The Dreamer

The Dreamer follows eleven-year-old Neftalí, a young boy who struggles to live up to the strict expectations of his father. Neftalí explains that he enjoys daydreaming and nature; he “collected twisted sticks, liked to read, and was not good at mathematics.”  

Neftalí’s father does not want his son to daydream. In fact, Neftalí’s father says, “Stop that incessant daydreaming!” and warns Neftalí that his “mother was the same, scribbling on bits of paper, her mind was always in another world.” Neftalí’s father also implies that this may have caused Neftalí’s mother’s death. Neftalí reveals his mother “had died two months after [Neftalí] was born.”  Neftalí wonders, “Was Father right? Could daydreaming make you weak? Had it made his mother so weak that she had died?”  

Neftalí’s father’s extremely negative mentality towards creative arts also affects his older brother, Rodolfo, who dreams of attending a conservatory to study music. Rodolfo explains, “My teacher and headmaster say . . . that if I study music, I might be able to get a scholarship to the conservatory.” Their father responds to this by aggressively “slamming his fist on the table” and yelling at Rodolfo, “There will be no more wasting time on music.” Because Neftalí’s father ridicules him for his love of reading and writing, Neftalí tries to conceal his writing projects from his father.  

Neftalí is an extremely sympathetic character that readers will appreciate because of his constant determination to do what he loves. Neftalí does not let his father’s constant tirades about his writing stop him. For instance, even when Father tries to make Neftalí stop daydreaming, Neftalí still “wrote words everywhere: on fence posts, on bleached driftwood, and on the old boats near the shore.” 

Another character that will capture readers’ hearts is Neftalí’s Uncle Orlando, who owns a local newspaper called La Mañana and encourages Neftalí’s writing abilities. It is Uncle Orlando who advocates for Neftalí to come work at his newspaper office, even though Father calls Neftalí’s essays “frivolity, nothing more.” Uncle Orlando advocates for the local indigenous people, the Mapuche, who are being pushed off of their land by developers by offering up his newspaper shop as a meeting place for organizing protests. Neftalí is inspired by “Uncle Orlando’s sincere voice as he talked about the rights of the Mapuche, the plans for a peaceful protest, the common outcry for respect for all humanity.” 

Readers who enjoy exploring nature will enjoy the way each chapter continues the story of Neftalí’s growth as a writer alongside drawings reflecting Neftalí’s surroundings. Each chapter is named after an element of nature, such as “ocean,” “rain,” or “mud.” Neftalí often discusses the beauty of Chile, where he lives, and this inspires him as he writes. For instance, Neftalí “looked up at the Andes mountains, hovering like a white-robed choir . . . He closed his eyes and wondered what lay beyond, past the places of Labranza, Boroa, and Ranquilco, where the sea plucked at the rugged land.” 

This book occasionally uses Spanish words in reference to the beauty of Chile and its nature; however, readers will be able to easily understand these words based on the text’s context clues. Because the book follows Neftalí—who is revealed at the end of the book to be the poet, Pablo Neruda—readers will likely want to flip back through the book to reread the sections of poetry and will likely feel inspired by Neftalí’s journey. Overall, this fictionalized retelling of the life of Pablo Neruda encourages readers to persevere, to reach for their dreams, and to appreciate the beauty of life around them.  

Sexual Content 

  • None 

Violence 

  • When Neftalí’s brother, Rodolfo, tells Father he wants to study music, Father “slammed his fist on the table.” 
  • Rodolfo did not hear his father’s whistle to come back to the agreed meeting place. “When [Father] found me, I was disobeying him . . . I still have the bruises. Do you understand? You do not want Father to catch you doing something . . . wrong.” 
  • Neftalí’s father wants his children to grow physically stronger. Because of this, Father forces Neftalí and his little sister, Laurita, into the choppy waves of the ocean even though they are both terrified of the waves, as “the swells rose higher than their heads.” Father argues, “It will make you strong. And if you do not wade out far enough, I will make you stay in longer.”  
  • Father forces Neftalí and Laurita to stay in the water, even when “a wave broke against their chests. Laurita slipped under the dark water. Neftalí jerked her up. She choked and sputtered and began to cry.” Neftalí says, “Surely now they could come in,” but Father “shot an arm forward and pointed to the waves again.” 
  • After Father forces Neftalí and Laurita into the ocean, Neftalí has frequent nightmares that “Laurita was drowning, and he could not save her because he was drowning, too.” 
  • Neftalí encounters a hurt swan. “In the muddy reeds, the male swan wobbled. Blood pooled beneath him.” Sadly, the swan quietly passes away in Neftalí’s arms. Neftalí does not understand what happened as the swan’s wounds appeared to be healed, but suddenly, “the life disappeared from [the swan’s] body.” 
  • Uncle Orlando worries about what the developers will do if they find out where people are protesting. The developers “have killed so many already . . .” 
  • Uncle Orlando hosts a meeting to protest on behalf of the Mapuche, so the angry developers set Uncle Orlando’s newspaper office on fire. Neftalí explains, “When he turned the corner to the main road, he saw the ball of fire rising into the night.” His uncle’s shop is destroyed, but Uncle Orlando tells Neftalí he will not give up, “There are editors who will hire me.” 
  • When Father discovers that Neftalí’s essay advocating for the rights of the Mapuche has been published in a college magazine, he is furious. Father lashes out and “grabbed a notebook and flung it out the window . . . Father flung another notebook and another.” Then Father sets Neftalí’s writings on fire.  

Drugs and Alcohol 

  • None 

Language 

  • Neftalí’s Father insults Neftalí and his siblings when they disobey him. For example, he calls Neftalí “a skinny weakling” that will “amount to nothing.” 
  • Rodolfo, Neftalí’s brother, is frustrated that Neftalí likes to stop and examine small things in nature as they walk to school. Rodolfo calls Neftalí “dim-witted” and asks Neftalí, “Can you not walk like other boys?” 
  • When Neftalí struggles to respond to one of his father’s coworkers, Father calls Neftalí “absentminded” and says, “There’s no telling what will become of [Neftalí].” 
  • Father calls Neftalí a “scatterbrain” for reading. He also tells Neftalí, “You are nothing more than a brittle twig . . . And this obsession with books will not make you vigorous!” 

Supernatural 

  • Rodolfo tells Neftalí a legend about the “chucao bird,” which Father says, “is a bird in the forest that tells the future.” Rodolfo reveals to Neftalí, “If you hear it call on your right side, it is a good omen and means fortune and happiness. If you hear it on your left, it is a warning and means bad luck and disappointment.” 
  • As Neftalí explores a nearby forest, he finds a large rhinoceros beetle and stares at it. Neftalí recounts, “As he marveled at the beetle, the shell contorted and bulged, growing bigger and bigger. Its legs elongated until it was as tall as a pony.” Neftalí then describes riding the giant beetle, “Oddly unafraid, Neftalí climbed onto its sturdy back, and rode it through the forest.” 

Spiritual Content 

  • When Neftalí asks Laurita for help trying to heal a hurt swan, “Laurita put her hands together, in prayer, ‘He must get better.’” 

Otters Love to Play

On the edge of a river sits a neat pile of sticks, leaves, and grass. Last year, this was a beaver lodge, but now, in spring, it has become the home of a new family of otters! Inside this otter den, a mother otter feeds her three newborn pups (the pups’ father, readers will learn, is chased away by the mother after the pups are born). Readers will follow the mother otter as she shows the pups how to swim, hunt for fish, and perhaps the most important lesson for an otter pup – how to play!  

Written by the author of Froggy and nature-lover Jonathan London, Otters Love to Play is a quick and straightforward book that educates readers on the early lives of otters. While readers may already know that otters live in dens and hunt for fish, they may be surprised to learn that the species’ powerful tails and waterproof fur allow them to swim faster than Olympic swimmers! Each page features the otters learning something new – from walking to swimming. With each new thing the pups learn, the reader also learns a fact about the otters which are at the bottom of every other page. For example, while the story shows how fiercely protective otter mothers are of their pups, a note at the bottom of the page explains how adult otters can run up to eighteen miles an hour on snow, making them intimidating forces to predators.  

Otters Love to Play is brought to life by the illustrations of Meilo So. Throughout the book, readers witness the pups as they experience each season for the first time. So’s beautiful mix of colors gives life and variety to each season. Pages set in spring are painted with beautiful swabs of pink and purple skies, filling the reader with the same wonder felt by the pups, while pages set in winter are made with harsh whites and grays, sharing the idea of brutal climates and perilous conditions endangering the pups. All these illustrations are brightened by So’s adorable drawings of the otters, which are sure to delight readers of all ages. 

Even though Otters Love to Play is intended for younger readers, the story is intended to be read aloud to a child, rather than for the child to read it for the first time independently. As part of the Read and Wonder Series, Otters Love to Play introduces readers to natural history and fascinating facts that show how wonderful the natural world is. If you are looking for a book that educates young readers on a fascinating species while also providing plenty of fun and cute moments, Otters Love to Play is an excellent choice. Readers who love the ocean should jump in and read Way Down Deep in the Deep Blue Sea by Jan Peck. 

Sexual Content 

  • None 

Violence 

  • None 

Drugs and Alcohol 

  • None 

Language 

  • None 

Supernatural 

  • None 

Spiritual Content 

  • None 

Hoops

Judi Wilson, a senior in high school, loves basketball. It’s been her childhood dream to play on a basketball team. However, Judi doesn’t have a lot of options because it’s 1975. When her high school announces they’re creating their first-ever women’s basketball team, Judi joins seven other girls to begin their rookie season. However, Judi quickly learns that the girls’ team is very different from the boys’ team. They have no jerseys, transportation, or gym to host home games. Their school’s athletic director refuses to treat them as equals to the boys’ team unless they can fill the gym with fans. Can Judi and her teammates bring a championship to their school and prove that they are just as important as the boys’ team? 

Hoops is an exciting graphic novel based on the true story of the 1976 Warsaw High School girls’ basketball team. It focuses on the life of Judi Wilson, the story’s main protagonist, whose encouraging and kind personality brings her basketball team together despite the inequality in the sport. Many readers will admire Judi’s ability to see the positive side of her team’s circumstances. For example, when one of her teammates, Lisa Vincent, thinks about quitting, Judi tells her “We might as well play, right?” Judi’s conflict is relatable because Judi and her team struggle due to inequality. Despite this, Judi advocates for change by proving her worth on the basketball court. 

Hoops brings history to life in a delightful graphic novel format. The panels and characters feature a simple art style with lots of colors and shapes. The simplicity of the art enhances the action sequences during basketball games, where each panel recreates the intensity and skill of each player with clear, fluid transitions. Meanwhile, the text appears in a large, capitalized format, and the big quote bubbles help easily identify speakers. Easy vocabulary and short sentences allow seamless movement between panels and pages. Hoops will appeal to reluctant readers because of the format and easy vocabulary. In addition, each page only has three to ten sentences with the occasional paragraph mixed in. Several pages also feature no words and let the illustrations tell the story instead.  

The story highlights the historical aspects of women’s inequality in sports. Although the characters aren’t very complex, they experience dramatic development by learning that their advocacy for equality does create change in their community. Judi’s teammate, Lisa Vincent, epitomizes this lesson when she realizes that she’s “sick of being treated like I don’t matter just because I’m a girl,” and joins the team’s effort to create change by succeeding on the basketball court. 

The end of the book features a small two-page section that connects the fictional tale with its historical inspirations. The author explains that each character is based on real-life people and reiterates their story about “regular kids who play hard and stand up for what they believe is right.” With the combination of exciting characters, a heartwarming story, and engaging art, Hoops is the perfect story for basketball fans who appreciate young people fighting for equality. Readers looking for more basketball stories should also read The Fifth Quarter by Mike Dawson and Zayd Saleem Chasing the Dream by Hena Khan. However, if you’d like to learn more about women’s fight for equality, check out She Persisted: Claudette Colvin by Lesa Cline-Ransome. 

Sexual Content 

  • Cindy Randall, Judi Wilson’s friend on the basketball team, kisses her boyfriend, Mark, in front of the basketball team. 

Violence 

  • Judi’s friend, Lisa Vincent, tells a story about her time sledding on the neighborhood boys’ hill. She explains that she “made it about halfway down and then a bunch of boys knocked me off my sled and broke it.” Lisa wasn’t hurt. 

Drugs and Alcohol 

  • None 

Language 

  • Judi Wilson calls a customer at the hardware store a “jerk.” Judi also utters “jeez” at an obnoxious customer. 
  • Judi and her teammate, Cindy, say “holy moly” multiple times. 
  • Judi and Cindy repeatedly say, “Oh my god” when surprised or excited. 
  • Heck is used twice.  
  • A spectator watching a basketball game says darn. 

Supernatural 

  • None 

Spiritual Content 

  • None 

The Lost Girl

When you’re an identical twin, your story always starts with someone else. For Iris, that means her story starts with Lark. The twins have always had each other’s back and their bond was so strong that they never felt alone. They shared their looks as well as their thoughts and feelings. Lark was the extension of Iris and vice versa, and they were always better off together. 

However, things change when they are put in separate classes in fifth grade. They are in unfamiliar surroundings without their other half. For the first time, they have to make new friends and acquaint themselves with new teachers, new routines, and new challenges. Despite the grownups telling them that this is the best decision, Iris and Lark do not agree.  

Iris’s heart aches because she misses her sister’s constant presence. She had always been confident with Lark by her side, but now she has to navigate the scary and unfamiliar world of fifth grade alone. Lark, on the other hand, finds herself hiding in a world of her own as she struggles to adapt to the changes. The once inseparable twins now feel the weight of their individuality. 

At the same time, something strange is happening in the city around them. Things both great and small go missing. The girls can’t help but feel a sense of unease as they notice their world changing. When Iris begins to understand that anything can be lost in the blink of an eye, she decides it is up to her to find a way to keep her sister safe. Iris starts paying attention to her surroundings and taking note of suspicious activities. With each passing day, Iris becomes more determined to protect her sister and unravel the mystery of the missing things. 

The Lost Girl is an incredibly touching story that celebrates the unbreakable bond of sisterhood, and the beauty of individuality. The story follows two sisters, Iris and Lark, as they navigate the challenges of life, and come out on the other side stronger and more resilient. The reader experiences the twins’ journey and is drawn into the world of Iris and Lark by their intricate relationship. Since the story is told from the third-person perspective, the narrative style creates a sense of mystery around the identity of the speaker, which adds an intriguing element. While this narrative style has its benefits, it can also be confusing at times. For instance, the speaker seems to have knowledge of the girls’ internal thoughts, which can sometimes make it difficult to discern who is thinking or talking. However, black and white pictures appear once each chapter and provide a visual element that helps readers fully immerse themselves in the story. 

Throughout The Lost Girl the reader is reminded of the transformative power of change, and how even the most difficult situations can lead to personal growth and a greater understanding of yourself. However, The Lost Girl could benefit from a more developed and connected plot. The mystery and magic elements are not clearly explained which may cause confusion and disconnect readers. While the beginning seems to crawl along at a snail’s pace, the imbalance between the explanation behind the mystery and the deep development of the main characters leaves the ending feeling rushed.  

The Lost Girl presents a heartwarming tale about the bond of sisterhood and the journey towards self-discovery. While the plot development has some flaws, specifically with the integration of mystery and magic, the novel still offers wonderful life lessons.  Additionally, the themes of individuality, family connection, and the power of friendship are sure to strike a chord with many readers. Readers longing for books similar to The Lost Girl should also read the Legend of Eerie-on-Sea Series by Thomas Taylor and Inside Out & Back Again by Thanhha Lai. 

Sexual Content 

  • None 

Violence 

  • Mr. Green, the man who owns the antique shop, invites Iris to stay with him. When she refuses, Mr. Green tries to force Iris to stay. Before anything can occur, Duchess, Mr. Green’s cat, comes to Iris’s aid. “A yowling sound—then Mr. Green yelled, ‘Ow!’ Duchess was at his ankle, biting. Iris wrenched free from his grasp and ran forward, and then heard another yowl, this time in pain. Mr. Green kicked the cat. Then his hand wrapped around her shoulder again, and the next thing she knew, she was being thrown into the doorway marked office.” Duchess and Mr. Green remain mostly unharmed, but Iris is left trapped in the room. 
  •  Mr. Green attempts to get close to Iris because he plans to use magic to transform her into a doll. Iris “dove over to the shelves with the jars of magic, grabbed one, and hurled it at Mr. Green. He yelled and ducked out of the way. The jar exploded on the wall, and the magic inside splattered and oozed and steamed and hissed, and Mr. Green slapped his hands over his face and screamed.” Iris temporarily halts the attack, but wounds Mr. Green with a magic substance.  
  • The girls from Camp Awesome, the after-school camp Iris attends, attempt to save Iris from Mr. Green. Unfortunately, the girls are no match for the size and strength Mr. Green possesses. Mr. Green “swore, then threw Hannah across the room and kicked Lark in the stomach. She stumbled backwards. Iris dove to her.” Hannah and Lark are wounded slightly. The girls are left trapped listening to the demands of Mr. Green. 
  • Iris agrees to go with Mr. Green as long as he allows the other girls to go free. To ensure she doesn’t leave, he binds her to a chair. Mr. Green “growled at her. And then he duct-taped one arm to the chair. Then the other. Then he bound her ankles. And then her mouth.”  
  • The girls continue to fight Mr. Green and they use their intelligence to outwit him. They formulate a plan to shove him into the magic well. “Then several things happened at once. Mr. Green pushed the door open. As he did, Lark jumped backward. A crow let out a cry and dove toward him. He whirled around, and out of nowhere Duchess came barreling forward, right toward his ankles. He bobbled. Lark thrust out her hands and pushed. He slipped backward. And he fell.” The girls defeat Mr. Green and escape. After he falls into the well, it is presumed that he is dead and unable to come back up from the magic water within. 

Drugs and Alcohol 

  • None 

Language 

  • Tommy Whedon, Lark’s sworn enemy, makes fun of Iris in the hallway. “You’re a psycho, you know that?” Iris retaliates by calling him a mole rat and blowfish.  
  • Tommy Whedon became Lark’s enemy when he called her crow girl. “And at recess, Tommy told Iris she was nasty and ugly and bossy and no one liked her, and Lark didn’t talk for the rest of the day. Somehow their parents got wind of the ‘mole rat’ comment and Iris got a talking-to about name calling. Meanwhile people whispered Freak and Crow Girl at Lark for the rest of the year.” This nickname pops up a couple of times.  

Supernatural  

  • Lark is imaginative and believes there is magic in even the most mundane things. Lark believes her teacher to be an ogre because he made fun of her and seems out of place as a fifth-grade teacher. “‘I am pretty sure,’ [Lark] said, voice intent, ‘that Mr. Hunt is an ogre’…To Lark an ogre took great pride in his collection of children’s hearts and when the other ogres would come over for dinner (usually ogres serve yak to guests) he would show his treasure, boasting about how he had the finest collection in the land. He’d take the jar off the shelf and tell the great and glorious story of the capture of the child the heart once belonged to.” This is a thought Lark brings up repeatedly throughout the text and she continues to theorize about why she believes Mr. Hunt is an ogre. 
  • Iris sees a cat, Duchess, travel thorough a clock.  
  • Duchess leads Iris behind a curtain where Iris discovers a whole house. Not only is it almost the size of a mansion, but there are remarkable pieces of art scattered throughout. Mr. Green says, “I told you I had magic. You kept saying it was science.”  
  • Mr. Green use magic to make a compass using water and create a battery out of a potato.  
  • Mr. Green gains power by accessing wells of magic. He shows Iris a new well that is hidden inside his mansion. “Iris shook her head slightly as if to clear it. It was a well of magic. Magic was a thing, something you could scoop up like water.” Iris has a hard time comprehending the magic.  
  • Inside Mr. Green’s office, Iris discovers more magic. “One wall of shelving was lined with wooden carvings, and perched right in front of it was a big shiny black-and-gold sewing machine with a foot pedal. Another was filled with sealed jam jars of shimmering magic.”  
  • Mr. Green explains magic’s power. “The magic is hard to work with, but it does excel at one thing in particular . . . It excels at transformation. This is very useful when you need to walk out of a museum with a painting or take a sculpture the size of a semi-truck out of a public garden. It can also be useful in other ways. And I think, Miss Maguire, I know the best way to keep you. . . Perhaps I can give you as a gift to [my lost sister] after all.” He explains to Iris that he could use the magic to transform Iris into a doll for his sister.  
  • The explanation behind who the narrator is brought full circle and revealed as Mr. Green’s lost sister, Alice. It is learned that Alice turned herself into a crow and that she’s the giant crow following the girls throughout the story. “Iris was right — I did run from you. You locked me in a room, you said it was for my own good, and I pulled all the magic I could from the room and turned myself into a crow. I made a tool to open the latch and flew out the window. Crows are very good with tools. Magic has a cost. You gave your humanity willingly for it. I gave mine, too, but in a different way. I like my way better.”  

Spiritual Content 

  • None 

The Academy

Young Leo Doyle is the best soccer player in his small town of Middleton, Ohio. He dominates his YMCA soccer league and dreams of becoming a professional soccer player for the Premier League in England. His dream becomes a reality when Philip Niles, a London Dragons FC scout, invites him to try out for the Academy: the Dragon’s prestigious professional youth development program. With an opportunity to achieve his dream, Leo agrees to go to London for the summer. But he quickly learns one thing: he isn’t the only soccer star at the Academy Camp. 

Things grow dicey when Leo learns that only the best eleven players from the camp’s group of 220 join the Academy. With the pressure mounting, Leo struggles to perform up to expectations, and he fears being cut before the summer ends. Can Leo overcome the odds, the intense workouts, and the mean bullies to prove he’s worthy of being a London Dragon? 

The Academy is an exciting novel about a young boy working to become a professional soccer player. The book focuses on the life of the main protagonist, Leo Doyle, and follows a journal-like style where Leo’s first-person narration is told as journal entries. Leo is an exciting and energetic character to follow. The in-depth descriptions of his changing feelings toward the camp are vivid and genuine, and many readers will relate to Leo’s challenging experience in a new place with new faces. However, the book does recognize that Leo is also a middle-school boy, and it makes Leo’s personality very authentic by highlighting not only his strengths but also his weaknesses, such as his ignorance, quick temper, and childish passions. Leo’s scene with the bully Brock during their one-on-one soccer duel emphasizes his temper when he rashly states, “I’ll quit and go home, whether I make the World Cup or not.” 

The story’s plot and surrounding characters also enhance Leo’s character development. Many of them point out Leo’s weaknesses and encourage him to rise above the summer camp challenges. As a result, the book teaches the valuable lesson of trusting in one’s strengths and not allowing competition to ruin the fun. Leo learns to relieve himself of the pressure of perfection during soccer games and understands “in order to succeed, I had to be myself.”  

The Academy includes plenty of high-paced soccer scenes, where concrete descriptions and detailed play-by-plays will keep the readers hooked during each game, scrimmage, or drill. Although some game descriptions and plays can become too complex for those with little soccer knowledge, the story keeps things interesting by incorporating plenty of internal reflections, blossoming friendships, and courageous victories during its game-time sequences. Overall, The Academy presents an engaging tale about a young kid seeking to overcome the odds to join a prestigious youth development program. With its combination of a compelling protagonist, lovable side characters, and a moving lesson about trusting in one’s talents, The Academy is the perfect book for young and old soccer fans. 

Sexual Content 

  • None 

Violence 

  • A soccer player on the Columbus Tigers, Ronnie Lewis, trips Leo during a soccer game. Leo falls hard “and gets a face full of grass. It was a dirty, dirty play. My knees and elbows were bleeding.” Leo was not hurt badly. 
  • Brock, a burly kid with a blond crew cut, bullies Leo by making fun of his clothes and his favorite MLS league. Brock says “How lame [his] trackies are” and “We call it Major League Suck over here.” This scene is described over four pages. 
  • Brock jeers at Leo during a soccer game by taunting, “Why don’t you go back to America? That’s where the amateurs play.” 
  • Julian and Brock bully Leo during a soccer drill where Julian “offered [Leo] a hand” and then “retracted it” while Brock sneers, “Loser Yank. Your turn in the pot.” 
  • During a soccer drill, Brock smacked Leo in the stomach as a mean joke by “hitting [Leo] so hard with his hips that it knocked the wind out of [him].” Leo wasn’t hurt. 
  • Brock nearly drowns Leo at a local pool. Brock “yanked [Leo] down from behind and held [him] underwater with a hand on [his] neck.” Although Leo wasn’t hurt, it caused other boys, like Leo’s friend Alejandro, to “shove Brock hard in the chest, causing him to fall on his back in the water.” This scene is described over five pages. 
  • Brock trips Leo during a soccer scrimmage, and “the fall knocked the breath out of [him] and left [his] mouth full of grass.” 
  • When Brock finds himself on the losing side of a soccer match with Leo, he shouts, “I’m gonna kill you, Yank,” toward Leo. 
  • Brock and Leo engage in a soccer match where there’s constant shoving, tripping, shirt tugging, teasing, and slide tackling. At one point, Leo acknowledges that he didn’t “know how long we fought for that last goal. It seemed like hours. Both of us heaved with exertion, bleeding in half a dozen places from hard falls.” This scene is described over eleven pages. 

Drugs and Alcohol 

  • Robbie, Leo’s roommate at the soccer academy, gives Leo some ointment called “Icy Hot” for his cramps to “rub on [his] legs tonight and in the morning.” Leo uses Icy Hot repeatedly throughout the story. 

Language 

  • There is some name calling including idiots, jerks, doofus, and loser. For example, Leo calls the kids on the Columbus Tigers soccer team “rich jerks.” 
  • On three occasions, someone is told to shut up. For example, Leo tells his sister, Ginny, to “shut up” when she gives him a command. In addition, Brock tells his friend Julian to “shut up” after his rude remark toward Leo.  
  • Leo’s friend, Carlos, utters “what the crap” and calls Leo a “fart-breath.”  
  • Leo mutters, “geez” because of Robbie’s poor attitude. 
  • Brock calls Leo a “Yank” throughout the story because Leo is from the United States. 

Supernatural 

  • None 

Spiritual Content 

  • When Leo gets to participate in a FIFA tournament, he exclaims, “Have I died and gone to heaven?” 

When the Butterflies Came

Tara Doucet is a twelve-year old who seems to have everything going for her. She comes from one of the oldest families in New Iberia Parish and is a descendant of the original Paris Doucet Family. However, beneath the surface, Tara is struggling with a number of challenges. Her beloved Grammy Claire recently passed away, leaving a void in Tara’s life. Additionally, her mother has become reclusive and is unable to deal with her recent divorce or the looming foreclosure of their family plantation, leaving Tara to shoulder much of the burden. To make matters worse, Tara and her sister have never seen eye-to-eye, causing further tension and conflict within the family. 

Despite these difficulties, Tara’s life takes an unexpected turn for the better when she has a remarkable experience. After Tara’s grandmother’s funeral, a beautiful, velvety purple butterfly visits her, almost as if it were sent by her grandmother. Moments later, Tara receives a letter that sets her on a quest to unlock the mystery surrounding her Grammy Claire’s research with butterflies. As she delves deeper into her grandmother’s past, Tara must confront her own fears and insecurities and learn to embrace the beauty and complexity of life. 

The letter Tara receives from her grandmother leads her on an unexpected adventure to protect the butterflies that her grandmother discovered. Tara’s journey takes her to her grandmother’s house where she finds 10 keys and more letters with cryptic clues; the letters urge Tara to protect the butterflies and trust no one. As Tara progresses from clue to clue, she learns of her grandmother’s amazing scientific discovery. However, the discovery is what put her grandmother’s life and the existence of the butterflies in peril. 

The suspense builds as Tara relies on her wits and follows her heart to find the clues. She risks everything to save her grandmother’s butterflies. Tara’s wondrous tale is narrated in a gripping first-person, present tense, which allows readers to experience the intense range of emotions Tara goes through, including emotions from the depths of grief to the heights of wonder, from gripping fear to overwhelming surprise. As the reader follows Tara’s journey, they will be drawn into the vivid and enchanting landscape that is painted, where the rules of reality are suspended and anything is possible.  

Throughout Tara’s journey, she encounters various obstacles and challenges that she must overcome to succeed in her mission to protect the butterflies. Tara learns more about her grandmother’s life and the scientific discoveries she made. She also uncovers a sinister plot to destroy the butterflies and their habitat. Tara must use all of her skills and intelligence to stop the plot and protect the butterflies.  

However, figuring out who is behind all the danger is not an easy task. Tara must travel to the island of Chuuk, where her grandmother lived and her research began five years ago. There, she dives deep into her grandmother’s research, searching for clues that will help her uncover the truth of who is behind the plot to destroy the butterflies. Her journey to Chuuk reveals a world full of secrets and dangers that Tara never imagined. But with each new challenge, she grows stronger and more determined to complete her mission and protect the butterflies. 

Overall, Tara’s adventure is a thrilling and exciting story that teaches readers about the importance of protecting the environment and the creatures that inhabit it. When the Butterflies Came highlights the importance of perseverance, courage, and intelligence in overcoming obstacles and achieving goals. The story also emphasizes the power of family, even in the face of adversity, and the importance of cherishing the memories of those who have passed on. Tara’s journey is a story of growth and discovery, of facing one’s fears and finding the strength to overcome them, and of the enduring power of love. 

Sexual Content 

  • None 

Violence 

  • Tara is up at two in the morning trying to determine what the seventh key, that her grandmother leaves as a clue towards her secrets of the butterflies, unlocks when she hears someone moving around upstairs. She goes to her Grammy Claire’s laboratory that should have been locked shut. Instead, she finds it unlocked and one of the precious butterflies, crushed on a desk. Tara wonders, “‘What happened here? How did she die?’ And then I started to cry even harder because I know deep in my heart that the Giant Pink butterfly didn’t die of old age. It didn’t have an accident. Its life span didn’t just run out. It was murdered.”  
  • In a letter following the seventh key, Grammy Claire outlines that there is someone who is willing to put their lives in danger for the butterflies. “Someone wants to hurt the [butterflies]. To steal them, and destroy them. I cannot allow that to happen. They are precious. They hold a secret the world is not ready for, but which someone is willing to kill for. I often make myself crazy thinking about each person I know on the island and wondering who wants the butterflies. And who might want me dead.” The letter makes Tara question how her grandmother died. She begins to wonder if her grandmother’s car accident, wasn’t truly an accident.  
  • Tara finds her sister, Riley, splayed out at the bottom of the stairs, which are covered in water and oil. Riley begins to draw conclusions of her own that she shares with Tara. Riley says, “These stairs were just fine last night . . . I think somebody tried to hurt me. Or you.” 
  • While Tara and Riley are attending a barbecue, two gunshots go off. “A second later, there’s two ear-splitting pops that rupture the air. Instantly, the bark of the palm tree I’m sitting next to spurts a shower of splinters. My cheeks sting from flying, razor-like slivers, and then shredded bark sprays over my hair, my lap, and clothes. I’m screaming as I fall to the ground.” Tara is okay, but they find a bullet missed her head by inches. Riley and Tara run to escape. 
  • After finding the final last chest that unlocks the secrets of the butterflies, Riley and Tara try to leave the island when they are intercepted by the individuals who have been after their family the whole time. Tara is suddenly “tackled from behind and flung to the ground. The treasure chest launches out of my arms and I get a mouthful of sand. Then someone huge and strong reaches around and clasps their hand around my mouth.” Tara remains pinned in the sand.  
  • Tara and Riley’s captors talk about how to dispose of them. “‘Rope.’ ‘Nope. Grotto.’ ‘Hmm . . . might be easiest’ ‘. . . found Claire’s hidden chest. Look like they drowned getting it.’” 
  • As Tara and Riley’s captors held their heads over the water, Riley screams out to Tara. Riley’s “voice is instantly muffled as a hand roughly shoves my head under the water. I never get a chance to take a decent breath. Almost immediately, bubbles escape my nose. After twenty more seconds, my eyes bulge, trying to see in the dark water, staring up at the cavern roof. Beams of light flash here and there, squiggly and hazy . . . Now I’m bursting. I am truly drowning. My lungs are on fire. I’m going to die! Die!” Right before Tara’s body can completely give out, the men release because people show up. 

Drugs and Alcohol   

  • None 

Language 

  • In Grammy Claire’s third note, she mentions the importance of nipwisipwis, but Tara doesn’t quite understand what it means. It isn’t until her sister Riley looks up that it is written in another language –Chuukese. “I can barely choke out the words. ‘Nipwisipwis means butterfly!’” Nipwisipwis is utilized frequently for the rest of the book.  
  • ‘Kinnisow’ means ‘thank you’ in Chuukese. Eloni, Grammy Claire’s research assistant, teaches this to Tara so that she may use it while on the island.  

Supernatural   

  • The first butterfly to visit Tara is a small, purple one that floats into her room. It sits and stares into her eyes, making Tara question if there is something special about the butterfly. “This butterfly ain’t no regular butterfly. ‘Are you magic?’ I say real quiet, because I don’t want it to fly away and disappear.” 
  • In Grammy Claire’s second note, she talks about her dear friend who used to help Tara’s mom come out of her bouts of melancholy. To do so, she utilized herbal practices to create a concoction. Tara says, “’I’ll bet Grammy Claire’s talking about the mother of Miz Mirage, the woman who lives in the swamp. The one all the kids at school call a swamp witch. . . Maybe what she does ain’t bad magic at all.’ Words dance in front of my eyes. Herbs. Healing. Prayers. Love.” 
  • Someone shows Tara the magic of the butterflies. Tara begins to realize that the purple ones with a yellow outline can make music of their own.  
  • Upon finding the last chest, Tara and Riley begin to read some of the curious findings that make their grandmother’s work with butterflies so dangerous. “I stare inside the thick envelope, trying to focus. Words jump out at me. Nipwisipwis is written over and over again on every sheet. Giant Pink. Experiments. Turn back time.” 

Spiritual Content   

  • After Grammy Claire dies, Tara receives a letter from her that was written in the event of her death. The letter says, “What does gone mean, after all? Am I six feet under? Floating in the air or dancing on a cloud? Maybe I am having tea with God and making Him answer the long list of questions I’ve been hungering after for decades . . . even if that means I’ll wake up in heaven next time I see you. You can bet I’ll be the first in line to hug you and smother you with kisses.” 
  • In a letter, Grammy Claire tells Tara how she is looking down on her from heaven. “In Chuukese, they call heaven naangenu, the place we came from and the place we return after death. Where I am, I will be with you in spirit. Always” 
  • Eloni, Grammy Claire’s research assistant, tries to comfort Tara. Eloni says Grammy Claire is still looking over them and that Grammy Claire, “is right now watching. From naangenu. . . It means heaven. Where the gods live. And one day, we live there, too.” 

Thanksgiving on Thursday

With each step, orange leaves crunch, and the smell of roasted turkey seeps into the living room. Paper-hand turkeys cover the fridge and the taste of pumpkin pie warms the heart. There are so many amazing traditions that come with Thanksgiving. Now, where did these traditions come from? Jack and Annie travel to Plymouth in 1621 to experience the first Thanksgiving and find out.  

When Jack and Annie arrive, they are dressed in outfits that look just like the other settlers. Annie wears a long dress with an apron and Jack wears trousers with stockings. They silently try to make their way to the village, but Jack gets caught in a trap. With all the commotion, the settlers and Squanto, a member of the Wampanoag tribe, spot the siblings.  

Jack and Annie are interesting and likable characters. Jack’s fearsome nature compliments Annie’s brave and headstrong attitude. This is shown even more with the black and white illustrations. For example, when Jack grabs an eel, his facial expression shows his fear. The siblings both use words like “sure” and “oh brother!” which gives them more personality. 

When reading Thanksgiving on Thursday, children will learn about the Pilgrims’ journey on the Mayflower as well as how Squanto and other Native Americans helped the Pilgrims survive. The author incorporates facts about the first Thanksgiving into a fun adventure. For example, “Squanto showed the Pilgrims a way to catch eels. He showed them how to push the eels out of the wet sand with their bare feet, then grab them with their hands.”  

While much of the story is fictional, the book includes historical figures like Squanto and Priscilla. Priscilla is one of the most notable Pilgrims from the Mayflower and she becomes a guide for Jack and Annie’s adventure. Squanto was also helpful to the kids. He taught them that, although someone may look different or come from a different place, they should still be treated kindly. Squanto not only tells them this but shows by example. Although Squanto does not know who Jack and Annie are or where they truly came from, he still welcomes them to the feast.  

Proficient readers who are ready for chapter books will enjoy Thanksgiving on Thursday’s fast-paced plot. There is large text and black-and-white illustrations every two to seven pages, which makes the story accessible to young readers. The large, detailed illustrations also help to bring the characters to life. In addition, readers will see the characters in action, such as when Jack drops the turkey. Even though Thanksgiving on Thursday is part of a series, the books do not need to be read in order. However, readers will enjoy discovering the other quests that Jack and Annie go on.   

Follow Jack and Annie on an exciting adventure in 1621 while they experience the first Thanksgiving. After reading Thanksgiving on Thursday, readers will be ready for pumpkin pie, but, most importantly, they will learn why Thanksgiving is monumental. Readers who want to learn more about Thanksgiving can read the following non-fiction books: The Magic Tree House Fact Tracker: Pilgrims by Mary Pope Osborne and What Was the First Thanksgiving? by Joan Holub. 

Sexual Content 

  • None 

Violence 

  • There is mention of the family and friends who traveled on the Mayflower and died from disease and were “cold and hungry.”  

Drugs and Alcohol 

  • Squanto smokes a pipe with the other men.  

Language 

  • When Jack makes a mistake, Priscilla laughs. He blushes and thinks, “Priscilla must think I’m an idiot.” 

Supernatural 

  • Jack and Annie have a magic tree house that allows them to travel to the past. 

Spiritual Content 

  • Pilgrims wanted to travel to America because “the people on board [the Mayflower] wanted freedom of religion. They wanted to worship God in their own way– not the way the king of England made them.” 
  • Children are important to the settlers because “children are a gift from God.” 
  • Priscilla explains the awful winter the people had faced due to the harsh weather. She says, “And now, God be praised, we had a good harvest, and we have peace with our neighbors.” 

Pilgrims

After Jack and Annie’s feast in Magic Tree House #27: Thanksgiving on Thursday, the pair was still hungry for more information about the Pilgrims’ history. When they go to the library to research, they are flooded with stories, illustrations, and facts that help them better understand life in the 1600s. Pilgrims gives readers more information about the history by introducing readers to historical figures such as William Bradford, the governor who led the Pilgrims, along with familiar faces like Squanto and Priscilla Alden. By reading Pilgrims, readers can follow Jack and Annie as they find the deeper meaning of Thanksgiving. 

The non-fiction story follows the Pilgrims and the Wampanoag tribe from the first meeting to the first Thanksgiving feast. There are many connections between Pilgrims and Thanksgiving on Thursday. For example, in Thanksgiving on Thursday Jack and Annie learn how Squanto helped the Pilgrims grow crops by using rotting fish. Pilgrims goes into more detail about this as well as the other actions Squanto did to help them. On the other hand, Squanto lies about the Pilgrims to create tension which causes the two groups’ problems.  

The first couple of chapters explain the impact religion had on the people leaving England as well as their many months on the Mayflower. Black-and-white illustrations appear on almost every page and include historical people and places as well as props to reenact scenes and show examples. One of the illustrations gives an inside look at the Mayflower, which helps the reader better understand the close quarters the Pilgrims lived in for months. Illustrations also show the clothing that both the Native Americans and Pilgrims wore. Along with the illustrations, there are many pictures of historical people.  

Pilgrims is packed with information that is easily digestible for young readers. There are many tools to help a young audience follow along. For example, each chapter is broken into small sections that give historical information. Plus, the illustrations break up text into much smaller pieces and some pages only have an image. The tribe’s name, Wampanoag, is explained. “Today we know them as the Wampanoag (wahm-puh-NO-ag) Nation. This means ‘People of the First Light’ or ‘People of the East.’ They were hunters, gatherers, farmers, and fishermen.” Also, complicated words like “Patuxet”, and “moccasins” are sounded out, (puh-TUX-it) and (MOCK-uh-sinz), and explained to expand vocabulary. Readers will find it interesting to learn the difference between the original Thanksgiving meal versus today’s Thanksgiving meal, and they will find humor in the faces Jack makes when he tries the unsweetened cranberry sauce.  

Pilgrims presents nonfiction information in a way that will engage young readers. Adults can use Pilgrims as a conversation starter because the Pilgrims’ journey was not only the start of a holiday with delicious food but also the start of a nation. The book is perfect for readers who are interested in doing research because the author includes the best way to research Pilgrims as well as more resources such as books, videos, and museums. Pilgrims is packed full of historical information that is fun to read. Whether it is for research or for fun, reading Pilgrims will delight those who love Thanksgiving. Readers who are interested in learning more about the Pilgrims’ journey should also read The Voyage of the Mayflower by Allison Lassieur. Those who are ready to jump into another imaginative story based on the Mayflower should add Mayflower Treasure Hunt by Ron Roy to their must-read list. 

Sexual Content 

  • None 

Violence 

  • A section of the book is titled “Cruel Treatment” which describes some ways the Pilgrims and native people treated each other. “Sometimes the strangers [Pilgrims] treated the Native People badly. They shot at them without reason. They stole their corn and furs. Sometimes they even captured them and sold them into slavery.” There is also non-physical cruelty explained too. “Too often, Native People died from diseases the newcomers brought…Their bodies had no way to fight the new infections. Whole villages were wiped out. Later more settlers arrive. They forced the Native People from their lands. Farms and towns grew where native villages once stood.” 

Drugs and Alcohol 

  • None 

Language 

  • None 

Supernatural 

  • None 

Spiritual Content 

  • The term “Separatists” is explained and sometimes used to describe the individuals who “separated for the Church of England.” This group took the trip on the Mayflower because they wanted the freedom of religion and “the Separatists wanted to worship their own way.” 
  • The Mayflower Compact explains how the Pilgrims governed themselves during their time on the Mayflower. The compact said, “The people were united in their belief in God.” 
  • Once the Mayflower reached land, the individuals on board “felt their prayers had been answered. They fell to their knees and gave thanks.” 
  • After Squanto helps the pilgrims, “they were so grateful to him, they called him ‘an instrument of God.’” 
  • The first Thanksgiving is described as, “a harvest festival. The 50 surviving Pilgrims met to praise God for their good fortune.” 
  • A section is titled “Church” and explains that many of the Pilgrims came on the Mayflower to “worship as they wished.” Also, it is revealed there was no physical Church, only a room, and Sunday was a day no one worked or played but rested.   

The Troubled Girls of Dragomir Academy

Illyria, a land shrouded in mystery and magic, is home to a kingdom full of potential sorcerers, witches’ curses, and a mysterious mist called “the Dread.” Marya Lupu has always known her place in the kingdom. Her role is to stay quiet and make sure her brother Luka gets the title his family feels he deserves, which is to be a powerful sorcerer. However, on the day that the sorcerer’s guild comes to test Luka’s magical capabilities, Marya finds herself at the root of a chaotic mistake that will change her life forever. As it turns out, Marya’s brother is not a sorcerer after all, and the guild finds Marya to be unfit for the norms of society. Upon the king’s wishes, Marya is sent away to Dragomir Academy, a prestigious school for troubled girls. Although initially hesitant and fearful, Marya soon finds that Dragomir Academy is a place of great opportunity and learning. 

At the academy, Marya is introduced to the values and practices necessary for a lady of Illyria. In the eyes of the kingdom, Marya needs to know etiquette, needlework, music, and literature in order to have value. But Marya also discovers that Dragomir Academy is a place of secrets and intrigue. As she delves deeper into the mysteries surrounding the academy, Marya realizes that her fate is intertwined with Illyria’s fate. And as Marya uncovers the secrets of Dragomir Academy, she realizes her true destiny may be far greater than she ever imagined. 

The Troubled Girls of Dragomir Academy is a captivating and thought-provoking novel that delves into the lives of young girls dealing with personal issues such as what their role is inside a patriarchal society and what power they hold. Although the story starts off slowly, it gradually builds momentum as it explores the complexities of Marya’s and the other girls at the academy’s lives. Unlocking the mysteries will leave readers on the edge of their seats. 

As Marya arrives at Dragomir Academy, she is introduced to an entirely new world, one full of challenges and untold secrets. Her journey to unravel these secrets makes the book compelling.  Readers’ hearts will break as they follow Marya through the difficult challenges the ladies of Illyria face. Marya is a character that readers will want to give a hug. She is extremely relatable, especially for young girls who are learning to navigate their way in the world. She is curious, intelligent, and admirable, with a deep sense of empathy that makes her all the more endearing. Readers will find themselves rooting for Marya at every turn, as she overcomes obstacles both big and small on her journey of self-discovery. Her steadfast determination to succeed and strive to find out the truth makes her an inspiration to anyone who has ever faced adversity. Whether she’s exploring new horizons or facing down a challenge head-on, Marya’s spirit and resilience are sure to leave a lasting impression on readers of all ages. 

The Troubled Girls of Dragomir Academy is a powerful book that tells the story of girls who have been told that they are powerless. They have been told to calm down, be proper, and be quiet. This book is about finding strength, friendship, and the power within yourself. It’s about choosing to be strong despite the obstacles in your path. With vivid descriptions of the academy and the girls, the author paints a picture that is both whimsical and heart-wrenching. This is a must-read for anyone looking for an empowering story about young women who refuse to be silenced. However, it is not a read for the faint of heart, as it shows the gravity of how heavy life can be for a woman.  

Sexual Content 

  • None 

Violence 

  • The Dread is a mysterious monster affiliated with the kingdom that causes villages to be lost overnight. The Dread leaves the villagers dead, which is described several times as the Dread leaving corpses without blood or souls. 
  • Marya reflects on the loss of her baby brother, Pieter. “The fever came during the day and he died during the night. She was eight, then. It happened while she was sleeping. She’d tried to stay up to watch him, but she was so tired from the day of trying to get the fever down.” She was heartbroken over the loss of her brother, after his passing her family pretended he didn’t exist.  
  • Two significant girls at Dragomir Academy get “mountain madness.” When the onset occurs, the girls start shrieking and crying because they either see things or feel that there are bugs crawling underneath their skin. Simona, the sixth year in charge of her class, tells Marya of her experience. “Nothing was there. But then it kept happening. Or it would feel like spiders were underneath my skin, scuttling in my veins… I tried to hide it, pretended everything was fine. And then one night when I was sleeping, I dreamed a giant spider was on my chest, tying me up. But it felt so real. So I started screaming and fighting, trying to get it off me.” Mountain madness then becomes a topic of interest for Marya as she feels there is something more to it that the adults are hiding.  
  • A girl’s aunt accidentally harmed a village boy. The girl says her aunt “was practicing witchcraft. Like, some boy who had been pestering her while she was walking, suddenly his hair lit on fire.” The child was okay, but her aunt was sent to an asylum for witches.  
  • High Count Arev, a member of the Sorcerer’s Guild, answers questions about witches. “During the early days of the Witching Wars, we simply put them to death. But of course, that ultimately added to our troubles, for reasons we understand now . . . All the magic of the witches we killed during the Witching Wars either transferred to new witches or appeared somewhere else in the kingdom as an uncontrollable entity and would wreak havoc.”  
  • The headmaster, Headmaster Iagar, of the school, locks Marya in a quarantined cottage. Then, he corners her in the great hall, but Elana, Marya’s friend, helps protect her. “Elana was at the top of the stairs, out of breath, Madame Rosetti, the other teacher at the academy, behind her. The headmaster whirled around, but before he could say anything, Elana lifted her hands and pushed them towards him, the air shimmering with power. He flew backwards, slammed into the wall, and fell to the ground.” He is left unharmed but remains unconscious for several minutes after the blow. 

Drugs and Alcohol 

  • Elana was taken into isolation by the headmaster. “Then I fell asleep again and woke up and I couldn’t remember if it even happened at all, or I’d dreamt it . . . At least, I think that’s what happened. I slept so much. It must have been an enchantment. Or a potion. So I can’t really tell what was a dream and what was real.” Anyone who has “mountain madness” is taken to a quarantined cottage and given a potion that creates a drug-like effect on the user.  

Language 

  • None 

Supernatural  

  • Sorcerers and witches are discussed throughout the entirety of the text as they are the protagonists and antagonists of the society. The Sorcerer’s Guild is made up of the young men of the kingdom who possess the talent to harness magic, while the witches are the enemy that they face. The Sorcerer’s Guild and high-ranking officials repeatedly assure the people of the kingdom that any woman who possesses a witch’s talents are harmful beings and must be stopped at all costs.  
  • The Dread is a monster that attacks the villages. It is “the monstrous force that lived in the forest and roamed to nearby towns to devour them.” The Dread is a misty, purple monster that kills an entire village in one night. It is explained that it is brought on by a curse set forth by the witches.  
  • A letter arrives at the Lupu home about Luka’s upcoming sorcerer’s test. “Representatives from the Council of Magical Protection of Illyria, serving the Sorcerer’s Guild, will be at your home in fifteen days, at noon, to evaluate your son, Luka Lupu, for potential giftedness in the art of sorcery.” Upon the day the guild arrives, Luka, like several other young boys throughout the kingdom, will be tested to see if he possesses the ability to harness magic. If he does, his family will be sent to a rich estate and he will join the Sorcerer’s Guild. If he does not, they will continue to live as they do and work hard to build their way up in society.  
  • Madame Bandu, a local village woman, explains how the magical testing will work for Luka. “The Sorcerer’s Guild has always been able to detect potential sorcerers through some kind of spell. It used to be that all boys would be sent to the estates so that they could be mentored when their time did come in. It’s only in the last few decades that they developed a test that could — with reasonable accuracy — predict which boys would actually come to wield magic.” 
  • Marya is learning about the history of Dragomir Academy and the beliefs many individuals hold about females. “Did people think education would somehow turn these girls into witches?” She believes this to be a ridiculous thought and one that makes her sad for the girls who do not get an opportunity for education. 
  • Madame Szabo, Marya’s teacher at Dragomir, asks them about their knowledge of witches. Marya answers, “Well, they cast spells. Like everyone else in the area would lose their vision at once, or sleep through a harvesting season, or plant catnip instead of turnips . . . Or they would all get fevers that lasted for months and months.” 

Spiritual Content 

  • None 

Breadcrumbs

Hazel Anderson and Jack Campbell were inseparable best friends. They shared a unique and magical world of their own creation, filled with wonder and imagination, that no one else could fully understand. It was only together that they found their place within the world. 

But one day, without any warning or explanation, Jack suddenly ceased all communication. Hazel feels bewildered, hurt, and alone, and she’s unable to comprehend why her closest companion had seemingly abandoned her.  

Hazel is devastated and can’t understand why her best friend left without a word. Hazel ponders over Jack’s mysterious behavior until Tyler, a close friend of Jack’s, shares what he believes to be impossible. Jack had been taken into the woods by a white witch on a sled. 

Determined to find out the truth and rescue her friend, Hazel embarks on a perilous journey through the mystical woods, using all of her wits and bravery to navigate the treacherous terrain and overcome many obstacles. Her only hope lies in finding the white witch who is rumored to dwell deep within the woods – the same witch who Hazel believes holds Jack captive. 

Hazel can’t help but wonder if Jack truly wants to be rescued or if he has intentionally chosen to leave her behind. The closer she gets to the truth, the more Hazel’s doubts and uncertainties begin to consume her. She wonders if she’s truly prepared for what she might find and if the truth behind Jack’s disappearance might be more than she can handle. 

Hazel is a character that is easily relatable due to her simple and down-to-earth personality. She has a warm and welcoming demeanor that allows people to feel at ease around her. Additionally, Hazel’s experiences are ones that many can relate to, such as the ups and downs of relationships, the struggles of balancing school and friendships, and the journey of self-discovery. In essence, Hazel is a character that embodies the human experience, making her a truly multi-dimensional and interesting character to explore. As she relies on her wits, bravery, and unspeakable determination to uncover the truth and rescue her friend, readers will be rooting for her the entire way. 

The whimsical story includes fifteen blackandwhite illustrations that are scattered throughout the text. The illustrations are detailed, yet soft and cartoon-like. It helps bring the reader fully into the world within Breadcrumbs. 

Breadcrumbs is a captivating and enchanting story that takes readers on a journey of self-discovery, friendship, and resilience. The story demonstrates that no matter how lost one may feel, it is never too late to find oneself and embrace who you truly are. Hazel, the protagonist, is a shining example of this. She discovers her true worth and identity. Through her journey, Hazel learns the value of true friends who support and encourage one another, even during the most challenging of times. Breadcrumbs also highlights the importance of perseverance and determination in overcoming obstacles and achieving our dreams. Overall, Breadcrumbs is a heartwarming tale that reminds readers of the power of friendship and the resilience of the human spirit. 

Sexual Content 

  • None 

Violence 

  • After getting upset, Hazel throws a snowball at Jack. A few seconds later, unhurt by the snowball, something else causes him to cry out in pain. “’Ow!’ He yelled. ‘Ow!’ His voice cracked into the sky. His other hand flew to his chest and he fell to his knees.” A snowflake with a shard of cursed glass fell into his eye.  
  • Two classmates, Tyler and Bobby, taunt Hazel as they do most days, but this time she has had enough. She retaliates by throwing a pencil case at Tyler. “In one motion Hazel stood up, grabbed the hard pencil case from her desk, and hurled it at Tyler. There were some yelps, some gasps, and then absolute quiet.” Tyler is hit in the head and left with a large, painful bump. 
  • Hazel meets a woman who stole a swan’s skin. Hazel accidentally discards the skin. The woman scratches  Hazel for throwing away the skin. “‘I see,’ the woman said, running a cold finger down Hazel’s cheek. ‘Actions have consequences, little girl.’ And then there was pain. Stinging, and then searing. The woman had stuck a nail into Hazel’s cheek, and it was like a talon. She dragged her finger down, splitting the skin on Hazel’s face. It traveled down her cheek to her neck.” Hazel is left with a gash that bleeds profusely until a young man comes to aid the wound. She is left with a horrible scar. 
  • The white witch gives Jack a puzzle of broken shards that continually cut his fingers as he moves them. “He looked down at the puzzle shards. They were made of old, jagged angles. He reached a finger out to touch one of the points. He felt nothing, but a small dome of red blood rose out of his finger pad.” 

Drugs and Alcohol 

  • None

Language   

  • When Jack abandon’s Tyler and Bobby as friends they blame Hazel. They taunt her with different names such as Crazy Hazy, psycho, and baby. 

Supernatural  

  • The narrator gives background on a goblin, who is only prevalent to the beginning part of the story.  “Mal looks nothing like you can imagine, neither goblin nor troll nor imp nor demon. But neither the goblins nor trolls nor imps nor demons know what Mal is either. For Mal is not any of those one things, but all of them . . .” This character only exists to create an entryway into the magic that exists throughout the rest of the story. 
  • The narrator takes a moment to provide context about the glass that made its way into Jack’s eye. This piece of glass is not anything ordinary, because it is a shard from a cursed mirror. “Mal had just invented something delightful – or at least something he found delightful, for that is an altogether different prospect. On the surface, it looked like an ordinary mirror . . . For the mirror took beautiful things and made them ugly, and took ugly things and made them hideous . . . the mirror shattered into the sky. . . one landed in the eye of a boy.”  
  • After Hazel notices the change in Jack’s behavior, she asks an adult what supernatural options there could be for Jack’s sudden change in personality. The adult says, “There are a few options. Possession is one. Not by a demon, but by something a little more harmless, like a goblin or imp. . . Or an evil disembodied brain thing.  Or there could be some sort of enchantment. By a witch or wizard. Or by a magical item, something that was given to them, or something they acquired, maybe by accident. Or something that’s infected them that causes them to see the world in a skewed way.’” 
  • Tyler tells Hazel about the impossible thing he saw right before Jack’s disappearance. Tyler says, “He wasn’t alone. There was a woman there. She was . . . she wasn’t right. She was tall and weirdly thin. She wasn’t real. She was all white and silver and made of snow . . . like an elf or a witch . . . like a movie.” 
  • Hazel encounters three women in the woods that promise to help her. “[The first woman] picked a long gray string out of the box. It had a puff of wool attached at one end. She passed the string down, puff end first, and the three hooded women stared at it as if it were the most fascinating thing in the world.” The string the women look at represents Hazel’s life. The three women are supposed to represent the Fates who are in charge of the lives of those inside the world. They can see that her fate is yet undetermined and promise to help her if she asks a question. Although upon hearing her questions about the white witch, they send Hazel on her way.  
  • Hazel meets a young boy who lives in a cabin in the woods. His sister has been changed into a bird. The boy explains that a couple “‘said she’d run away. But I saw the bird and I knew. . . ‘ He glanced at the gold cage behind him. ‘It’s just like her. And you always know your sister.’”  
  • As Hazel walks through the woods, she thinks, “There were witches in the woods, they stole beauty from swans and then rotted from the inside. There were couples who wanted to turn girls into pretty little birds. The woods do strange things to people.” 
  • Hazel meets a kind couple that says they want to help, but upon walking Hazel listens to the stories of the flowers. She finds out that the couple has changed the girls into flowers. Hazel runs back into the woods before they can turn her into a rose.  

Spiritual Content 

  • None

Star of Stage and Screen

Lights, camera, Nancy! This year, Nancy Clancy’s elementary school is putting on a play about the 50 states called The Nifty Fifty. Everyone in her class is so excited to participate, and so is she. After only getting small parts in previous plays, Nancy is ready for something bigger and something with more of a spotlight. So, with her guitar and a song, she auditions. Her nerves and her bully, Grace, tell her she won’t be good enough, but she still performs. Mr. Dudeny, her teacher, is so pleased with her performance that he gives Nancy a callback and, then, a part! Nancy is determined to be the best she can be. 

There was much to do before the opening night. All of the students made sure to practice, but Bree, Nancy’s best friend, took her practicing a little too seriously. Every free moment Bree practices her tap routine. She is practicing so much because she is afraid to make a mistake. But Nancy doesn’t understand Bree’s feelings. Nancy’s lack of understanding and Bree’s perfectionist attitude cause a divide between them right before opening night. However, when she goes on stage, Nancy freezes which allows her to finally understand how Bree feels.  

Nancy’s parents and sister, JoJo, are her biggest supporters. Nancy’s family gives her advice not only on the fight with Bree but also on her upcoming performance. Nancy’s family is excited when she gets a callback, and they are sympathetic to her when she messes up. Throughout the story, JoJo and Nancy fight like typical sisters but, in the end, they lean on each other. Nancy tells JoJo “Merci mille fois– that’s French for ‘Thank you a thousand times.’ You’re a great sister and you really came to the rescue.”  

Star of Stage and Screen has 14 chapters each containing around 10 pages. Black-and-white illustrations, which appear on every other page, break up long pieces of text and show the emotions and actions of the characters. A young audience will find humor in the jokes told about the states. Lionel, who is the MC for the musical, tells most of these jokes. Some of his jokes include, “What did one Volcano say to the other? . . .I lava you!” and “If a cowboy rides into Houston on Friday and leaves a day later on Friday, how on earth can that be? Because his horse is named Friday!” Her family also adds humor to the story. For example, when Nancy’s dad is giving her advice about performing, he tells her, “Right before you start, you look out at the audience and pretend that everyone is in their underwear.” Nancy responds with, “Eww. Daddy, I don’t want to picture the parents undressed.” 

Star of Stage and Screen is geared more toward early elementary readers. The different plotlines may be difficult for some readers to follow. Star of Stage and Screen is most relatable to readers who perform in musicals or plays. Readers will empathize with Bree who is terrified of making a mistake in front of an audience. However, they will also empathize with Nancy who deals with stage fright. By reading Star of Stage and Screen, young readers will find comfort in knowing they are not alone. The story teaches the importance of being able to rely on family and friends during difficult times. Readers who enjoy performing on stage should also check out Dancing in the Wings by Debbie Allen and JoJo & BowBow Take The Stage by JoJo Siwa. If you’re looking for books that have positive lessons about friendship, add these books to your reading list: Bo the Brave by Rebecca Elliott and the Purrmaids Series by Sudipta Bardhan-Quallen. 

Sexual Content 

  • None 

Violence 

  • None 

Drugs and Alcohol 

  • None 

Language 

  • One of Nancy’s classmates, Grace, bullies Nancy throughout the story. Grace picks on Nancy by making mean comments. For example, right before Nancy is supposed to audition, her nervousness shows. Grace asks Nancy, “What are you so worked up about? . . . You won’t be one of the stars.’”  
  • As Nancy awaits a callback, Grace asks Nancy if she heard anything. Nancy replies, “No. Not yet.” Grace then tells Nancy, “Aw, too bad… But there have to be some kids in the chorus right?” 
  • At dress rehearsal, Grace yelled at Nancy for wearing a country outfit and cowboy hat like her. She accuses Nancy of “copying her” and tells her to change. Luckily, Mr. Dudeny explains to Grace that they could both wear cowgirl outfits. 
  • Nancy does not reciprocate her meanness. In fact, when Grace is sick and is not able to perform at the show, Nancy calls Grace and says, “I’m sorry you can’t be in the show . . . I feel really bad for you.” 

Supernatural 

  • None 

Spiritual Content 

  • None 

Who was Edgar Allan Poe?

Filled with broken hearts and black ravens, Edgar Allan Poe’s ghastly tales have delighted readers for centuries. Born in Boston in 1809, Poe was orphaned at age two. He was soon adopted by a Virginia family who worked as tombstone merchants. In 1827 he enlisted in the Army and subsequently failed out of West Point. His first published story, The Raven, was a huge success, but his joy was overshadowed by the death of his wife. Poe devoted his life to writing and his tragic life often inspired his work. He is considered to be the inventor of detective fiction and the father of American mystery writers. His work continues to influence popular culture through films, music, literature, and television.

Who was Edgar Allan Poe? begins with his early childhood which was filled with hardships. Edgar’s father abandoned the family. Soon after, his mother died of tuberculosis. Edgar and his siblings were sent to live with different foster parents. In his early years, several women influenced Edgar—his mother, his foster mother, and one of his friend’s mother, Jane Standard. Unfortunately, all of the women’s lives were cut short by tuberculosis. The grief over the women’s deaths affected Edgar’s writing throughout his life.

Who was Edgar Allan Poe? has an easy-to-read format with large font. Large black-and-white illustrations appear on almost every page. Many of the illustrations include people and places that were important to Edgar. While the wide array of illustrations and the short chapters will help keep readers interested, some may have difficulties with the book’s advanced vocabulary. The text does explain some of the terms readers may be unfamiliar with. In addition, some pages explain historical information such as West Point’s background, important people in Poe’s life, as well as tuberculosis, and the development of a vaccine. The back of the book also includes a timeline of Edgar’s life and a timeline of the 1800s.

Because of the many hardships in Edgar Allan Poe’s life, many of his poems and stories are gloomy and discuss death. Even though some of Edgar’s stories were popular during his time, Edgar didn’t live long enough to see how his writings influenced many other writers. Learning about Edgar’s life will give readers a better understanding of the man and his literary work. Plus, the book would be a good starting point for those who want to research Edgar. 

While many readers will recognize Edgar Allan Poe because of his short and often scary stories, the book explains that he “was a complex man who struggled to overcome a series of sad events to become a major American writer. He influenced so many writers after him that his work is still studied in high schools, colleges, and universities more than 165 years after his death.” Who was Edgar Allan Poe? will entertain and educate readers who want to learn more about the author who created the first gothic, gloomy stories and poems.

Sexual Content 

  • None

Violence 

  • Poe wrote a novel that “told tales of suffering and death, and even cannibalism.” 

Drugs and Alcohol 

  • As an adult, Edgar had a drinking problem. “When he had a good job at a magazine, he lost it by drinking too much.” Edgar’s drinking was a habit which caused him to switch jobs frequently. “Sometimes he didn’t get along with his bosses. Other times, he was fired for drinking.” 
  • Edgar’s father, David “began drinking too much and quarreling with [his wife].” David eventually abandoned his family.
  • Edgar’s foster father was a successful merchant. “The company bought and sold tobacco. . . but it also sold a variety of other goods, including books, frying pans, wine, and even tombstones!”
  • In his stories, Poe “sometimes wrote from the point of view of a crazy person. Some of the characters in his stories were drug addicts.”

Language 

  • None

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content 

  • None

Mystery of the Egyptian Amulet

When the Nile town of Thebes is threatened by a scarab-amulet eating ghost, Zet is determined to uncover the truth. Meanwhile, Zet’s best friend, a jeweler’s apprentice, is in trouble. Could the ghost and his best friend’s ominous master be connected somehow?

As if he didn’t have enough trouble, special orders have gone missing at Zet’s family pottery stall. With angry customers on his hands, his family’s reputation is going downhill fast. Soon the investigation becomes a race against time. Zet and his sister, Kat, must solve the ever-twisting puzzle before it destroys the people they love. 

Zet is an extremely likable protagonist who isn’t afraid to face danger to help the people around him. When Zet suspects that his best friend, Hui, is in danger, he does what comes to him naturally—he investigates the jeweler’s compound where Hui works. When he investigates, Zet is often impulsive; however, his intentions are always honorable. Zet’s fun personality, his mystery-solving skills, and his bravery make him shine. By the end of the book, readers will be wishing Zet was their best friend.

Mystery of the Egyptian Amulet is an engaging story that will appeal to anyone who likes a fast-paced mystery. Readers will also enjoy learning what life was like in ancient Egypt. Even though Zet is only twelve years old, he is responsible for running his family’s pottery stall as well as providing for his mother and younger brother. Zet takes this responsibility seriously, and while he worries about not being able to care for his family, he never complains about his lot in life. Likewise, even though his sister can be annoying, he treats her kindly and even appreciates her knowledge (although, he doesn’t let her know this!). 

The Mystery of the Egyptian Amulet’s danger and mystery will captivate readers. While they will enjoy trying to solve the clues, the best part of the Kid Detective Zet Series is Zet, an interesting character who has many positive character traits despite being impulsive enough to get into some sticky situations. Even though Zet often runs from thugs, the story is kid-friendly with plenty of suspense without being scary. The story’s short chapters and easy vocabulary also make the book perfect for reluctant readers. The Kid Detective Zet Series is a highly entertaining series that will hook kids on reading. 

Sexual Content 

  • None

Violence 

  • Zet’s best friend, Hui, is an apprentice for a jeweler. When Zet tries to see Hui, a guard tells Zet to leave. When Zet “didn’t move, the man cracked his meaty fingers. . . . the man grabbed his arm and twisted Zet into a headlock.” The guard says, “Makes a funny noise when your neck breaks. Crunch-like.” The next day Zet shows his sisters the bruises the guard gave him.
  • Hui says he must be careful of the jeweler or, “He’ll make me disappear. I know that’s what happened to his partner.” 
  • The police chief tells Zet to be careful because “a servant was attacked in Khonsu Street and almost killed. He was found unconscious, his head bleeding.” 
  • Zet tries to sneak into the jeweler’s house. When he jumps over a fence, “three large hounds crouched at the open door to the house. The snarling dog bared its teeth. . . They bore down on him in a flash of teeth and fur. . . Teeth caught hold of his ankle. He felt skin tear. He wrenched his leg free. . .” Zet got free and ran. His wound is not described. 
  • Zet knows the jeweler is planning on hiding stolen jewels in bread. To catch the jeweler stealing, Zet dresses like a demon. When he went into town, “people fell back in shock.” People began running which allowed Zet to get close to the cart with the hidden jewels.
  • When Zet begins throwing bread out of the cart, the jeweler’s guard, Snaggletooth, “snatched Zet’s ankle. Meaty fingers took hold of Zet’s oiled skin. Zet wrenched backward. . .” 
  • When Zet crawls into the cart, “someone shoved him hard. . . He flew forward. . . he saw Sanaggletooth’s sword chop down.” Zet is uninjured. The scene is described over three pages. 
  • Another one of the jeweler’s guards tries to get Zet. “The henchman landed a glancing blow against Zet’s leg with his club. Nails scraped down his shin. If it had been any closer, it would have broken Zet’s leg. . .” The injury is not described. 
  • When the jeweler’s guards are detained, Zet finds Hui hidden at the bottom of the bread cart. “Hui’s arms and legs were bound tightly to his side. The medjay [police chief] whipped out his blade and cut the bindings free.” Hui is uninjured.

Drugs and Alcohol 

  • When the police chief went to investigate a man’s residence, the man “sat back drinking wine while we turned the place upside-down.” 

Language 

  • Zet sneaks into the jewelry apprentice shop with Kat. When she makes a loud noise, Zet thinks, “Wormsnot and bettledung! He was a complete idiot. . .”
  • Kat uses “by the gods” as an exclamation once. 
  • When surprised, Zet yells, “What in the name of the gods?”

Supernatural

  • There is a rumor that an evil army of spirits is coming to town. A shopkeeper says, “They’re creeping into town. Stirring up trouble. Casting dark dreams.” The spirits are accused of stealing scarab amulets. The man explains, “And you know how important scarabs are to Egypt. They ensure long life. They ensure birth. Creation. Balance.”
  • Kat worries that the rumors are true because of the war. She says, “The Hyksos spirits probably are mad. And you know they can’t be burying the enemy Hyksos soldiers properly, with the war going on.” 
  • When Hui acts strangely, Kat thinks he has been “hypnotized, or worse, possessed.” 

Spiritual Content 

  • When giving the time of day, the text refers to the sun god. For example, when Zet walked to work, “the sun god spilled his rays over the rooftops.” 
  • When splurging on a litter to carry her, Hui’s mom says, “The gods know I don’t indulge in luxury much.”
  • Because of the strange things happening, some people were frightened. While walking, Zet “passed a man painting a protection symbol on his front door, and chanting what sounded like a spell.”
  •  A man opened a new shop. “Protection amulets of every kind swung from his awning. There were oil lamps with strange symbols, Hyksos spirits probably; heady, acrid-smelling incense burned, and he was stirring liquid in a pot and chanting.” 
  • When Zet’s mom travels down river to find out about a missing shipment, Zet prays, “Please, let her have found out about the shipment.” 
  • Hui made his mother “a tiny gold statue of Maat, Goddess of Truth. The goddess looked ready to do her job – to greet people when they arrived in the afterlife.”
  • In his room, Hui had a statue of “Bes – Hui’s family God. . . Sure he protected their household, like all family gods did, but Bes also loved to stir up trouble. Generally of the entertaining kind.”  
  • Zet passes a temple that had a pool of water in front of the doors. Hui thinks, “Everyone knew the temple pools were doorways into the underworld.” He hurries past the temple.
  • When Zet’s mom doesn’t return home as expected, he prays. “Zet went straight to the household shrine. He knelt in front of the statue of Bastet. The cat goddess regarded him with her gold-rimmed eyes. He lit one of the incense for her . . . ‘Please bring Mother and Apu home safe,’ he whispered.” 

Revenge of the Beast

Once upon a very badly behaved time, 511-year-old Ebenezer kept a beast in his attic. He would feed the beast all manner of objects and creatures and in return the beast would vomit him up expensive presents. But then, Bethany arrived.

Now, Ebenezer and Bethany are on track to become do-gooders. Bethany wants to get rid of anything in their 15-story house that was vomited out by the beast. Although Bethany is ready to “de-beastify” the house, Ebenezer is much more hesitant. With every magical object Bethany and Claudette sell in a yard-sale, Ebenezer cringes. From gold-plated cutlery to scooters to pianos, they are all sold. Ebenezer has a hard time letting go as he watches the gifts he has acquired over the past 512 years being taken away. 

Bethany goes to every place in town in hopes of volunteering, however, she finds her search disappointing when no one trusts her. Since her reputation includes pranks like putting animals in Miss Muddles’ candy shop, the town people believe Bethany’s act of “volunteering” is a sneaky way for her to pull pranks. On top of that, the items Ebenezer and Bethany sold are going rogue. The dinnerware turns food moldy, and the scooter throws anyone off who tries to ride it. Bethany feels hopeless, but she is wants to go into the community and right her wrongs. Yet how can she do good if no one gives her a chance? 

Revenge of the Beast is a great sequel. Meggitt-Phillips does a great job foreshadowing. Plus, the beast is brought back in an interesting way that avoids repetition. The reader sees that Bethany and Ebenezer’s previous trials truly impacted their aspirations and valuesBethany more than Ebenezer. Lastly, the ending is a perfect cliff-hanger for the next book. 

Friendship is a theme in Revenge of the Beast due to the gained closeness of Bethany and Ebenezer. Ebenezer even offers to be the beast’s servant without any gifts or request if it meant Bethany would be safe. Ebenezer said, “The thought of not seeing [Bethany] again makes me want to cry, because I’ll miss everything about her.” By letting go of the opportunity to use the beast’s powers, Ebenezer shows how much Bethany’s friendship means to him. The story also teaches that it is better to turn the other cheek. Bethany highlights this when she says, “Being cruel to one’s enemies is like chopping off your arm just so you can hit them with it – in the end, all you do is cause more damage to yourself.”  

Revenge of the Beast has black and white illustrations, which is a fun way for the reader to see settings and characters’ emotions. However, there are more acts of violence in this book than in The Beast and The Bethany, so a more mature audience may be needed. Plus, the plot lines are more complex due to of each characters’ adventures. Still, readers who enjoyed the previous book will not be disappointed because they will enjoy Bethany’s tough attitude and Ebenezer’s protectiveness over Bethany.  

Sexual Content 

  • None

Violence 

  • When Ebenezer calls the boys in his neighborhood his friends, they respond with, “We’re not your friends, Ebeloooser. I thought we showed you last time what happens when you call us that.” Ebenezer says “Oh yes, that game where you chase me whilst throwing sticks and stones is great fun . . . ”
  • Because of the removal of his beastly gifts, Ebenezer asks Bethany, “Are you trying to kill me or something?” 
  • The boys were throwing rocks at Ebenezer and the beast. Ebenezer’s “pleasure was interrupted by a rock which sailed through the air, whacked his shoulder, and ripped his ruffled shirt.”
  • One of the boys, Nicholas, throws a mud ball at Ebenezer. The ball leaves a mark on his shirt. 
  • After a group of boys throw rocks at Ebenezer, the beast “spread its mouth wide open and vomited out a blaze of fire.” The beast then tells Ebenezer to, “throw me at the one with the unpleasant face if you want to have some fun.” After Ebenezer does this, the beast vomits itching powder on Nicholas. 
  • The beast asks Ebenezer if Ebenezer wants him to “puddle” the bully, Nicholas. “Its three eyes were hungry for revenge” when he said “watch as I melt this child into a puddle. It’s my way of saying thank you.” Ebenezer declines the beast’s offer. 
  • The beast suggests “puddling” Ebenezer’s mother after Ebenezer informs the beast that his mother said Ebenezer will make friends after he stops being annoying. The beast says, “your mother’s a fool. Would you like me to melt her into a puddle?” Ebenezer denies the beast’s request of puddling his mother. 
  • Ebenezer is reluctant to sell diamond cheese boards to a man named Eduardo. Ebenezer “was about to tell Eduardo to take his nostrils elsewhere when he was treated to a furious kick from Bethany – and it was the sort of kick that told him he shouldn’t push his luck any further.”
  • After the children in the orphanage are forced to sew a sequin jacket, they have injuries to their hands. One boy’s hands “were covered with cuts and bandages.” 
  • Gloria is the new girl at the orphanage. She has taken over Bethany’s spot in being the one everyone fears. She loves attention and praise. So, many of her acts of violence are to receive more. After Gloria performs, she “started pulling Harold Chicken’s hair and telling him off for giving Claudette bigger claps.”
  • In one of his flashbacks, Ebenezer returns from Nicholas’ funeral. The beast describes why he died, saying, “my dear boy, I think he would have been a lot more pleased if he hadn’t accidentally impaled himself on his own point stick.”
  • Gloria “aimed the mushed apple at Geoffrey” with a  catapult. Gloria calls this her “acting method” for her show at the theater. Because Geoffrey is the first friend Bethany made in the last book, Bethany suggests Gloria use her catapult for Timothy, the new orphanage director, instead. However, Gloria launches the apple at Geoffrey anyway. 
  • After buying a shirt from Ebenezer, a boy says, “every time I put it on, it either tries to strangle me with an overly tight neckline, or the sleeves make me beat myself up.”
  • As Ebenezer tries to tell Bethany important news, she gets angry about being interrupted. “Bethany picked up one of the forks and threw it at him.” She told him, “If you don’t leave right now, then I’m going to have to start throwing the knives.”
  • Bethany receives a disturbing phone call. “Bethany looked at the phone receiver as if it had just tried to bite her ear off. Then she smashed it against the wall. . .smashing and smashing until there was nothing left but a wire in her hand.”
  • The beast eats a parrot named Claudette. “First, I ate all that was in her belly– that took me a while; she was a fat parrot. At the moment, I’m destroying her kind, hopeful personality by showing her that the world is truly a cruel place. After that, it won’t take me long to gobble through the rest of her.” He then says, “I’ve never eaten someone through their insides before – I should do it more often.”
  • As the beast controls Claudette’s body, he takes Ebenezer to the attic. He keeps Ebenezer there so Ebenezer does not ruin the beast’s plan of eating Bethany and Gloria at the theater. The injuries the beast gives Ebenezer to take him to the attic and keep him there are described. “There were talon marks on his ankles from where the beast had dragged him upstairs, and his neck was swollen with bruises because the shirt had strangled him every time he had tried to call for help or warn Bethany.”
  • The shirt the beast puts on Ebenezer forces him to stay awake. “Every time you close your eyes, the shirt will strangle and squeeze you awake.”
  • Bethany becomes angry with Ebenezer and starts beating up muffins. “As she beat up the muffins, she imagined she was beating him up too.”
  • The beast says Gloria, “even tried strangling me with this silver rope.” The beast then suggests to Bethany that they should “eat her.”
  • The beast uses Claudette’s wings to fly Bethany across town. He drops her but pretends it is a game. However, “the beast likes thinking that Bethany could smash into the ground at any moment.”
  • Two of the children in the audience are “puddled” because they were talking.  The beast “vomited out a large yellow umbrella and sent it flying above Geoffrey’s head. . . The umbrella opened above Geoffrey’s head, sucked up his wriggling body, and closed itself again. A few moments later, it spat out a puddle through its handle.” Then, “The beast wiggled its fingers and brought the big yellow umbrella hovering over the best seat in the house – which happened to be occupied by Eduardo Barnacle. The beast puddled Eduardo right in between his screaming parents.” Luckily, the umbrella brings them both back in the end. 

Drugs and Alcohol 

  • The man from D.O.R.R.I.S, the undercover agency that captures magical creatures like the beast, puts a special smoke into the air at the theater that allows the audience to fall asleep. The smoke then alters the audience’s memories. 
  • At the prank shop, the owner suggests Bethany use the “demonic dream-lolly.” He describes, “One lick and your victim will have nightmares for weeks.”

Language 

  • The boys Ebenezer knew when he was younger called him “Mr. Ebenoozer Loser.”
  • Bethany calls people “gitface,” “stupid gitface,” and “selfish gits” many times. She also tells others to “bog off.” 
  • Bethany uses “flipping” and “freaking” frequently throughout the book. For example, she calls some people “total flipping Idiots.” She also says, “You’re flipping amazing!” 
  • The beast tells the boys picking on Ebenezer that, “If you or your snotty little friends tell anyone about me, then I will hunt you down.”
  • There is frequent name-calling including calling someone a “beastly brat,” a “weak fart,” a “twit,” an “idiot,” and an “unpleasant blip.”
  • After Nicholas’ funeral, the beast calls Nicholas “a moron, unworthy of mourning.”
  • The words on Claudette’s poster for her performance at the theater says, “Anyone who didn’t buy a ticket would be an ‘UTTER MORON WHO DOESN’T DESERVE TO LIVE.’”

Supernatural

  • Just like in the first book, the beast is told to vomit out special gifts for Ebenezer. Ebenezer thinks of a gift the beast gave: a gold-button shirt that fit whoever wore it perfectly. It was self-cleaning and self-tailoring. 
  • In a flashback, the beast vomits out a memory book for Ebenezer. It shows Ebenezer the person he misses most. In the present day, Ebenezer looks at this memory book often to see the life he used to have with the beast. 
  • The gold-buttoned shirt Ebenezer sold to Eduardo was pulling Eduardo. “He was walking very strangely – with two outstretched arms and a pair of feet dragging along the ground, as if he were being pulled toward Ebenezer’s house by an invisible thread.”
  • Claudette can lay eggs that have any food a person desires. For example, “Claudette laid an egg filled with pains au chocolat for Bethany.”
  • The scooter Bethany uses is controlled by the beast. The scooter drives itself and can go as fast as it pleases. 
  • The silver rope that was vomited out by the beast is used to drag Gloria to the theater. The beast wants her to go to the theater so he can eat her. The rope drags her to the front of the stage where the beast sits. 

Spiritual Content 

  • None

The Door at the End of the World

Lucy Eberslee is a thirteen-year-old girl working as the Gatekeeper’s deputy, a job which she takes very seriously. As the gatekeeper’s deputy, Lucy stamps passports and files travel forms for travelers as they pass through the doorway to another world; her world, Southeast, is one of eight worlds visitors can travel to. One seemingly normal Thursday turns into a chaotic journey when Lucy’s boss disappears.

On top of this, a boy from the Eastern world, Arthur, accidentally leaves his world and enters Lucy’s. Upon trying to open the door to Arthur’s world, Lucy realizes that the door is stuck and that something bigger is going wrong. Lucy and Arthur decide they need to get professionals involved, and so they begin their journey to the Interworld Travel Center to talk to its chief, Mrs. Bracknell.  

Lucy is a sympathetic character who struggles with being overshadowed by the rest of her family. Lucy reveals that her parents work in high positions in The House of Governors, and her older brother, Thomas, “is a member of the Interworld Travel Commission.” Lucy’s job as the Deputy gatekeeper makes her feel less invisible, as she explains, “I’d done well enough in school, but I’d never really stood out. Even my teachers had a habit of not quite remembering I was there unless they read about [my brother] in the news or needed a favor or advice from my father.” By the end of the novel, Lucy’s older brother, Thomas, tells Lucy that she has proven herself to be very brave and inspired him to speak out when something seems wrong.  

Arthur is an equally sympathetic character because of his willingness to help Lucy, even though he has just met her. Arthur and Lucy bond over their feelings of being invisible. When Lucy asks him if his family will notice he is missing, Arthur says, “After a month or so it might occur to my father that I haven’t come downstairs for dinner in a while. He’s got eight sons, though, so he won’t mind misplacing one.” Arthur’s perspective allows the reader to feel that they are learning about all the worlds right alongside him and they will enjoy Arthur’s excitement when experiencing new things as he explores all eight of the worlds. 

As Lucy and Arthur investigate who is really behind the closing of the worldgates, they realize they need respected adults to help. The conclusion involves an extremely chaotic, but entertaining, scene in which the villain is revealed. Because of her adventure, Lucy demonstrates personal growth, especially when it comes to speaking her mind and standing up for herself. In the exciting conclusion, Lucy is put in charge of “the team that’s opening up all of the worldgates again.” Lucy begins to recognize her own talents and abilities, as she says, “It’s going to be total chaos to organize . . . but I think I’ll be good at it.”  

Readers who enjoy fantasy, magical creatures, and reading about different universes will love The Door at the End of the World. Overall, the story highlights important messages like having confidence in yourself, appreciating what makes you special, and speaking up when something is wrong. Readers looking for more magical adventures should also read the Explorer Academy Series by Trudi Trueit and the Wizard for Hire Series by Obert Skye. 

Sexual Content 

  • None 

Violence 

  • Lucy’s boss, the Gatekeeper, does not enjoy spending time with another gatekeeper called Bernard. The Gatekeeper explains, “I’d rather have my ears nibbled off by a thistle-backed thrunt [a spiky, destructive, dangerous creature that tears everything it encounters to shreds] than have to spend the day with Bernard.” 
  • When a man, Mr. Silos, finds out that Lucy is affiliated with Interworld Travel, he feels that he is being threatened for his illegal interworld smuggling deals. Lucy notices, “Mr. Silos turned back to look at me and Arthur, studying us . . . His right hand crept towards his gun.” He does not actually shoot at them.  
  • The thrunt “munched the floorboards” in front of Lucy and Arthur. Lucy says, “There was no point in trying to escape; I couldn’t sprint half as fast as the thrunt could move. What would it feel like, I thought in a panic, to be eaten from the toes up?” Luckily, Arthur and Lucy are rescued.  
  • Rosemary, a girl who at first pretends to be another deputy gatekeeper like Lucy, but later admits she is a smuggler of interworld goods, kills the thrunt; “a beam of golden light shot out from the doorway, there was a loud sizzling noise, and the thistle-backed thrunt split neatly in two.” 
  • Rosemary offers Arthur and Lucy her “InterCom cards” to use as communication. Rosemary threatens them about losing the devices, saying, “You’d better not lose them, or Pa will sell your ears on the black market to make up for it.” Rosemary later admits that she’s joking.  
  • Lucy and Arthur are horrified to discover that when they left their room at Interworld Travel, someone poisoned their magical bees. “[Lucy] heard a thin, frantic hum. The floor of the closet was carpeted in bees. They were moving, but barely; some crawled listlessly toward my feet . . . I wasn’t any sort of an expert when it came to bees, but even I could tell something was badly wrong.” 
  • The bees spell out “FLOWERS,” indicating that someone brought poisonous flowers into their room to kill them. Sadly, some have died. “The [bees] who died must have come closest to the flowers; the rest were still doing poorly, but when I placed a little saucer of sugar water on the floor, they perked up enough to shuffle over and taste it.” Rosemary tells Lucy she thinks someone poisoned the bees as “a warning.” 
  • Lucy worries that the head of Interworld Travel, Mrs. Bracknell, has killed all the gatekeepers. Lucy explains, “If Mrs. Bracknell had harmed my own frizzy-haired, heavy-footed Gatekeeper, I didn’t want to think about it.” 
  • Mrs. Bracknell tries to flee, but the kids discover her plan. Rosemary explains, “[Mrs. Bracknell] cut that awful hole in the ground and said that if I tried to warn [Lucy and Arthur] to stay away, she’d push me through it.”  

Drugs and Alcohol 

  • None 

Language 

  • Characters occasionally exclaim, “Oh, worlds!” 

Supernatural 

  • A swarm of bees follows Lucy. The bees can spell out words. Lucy explains to the bees that she thinks the Gatekeeper has gone missing. “The bees huddled together over my head, humming to each other. After a minute or so, they spread out to form foot-high letters against the backdrop of the sky. SPARE KEY?” 
  • While researching the magical gatecutters that are able to cut open entrances to other worlds, Lucy and Arthur are attacked by a “thistle backed thrunt.” The “thrunt” “can chew through almost any substance and travel as fast as an automobile. It has four rows of teeth, a powerful jaw, and an insatiable appetite. If an unprepared traveler stumbled across a thrunt, however, he will surely be devoured.” 

Spiritual Content 

  • None 

Mummies and Pyramids

When Jack and Annie got back from their adventure in Magic Tree House #3: Mummies in the Morning, they had lots of questions. Why did people make mummies? What was the mysterious writing on mummy cases? How did most ancient Egyptians spend their days? How were the pyramids built? Find out the answers to these questions and more as Jack and Annie track the facts.

Filled with up-to-date information, photos, illustrations, and fun tidbits from Jack and Annie, Magic Tree House Fact Trackers are the perfect way for kids to find out more about the topics they discover in their favorite Magic Tree House adventures. Teachers can use Fact Trackers alongside their Magic Tree House fiction companions to meet common core text pairing needs. Mummies and Pyramids pairs with Magic Tree House #3: Mummies in the Morning.

Mummies and Pyramids is broken into small sections. Almost every page has a black-and-white illustration. Because readers may not be familiar with some of the vocabulary, unfamiliar words are explained in the book’s margins. Pictures of Jack and Annie are also scattered throughout the book. 

Those interested in mummies should read Mummies and Pyramids. The easy-to-read text is packed full of interesting facts about mummies, pyramids, and Ancient Egyptians. Even though the book includes information about how mummies are made, the matter-of-fact tone and non-gory descriptions will put readers at ease. There is only one drawing of a body being mummified, but the person is mostly wrapped in linen. Because the book explains the Ancient Egyptians’ belief in the afterlife, parents may want to discuss their beliefs with their children. 

Mummies and Pyramids is an engaging nonfiction book that brings Ancient Egypt alive. Readers who want to learn more should also read the nonfiction book The Curse of King Tut’s Mummy by Kathleen Weidner Zoehfel. To take a step back in time while learning more about Egypt, read Escape from Egypt by Wendy Mass and Secret of the Prince’s Tomb by Marianne Hering.

Sexual Content 

  • None

Violence 

  • Tomb robbers would steal from mummies. “Sometimes tomb robbers even burned the mummy to light the tomb while they worked. . . Ancient Egyptians thought tomb robbers were committing crimes against the gods. If they were caught, they were beaten and often put to death.”

Drugs and Alcohol 

  • Food and jugs of beer have been found in mummies’ tombs.

Language 

  • None

Supernatural

  • While a body was being mummified, “the priest wrapped magic charms in the mummy’s linen strips. The Egyptians believed these charms would bring good luck and protect the person in the Next Life.”
  • Before a mummy was laid in its tomb, there was a ceremony called The Opening of the Mouth. “Egyptians believed the Opening of the Mouth ceremony made it possible for the dead person to eat, drink, and speak in the Next Life.”
  • To help a mummy make the journey to the Next Life, “mummies were buried with prayers, magic spells, and maps of the underworld.”

Spiritual Content 

  • Ancient Egyptians believed in many Gods and these beliefs are explored throughout the book. There is one chapter dedicated to the different Gods. Because of this, not every reference to the Gods is listed below. 
  • Egyptian rulers, called Pharaohs, “had total power over their people. . . Egyptians thought their pharaoh was more than a person. They worshipped him as a god.” 
  • Some of the Egyptian Gods “were like ordinary men and women. Some were like animals. Many were half-human and half-animal. The Egyptians believed the gods and goddesses watched over everything they did.”
  • Egyptians created statues that were cared for by priests. The priest “washed and dressed them. They even served them meals. . . At home, they prayed to their own statues of their favorite gods and goddesses.” 
  • When taking a mummy to be buried, the “priest said prayers and recited magic spells.” 

Mummies in the Morning: The Graphic Novel

In the pyramid, a real-life mummy is waiting. . . .The magic tree house has whisked Jack and Annie to ancient Egypt. Inside a pyramid, Jack and Annie find a long-dead queen who needs their help solving a centuries-old riddle. If only they can find their way through the pyramid’s maze!

Fans of the Magic Tree House Series will enjoy seeing the same stories in a graphic novel format. The illustrations use bright colors that help bring the adventure to life. Even though the story includes a picture of a mummy and a ghost, the story isn’t frightening. Instead, the sibling’s journey is full of adventure as it teaches about the Ancient Egyptians’ world. 

The graphic novel is accessible to even the most reluctant reader because of the easy vocabulary and the simple sentences. Some of the pages tell the story without any text, while other pages have up to nine sentences. Readers who are unfamiliar with the Magic Tree House may have difficulty following the plot because so much of the original text has been cut out. While the short word count will appeal to many readers, they will miss out on some of the joy of reading the longer version.  

If you love to read, reading the original Mummies in the Morning is definitely the way to go because it’s much more in-depth. However, struggling readers will still find the graphic novel format entertaining.  

Readers who want to travel back in time to learn more about Egypt should also read Escape from Egypt by Wendy Mass and Secret of the Prince’s Tomb by Marianne Hering. You can also learn more interesting facts by reading the nonfiction companion Magic Tree House Fact Tracker: Mummies and Pyramids 

Sexual Content 

  • None 

Violence 

  • None 

Drugs and Alcohol 

  • None 

Language 

  • None 

Supernatural 

  • Annie opens to a page of a book and says, “I wish we could go to this place.” Magically, the tree house begins to spin. “It spun faster and faster.” When the tree house stops spinning, they are in Ancient Egypt.  
  • Jack and Annie meet the ghost of Hutepi, Queen of the Nile. Hutepi asks Jack and Annie to help her find “the magic spells I need to get through the Underworld.”  
  • Hutepi has not been able to travel to the afterlife because she cannot read due to her bad eyesight. When Jack tries to give her his eyeglasses, Hutepi says, “I fear I cannot wear your glasses, Jack. I am made of air.” 

Spiritual Content 

  • None 

The Tombs of Anak

An angry terror lurks at the bottom of a dark pit . . . 

Jay and Lila Cooper are back for another adventure, this time in search of a young treasure-seeker whose ambitions drove him to the bottom of a pit, never to return. In their struggle to understand what happened to him, the Coopers learn of a greedy, man-eating creature known as Ha-Raphah, who terrorizes the locals into worshiping him. Although they are certain he is extremely dangerous, Jay and Lila are determined to uncover the truth.

When an ancient Philistine tomb is discovered, the archeologists enter a vast system of chambers with deadly traps. This setting gives The Tombs of Anak a similar tone to Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. Along the way, Dr. Cooper, his team, and his children meet the Yahrim people, who worship the cruel god named Ha-Raphah. Dr. Cooper also meets Ben-Arab, a local man who knows more about the Yahrim people than he is willing to admit. As the group investigates, danger lurks around every corner, and much of the action occurs in the dead of the night when Ha-Raphah stalks his prey. 

Even in the face of danger, the Coopers rely on God and refuse to bow down and worship Ha-Raphah. The concept of only worshiping Jesus Christ is reinforced. The story also teaches the dangers of power and greed. Dr. Cooper explains, “Greed is a sin, and lust for power is a sin. . . We might start with just a little bit of greed or just a little bit of power, but that greed and that power just keep growing, and we keep wanting more and more, until finally we can’t control them anymore—they control us.” Even though The Tombs of Anak teaches biblical principles, the lessons are integrated into the story and never seem forced.

In The Tombs of Anak the mystery of the Yahrim, the interesting characters, and the heart-stopping chases will capture readers’ attention from the start and keep them flipping the pages until the very end. In the exciting conclusion, one man steps up to become the Yahrim’s leader and—unlike his predecessor—the man knows his people “need a God who is real, who is loving, who truly cares for them and does not use them for his own gain.” 

Sexual Content 

  • None

Violence 

  • One of Cooper’s men is lowered into a pit in an ancient tomb. He screams and then disappears. Later, they discover the man was killed.
  • While on a trail, the Coopers see a goatherder. “Before Jay and Lila knew what was happening, a tangled blur of skins, rags, hair, and flailing arms dropped on their father, knocking him to the ground . . . The little man swung the staff, and Dr. Cooper ducked it as it whistled over his head once, then twice. On the third try, he was able to grab it, give it a yank, and then trip the little man with a well-placed foot.” The man warns them that his god, Ha-Raphah, eats men “when he is angry.” 
  • While exploring the tomb, the Coopers and a local man named Ben-Arab are chased by the Yahrim holy men, who are dressed as animals and carrying spears. “The Wolf was near the door. He reached up with his spear and threw a lever on the wall. There was a grinding sound. . an immense slab of stone began to drop into the opening. The room would soon be sealed shut. . .” The group escapes the room but is chased. 
  • As the Coopers run from the strange men, they get lost in the tomb. They run into a room. “They had fallen right at the feet of the Hawk, the horned demon, and the Wolf. Hideous, living idols stood all around them, and the points of a dozen deadly spears were right under their noses. . . They were surrounded.” The Coopers are taken to the Yahrim’s leader, Mara the Sorceress. The chase scene is described over four pages.
  • After a brief discussion between Mara the Sorceress and Dr. Cooper, “Sudden terror filled the room like an explosion. With stony indifference and one deadly move, the Hawk grabbed Jay by his hair and held him in his chair with an iron grip. Just as quickly, the Wolf did the same to Lila. . . Then with a droning, metallic ring, the Hawk and the Wolf each drew out a glimmering, razor-sharp sword and brought the edge right up to each child’s throat.” After Dr. Cooper solves two riddles, the kids are set free.
  • While Dr. Cooper is talking to Mara the Sorceress, he “notices the faint nod of the woman’s head and the shadow of the Wolf falling across his chair. The Wolf’s powerful arm took hold of Dr. Cooper’s head as the beast’s sword came at his throat, but Dr. Cooper’s legs flipped up in a flash and clamped around the Wolf’s neck. . . The Wolf sailed over the chair.” No one is injured. 
  • As Lila is gathering firewood, she follows a cry and finds a lamb in a ravine. As she climbs up the ravine, Ben-Arab and Dr. Cooper “saw Lila far below, scrambling up the rocks, fleeing for her life. They could see a huge, black, hideous thing right behind her. . .” The Yahrim “surged like angry waves all around them. Dr. Cooper hurried up the trail, ducking spears and arrows as he carried Lila.” Ben-Arab “fired his rifle this direction, then that, in front, behind, spinning and looking about.” The Yahrim flee. No one is injured. 
  • After Lila saves the sacrificial lamb, Ha-Raphah punishes the shepherd. “Ben-Arab took a look inside the house, and his face immediately twisted with horror and disgust. Jeff [an archeologist working for Dr. Cooper], shocked, slumped against the wall, taking deep breaths to recover. . . Jeff shook his head in horror and amazement. ‘I’ve hunted grizzlies and Kodiaks and never seen any of them that can do this.’”
  • One night, while waiting for Ha-Raphah to appear, Mara the Sorceress is attacked. When Dr. Cooper finds her, she says, “Anak Ha-Raphah. . . He is silent, invisible. . . He carried me like the wind.” Mara the Sorceress dies, but her injuries are not described.
  • As Dr. Cooper and his men search for Ha-Raphah, the Yahrim attack. “Arrows ricocheted off the rocks and skipped end over end along the ground. From above came the angry war cries of the Yahrim archers. . . [Dr. Cooper] scrambled down the trail, crouching, dodging, dashing from cover to cover. . an arrow just nicked his sleeve. Jeff must have seen the archer—his rifle shot echoed and rumbled through the hills.”
  • In a multi-chapter conclusion, Ha-Raphah traps the kids in the underground tunnels of the tombs. Ha-Raphah chases them. “They rose from their hiding place and started quickly and silently down the tunnel in the dark. . . Lila went down hard, and her flashlight clattered across the floor. Jay groped in the dark, trying to find her. She was kicking, crying out, struggling.” Ha-Raphah tries to grab her, but Lila escapes.
  • Ha-Raphah corners Jay and Lila. Jay knocks Lila to the ground right before “the sword came down in a flashing arc. . . They dashed across the room as the sword rose high in the air, held by a menacing, unthinkably huge hand. . . They leaped aside just in time as the sword came down like a bolt from a thundercloud and sparks flew from the rocks.”
  • The Cooper kids trick Ha-Raphah into setting off one of his own traps, and then they climb up a narrow ledge, trying to reach a ventilation shaft. “The monster burst into the room like an angry bull, still wielding that huge sword, but his wound was still bleeding. . . The beast came at them with footsteps that shook the whole room.” The kids slide down the shaft and escape.
  • Ha-Raphah finds the kids in another room. Jay and Lila set off a trip lever that closes the door. “With a sudden roar of ropes and a grinding of stone, the huge slab dropped like an avalanche on the giant’s shoulder driving him to the floor and pinning him there as the big sword clattered out of his hand. . . Anak’s roaming hand found a large rock. . . Jay didn’t see the rock coming. It struck him in the right shoulder and he went tumbling like a tenpin, stunned and senseless, unable to see anything but a spinning blur. . .”
  • When Dr. Cooper finds Ha-Raphah and his kids, he throws a ruby at Ha-Raphah. The giant lunges for the precious stone and “Anak let out a horrible scream and dove headlong after the flying ruby, catching it in his outstretched hand. The pit was waiting for him. His huge body came down like a giant tree. . . .” Ha-Raphah “dropped into the chasm with a final roar of hate.” He is presumed dead.

Drugs and Alcohol 

  • None

Language 

  • None

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content 

  • Dr. Cooper, his two kids, and the other members of his group are Christians. Throughout the book there are many references to God and the characters pray often. Since the book is Christian fiction, not all the references are mentioned below.
  • The Yahrim people worship Anak Ha-Raphah. Their leader, Mara the Sorceress, explains, “The tombs belong to Anak Ha-Raphah himself, and we are the Yahrim, who fear Anak as one fears death and who worship him in his tombs. He is our fearsome god.” 
  • Mara the Sorceress is a direct descendant of Anak and “his High Priestess, appointed by Ha-Raphah himself . . . As such, my power and rule over the Yahrim is limitless. Ha-Raphah says it is to be, and it is so.” According to Mara the Sorceress, no one is as mighty as Anak. “His spirit is everywhere. . . silent, cunning, more vicious than you can possibly imagine. He watches us all, but is never seen; he kills, and not a sound is heard. We always know where he has been, but never where he will be.”
  • The Coopers go into an ancient Philistine tomb where they unearth “an ancient temple of Dagon, the bizarre half-fish god of the Philistines” where they see “the eerie stone image of Dagon himself, staring down at them with a fiery expression.” 
  • When the Coopers learn about the locals’ belief in a God named Ha-Raphah, Dr. Cooper discusses the biblical story of Joshua. “The lord commanded Joshua to drive out all the ungodly inhabitants of the land. He didn’t want His people coming into contact with this kind of moral and spiritual pollution.” 
  • During the exploration of the tomb, the Coopers find a “ceremonial room. A place for pagan rituals.” On the walls were idols. “They were man-sized images of birds, beasts, pagan gods, and monsters, and every one of them was holding a very deadly-looking spear in their Ha-Raphah hands.”
  • The Yahrim holy men dress like idols. “Their costumes evidently portray different qualities of their god: fierceness, cunning, bravery, terror, those sort of things.”
  • When the Coopers are taken to the Yahrim’s leader, Mara the Sorceress, they refuse to bow to her. Dr. Cooper says, “We bow only before the one true God and His Son, Jesus Christ.” When Ha-Raphah threatens the kids with death if they do not worship him, the kids pray: “Lord Jesus, You’re the only God we’ll ever serve. Please help us out of this mess. Help us to think.” Afterward, the kids come up with an escape plan.

The Great Escape

Back for their third adventure, siblings Peter and Mary journey back in time to Egypt, where Moses fights for the Israelites’ freedom and plagues wreak havoc.

The Secret of the Hidden Scrolls Series follows siblings Peter and Mary and their dog, Hank, as they discover ancient scrolls that transport them back to key moments in biblical history.

In The Great Escape, Peter, Mary, and Hank journey to the pyramid-studded desert of ancient Egypt. When the trio becomes friends with the Pharaoh’s daughter, Princess Shephara, they witness first-hand as Moses petitions the Pharaoh for the Israelites’ freedom. Plagues wreak havoc as the group races to decode the scroll, gets chased by a panther, and battles the Pharaoh’s cunning advisor, the Great Magician.

Peter and Mary’s third adventure into the past is an exciting story because the Great Magician and his panther try to stop God’s plan. Through it all, the Pharaoh’s daughter stays by the siblings’ side, which gives Peter and Mary perspective into the Pharaoh’s reasoning. When the twins are in imminent danger, the angel Michael swoops in to help the kids. Even though the reason for the Pharaoh’s stubborn behavior is unclear, the ultimate message is clear: God is with us even in the midst of our troubles. 

Black and white illustrations will help young readers visualize the story and understand the plagues that affected the Pharaoh’s people. As each day ends, Peter uses a journal to document his activities; this helps readers keep track of the important events. Readers who want to learn more about Pharaoh and the plagues will find a list of related Bible chapters at the end of the book.

Readers who are interested in learning about the Bible will enjoy The Great Escape series. In each book, Satan appears as a different person which may confuse some readers. However, the angel Michael always appears to give the siblings help and guidance, and readers will look forward to the angel’s return. Link to time traveling book. 

Sexual Content 

  • None

Violence 

  • The Pharaoh’s magicians turned their staffs into snakes. “Snakes slithered everywhere! . . . The snake rose up and was face-to-face with Princess Shephara. Its forked tongue flicked between sharp fangs. . . Mary spun and kicked the snake in the side of the head. It fell to the floor with a thud!”
  • The captain of the Pharaoh’s army takes Peter’s bag and begins looking through it. “Mary ran straight at the Captain, who was still bending over. She jumped in the air and did a spinning kick right to his backside. . . The Captain fell flat on his face. The sword and the royal dagger slid across the floor.” The kids escape.
  • Peter and Mary are trapped in a room with the Great Magician and his panther, Midnight. “Suddenly, a rushing wind blew through the room, extinguishing the candles. A ball of light flew into the room and slammed into Midnight. The panther slid across the floor. . . The ball of light transformed into Michael.” 
  • Moses explains how, according to God’s plan, “At midnight, all of the firstborn sons in Egypt will die. . .He pointed to a lamb lying dead on a small table. . .Moses picked up a small bowl filled with blood from the lamb.” He paints the door with the lamb’s blood which protects them.
  • The Great Magician tries to follow the Israelites through the Red Sea. When the man takes away Peter’s scroll, “Peter saw a glowing ball in the water. It grew bigger and burst through the wall of water. It flew into the chariot and knocked the wheels off. . . The ball of light became Michael.” Michael saves Mary from the panther and helps Peter get the scroll back. The scene is described over two pages.

Drugs and Alcohol 

  • None

Language 

  • None

Supernatural

  • With the help of a scroll, Peter and Mary transport back in time. When the seal is broken, “the walls shook, the floor quaked, and books flew off the shelves. . . The library crumbled around them. Then everything was still, quiet, and hot—very hot.”
  • Moses told the Pharaoh, “The God of Israel said to let his people go.” The Pharaoh wanted to see a miracle so Moses’ brother, “Aaron threw his staff on the ground. It turned into a big slithery snake.” The Great Magician was also able to turn his staff into a snake.
  • When Aaron waves his staff, “frogs flooded out of the river. Thousands of frogs were hopping everywhere.” The Great Magician also waved his staff and “mumbled some mysterious words. . .Two tiny frogs hopped out of the fountain.”

Spiritual Content 

  • The Great Magician teaches Shephara that there are over a hundred gods. But Peter says, “I believe there is only one true God.”
  • The Great Magician believes the Israelites’ God is weak because he has allowed the Israelites to become slaves. Peter says, “God is strong. . . Maybe he is waiting for the right time.”
  • Peter and Mary realize that the Great Magician is Satan.
  • The Great Magician, Satan, mocks Peter and Mary, saying “Where is God? You’re all alone.” Peter is unafraid because he believes, “God is always with us.” 

Solimar: The Sword of the Monarchs

Solimar, a soon-to-be princess of the kingdom of San Gregorio, is about to celebrate her fifteenth birthday. “After the quinceañera, she would be considered a princess of the world. And she would also officially be crowned Princess Solimar Socorro Reyes Guadalupe of San Gregorio.” 

Solimar’s home is known for its oyamel forest, a sacred place for the monarch butterflies that migrate each year. Solimar decides to watch the new generation of monarchs arrive in the oyamel forest. When Solimar goes to oyamel, she is surrounded by butterflies, who completely cover her arms and her rebozo, or shawl. Afterwards, Solimar notices that her rebozo looks as if it has “butterfly wings embedded in the fabric . . . and they’re shimmering.” The encounter with the monarchs gives Solimar the ability to predict the near future while she is wearing the rebozo and standing in sunlight. 

But then, on the eve of the kingdom’s annual supply trip, Solimar’s brother tells her, “He’s running away from home to join a ship because he doesn’t want to be king anytime soon, or possibly ever.” On top of this, when her father and brother set off on the trip, a neighboring king and his guards invade Solimar’s kingdom and take her mother and abuela hostage. The invading king plans to use Solimar’s mother and the rest of their family as a bargaining tool to force Solimar’s father to give him a thousand acres of their oyamel forest. Solimar hides just in time to escape the notice of the invaders and realizes it is up to her to find a way to warn her father of the invaders and their plans. Solimar, her bird Lázaro, and an enchanted talking doll set off on their quest down the river, in an attempt to “warn her father in time and change the destiny of her kingdom.”

Solimar is a sympathetic and strong female character that readers will connect with due to her determination and willingness to go against the mold. Though she is a soon-to-be princess, Solimar does not believe she needs to look a specific way to be considered royal. She explains that she prefers her hair short, and says, “Where does it say what a princess must look like?” She even argues with her brother and father for reform within the kingdom. She explains, “I wanted to change things in my kingdom. I have ideas about forming a council of men and women who advise the king and allowing everyone in the kingdom to vote,” instead of just men. 

Readers who enjoy fantasy and heroic journeys will love Solimar’s adventure to rescue her kingdom. This book occasionally showcases Spanish words, which can expand readers’ exposure to new vocabulary. The first time the Spanish words are used, they are typically explained in English, but readers will also be able to use context clues to identify the meanings. There is also a map of all the different locations Solimar visits as she journeys through the kingdom of San Gregorio at the front of the novel. 

Readers will sympathize with Solimar as she learns to appreciate her responsibilities to the kingdom. Solimar’s family also shows growth, as they ultimately decide to let their son, the prince, pursue the life of a sailor and “creat[e] a transport fleet for [their kingdom].” Another example of growth is when Solimar is hesitant to put on a crown, fancy shoes, and a gown for her quinceañera. Her dislike of these formalities symbolizes that she is afraid that in becoming a princess she will still not have a voice in making decisions that impact the kingdom. However, by the end of the novel, Solimar grows to appreciate her family, who trust her input and ideas and even appreciate the quinceañera’s formal ceremony. Overall, this book showcases the importance of family, friendship, and finding trustworthy people in tough situations. Readers eager to explore more books about friendship should also read A Thousand Questions by Saadia Faruqi and A Hundred Horses by Sarah Lean.

Sexual Content 

  • None

Violence 

  • Abuela’s friend who practices enchantments, Doña Flor, tells Solimar what will happen if someone tries to steal the magical rebozo from her. Doña Flor says, “Anyone who tries to break the bond would suffer the wrath of the ancestral spirits,” which means, “Rage, madness, impending doom.”
  • A leader of a rival kingdom breaks into Solimar’s family home. “Mothers called for their daughters. Girls cried. Footsteps scuffled. Chairs tipped over. A man’s booming voice ordered, ‘Be quiet!’” Solimar’s mother, grandmother, and friends are trapped and kept as hostages. “Abuela glanced over her shoulder and caught sight of Solimar. Her eyes filled with alarm, and almost imperceptibly . . .Abuela waved for Solimar to go away.” Solimar stays hidden and escapes.
  • The guards from the rival kingdom surround Solimar’s mother, abuela, and their advisors. “One stepped forward and announced, ‘By order of King Aveno, you all are under house arrest and may not leave the castle.’” When King Aveno enters, he reveals he is holding hostages to “gain the advantage I needed to negotiate for the land I wish to buy” from Solimar’s father, King Sebastián. 
  • Solimar’s friend, Berto, talks about his father who “died five years ago.” Berto does not describe the event in detail. 
  • King Aveno snatches the rebozo from Solimar and suddenly “the sky darkened, and a wind stirred and steadily grew . . . From the forest, a dark, tornado-like cloud raced toward the stage. [The king’s spy] and King Aveno held on to each other in an attempt to withstand the fierce gale. The wind roared.” The tornado “lifted away, growing smaller and smaller until it vanished. When the wind and world quieted, King Aveno and [his spy] were nowhere to be seen. All that remained were their boots and Solimar’s crumpled rebozo.”

Drugs and Alcohol 

  • None

Language 

  • Occasionally, Solimar’s Abuela proclaims “for heaven’s sake.”

Supernatural

  • When Solimar goes to watch the migration of the monarch butterflies, she suddenly is surrounded by them: “A swarm of monarchs descended and swirled around her—a blur of black, orange, and coral—creating an iridescent mist as if she was swaddled in the softest and nicest blanket.” She starts to hear “a rhythmic humming” and is not sure where it is coming from as, “The song persisted, though, and grew louder and louder until it reached a crescendo of haunting voices.”
  • After her encounter with the monarchs, Solimar notices a mystical substance around her. “Glittery specks lingered in the air like suspended jewels” and her shawl, or rebozo, is covered in the magical substance. “One side looks as if the butterfly wings are embedded in the fabric . . . and they’re shimmering.”
  • After Solimar’s encounter with the butterflies, she can predict things, such as when her abuela is about to fall down a hill while searching for a specific herb. Solimar explains, “I’ve never seen that herb before. I just knew where it was and that she would fall. But I don’t know how I knew.”
  • Solimar’s friend Josefina tells Solimar, “[My boyfriend] asked to meet me tonight, but he was so serious and standoffish that I am worried his feelings for me have changed. What will he tell me?” Solimar instantly begins to predict a proposal, “Only that he loves you…” And sure enough, this prediction does come true. 
  • To see if her predictions are only lucky guesses, Solimar asks her friend Maria to, “Ask me something else. Maybe about the expedition. Something I couldn’t already know.” Maria says, “When I talked to [the stable hand] only an hour ago, he mentioned your father had just decided on the horse he would ride in the lead tomorrow. Which stallion will have the honor of wearing the king’s colors?” Solimar answers correctly, confirming she can make predictions while wearing the magical shawl. 
  • Abuela takes Solimar to see a folk healer, “where few dared to travel unless they needed to be rid of a curse or cleansed of evil spirits.”
  • The folk healer, Doña Flor, taught Solimar’s grandma how to use herbs to help heal ailments. Abuela says, “Her enchantment is for good . . . some things at Doña Flor’s house are charmed. Just . . . be accepting. That’s all I ask. Embrace the mystery and the peculiarities.”
  • Doña Flor tells Solimar, “Your rebozo is the swaddle for the butterflies. You are now their protector and inseparably connected to them.” Because of this, Doña Flor reveals that the magic of the butterflies in the shawl “are safely embedded. It’s part of the magic, as is the ability for [Solimar] alone to bear their intuition about the near future and what lies ahead.”
  • Though Solimar is now able to access the magical intuition of the monarchs, she knows “each day that it is sunny, [Solimar] must open the rebozo to warm and strengthen those you carry. Otherwise [the monarchs] will never have the stamina to take leave and cluster in the trees.” In addition, Solimar must avoid people asking her questions in the sun because, “For every question you answer, it drains a little of [the butterflies’] strength. If they lose too much they will surely die.”
  • Doña Flor has enchanted dolls that “begin to chatter.” Doña Flor tells Solimar that “their enchantment is strong, yet they are generous souls and very helpful.”
  • Abuela has tried to use spells. She says, “I tried to make a love potion on [my cat] and the stable cat, hoping to make them compatible. But I wasn’t exactly successful . . . But instead of falling in love with each other, they fell in love with the first inanimate object they touched. In [her cat’s] case, it happened to be that green woolen sock she carries everywhere.”
  • Solimar uses magic to figure out which way to go in the dangerous devil’s river. Solimar “heard the chorus again — mystical and ancient and with such harmony that her arms prickled and tears filled her eyes. A clutch of monarchs lifted from the rebozo, their wings beating in time to the rhythmic song, and trailed after the swarm toward the waterway on the right.”
  • The magic of the monarchs can move a canoe without Solimar paddling it at all. “The canoe glided to the right, following the monarchs’ path.”
  • Solimar uses her predictive abilities to help navigate a perilous labyrinth of caves. She reveals, “The tunnel on the right is navigable, but there is no through passage. The water is stagnant, and the air is foul-smelling. The one in the middle has a rock ceiling that eventually becomes so low that the only way to pass is by swimming beneath it, underwater. The tunnel on the left leads to a long corridor and a bat-filled chamber.” She makes it safely out of the caves. 
  • Solimar and her abuela plan to distract the invading guards with an enchantment. As the invaders sit in the middle of the room waiting for the greedy king’s decision about his hostages, “The awnings above the audience collapsed, spilling all manner of household items into the audience: feather dusters, wooden spoons, tea towels. . . Everyone who had been forewarned about the pastries and had not eaten them laughed as each guard picked up an inanimate object — and immediately fell hopelessly in love with it. At least for a few weeks, they would be as lovestruck and preoccupied as [Abuela’s cat], whose sweetheart was a green woolen sock.”
  • Solimar carries the rebozo and protects the monarchs that are magically embedded inside until they are strong enough to leave. At that point, “A wave of butterflies erupted from the oyamel forest. They dove and swooped around Solimar. . . The ancient song began, beautiful and melodic. The butterflies lifted the fabric, turning it around and around in the sun, and waving it so that it rippled until the creases fell away.” The last butterfly “emerged . . . the last one she protected landed on [Solimar’s] finger, then flew away to join the others in the oyamel forest.”      

Spiritual Content 

  • Solimar’s kingdom is home to “the oyamel forest,” a forest that draws in monarch butterflies. She explains, “Like everyone in the kingdom, Solimar believed that the ancestors of the monarch butterflies inhabited the oyamel forest, and that year after year, their spirits lured a new generation of butterflies to this spot during their migrations.”
  • In Solimar’s kingdom of San Gregorio, “the forest and the monarchs were revered and protected,” and the forest is often referred to as “the sacred place.”
  • Solimar ponders what draws the butterflies to the forest each year. “Isn’t it amazing that the butterflies, that have never been here before, arrive season after season at the same spot as their ancestors? Is it the magnetic pull of the earth or the position of the sun as the scientists suggest? Or do the spirits of their fathers and mothers whisper directions to them in a dream? Is it some magical intuition that allows them to know what lies ahead? . . . it’s a miracle.”
  • The dangerous river that prevents Solimar’s kingdom from trading goods is referred to as “Río Diablo,” or the devil’s river. 
  • When Solimar and her abuela visit Doña Flor for advice on Solimar’s ability to predict things, Doña Flor uses scents and vapors to help her. Doña Flor “stopped and picked a few leaves from one of the dried bouquets hanging from the ceiling and tossed them on the fire. A crisp fragrance, like a muddle of pine and mint, filled the room. Doña Flor waved the vapors toward her and inhaled deeply.” Abuela explains, “The strong scent of eucalyptus helps with remembering.”
  • Doña Flor explains that when any of the monarchs of the oyamel forest are weak, “on those occasions, the ancestral sprits of the monarchs choose a benevolent courier to protect the stragglers until they are strong enough to join the others” on their migration.

Squad Goals

Energetic seventh-grader Magic Poindexter wants nothing more than to join the cheerleading squad for the Valentine Middle School Honeybees. After all, cheerleading runs deep in her family’s blood, and Magic wants to continue her family’s legacy, especially since her Grammy Mae was the first Black cheerleader on the Honeybees squad.  

But Magic is different. She isn’t coordinated, has zero athletic ability, and she struggles to stay on beat. Her only chance lies with Planet Pom-Poms, the summer cheer camp where she’ll audition for a spot on the cheerleading squad. However, cheer camp brings more than strenuous practice routines, and Magic struggles to balance the interweaving plotlines of summer romances, friendship trouble, and mean bullies. Can Magic survive Planet Pom-Poms and earn herself a spot on the Valentine Middle School Honeybees? 

From the start, Magic’s bubbly, quirky personality enriches the story’s plot and surrounding characters. Readers will enjoy experiencing Planet Pom-Poms through Magic’s point of view, and her mixture of excitement and anxiety for the cheerleading audition makes her a very relatable character. Yet, Magic’s strength lies in her positive view of herself and others. Despite what others say about her, Magic remains upbeat and optimistic which is why she becomes an admirable figure for both the readers and the other characters. 

Magic is a dynamic character, who shows personal growth; at first, she fears her lack of cheerleading talent but she learns to love herself. This change highlights the book’s message of loving and believing in yourself. This message extends past Magic to her friends, who find beauty in their differences. Magic exemplifies this by saying, “With all of our differences . . . we’re like a cool bag of Skittles. Each of us has our own unique flavor. Without one of us, the rest of the bag would be boring.” While Squad Goals primarily focuses on Magic’s development, the book also includes plenty of cheerleading action. Readers can expect many action sequences with in-depth descriptions of real cheerleading moves. 

Overall, Squad Goals is a heartfelt story about a young girl learning to love herself and her differences. The combination of fast cheerleading scenes with slower introspection scenes mix well and provide an authentic experience for the characters to learn and grow from. The book pleasantly wraps up the different plotlines and leaves the readers with a satisfying conclusion. Although the characters may act overly cheesy, the book explodes with enough charm that it will elicit a smile from all readers who love positivity and cheerleading. Readers who want more cheerleading action should also read The Tryout by Christina Soontornvat. 

Sexual Content 

  • When Magic talks to her crush, Dallas Chase, Dallas’ “cheeks turn red when he smiles this time.” 
  • Whenever Magic thinks about Dallas, it “makes her heart turn into a drum major and beat against my chest. Then my hands get sweaty and I don’t want to touch anything.” 
  • When Magic talks about Dallas, she “swipe[s] at my brows and try to shake off the red. But when I glance in the mirror, my entire face is still flushed. I shake my head. Now it’s even redder. But that’s my story and I’m sticking to it . . . even though I can’t deny that he makes me feel like a hot cup of cocoa topped with squishy marshmallows, all caramel excitement and chocolate nerves.” 
  • Magic’s and Dallas’ eyes lock, and Magic loses “all focus, my mouth opening and closing like a fish as I try to figure out what to say.” 
  • Magic watches Dallas and Gia, the captain of the cheerleading squad, interact from afar, and she “can feel [her] legs turning to limp taffy” out of fear and disgust. This scene is described over three pages. 
  • Magic sees Dallas in a crowd and her “palms go sticky and I start losing my grip on my pom-poms.” 
  • Dallas meets up with Magic outside her cabin. Magic explains, “he looks up at me and a powerful surge of mushy feelings rushes through my nervous system, making me . . . nervous. They start in my toes and sizzle up to the ends of my big, long braids.” 
  • Magic and Dallas hold hands as they walk. “We turn to head back to the dorm, hand in hand, and I’m so content that I don’t even bother to count the Mississippis.” 
  • When Dallas invites Magic to a birthday party, she “can’t hold back the mega-blush that’s turning my face a solid Crayola red.” 

Violence 

  • Magic falls off the steps of the bus, and “an obnoxiously loud thud echoes behind my fall and everyone turns to look right at me and my face, which is now buried in the dirt.” Magic hurts her arm and has to go to the nurse’s station later on. 
  • Magic’s friend, Brooklyn, explains that the cheerleader captains “will be covered in that chalky calamine lotion” after she spreads poison ivy on Gia and Yves’ pillows. 
  • Gia and Yves, the two cheerleading captains, sabotage Magic’s introduction video during the Midsummer performances. They switch out Magic’s original video with a video of her professing her love for Dallas Chase for the entire audience to see: “The audio skips. I try to keep dancing to my background music, mainly because Coach force-fed us that the show must always go on, even if disaster strikes. The audio skips again. ‘—and I’m in love with Dallas Chase. And I’m in love with Dallas Chase. I’m—I’m—I’m in love with Dallas Chase.’” This scene is described over three pages. 
  • Gia and Yves sabotage Magic and her friends’ performance at the Finale by dropping a bucket of water on Magic’s friends during their performance. Magic decides to “cut the string” to save her friends’ performance, “but the bucket is still teetering back and forth, and while I’m looking up at the rafter, watching the bucket with my mouth wide open, I feel a few droplets just before the entire bucket of water splatters right over my head. And I’m soaked.” Magic sacrifices herself to allow her friends to finish their performance. This scene is described over three pages. 
  • Magic and her friends cover Gia and Yves bedsheets with poison ivy in revenge for the Midsummer disaster: “’I’ll do the honors,’ I say to Winnie, taking the tissue with the poison ivy in it from her. I lean over the other bed and follow Winnie’s fingertip as it guides me across and then down the pillowcase.” 

Drugs and Alcohol 

  • Magic mentions that her grandfather “takes medication” when his “heart is beating dangerously fast.” 
  • Magic’s mom mentions that “children’s Motrin will help” with Magic’s throbbing head. 

Language 

  • Magic exclaims “ohmahgawd” multiple times. 
  • Two cheerleaders regularly call Magic, “Tragic Magic.” They also call another cheerleader, Capricorn, “Kettle Corn.”  
  • Magic’s friend, Lulu, screams “ohmygosh” once. 
  • Magic repeatedly exclaims “fan-fricking-tastic.”   
  • A mean cheerleader taunts Capricorn by telling her that she “sucks.” 
  • A mean cheerleader tells Magic that “she looks like a raccoon.” 

Supernatural 

  • When Magic holds her Grammy Mae’s pom-poms before the Finale, she sees Grammy Mae encouraging her. “It’s Grammy Mae’s voice, and I’m not sure if I’m imagining it, because it feels so real. And when I open my eyes, I can see her, smiling sweetly, even though I know she’s not there.” 
  • Grammy Mae’s initials on her pom-poms change to Magic’s initials at the end of the story. “And when I do, Grammy’s initials aren’t there anymore. Instead, that same golden glow is swirling around the initials MOP.” 

Spiritual Content 

  • Magic’s big sister, Fortune, compliments Magic by saying, “God was having a good day when he made [you].” 

Baseball Genius

Twelve-year-old Jalen DeLuca is an aspiring baseball player who dreams of playing in the Major Leagues. He knows he can jump-start his career by playing for the travel team Rockton Little League Rockets, but he runs into a massive problem: his father can’t afford the travel team expenses. Desperate to find the money, Jalen attempts to sell some stolen baseballs from famous Yankee ballplayer James Yager. However, when Yager catches Jalen with the baseballs their worlds collide. More importantly, they realize that they need each other when Yager learns that Jalen is more than just a misfit criminal—he’s a baseball genius. 

Just like Jalen, James Yager is in a tough situation. His job is on the line because of his poor performance, and he needs a miracle to prove that he deserves his spot on the Yankees roster. Luckily, Jalen’s ability to perfectly predict pitches from opposing pitchers offers a glimpse of hope, and he embarks on a riveting adventure to save not only his chances of playing baseball but Yager’s entire career. With many people counting on him, Jalen feels the pressure as he struggles to balance the travel team, friendships, his father’s business, and Yager’s career. Can Jalen’s genius save his family, friends, and Yager? 

Told from Jalen’s perspective, the story portrays the complex circumstances in Jalen’s life and explores how Jalen views and feels about these events. As a result, Jalen comes across as a realistic character with authentic joys, anxieties, and dreams. Many readers will relate to how Jalen reacts to the pressure of helping his family, friends, and Yager. Jalen’s brave demeanor leads him to frequently help others, trust the people he loves, and believe that things will work out in the end. They will also admire Jalen’s fortitude in the face of overwhelming adversities. After getting caught stealing, Jalen knows that “Even though he was alone, imprisoned in the Yankees manager’s office, he knew everything was going to work out.” 

Baseball Genius balances the interconnected plotlines within Jalen’s life and gives each storyline proper development with a distinct solution. The constant twists and turns will keep the pages turning and readers will enjoy the quirky side characters who surround Jalen. The story also features several action-packed baseball sequences, where readers will experience detailed play-by-play scenes of actual baseball games, complete with real-life players and settings. For example, during a Yankees game against the White Sox, Jalen watched as “Hutt struck out in four, and then Joe Ros knocked one in the 5-6 hole on his first pitch, putting runners on first and third. Quintana had thrown a total of eighteen pitches.” 

While Baseball Genius has an intriguing plot, it struggles to develop the many characters. Outside of Jalen, most of the supporting characters are flat and don’t show a massive shift in perspective or feelings. As a result, the story’s lesson of trusting in your talents at times feels half-baked and incomplete. Luckily, Baseball Genius’ action-packed narrative overshadows this flaw and presents an engaging story that will capture even the imagination of non-sports fans. With this combination of exciting baseball scenes and page-turning cliffhangers, Baseball Genius is a must-read for sports fanatics. 

Sexual Content 

  • After Jalen successfully predicts the next pitch from a Yankee baseball pitcher, Cat, Jalen’s friend, “kissed [Jalen’s] cheek” in celebration. 

Violence 

  • When Jalen grabs Cat by the arm to talk to her, she “dug her heels in and cuffed him in the back of the head.” Jalen wanted to talk with Cat privately because she was upset with him over his new baseball skills. 

Drugs and Alcohol 

  • None 

Language 

  • Throughout the story, Jalen’s father says the Italian curse word “mannaggia,” which translates to “darn” in English. 
  • Chris, a school bully, calls Jalen “mutt,” which means “biracial, half white and half black.” 
  • Yager says, “Holy crow” once. Yager also mutters, “Good God” during a stressful moment. 
  • Yager calls the radio sports analyzers “idiots” because they believe that his career is dying.  
  • Jalen calls Chris a “jerk” and a “rat” once. 
  • Chris calls Jalen a “sandwich” because Jalen’s dad has to make sandwiches for the baseball team to pay for Jalen’s travel team expenses. 
  • Chris calls Jalen the “Calamari Kid” after news spreads that Jalen’s dad’s calamari gave Yager good luck in his baseball game. 

Supernatural 

  • None 

Spiritual Content 

  • Yager helps Jalen’s father out during a busy time at the diner. Afterwards, his father asks, “Jalen, did you bring me an angel from above?” 
  • The travel-ball coach, Coach Gambles, explains to his players that “those of you who are new to this team need to understand that what I say is like the word of God.” 
  • When Jalen’s late for baseball practice, “Jalen flung the door open and took off, praying Coach Gamble’s watch was slow.” 
  • Jalen’s friend describes his feelings when entering Yankee Stadium as if “[he] died and went to heaven.”

Wait Till Helen Comes

Molly and her brother, Michael, agree that their new stepsister, Heather, is a spoiled brat. Mom wants Molly to watch out for Heather, since she’s only seven. But Heather only wants to make trouble for Molly and Michael. She lies and tattles and misbehaves, and somehow they get the blame. They know she’s trying to drive a wedge between her father and their mother, who recently married, so she can have her father all to herself—and it seems to be working. To top it off, Heather starts talking to a ghost named Helen, and Heather warns Molly and Michael that Helen is going to come for them. 

It appears that things can’t get any worse—but they do when Helen comes. 

The story focuses on Molly, the only person other than Heather who can see the ghost of Helen. No one believes Heather has made friends with a ghost—not even after Heather almost dies. Death is often mentioned and at one point, Molly worries what will happen after she dies. She’s afraid that when she dies, “My skeleton. My bones. Someday they would be all that was left of me. They would lie all alone in the dark and the cold while the years spun past, years I would never see. . . All my memories would die with me, all my thoughts and ideas.” The morbid thoughts about death may terrify some readers. 

Wait Till Helen Comes has plenty of scare factors that could give readers nightmares. The ghost of Helen is truly frightening, especially because she has led several children to their deaths. It turns out that Heather has been alone for a century, and the lonely ghost longs to have a friend in the spirit world. While Heather’s situation is understandable, the idea that a person can get stuck in the spirit world is frightening. When Helen tries to lead Heather to her death, Molly jumps in to save her bratty stepsister.  

A scary ghost, a near-death experience, and a spooky graveyard combine to create a chilling ghost story that readers will devour. While the story focuses on the ghost of Helen, many will relate to Molly’s struggles to get along with her stepsister. To make matters worse, no one believes Molly when she tries to warn them about Helen. One negative aspect of the book is the dysfunctional family dynamics. Molly’s brother, Michael, is allowed to roam the wilderness unaccompanied, the parents only appear when they are scolding the kids, and Molly is tasked with the responsibility of watching Heather, who is a pro at disappearing. Readers will empathize with Molly, who struggles with the conflicts that her dysfunctional family cause. 

Wait Till Helen Comes is a scary tale that will leave readers contemplating what happens when someone dies. Readers will find a lot to like about Wait Till Helen Comes, including plenty of heart-thumping scenes, a fast-paced plot, and an unexpectedly happy ending. Readers who love a good scare will enjoy Wait Till Helen Comes. For more frightening tales, check out the Small Spaces Quartet by Katherine Arden.  

Sexual Content 

  • None 

Violence 

  • When Heather was three, she saw “her mother die in a fire.”  
  • Helen destroys Michael, Molly, and their mom’s belongings. “Everything that Michael cherished lay in a heap of rubble in the middle of the floor. His books, his specimen cases, his fossils and rocks, his microscope, his aquarium—all were smashed, ruined.” The adults think a robber broke in and ransacked everything. 
  • After finding his room destroyed, Michael grabs Heather and “shook her.” He also calls her a little creep. 
  • Helen leads Heather into the pond, in the hopes that Heather would join her in death. When Molly jumps into the pond to save Heather, Helen is “sobbing and moaning, clutching at Heather with icy fingers, she begged me to give her back. . . I felt a terrible chill as her fingers seized my ankles.” Molly drags Heather out of the pond. 
  • After nearly drowning, Heather wakes up and runs back toward the pond. Molly describes, “Catching up with her at the water’s edge, I tackled her and threw her flat on her face in the weeds. She fought me, her wet clothes and skin making it hard to hold on to her.” Heather stops fighting Molly, who takes her into an abandoned house to warm up.

Drugs and Alcohol 

  • None 

Language   

  • Michael tells Molly, “Don’t let that brat [Heather] scare you with make-believe, Molly. You’re acting like a real dope.” 
  • Molly calls Michael an idiot. Later, she calls Heather a little monster. 
  • Heather tells Molly, “Your mother is a witch. . . I wish she were dead, and you and Michael, too!” 
  • Heather’s father calls Molly a little monster. 
  • Heather’s father says “good God” once. 
  • Molly’s mother says, “Oh, my God.” 

Supernatural 

  • A ghost befriends Heather. When Heather calls to Helen, Molly sees “the glimmer of blue light shape itself into the figure of a girl . . . She wore a white dress, and her hair, dark as Heather’s, tumbled in waves down her back.” 
  • Molly and Michael go to the library to research ghosts. Michael reads about poltergeists who “throw furniture and destroy stuff, and scientists don’t have an explanation for them.” 
  • The man who cares for the graveyard is the only person who believes Molly has seen a ghost. The man tells her, “But my own sister was convinced that our cousin Rose was led to her death in Harper Pond by the very spirit you’ve described to me. . . my sister went to her grave convinced that Rose was possessed by Helen Harper.” 
  • Heather and Molly fall through the rotting floor of an abandoned house. In the old cellar, they see the skeletons of Helen’s parents. Helen kneels by the skeletons. “Another figure appeared in the cellar. From mist it seemed to form itself into a woman. . . smiling, she drew Helen to her feet and embraced her, comforting her, stroking her hair, rocking her gently.” The ghosts shimmer and then disappear.  

Spiritual Content 

  • None 

The Last Leopard

Martine, her grandmother, and her best friend, Ben, are off to Zimbabwe to help her grandmother’s friend, Sadie, run her hotel in the Matobo Hills. But when they arrive, Martine realizes that someone wants to run Sadie off her land. Not only that, but hunters and treasure seekers are trying to capture Khan—a legendary giant leopard, rumored to be the rarest in the world. Can Martine help before it’s too late?

Martine is surprised when her grandmother announces they are going to Zimbabwe to help her friend Sadie. When they arrive at the isolated hotel, Martine discovers that Sadie is hiding something. Sadie eventually reveals that Mr. Ratcliffe has been trying to run Sadie out of business so he can hunt the legendary leopard, Khan. When the police unexpectedly arrest Martine’s grandmother and Sadie, Martine, and Ben vow to keep Khan safe even if it means putting themselves in danger. 

The third installment of the Legend of the Animal Healer Series has a darker mood than the previous books because it focuses on Mr. Ratcliffe’s greed and his “canned” hunting business. In order to keep his illegal business in operation, Mr. Ratcliffe bribes corrupt police officers. Mr. Ratcliffe is not content with hunting lions and other dangerous animals. Instead, he is also determined to kill the legendary leopard Khan—even if it means hurting others to obtain his goal.

When Martine’s grandmother and Sadie are arrested, Ngwenya, a local, helps Martine and Ben hide in a local village. This situation gives readers an inside look at the indigenous people who live in the bush. While the Zimbabwe culture is completely different from the United States, the communities shine with beauty even though, like any society, not everyone has pure intentions. The mix of characters that Martine and Ben meet adds interest to the story as well as highlights the negative aspects of greed. In the end, the story clearly shows that money is not important; instead, people only need “love, freedom, and enough to eat.”

The Last Leopard is a fast-paced story that teaches readers the horrors of canned hunting and the need for people to take action to save endangered animals. In the author’s note, St. John explains that illegal hunters have caused “cheetahs, lions, and hippos, animals we thought would be around forever, [to be moved] onto the endangered list, and the leopard, one of the world’s most elusive and beautiful creatures, [to be] in danger of being wiped out. Unless we act soon, we’ll wake up to discover that there is only one last leopard.”

Sexual Content 

  • None

Violence

  • According to legend, the tribe elders, including Lobengula, hid a treasure. Lobengula was suspected of “having several of his own brothers murdered.” After the treasure was hidden, “Lobengula ordered all who had buried the treasure to be killed in case they had thoughts of stealing it.”
  • When others went to search for the treasure, their expedition “was cursed. Men were struck down with illness none had ever seen before; charged by elephants or murdered by rivals; one even had his nose licked by a lion just before he was disemboweled.”
  • The story revolves around the practice of canned hunting which is “the wicked and widespread practice of putting lions, leopards, and other dangerous and hard-to-hunt animals in small enclosures so that ‘hunters’ are guaranteed a ‘kill’ or a trophy to hang on their walls.” Mr. Ratcliffe owns the Lazy J [?] which captures animals to be hunted.
  • Martine hears a shot. When she looks through binoculars, she sees “the lion lay dead on the ground. The hunter had one foot on its chest and one hand on his rifle, and he was smiling and posing for photographs. The lion’s blood was leaking out onto his boot, but he didn’t seem to notice.”
  • While in the wilderness, the leopard Khan knocks Martine to the ground. “His great paws thudded against her chest and his claws pierced her skin. She was winded and in pain. She could feel blood trickling down her armpit.” Martine can feel Khan’s hatred and fear as well as his exhaustion “from the endless struggle to survive.” When Khan hears others coming, he runs into the desert.
  • Martine and Ben sneak onto Mr. Ratcliffe’s property, where they find animals ready to be canned hunted. When the owner sees them, Martine and Ben run. As they ran, Khan “jumped from the sky” saving Martine and Ben. A man who witnessed the events says, “There was no shooting. One of the guides went to get his rifle and Khan opened up his chest with a swipe of his paw. That man will be spending many months in the hospital.”
  • To keep Martine and Ben out of the way, Mr. Ratcliffe pays a man named Griffin to kidnap the kids. “They’d been kidnapped at about nine o’clock in the morning and denied food or water until six in the evening because Martine refused to give Griffin any information on her gift.” After Martine pretends to tell the future, Griffin allows the kids to eat. Then, he locks them “in a dusty, windowless storeroom with nothing but a bottle of water, a wooden crate, and a couple of snacks.”
  • To escape from Griffin, Martine and Ben hatch a plan to have the “Enemy of Lions” ants bite Griffin. When the ants begin climbing up Griffin’s legs, he “let out a tormented scream. . . He was leaping, twisting, and screeching like a madman.” Griffin’s friends jump up to detain the kids but “Martine and Ben were ready with the sacks. A single swish sent showers of biting ants all over the men.” The kids escape.
  • Martine and Ben go in search of Khan. While searching, “a hand was clamped over [Martine’s] mouth.” Martine is able to flee, but Griffin follows her. “Griffin grabbed at her ankle and missed. Martine scooped a rock as she dodged him and threw it with all her might. The rock hit the bees’ nest square on.” The bees attack Griffin who “fled down the mountainside.” Later, Martine discovers that police found “a comatose figure by the roadside. . . he was so swollen that one of the constables described him as looking as if he’d been blown up with a bicycle pump.”
  • A guide pulls a gun on Ben, so Ben pretends that he will lead the guides to the leopard. Ben is uninjured. 

Language

  • An adult asks Martine, “What the heck do you think you’re doing?”

Drugs and Alcohol 

  • A young adult and his friends are looking for the location of the legendary treasure. They want to find the treasure so they can buy luxuries including cigarettes and whiskey. 
  • When a witch doctor is called to help a sick child, he chanted and “took a swig from a brown bottle at his side. . . In between chants, the witch doctor had continued to take long swallows from his brown bottle.” Before the end of the ceremony, the witch doctor passes out drunk.
  • Martine carries a survival kit that contains “three small brown bottles: one for headaches and pain, one to treat Bilharzia, a disease found in Zimbabwean rivers, and one for stomach ailments.” Martine gives the stomach medicine to the sick baby, who recovers.
  • One of Sadie’s workers discovers that the owner of the Lazy J. paid someone to poison the water tank for the cattle on Sadie’s property.

Supernatural

  • There are several witch doctors who use bones and other items to tell the future. One witch doctor tells Martine, “I will throw the bones and tell you what you need to know. . . what you call destiny is written in sand and not in stone.” During the ceremony, the witch doctor “scattered the bones onto the dry earth.”
  • The witch doctor tells Martine and Ben, “You are bound together, but you will be torn apart. When that happens, look to the House of Bees.”
  • Martine has a gift that allows her to feel the emotions of animals as well as heal them. When she finds Khan, who is injured, Martine uses her magic. When Martine uses her gift, she has a vision of “the ancients, the San Bushman. . . and they were chanting with her, encouraging her. . .  a magical energy came from them and passed through her as if she were a lightning conductor.”
  • When Martine’s hands heat up, she puts them on Khan’s wound. “At first the leopard writhed beneath her touch as if her hands were so hot they were singeing him but gradually his muscles relaxed and a peace came over him.” Afterward, Martine uses moss, honey, and super glue to treat Khan’s wound. 

Spiritual Content

  • The people of the Matobo Hills created shrines to worship “Mwali, the High God. Each shrine had its own guardian and they are looked after to this day.”
  • After Martine and Ben are kidnapped, Martine pretends to be ill. When Griffin sees her pale skin, he prays, “Mwali, don’t desert us now.” 

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