Just Roll With It

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

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

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

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

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • None

Emmanuel’s Dream: The True Story of Emmanuel Ofosu Yeboah

Born in Ghana, West Africa with one deformed leg, Emmanuel was dismissed by most people—but not by his mother, who taught him to reach for his dreams. As a boy, Emmanuel hopped to school more than two miles each way, learned to play soccer, left home at age thirteen to provide for his family, and, eventually, became a cyclist. He rode an astonishing four hundred miles across Ghana in 2001, spreading his powerful message: disability is not inability. Today, Emmanuel continues to work on behalf of the disabled.

Even though Emmanuel only had one good leg, he was determined to do what the other children did—go to school, play soccer, and ride a bike. Unlike most children today, Emmanuel also had to work shining shoes and selling vegetables to help support his family. Because of his disability, people told him to “go out and beg, like other disabled people did.” However, Emmanuel refused to give up, and his experiences led him to ride 400 miles across his country to show that “being disabled does not mean being unable.”

Even though Emmanuel’s Dream is a picture book, most young readers will not be able to read the book independently because of the advanced vocabulary and text-heavy pages. Each page has 2 to 4 sentences and many of the sentences are long and complex. The simple illustrations use bright colors and show Emmanuel’s world. Through the pictures, readers will get a brief look at Ghana’s culture.

Because of his disability, Emmanuel faced many hardships and discrimination. However, his story focuses on how he overcame each difficult situation. Emmanuel’s Dream will entertain readers as it teaches them the importance of perseverance and hard work. Because of Emmanuel’s dedication, he was able to succeed in spreading his message. “He proved that one leg is enough to do great things—and one person is enough to change the world.”

If you’re looking for more inspiring sports related books that focus on people overcoming difficult situations, pick up a copy of She Persisted in Sports by Chelsea Clinton and Catching the Moon: The Story of a Young Girl’s Baseball Dream by Crystal Hubbard.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • None

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • None

Supernatural

  • When Emmanuel was born, most people thought he would be “useless, or worse—a curse. His father left, never to return.”

Spiritual Content

  • Emmanuel was given his name because it means “God is with us.”
  • Emmanuel asked the king of his region “to give him a royal blessing.”

 

She is Not Invisible

Laureth Peak’s father has taught her to look for recurring events, patterns, and numbers—a skill at which she’s remarkably talented. When he goes missing while researching coincidence for a new book, Laureth and her younger brother fly from London to New York and must unravel a series of cryptic messages and frightening clues to find him. The complication: Laureth is blind. Reliant on her other senses and on her brother to survive, Laureth finds that rescuing her father and spotting the extraordinary, and sometimes dangerous, connections in a world full of darkness will take all her skill.

Laureth, a sixteen-year-old blind protagonist, desperately wants to find her father. Laureth’s experiences highlight the difficulties she faces because she is blind. Because of her disability, Laureth takes her seven-year-old brother, Benjamin, to New York to look for her father. The sister-brother relationship is sweet, and it allows the reader to see the different ways Laureth and Benjamin communicate, which allows Laureth to navigate without making her blindness apparent.

While looking for her father, Laureth finds his notebook that has his research notes about coincidences, patterns of the universe, and scientists’ research. For example, he ruminates about the mathematical probability that coincidences happen, synchronicity, as well as some scientists’ obsessions with a meaningful number. The excerpts from the notebook are incredibly boring and they slow down the plot. In the end, Laureth’s father decides to dump all his research and resume writing the same type of funny stories that made him famous. There seems to be no point to the tedious passages about coincidences.

While She is Not Invisible is unique because it focuses on a smart, blind protagonist, Laureth’s story lacks believability. For example, a blind teenager and a seven-year-old boy would not be able to navigate the streets of New York alone. The story concludes with Laureth’s family reuniting, but in the end, none of the clues that Laureth follows help her find her father. Instead, her father just miraculously appears in the hotel’s stairwell just when Laureth needs him most. The conclusion is anticlimactic, and all the pieces of the puzzle come together too easily.

Many teen readers will relate to Laureth, who often doubts herself. Along the journey, she gains confidence and comes to realize that “no one should want to be invisible. To have no one notice you or speak to you. That would be really lonely, in the end.” If you’re looking for a compelling mystery that will be hard to put down, forego reading She is Not Invisible and instead grab a copy of Six Months Later by Natalie D. Richards.

Sexual Content

  • Laureth wonders if her dad is “sleeping with someone else.”
  • Laureth and her brother go into a bar in the hopes of finding their father. A man yells, “Take your clothes off.”
  • The bad guy traps Laureth in a dark hotel room. He says, “You and me can still have a good time together. In the dark.”
  • When Laureth’s parents are reunited, she “heard Dad kiss Mum, who giggled like she was young.”

 

Violence

  • Laureth reads a story about a man who “is cannibalized by his shipmates.”
  • A man pulls a knife on Laureth, Benjamin, and a boy named Michael. Michael runs off and finds his brother. Laureth heard “a soft thud and the sound of air coming out of someone all at once… There was another thud, and I heard the Smoke scream.” Later, the police find the man tied to a fence with his own belt.
  • One of the bad men is in Laureth’s hotel room. Laureth leaps onto the bed, “straight across, and felt his hand grab my ankle. . . then I kicked out wildly with my free leg. My heel hit something that was sort of hard and soft at the same time, there was a crunch, and he yelled, really loud.” She manages to escape.
  • Laureth has her brother break all the lights in the hotel’s hallway and the stairs. Laureth runs down the stairs and hears the bad man scream. “It was followed by a series of terrible thuds and thumps as the man fell down to the ground floor.”

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • Laureth overhears her parents arguing about her dad taking pills for his “state of mind.”
  • Sometimes Laureth’s father “has another glass of wine or two.”

Language

  • Profanity is used rarely. Profanity includes ass, crap, hell, and damn.
  • Ass is used twice. For example, a blind samurai in a Japanese film is “blind but he still kicks ass.”
  • A man says, “Goddammit. . . Can’t smoke anywhere in this damn city now.”

Supernatural

  • Laureth’s brother Benjamin has a strange effect on electronics which his family calls the “Benjamin Effect.” When Benjamin touches electronics such as cell phones and TV screens, they stop working.

Spiritual Content

  • In Laureth’s father’s book of notes, he writes, “There’s a word for the feeling that we are in touch with something great, something powerful, something outside ourselves, and that word is NUMINOUS. It used to only be used in connection with religion; that feeling that you’re in touch with God.”
  • Einstein said, “Coincidence is God’s way of remaining anonymous.”
  • Laureth thinks about a poem. “It’s a pious poem about God. It’s about how, although you might try to ignore Him, and turn from Him and even flee Him, He will keep following you, faithfully, like a faithful hound follows its master, all of your life.”
  • Occasionally Laureth prays. For example, when a man says something rude, Laureth “prayed Benjamin didn’t understand.”
  • In his research, Laureth’s father found that George Price, “one of America’s greatest thinkers, gave in and had to admit that God existed.”

A Face for Picasso

There was danger in the kind of beauty I was desperate to achieve.

At only eight months old, identical twin sisters Ariel and Zan were diagnosed with Crouzon syndrome — a rare condition where the bones in the head fuse prematurely. They were the first twins known to survive it.

Growing up, Ariel and her sister endured numerous appearance-altering procedures to keep them alive. Doctors expanded the twins’ skulls and broke bones to make room for their growing organs. After each surgery, the sisters felt like strangers to each other, unable to recognize themselves in the mirror. Their case attracted international attention. A French fashion magazine said Ariel and Zan “resembled the words of Picasso,” as if they were abstract paintings, not girls just trying to survive.

Later, plastic surgeons cut and trimmed, and tugged their faces toward a tenuous aesthetic ideal. The girls dreamed of appearing “beautiful” but would settle for “normal.”

Fighting for acceptance was a daily chore. Between besting middle school bullies, becoming a cheerleader in high school, and finding her literary voice in college, Ariel learned to navigate a beauty-obsessed world with a facial disfigurement to become the woman she is today.

Ariel’s story is spellbinding and heart-wrenching. While Ariel’s story is not pretty, she brings to light what it means to live with a facial disfigurement. Not only did she and her sister have to deal with the excruciating pain of countless surgeries, but they also had to deal with the cruelty of those around them. From an early age, Ariel had to deal with constant painful encounters with children, teachers, and adults. Ariel said, “the everyday stares, comments, and subhuman treatment were constant reminders of our painful medical history and perceived shortcomings. We were treated as less attractive, less intelligent, and less worthy of basic respect.”

In her memoir, Ariel uses the backdrop of Picasso’s life to help explain how she and her sister were dehumanized. Ariel connects her experiences with Picasso’s work and his hate for women. While the connection is clear, the long descriptions of Picasso’s behavior become tedious. Another negative aspect of the story is that Ariel talks about her obsession with food but does not fully explain how her eating disorder fits into her overall story.

Readers who want a fun, fluffy YA novel should steer away from A Face for Picasso which is an honest memoir about how society’s beauty standards can affect someone who has a deformity. Ariel does not gloss over the painful surgeries, the cruelty of peers or the constant desire to be normal. By reading A Face for Picasso, readers will see how silence can be just as painful as spoken cruelty. Ariel’s memoir will help readers be more compassionate and kinder human beings and hopefully will make them rethink society’s focus on beauty.

Sexual Content

  • Because of Ariel’s unrelenting anger, her mother “thought I had been violated because both anger and bed-wetting are signs of sexual abuse.”
  • Picasso was “heavily inspired by his obsession with sex.”
  • Picasso had several affairs while married to his first wife. He was “a sexual predator” who had sex with a seventeen-year-old. “He would take his young mistress to a cabana he’d rented on the beach and have sex with her. . . she was a child and the affair was illegal at its beginning.”
  • One of Picasso’s women “hanged herself” and another one “shot herself.”
  • Someone tells Ariel’s friend, “You’re super gorgeous. . . You could be a Playmate.”

Violence

  • Picasso had a string of affairs and “two of his partners had mental breakdowns from his abuse and had to be institutionalized. Two of them committed suicide. He was a volatile hypocrite when a God complex.”
  • Ariel was angry at Zan “because when Zan and I were together, we were treated even more terribly.” Ariel would tell Zan, “I hate you.” Ariel would also “kick her under the table as hard as I could. When she’d rise from her seat in an effort to hide the tears in her eyes, I would stomp on her toes.”

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • During surgery, Ariel and Zan were “doped up on painkillers, steroids, and antibiotics.”
  • Before her wedding, Ariel’s sister “took a daily dose of phentermine to lose weight.”
  • One Halloween, a group of girls went trick or treating. “One of the houses in the neighborhood had shots of alcohol on a tray on the porch; candy for the children, vodka for the parents.”
  • While Ariel was having surgeries, “other kids my age . . . went to parties and got drunk together and had sex for the first time.”

Language

  • Oh my God and Oh God are used as exclamations several times.
  • At times, Ariel is “pissed off.”
  • Both shit and crap are used twice.
  • After surgery, Ariel returned to school with a bruised and swollen face. When one boy sees her, he says, “Damn. Did you see her?”
  • Ariel was often called names and one boy compared her to an ugly dog. Another classmate tells Ariel, “You look like you had a bomb explode on your face.”
  • After a meeting with Ariel’s teacher and the principal, Ariel’s principal told her that the teacher was an idiot. He said, “We’re getting you out of this shithead’s class.” He also called him an asshole. Later, the teacher told the class that Ariel and her sister were removed from the class because “our faces were too distracting and not conducive to their learning.”

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • Ariel’s mother told her, “You are God’s artwork.”
  • Before surgery, Ariel and Zan would “sleep huddled together, praying God would not take one of us alone.” During that same time, Ariel “repeated silent prayers. ‘Please make this pain stop,’ I kept begging, over and over again. . . I don’t know who I was talking to. Maybe to God, maybe to myself. I just wanted it to end.”
  • When Picasso’s sister was ill, Picasso “tried to make a deal with God to save her. If he spared Conchita, Picasso vowed never to paint again.” After Conchita died, “Picasso felt simultaneously angry toward God and relieved about what his sister’s death meant for his future. He was still free to be a painter.”
  • Before one surgery, Ariel prayed, “God I’m so scared.
  • Many people teased Ariel because of her eyes. She says, “Not a day went by that I did not pray, asking God to give me eyes that were symmetrical.”
  • Before the homecoming queen and king were announced, Ariel prayed, “Even if neither Zan nor I win, I pray the day comes when we can be seen as beautiful, too. Please help others not to see us as ugly anymore.”
  • Ariel’s counselor tells her, “And until we meet again, ay God hold you in the palm of his hand.”

Just Ask: Be Different, Be Brave, Be You

Sonia and her friends are planting a garden, and each one contributes in his or her own way. Rafael has asthma and sometimes must stay calm so he can breathe, which gives him time to paint beautiful rocks for the garden. Anthony uses a wheelchair to get around and can move super-fast, directing the group. Anh has a stutter and prefers to listen, so she knows just how to plant each flower. All the friends are different, but they all have one thing in common: they like to ask questions and learn about one another!

This inclusive story is told by US Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor and inspired by her own diagnosis of diabetes. Readers will see differently abled kids use their strengths to work together and learn about each other. The book shows that differences are wonderful and that all you have to do when you don’t understand something is ask.

Each page of the picture book focuses on nature and the children who are working in the garden. The illustrations are brightly colored and show some imaginative elements as well. For example, Jordan loves dinosaurs, and in his illustration, he is walking over a rainbow and is surrounded by dinosaur shaped plants. Readers will enjoy finding all the animals that appear throughout the book such as a squirrel, a grasshopper, and birds.

The book uses a similar format on all the pages. Each two-page spread has a paragraph about a different person who has a disability. Each page also has a question for readers to consider. For example, “I also love reading and writing. What about you?” Even though each page only has 2 to 5 sentences, parents will need to read the book to their child rather than having the child read it independently. The complex sentence structure and advanced vocabulary will be difficult for beginning readers.

Just Ask uses an extended metaphor that compares people to a garden. For example, Sonia must take insulin because “my body doesn’t make insulin naturally like other people’s.” The full-page illustration that accompanies the words shows Sonia sitting in a flower, giving herself a shot of insulin. Just Ask introduces readers to a wide range of differences such as autism, stuttering, and needing to use a wheelchair. Plus, the children who appear in the story are diverse and have many different skin tones.

Parents and educators who want to educate readers about people with different abilities should put Just Ask on their must-read list. Unlike most picture books, Just Ask isn’t necessarily entertaining, but it teaches important lessons about being inclusive and shows how everyone can contribute in different ways. While young readers may not understand the connection between people and different types of plants, Just Ask is the perfect book to use as a discussion starter. While the story encourages readers to ask about people’s differences, it does not explain how to ask in a polite and kind manner.

The beautiful and creative illustrations, the diverse characters, and the positive message make Just Ask an excellent book to read to young children. The picture book gives information about different disabilities as well as food allergies and encourages readers to be inclusive.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • None

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • None

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • None

A Kind of Spark

Ever since Ms. Murphy told us about the witch trials that happened centuries ago right here in Juniper, I can’t stop thinking about them. Those people weren’t magic. They were like me. Different like me.

I’m autistic. I see things that others do not. I hear sounds that they can ignore. And sometimes I feel things all at once. I think about the witches, with no one to speak for them. Not everyone in our small town understands. Not Jenna, who used to be my best friend. Not Nina, my older sister. But if I keep trying, maybe someone will.

I won’t let the witches be forgotten. Because there is more to their story. Just like there is more to mine.

A Kind of Spark is told from Addie’s point of view, which allows her to explain how it feels to be “neurodivergent.” For example, Addie explains, “Masking is when I have to pass as a neurotypical person, as someone who is not like me. I have to ignore the need to stim, to self-soothe, and I have to make firm eye contact. Keedie told me it’s like when superheroes have to pretend that they’re regular people.” Addie’s experiences will help readers understand autism and how people with autism experience the world differently. However, the frequent use of neurodivergent vocabulary becomes a little overwhelming.

While A Kind of Spark teaches readers about autism, it is also a story about sisterhood, friendship, and speaking up for what you believe in. Addie and Keedie both have autism, which gives them a special bond. Keedie often gives Addie advice. For example, Keedie says, “It’s better to be open about who you really are, what you’re really like, and be disliked by a few than it is to hide who you are and be tolerated by many.” Even though both girls struggle with their autism, autism is not portrayed as something that should be fixed. Keedie acknowledges that autism causes some difficulties, but she would not want to be any other way.

Throughout her journey, Addie faces bullying from both her classmates and her teacher. When her parents find out about the bullying, they remind Addie that she should have reached out to a trusted adult, instead of staying silent. As Addie learns about the women who were accused of witchcraft, she realizes that some of the women were different like her. However, some younger readers may be confused by the connection. While the unfair and violent way the women were killed is not described in gory detail, it may still frighten young readers.

A Kind of Spark is an entertaining book that allows readers to learn about autism through Addie’s experiences. While Addie sometimes feels misunderstood, her family helps her navigate the world in a positive manner. In the end, Addie is reminded that “The ocean needs all kinds of fish. Just like the world needs all kinds of minds. Just one would be really dull, wouldn’t it?” Readers who would like to read more books that focus on autistic characters should also read Tune It Out by Jamie Sumner and A Boy Called Bat by Elana K. Arnold.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • Addie is learning about women from the past who were accused of witchcraft. Addie’s teacher explains that “witches were dunked in the Nor’ Loch. Their thumbs and toes were tied together, and they were tossed into the water! . . . Guilty witches were removed from the loch and taken to Castlehill to be burned or hanged.”
  • An adult babysitter got upset at Keddie and “threw a plate and dived at Keedie. . .” Keedie began “Screaming, and crying, and beating her own head. . . Mrs. Craig sprang into action, cursing Keedie all the while, and using her considerable weight to restrain my sister. She pinned Keedie’s wrists to the floor and got right in her face.” A neighbor intervenes. The scene is described over two pages.
  • On a field trip, a man describes “crudely made thumbscrews, whipping, and other forms of torture” that were used on accused witches. In their town, two women “were dragged [to a tree] by the baying mob. . . the Juniper residents decided to use this very tree to carry out their vigilante sentence.”
  • Addie tells someone that “Lots of women were hanged here in Juniper . . .And some witches were burned, or put in barrels full of nails.”
  • A girl in Addie’s class destroys Addie’s thesaurus and writes “retard” on it. Addie gets upset. “I’m flying through the air and I land squarely on top of Emily. . . I hear her shouting, screaming, and people rushing around. I’m dimly aware of Emily shrieking beneath me as my fists flair and come raining down on her.” A teacher pulls Addie off Emily and only punishes Addie. The scene is described over two and a half pages.

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • One evening, Addie’s parents went “to the living room with some wine.”
  • Addie says one of her neighbors “gets drunk and sings on our street corner at night.”

Language

  • The kids in Addie’s class call her various names such as stupid.
  • Addie uses the word bloody once.
  • An adult babysitter called Addie’s sister a spoiled brat and a little animal.
  • Keedie says her sister’s teacher is a vicious cow.
  • Addie’s teacher tells her, “You are a vile girl.”
  • Someone asks Addie, “What the hell are you doing?”
  • A woman calls Addie and her friend miscreants.
  • Oh God and hell are both used once.
  • Addie’s sister tells her teacher, “you’re a disgraceful, ignorant, ableist coward, a monster, and a bigot.”

Supernatural

  • A man explains that “a curse is like an evil spell. It’s when someone calls down a higher power, or magical force, to harm another person.”

Spiritual Content

  • As Addie researches the accused witches, she thinks, “I bet you wished you were a witch. I bet in those moments, as they accused you of supernatural powers, you prayed to be able to cast a spell upon all of them.”

All the Way to the Top: How One Girl’s Fight for Americans with Disabilities Changed Everything

Jennifer Keelan-Chaffins never wanted her wheelchair to slow her down, but the world around her was built in a way that made it hard for people to do even simple things like go to school or eat lunch in the cafeteria. This is the true story of a little girl who just wanted to go, even when others tried to stop her.

When the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was proposed, requesting that Congress make public spaces accessible to everyone, Jennifer joined activists in Washington, D.C. for what became known as the Capitol Crawl. To bring attention to the dilemma, Jennifer and others crawled all the way to the top of the Capitol Building,

All the Way to the Top begins by exploring the discrimination Jennifer was faced with because she was in a wheelchair and how this led her to participate in organized protests. A major portion of the book focuses on the protests Jennifer attended, the goals of the protests, and the reasons Congress was against the ADA. Even though All the Way to the Top is a picture book, it covers complicated topics like the ADA, activism, and the role of Congress.

The picture book’s illustrations focus on Jennifer whose facial expressions clearly show a range of emotions from joy to determination to sadness. Some of the pictures show large groups of people protesting. In these illustrations, the protesters are not clearly defined and are one color which allows the focal point to stay on Jennifer. Each page contains 2 to 6 sentences; however, the complex sentence structure makes some of the pages appear text heavy. Even though All the Way to the Top is a picture book, the story is intended to be read aloud to a child, rather than for the child to read it for the first time independently.

Jennifer is an admirable person, who was determined to show people how passing the ADA would help people with disabilities. However, the story acknowledges that “laws like the ADA don’t change things overnight. Entrances have to be rebuilt, sidewalks redesigned, buses reengineered. Slowest of all, minds have to change.” The book ends with three pages that explore the topic in more detail, a timeline that shows the milestones of the disability rights movement, and a picture of Jennifer climbing the steps of the Capitol.

All the Way to the Top shows how one person can make a positive impact on the world. All the Way to the Top is an excellent book to use in an educational situation, for research, or as a conversation starter. Plus, Jennifer’s story highlights the importance of dedication and giving voice to a cause. All the Way to the Top received the Schneider Family Book Award which honors an author or illustrator for a book that embodies an artistic expression of the disability experience for child and adolescent audiences. Readers who want to read another biographical picture book that shows how one person overcame a disability should read The Girl Who Thought in Pictures by Julia Finley Mosca.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • None

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • None

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • None

Not So Different: What You Really Want to Ask About Having a Disability

“My name is Shane, and I was born with a disease that makes my body grow smaller and weaker as I get older instead of bigger and stronger. Living with this disease means that I’ve used a wheelchair for most of my life and often rely on my family and friends to help me do all my favorite things—like eating pizza, participating in sports, and playing video games. Since many people are curious about me, I decided to answer some of the questions I’m asked head-on in this book. Go ahead and take a look! Although I need a little more help than you might, you’ll see that I’m not so different.”

Shane talks about his disability in a conversational tone and with humor. Shane’s family helps him with many of the day-to-day tasks that most people complete easily. “My brother helps me brush my teeth, but he loves to joke around, so I don’t let him help me get dressed or he makes me wear ridiculous outfits.” The book explains the importance of Shane’s wheelchair, his friends, and his family. Like most young people, Shane likes to play sports and eat pizza. But when people make fun of him, “it hurts my feelings because if they knew me a little better, they would see that I’m not so different!”

Each page has a full-page illustration that is often humorous. For example, Shane shows himself next to a T-Rex and the dinosaur is saying, “My head is big and my arms are short too, but I’m still awesome.” Each two-page spread has a question in a quote bubble, and the text answers the questions. Most pages have approximately five sentences, but some only have two sentences.

Shane uses a matter-of-fact tone to put readers at ease while he explains his disability. Shane doesn’t go in depth about the medical aspect of his disability, and he never complains about the things he cannot do. Instead, Shane uses humor to show that even though he looks different than other people, he really isn’t different on the inside.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • None

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • None

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • None

A Time to Dance

Veda, a classical dance prodigy in India, lives and breathes dance—so when an accident leaves her a below-knee amputee, her dreams are shattered. For a girl who’s grown used to receiving applause for her dance prowess and flexibility, adjusting to a prosthetic leg is painful and humbling. But Veda refuses to let her disability rob her of her dreams, and she starts all over again, taking beginner classes with the youngest dancers. Then Veda meets Govinda, a young man who approaches dance as a spiritual pursuit. As their relationship deepens, Veda reconnects with the world around her and begins to discover who she is and what dance truly means to her.

First and foremost, Veda is a likable teenager who deals with many types of normal teenage problems including conflicts with her parents and friends, crushes, insecurities, as well as the loss of her leg. Readers will connect with Veda because she is an imperfect teen who feels an array of emotions. Throughout her journey, Veda refuses to give up. Despite the loss of her leg, she is determined to continue Bharatanatyam dance. For Veda, dance is “a sacred art, an offering of devotion to God.” When Veda wrestles with the way her disability affects her dancing, her grandmother tells her, “There are as many perfect poses as there are people. . . Shiva sees perfection in every sincere effort. He loves us despite—or maybe because of—our differences.”

When Veda is learning how to use her prosthetic limb, the story skips past the difficulties of learning how to use the prosthetic as well the other physical ailments. Instead of explaining the difficulties, Veda’s time with the doctor is spent describing her infatuation with him. To learn more about how amputation can affect an athlete, The Running Dream by Wendelin Van Draanen is an engaging story that can give you more insight.

A Time to Dance is written in beautiful verse that magnifies emotions and conflicts but is never confusing. The inspirational story shows Veda’s courage, perseverance, and the importance of personal growth. A Time to Dance is an entertaining story that contains positive life lessons and teaches readers about Veda’s traditions, culture, and religion.

Sexual Content

  • Veda’s grandmother tells her about the history of dancers. Brahmin dancers “weren’t allowed to marry. And somehow, somewhere along the way, / society retracted / its promise to respect these women. / They were treated as prostitutes / and their sacred art degraded / into entertainment to please vile men.”
  • Govinda helps Veda overcome her leg’s phantom pain. “His fingers feel good/stroking my invisible skin./So good I want him stroking my real skin. / Want to reach out and stroke his. / My desire scares me, and I reach for the safety of my teacup.”

Violence

  • Veda is on a bus when it crashes. “Pain / sears through me / as though elephants are spearing my skin with sharp tusks and trampling over my right leg. . .” Her dance teacher covers her eyes, but “through his fingers I see / shredded skin, misshapen muscles. / Mine. Feel sticky blood pooling / below my right knee.” Veda’s leg is amputated below the knee. The bus driver “hit a tree. He died.”

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • None

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • Veda’s Hindu religious belief is an integral part of every aspect of her life. Below are some specific examples; however, it is not a complete list of everything in the book.
  • When Veda was a child, she climbed up a ladder to touch Shiva’s feet. The priest tells her, “You don’t have to climb ladders to reach God. He dances within all He creates. . . God is everywhere. In everybody. In everything. He is born at different times, in different places, with different names.”
  • Veda believes in reincarnation, which is mentioned often. For example, Veda’s grandmother says Veda was always able to “shape thoughts” with her fingers. “It was as if you remembered the sign language of Bharatanatyam from a previous life you’d lived as a dancer before being reincarnated as my granddaughter.”
  • When Veda dances, she loves “portraying Shiva, who, through the steps of His eternal dance, creates and destroys universes.”
  • After Veda’s accident, her grandmother says, “God’s grace moves the mute to eloquence and inspires the lame to climb mountains.”
  • After the accident Veda doesn’t “feel God is anywhere nearby let alone inside of me.”
  • Veda wonders if losing her leg is a punishment from God or for “bad Karma we built up in a past life.” Her grandmother says, “I don’t believe in a punishing God. I believe in a compassionate God. To me, Karma isn’t about divine reward or retribution. Karma is about making wise choices to create a better future.”
  • Veda’s grandmother tells her a story about God. “The sight of you—poverty-stricken, overcome by age and illness—turned Buddha from a mere man into a reincarnation of God.”
  • When Veda’s grandmother is dying, Veda gives her “a drink of this water from the holiest of rivers. She believes it will help wash away her sins.” After she dies someone says, “I’m sure her soul doesn’t need to be reborn in the world. She’ll now be reunited with God.”

Descent

Peak, Zopa, and Joshua Wood’s adventure down the mountain, Hkakabo Razi, continues as the group is pursued by the Chinese government. Picking up immediately where the last book left off, Peak and the gang are running out of time to escape both the mountain and China. Fortunately, Zopa has more tricks up his sleeve as they search for sanctuary in the fabled monastery, Pemako. But with old enemies on their heels, the group will have to move quickly to avoid capture.

As the final installment to Peak’s adventures, Descent is an action-packed ending that wraps up all the loose ends. Although the first half of Descent is slow, the rest of the story is fast-paced with plenty of new elements, including the hidden monastery, Pemako. Peak learns much more about Buddhist beliefs and life in Pemako, thanks in part to Zopa’s increased role.

Despite being on the run from the Chinese government, the main theme that Peak and the other characters drive home is the importance of going out into the world and doing good, even when it may be difficult. An old enemy from the first installment named Captain Shek reappears. While climbing, Peak decides to save Captain Shek because Peak feels that letting the captain fall to his death would be wrong. This decision arises despite Captain Shek’s merciless pursuit of Peak, Zopa, and Joshua Wood, and despite Captain Shek’s aims to capture and imprison Peak and his family. At one point, Captain Shek does capture Joshua and beats him. Regardless, Peak shows Captain Shek humanity and mercy by saving his life, even if Captain Shek has no interest in showing Peak or the others any compassion.

Descent is as much about survival as it is about climbing, though climbing is once again a big part of the book. Although Peak’s climbing adventures do end with this book, Peak takes away important lessons about finding inner peace and being a compassionate person. Throughout the series, Peak has shown time and time again that he is a strong-willed teenager, but he really shines when he consciously decides to be the best person he can be. His talent as a climber is impressive, but even that comes second to his ability to choose humanity over revenge. Descent is a strong conclusion to Peak’s story. Although readers will be sad to see the series end, the lessons learned will outlast even the books themselves.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • In Tibet, the Chinese military arrests Josh Wood and beat him. Peak discovers this because Josh’s two eyes are “swollen shut.”
  • Captain Shek’s men catch up to the family that helped Josh, Peak, and Zopa escape. According to the monks at the monastery, Captain Shek and his men questioned them, and the family wasn’t “beaten too badly.”
  • In the monastery/crater called Pemako, many of the monks practice martial arts. Peak describes, “Practicing is a little mild for what I witnessed. They were sparring, full contact, with fists and feet, and tossing each other onto the unpadded floor. Several of the monks were bleeding. Half a dozen others were sitting next to a wall like broken, discarded dolls.”
  • Peak learns a bit about Pemako, like the crime rate. Peak explains, “Crime is rare here, but not unknown. Anyone you ask will tell you about it. There has been one murder, two rapes, and seventeen thefts. I was shocked to hear this until the farmer who told me this added, ‘In the past one hundred years.’”
  • Lightning strikes Josh while he’s climbing a wall. He falls and “he hit the ground a few feet from the rope. Both of his legs were twisted in sickeningly, unnatural angles, shattered.”

Drugs and Alcohol

  • When Josh Wood is arrested and interrogated, Peak is pretty sure they drug Josh as well. Josh is extremely groggy and isn’t always sure of his surroundings.
  • Due to the severe head injury that Ethan sustained in the previous book, Ethan now takes a lot of medications to help him get better. Ethan says that he’s “a zombie most of the time.”
  • One of Shek’s soldiers stops to “smoke a cigarette and answer his two-way.”

Language

  • Light language is used infrequently. Words include: moron and stupid.
  • Ethan calls Peak over the satellite phones and tells Peak to “get his ass out of Tibet.”
  • Peak mentions that Zopa “didn’t give a damn what he looked like when he was climbing.”

Supernatural

  • Peak asks how Zopa was able to find him when he was lost in the jungle. Zopa is evasive, and he says that he reached Peak via “other means.” Peak guesses, “Star Trek transporter? Broom? Quantum shift? Time machine?”

Spiritual Content

  • Peak discusses how documentaries make mountain climbing look so simple. Peak says, “Suddenly, the intrepid, brave climbers appear on the mountain out of nowhere as if God dropped them from the sky.”
  • Zopa gives climbing gear to the hunters who help feed Zopa, Peak, and the others. Zopa says, “It is all about karma. The giving, not the taking.”
  • Zopa mentions that there are women who are monks. Peak is surprised by this, and Zopa replies, “Enlightenment has nothing to do with gender.”
  • In Tibet, Zopa explains that he, Peak, and Josh should head towards Pemako. Zopa describes, “It is the hidden lotus land, the earthly representation of the Tibetan goddess Dorje Pagmo. The mountains and rivers of Pemako are thought to be her body, with her center, or womb, being somewhere in the Tsangpo River Gorge.”
  • Zopa spends some time meditating in the lotus posture, or “padmāsana.”
  • Much like in the other installments, Zopa gives every passerby that aids Peak, Josh, and Zopa a “Buddhist blessing” for safe travels.
  • Peak explains to Zopa that he was under the impression that Buddhist monks didn’t eat meat. Zopa replies, “The big Buddhist food debate. Which has been going on since Siddhartha Gautama became the Buddha twenty-five hundred years ago. Buddhists are definitely not allowed to kill animals and are encouraged to be vegetarians, but this does not prevent them from eating animal flesh if that flesh was not expressly killed for their consumption.”
  • One of the monks mentions that “work is prayer.”

by Alli Kestler

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

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

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • None

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

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

Mac Saves the World

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

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

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

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

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

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

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

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • None

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • None

 

The Crystal Rose

The snow sisters’ parents have been kidnapped by the Shadow Witch! The only way to save them is to find the orbs containing the magical Everchanging Lights before the witch steals the lights’ power for herself. But the Shadow Witch, Veronika, will do anything to reach the lights first.

On their second quest, the girls face a dark, icy journey to find the crystal rose and the blue orb. Will their magic be strong enough to overcome the Great Glacier and all the dangers hidden there?

The beautiful cover with three sisters and a pet polar bear will draw readers into the story. However, the magical sisters who face non-frightening danger will captivate readers. The second installment of The Snow Sisters Series has the three sisters—Hanna, Ida, and Magda—racing through a dangerous, icy landscape. The girls’ magic helps them stay safe from the Shadow Witch and even Oskar, the girls’ pet polar bear, helps them along their way.

Even though their mother has instructed them to search for the orb, the girls do not tell anyone about their quest. Instead, they sneak out of the castle and borrow horses without permission. At the end of the quest, their governess, Madame Olga, sees the girls coming in from outside. “Madame Olga hadn’t realized they had been out all night. She just thought they’d gotten up early and been out in the garden.” The girls allow Madame Olga to believe the falsehood.

The Crystal Rose has charming black and white drawings that help readers follow the plot. The large illustrations appear every 1 to 4 pages. Throughout their journey, the sisters show bravery and use problem-solving skills. The Snow Sisters Series will entertain young readers who love princesses, magic, and snow.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • Magda uses her magic to turn into a mouse. When the cook sees the mouse, she “grabbed a broom and swept it angrily at Magda. . .Magda dodged the broom just in time and turned and ran.”
  • In an attempt to kill the girls, the Shadow Witch causes an avalanche. “Hanna used her magic to lift the thick sheet of ice above them like a roof. . . the thundering snow swept over the top of them, battering at the sheet of ice and the sides of the boulder.” The girls are not injured.
  • While walking through the woods, the Shadow Witches cause the wind to blow and knock ice crystals onto the sisters. A branch “swept through the air and straight toward the little polar bear. . . Ida screamed, and without a second’s thought, she flung herself in front of the cub. The branch hit her full in the chest. . .” Everyone is able to safely get out of the woods.

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • None

Supernatural

  • The magical lights called the Everchanging Lights “kept everything in balance and made the island such a wonderful place to live.”
  • Freya’s sister, Veronika, is trying to steal Freya’s magic. Freya tells her daughters, “She is using spells to try to take my magic. I can feel it!”
  • The Shadow Witch “closed her eyes and began to chant strange words. Images appeared on the surface of the ice.” The Shadow Witch is using her magic to spy on the three sisters.
  • Each of the three sisters has a unique magical talent. “Hanna had discovered she could move things using her mind, Ida had the power to bring objects to life when she drew them, and Magda could transform into any animal or bird that she saw.”
  • Using magic, Freya can communicate with the three girls. “The girls held their breath as an image of their mother’s face gradually formed in the snowflakes.” Freya tells the girls where they can find the missing orb.
  • Oskar is the girls’ pet polar bear. “All Nordovian polar bears had the ability to change size.”
  • Magda uses her magic to change into a bird. The magic felt like “a tingle.” Later, she changes into an arctic fox.
  • Ida uses her magic to create a rope. “The air shimmered, and suddenly a rope appeared just as she had drawn it.”
  • To get the orb, the girls need to open the crystal rose without touching it. Hanna “drew on her magic and felt it welling up inside her. Focusing on the rose, Hanna willed the petals to open. Magic surged through her, strong and powerful and the petals began to peel back. . .”

Spiritual Content

  • None

 

Climbing Everest

The peak of Mount Everest is the highest place on Earth—and one of the deadliest. Terrible storms stop climbers in their tracks. Avalanches crush everything in their way. Brave adventurers disappear on the snowy slopes. Despite this, Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay decided to climb. They come from different cultures, but their dream is the same. Can their teamwork help them make it to the roof of the world?

Everest’s story begins with George Leigh Mallory, who was born in 1886. Mallory attempted to climb Everest many times and although people believe he reached the summit, he died while climbing the mountain. However, Mallory was not the last to climb. Climbing Everest describes the different people who tried to make it to the top of the world.

In order to explain why some of the explorers wanted to climb Everest, the book focuses on the main climbers. This allows readers to understand each person’s motivation behind climbing Everest. Some of the words come directly from the explorers’ personal letters and writings which adds interest to the story. Through the climbers’ stories, readers will be awed by the climbers’ dedication, grit, and ability to survive in harsh conditions.

Climbing Everest uses short chapters and easy vocabulary which makes the book accessible to reluctant readers. Large black and white illustrations appear every 3 to 7 pages and show the mountain and the mountain climbers. The end of the book includes records set at Everest, a map of the climbers’ camps, and other interesting facts. While the book is easy enough for young fluent readers, the content will be interesting to older readers of all ages.

Today, more than 300 people have died attempting to reach Everest’s summit. Climbing Everest chronicles the first explorers who dared to reach earth’s highest peak. Their stories explain the difficulties of reaching the summit as well as the teamwork involved. Even though the book is nonfiction, readers will have a hard time putting it down. Readers who are interested in mountain climbing will also want to read Peak, the first book in the Peak Marcello Adventure Series.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • Mallory’s body was found years after his death. He was “lying face down in the snow. His feet were pointed toward the mountain base. His arms were outstretched as if trying to stop a fall. He had a broken leg, broken ribs, and a broken shoulder.”

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • During the 1922 expedition, the climbers brought cases of champagne so “they could celebrate their success once they reached the top.”

Language

  • None

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • On their trip to Mount Everest, the climbers stopped at the Rongbuk Monastery. “Sherpas, and many other people from the region, followed the Buddhist religion. . . The paths of the monastery were lined with stones, and the stones had prayers carved into them.”
  • When Edward North and his expedition went to the monastery, “he asked the head lama to give a special blessing to the Sherpas.” The lama “held a silver prayer wheel to each man’s head. By doing this, he gave the climbers a blessing.”
  • One of the Sherpas was “a little scared” of going to the summit because “his Buddhist religion taught him that gods and demons lived in the mountains. They were sacred places, to worship and to protect.” Later Tenzing “left gifts for the mountain gods—sweets, and the pencil his daughter had given him.”

Ascent

In the third installment of Peak’s climbing adventures, Peak Marcello and his friends, Alessia and Ethan, go to Myanmar to climb the isolated mountain, Hkakabo Razi. However, the jungles of Myanmar might prove to be more treacherous than the climb itself. But if anyone is good at getting out of trouble, it’s Peak.

Ascent begins Peak’s Myanmar adventure that takes him on a four-week trek through the rainforest. Peak’s descent down Hkakabo Razi is detailed in the fourth book, Descent. Ascent maintains much of the same cast and includes rock climbing and run-ins with local governments in countries that have histories of civil unrest.

Characters from the first book also make a surprise reappearance in the latter half of the book, including Peak’s biological father, Josh Wood, who is a famous mountaineer and Zopa, the Tibetan monk. Peak’s relationship with Josh continues to grow. Peak is also enormously happy to see Zopa, who rarely reveals his secrets and is always the smartest person on the mountaintop. In this sense, the end of Ascent harkens back to the events on Mount Everest in Peak.

Much of the book takes place in the jungle at the base of Hkakabo Razi. The group encounters corrupt military officials, language barriers, wildlife, and a murderer on the run from the Burmese government. The actual mountaineering is near the end of the book, when they finally make it out of the jungle.

The traumatic events that occurred in The Edge are addressed, in part, in Ascent. Ascent is less intense than The Edge generally. These books should be read in order, for comprehension’s sake. Readers familiar with this series will find their expectations met when it comes to the intensity and graphic nature of the violence. Much like the previous book, Peak doesn’t experience the violence himself, but he does hear about it secondhand.

Ascent is a good continuation to Peak’s adventures and the characters’ development. Although this book moves at a slower pace than the previous two, it sets up the intense action in Descent. Fans of Peak’s adventures will be glad to see old faces reintegrated into the mix and will welcome the new additions. Ascent certainly presents an exciting first half to this two-part portion of Peak’s story, and it will be interesting to see what unfolds for Peak and his friends next.

Sexual Content

  • Peak and Alessia are dating. Peak talks about his feelings for her, saying, “I guess I am in love with her. And I think that she feels the same way about me.”
  • At several points in the book, Peak “kisses [Alessia].” It is never more than a quick peck.

Violence

  • A Burmese guide named Lwin killed an owl “with his slingshot and ate it.”
  • Lwin has a timber elephant named Nagathan, and Lwin tells Alessia, Ethan, and Peak that Nagathan has killed several people. This turns out to be false; it was Lwin himself, who killed those people. Alessia, Ethan, and Peak discover this when soldiers find them in the forest and inform them of the situation.
  • Nagathan trampled Lwin, killing him. Peak and his friends only hear reports about the state of Lwin’s body. Major Thakin, who oversees the soldiers, says that Lwin “was unrecognizable as a human. The forest animals had been feeding on what was left of him for a couple of days. It was too dark to search for remains last night, so the soldiers camped near the crime scene. This morning they searched the area and found a foot, two fingers, and a bloody longyi [pouch] up in a tree.” This description lasts for a few paragraphs.
  • Lwin, who turns out to be alive, tries to take Alessia hostage. Alessia uses the mixed martial arts that Ethan taught her to flip Lwin and break his foot and hand. Peak describes, “There was a loud snap, like a dry stick being broken, and then an unconscious Lwin was lying on the ground and Alessia was holding his [hunting knife] to his neck.”

Drugs and Alcohol

  • Peak and his friends end up in a bustling town in the middle of the jungle. In it, there are stands selling “animal parts, skins, rubies, and opium.”
  • Nick and Ethan have cold beers when invited to dinner by a man named Mr. Chin, while Alessia and Peak drink lemonade.

Language

  • Light language is used somewhat often. Language includes: crap, fool, damn, crazy, stupid, and weird.
  • Nick, the resident botanist of Peak’s group, says, “Good lord” when a young girl in a village runs up to him and shows him a dismembered monkey’s foot.
  • As Alessia’s bodyguard, Ethan has been teaching Alessia mixed martial arts. Ethan says to Peak, “She can kick your ass.” Later, after Ethan hears that Alessia defended herself against Lwin without an issue, Ethan says, “I told you she could kick your ass.”
  • A cameraman named Zack says, “Oh my God” when Peak tells him how Ethan was injured.

Supernatural

  • Ethan has a single spoon that he’s used during his journeys on all seven continents. He refers to it as his “magic spoon.”
  • Ethan mentions that he saw “a ghost” in the middle of the night. Peak responds that he doesn’t believe in ghosts, and Ethan replies, “Yeah, me neither. Let’s take a look.” They find that there are footprints, and Peak says, “I don’t think ghosts leave footprints.” They discover that Lwin probably faked his own death and has been following them.
  • Peak tells Nick the ghost/Lwin theory. Nick responds that he thinks it’s just a ghost. Nick says, “The forest is filled with spirits and ghosts . . . I’m surprised it took Ethan this long to spot one.”

Spiritual Content

  • Zopa is a monk and sometimes gives blessings to passing porters, hikers, and climbers.
  • Peak survives being buried in an avalanche. Josh calls him “lucky,” and Zopa calls it “karma.”
  • When a helicopter finally shows up in the forest, Alessia says, “Thank God.” Peak responds, “Amen to that.”

by Alli Kestler

A New Beginning

Will Treaty has come a long way from the small boy with dreams of knighthood. Life had other plans for him, and as an apprentice Ranger under Halt, he grew into a legend—the finest Ranger the kingdom has ever known. Yet Will is facing a tragic battle that has left him grim and alone. To add to his problems, the time has come for him to take on an apprentice of his own, and it’s the last person he ever would have expected: Princess Madelyn, the daughter of Princess Cassandra. Will will have to win the trust and respect of his difficult new companion—a task that at times seems almost impossible.

A New Beginning brings the exciting tale of Horace and Cassandra’s daughter, Maddie. Fans of the Ranger’s Apprentice Series will be eager to follow Will Treaty on an epic journey that pits a group of evil slavers against Will and Maddie. The fast-paced story has plenty of adventure and action as well as humorous moments. The first part of the story focuses on Maddie’s Ranger apprenticeship where she not only learns the skills of a Ranger, but also learns to have compassion for the common people. The second part of the story focuses on Will and Maddie as they investigate the kidnapping of children. Both parts expertly merge for a suspenseful conclusion that contains several surprises.

As a princess, Maddie was disrespectful, disobedient, and defiant; however, readers will connect with the spoiled princess who wants adventure and a life of purpose. Being a Ranger’s apprentice allows Maddie to learn important survival skills, such as how to defeat an enemy, why loyalty is important, and the necessity of following orders. Plus, Maddie gets an inside look at the struggles of peasants. The satisfying conclusion shows Maddie’s growth from a spoiled brat to a brave Ranger’s apprentice who helped save children from being sold into slavery.

A New Beginning is not for the faint of heart; an evil villain, bloody battles, and many deaths are all essential parts of the plot. The fighting and deaths are described in detail. Plus, the story focuses on the Stealer, who “is a mysterious spirit, dressed all in black, and wearing a black mask and cloak. He materializes in a village and takes children.”

Although A New Beginning is the beginning of Maddie’s story, those who are new to the Ranger’s Apprentice Series will not understand the significance of some of the people and events that take place. For maximum enjoyment, readers should first read all 12 books in the Ranger’s Apprentice Series. While this may seem like a huge undertaking, each book has a unique new conflict that will capture readers’ attention.

Through the Ranger’s Apprentice Series, Flanagan creates a world where good and evil often clash. By the end of the series, readers will feel like the characters are their friends. While the series often delves into serious topics, the books also reinforce the importance of loyalty, sacrifice, and friendship. Readers who decide to jump into the Ranger’s Apprentice Series will be swept away into a world where knights exist, princesses help save the day, and the Ranger’s apprentices always help overcome evil.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • A Ranger questions a wagoner about “the fire that you and Ruhl set in that inn. . . There was a woman killed in that fire, remember? A Courier.” The Ranger explains that the Courier died while saving a child who was trapped in the fire.
  • Later, the fire is described. The Courier, Alyss, was on the second story of the inn when there was “a terrible rumbling crash, the entire section of the roof above and around where she was standing gave way and collapsed in a mass of flames and sparks. . . Alyss never had a chance.”
  • As the Ranger questions the wagoner, the Ranger’s “right hand snatched the dagger from his belt and he swung it in a backhanded strike. . . The wagoner grunted in shock and staggered back. His feet tangled in the bench he’d been sitting on and he stumbled, crashing over to hit the edge of the table, then falling with a thud to the ground.” When the wagoner doesn’t move, someone turns him over. “The wagoner’s eyes were wide-open. The shock of what had happened was frozen on his face. His own dagger was buried deep in his chest.”
  • Someone tries to kill Maddie, who reacts by using her sling to throw a projectile at the attacker. “The shot, with the extra impetus of the sling to propel it, hit its target first. She heard an ugly, meaty smack and a muted cry of pain from her attacker as it struck home.” Maddie kills the attacker.
  • The villain kidnaps a girl. In the process, her brother “pretended to go back to sleep. I told him if he raised the alarm or told anyone what he’d seen tonight, I’d come back for him and cut his eyes out of him.”
  • In an epic, multi-chapter conclusion, Will and Maddie try to save a group of children who were kidnapped. Both Will and Maddie are forced to kill several evil men. When Will sees a guard, he “nooked an arrow, drew back and released, sending a shaft flashing down the cliff face. It struck the crossbowman full in the chest.” The man dies.
  • One of the villains threatens to kill a child. In order to save the boy, Maddie whipped the sling over and forward. The lead ball caught the moonlight, glinting once as it flashed toward its target.” The man is injured, and “he drew in a breath to scream and the action caused him more agony as the jagged pieces of his fractured rib grated together.” The man falls off a cliff and dies.
  • Will draws the enemy away from Maddie. When Will has a chance, he shoots an arrow at “the line of advancing men. . . Enrico cried out in surprise and pain and threw out both arms, staggering back under the impact of the speeding shaft. Then he crashed over on his back, his sightless eyes staring up at the sky.” Will kills three men in a similar manner.
  • The enemy captures Will. One of the men “jerked his head forward and butted Will in the face.” Will is tied up, and the head henchman, Ruhl, plans to burn Will at the stake. “Ruhl made his way up to the beach to where Will stood, trapped against the stake, unable to move. . .”
  • Maddie crawls behind Will, who is tied at the stake. She cuts Will’s binds. Someone notices her, and Maddie’s “first shot smashed into one of his men. . . Maddie’s second shot smashed home. It hit him on the right shoulder, shattering the large bones there, smashing the joint beyond any possibility of repair and sending him reeling.”
  • During the fighting, Maddie is hit. “The evil, barbed head was buried deep in her thigh and she felt the leg give way under her, unable to bear her weight. Blood was coursing down her leg and she fell, causing more agony. . .”
  • During the fighting, Ruhl falls into the fire. “Then the firewood ignited with an explosive WHOOF! Ruhl screamed as the flames shot up, enveloping him instantly, catching his clothes and hair. . . He tried to scream again, but the burning air and flames scorched his throat and lungs, and he made a terrible, inhuman grunting noise.”

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • Several times throughout the book, the adults drink ale. A man who owns a tavern “had drunk far too much ale. As a result, he had staggered off to his bed without bothering to clear away the dirty platters. . .”
  • Maddie is invited to a party where there is a cask of wine. Maddie “took a deep swig of wine. It tasted heavy and somewhat sour.” After drinking too much wine, Maddie looks at her friend who “seemed to be swimming in and out of focus.” The next morning, Maddie has a hangover and decides, “I’m never going to drink again.”
  • While trying to solve a mystery, Will goes into a tavern and orders small ale. “Small ale was ale and water mixed in equal proportions.”

Language

  • Gorlog’s breath is used as an exclamation once. Gorlog is a “very useful Skandian demigod.”
  • Oh god and my god are both used as an exclamation once. When Will talks about his dead wife, he say, “Oh god, how I miss her.”

Supernatural

  • While talking to some village children, Maddie hears about barrow wights. “They’re supposed to be spirits that hang around ancient graves.” Will thinks back into the past. Will had “sensed something then as he rode past some ancient borrows, as the ancient grave mounds were called. It seemed to be some malign presence.”
  • One of the villains scares the children with a story about the Stealer. “The Stealer is a mysterious spirit, dressed all in black, and wearing a black mask and cloak. He materializes in a village and takes children. . . The thing is, the Storyman said if we were ever to see him, we were to say nothing. . . And he said we must never, never tell a grown-up about the Stealer in the Night.”

Spiritual Content

  • Queen Cassandra’s father says, “Thank god for Horace. She couldn’t have chosen a better husband.”

Maria and the Plague: A Black Death Survival Story

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

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

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

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

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

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

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

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

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

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

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

 

The Dust Bowl

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

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

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

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

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

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • None

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

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

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

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

Fear of Falling

David’s father left town a year ago, abandoning his family. David’s family struggles with the changes that David’s father forced upon them. The bright spot in David’s day is riding horses and volunteering at Dr. Mac’s veterinary clinic.

When David’s father suddenly appears, he promises to teach David how to jump on horseback. David can’t let his father know how frightened he is, because the only thing that scares David more than falling off a horse is disappointing his father. Can he overcome his fear and earn his father’s pride?

Fear of Falling is a fast-paced, interesting story that blends David’s family problems with horse action. David has been working with Trickster, a horse that is afraid of getting into a trailer. As David works with the skittish horse, he must be patient and not force Trickster to work on “people-time.” The key to Trickster’s healing is allowing the horse to work at his own pace. This helps reinforce the idea that horses and people should learn at their own pace and not hurry into things before they are ready.

Many readers will relate to David, who has learned that his father’s promises cannot be trusted. Because the story is told from David’s point of view, readers can understand both David’s hopes and fears. David’s fear of falling off a horse connects back to Trickster’s fear, which adds interest to the story. Through David’s experiences, readers will see the danger of pushing yourself to do something that you are not ready for—including trusting others.

Since the story is only 111 pages, the themes are not well developed. While the story focuses on horses, Fear of Falling lacks facts about horses and instead focuses on David’s struggle with his father. While the conclusion doesn’t resolve David’s conflict with his father, the story ends on a realistic, hopeful note. The short chapters, interesting plot, and relatable characters make Fear of Falling a book that will appeal to readers of different ages. Horse-loving readers who are ready for more advanced books should also read The Rose Legacy by Jessica Day George.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • While riding a horse, David feels like “I’m on a runaway train, heading for disaster—and I don’t know how to stop.” The horse sends David “flying through the air like a catapult. And then I fall, fall, fall . . .” David is taken to the hospital, but he doesn’t have any serious injuries.

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • While David is in the hospital, the doctor tells his parents, “I’ll give him a prescription of painkillers if you want. But I think ibuprofen should take care of it.”
  • A woman brings her sick cat to the veterinarian, who gives the cat “a fast-acting steroid.”

Language

  • David’s brother calls him an idiot and a dork one time.
  • When he finds out his dad has lied to him, David calls his father a coward.
  • Darn is used twice.

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • None

I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter

An ambitious and fiercely independent teenager, Julia Reyes never seemed to fit in with her family’s traditional Mexican values. Her sister, Olga, was who her mother considered a “perfect Mexican daughter.” Olga was content with living at home, helped her mother cook and clean, and never got into trouble. However, after Olga’s sudden and tragic death, Julia feels pressure to fill the gap in her family, despite not being able to live up to her mother’s expectations.

Dealing with grief and conflicting personalities, Julia and her mother “Amá” struggle to mend their relationship. Amá, who grew up in Mexico, wants an obedient and responsible daughter, while Julia, who was raised in America, wants to explore the world and dreams of being a famous writer. Eventually, the pressure from her mom becomes too much for Julia to handle. Julia struggles with her mental health and feels misunderstood by her parents and friends. To make matters worse, after exploring her sister’s room, Julia discovers that Olga may not have been a perfect daughter after all.

Julia is a very realistic and relatable protagonist. She works hard to figure out her place in the world even though she makes mistakes along the way. As the child of Mexican immigrants, Julia experiences both generational and cultural conflicts with Amá and her father “Apá” who, while physically present, is often emotionally absent from Julia’s life. Although she has her friend, Lorena, and a new attentive boyfriend, Connor, Julia realizes grief is a difficult experience and it can take a lot of time to heal.

The book has a strong theme of self-acceptance and acceptance of others. Although Amá has difficulty understanding Julia, she learns to see what makes Julia unique and different from Olga. Julia also must learn to stop comparing herself to her sister and accept who she is and what she wants to be: a writer.

I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter tackles mature themes of death, suicide, abortion, and rape. The novel also contains Spanish words which are used naturally in the dialogue to better represent Julia’s culture, and most words and phrases are understandable within the context of the scene.  If you want to explore another book with these themes, Loveboat, Taipei by Abigail Hing Wen should be on your reading list.

Overall, the poignant story explores the challenges of youth, especially the cultural and generational boundaries between first-generation immigrants and their children. Eventually, Julia and her mother must learn to see things from each other’s perspectives. Julia also begins to understand a lot about her mental health and how to heal from painful situations to become a stronger and more balanced young woman.

Sexual Content

  • After searching through Olga’s bedroom, Julia finds “five pairs of silk-and-lace thongs. Sexy lady underwear I imagine a very expensive hooker might buy.”
  • Julia describes a time Olga’s friend Angie came over and Julia “walked in on her touching Olga’s boobs.”
  • Julia feels uncomfortable around her friend Lorena’s stepdad. “Every time I know he’s going to be home, I wear my baggiest shirts and sweaters so he can’t gawk at my boobs. Sometimes it feels like he’s undressing us with his eyes.”
  • Julia falls asleep at Lorena’s house. When she wakes up, she sees Lorena’s stepdad, José Luis, crouched in front of her. “He looks like he’s doing something with his phone, but I’m not sure.” Julia is too exhausted to process what is happening. It is unclear what José Luis’ exact intentions were.
  • Julia and Lorena visit the lake with two boys. Julia wonders where Lorena has gone and assumes she and Carlos are “probably fucking somewhere, even in this cold, and most likely without a condom.”
  • Ramiro, a boy Lorena sets Julia up with, kisses Julia, but she doesn’t really enjoy it. “At first the kisses are soft and feel all right, but after a while, he spirals his tongue against mine.” Julia and Ramiro soon stop kissing. She feels uncomfortable kissing someone she barely knows.
  • Julia states that her tío Cayetano “used to stick his finger in my [Julia’s] mouth when no one was looking.”
  • During a party, Julia notices people “dancing so close they’re practically dry-humping.”
  • Julia watches a couple make out in public. “Their kisses are wet and sloppy, and you can see their tongues going in and out of each other’s mouths.”
  • Lorena’s friend, Juanga, starts to describe different penis shapes he has seen. “The craziest one, he says, was long and pointy.”
  • A man harassing Julia on the street says he has something to show her “’cause you have nice tits.” When an adult helps Julia, the harassers eventually drive away.
  • After her first kiss with Connor, her first boyfriend, Julia describes how “Connor is gentle with his tongue, and something about the way he touches me makes me feel so wanted.”
  • Lorena tells Julia she’ll have to “shave [her] pussy” before having sex with Connor.
  • Julia and Connor have sex. Julia looks away while Connor puts a condom on. She states, “it hurts more than I imagined, but I pretend it doesn’t.” This is all that is described.
  • Julia discovers Olga was “having sex with an old married dude, hoping he would one day leave his wife.”
  • After taking a pregnancy test with fuzzy results, Lorena believes she might be pregnant.

Violence

  • Julia describes the appearance of her dead sister at the funeral stating, “the top half of her face is angry—like she’s ready to stab someone—and the bottom half is almost smug.”
  • Julia explains how Olga was “hit by a semi. Not just hit, though—smashed.”
  • It is implied that Julia tried to kill herself by cutting. The scene is not described.
  • In a support group, Julia meets a boy who is “here because his stepdad beat him with cords and hangers when he was a kid.”
  • On the journey to America, it is implied El Coyote raped Amá and “held [Apá] down with a gun.”
  • While visiting Mexico, Julia hears gunshots in the street and sees “two dead bodies are lying in the middle of the street.”

Drugs and Alcohol

  • Julia’s uncle once teased Olga’s boyfriend, Pedro, for being innocent. Julia remembers “tío Cayetano trying to give him a shot of tequila once, and Pedro just shaking his head no.”
  • Lorena and Julia smoke weed at Lorena’s house. Julia explains she has smoked weed “a total of five times now.”
  • At a birthday party, Julia’s father, and her uncles drink tequila.
  • At a party, Lorena and Juanga take shots while Julia opens a beer, “which [Julia] regret[s] immediately.”
  • At another party, “the girls all choose Malibu rum,” while Julia drinks “Hennessy and Coke.”

Language

  • Profanity is used in the extreme. Profanity includes ass, crap, fuck, hell, shit, and bitch. For example, after Olga’s death, Julia’s mom was screaming and “telling the driver and God to fuck their mothers and themselves.”
  • Lorena calls Julia a “bitch” for underestimating her intelligence. When Julia is on a bus after skipping school, she believes “the school has already called [her] parents and [she’s] in some deep shit again.”
  • Lorena tells Julia to give papers about a college tour to her “crazy-ass mom.”
  • Pissed is used often. At Olga’s funeral, Julia decides “it’s easier to be pissed,” rather than sentimental.

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • Julia shares that she and her mom argue about religion often. Julia “told her that the Catholic church hates women because it wants us to be weak and ignorant. It was right after the time our priest said—I swear to God—that women should obey their husbands.”
  • Amá forces Julia to attend church meetings. Julia wonders “who in the world would want to spend their Saturday night talking about God?”

by Elena Brown

Apollo 13

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

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

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

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

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

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • None

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • None

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • None

Fable #1

Seventeen-year-old Fable only wants one thing: to reunite with her father, Saint. Even though he abandoned her on an island four years ago after her mother’s death, Fable still wants to earn a place among her father’s crew. The first step is to escape from Jeval, the cutthroat island Fable refuses to call her home. She spends her days scavenging for rare minerals and trading with a helmsman named West in exchange for measly amounts of copper. Eventually, Fable has enough copper to escape Jeval on West’s ship, Marigold, and make her way across the sea—The Narrows—to the city of Ceros where her father’s trading empire has flourished. However, aboard the ship, Fable discovers that there’s more to her story and the ship’s crew than what meets the eye.

Fable learns that the Marigold isn’t West’s ship, rather it belongs to her father. While keeping her identify as Saint’s daughter a secret, she also discovers that West and the rest of the crew have secrets of their own. Willa, the crew’s only other female, is West’s sister. Plus, Paj and Austere are running from a dark past. But West is hiding the most: after Fable is scorned by her father once more, Saint reveals that he made an agreement with West to give Fable money and take care of her from afar. Saint claims this is the best thing he could’ve done for Fable because she would learn to survive the harsh world. Fable narrates that Saint “expected me to be grateful for the hell he’d put me through, so he could take credit for who I was. . . I’d crossed the Narrows for a man who’d probably never even loved me. For a dream that would never come true.”

Even after this disappointment, Fable still finds a reason to go on– she does have a family– but it isn’t one made by blood. Fable realizes that the crew of the Marigold are the ones who have protected and nurtured her. She hopes to use the inheritance given to her by her father to buy the Marigold, so West and the crew can be free from Saint, just like her. The book ends on a cliffhanger when Fable is kidnapped, so readers will be reaching for the next book, Namesake: A Novel, to discover if Fable achieves her goal.

Fable as a story is both entertaining and exciting. The reader is thrown directly into a world with new places, names, jobs, and nautical terminology that may take a while to grasp, but contribute to a fast-paced plot that is still understandable and full of unexpected twists. Sometimes, it can be hard to believe that these young kids are able to fend for themselves like experienced adults, but they also live in a world where they had to grow up fast or they wouldn’t get the chance to grow up at all.

The novel is told through Fable’s point of view and emphasizes the idea of “found family,” a group of individuals pulled together by similar circumstances or experiences that come to trust and care for each other like a blood family. This is especially meaningful because of how Fable’s father is against caring for other people and fails to realize that there is strength in having others around you.

While Fable’s life is vastly different than the lives teens lead today, it’s hard not to root for her because of how passionate she is to find her father. When this dream falls short of her expectations, Fable wins our hearts again when she uses this setback as a learning experience; it’s not a father she wants, it’s a family. Fable’s willingness to trust the crew of the Marigold shows that no matter one’s past, love and acceptance are waiting if we open our hearts.

Sexual Content

  • Fable describes what happens behind the closed doors of taverns. Fable had “seen enough of my father’s crew disappear into taverns with purses full of coin and leave with empty ones. There were only two things strictly forbidden on a ship because both could get you or your shipmates killed: love and drunkenness. Only on dry land could you find someone to warm your bed or empty a bottle of rye into your belly.”
  • The innkeeper thinks that West and Fable are going to have sex. West “dropped three coppers on the counter, and she tucked them into her apron, smiling up at me knowingly. I blushed when I realized what she was thinking. . . The woman winked at me, but West didn’t bother correcting her and I wondered if it was because I wasn’t the first girl he’d brought into the tavern and disappeared up the stairs with.”
  • Willa kisses West platonically on the cheek.
  • Paj and Auster, two male crew members, are in a relationship. They hold hands occasionally. “Auster wound his pale fingers into Paj’s before he brought his hand to his lips and kissed it.”
  • West and Fable kiss underwater while examining a sunken ship. “Before I could even think about what he was doing, his lips touched mine. . . I kissed him again, hooking my fingers into his belt and trying to pull him closer. . . I had wanted to touch West a thousand times.”
  • West and Fable have a long, intimate moment which implies that they have sex. Fable narrates, “I lifted onto my toes, pressing my mouth to his. . . His hand found my hips, and he walked me back until my legs hit the side of the bed. I opened his jacket and pushed it from his shoulders before he laid me down beneath him. His weight pressed down on top of me and I arched my back as his hands caught my legs and pulled them up around him. . . My head tipped back, and I pulled him closer so I could feel him against me. He groaned, his mouth pressed to my ear and I tugged at the length of my shirt until I was pulling it over my head. He sat up, his eyes running over every inch of me. . .”

Violence

  • Fable’s life on Jeval has been cutthroat. She’s had to hurt other people or been hurt by them. She says, “It had been four years since the day I was dumped on the blazing hot beach and left to fend for myself. Forced to scrape hulls in exchange for rotten fish when I was starving, and beaten for diving in another dredger’s claimed territory again and again.”
  • Fable often references a scar on her arm, which was given to her by her father. “He carved into my arm with the tip of his whalebone knife.” She also says, “I had watched in horror as he dragged the tip of his knife through my flesh without so much as a twitch of his hand.” Eventually, she describes the whole scene. “I didn’t know what he was going to do until the tip of the knife had already drawn blood. . . I buried my face into my knees and tried not to scream as he cut into me.”
  • Koy, a sailor who takes Fable out on his boat, attacks her for money. Fable had been diving. “Just as I reached the surface, something caught hold of my arm. . . Koy’s face was looking up at me, his hands clamped tightly around my wrist. I kicked, catching him in the shoulder with the heel of my foot and his fingers slipped from me. I swam as fast as I could toward the light, feeling the darkness creeping over my mind, and when I finally broke through to the air, I choked, my lungs twisting violently in my chest. . . Koy came up in the next breath, launching in my direction. I tried to swim from his reach, but he took hold of my hair and wrenched me back to him. . .I twisted, rearing my elbow back with a snap, and it caught him in the face. . . By the time I reached the [boat’s] hull, he had ahold of my foot. . . I slipped, hitting the side [of the boat] with my face so hard that the light exploded in my head. I found the edge with my fingers again before I pulled myself back up and reached inside, my hand frantically looking for the scull. When I had it, I threw my arm back, hitting Koy in the head with the flat end. He stilled suddenly, falling back into the water. . . Koy’s eyes rolled back into his head as he sank, a stream of red inklike blood spilling from his forehead.”
  • Fable pulls Koy back into the boat. “I stood over Koy, my hands shaking. He was still losing a steady stream of blood, and I hoped he wasn’t breathing. I hoped he was dead. . . I kicked him hard, screaming, before I fell back onto the deck beside him, trying to catch my breath.”
  • Koy says to Fable, “If I ever see your face on this island again, I’ll tie you to the east reef! I’ll watch the flesh rot from your bones!”
  • Willa, the only girl on board the Marigold besides Fable, has a burn on her face. Fable says, “I’d seen wounds like that before—a long knife held over a fire until the blade glowed and pressed to someone’s face to teach a lesson.”
  • In the past, Willa was hurt by a man named Crane. The crew find Crane, seal him in a crate, and toss him overboard. “The man screamed once more as he was raised up and over the side of the ship. At the same moment, every finger slipped from the crate and they let it go. . .” This makes Fable remember the punishments on her father’s ship. “Once, I’d crept onto the deck in the dead of night and saw him cut the hand off a thief with the same knife he used to cut his meat at supper. . . I’d forgotten what the sound of a grown man screaming sounded like.”
  • Fable gets jumped in an alley. A man “leaned in closer, stumbling forward as he reached clumsily for my belt. Before he could right himself, I swiped up in one clean motion, catching the edge of his ear with the knife. . . I lifted the blade, setting it at the hollow of his throat and pressing down just enough to draw a single drop of blood. . . I wanted a reason to hurt him. I wanted an excuse to lean forward until the edge of the steel sunk into his skin.”
  • Willa threatens a barkeep by saying, “I’ll stake your body to that counter.”
  • Someone tries to kill Fable as she’s getting on the Below, a man had hold of the last rung [of the ladder]. He laughed himself up out of the water and grabbed my boot, pulling me back down. I kicked until the heel of my foot caught his jaw and he groaned, but he was already climbing.” West comes to save her. “He reached around my waist, taking the knife from my belt. He swung his arm out wide, bringing the blade from the side, and sank it into the man’s ribs. He screamed, his hands trying to grab ahold of me before he slipped, but West kicked him in the chest, sending him backward.”
  • Willa threatens Fable by saying, “If you get [West] killed, I don’t know if I’ll be able to keep myself from cutting your throat.”
  • West reveals his past to Fable. “The first helmsman I ever crewed for used to beat me in the hull of the ship. . . I’ve killed sixteen men protecting myself, or my family, or my crew.”
  • At the end of the story, Fable is kidnapped. “I reared my foot back and brought my knee up in a snap, driving it between [her attacker’s] legs and he fell forward, a choking sound strangling in his throat. . . As another man came over me, I swung [a knife] out, grazing his forearm. He looked at the blood seeping beneath his sleeve before he reached down, taking my jacket into his hands and the third man wrenched the knife from my grip. When I looked up again, his fist was in the air, and it came down with a crack across my face. Blood filled my mouth and I tried to scream, but before I could, he hit me again.” Fable is knocked unconscious.

Drugs and Alcohol

  • Speck, a man on Jeval, is known as a drunk. Fable says, “If Speck weren’t drunk half the time, I’d pay him for a ride to the reef instead of Koy.”
  • Hamish, a crew member, and Saint, smoke pipes.
  • People frequently go to taverns where people are drinking “rye.” One time, Fable has three glasses and gets drunk.
  • In celebration, the crew drinks rye on the ship together.

Language

  • Bastard is used occasionally to refer to other people. In the book’s opening line, Fable says, “That bastard was leaving me again” when Koy, a sailor, tries to leave on his boat without her.
  • Hell, and ass are used rarely, such as when West says, “Get your ass back on the ship.”

Supernatural

  • Some of the legends of the sea include sea demons and dragons, though none appear in the story. However, Fable references them sometimes. For example, “Only a few days after Saint left me, an old man named Fret started a rumor on the docks that I’d been cursed by sea demons.”
  • Fable’s father told her a legend about dead sailors turning into birds. “My father had always told me that seabirds were the souls of lost traders. To turn them away or not give them a place to land or nest was bad luck.”

Spiritual Content

  • None

by Maddie Shooter

 

Illegal

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sexual Content

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

Violence

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

Drugs and Alcohol

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

Language

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

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

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

by Jennaly Nolan

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