back. Skyler’s legs reached out for Val, but Val was too quick. Skyler flew through the air and landed with a thud.”
  • Chloe attempts to hit the ball into the goal, “but at the last second, another player got in front of her, knocking her to the side and clipping her above the eye with an elbow.” After the jab, Chloe has a black eye.
  • A food fight erupts in the cafeteria. “Chicken cutlets started flying. Pizza missiles landed on the wall… Edible pandemonium reigned. It was like a scene from an old movie Chloe’s father would have liked.”

 

Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • “OMG” is used six times. When the girls get to camp, someone says, “OMG, this place looks like Hogwarts!”
  • Heck is used five times. For example, someone asks Chloe, “What the heck is going on here? Are we going to play some soccer or what?”
  • Skyler calls three girls losers several times. She also makes snide remarks at Chloe, such as calling her a princess.
  • Someone calls Skyler an idiot.

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • When someone calls three girls losers, Chloe “prayed Makena wouldn’t take the bait.”

Above All Else

Del is a striker on the school soccer team, the Cardinals, which has gone almost three seasons undefeated. To Del, it’s just a game, but some of the players think winning is all that matters. After an in-game altercation with the Cardinals’ main rival, the Rebels, one of Del’s teammates is attacked and seriously injured by an unknown assailant. Is it an act of retaliation or did someone finally take the above-all-else mentality too far?

Above All Else blends on-the-field action and mystery into a fast-paced story that will leave readers with one question: should a team play dirty in order to win?

While the story has some play-by-play soccer descriptions, much of the story revolves around the mystery of who hurt Del’s teammate. The mystery focuses on Del’s perspective, which allows the reader to piece together the clues. In the beginning, Del avoids conflict by staying quiet. However, in the end, he stands up for what he knows is right. Both Del and his teammates learn that “you can lose and walk off the field with your head high.”

Above All Else will appeal to both sports fans and mystery buffs. Written as a part of the Orca Soundings books, which are specifically written for teens, Above All Else is a fast-paced book that explores the idea of winning at all costs. While Above All Else may appeal to younger readers, parents may object to the frequent profanity and name-calling. However, older readers who are reluctant to read will enjoy this high-interest, easy-to-read story.

Sexual Content

  • Riley and Kira start spending time together. She goes to Riley’s soccer game. At halftime, Kira “threw her arms around Riley’s neck and kissed him full on the lips.” After the game, Riley and Kira “were locked in an awkward-looking kiss.”
  • Riley and Kira kiss several more times, but the kisses are not described.

Violence

  • During a soccer game, Rom intentionally hurts a player named Tim. Tim “was almost past Rom when Rom performed a slide tackle, knocking the ball out of bounds and sending Tim flying.” Tim is angry, but not injured.
  • Later in the game, Tim is getting ready to score when “Rom rushed him. Tim went head-on into the challenge, probably thinking he could rotate around Rom at the last second. . . Rom charged and, as Tim began his rotation, jutted his leg out and caught him square on the knee.”
  • After Rom takes down Tim, Tim’s teammates “ran right into Rom and took him down. He managed to get four quick punches in before his own teammates pulled him off . . .”
  • Del and his friend, Riley, find their teammate Rom injured. Riley says, “I just found him here . . .” Rom was “completely out.” Later Rom tells his friends, “Someone came up behind me while I was getting into my car and choked me out.” Rom’s ankle is also badly injured.
  • Del and his friends go into an abandoned mall, looking for the person that they think injured Rom. Del “turned around to find Jared sitting on top of Doug Richards.” After that, there is a lot of chasing, but everyone gets out of the mall without being hurt.
  • Elsa tells Del, “my brother got beat up at the mall the other night.”
  • At a game, Del accidentally crashed into the goalkeeper. The goalkeeper “caught me in the side of the head with a quick sharp punch. . . I tried to stand up to get away from the situation and he kicked me in the gut.”
  • Elsa and Del go back to the abandoned mall and a gang chases them out. When Elsa and Del get in the van, “the guys were banging on the van like wild apes.” When she goes to leave, Elsa runs over someone’s foot.

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • Profanity is used often. Profanity includes ass, bullshit, crappy, damn, hell, piss, and shitty.
  • There are many instances of name-calling, which include asshole, dick, dickhead, idiot, sucker, prick, dillweed, and knobs.
  • Del and his friends are going into an abandoned mall. When Del doesn’t want to go, his friend says, “Grow a pair, Del.”
  • One of the other team’s players yells at Del, “Goddamn dirty players.”

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • None

 

 The Ballgame With No One At Bat

Egg’s sixth-grade class is going on a field trip to see the River City River Rats baseball game. Even though Egg doesn’t know a lot about baseball, he is excited to see the minor league baseball team play. From the fans to the concessions, Egg is ready to snap pictures at the stadium.

The class is surprised when the game is delayed because of a theft in the stadium. But Egg’s friends decide to use the time to look for clues. Who could have stolen the cash register from the concession stand? Is it one of the class’s chaperones? Egg and his friends are determined to look for clues and find the culprit.

As the title suggests, the story doesn’t show any baseball action. Instead, the action comes from Egg and his friends looking for clues, following suspects, and asking questions. Even though the game delay is unrealistic, the kids are able to solve the crime because Egg’s friend, Sam, uses her powers of observation. During their time at the stadium, several characters talk about the unhealthy junk food that is sold at the concession stand. One girl chastises her father for eating junk food, and the teacher admits to being “a junk food junkie!” The story’s message about making healthy snack choices is told in an over-the-top and humorous way.

The Ballgame With No One At Bat has beautiful full-colored illustrations that show Egg and his friends interacting with the suspects. Egg’s photographs are also included in the illustrations, which appear every 3 to 7 pages. In addition, some of the story quotes appear in oversized white letters on a black background. The graphic elements, large text, and illustrations break up the text into manageable parts. The book also includes A Detective’s Dictionary with some of the words used in the story.

Mystery-loving readers will be pulled into The Ballgame With No One At Bat by the beautiful illustrations and the high-interest topic. The story ends with an essay that Egg wrote about baseball superstitions. The easy-to-read format and easy vocabulary make The Ballgame With No One At Bat accessible to proficient readers who are ready for chapter books. Readers interested in a more developed mystery with baseball history should check out the Ballpark Mysteries Series by David A. Kelly

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • None

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • Anton calls Egg and his friends dorks several times. For example, when someone stands up to Anton, he says, “Okay, dork protector. I’ll leave the four dorks alone so they can cry.”
  • When a boy overhears the conversation between Egg and Anton, the boy says, “Don’t listen to him. That guy’s a jerk.”
  • Anton calls a classmate a beanpole.
  • Egg thinks that Anton is “being a selfish dweeb.”

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • None

Komi Can’t Communicate Volume 2

Socially anxious high school student Shoko Komi’s greatest dream is to make some friends, but everyone at school mistakes her crippling social anxiety for cool reserve. Luckily, she meets Tadano, a timid wallflower who decides to step out of his comfort zone in order to help her achieve her goal of making 100 friends.

It’s time for the national health exam at Itan High, and the excitement of eye exams and height measurements has fanned the flames of competition in the heart of Makeru Yadano. She’s determined to beat the class idol, Komi, in the health test. Komi’s total obliviousness to their impassioned duel just feeds Makeru’s determination. As the epic battle heats up, how will Komi handle her first rival when she’s barely made her first friends?

Much of the time Komi seems to be in her own world and doesn’t notice those around her. For example, at the beginning of the story, one classmate wants to compete with Komi on the physical fitness test. However, Komi doesn’t even realize the classmate is trying to beat her during the races and other activities. Even though Komi has social anxieties and doesn’t talk to anyone, many of Komi’s classmates idolize her and consider her a “goddess.”

Several of the characters are odd. For example, one classmate, Agari, acts as if she is Komi’s dog. Another classmate, Yamai, desperately wants to meet Komi, so she threatens Komi’s friend, Osana. After Osana agrees to introduce Komi to Yamai, the situation becomes even stranger. Yamai kidnaps Tadano, binds him to a chair, and puts tape over his mouth. Later that day, Osana and Komi go to Yamai’s house where they discover Tadano trapped in a closet. Despite this, Komi still wants to be friends with Yamai.

Komi Can’t Communicate Volume 2 shows Komi’s growth from a girl with no friends, to one who is beginning to communicate and has two friends. Even though Komi communicates by writing on a piece of paper, she does stand up for Tadano. Tadano is a bright spot in the story because he truly wants Komi to form friendships, and he pushes her to try new things. However, one drawback of Komi’s friends is that they all focus on her beauty.

The black and white illustrations are adorable and portray the socially awkward girl and her interactions with others with humor. Each page has 1 to 11 simple sentences which appear in quote boxes. Square boxes are also used to show characters and general information. The illustrations help show Komi’s nervousness by showing her tremble.

Even though Komi Can’t Communicate Volume 2 has some strange events, the story will resonate with high school students who are insecure. As Komi begins to communicate, she also begins to act like a normal teenager by going to the mall and eating at a restaurant with her friends. Komi Can’t Communicate Volume 2 will entertain readers, even though it lacks the depth of Volume One. Readers will be curious to find out what happens with Komi’s new friend Yamai in Volume Three.

 Sexual Content

  • Yamai has a crush on Komi and is obsessed with Komi’s smell.

Violence

  • Yamai kidnaps Tadano, threatens him with a knife, and binds him to a chair. Yamai thinks, “It’s utterly bizarre for a loser like him to hang around a divinity like you, Komi.” Yamai justifies her actions by saying Komi is “glorious, so it’s psycho for a bottle-feeder like Tadano to hang around you!”
  • Komi doesn’t talk to Yamai, so Yamai threatens to kill herself with a knife. She says, “I have no reason to keep living!”

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • One of the students says, “F*** you!”

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • None

Out of Bounds

Makena Walsh absolutely loves soccer. She knows it’s the best sport around, and she feels lucky that the teammates on her super competitive and super skilled team, the Brookville Breakers, feel the same way. The girls always have and always will be soccer sisters.

When a new person joins the Breakers, everything changes. Skyler is a great player and really cool—but she also doesn’t always play by the rules. Makena, hoping to impress Skyler, starts acting out and running wild, off and on the field.

With a huge tournament looming, Makena’s got tough choices ahead–choices that will affect her family, her friends, and the game she loves. Can she stay true to what the soccer sisters believe in and win the big game?

At first, Makena thinks Skyler’s crazy ideas are fun, but soon Skyler’s lies add up, and Makena’s guilt catches up with her. To make matters worse, sneaking out and staying up late is affecting Makena’s game. Soon, Skyler’s behavior doesn’t seem so cool, especially when Skyler uses deception to win. She tells her teammates, “Just remember, when you get hurt, even a little, roll on the ground and act as if your leg is about to fall off. That way you will get the free kick or the penalty kick. Everybody does it.”

Out of Bounds’s play-by-play action will appeal to soccer players and sports lovers. The majority of the action takes place on the field; however, readers will get a glimpse of the crazy things Skyler convinces Makena to do as well as of Makena’s home life. In one scene, the reader will learn about the dangers of smoking through Makena’s grandfather who used to smoke and now has emphysema.

Makena is a relatable character who doesn’t like lying to others, but she struggles with the ability to say no. Because the story is told from her point of view, the reader will understand Makena’s worries. In the end, Makena grows as a character and realizes that “being a star off the field is as big a part of soccer as being a star on the field.” During the last tournament, Makena is able to stand up to Skyler and finally do what’s right, including telling her parents about her bad behavior.

The Soccer Sisters series is written by former soccer player, coach, and motivational speaker Andrea Montalbano. Out of Bounds’s high-interest topic, advanced vocabulary, and short chapters make the story accessible to advanced readers. While the story has relatable conflicts and many positive lessons, the many play-by-play soccer scenes are designed for soccer players and fans. The book ends with one suggested activity, questions, a glossary of soccer terms, and a short biography of Olympian Brandi Chastain. Those who have read Montalbano’s book, Breakaway, will see many similarities in the characters and plot. Out of Bounds is a fast-paced story that will engage soccer fans as it highlights the importance of compassion, sportsmanship, leadership, and following the rules.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • None

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • Heck is used four times. For example, someone says, “Why the heck do we travel all the way to Philadelphia to play a team from nearby?”
  • “Oh my God” is used as an exclamation once.
  • Skyler asks, “Do you think those two guards are going to admit that two girls stole their golf cart and made them look like idiots?”
  • Skyler’s dad said that her old team “was a bunch of losers.”

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • None

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