Strike Zone

Twelve-year-old star Little League pitcher Nick Garcia has a dream. Several in fact. He dreams he’ll win this season’s MVP and earn the chance to throw out the first pitch at Yankee Stadium. He dreams he’ll meet his hero, Yankee pitcher Michael Arroyo. He dreams they’ll find a cure for Lupus so his sister won’t have to suffer. But mostly, he dreams that one day his family can stop living in fear of the government.  

For one kid, it’s almost too much to bear. Luckily, Nick has his two best friends, Ben and Diego, to keep him balanced. But when Nick notices a mysterious man lurking on his street corner, his worst fears are realized. But just when it seems there’s no one they can trust, an unexpected hero emerges and changes everything. 

Baseball-loving fans will instantly connect with Nick Garcia and his baseball ambitions. Nick is a kind protagonist who has a caring support system that includes friends, families, and neighbors. Despite his support system, Nick constantly worries that others will discover his family’s secret—both of his parents are illegal immigrants. This conflict weaves its way into almost every aspect of Nick’s life. At times, the story’s explanations of complex immigration problems including immigration raids, detention centers, and the legal system overshadow the baseball story thread. However through Nick’s experiences, readers will empathize with Nick and his family and learn about the harmful aspects of the immigration system. 

Nick and his two best friends, Ben and Diego, support each other and show readers the positive aspects of being part of a team. During their team’s games, most of the action focuses on Nick’s pitching ability. While this gives the reader an inside view of Nick’s emotions, the book lacks a broader sense of the team working together. There is play-by-play baseball action, but these scenes focus mainly on Nick and the other players are seldom mentioned. The narrow focus on Nick removes some of the joy from the game scenes.  

Strike Zone weaves the different aspects of Nick’s life together, showing how community surrounds Nick and his family in times of trouble. Nick has many trustworthy people in his life; however, he is surprised when his favorite Yankee, Michael Arroyo, steps in to help as well. Readers who have read the book Heat will understand how Michael’s and Nick’s stories connect, but the books don’t need to be read in order to enjoy Strike Zone. Both Michael’s and Nick’s stories show that achieving one’s dream is possible. However, it takes dedication, perseverance, and community.  

Sexual Content 

  • None 

Violence 

  • Nick and his father take his sister Amelia to a free clinic. As they are leaving, a drunk man pushes her. “Amelia lost her balance and almost went down, but Nick caught her by the hip.” 
  • Afterward, the drunk man “swung at Nick’s father. It was a wild swing, one the man had telegraphed, and Nick’s dad easily avoided it. But missing the punch just seemed to make the big man angrier. He clumsily lowered his shoulder and drove into Victor, bringing them both violently to the ground. With Victor Garcia pinned beneath him, the man grunted, throwing punch after punch. . .” Both men are arrested. 
  • When Nick is sliding into home plate, “Eric slapped a hard tag on Nick. Right across the face. Nick’s head snapped to the side, and he immediately cupped his jaw in pain.” Nick has a bruise but is otherwise fine.  

Drugs and Alcohol 

  • None 

Language 

  • Heck is used once.  

Supernatural 

  • None 

Spiritual Content 

  • Nick’s coach tells him, “I honestly believe the good Lord has blessed you with a right arm like Michael Arroyo’s left.”  
  • Nick’s dad tells him, “God gives the heaviest burdens to the strongest backs.” 
  • Nick tells his neighbor about his hardships. She says, “When I was a little girl in Mexico, my mother used to read me a poem. It was about doing the right things to get into heaven so that one day God could answer all our questions about why things in our life happened the way they did.”  
  • Nick’s father talks about being an illegal immigrant. He says, “We have to put our trust in God until my beautiful daughter turns twenty-one.”  

The Story of Neil Armstrong: A Biography Book for New Readers

Neil Armstrong is one of the most famous astronauts in history. He became the first person to walk on the moon because of his hard work, admirable fortitude, and determined attitude. His experience with NASA changed the course of space exploration forever and he cemented a legacy that continues to be recognized and praised to this day. However, Armstrong’s journey to this life-changing moment wasn’t easy, and his life was full of ups and downs.  

Born on August 5th, 1930, Armstrong grew up in the small town of Wapakoneta, Ohio, during the Great Depression. Despite the challenging economic times, Armstrong loved airplanes, and his dedication to studying and flying them led to his eventual enrollment in college and the Navy. Armstrong’s life took a turn when he applied to become an astronaut for NASA. He was dedicated to NASA’s big mission: to land a man on the moon. But NASA’s training proved difficult for Armstrong, and he struggled to balance his economic issues, familial matters, and astronaut training. How did Armstrong handle the pressure to become the first person to reach the moon? 

The Story of Neil Armstrong is a biographical story about Neil Armstrong’s journey as an astronaut. Told from the perspective of an outside narrator, the book follows Armstrong’s life, starting with his early childhood and ending with his retirement from NASA. While other characters appear throughout the story, such as Armstrong’s wife, Janet, the story mainly focuses on Armstrong. As such, Armstrong is portrayed as an aspiring leader whose dedication to succeed will inspire and motivate readers. Although readers won’t be able to relate to Armstrong’s experience as an astronaut, they can relate to the ups and downs that accompanied him during his life. In fact, it is because of his successes and failures that his life comes across as very realistic and genuine.  

The biography displays a positive outlook on the themes of exploration, fortitude, and perseverance. Although Armstrong encountered difficult situations, his calming attitude and unbreakable courage highlight the book’s message about pursuing one’s dream and never giving up. The Story of Neil Armstrong challenges readers to chase after their passions and not shy away from trying new things. After all, Neil Armstrong is known “as the man who led the way.” 

The Story of Neil Armstrong is part of a series called Story Of: A Biography for New Readers. As such, the book is educationally oriented and includes additional supplementary material like fun facts, discussion questions, a reading quiz, and a glossary. Hand-drawn illustrations are sprinkled in every one to three pages, and the back of the book contains real-life photographs that highlight the important aspects of Armstrong’s life. While some of the text may be challenging for younger readers, The Story of Neil Armstrong presents an exciting tale about one of history’s most famous astronauts. It’s an engaging story that will hook readers, young and old, from page one and challenge them to shoot for the stars. 

To learn more about space exploration and Neil Armstrong, read Apollo 13 by Kathleen Weidner Zoehfeld and The Race to Space Countdown to Liftoff by Erik Slader & Ben Thompson. 

Sexual Content 

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Violence 

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Drugs and Alcohol 

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Language 

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Supernatural 

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Spiritual Content 

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Ballerina Dreams: From Orphan to Dancer

At the age of three, Michaela DePrince found a photo of a ballerina that changed her life. She was living in an orphanage in Sierra Leone at the time, but soon she was adopted by a family and brought to America. Michaela never forgot the photo of the dancer she once saw, and she quickly decided to make her dream of becoming a ballerina come true. She has been dancing ever since and is now a principal dancer in New York City. She has also been featured in the ballet documentary First Position, as well as Dancing with the Stars, Good Morning America, and Oprah magazine. 

Ballerina Dreams is told from Michaela’s point of view. The story uses a friendly tone that makes the reader feel as if they know Michaela personally. While in the orphanage, Michaela’s teacher said, “You can become a ballerina, too, if you take lessons for many years, if you work hard, and if you practice every day.” While Michaela’s story has a happy ending, she acknowledges her fears and explains how she overcame them. Her motivational story shows the importance of hard work and perseverance.  

As part of the Ready To Read Level 4 Series, Ballerina Dreams is intended for children who can read independently. The story is told using short chapters. The paragraphs are short and use simple sentences. Most pages have full-color illustrations or photographs of Michaela to break up the text. However, some pages do not have pictures.  

Ballerina Dreams is an inspiring story that encourages readers to aspire to great heights. The informative book explains how Michaela was able to make her dreams come true. Michaela encourages readers by saying, “It doesn’t matter if you dream of being a doctor, a teacher, a writer, or a ballerina. Every dream begins with one step. After that, you must work hard and practice every day. If you never give up, your dream will come true.” For another inspirational biography, pair Ballerina Dreams with A Girl Named Misty by Kelly Starling Lyons. Readers who love ballet should also read the picture books Tallulah’s Tutu by Marilyn Singer and Parker Shines On by Parker Curry & Jessica Curry. 

Sexual Content 

  • None 

Violence 

  • Michaela was born in Sierra Leone and her parents “died there in the ongoing war.” 

Drugs and Alcohol 

  • None 

Language 

  • None 

Supernatural 

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Spiritual Content 

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One Tiny Turtle

Unlike their notoriously slow counterparts on land, sea turtles travel thousands of miles each year. This makes them very difficult to research, and much is still unknown about their mysterious lives. In One Tiny Turtle, zoologist and author Nicola Davies describes the known life cycle of the loggerhead turtle, one of seven species of sea turtles. Readers will follow the turtle from her time as an infant living beneath a patch of seaweed to her adulthood when she lays her own eggs on a beach before disappearing back into her mysterious life beneath the sea. 

One Tiny Turtle is an informative book that grabs readers’ attention through Davies’ beautiful prose and illustrator Jane Chapman’s vibrant, realistic art. Like all books in the Read and Wonder series, One Tiny Turtle includes a fun fact about its subject on every page. For example, in a page describing the loggerheads’ swimming process, a small caption informs readers that sea turtles can spend hours underwater while asleep and only come up for air every four or five minutes while awake.   

One Tiny Turtle is an accessible book for younger readers, with one to eight short sentences per page. A prolific children’s author, Davies captures young readers’ imagination through her rich and descriptive writing. For example, she describes a baby turtle as “not much bigger than a bottle top, she hides in the green shadows.”  The colorful and detailed illustrations help readers understand the turtle’s life and habitat. Chapman’s photorealistic sea creatures blend beautifully with the greens and blues of the sea.  

Although it is a nonfiction book, One Tiny Turtle is sure to engage readers’ curiosity and leave them wondering about a species whose mysteries are still being uncovered. As part of the Read and Wonder Series, One Tiny Turtle is meant for younger readers. It is intended to be read aloud to a child, rather than for the child to read it for the first time independently. The book is fascinating and educational and will help readers understand the mysteries of turtles.  

Introduce your young readers to more lovable sea creatures by reading Otters Love to Play by Jonathan London. Sea-loving readers can also learn life lessons by reading the Pout-Pout Fish Adventure picture book series by Deborah Diesen.  

Sexual Content 

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Violence 

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Drugs and Alcohol 

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Language 

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Supernatural 

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Spiritual Content 

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Nowheresville

Nat is proud of her mom for getting her dream job. But did she have to move them out of Philadelphia and into a small town in rural Pennsylvania? Who would choose to leave behind their friends, favorite falafel spot, and fun block parties for green fields and grazing cows? Nat is convinced there isn’t anything to love about her new hometown. . . but then she meets her cute next-door neighbor and his even cuter horse, Ghost. Can they help Nat embrace her new life as a small-town girl? 

Anyone who has dealt with moving will relate to Nat’s difficulty adjusting to a small town. Like all preteens, Nat worries about meeting new friends and fitting into her new community. It doesn’t take long for Nat to meet Logan, her cute neighbor, or for two mean girls to target her. The two mean girls trick Nat into flirting with Logan. While Nat’s attempt at flirting is embarrassing, Logan kindly tells Nat that he just wants to be friends. Nat’s relationship with Logan is sweet, and Nat realizes “I wasn’t ready for all that boy-girl stuff yet . . . That didn’t mean I wanted to stop hanging out with Logan.” In the end, the two end up developing a friendship through their love of horses.   

Nat is a very likable protagonist. One reason Nat is so likable is because she is an unselfish friend who empathizes with others. When a mean girl tells Nat, “If anyone saw you with Horrid Harper, your reputation would be totally nerfed,” Nat doesn’t allow the girls to influence her decisions. Instead, she quickly returns to her conversation with Harper. In addition to being a good friend, Nat is also a hard worker. When Nat discovers that Ghost is going to be sold, she brainstorms ideas to make enough money to buy Ghost herself. With the help of her new friends and her old friends from Philadelphia, Nat earns enough money to become a horse owner. 

Nowheresville will have wide appeal because of the likable characters, the relatable conflicts, and the cute horses. The easy-to-read story has a straightforward plot that teaches the value of hard work. While none of the supporting characters are well-developed, they’re unique enough to add interest to the story, and they highlight the importance of having strong friendships. Readers will enjoy seeing Nat learn about life in rural America and will fall in love with Ghost alongside her. If you’re looking for more horse stories, try jumping into these books: Hollywood by Samantha M. Clark, Horse Girl by Carrie Seim, and Ride On by Faith Erin Hicks.  

Sexual Content 

  • One of the girls has two moms.  
  • When Nat meets the boy next door, she wonders if he was flirting with her. Nat thinks, “What did flirting look like anyways? I’d heard Johari’s sister talk about it, but I still wasn’t sure.”  
  • In an attempt to embarrass Nat, two mean girls show up at Logan’s barn and ask if Nat and Logan have been kissing.  

Violence 

  • While Nat is caring for the horses, two mean girls show up. After a brief conversation, the girls “were trying to scare the horses through the broken fence! When one of the girls tossed a handful of dirt into the paddock, Belle bolted wildly, bucking and snorting. She kicked out at Ghost as she passed, sending him jumping to one side.” Ghost gets out of the paddock, but Nat is able to calm him down and return him safely.  

Drugs and Alcohol 

  • None 

Language 

  • A mean girl tells Nat, “If anyone saw you with Horrid Harper, your reputation would be totally nerfed.” 
  • Nat thinks, “What the heck?” 
  • The mean girls give Nat bad advice on purpose. When Nat figures it out, she thinks, “Those rats!” 
  • Nat calls the mean girls jerks.  

Supernatural 

  • None

Spiritual Content 

  • One of Nat’s friends goes to church on Sundays. 

Dinosaurs: The Fastest, The Fiercest, The Most Amazing

Which dinosaur could run as fast as a modern-day racehorse? Which dinosaur used its razor-sharp claws to rip apart its prey? Which dinosaur laid eggs as big as watermelons?  

You’ll find the answers to these questions—and more!—inside Dinosaurs: The Fastest, The Fiercest, The Most Amazing. Readers will meet 21 of the most amazing dinosaurs ever to roam the earth. Spectacular illustrations bring all of the excitement and drama of the prehistoric era to life. Plus, there’s a combination timeline and comparative size chart that will help readers imagine how they would feel standing next to a Seismosaurus (which was half as long as a football field) or a Compsognathus (which was as small as a pigeon). 

Dinosaurs is similar to a picture book because each page has a full-page illustration with a short paragraph about the dinosaur that appears on the page. The realistic dinosaur illustrations make readers feel as if they have stepped into the dinosaurs’ world. The illustrations also allow readers to see each dinosaur’s habitat. Several pages include fighting dinosaurs, but only one illustration shows blood.  

Any readers who are interested in learning more about the dinosaurs who roamed the earth millions of years ago should read Dinosaurs. The book includes interesting facts about each dinosaur. Many of the passages explain details in easy-to-understand language. For example, the Gallimimus could race “as fast as any racehorse” and the Pterosaur was “as big as a small airplane.” The book is organized in a way that helps readers make comparisons. For instance, the fastest dinosaur and slowest dinosaur appear on the same two-page spread. Because the book’s format focuses on the illustrations, the book is a quick read that doesn’t go into extensive detail about each dinosaur; this makes the book perfect for young readers as well as reluctant readers.  

Dinosaurs will take readers on a walk from the Triassic Era to the Quaternary Era. The wonderful illustrations will give readers a sense of being in the scene, and the facts are interesting and educational. Each dinosaur is only given a paragraph of facts, but readers can learn more by reading 

Finding the First T. Rex by Kathleen Weidner Zoehfeld and Ancient Animals: Plesiosaur by Sarah L. Thomson. However, if you want some fabulous dinosaur fiction instead, take a bite out of Don’t Disturb the Dinosaurs by Ada Hopper or The Dino Files Series by Stacy McAnulty.  

Sexual Content 

  • None 

Violence 

  • Dinosaurs’ eating habits are discussed. For example, “Tyrannosaurus attacked other dinosaurs by running into them with its jaws wide open. Then it used its tiny but strong front arms to hold on to its dinner.” The illustration shows the Tyrannosaurus stepping on a dead dinosaur.  
  • The Deinonychus “held on its dinner with its strong fingers and used the big claw on each of its back feet to rip apart its prey.”  
  • The Triceratops had “the biggest skull of a land animal ever found. Some skulls have been found with holes in them, which tells scientist that Triceratops also used their horns when fighting each other.” 

Drugs and Alcohol 

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Language 

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Supernatural 

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Spiritual Content 

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Mission Manhattan

Thirteen-year-old Rio—known by his cover name, Rafael Rocha—is a skilled street magician who loves all things food and has the ability to charm almost everyone who crosses his path. Such is the case when the City Spies travel to Venice to protect a young environmental activist named Beatriz. Thrilled to meet a fellow Brazilian, Beatriz invites Rafael to her appearance at a nearby United Nations conference. When Rafael spots a bomb on their boat, his quick thinking helps get everyone evacuated safely. Rafael is hailed as a hero and thrust into the spotlight—which is the last thing any spy would ever want. 

With the activist still in danger, the City Spies follow her first to Washington, DC, and then to New York City as she continues to speak out for her cause. Thanks to Rio’s heroic efforts, they have to work extra hard to maintain their cover. And when unforeseen circumstances take both adults, Mother and Monty, out of commission, the spies’ skills are put to the ultimate test. Can they succeed in one of their most complex missions to date, without the adults’ help?   

The fifth installment of the City Spies Series is another fast-paced mystery that will keep readers entertained until the very end. Mission Manhattan and the other books in the series must be read to understand the City Spies’ background and dynamics. In Mission Manhattan, the kids break into two groups. One group must keep Beatriz safe until she speaks to the delegates of the United Nations. The second group must find Mother, who was kidnapped. During the City Spies’ complex mission, they rely on a host of people to assist them. The large cast of characters and the complicated plot add interest, but may be difficult for some readers to follow.  

The City Spies’ job is to keep Beatriz, a young environmental activist, safe. Despite this, Beatriz and her cause are not the main focus. Instead, the City Spies spend much of their time trying to discover who wants to stop Beatriz from speaking to the United Nations. Nevertheless, Beatriz’s message is clear: to protect the environment, young people must speak up. Beatriz says, “The temperature is rising. The oceans are rising. But the young people of the world are rising too. We are rising to our feet to demand action from our leaders.” While the story doesn’t give examples of how readers can help the environment, readers will be inspired by Beatriz, who is determined to make an impact on the world.  

Mission Manhattan highlights the importance of teamwork and the importance of trusting yourself. The book’s conclusion shows the City Spies becoming an even closer family who now fully trust their newest member, Cairo. But be warned! The book ends on a cliffhanger that will leave readers wondering if Cairo’s mother will be the next big threat to the City Spies.  

Sexual Content 

  • None

Violence 

  • Rio and other climate change activists are on a boat, heading to speak to world leaders. Rio finds a bomb and everyone jumps out. “BOOM! Rio was frantically swimming away from the boat, so he didn’t see the explosion. . . a plume of smoke coming from the stern indicated that there was now a fire where they’d been standing moments before.” No one is injured. 
  • After being poisoned, Mother wakes up with “something pinching his wrists and ankles and realized that he was tied to a chair.” His captors had used zip ties, duct tape, and rope. Later, “Mother couldn’t feel his fingertips, and that was troubling. Not only had he been poisoned by Ferreira, but the others had also injected him on two separate occasions with some sort of drugs that knocked him unconscious for a couple of hours.”  
  • Cairo finds Mother and starts to cut him loose. A bad guy, nicknamed Jelly, “raced into the room and tackled Cairo. Cairo and Jelly wrestled on the floor for a moment, yelling and screaming while they did. And then, suddenly Jelly went limp.” Mother had injected Jelly with the poison. 
  • After Jelly is drugged, the City Spies bind and gag him. Then, they take Jelly to the Italian embassy, where he is arrested. 
  • To warn Beatriz of danger, the City Spies must talk to Beatriz alone. To do so, the City Spies purchase tickets to a gala that Beatriz is speaking at. Then, Brooklyn “accidentally” spills tea on Beatriz and they go to the restroom to clean up the mess. When Rio steps out of a bathroom stall, Beatriz “looked like she was about to shriek, but Sydney put a hand over her mouth. . . She went to yell anyway, so Sydney clamped harder, and Beatriz tried to break free.” After a few minutes of struggling, Beatriz decides to trust the City Spies and leaves the gala. 

Drugs and Alcohol 

  • One of the bad guys, Ferreira, poisons Mother’s tea. Mother’s “speech began to slur, and his vision turned blurry. One of the last things he saw was the empty vial in Ferreira’s hand as the poison took effect.” When Mother wakes up, “there was a throbbing pain in his head and a bitter taste on his tongue. He felt like he was in a fog.” Later, Mother is taken to the hospital to make sure the poison doesn’t have long-lasting effects. 

Language 

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Supernatural 

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Spiritual Content 

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Ants in Your Pants, Worms in Your Plants!

Gilbert has trouble coming up with ideas. He couldn’t think of a springtime poem, and now he needs an idea for an Earth Day project! Everyone else in Mrs. Byrd’s class is busy working on posters about recycling, saving water, and electricity—but Gilbert wants to do something original. When a distressing class picnic becomes a source of inspiration, Gilbert finally comes up with an Earth Day project that even Mrs. Byrd thinks is the best idea yet!  

Gilbert is a loveable and relatable protagonist who has difficulty concentrating in class. Gilbert “wiggled, and jiggled and squirmed in his seat.” Throughout the day, he tries to come up with an Earth Day project, but he doesn’t have any good ideas. But then, Gilbert sits down and gives himself time to think, and he finds the perfect solution. Readers will be eager to see Gilbert’s Earth Day project, but it’s not revealed until the end of the story. This keeps readers in suspense as they learn about the other students’ projects. 

Readers will learn how simple actions can make a big impact in caring for the earth. From recycling to riding bikes, and turning off lights. All of the ideas presented are easy enough to be implemented by young readers. Gilbert’s project—planting a tree—shows that while the tree is small, “someday it will be big enough to shade this hill and make it a perfect place for a picnic.” Even though Ants in Your Pants, Worms in Your Plants! teaches the importance of caring for the planet, the lesson is never preachy. Instead, each character gives an example of how they can make the world better. 

Ants in Your Pants, Worms in Your Plants! is intended for readers five and older. Beginning readers will need help because of the book’s complex sentences and unfamiliar words. While the book is engaging, it will not make a good bedtime story due to the text-heavy pages, which have up to five long sentences. Each page has a full-page illustration that uses bright colors. The illustrations will help readers understand the plot as well as visualize the many animal characters.  

Learn about Earth Day and conservation by reading Ants in Your Pants, Worms in Your Plants! Much of the story’s action takes place at Gilbert’s school, but his two-parent family is also portrayed positively. When Gilbert is unable to come up with an Earth Day project, his family gives him suggestions, but Gilbert doesn’t use any of them. Instead, he uses quiet time to come up with his own idea. Ants in Your Pants, Worms in Your Plants! is an excellent book to read with a child. If you’d like to encourage readers to care for the earth, add Rocket Says Clean Up by Nathan Bryon to your reading list. If you’d like to introduce readers to more educational subjects, Mr. Tiffin’s Classroom Series by Margaret McNamara would be a good series to check out. 

Sexual Content 

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Violence 

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Drugs and Alcohol 

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Language 

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Supernatural 

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Spiritual Content 

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Sports Illustrated Kids Pro Files: Baseball

Sports Illustrated Kids Pro Files: Baseball is a must-have book for every young baseball fan and player. The book profiles seven of the big leagues’ hottest stars and features SI Kids’ signature content: great writing, fun trivia, amazing statistics, and dynamic photography. But Pro Files: Baseball also delves deeper, providing insider tips from major league coaches on how to hit, pitch, and field just like the stars in the book. Experts help break down each baseball skill so that young players can learn to play like the pros.   

Each player—Albert Pujols, Evan Longoria, Roy Halladay, Joe Mauer, Josh Hamilton, Justin Verlander, and Joey Votto—has six pages dedicated to them. The first two-page spread includes an illustration of the player in action and basic facts such as height, weight, hometown, etc. The second two-page spread includes information about their early careers. There are also career stats and random insider information such as the player’s favorite cereal and the athlete they admired as a kid. In addition, readers will learn more about the players’ skills and why they love the game.  

Pro Files: Baseball uses a reader-friendly format similar to a picture book, which will appeal to even the most reluctant readers. Each page uses bright colors, infographics, and photographs of the players in action. While the book includes a lot of information about the players, each section is broken into small parts with a headline. In addition, most of the sports statistics are put in infographics which make them easy to understand. Best of all, Pro Files: Baseball shows the unique skills that players use for their specific positions, such as what skills make Joey Votto an amazing first baseman.  

Readers who love baseball will want to read Pro Files: Baseball because it’s packed full of interesting facts. Another positive aspect of the book is that it shows the hard work and dedication involved in making it to the major leagues. Plus, Pro Files: Baseball shows obstacles that the players had to overcome on their way to the pros.  

Any reader who wants to learn more about the game of baseball should put Pro Files: Baseball at the top of their reading list. Baseball fans can also learn about one of the most legendary baseball players of all time by reading Babe Ruth and the Baseball Curse by David A. Kelly. However, if you’d like to add some more historical fiction to your baseball reading list, The Brooklyn Nine by Alan Gratz is a must-read. 

Sexual Content 

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Violence 

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Drugs and Alcohol 

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Supernatural 

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Spiritual Content 

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Ground Zero

September 11, 2001, New York City: Brandon is visiting his dad at work, on the 107th floor of the World Trade Center. Out of nowhere, an airplane slams into the tower, creating a fiery nightmare of terror and confusion. And Brandon is in the middle of it all. Can he survive — and escape? 

September 11, 2019, Afghanistan: Reshmina has grown up in the shadow of war, but she dreams of peace and progress. When a battle erupts in her village, Reshmina stumbles upon a wounded American soldier named Taz. Should she help Taz — and put herself and her family in mortal danger? 

Two kids. One devastating day. Nothing will ever be the same. 

Ground Zero focuses on Brandon and Reshmina’s perspectives. Although the time period is different for the protagonists, the chapters switch perspectives every other chapter. This makes both characters’ conflicts feel immediate and allows readers to see the parallels between Brandon and Reshmina’s stories. Even though both of the protagonists are young, they are forced into life-and-death situations that show the evils of terrorism. In addition, both Brandon and Reshmina lose an innocent family member who is killed due to no fault of their own.  

Brandon’s and Reshmina’s stories explore the complicated relations between Afghanistan and America. Neither of the protagonists understands why the violence is happening to them. All they know is that violence has caused death and destruction for those around them. One issue that is briefly discussed is how “big countries made money selling weapons to little countries [Afghanistan]. Who they killed with those weapons wasn’t any of the big countries’ concerns.” In the end, Ground Zero leaves the reader wondering if the United States has become a “bully” to Afghanistan. 

Readers will feel compassion for Reshmina and come away with a new understanding of how girls are treated by the Taliban. Even though Reshmina lives in a village where girls have few rights, she still dreams of becoming an interpreter. This dream propels her to study hard and gives her hope for the future. When Reshmina sees a wounded American soldier, she is reluctant to help. But when the soldier asks for assistance, Reshmina takes him home and her family agrees to give him refuge. This causes a myriad of problems for Reshmina’s family and village. Afterward, Reshmina wonders if helping the soldier is the right thing to do. This experience helps her realize that, “Moving forward was scary. Sometimes you make mistakes. Sometimes you take the wrong path. And sometimes, even when you take the right path, things could go wrong. But Reshmina realized that she wanted—needed—to keep moving forward, no matter what.”  

Ground Zero helps readers understand the events of 9/11 and the lasting impact 9/11 had on Afghanistan. While both Brandon’s and Reshmina’s stories are compelling, Reshmina’s side of the story makes readers question the nature of war. Both protagonists describe violence, and some of the descriptions are graphic and disturbing. After reading Ground Zero, readers will be able to visualize what happened in the Twin Towers after the planes crashed into them as well as the destruction of Reshmina’s village. Since Ground Zero explores how 9/11 changed America and Afghanistan, younger readers may have difficulty processing the difficult topic.  

Mature readers will find Ground Zero compelling and thought-provoking. However, readers who are interested in learning more about 9/11 without the graphic images may want to read Towers Falling by Jewell Parker Rhodes, Molly and the Twin Towers: A 9/11 Survival Story by Jessika Fleck or I Survived the Attacks of September 11, 2001 by Lauren Tarshis. 

Sexual Content 

  • None 

Violence 

  • Because the story focuses on the terror attacks and a war, not all of the book’s violence is described below. 
  • A boy at school brought “these Wolverine gloves to school, like from the X-Men movie. And Stuart Pendleton stole them and wouldn’t give them back!” Brandon hits Stuart Pendleton in the nose. Brandon said, “Once I saw his nose was bleeding, I helped him up and took him to the nurse’s office.” 

World Trade Center, 2001 

  • A group of people are stuck on an elevator that keeps sliding down the shaft. A woman decides to run through a fire to get out of the elevator. “The woman burst into flames. She screamed and beat at her burning hair as she collapsed to the floor. . .” The woman rolled and a man “beat the last of the flames with the wet shirt he carried.” The woman’s “hair was gone, and her hands and arms were burned. Badly. . . The burned woman wept. Blisters were forming all over her body.” The scene is described over two pages.  
  • After the woman gets out of the elevator, it falls. “The four people in it were surely dead.” 
  • Brandon watches as an airplane flies into the South Tower. “Suddenly a bright orange fireball erupted from the side of the South Tower facing them.” This is when people began to realize that it wasn’t an accident, that instead the planes had purposely flown into the towers. 
  • Several times, Brandon mentions people falling to their death. As Brandon is leaving the tower, “Out on the plaza between the North Tower and the South Tower were bodies. And parts of bodies. Broken, bloody things too awful to think about. . . A piece of metal crashed into the plaza—SHANG!—and Brandon flinched. The big beam was immediately followed by something white and blue and brown plummeting down from above, and it hit the ground with a sickening THUMP!” 
  • In the lobby of the tower, Brandon saw “dozens, hundreds of bodies were lined up in rows across the floor. Some of them were missing limbs. Others had open wounds. Paramedics moved the burned, broken, and dying people, doing what they could.”  
  • When the tower falls, “with a roar like a garbage truck, a blast of smoke and dust lifted Brandon off his feet and hurled him into darkness.” 
  • When Brandon gets out of the tower, he sees people falling from the North Tower. “People were still jumping from the tower, falling ninety floors to their deaths. They dropped out of the thick black smoke that engulfed the top of the building with alarming speed, arms and legs flailing. Brandon saw one man reaching, grabbing as he fell, too far from anything to stop himself, his tie sticking straight up in the air above him.”  

Afghanistan, 2019  

  • When the Taliban ruled Afghanistan, “the Taliban beat men for not growing beards, massacred families, burned down schools, and put on public executions in the soccer stadium in Afghanistan’s capital, Kabul. . . [they] beat women who left their houses without a male family member, and sold girls into slavery.”  
  • Reshmina’s sister, who was only 16, is killed on her wedding day by an American drone. Reshmina watched as “something small and black detached from the drone and streaked out toward the front of the parade. Toward her sister in her beautiful wedding dress, surrounded by all her friends. Reshmina remembered the whoosh of the missile, the gray trail of smoke behind it and then—” 
  • The Taliban lures the American army into Reshmina’s village. When the army attacks, Reshmina runs home. “THOOM. The ground rocked from a nearby explosion, and dirt rained down from the ceiling. . . Gunfire erupted close enough nearby to rattle the dishes, and Reshmina and Marizia huddled together against the wall. . . The shooting and explosions didn’t seem to bother the baby. He was already used to it.”  
  • Reshmina gets into an argument with her mother. Afterward, Reshmina’s grandmother explains: “When your mother was six, her father was killed by a missile while he was praying in his backyard. When she was your age, her older brother was killed by the Taliban for no reason that has ever been explained to her. Her husband—your father and my son—had his leg mangled by an old Soviet mine right after they were married. . . . Hila was killed by an American bomb.”  
  • After a battle between the Taliban and the Americans, Reshmina finds an injured American soldier. “His face was charred like a scorched pot, and there were dark, wet spots on his uniform. Blood, Reshmina realized. . .”  
  • When Reshmina’s brother decides to join the Taliban, she follows him in order to stop him. While they are arguing, a helicopter appears. “A rocket streaked from one of the Apache’s wings straight toward the ridge where the Taliban had been standing moments before, and F-THOOM!—the hillside exploded. Boulders broke loose from the mountain and tumbled down toward Reshmina.”  
  • The Taliban shoots at the helicopter. “The helicopter descended, getting closer and closer, and the sound of bullets hitting the hillside got louder and louder. . .” The attack is described over seven pages. It is unclear if anyone died.   
  • Reshmina tries to physically stop her brother, Pasoon, from leaving to join the Taliban. “Pasoon hit her hard on the side of her face with his open palm. The blow was so sudden, so brutal, it sent Reshmina to her hands and knees. Rocks cut into her palm. . . Reshmina tasted blood where she’d bitten her own tongue, and her face burned. . .” Pasoon leaves. 
  • The Taliban and Americans battle in Reshmina’s village. “An assault rifle barked, and another fired back. The villagers screamed. . . Taliban bullets struck the guard, and he fell to the ground, dead. . . Huge blasts rocked the village above them, and three more houses exploded in clouds of rock and splinter.” The villagers hide in a cave while their homes are completely destroyed. The battle is described over six pages.  
  • The Taliban dropped a bomb on the cave and “the whole ceiling fell in . . . Reshmina explored the rockfall, looking for a way through. She stopped when she saw the legs of some poor soul sticking out from under a boulder, the rest of the woman’s body crushed in the cave-in.” Later, Reshmina learns that “a few died,” but most of the village survived the cave-in.   

Drugs and Alcohol 

  • Reshmina discovers a field of Poppies. “People didn’t grow poppies for their pretty pink colors. Poopy seeds had a gummy substance that was the raw material for heroin. . . For many Afghans hurt by decades of war, it was the only kind of medicine they could find to erase the suffering—and their awful memories.” 

Language 

  • When the elevator swings back and forth, a man says, “What the hell—.” 
  • When Brandon was trying to find his father, his path is blocked by debris. Brandon repeats “crap” six times. Later, a man says, “Holy crap.” 
  • Oh my God and Good God are used as exclamations several times. 
  • Jesus, damn, and dang are all used once. 
  • Reshmina calls her brother a snake, an idiot, a cowardly worm, stupid, and son of a donkey. 
  • An American soldier has a tattoo that says, “Damn the Valley.” He explains, “This valley [where Reshmina lives]—it kills our friends and ruins our lives.” 
  • An American soldier says, “Dadgum.”  

Supernatural 

  • None 

Spiritual Content 

  • While leaving the Twin Towers, a woman says, “God bless you,” to a firefighter. 
  • When the Taliban and Americans fight near Reshmina’s village, Reshmina prays, “Dear God, please keep Baba and Pasoon safe out there.”   
  • When Reshmina finds an injured American soldier, she thinks about leaving him to die. But when the soldier “specifically asked her for help,” Reshmina is conflicted. “Just as Pashtunwali gave her the right for revenge, it also said that when a person asked for help or protection, no Pashtun could refuse—no matter who was asking, friend or foe.” Pashtunwali is the tribal code of the Pushtan people from Afghanistan, which Reshmina follows. Reshmina allows the soldier to follow her home.  
  • A textbook from Reshmina’s school said: “J is for Jihad. Jihad is the kind of war that Muslims fight in the name of God to free Muslims and Muslim lands from the enemies of Islam.” 
  • While hiding from a battle, Reshmina and her brother hide with a group of Nomads called the Kochi. When the Kochi pray, “Reshmina and her brother felt obligated to join them. . . God was forgiving and merciful and would still accept their prayers if He willed it. Better to pray than to not pray, their father always told them.” 
  • As Reshmina prays, she asks, “Please help turn my brother’s heart from revenge. Please show him another path.” 
  • Reshmina asks God for a du’a. “A special request in a time of need. . . God promised to answer a du’a in one of three ways. The first. . . was when God gave you what you asked for. . .The second was to give you what you prayed for, but at some later date. The third was to not give you what you asked for at all, but instead to prevent some other hardship or injury from happening to you.”  
  • After several villagers die, Reshmina’s father says, “To God we belong, and to God we return.”  

The Story of Babe Ruth: A Biography Book for New Reader

Babe Ruth is one of the greatest players in the game of baseball. Known as the “Colossus of Swat” and the “King of Crash,” Ruth cemented his legacy as the game’s most prolific homerun hitter, amassing over 714 home runs throughout his career. His talent and character on and off the field inspired millions of rising big leaguers, and his career forever changed the sport. However, Ruth wasn’t always a baseball legend.  

Born on February 6, 1895, in Baltimore, Babe Ruth grew up as a mischievous little boy who is constantly picking fights and getting into trouble. But when his parents send him to St. Mary’s Industrial School for Boys, everything changes: Ruth falls in love with the game of baseball. For the next ten years, Ruth’s dedication to baseball helped him climb the ranks of teams, and he eventually earned a roster spot in the major leagues. Under the big spotlights of New York, Ruth knows that this is his big chance to experience his dream. But can he handle the pressure as a major league player? Or will the challenge prove too difficult? 

The Story of Babe Ruth tells a biographical story about Babe Ruth’s journey as a baseball player. Told from the perspective of an outside narrator, the book follows Ruth’s life, starting with his early childhood years and ending with his retirement from baseball. While other characters appear throughout the story—like Ruth’s wife, Helen—the story mainly focuses on Ruth.  

Ruth is portrayed primarily as an exemplary figure whose perseverance through hardships and commitment to baseball can be admirable and inspirational for readers. Although many readers can’t relate to Ruth’s experience as a major league baseball player, they can find similarities in his messy journey to stardom, where his successes and failures feel realistic and genuine.  

The biography displays a positive outlook on sports, difficulties, and dedication. Although Ruth encountered many obstacles as a rising baseball star, he showed “everyone that it was possible to come from nothing and make it all the way to the top.” Ruth’s fortitude in the moments of adversity will be very encouraging to readers, as it teaches about the power of perseverance. The Story of Babe Ruth challenges its audience not to fear the difficulties in their own lives. 

 Of course, Babe Ruth’s life wasn’t perfect. While the book mainly portrays Ruth in a good light, it also acknowledges that his life was messy and imperfect. There are multiple instances of his struggling marriage or his habit of partying after baseball games. While younger readers may not understand the depth of these actions, these details are minimal, and the biography’s joyful and heartwarming nature is still readily apparent throughout the book. 

The Story of Babe Ruth is part of a series called Story Of: A Biography for New Readers. Thus, the book is educationally oriented and includes supplementary material like fun facts, discussion questions, a reading quiz, and a glossary with real photos from Ruth’s time as a baseball player. Several illustrations are sprinkled throughout the eight short chapters of the book. They typically appear every one to two pages and enhance the plot and message. Although the text can be a little challenging for younger readers, and the inclusion of the darker aspects of Ruth’s life can be heavy, The Story of Babe Ruth is a wonderfully simplified tale about one of baseball’s greatest players. Its engaging story will keep readers, young and old, hooked from page one. 

Sexual Content 

  • None 

Violence 

  • Babe Ruth’s teammates didn’t like that he participated in batting practice because he was a pitcher. As a result, “Babe came to the park to find all his bats had been sawed in half.” 

Drugs and Alcohol 

  • None 

Language 

  • None 

Supernatural 

  • None 

Spiritual Content 

  • None 

Sal and Gabi Break the Universe

When Sal Vidón meets Gabi Reál for the first time, it isn’t under the best of circumstances. Sal is in the principal’s office for the third time in three days, and it’s still the first week of school. Gabi, student council president and editor of the school paper, is there to support her friend Yasmany, who just picked a fight with Sal. She is determined to prove that somehow Sal planted a raw chicken in Yasmany’s locker, even though nobody saw him do it and the bloody poultry has since mysteriously disappeared. 

On his very first day at his new school, Sal meets Gabi Reál, “student council president and obviously one of the smartest kids in school,” and Gabi is absolutely set on understanding how Sal performs some of his most difficult magic tricks.  

Sal feels a bit singled out because of his diabetes, and there are a few instances when Sal struggles to manage his blood sugar. But Sal also has a secret, he can reach into other universes. Sal explains, “We are not alone in the universe my friends . . .There are countless other universes above and beneath our own like pages in a book.” Sal has the unique ability “to see these other worlds” and access them.  

After reaching into another universe, Sal realizes, “All the holes I’d made so far usually didn’t last long . . . [This] hole wasn’t gone yet. That was bad. Until a hole was closed, there was a risk that stuff I didn’t intend to bring over from the other universe would come through on its own.” Sal and his new friend, Gabi, discover that she can also see the holes in the universe, and Sal explains, “I’d never met anyone else who could see [the holes].” Sal and Gabi team up, on a mission to learn more about how to close the holes into other universes.  

Though Hernandez’s novel centers around Sal and Gabi learning more about other universes, as well as how it impacts their universe, Sal’s diabetes is an important theme as well. Sal had to go explain his condition to the principal on the first day of school. Sal’s principal admits, “We’ve never had a student with diabetes before,” but that she will instruct her teachers to learn “how to meet [Sal’s] needs.” Readers will likely learn a great deal about diabetes and readers with diabetes will appreciate being represented by Sal.  

Readers will relate to Sal as he starts at a new school and tries to make new friends. Sal is an empathetic character who puts time and effort into his passions, one of which is magic tricks. Sal consistently makes Gabi and other characters in the book laugh when they are feeling down. Sal explains, “I started studying magic when my mami died. It was a way for me to cope with the pain and to try to take back control of my life . . . That’s why I love performing tricks now. I love to see people’s eyes fill with wonder.” Sal always does his best to make other characters feel happy, saying, “Sometimes, when [life’s] too hard, when it hurts too much, only silliness can save us. And I’m all about doing whatever it takes to help people make it to tomorrow.” 

A major theme of the story is coping with the pain of losing a loved one. Sal often reflects on how much he misses his mom. When Sal is struggling with grief, Sal’s dad reveals, “[Mami’s] death was the worst thing that’s ever happened to either of us . . . I thought my life was over when she died . . . I thought it would kill me, you know. Literally stop my heart.” And when Sal asks his dad what helped him keep going while he was grieving, Sal’s dad says, “You, mijo.” Sal and his father’s bond is a positive force throughout the novel, and they are able to support each other after the loss of Sal’s mother. Readers will learn from this novel to “trust in the people that love you,” and this will help you during the hardest times in life.  

Readers who enjoy fantasy, reading about alternate realities, or magic tricks will adore this book. Hernandez showcases a heartwarming and strong friendship between Sal and Gabi. Sal explains that he and Gabi bonded over embracing the nuances of each other’s families: “Months later, [Gabi] told me the way I had met her interesting, complicated family, pleasantly and without judgment. . . made her think I was the most mature seventh grader she had ever met.” This book discusses more sensitive topics such as grief and struggling to manage type one diabetes, but throughout the novel Sal and Gabi showcase strong friendship, humor, and kindness toward others, and in this way the book maintains an uplifting tone.  

The ending perfectly sets up the second book in the series, Sal and Gabi Save the Universe, as Gabi and Sal have used Sal’s ability to reach between universes to save Gabi’s sick, newborn brother—but they do not know what the consequences of this interference will be. Readers will be on the edge of their seats to see what happens in Sal and Gabi’s next adventure. 

Sexual Content 

  • None 

 Violence 

  • Sal encounters a bully on his first day at school. The bully, Yasmany, “slapped [Sal’s] diabetes bag out of my hands. It hit the ground with a glassy crunch. My stomach crunched right along with it.” Yasmany does eventually apologize to Sal.  
  • Sal and Gabi discover that Yasmany has run away from home because he feels unsafe. After Sal and Gabi help him and take him to eat and stay with Gabi’s family, Sal asks Gabi, “Is Yasmany’s papi a bad guy?” Gabi reveals, “The bad guy is his mom.”  

Drugs and Alcohol 

  • None 

Language 

  • Sal explains a Cuban insult to Gabi, saying, “‘Sapingo’ is a classic Cuban insult. It’s basically how you tell the person whom you are insulting that they’re about as smart as a day-old skid mark.” 
  • At his previous school, the majority of students are white while Sal is Cuban. Sal says, “kids were telling me to ‘go back to brown town’ all the time.”  
  • Sal explains, “‘Cacaseca’ is the word Miami talk-show hosts use instead of BS. It literally means ‘dry poop,’ but it really means ‘Dude, your poop is so played out. Don’t try to play me with your played-out poop.’” 
  • While walking home from school, Sal is nearly hit by a car. Sal explains, “I never even flinched. Not because I am very badass or anything. I was paralyzed. Classic deer-in-headlights syndrome.”  

Supernatural 

  • When doing a magic trick, Sal reaches into another universe and creates a hole. He “made a pretty big rip in the universe inside that locker.” Because of this rip, Sal and Gabi are briefly able to see into another universe, where there is a chicken factory. But the hole does eventually close, and they go back to their own universe.  
  • Because of his ability to reach into other universes, Sal has been able to bring other versions of his Mami into his world. For instance, Sal says, “I had [brought] Mami Muerta back from the dead five times since [her death]. Six including this one.” However, Sal recognizes how each of these versions of Mami is very different from the Mami he knew as a child.  
  • After Sal uses his abilities to reach between universes to save Gabi’s sick, newborn baby brother, Gabi reveals that she thinks her brother has become “a wormhole to another universe.” This sets up the plot for the second book in the series, Sal and Gabi Save the Universe 

Spiritual Content 

  • Sal’s classmate, Gladis, wears a necklace with an “ojo turco.” Sal explains, “An ojo turco is a piece of blue glass with a blue eyeball painted on it. People wear them on necklaces and bracelets to protect them against the evil eye.”  
  • Sal explains that Mami would “tell me stories about how a brujo [witch] could make you sick, make your cows give blood instead of milk, turn your hair white, age you in five seconds, all sorts of stuff.” 
  • When Sal takes Gabi into another universe for the first time, the people living in the other universe think Sal and Gabi are “evil spirits, or devils, or something. She says she is going to kick us in the butt three times and send us back to hell.” Sal and Gabi convince the lady from the other universe that they are “good spirits.” 
  • Even though Gabi’s newborn brother is in the NICU and does not have a positive prognosis, Gabi’s mom says, “I lost my faith for a while, too. Do you know how I got it back. . . God is just another word for ‘goodness.’ Every time we do a good thing, God grows. Inside us.” 

Breaking Stalin’s Nose

Ten-year-old Sasha Zaichik wants nothing more than to join the Soviet Young Pioneers. After all, he has had their laws memorized since he was six years old: 

  • A Young Pioneer is devoted to Comrade Stalin, the Communist Party, and Communism.  
  • A Young Pioneer is a reliable comrade and always acts according to conscience.  
  • A Young Pioneer has a right to criticize shortcomings.  

But the night before Sasha is to join the Young Pioneers, his father is arrested. Sasha knows this is a mistake. His father, after all, is a devoted communist. But as bad turns to worse and events spin out of control, Sasha begins to realize that not everyone’s life is full of faith in Comrade Stalin.  

As Sasha begins to see how the Soviet Union treats those who are not in favor—those with family who have been arrested, those who refuse to be a snitch and give the Secret Police names or those who simply do not obey fast enough or fervently enough—Sasha begins to doubt that he wants to join the Young Pioneers after all.  

Eugene Yelchin’s first-hand experience living in the Soviet Union shines through in this intimate and heart-breaking story about Sasha. The details of daily life in the Soviet Union will fascinate readers: from living in a communal apartment to admiring pictures of Stalin and singing Communist songs. But the heart of the story comes from Sasha’s relationship with his father and his emotional journey once his father is arrested.  

Readers will relate to the deep love and trust Sasha has with his father. When he is arrested, Sasha does not doubt his father for a moment. Sasha knows the arrest was a mistake, and trusts Stalin will soon realize this and release his father. It’s only as events continue to unfold—and new facts come to light—that Sasha begins to lose the rose-colored glasses with which he has been taught to view the world.  

Breaking Stalin’s Nose is a wonderful story that will help readers understand life in the Soviet Union. It provides a glimpse into how fear, propaganda, and glorification of Stalin led so many people to obey the Communist reign. Sasha’s authentic voice and deep love for his father make him a relatable narrator. While Sasha fully believes in Stalin at the beginning of the book, his emotional journey to deciding for himself if it’s right to join the Young Pioneers emphasizes the importance of thinking for oneself and not blindly accepting people in authority.  

In the end, Sasha chooses to follow the path that he feels is right. While the future seems bleak, Sasha is at peace with his decision and has hope that one day there will come a better future for the Russian people. For anyone interested in the Soviet Union, this story is a must-read. Its plot takes place over two days yet is packed with cultural and emotional punch that will stay with readers long after they turn the final page.  

Sexual Content 

  • None 

Violence 

  • State Security comes to arrest Sasha’s father in the middle of the night. “When I get to the room, Dad is sitting on the floor, holding his ear. The officer’s leather belt creaks as he turns to look at me . . . this close, I see [my father’s] ear is bleeding.”  
  • Sasha tries to get into the Kremlin to ask Stalin to release his father. When the guards see him, one “swears, steam bursts out of his mouth, and he plunges his enormous mitten into my face. I duck under and run. The guard blows a whistle and the other whistles join in. Suddenly, guards are everywhere. One slips and falls, and his pistol goes off like a whip crack.” Sasha is unharmed.  
  • At school, the students gang up on a kid they call “Four-Eyes” during a snowball fight. “Vovka is lifting a snowball, but he doesn’t throw it at me. He throws it at Four-Eyes. Several kids join Vovka and line up into a firing squad. They hurl snowballs at Four-Eyes and he covers his face to protect his glasses.”  
  • Sasha doesn’t feel like throwing snowballs at Four-Eyes, but other kids cry, “Traitor! Enemy of the people!” Vovka declares that “Who’s not with us is against us.” Sasha gives into the pressure and “before I know what I’m doing, I grab the snowball from Vovka’s hand and throw it at Four-Eyes. There’s a loud pop as it hits him in the face. The eyeglasses snap, glass splinters and one shard cuts his cheek.”  
  • Vovka takes a banner from Sasha and “jabs me in the stomach.”  
  • To quiet a crowd, a man “pulls out his pistol, and points it at the ceiling.” He does not fire the weapon.  
  • When the students are walking in a line, Sasha stops and “someone punches me in the back” so that Sasha will “fall in with everybody again.”  
  • After being repeatedly taunted by his teacher—Nina Patrovna—Vovka “flies at Nina Patrovna, grips her by the throat, and begins strangling her. Nina Petrovna’s face turns red and her eyes bulge. She makes gurgling noises and starts kicking up her legs. Nina Petrovna and Vovka knock things to the floor and bump into desks.” Vovka is dragged off to the principal’s office.  
  • While at the principal’s office, Vovka “bumps into Nina Petrovna, who is walking out; she shrieks and leaps back. Vovka gives her a nasty grin and goes in.”  
  • Sasha climbs on a desk with a banner and sings “A Bright Future Is Open to Us.” The teacher chases him, trying to get him to stop. The teacher “tries to grab my foot, but I’m faster. I hop from desk to desk, shouting the song and waving the banner. Nina Petrovna chases after me. Everyone’s laughing. Then I miss a desktop and go down, and right away she’s on top of me, screeching and wrestling the banner out of my hands.”  
  • When the teacher is accused of breaking Stalin’s statue, State Security guards “twist Nina Petrovna’s arms and drag her to the door. She screams and kicks and tries to hold on to nearby kids. They duck under her arms, laughing.”  
  • When Sasha goes to visit his father in prison, a guard yells “Step back!” The guard “aims the rifle at me. He looks like he’d shoot a kid, so I stop.” The guard directs Sasha to get in a line. 

Drugs and Alcohol 

  • The nose is accidentally broken off of a Stalin statue; Sasha imagines the nose is talking to him. “By the window hangs a cloud of tobacco smoke so thick, I can’t see who is talking . . . the smoke drifts away, and now I see who’s sitting in that chair—Comrade Stalin’s plaster nose, and it’s smoking a pipe!”  
  • When speaking to a State Security Senior Lieutenant, Sasha thinks “this close, I can smell him. Tobacco, sweat, and something else. Gunpowder, I decide.”  

Language 

  • When Sasha’s father is awarded the order of the Red Banner, Comrade Stalin calls him “an iron broom purging the vermin from our midst.”  
  • Sasha is called an “Amerikanetz” because his mother was American. The term is considered an insult.  
  • A Jewish kid is mocked and called Four-Eyes. “Four-Eyes is Borka Finkelstein, the only Jewish kid in our class . . .we call him Four-Eyes because he wears eyeglasses. Anybody who’s not a worker or a peasant and reads a lot, we call Four-Eyes.”  

Supernatural 

  • None 

Spiritual Content 

  • None 

Hello, Horse

While paying his friend Catherine a visit, a boy encounters something unexpected: Catherine’s horse. The boy isn’t sure if he likes horses, but Catherine shows him that he has nothing to worry about with her horse, Shannon. “Shannon likes people,” she assures him. “And you’ll like Shannon.” 

Catherine takes the boy to the fenced-in field behind her house. There, the boy meets Shannon. Although apprehensive, the boy listens to Catherine as she teaches him how to feed Shannon, how to lead her, how to groom her, and finally how to ride her. The boy might have been scared of horses at the start of the day, but as he rides Shannon across the field, he knows he has made a new friend.  

Hello, Horse teaches readers the dos and don’ts of cooperating with a horse through a short, pleasant story and beautiful, hand-painted art. Readers will follow Catherine’s lessons as she explains them to the boy. At the bottom of each page, an additional fact about horses elaborates on Catherine’s lesson. For example, as the boy feeds Shannon a carrot, a small caption informs the reader that all horses are herbivores. The book is easy to read, with one to five short sentences printed in large font on each page.  

The book is brought to life by Catherine Rayner’s stunning artwork. The characters are outlined in pencil and colored in soft strokes of watercolor, resulting in a clean and vivid art style that matches the book’s sweet and simple narrative. Rayner’s greatest achievement in the book are her backgrounds, which enliven the flourishing field behind Catherine’s house with a beautiful mix of spring colors. 

If you are looking for a book that provides young readers with a thorough lesson about how to interact with horses, Hello, Horse is right for you. All readers will enjoy its warm and heartfelt story about a boy’s budding friendship with a horse. Horse-loving readers will also enjoy reading the picture book My Pony by Susan Jeffers and The Sneaky Pony Series by Hadley Higginson. However, if you’re looking for another book in the Read to Wonder Series, check out Otters Love to Play by Jonathan London. 

Sexual Content 

  • None 

Violence 

  • None 

Drugs and Alcohol 

  • None 

Language 

  • None 

Supernatural 

  • None

Spiritual Content 

  • None 

The Batboy

Brian is living every baseball kid’s dream: he is a batboy for his hometown Major League team. Brian believes this job is the perfect thing to bring him and his big-leaguer dad closer together. And if that wasn’t enough, this is also the season that Hank Bishop, Brian’s baseball hero, returns to the Tigers for the comeback of a lifetime. The summer couldn’t get much better! But then Hank Bishop starts to show his true colors, and Brian learns sometimes life throws you a curveball. 

While The Batboy revolves around the game of baseball, it also hits on the topic of having an absent father. Brian misses his father, who is in Japan coaching pitchers. Even though both Brian and his father love baseball, their love of the game isn’t enough to create a close relationship. Brian longs for his father’s love and attention; however, Brian eventually realizes that his father isn’t capable of being a present father. This painful realization allows the reader to understand why Brian is so determined to cheer for his hero, Hank, despite Hank’s bad temper and poor performance.  

Brian is a unique protagonist because, unlike many baseball players, he doesn’t dream of making it to the big leagues. Brian is realistic about his baseball talent. Even though Brian knows he’s not big-league material, this doesn’t stop him from doing his best on and off the field. Brian’s enthusiasm for baseball shines through in every baseball scene and makes him a compelling narrator. Yet it is Brian’s hard work, determination, and unwavering support of Hank that make him truly likable.  

The Batboy jumps back and forth between the Tiger’s baseball games and Brian’s little league games, giving the book many play-by-play baseball scenes. In addition, Brian’s job as a batboy gives him and the reader an inside look at what goes on behind the scenes in professional baseball. Occasionally Brian’s home life makes an appearance, but baseball dominates the book, which makes it a perfect read for baseball fans. While Brian is a well-developed character readers will connect to, The Batboy is first and foremost a baseball book that will appeal to readers who already have a basic understanding of the game. Readers who love baseball will find The Batboy an entertaining book that leaves them cheering for Brian both on and off the field. 

Sexual Content 

  • None 

Violence 

  • None 

Drugs and Alcohol 

  • The use of steroids among baseball players and the “steroid era” is occasionally mentioned.  
  • Brian’s hero, Hank Bishop, was suspended from sports for using steroids. “In the minds of baseball fans, Hank Bishop had committed the two worst possible sins: Not only did he use steroids, he’d gotten caught using them.” 
  • One of Brian’s jobs is to make really “high-test coffee” before the game. “Brian knew enough about major league baseball to know the deal, had read up on how players dealt with the long season. Many of them used to use amphetamines before amphetamines became a banned substance in baseball. . . Brian knew high-test coffee was a kind of substitute now. . .” 
  • Willie, a professional baseball player, says he never tried steroids. Willie says, “I had a big brother got his life all messed up on other kinds of drugs, the worst kind, when I was little. Ended up in jail, even though where they should have sent him was to one of those rehab hospitals. Lordy, when I was growing up, my momma made me more afraid of drugs than the devil.”  
  • When Hank is invited to dinner at Brian’s house, he shows up with a bottle of wine. 

Language 

  • Hank calls Brian an idiot several times. 
  • After Brian made a mistake, he “felt like a jerk.” 
  • Brian calls his friend a freak.  
  • Heck is used once.

Supernatural 

  • None

Spiritual Content 

  • None 

Ada Lovelace

In 1833, Ada Lovelace met mathematician Charles Babbage, the inventor of calculating machines. She went on to devise a way of inputting data into Babbage’s Analytical Machine, and in doing so became the first ever computer programmer. In this biography, kids will learn all about Ada Lovelace’s fascinating life, including her famous father (the celebrated poet Lord Byron), her talent for languages and mathematics, and her predictions for how computers would change our lives.

This biography series from DK goes beyond the basic facts to tell true-life stories of history’s most interesting people. Full-color photographs and hand-drawn illustrations complement the thoughtfully written, age-appropriate text to create an engaging book that children will enjoy. Definition boxes, information sidebars, maps, inspiring quotes, and other nonfiction text features add depth. There is also a reference section and each book includes an author’s introduction letter, a glossary, and an index. 

Readers will enjoy learning about Ada Lovelace. The information allows readers to imagine Ada’s time period, life, and interests. For example, when Ada was a child, she wanted to learn about rainbows. The story explains why Ada was fascinated with rainbows and includes a one-page infographic explaining how rainbows are made. Throughout the book, readers will see the people, things, and events that affected Ada. Not only are the additional facts fascinating but the information is displayed in a way that breaks up the text and makes the book accessible to many readers. Still, struggling readers will most likely need help understanding some of the advanced vocabulary.  

Ada Lovelace packs a large amount of information into the book. However, the large text only allows three or fewer paragraphs per page. Each page has a graphic element and many of the pages have a full-sized illustration. While the book focuses on Ada’s accomplishments, the book may also spark readers’ interest in a variety of topics such as notable scientists, the Great Exhibition of 1851, and the first computer. Because of the vast amount of information, Ada Lovelace is a must-read for anyone who is researching Ada or is interested in computer science. 

Ada’s story is both interesting and educational. In addition, her love of learning and her innate sense of curiosity is inspiring. Ada “is a role model for all girls interested in learning about science and math. Ada grew up in a time when women were expected to be good wives and mothers and not focus on their education—this made her achievements in science so momentous. . . [Ada] constantly proved wrong the people who doubted her abilities.” Reading about Ada will give children the encouragement to try new things and follow their interests.   

Sexual Content 

  • Ada’s father, Lord Byron, “had many love affairs.”  

Violence 

  • Ada’s mother had strict rules. When Ada was young, she would often fidget. Her mother “asked a maid to wrap Ada’s fingers with black cotton bags. Ada bit the maid and was sent to her room as punishment.”  

Drugs and Alcohol 

  • None 

Language 

  • None 

Supernatural 

  • None 

Spiritual Content 

  • None 

The Miniature World of Marvin & James

The Miniature World of Marvin & James is a heartwarming and enchanting story that depicts the extraordinary bond between Marvin the beetle and James Pompaday, a human. In this delightful and touching book, readers follow Marvin as he faces the challenge of his dear friend James embarking on a fun-filled beach trip, while he remains at home.  

As Marvin grapples with a mix of emotions, including longing and the fear of being forgotten, Marvin finds solace and comfort in the loving presence of his cousin, Elaine. Together, they embark on a thrilling and unforgettable adventure that takes them on a journey of self-discovery and growth. Along the way, Marvin and Elaine encounter various obstacles that test their bravery, including a daring encounter with a pencil sharpener. Through these experiences, they learn important lessons about resilience, the true meaning of friendship, and the limitless power of imagination.  

Marvin, an adorable little beetle, will warm readers’ hearts with his unwavering love and longing for his friend James. Throughout the novel, Marvin’s endearing personality shines through as he teaches the invaluable lesson that true friendship knows no distance or bounds.  

This captivating and heartwarming tale serves as a reminder that even in the face of challenges, love and friendship can triumph, and that the smallest creatures can have the biggest impact. The Miniature World of Marvin & James is especially perfect for younger readers, as it beautifully illustrates the power and beauty of friendship, inspiring readers to cherish and nurture their own relationships, no matter the circumstances. 

In the book, the relationship between Marvin and James is vividly brought to life and intricately woven throughout the pages. This is not merely achieved through the power of words, but also with the addition of simplistic, yet captivating black-and-white illustrations. The illustrations add depth to the narrative, providing a visual representation that allows readers to better understand and relate to the characters and their world. The quaint charm of these illustrations plays a pivotal role in helping readers immerse themselves in the intricately tiny world of Marvin. 

The delightful escapades of Marvin, James, and Elaine will captivate readers and leave them yearning for further exploration in this enchanting and heartwarming world. With every turn of the page, readers will be drawn deeper into the delightful moments that await them in this incredibly adorable and captivating universe. 

Sexual Content 

  • None 

Violence 

  • Marvin and Elaine attempt to leave the pencil sharpener they stumbled into, but James’ father sticks a pencil into the hole, causing Elaine to panic. Elaine is fearful of being trapped in the pencil sharpener because they could either be hurt by the sharpening piece or suffocated by the clippings. “That hole is the only way out. Oh, Marvin! We’re going to DIE!”  
  • As Marvin looks for a solution, Elaine continues to panic. “We are going to die here, all alone.” Both of them escape unharmed.  

Drugs and Alcohol 

  • None 

Language 

  • None 

Supernatural  

  • None 

Spiritual Content 

  • None 

Neighborhood Sharks: Hunting with the Great Whites of California’s Farallon Islands

Ready to get up close with the ocean’s most fearsome and famous predators and the scientists who study them?

A few miles from San Francisco lives a population of the ocean’s largest and most famous predators. Each fall, while the city’s inhabitants dine on steaks, salads, and sandwiches, the great white sharks return to California’s Farallon Islands to dine on their favorite meal: the seals that live on the island’s rocky coasts. Massive, fast, and perfectly adapted to hunting after 11 million years of evolution, the great whites are among the planet’s most fearsome, fascinating, and least understood animals.

In the fall of 2012, Katherine Roy visited the Farallon Islands and stayed with the scientists who study the islands’ shark population. She witnessed seal attacks, observed sharks being tagged in the wild, and got a look at the wildlife refuge which is strictly off-limits to all but the scientists who work there. Neighborhood Sharks creates an intimate portrait of the life cycle, biology, and habitat of the great white shark, based on the latest research and an up-close visit with these amazing animals. 

Neighborhood Sharks uses a picture book format to inform readers about the interesting traits of sharks. While some of the pages only have one sentence, others are text-heavy because they describe specific aspects of the shark such as their eating habits, their body structure, and vision. Each beautiful, full-page picture uses the colors of the ocean. Since the book discusses the shark’s eating habits, several pictures show the shark eating its prey. These pictures do show blood, but they are not gory or graphic. In addition, several pages use infographics to show aspects of the shark, such as how the shark’s body heats its blood. 

Anyone fascinated by sharks should read Neighborhood Sharks. Not only are the illustrations beautiful, but the information is presented in an interesting format. Even though sharks are apex predators, the informational tone of the book doesn’t make sharks seem scary. Instead, readers will be amazed at how the shark is perfectly adapted to its natural habitat.  

Sexual Content 

  • None 

Violence 

  • None 

Drugs and Alcohol 

  • None 

Language 

  • None 

Supernatural 

  • None

Spiritual Content 

  • None 

Here There Be Monsters: The Legendary Kraken and the Giant Squid

Sailors claimed that these faraway places were inhabited by mysterious beasts and sea serpents. To warn of the dangers lurking on land and under the sea, mapmakers wrote words that would chill the hearts of even the bravest explorers: “Here There Be Monsters.” 

One of those monsters that caused fear in sailors all over the world had huge eyes, an enormous head, and a razor-sharp beak. Most terrifying of all were its tentacles and slithering arms, each lined with hundreds of suckers. The creature was strong enough to grab an entire ship and drag it down—along with all the men on it—to the dark depths of the ocean. This monster was the legendary Kraken. 

From ancient Greeks and Phoenicians to the Vikings and even American fishermen, those who sailed the seas hoped to steer clear of the Kraken and the destruction it could wreck. At the same time, this terrifying creature lured artists and scientists into the dark, watery world. Their stories and images of the Kraken have thrilled readers on dry land for centuries. 

In Here There Be Monsters, you will see with your own eyes how long-ago myths about the Kraken transformed into the modern study of Architeuthis dux, the giant squid. Weaving scientific discovery with historical accounts—along with the giant squid’s appearance in film and literature—Here There Be Monsters explores the mystery of this creature in animating details. Readers will find that the monster remains hidden no longer because scientists have finally seen the Kraken with their own eyes . . . alive and rising up out of the sea. 

Whether you’re writing a research paper or are just fascinated by tales of giant squids, you will find Here There Be Monsters to be an engaging and educational book that is hard to put down. The beginning of the book explores sailors’ tales of monsters that live in the deep and includes excerpts from Moby Dick, The Odyssey, and Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea. The book explores the origins of stories about the Kraken and the history of squid stories. The stories are fascinating and include information about the early scientists who studied the giant squid. Here There Be Monsters is packed full of interesting facts that make the non-fiction book hard to put down. 

Since the book uses scientific terminology, readers may struggle with some of the language. However, readers will be able to use context clues to figure out the word’s meaning. Most of the information is explained with easy-to-understand descriptions with pictures and other illustrations used to give readers visuals. Almost every page of the book has a graphic element—maps, photographs, drawings, and illustrations from books—that helps break up the text. The close-up photographs of the giant squid’s tentacles will leave readers with nightmares because “inside the suckers on the clubs of its tentacles are individual hooks—like small tiger claws—that stick out of the suckers. They can each swerve individually, like probing razors.”  

Even though the colossal squid is enormous, there is still very little that is known about the creature. “Humans have been to the moon six times and retrieved more than two thousand rocks. . . Yet scientists have collected only about two dozen specimens of the colossal squid, a creature that lives less than one mile under the ocean.” The giant squid and the colossal squid are both fascinating creatures that readers will enjoy learning about. Plus, readers will be amazed by the pictures of one of the only colossal squid that scientists have been able to study outside the ocean. Here There Be Monsters will also spark readers’ imaginations as they wonder what scientists still have to learn about the ocean creature.  

One of the first works of fiction that described the giant squid was Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea by Jules Verne. For a more modern interpretation of Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, check out Fire the Depths by Peter Lerangis—the fiction book will captivate readers by showing them an imaginative tale that takes place deep under the ocean. 

Sexual Content 

  • None 

Violence 

  • According to a sailor, “the beast would rise up silently from the ocean deep and wrap its arms around a ship, trying to drag it under water. As it struggled, the monster grabbed sailors and tossed them into water, where they would soon become the monster’s food.” 
  • Another sailor said that a giant squid attacked his ship and “the sailors on the ship survived certain death only by hacking off the monster’s arms with swords, knives, and axes.”  
  • Two fishermen were out fishing when a giant squid “fiercely grabbed the boat, pulling it down into the water. The two men were sure to be dragged under and become the thing’s next meal. As the boat tipped over, one of the men grabbed an ax and slashed at the tentacles, hacking at them until he cut them from the monster’s body.”  
  • Researchers were using bait to try to get photographs of a giant squid. The squid “became entangled in the line and the researchers pulled it to the surface. . . The red giant splashed savagely around the boat, fighting against the line. . . it died from the struggle.” 
  • Scientist uses bait to trap a giant squid. “Over the course of four hours, it attempted to get away as it shredded the bait . . . Finally, the Architeuthis pulled the line so hard that it tore its tentacle right off. Then it sank back into the darkness.” 

Drugs and Alcohol 

  • None 

Language 

  • None

Supernatural 

  • None

Spiritual Content 

  • None 

The Guardian Test

Plum is shocked to discover that she’s been accepted to the Guardian Academy on Lotus Island, an elite school where kids learn how to transform into Guardians, which are magical creatures sworn to protect the natural world. The Guardian masters teach Plum and her friends how to communicate with animals and how to use meditation to strengthen their minds and bodies. The kids also learn to fight, so they can protect the defenseless. 

To her dismay, Plum struggles at school. While her classmates begin to transform into amazing creatures, Plum can’t even seem to magic up a single feather! If she can’t embrace her inner animal form soon, she’ll have to leave school—and lose the first group of real friends she’s ever known.  

In The Gradian Test, Plum narrates her experiences at the Guardian Academy. While there, Plum feels like an outsider who doesn’t belong at the academy. One reason Plum feels this way is because mean girl Rella looks down on her because Plus is from a farming community. Despite the teasing, Plum feels most at home working in the garden, where she talks to the worms and plants. Plum is an extremely likable character whom readers will connect with because of her insecurities and worries. 

Several times throughout the story, the book shows the importance of meditation. In Breath class, students learn to meditate, which is an essential part of transforming into the Guardian form. During class, one of the teachers, Master Sunback, says, “Let the rest of the world fall away until there is nothing left but your breathing.” This is one area that Plum has difficulty mastering because when she closes her eyes, questions begin running through her mind. However, it is only through meditation that Plum can change into her Guardian form. When Plum finally transforms, she “just felt like . . . me.”  

The story reinforces the importance of taking care of the animals and plants that have been entrusted to our care. For example, the Guardians stop a fleet of boats from overfishing because, “The coral reef near Bidibop Island is very fragile, and your fishermen were dropping anchor, destroying coral that had been growing for thousands of years. They were also overfishing, taking far too much in their nets.” While The Guardian Test doesn’t explore this topic in detail, it highlights the importance of caring for our world.  

The Guardian Test is an exciting story that takes the reader into a beautifully imaginative world. While Plum is the only character who is developed in detail, the supporting characters are interesting and readers will look forward to learning more about all of the characters in the next book in the series, Into the Shadow Mist. The plot has enough mystery and suspense to keep readers engaged while still being simple enough that the storyline is easy to follow. In addition, black and white illustrations are scattered throughout the book to give readers a visual of the diverse characters and some of the animals that are unique to Lotus Island. The Guardian Test begins an exciting series that is perfect for fans of The Legend of Zelda 

Sexual Content 

  • None 

Violence 

  • During class, Master Drew turned into “a huge muscular jaicat with an inky coat and a pair of short golden horns perched between her ears. She prowled in a slow circle around Cherry [a student] and then—before any of us could blink—she pounced on her, tackling Cherry onto her back.” Cherry is uninjured. 
  • During class, Cherry “threw herself into attacking our teacher. But Master Drew blocked every one of Cherry’s moves with speed and ease. And then, just when it seemed like Cherry was finally going to get in a kick, Master Drew grabbed her ankle and used it to flip Cherry onto the ground.”  
  • While in the forest, a leopard jumps on Plum, knocking her down. “Without even thinking, I popped my hips to knock the leopard off balance. I used my advantage to curl my knees in and push from underneath the beast. The next second I was on my feet and running.” Plum discovers that mean girl Rella is the leopard.  

Drugs and Alcohol 

  • Plum learns to use various plants such as milkfoot and other herbs to heal ailments.  

Language 

  • Dang and heck are both used once.  
  • Rella says that Plum “probably lived in a sheep pen. At least, that’s what she smells like.”  
  • While doing defense drills, Rella and Plum are paired together. Rella says, “Come on, pig farmer. Pretend I’m a bucket of slop you can’t wait to roll in.”  

Supernatural 

  • There are “three types of Guardians: Hand, Heart, and Breath. Hand Guardians are fierce, fast and strong. . . Heart Guardians are the healers. And Breath Guardians are super chill, and they can calm people down.” 
  • Heart Guardians “have the power to mend broken bones, soothe pain, and repair damage.”  
  • The students learn how to turn into mythical creatures such as a fox bat and a gillybear. In order to transform, students need to learn how to meditate. 
  • To show the students how to transform, two Guardians “swooped their arms down, and in an instant they transformed. One became a zorahawk with broad wings and a curved beak. The other was a glister mare with a sparkling mane and powerful legs.”  
  • In a demonstration, one Guardian turns into a buttermoth and the other turns into a raccoon. “Together they knelt at the edge of one of the lotus ponds, where the sun had scorched the lotus pads a patchy brown. The raccoon placed his hand on the damaged leaves while the buttermoth fluttered her wings. Green life flowed back into the pads, healing them completely.” 
  • Two students have a dream amulet. “Parents whisper their dreams for their children into a charm or a stone and give it to them for luck.” Plum’s friend, Sam, breathes on his charm. “When he opened his hand, a soft light, like a tiny ball of starlight, glowed from the ruby gem. He held it up to my ear. I heard the faintest echoing whisper of a woman’s voice: ‘Wealth and power will flow to you like water from a rain.’” 
  • When Plum breathes on her dream amulet, Plum hears her mother’s voice. “Suddenly the white light shot straight out of the shell. It hovered like a twile-fly right in front of my face. Its light pulsed like a heartbeat.” The light leads Plum to some ancient ruins. Then, Plum “opened my fingers. The white light flickered faintly as it drifted up to my shell pendant and back inside.” Plum believes that she had been visited by her mother’s spirit.  
  • A student named Rella finds a chant written on the wall of some ruins. She uses it to transform into a leopard. The chant is “ancient magic from before the Santipapa Islands even existed.” Rella doesn’t know what the words mean, but when she says “them in the proper order, you can tap into the old magic.” When using the chants, the person feels an enormous sense of power. 
  • When Plum uses the chants, “the entire temple flooded with light. The images on the mural burst into motion. . . The tingling in my fingers surged into my arms and legs. I felt so strong like I could run to the top of the mountain or leap over trees.” While saying the chant, Plum partially transforms into her Guardian form.  

Spiritual Content 

  • None 

All Tide Up

The unsinkable detectives Mango and Brash are back in InvestiGators: All Tide Up, a high seas adventure that takes the hit series by John Patrick Green into uncharted waters!

When a delirious cruise captain is found drifting at sea, the search begins for his missing passengers and ship. Did it sink? Was it boat-napped? Are supernatural forces at play? And can the InvestiGators unravel this maritime mystery before a second cruise befalls a similarly unfathomable fate? Seas the day and find out in this new nautical adventure! 

When a cruise ship mysteriously disappears, Brash and Mango come face to face with a brand-new villain: the “dread pirate ghost, Willy Nilly.” In addition to Willy Nilly, the InvestiGators also meet new friends along the way. These new characters give the book an interesting twist and keep the reader guessing as to their motives. When a group of pirates board the ship, it allows for new puns as well as some funny suspense. 

Unlike the previous installments of InvestiGators, All Tide Up can be read as a singleton because the book neatly wraps up the mystery of Willy Nilly by the end. Similar to previous installments of the series, a combination of human and animal characters blend together to make a ridiculous story with humorous wordplay. Readers will enjoy the puns and the pirate talk, as well as the mystery of the ghost of Willy Nilly. 

This imaginative story comes alive in brightly colored artwork that shows the characters’ wide range of emotions. The illustrations and unique storyline with Brash and Mango will appeal to even the most reluctant readers. Each page has three to eleven sentences per page. The sentences range from one word to more complex sentences. The varied sentence lengths add to the humor while keeping the story accessible to all readers. 

Readers familiar with the InvestiGators Series will have a splashing good time with All Tide Up. While the majority of the story can be understood if you haven’t read the other books, there are some small references to previous books that may confuse new readers. While All Tied Up is full of humor, it also reminds readers that friendship is more important than money. In the end, “The real treasure is the friends that you’ve made along the way.” 

Sexual Content 

  • None 

Violence 

  • When Sven, an octopus, was a child, an eel stole his toy. Sven’s cousin, a squid, “could’ve let Sven fight his own battle. But I stepped in, and things got out of hand. . . literally!” Sven loses a tentacle, and it never grows back. 
  • Pirates tie Mango and Brash up, then discuss the InvestiGators’ fate. One pirate says, “I say we stomp ‘em! Then we keelhaul ‘em!” The InvestiGators are forced to walk the plank, but they manage to create a raft out of balloons and eventually, they are rescued. 
  • The owner of a cruise ship tries to escape, but a man stops him by waving a sword at him. Then, Mango and Brash tie him up.  
  • Sword-wielding pirates surround the InvestiGators. A squid jumps to their aid and hits the pirates with his eight legs. In the process, one of the squid’s tentacles is chopped off.  
  • A man delivers a cruise ship to a deserted island so the ghost of Willy Nilly can throw the passengers into a fiery pit. Later, the reader discovers that all of the people are alive and well.  
  • Mango and Brash confront the ghost of Willy Nilly and throw him into the fiery pit.  

Drugs and Alcohol 

  • None 

Language 

  • Name-calling is used infrequently. It includes fool, scum, slimy sea slug, lily-livered scallywag, and bilge rat. 
  • Mango calls a ghost a “spectral scuttlebutt.” 
  • When Pirates take over a cruise ship, they call the captives names such as lily-livered landlubbers. 
  • Dang, darn, and drat are used infrequently.  

Supernatural 

  • The pirate Willy Nilly was cursed, and his ghost comes back 300 years later; this is the time period the book is set in.  
  • According to legend, “Nilly was cursed to pay back the debt by delivering a thousand souls to the island before the three hundred years pass. If he failed, his stolen fortune would disappear forever!” 

Spiritual Content 

  • None 

Polar Oceans

The extreme climates of the North and South Poles make the polar oceans unlike any other bodies of water on Earth. Despite the severe conditions, an amazing diversity of wildlife thrives in the Arctic and Southern Oceans, depending on these bodies of water for survival. In Polar Oceans children will learn about similarities and differences between Arctic and Antarctic waters, how polar ocean creatures have adapted, polar ocean food chains and food webs, permanent ice and ice formations, interconnections among polar oceans and other seas and oceans, and the global consequences of environmental changes. 

Polar Oceans packs a lot information into short sections that clearly break up the text by topic. Because the book’s intent is to teach readers about oceans, the text uses many words that readers may not be familiar with. This will make it necessary for adults to read the book to younger children, rather than them reading the story on their own. Many of the polar ocean terms are bolded within the text; however, the glossary is only half a page and many of the bold words do not appear in the glossary. Despite this, the book will appeal to many readers because of the large and colorful pictures that appear on each page. In addition, the book includes many pictures of the polar animals as well as a diagram of the food web.  

Any child who wants to learn more about life in both the Arctic and Southern Oceans will be fascinated by the information in Polar Oceans. In addition, readers will be amazed at the diverse life that lives in the freezing ocean water. Polar Oceans introduces children to the wonderful world of the polar regions. While readers will be drawn to the book because of the cute animals, the book ends with a list of websites readers can investigate to learn more about how to help protect the polar oceans, polar animals, and polar ice.  

To learn more about ocean animals, Polar Oceans can be paired with Otters Love to Play by Jonathan London. Odder by Katherine Applegate is also a beautifully written story that focuses on one otter’s misfortune in order to show how scientists are working to save injured otters. 

Sexual Content 

  • None 

Violence 

  • None 

Drugs and Alcohol 

  • None 

Language 

  • None 

Supernatural 

  • None 

Spiritual Content 

  • None 

Escape from Atlantis

The last way that Riley Evans wanted to spend spring break was studying whales on the family sailboat in the middle of the Bermuda Triangle. With only her dad, aunt, and annoying cousin Alfie for company. She is so bored staring at the waves that she’s starting to see mermaids between them. But when their boat capsizes during a sudden storm, Riley finds more excitement than she bargained for as she and Alfie are washed ashore with neither of their parents in sight. Where they’ve been shipwrecked is no deserted island, though.

Atlantis is a place beyond imagination, inhabited by both people and incredible creatures ranging from unicorns and gargoyles to talking animals. But not everyone welcomes the cousins’ arrival, and beneath the wonder of this mythical land lurk dangerous secrets—something strange is happening to the inhabitants. What Riley wants more than anything is to find her father and go home. But the closer she gets to this goal, the more the islanders seem determined to keep her from reaching it.

As Riley and Alfie unravel the mystery of Atlantis and its most terrifying part, the Forbidden Zone, they realize that the clock is ticking. If they can’t learn what happened to their parents and find a way off the island soon, it may be too late to leave. 

Even though Riley and Alfie are family, they can’t stand each other and most of the blame lands on Alfie, whose hot temper and mean words make him an unlikable character. Unlike Alfie, the book’s protagonist Riley is a more well-rounded which makes her more relatable. When Riley discovers animal-like creatures called Cloaks living on Atlantis, she is fascinated by them and treats them with respect while the Atlanteans treat the creatures as if they are invisible. Riley’s acceptance of the Cloaks shows the importance of treating others with respect and dignity no matter what they look like.   

While Riley’s acceptance of the Cloaks is admirable, she is also manipulative and dishonest as she tries to leave Atlantis. Her singular focus to find her father and aunt puts others in danger. However, she refuses to give up her quest. When Riley, Alfie and her family finally leave Atlantis, the situation is so dire that readers may have a hard time cheering for Riley’s success.  

Unlike most stories that focus on the mythical island of Atlantis, Escape from Atlantis portrays the legendary city as one full of danger. While this premise is unique, the island’s world-building is murky which leads to confusion. While the Cloaks add mystery and suspense, the details regarding people transforming into Cloaks are unclear—no one knows why people change into animals or how the process works. In addition, no one knows why the sea serpent, the Lavianthan, will not allow anyone to leave the island. 

Readers who love stories with well-defined rules and clear world-building may find Escape from Atlantis a frustrating read. However, readers who are intrigued by mythology and Atlantis may find this unique version interesting. While Riley and Alfie are at times annoying, they show personal growth and perseverance. In addition, the unique characters and the book’s resolution will leave readers with a new appreciation of accepting others—even those who are different than us. If you’d like to read more fast-paced stories that take place in a magical world, read The Revenge of Magic Series by James Riley or The Door at the End of the World by Caroline Carlson. 

Sexual Content 

  • None 

Violence 

  • Riley finds her cousin Alfie reading her diary. She “snatched at her diary, but Alfie kept pulling it away and taunting her with it. . . She hauled back and punched her cousin in the stomach as hard as she could. Alfie dropped the diary, collapsing onto the bunk, gasping for breath.” 
  • A sea serpent attacks the boat Riley and her family are on. “Another violent strike knocked the boat, followed by a rush of water that nearly washed [Riley’s] father away. . .  Riley added her own scream when she saw the dark head of some kind of massive snakelike sea serpent rising out of the water and smashing against the front end of the boat. Its long, scaled body coiled completely around the boat like a snake constricting around its prey.” 
  • Eventually, the sea serpent “was rising itself farther out of the water and climbing high above the ship. It roared once, and then opened its mouth even wider and struck like a viper, biting off the front end of the boat.” A different creature grabs Riley and takes her to an island, where she finds her cousin, but their parents are gone. The scene is described over four pages.  
  • When Riley and Alfie wake up on an island, they meet Bastian, a boy about their age. When Bastian tries to get the cousins to go to his community, “Alfie charged up to Bastian and poked him in the chest.” Alfie walks away. Riley and Bastian follow. They eventually see a Red Cloak who attacks them. “Behind them, Miss Pigglesworth [a huge dog] growled, barked and leaped over and ran straight at the Red Cloak. . . The sights and sounds were sickening at the immense dog and Red Cloak met in a vicious fight. They started rolling in the sand.” When Miss Pigglesworth is injured, Red Cloak runs towards the kids. 
  • The Red Cloak is a creature with a tail named Mada. “All Riley could do was watch as Mada crossed a great distance in a single leap. Right before he landed, two of the unicorns galloped forward. . .” A unicorn touches Mada and then “Mada roared once and then collapsed to the sand, unconscious.” The kids quickly leave. The scene is described over four pages. 
  • Riley and Alfie want to confirm that their parents are dead so they go to dig up their graves. However, a catlike creature attacks. “Suddenly Riley was knocked to the ground by something very large and painfully heavy. Acting on instinct alone, she held up the shovel for protection just as a tooth-filled mouth came toward her. Snarling and hissing, it bit down on the shoved handle instead of her throat. . . As he moved, his rear claws raked Riley’s legs and she cried in pain.” Before the cat can kill her, a gargoyle grabs it and flies away. Riley is injured, but Alfie cares for the wound. The scene is described over four pages. 
  • Riley and her friends are attempting to save an injured gargoyle when Mada appears intending to kill Riley. “As Mada started to charge, the horns on the five unicorns started to blaze brilliantly. They whinnied loudly, and the one that had escorted them reared and slammed down to the sand. . .” Mada runs away.  
  • While swimming to a different part of Atlantis, Riley and Alfie are threatened by the Lavianthan, a huge sea serpent. Galina, a siren, uses her voice on the Lavianthan. “It glided past Riley . . . The leopard roared and howled as the Lavianthan changed directions and dove down into the depths, taking the leopard with it.” 
  • An alligator attacks Alfie. The water “erupted in struggle as Galina was wrapped around the alligator that was holding on to Alfie’s leg and spinning. . . the struggle moved deeper beneath the surface. Moments later, Galina lifted Alfie to the surface. He was unconscious.” Alfie is seriously injured but recovers.  
  • When the Red Moon comes, the tide goes out which allows the dangerous animals to attack the people of Atlantis. The people hide in their ship, the Queen, while Cloaks are left to die. Someone asks Riley, “Haven’t you ever wondered why there aren’t more Blue or Yellow Cloaks here? After all this time, there are only a handful of us. . . There were more. Many more. But because they won’t let us on the Queen during the Red Moon, we are hunted and killed by the wildlings.” 
  • When trying to escape the island, Mada tries to attack Riley, but Riley’s friend Maggie intervenes. “Maggie appeared out of the fog with her cloak off. A sleep leopard jumped onto Mada’s back and knocked him from Riley.” Riley and her friends run, leaving Maggie. Maggie is seriously injured and she may not recover.  
  • Merfolk cause a storm in order to stop Riley, Alfie, and their friends from leaving Atlantis. “Terrifying merfolk” call the Lavianthan in order to stop their boat from leaving. “The Lavianthan made another pass at the yacht. It raised itself high out of the water and came down on the front of the bow. The boat’s back end was lifted out of the water, throwing everyone down to the deck.” Riley’s father talks to the merfolk, who let the yacht pass.  

Drugs and Alcohol 

  • Atlantis uses Memory Berries. “When you eat them, you forget everything. We are a small community and we have to get along. If there is trouble, berries are used, and the trouble stops.” 
  • Alfie is given Memory Berries which completely changes him. “The expression on his face was all wrong. . . The Memory Berries had changed him completely.” Riley puts crushed-up leaves in his soup, which reverses the effect of the berries.  

Language 

  • Riley and Alfie are mean to each other. To annoy Riley, Alfie calls her “shorty” and she calls him “creep.”
  • There is often name calling including stupid, spoiled brat, idiot, chicken, moron, freak, etc. 

Supernatural 

  • Atlantis has magical creatures such as unicorns, sirens, and other intelligent animal-like creatures.  
  • The island has “those in cloaks” who are not supposed to be approached. Riley approaches one and finds a “furry creature. He looked just like a cuddly koala, with a large black noise and rounded ears on the top of his head. But he was bigger and had golden eyes.” 
  • Gargoyles live in Atlantis. Riley describes them: “It was huge and had bat wings and big ears. Its legs like tree trunks.” 
  • The people of Atlantis eventually turn into “wildlings,” but the process isn’t clear. Maggie, who is turning into a feline, explains, “I may stop changing now and stay in this yellow cloak, or perhaps I might turn into a simple cat and be accepted. . . But I may also turn into something more ferocious and not be able to control myself.” 
  • Even though all Atlanteans will change to wildlings, “We don’t know why the transformation happens or how. . . when it starts, we retain our humanity. But some embrace their change and give up what it means to be human. They become a danger to all.” However, “they retain their intelligence, which makes them more dangerous.” 
  • The gargoyle, Gideon, turns to stone and his wing breaks off. If his wing isn’t fixed before the sun comes up, he will die. With Riley and others’ help, Gideon’s wing is fixed before the sun comes up. 

Spiritual Content 

  • Riley prays several times. For example, when Alfie is given the Memory Berries,
    Riley “prayed Gideon’s antidote worked.”  

Summer of the Sharks

When twelve-year-old twins Eric and Susan move in with their aunt, they never dreamed that they would end up on a remote island in the Bahamas for a coral reef restoration project! Susan bubbles over with excitement at the promise of underwater adventures. But the thought of cruising around in a large ocean full of creepy and dangerous creatures scares Eric.  

Eric tries to keep his fear a secret and makes excuses for staying behind. But with expert guidance from Aunt Sally and Uncle Merle, the twins are soon swimming, snorkeling, and SNUBA diving in a dazzling undersea world of wonder and beauty. The living kaleidoscope of swirling colors, lights, and shapes teaches both scientific and spiritual lessons about the Creator—lessons that draw Susan, Eric, and their friend Kevin closer to God. Then one day, an encounter with a monster of the deep thrusts Eric face to face with his deepest fears—and puts his faith to the test. Will Eric trust God to help him overcome his terror and keep him safe from harm?  

Summer of the Sharks focuses on Eric, who is afraid of going underwater in the ocean. Many readers will sympathize with Eric, especially with his desire to keep his fear a secret. Despite Eric’s fear, when his Uncle Merle is injured, Eric jumps up to the plate and helps his aunt with her research. While Eric helps his aunt, he learns more about ocean creatures and realizes he loves taking photographs of them. It is through SNUBA diving that Eric realizes if he stays focused on an ocean creature, he forgets his fear. Likewise, if he focuses on God, Eric will come to trust Him, which will also lessen his fears.  

After staying home alone, Eric goes snorkeling with a neighbor, Mr. Wood—without permission and without telling his aunt where he is going. Afterward, when Eric’s aunt and uncle find out, they remind him of the dangers. “Leaving the house and going off with Mr. Wood was dangerous. You didn’t know what kind of person he is—whether he’s trustworthy or even how skilled a diver he is. . . Praying for God’s presence and care doesn’t mean that we can become careless or irresponsible. We have to act wisely—to do what we can to prevent bad things from happening to us.”  

One theme that is reinforced throughout the book is the necessity of taking a closer look at God. At one point, Susan compares God to shells. She says, “The closer you look, the better He gets.” Later, Eric thinks “that he would get more excited about God by looking closer. And the more he knew about God, the more confidence he would have in Him.” 

Summer of the Sharks is an engaging story that pulls readers underwater, where they will gain a new appreciation for God’s wonders. While Eric’s struggle is relatable, the message is a little hard-hitting and the discussions about God are longwinded. Despite this, the story has enough suspense and wonder to keep readers interested until the end. In addition, anyone who struggles with controlling their fear will gain a new understanding of trusting God. By exploring the ocean, Eric realizes, “If I want less sin of any kind in my life, including being fearful and not trusting God, I need to look closer at Him until I trust Him to take care of me like He promises to do.” Readers who want to read more books with Biblical teaching should also read The Cooper Kids Adventure Series by Frank E. Peretti. 

Sexual Content 

  • None 

Violence 

  • None 

Drugs and Alcohol 

  • None

Language 

  • None 

Supernatural 

  • None 

Spiritual Content 

  • Since the book is in the Christian fiction genre, not all references to God are documented below.  
  • While preparing for a trip to a coral reef, Susan says, “Each creature is like a picture of Jesus. I think I’ll list them in a notebook . . . Then I can write what they are trying to say about God.”  
  • Susan, Eric, and his friend Kevin have a short conversation about sea animals hiding under rocks. Eric thinks, “If I could really believe that Jesus is a safe place for me and trust Him like those tiny creatures trust the rocks, I wouldn’t be so afraid.” 
  • After Eric refuses to go on a trip to the Bahamas, his sister “prayed that [he] would come.” After Eric’s uncle is injured, Eric decides to go to the Bahamas to help. 
  • Aunt Sally and Susan see a shark while snorkeling. After they retell their experience, Uncle Merle thanks God for “looking after his family.” Afterward, Kevin said, “Today I learned the truth about James 4:8: Draw near to God, and He will draw near to you.”  
  • Susan compares God to shells. “The closer you look, the better He gets.” Later, Eric thinks “that he would get more excited about God by looking closer. And the more he knew about God, the more confidence he would have in Him.”  
  • Eric and his family discuss God removing their sins. Eric asks, “Is it a sin to feel afraid?” Eric’s friends summarize the conversation message, “If I want less sin of any kind in my life, including being fearful and not trusting God, I need to look closer at Him until I trust Him to take care of me like He promises to do.”  
  • After learning how to SNUBA (a type of scuba diving), Eric learns not to be afraid of the ocean. He learns that if you look closely at God, you can trust Him to care for you. Eric’s aunt reminds him, “Feelings aren’t bad. . . But you can’t let them be guides to your choices and behavior unless they come out of your original focus.” Instead of following your emotions, you need to focus “on God’s word and what He says about something.” 
  • When Eric decides to quit baseball, his uncle prays: “Dear God. Thank you for turning Eric’s ship in a new direction. Fill our sails with the wind of the Spirit and guide us like a captain takes hold of a ship’s rudder. Send us off, full of joy, in the right direction. Amen.”

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