An Uninterrupted View of the Sky

Seventeen-year-old Francisco lives a poor life – he shares a bedroom with his sister Pilar, and his Papá struggles to make ends meet as a taxi driver. Francisco’s Mamá constantly nags him to do better in school, which Francisco could care less about. However, Francisco’s old life suddenly seems like a luxury when his father is arrested under false drug charges. Papá is sent to San Sebastián, a prison unlike anything Francisco could have imagined. When Francisco, Pilar, and Mamá visit Papá in the prison for the first time, Francisco realizes just how harsh life can be. There are no guards in the prison, and nothing comes free. If you want a cell, you have to pay for it. Until then, you sleep on the concrete.  

Then, when things can’t seem to get any worse, Mamá abandons Francisco and Pilar. Forced to leave their home behind, Francisco and Pilar move into prison with their father. While they can still go outside the prison to attend school, Francisco finds it impossible to study when his father is barely scraping by on the inside. As one of four women in the prison, Pilar lives in constant danger, and she’s only eight years old.   

Yet, slowly, the small family begins to adapt. Papá is able to purchase a cell so that he and the kids can be safe at night. Meanwhile, Francisco’s relationship with Soledad, a girl from the prison, develops into a friendship, while tension grows between Francisco and his friend Reynaldo, who starts selling drugs. While joining Reynaldo is compelling, Francisco can’t take that risk, not with his sister needing his protection and his father needing a lawyer. However, the corruption in the judiciary system makes it near impossible for Papá’s case to be examined. It will take years to free him. 

Francisco decides that he must graduate high school and make it into college so that he can help his father and sister. The story ends when Papá raises enough money to send Pilar and Francisco to his parents in the countryside. Though Francisco doesn’t want to break up their family, he knows life is safer for Pilar there. Due to his developing relationship with Soledad, Francisco takes her with them and leaves behind his hometown. The story ends with hope for reunification as Francisco is accepted into law school.  

An Uninterrupted View of the Sky is written in the first-person point of view from Francisco’s perspective. At first, Francisco seems bitter and standoffish since he fights with his parents and doesn’t care to do well in school. But after everything is stripped away from him, Francisco begins to appreciate what he had and starts to focus on what is important to him: family and safety. He stops fighting, works hard at school, and protects his sister and father. One of the most powerful scenes in the story is on the day of Francisco’s final school exams. Due to a murder in the prison, no one is allowed in or out, which means that Francisco will miss the exam. Papá uses his only savings to bribe a guard to let Francisco go to school. Early on, due to pride, Francisco never would’ve allowed it, but Francisco knows that he will never get a chance to escape prison if he’s unable to graduate. This scene shows Francisco’s newfound maturity and selflessness.  

The hardships Francisco, Pilar, Papá, and other characters inside and outside the prison face show the harsh reality of life in Boliva in the 1990s. This story is inspired by true events and exposes the effect of racial injustices supported by the Bolivian government. It touches on sexual assault, poverty, violence, and other dark themes, making the story appropriate for mature readers. While not everyone may be able to read An Uninterrupted View of the Sky due to its content, it is a powerful novel about perseverance despite dehumanizing circumstances. Readers will walk away from this story with sadness due to the family’s experiences, but also with hope like Francisco has—hope for a better future. 

Sexual Content 

  • Soledad is sexually assaulted when leaving school. “Two guys. . . step out in front of her. . . one of them slides beside her and reaches a hand under her skirt.” 
  • Soledad says that “girls my age on the streets – sooner or later, they end up selling their bodies so they can eat.”  
  • When Francisco offers to let Soledad stay the night, she says, “You want me in your bed, Francisco?” He blushes.  
  • Francisco and Soledad kiss. “I take [Soledad’s] face in my hands and kiss her. Those black eyes flutter closed as she moves against me. Her lips are salt and wind and fire on mine. She presses the length of her along the length of me, and the stars start spinning above.”

Violence 

  • Francisco gets in a fight while playing soccer. Francisco is “two steps from the goal when an elbow cracks against my eyebrow. Blood slicks down my cheek and drips onto the dirt in front of me.” He is unable to fight further because a friend holds him back. 
  • Francisco sees someone getting threatened in the prison. “I almost run into two guys pinning another prisoner against the wall. One of them has a knife.” The book doesn’t describe what happens after this.  
  • Papá sees a fight. “[Papá] passed a cell with men crowded around the door. You know what was going on inside? Two boys were fighting each other. For entertainment. Like cocks in a pen, they were being paid to fight.” 
  • Pilar is found in a cell with an older man. Nothing happens to her because Francisco comes to rescue her, but the prisoners take over and punish the older man. “[The prisoners] push into the cell. . . The sound of fists on flesh follows me down the stairs as I hurry to catch up with Papá. They must have stuffed a sock in that guy’s mouth, because I don’t hear anything from him but these choked, drowning sounds.” 
  • When Francisco was young, he beat up two boys after they “cornered me before school and called me indio bruto. I didn’t know what it meant, but I saw the twist of their lips, their mocking eyes. So I rammed the bigger one in the stomach and knocked him to the ground, which gave the other one the chance to kick me over and over again from above.” A friend stopped the fight. 
  • Francisco is beat up. “Behind me, feet scuff against gravel. . . I get two quick jabs in the side. My eyes fly open, and my lungs seize. Whoever it is has a ring on. I shouldn’t have let my guard down. The guys go for my back and my ribs and my gut. They don’t say why. They don’t have to. I’m a prison kid now. I’m just trash to them. My ribs are on fire, and my stomach has caved in on itself. But a fight has been coiling inside me tighter and tighter all week, just waiting for a reason to bust out. . . It’s three on one, so anything goes. I am for the nose and the jaw and the crotch and the knees, and I’m kicking and punching and everything hurts. I’m slamming my fist into the meat of their faces and darting around like a bloodsucking mosquito so they can’t pin my arms behind me. Watching the spit fly and their eyes go wide is like blood and bone and breath and life. They pummel me, and I beat the shit out of them.” 
  • When a boy in the prison insults Papá, Francisco punches him. “The words are barely out of José’s mouth before my fist flies out and glances off his teeth.” José doesn’t fight back.  
  • Soledad attacks the men that sexually assault her. When a man “reaches a hand under her skirt. In that second, her whole being bristles. . . Instead of running down the street, she leaps at them and claws at their faces, aiming for the soft flesh of their eyes.”  
  • Papá gets beat up and Francisco comes to his aid. Francisco “can make out a circle of men in the courtyard. They’re all yelling and in the middle of it, two big guys are pummeling this smaller figure on the ground. . . I run down the stairs and push through the hall, and I hear the sound of their boots in his stomach and their punches landing on his face.” The men scatter before Francisco arrives.  
  • One of the kids in the prison gets hit by a pot of boiling water. “Suddenly there’s this crash outside, and then a loud, long wail. Down in the courtyard, a boy a little younger than Pilar is lying on the ground, screaming. His mother bends over him, her hands fluttering above the boy’s blistering skin.” He is removed from the courtyard and sent to the hospital.  
  • Reynaldo and Francisco fight after Francisco refuses to sell drugs. Francisco describes, “Reynaldo plants both hands on my chest and shoves. . . He comes at me again, and this time, he doesn’t shove, he punches. Three quick fists in the ribs. The breath coughs out of me, and my arms close over my stomach.” Francisco doesn’t hit him back, but instead leaves.  
  • Francisco finds out that Red Tito, a man in the prison that is regarded as dangerous, is dead. “Red Tito is dead. His body was found early that morning, gouges like claw marks carved into his chest, a pain of puncture wounds like bite marks in his neck.” Later, Francisco finds blood under Soledad’s nails, implying that she was the one who killed him. 

Drugs and Alcohol 

  • Papá is arrested. “The police stopped [Papá] and arrested him, said that he was going to make cocaine with that gasoline.” 
  • Reynaldo and Francisco drink alcohol together. “Reynaldo dips into his father’s liquor stash, and for the rest of the afternoon, we take turns drinking straight from a bottle of cheap singani.” 
  • After finding a stash of drugs in his bedroom, Reynaldo’s mother kicks him out. 
  • Soledad admits her father does drugs. “Drugs messed with [my] Papá’s head. I don’t even know if he knows I’m there most of the time.” 

Language   

  • Reynaldo says, “Forget those bastards.” 
  • On multiple occasions, Francisco uses the word “bastards” to refer to people he finds mean or difficult to work with, such as policemen and school bullies. 
  • Francisco says “dammit” and “shit” occasionally.  
  • “Indio” and “Indio bruto” are Spanish slurs that are directed at the mixed and/or indigenous population, including Francisco and Soledad. It is used a few times.  
  • One of the men who assaults Soledad calls her a “filthy bitch!”  
  • Francisco writes a poem where he calls the famous poet, Pablo Neruda, “that horny bastard.” 
  • Francisco refers to himself as a “cojudo.” It’s Bolivian slang for “asshole.”  

Supernatural 

  • None 

Spiritual Content 

  • Soledad says that she leaves the prison every weekend to go to the countryside and make an offering to Pachamama. She says, “I thought if the spirits knew how much I wanted a life out of the prison, they would help me find it.” Pachamama is an Andean goddess, similar to Mother Earth.  

Expecting

Kaelynn, Yessenia, and Lyric are three very different teenagers. Kaelynn is a country girl who wants to prove that she isn’t like her mother. Yessenia is a rebel who occasionally commits heists with her friends. Lyric is a popular girl who stays out of trouble. But despite their differences, they have one thing in common: they all attend a program for pregnant teens.  

While at the program, the girls deal with the struggles of pregnancy, as well as their own personal hardships. Kaelynn’s mother is addicted to drugs like “coke, meth, and crack,” and Kaelynn lives with her grandmother, who she fights with. Eventually, Kaelynn leaves home and moves in with the father of her child – an older man she met at a party.   

Meanwhile, Yessenia does not feel safe being in the same house as her lecherous stepfather, so she lives with her boyfriend’s family instead. But when she catches her boyfriend kissing another girl, she is left homeless. Kaelynn helps her find another home as the story progresses.  

Unlike the other girls, Lyric has a seemingly idyllic life. She lives with her mother and has a doting boyfriend who her family adores. But after she gets pregnant, her “doting” boyfriend disappears entirely, leaving her scared and alone. Together, the girls learn to navigate their hurdles and find solace in an unlikely friendship. 

A major theme in Expecting is dealing with hardship. Each of the girls is dealing with stressful pregnancies as well as issues unique to them. Although initially skeptical of each other, the three girls grow close and help each other get through their respective issues. Their comradery is especially important in light of their peers’ reactions to their pregnancy. At one point, Lyric remarks on how isolating being a pregnant teen is: “Yeah, you know being pregnant is kind of lonely. My friends call to check on me. They don’t ask me to hang out with them or call to talk about what happened at school.” The novel’s answer to these struggles is friendship, and the three friends learn to lean on each other in order to get through difficult times. 

Freemen attempts to reach teens who may be going through some of the same struggles portrayed in Expecting. Readers who are experiencing teen pregnancy, drug addiction, homelessness, or even just a cheating boyfriend may find aspects of the story relatable. However, the girls’ stories feel rushed. At only 99 pages, Expecting is an easy sell for reluctant readers, but it often sacrifices believable character development. That said, the simple writing style and easy vocabulary make Expecting accessible to all readers. Ultimately, Expecting is a simple but highly readable story about issues that many teens find relatable. Occasionally punctuated by informative facts about pregnancy, teens in a similar situation may find the story helpful. 

Sexual Content 

  • While at a friend’s house, Kaelynn flirts with a man. Later that night, she kisses him at a baseball field and it is implied that they have sex. Kaelynn continues a relationship with the man. At several points in the story, she kisses him. 
  • While staring down at a positive pregnancy test, Yessenia recalls that she was reluctant to have sex with her boyfriend, but that she gave in anyway because he said he had “needs.” 
  • Lyric expresses concern about looking “slutty.” 
  • Despite being hesitant to lose her virginity, Lyric agrees to have sex with her boyfriend because he “told her that he loved her.” 
  • Yessenia’s stepfather tells Yessenia that pregnancy “looks good on” her and that she’s “growing in all the right places.” Both Yessenia and Kaelynn are disgusted by this comment. 

Violence 

  • Yessenia acts as a getaway driver while her friends rob a store. Once everyone has reentered the car, a man from the store “point[s] a gun directly at the car’s tires” and attempts to shoot them out. Yessenia swerves to avoid the gunshots. 
  • When Yessenia sees her boyfriend kissing another girl, she “punche[s] him in the mouth.” The other girl pulls a gun on Yessenia, but Yessenia “slap[s] her as hard as she [can] across the face.” 
  • When Lyric’s boyfriend found out she was pregnant, he abandons her.  Later, she “slap[s]” her ex-boyfriend “across the face.”  

Drugs and Alcohol 

  • At a party, a group of mostly adults drink beers and pass a blunt around. 
  • Kaelynn asks a man if he wants to smoke a cigarette with her. 
  • Kaelynn insists that she is not like her mother, who does hard drugs such as coke, meth, and crack. 
  • Yessenia joins her friends in a car they are “hotboxing,” a term for smoking weed in a vehicle. 
  • Yessenia drinks a mixture of tequila and Sprite. 
  • When Kaelynn asks Yessenia what drugs she’s done, Yessenia says that she has “tried just about everything.” 
  • Yessenia buys weed while pregnant.  
  • Kaelynn’s grandmother takes Xanax “to calm her nerves.” 
  • Doctors find marijuana in Yessenia’s urine samples, and she is forced to enter a rehab facility in order to keep her baby. 

Language  

  • Kaelynn’s grandmother tells her to “get [her] ass in here.” 
  • Kaelynn calls her grandmother an “old bat.” 
  • A girl calls Yessenia a “homeless skank.” 

Supernatural 

  • None 

Spiritual Content 

  • Lyric is described as the type of girl whose “family went to church on Sunday.” 
  • Kaelynn jokes that Lyric had “an immaculate conception.” Yessenia replies, “Yeah, right. She’s not the Virgin Mary.” 

The Underground Abductor: An Abolitionist Tale about Harriet Tubman

Meet Underground Railroad abductor Harriet Tubman in this installment of the New York Times bestselling graphic novel series!

Araminta Ross was an enslaved woman born in Delaware. After years of backbreaking labor and the constant threat of being sold and separated from her family, she escaped and traveled north to freedom. Once there, she changed her name to Harriet Tubman. As an “abductor” on the Underground Railroad, she risked her life helping countless enslaved people escape to freedom.

Nathan Hale’s Hazardous Tales are graphic novels that tell the thrilling, shocking, gruesome, and TRUE stories of American history. Read them all—if you dare!  

The book begins on the execution block, where Nathan Hale is about to be hung for spying. The executioner and a British soldier decide to let Nathan Hale tell a story before he dies. Occasionally, the executioner and soldier break into the story to ask questions or make comments. Sometimes this adds comic relief and other times, the comments mirror what the reader is probably thinking. 

Nathan Hale begins Harriet Tubman’s story when she was six years old. When Harriet was young, a head injury caused her to repeatedly fall asleep without warning. This condition lasted for the rest of her life. Despite this, Harriet risked her life to bring her family and others to freedom. Harriet was one of the few people who was an abductor: “the first person in. Someone who ventured deep into slave territory and made first contact with these to be rescued.” Harriet’s bravery and determination helped hundreds of people escape slavery. Once the Civil War began, Harriet continued to fight for freedom. During the Civil War, Harriet built a spy ring, baked pies to sell to soldiers, and was also a nurse. 

Since Frederick Douglass appears several times, his life story is also summarized over three pages. Fredrick Douglass knew the key to freedom was being able to read, so he taught others to read. However, his master believed, “A slave should know nothing but how to obey his master! If you teach that slave to read, there will be no keeping him! He’ll become unmanageable—discontent and unhappy!” Despite being forbidden to read, Frederick Douglass learned anyways. Fredrick eventually began writing. Frederick Douglass also encouraged slaves to get a gun, so Harriet did.  

The Underground Abductor brings history to life in graphic novel format. The panels are drawn using shades of gray with purple accents. Even though the illustrations show the cruelty inflicted upon slaves, none of the illustrations are graphic. However, many of the slave owners have angry faces, and slaves are seen chained together, whipped, and hiding from slave hunters. Most of the text is in the form of conversations and the words appear in quote bubbles. The story uses easy vocabulary and short sentences that keep the action moving at a quick pace.  

The story of Harriet Tubman highlights the importance of fighting for what you believe. Harriet’s dedication and willingness to put herself in danger is admirable. Through Harriet’s experiences, readers will begin to understand the harsh conditions that slaves had to contend with during the 1800s. While the content may be upsetting, The Underground Abductor will help readers understand America’s past, and learn about the people who fought so everyone could be free. Plus, the book’s format makes it perfect for reluctant readers. Readers who would like to learn more about the Underground Railroad should also read Long Road to Freedom by Kate Messner.  

Sexual Content 

  • None  

Violence 

  • Harriet is sent to help care for a baby. When the baby starts to cry, the woman whips Harriet. The whipping occurs several times and is included in the illustrations.  
  • Someone tells a story about a “woman [who] died in prison before they could hang her.” 
  • Nat Turner received a vision from God. Nat said, “I am told to slay all the whites we encounter, without regard to age or sex.” Nat Turner and other slaves “moved from house to house, killing everyone inside. . . By the time they were stopped, Nat Turner and his followers had killed sixty people—men, women, and children.” Many of the slaves who were part of Nat’s group were executed or killed by mobs and militias.
  • When a slave tries to escape, the bossman throws a weight at him. The weight hits Harriet in the head. Her mother says, “‘Look at all this blood!’ Harriet’s skull is split open and her brains were showing. ‘There’s a hole in her scarf. . . The missin’ scrap is still in her head.’” The scene is illustrated over two pages. After the accident, Harriet would fall asleep without notice. 
  • A ship’s captain was found helping runaway slaves. The man was fined and sent to jail for a year. “They branded his hand with an ‘S.S’—for slave stealer.” 
  • During his time at a plantation, Frederick Douglass says “an overseer shot a slave.” Frederick was also “beaten and starved.” Because Frederick displeased his master, he was sent to a slave-breaker, who is “a master so cruel, he breaks a slave’s will.” 
  • Getting to the north where slaves could be free was difficult. Often runaway slaves died. “Slaves hopping trains lost limbs if they jumped wrong. Stowaways on northbound ships were smoked out or suffocated like rats. Slaves who were captured were…whipped, beaten, branded—often on the face, and in some cases, hobbled.” 
  • It was also dangerous for whites to help runaway slaves. One man was “sentenced to five years of hard labor. He died after two. . .” Another “was beaten and thrown from a train while trying to rescue a slave. . .”
  • When Harriet got a terrible tooth ache, she knew the tooth needed to come out. Someone held a rock against the tooth and “hit the rock with the pistol butt.”  
  • When a man wanted to go back to his master, Harriet held a gun to his head. She said she would shoot “anybody who puts the group at risk.” The man continued the journey with the others.  
  • A runaway slave was captured. A white man shackled his hands and lashed him to a tree. The slave was then whipped.  
  • John Brown, his sons, and other men raided a house owned by slave catchers. The slave catchers were “hacked to death with broadswords.” Then they moved on to other houses. “Five pro-slavers had been slashed to death.” 
  • During another raid, “two of John Brown’s sons died.” Other raiders “were killed” and “the rest—including John Brown—were captured and executed.” 
  • During the Civil War, soldiers from the north plundered mansions and then burned them down. They also burned a town’s mill, a bridge, and anything else that would catch fire. The scene is illustrated over three pages.   

Drugs and Alcohol 

  • When leading runaway slaves north, a baby starts to cry. The baby is given paregoric, “it’s a drug, a tincture of opium.” 

Language   

  • When Harriet was six, she was rented out to work for a weaver. The woman sent Harriet home because, she “is stupid, useless, and no good to us.”  
  • The executioner says “holy smokes” once. 

Supernatural 

  • None 

Spiritual Content 

  • Nat Turner was a religions man who received visions. He was “deeply religious. He was a Christina. His mother taught him that one day he would become a prophet.” 
  • Harriet knew how to talk to God, and she asked that her master would have a change of heart and not sell any of her siblings. 
  • Harriet prays to God about her master, Mr. Brodess. Harriet says, “Lord, if you ain’t never gonna change that man’s heart. . . kill him, Lord, take him out of the way.” The next day Mr. Brodess dies. 
  • When someone says Harriet is crazy, a man defends her. He says Harriet has “a direct line to God.” 
  • Often Harriet stops and prays to the Lord for guidance. 

Escape North! The Story of Harriet Tubman

The woods are dark and dangerous. Slave catchers are out with their dogs. But high above the trees, the North Star shines down. Harriet Tubman is glad to see the North Star. It points the way to freedom. Tonight Harriet is helping slaves escape on the Underground Railroad. Will they make it? Find out in this exciting true story.  

Escape North! The Story of Harriet Tubman highlights the bravery of Harriet Tubman and the people who risked their lives to hide runaway slaves. The story uses kid-friendly language to show the hardships Harriet and others faced. While the story doesn’t give detailed descriptions of the abuse that enslaved people endured, young readers may find the beatings and other violence upsetting. Escape North! The Story of Harriet Tubman will introduce readers to this difficult time in history.  

The story doesn’t just focus on the abuse of enslaved people; it also shows the kindness of those who helped the enslaved people on their journey north. For example, “A Quaker named Thomas Garrett owned a shoe store. He had a secret room for runaways to hide in behind a wall of shoe boxes. When the runaways were ready to leave, he gave each a pair of shoes.” Harriet Tubman’s story reinforces the theme that people must stand together and fight for what is right.  

As a Step into Reading Level 3 book, Escape North! The Story of Harriet Tubman is intended for readers in second and third grade. However, the grade levels are only guides; children will progress through the steps at their own speed, developing confidence in their reading. Each page of Harriet’s story has a large colored illustration that will help readers understand the plot. The story uses oversized text and has two to seven sentences per page.  

The true story of Harriet Tubman will inspire children by showing Harriet’s determination and bravery. Escape North! The Story of Harriet Tubman is a fast-paced, suspenseful chapter book that will engage young readers. If you’d like another engaging story that focuses on history, check out Pioneer Cat by William Hooks and Attack at the Arena by Marianne Hering & Paul McCusker. 

Sexual Content 

  • None

Violence 

  • When enslaved people disappeared, the bossman “and his dogs would come after them. If they were caught, they would be beaten. . . maybe to death.”  
  • When Harriet was seven, she worked for Mrs. Cook winding yarn. “Sometimes the yarn broke. Then Mrs. Cook got out the whip.” Mrs. Cook would call Harriet a “stupid girl.”  
  • Many slaves worked in the tobacco fields. “If they didn’t work fast enough, they were beaten.” 
  • When Harriett was a teenager, an enslaved person ran away. “The bossman threw a weight at him to stop him. But it hit Harriet instead. Harriet wasn’t the same after that.” 
  • While leading people to freedom, one man decided he wanted to go back. “Harriet stood in his way. If the slave catchers caught him, they would beat the secrets of the Underground Railroad out of him. Harriet couldn’t let that happen. She pointed her gun at the man.” Afterward, the group “trudged on.” 

Drugs and Alcohol 

  • None 

Language   

  • None 

Supernatural 

  • None

Spiritual Content 

  • While Harriet was trying to escape to freedom, “a group of slave hunters were approaching . . . She prayed the hunters wouldn’t see her. Somehow they never did.” 
  • Harriet went back to the south to free other slaves. “She was going to free her people, just like Moses in the Bible.” 

The Missing Prince

Will Treaty and his apprentice, Maddie, have been urgently summoned to Castle Araluen. When they arrive, they learn a shocking truth: the Prince of Gallica is missing—and the King of Gallica has asked for help. All reports suggest that the young prince has been taken prisoner by the dangerous and powerful Baron Joubert de Lassigny. King Duncan knows that sending troops to Gallica to rescue the prince could start a war, as could openly helping Gallica resolve internal conflict. But there’s another way to save the prince: the Ranger Corps.

Soon, Will and Maddie are on the road to rescue the missing prince, disguised as father and daughter jongleurs. Maddie will have to use her knife throwing skills to keep up her disguise, and her ranger’s apprentice training to complete the mission. But going undercover is dangerous—and the road presents its own hazards. Can she and Will use all of their talents to save the prince, or will the arrogant Baron uncover their plans and put their lives– and their kingdom– at risk?

Unlike the other books in the Ranger’s Apprentice Series, The Missing Prince is missing action. For most of the story, Will and Maddie are traveling to the castle where the Prince of Gallica is being held captive. Along the way, Will and Maddie face bandits which adds excitement to the story. However, their trip drags and when the two finally reach their destination, the book suddenly ends leaving the reader wondering what will happen in the next book, Escape from Falaise.

Will and Maddie are admirable characters who willingly face danger in an attempt to free the missing prince. However, the book’s slow start focuses more on the political reasons to help the Gallican prince. In addition, Maddie’s mother is reluctant to let Maddie go on a ranger mission. Readers may quickly become bored with the political and parental aspects of the story. Despite this, fans of the Ranger’s Apprentice Series will be happy that Will Treaty plays a major role in The Missing Prince.

Some of the story’s plot feels redundant because Will again disguises himself as a jongleur. Despite this, fans of the Ranger’s Apprentice Series will enjoy Will and Maddie’s relationship and the two working together. Plus, the conclusion has several surprises and leaves readers with several unanswered questions. Even though The Missing Prince lacks the action of other books, the cliffhanger will have readers reaching for Escape from Falaise.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • To stop a band of thieves, Will dresses like an old farmer. When the thieves see Will, they try to stop him. Will shoots an arrow and “Jem was down, rolling in agony on the ground and clutching an arrow that had transfixed his left calf.”
  • One of the bandits, Barton, tries to hit Will, who lifts the man and throws him. “Barton landed with a heavy thud, flat on his back. . . When he recovered, he found himself looking along the blade of a very sharp saxe knife, which pricked the soft skin of his throat.” Will and Maddie take the men to the local law.
  • While Will and Maddie are entertaining, thieves appear and demand everyone’s money. A young man tries to intervene, but “the bandit leader stepped in close to him and swung the butt of the crossbow so that it slammed into Simon’s forehead.” The man is injured.
  • As the thieves are celebrating their newfound wealth, the leader “held his bottle up prior to drinking from it. Will’s arrow smashed through it, showering the drunken bandit chief with wine and shattered fragments of glass, before thudding, quivering into a log lying ready by the fire.” To take down the bandit leader, Maddie “whipped the sling up and over and the lead shot hissed through the air across the clearing, striking Vincent’s skull behind the ear with an ugly thud. The bandit’s eyes glazed, and he let out a sickly little moan. . . he crashed to the forest floor, stunned.” The scene is described over four pages.
  • While Will and Maddie are restraining the bandits, “a man rose onto one knee and leveled the crossbow.” Will sees the movement and “he drew his throwing knife and sent it spinning across the clearing. . .the knife hit him in the center of his chest.”
  • While searching the castle tower for the missing prince, “a burly figure” sees Maddie. When the man grabs her, “she suddenly stepped toward him. . .she grabbed a handful of tunic, bent her legs and shoved her backside into his body.” She then knees him in the groin and runs.

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • Will and Maddie pose as jongleurs and perform in local taverns. The customers often drink wine and ale. When they eat at the castle, ale and wine are also served.
  • A man who has been following Will and Maddie, goes into a tavern and is “nursing a tankard of ale.”
  • After the thieves rob the townspeople, they hide in the forest. The eight men were “sprawled around the camp. They stole some wine from the tavern last night and they’re all drinking.” The men turn into a “nosy, drunken group.”
  • Will and Maddie see a peddler who had “casks of ale and wine.”

Language

  • A man thinks that the Gallic king is a “pompous prat.”
  • Damn is used once.

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • None

 

Last Night at the Telegraph Club

Seventeen-year-old Lily Hu can’t remember exactly when the feeling took root—that desire to look, to move closer, to touch. Whenever it started growing, it definitely bloomed the moment she and Kathleen Miller walked under the flashing neon sign of a lesbian bar called the Telegraph Club. Suddenly everything seemed possible. 

But America in 1954 is not a safe place for two girls to fall in love, especially not in Chinatown. Red-Scare paranoia threatens everyone, including Chinese Americans like Lily. With deportation looming over her father—despite his hard-won citizenship—Lily and Kath risk everything to let their love see the light of day. 

When Lily is first introduced, she is shy and reserved which is evident in her interactions with her best friend, Shirley. Shirley is more outgoing and assertive and outshines Lily most of the time. Whenever Lily brings up her ambitions to study space, Shirley quickly dismisses them as boring and insignificant. In part due to her Chinese heritage, Shirley has more realistic goals—getting married and becoming a mother.  

Then, Lily meets Kath. Kath encourages Lily’s ambitions and over time they become extremely close friends. Lily has been curious about the Telegraph Club (a lesbian club) after seeing an advertisement for it depicting a male impersonator. When Kath tells Lily that she has been to the Telegraph Club, Lily only becomes more curious about what is inside.  One night, they decide to visit the club. At the club, Lily discovers a whole new world that makes her question her identity.  Lily begins to explore her sexuality, which brings about an array of conflicts. 

Readers will have no trouble relating to Lily. She is dedicated to her family and culture but simultaneously struggles to find her place in the world. She also wonders whether there is a place for her outside of Chinatown. Some of the chapters are dedicated to discussing Lily’s family members, which allows readers to get to know Lily’s backstory better. This includes her mother, father, and aunt. While these backstories are interesting and provide extra detail to the story, it would’ve been more interesting to hear parts of the story told by Kath or Shirley because they are much more involved in the plot line. 

Another enjoyable part of the story is visual timelines that are provided every couple of chapters. Communism, McCarthyism, and xenophobia are big aspects of conflict within the Chinese community at this time frame. Therefore, these timelines give readers a wider view of what was happening during the 1950s. 

Overall, Last Night at the Telegraph Club is a great depiction of young romance, especially LGBTQ romance. Kath and Lily’s love story is not straightforward, but has many twists and turns along the way which makes the plot more realistic. The book won the National Book Award for Young People’s Literature in 2021. This was the first time a book with a female LGBTQ lead won the award. 

Sexual Content  

  • Lily has a sexual awakening after seeing a book featuring “two women on the cover, a blonde and a brunette. The blonde wore a pink negligee and knelt on the ground, eyes cast down demurely while the shapely brunette lurked behind her.” 
  • The girls go bowling. When their movements expose parts of their legs, some men “eye the girls and grin at each other.” 
  • Lily and Kath have a brief sexual interaction in an empty classroom where “Kath put her hand between Lily’s legs, and Lily helped her, fumbling with her underwear.” 
  • When Shirley is changing into a dress, Lily begins to feel awkward and “couldn’t help but notice the soft rise of Shirley’s breasts over the cups of the bodice; the way they shifted when she twisted back and forth.” 

Violence  

  • Police raid the Telegraph Club. During the raid, Lily and Kath are separated. Lily reads the newspapers account of the raid, using the terms “sexual deviates” and “lewd conduct” to describe the club’s attendees and activities. 
  • Lily tells her mother about her sexuality. To this, her mother reacts extremely negatively, slapping Lily and saying, “there are no homosexuals in this family.” 

Drugs and Alcohol  

  • While at the Telegraph Club, Lily has her first beer which she describes as tasting “frothy and a little like soapy water, but it was cold and went down more easily than she anticipated.” 
  • After she finishes the beer, Lily says she feels “a little warm, but not unpleasantly so.” 
  • While at a friend’s house, Lily impulsively smokes a cigarette hoping it “might burn away the haze of wine and the horrible day she’d had.” 
  • After the Telegraph Club is raided, a newspaper article discusses how “marijuana cigarettes were offered, and Benzedrine, known as ‘bennies,’ were for sale” at the club.   

Language                                                                                                                                               

  • None 

Supernatural  

  • None 

Spiritual Content  

  • None

Race to the South Pole

Ranger, the time-traveling golden retriever with search-and-rescue training, is back! This time, he joins a dangerous expedition to the South Pole!

Ranger joins an early twentieth-century expedition journeying from New Zealand to Antarctica. He befriends Jack Nin, the stowaway turned cabin boy of Captain Robert Falcon Scott’s ship. They’re racing against a rival explorer to reach the South Pole, but with unstable ice, killer whales, and raging blizzards, the journey turns into a race against time. . . and a struggle to stay alive.

Told in third-person, Race to the South Pole includes the inner thoughts of both Ranger and Jack. Even though Antarctica is dangerous, most of the danger comes from the harsh weather conditions. During the trip, both Ranger and Jack miss their families and wonder when they’ll be able to return home. Although Jack faces deadly freezing weather, he works hard and never complains. However, Jack sneaks onto the ship without telling his family his plans. And while in the Arctic, he doesn’t follow orders and instead sneaks out of the camp and almost dies alone.

Race to the South Pole is an entertaining and educational story that has a unique perspective because it focuses on a golden retriever. Readers interested in the men who attempted to reach the South Pole will enjoy Race to the South Pole, which has full-page, black-and-white illustrations approximately every six pages. Even though Ranger’s story is fictional, facts are woven into the story. The end of the book has more information about the historic expedition as well as a list of further resources. Plus, the author’s note includes information about Jack’s Maori Chinese cultural background. The book references Ernest Shackleton who climbed Mount Erebus but did not reach the South Pole. Readers interested in learning more about Ernest’s explorations can read Survival Tails: Endurance in Antarctica by Katrina Charman.

While Race to the South Pole lacks suspense, the story contains enough intrigue to keep the reader interested. Jack’s desire to help his family is relatable and his determination is admirable. The author’s note explains how the characters are based on real people, but the original expedition ended with the death of five members of the team, which will help readers understand how dangerous the expedition really was. Readers who want to learn more about how dogs help humans in frozen conditions should also read Dogs in the Dead of Night by Mary Pope Osborne.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • Horses and dogs were taken on the expedition, but there was not enough food to adequately feed them. “The sled dogs were getting lean, too. They were so hungry that one team attacked a pony that was stuck in a snowdrift. The horse fought off the dogs, but the pony was hurt, too weak to travel even another mile before the men made camp.”
  • A sled dog team fell into a crevasse. “Ranger and Osman strained under the weight of the rest of the team. The other dogs dangled in midair, howling as the lines cut into their fur. . . Jack could hear them yelping and whimpering below.” The dogs are saved.
  • Jack ventures out alone and falls in a crevasse. “The ice walls rushed past as he fell. . . Jack’s leg twisted, and his knee gave a sickening pop. . . Just when it felt like he might plunge into the darkness forever, Jack thumped on his back onto a snow shelf. He landed so hard he couldn’t breathe.”

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • When Jack falls overboard, one of the men yells, “Good Lord!”

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • None

 

Powwow Summer

Part Ojibwe and part French, eighteen-year-old River lives on a farm with her mother and stepfather. After graduating high school, she looks forward to spending her last summer before university with her friends, but she struggles with her identity after years of racist bullying. On top of this, she must deal with doubts about her relationship with her boyfriend, as well as her stepfather’s violent tantrums.  

When River’s mother reveals that she’s been seeing someone else, River supports her. But when River’s mother tells her that she wants them to leave in the dead of night and move in with her new boyfriend, River feels conflicted and angry. After a conversation with her mother turns heated, River buys a bus ticket to Calgary to stay with a friend. On the way, she is intercepted by a call from her dad, who invites her to stay with him instead. River agrees, and so begins a summer in the city with her father and grandmother, both of whom are Ojibwe. While staying with them, River learns about the lives of people in her community and grows especially close to her grandmother (or nokomis), Grace. 

Over the summer, River encounters new situations. She joins a healing circle. She goes to her first bar with her dad and, later that night, her first North Side party. She learns about the intergenerational effects of residential schools and other issues facing the Ojibwe community. Eventually, River attends a powwow. At the afterparty, River gets drunk and witnesses a knife fight between two gang members. Not thinking straight, River takes pictures of the fight, including a selfie in front of it that prominently displays her red bandana. When she posts the pictures online, they go viral and the comments are filled with threats from people who interpreted her bandana as gang affiliation. River panics, takes down the photos, and asks her family for advice.  

But the damage has already been done. While coming out of a convenience store, she is attacked by two girls who want to be initiated into a gang. Although she is terrified by this incident, River chooses not to press charges after hearing their experiences during another healing circle. Later on, she shares an especially profound moment with her grandmother while they gather birch bark. At the end of the summer, River returns home with a new sense of self and a plan to major in Indigenous Studies.  

Powwow Summer is ultimately an uplifting story that centers around River’s experience of learning about and growing close to her culture. But the novel doesn’t shy away from the struggles that can come with being indigenous. A prologue at the beginning of the book details the racist bullying that River endured in grade school. While the story doesn’t linger on this, River alludes to the bullying in a conversation with her mother, where River recalls being singled out by a racist elementary school teacher.  

Another issue that frequently pops up in the background of the story is the issue of missing and murdered indigenous women. River feels her heart sink when she observes a team of volunteers dragging the Red River in search of a missing woman. This comes up again when River attends a healing circle and hears one of the members talk about his cousin’s recent suspicious death. The family believes it may have been an overdose, but the police do not seem to care. It is even revealed that the two girls who jumped River only did so because they believe a gang will offer them protection from “perverts and Indian killers.” 

Also looming over the narrative is the memory of residential schools, where River’s grandmother and others endured years of abuse. River grows especially close to her grandmother and wonders how she is able to remain so strong despite such hardships. These three issues are far from the only issues that Powwow Summer tries to tackle. The novel includes a wide range of issues in less than 200 pages, and at times the scope may be a little too broad. Readers may find the plot complicated, but the various threads are woven together skillfully.  

Powwow Summer is told through both conventional chapters and River’s journal entries, which are usually one to two pages long. River is a likable character with believable struggles, but she also witnesses many other peoples’ struggles, and some readers may be disturbed by these intense scenes. Ultimately, Powwow Summer is a powerful story about identity headed up by a likable and well-developed main character. Powwow Summer is best suited for readers interested in historical fiction or who want to learn more about Ojibwe culture.  

Sexual Content 

  • When River tries to alert the teachers about the harsh bullying she receives from boys at school, the teachers say that boys teasing her means that they “like” her. 
  • While at the beach, River notices some younger teen boys gawking at her as she applies sunscreen to her friend’s back and observes that the towels in their laps seem “a little too strategic.” 
  • When River jokes about riding a horse in the Canada Day parade, her boyfriend tells her that it would add “sex appeal.” 
  • One of River’s friends denounces a potential love interest as not a “real lesbian.” Her friend says, “If you don’t like tacos, then go back to the hot dog cart already. I can’t be someone’s experiment.” 
  • River kisses her boyfriend several times. 
  • River brings a blanket to a day trip with her boyfriend. She intends to use it for a picnic, but adds “and then if you’re good, we’ll see what else we can do with, or under, it.” Nothing ends up happening at the day trip because River is a virgin and reluctant to have sex until she is sure that she is ready. 

Violence 

  • When River leaves some of her equipment on the front porch, her stepfather Randy reacts violently by “smash[ing]” fine china “against the brick chimney beside the dinner table.” Blood “splatter[s]” on River and “drip[s] from his hand.” 
  • A grade school teacher singled out River. When River would talk in class, the teacher began “pok[ing]” her and “slapp[ing]” her.  
  • River witnesses a gang fight between two men. One “[holds] a knife to” the other’s throat. He does not actually cut the other man. 
  • After her post goes viral, two girls approach River in a store parking lot and attack her. One girl “[swings] her fist” and punches River. When River falls to the ground, the girls “[stomp] on River’s foot and calf.” 
  • River receives several online threats including one that warns her, “You are gonna wish you killed yourself, after you find out what they are going to do to you.” 

Drugs and Alcohol 

  • In a flashback, River overhears two bullies say, “Indians are mostly drunk people on welfare.” The bullies speculate that River is “drunk at school” and that she “drinks Listerine and sniffs gasoline from a paper bag.”  
  • River’s friend relays that a party is going to have “lotsa babes and booze.” 
  • River’s stepfather drinks heavily. 
  • River’s father orders her a rum and coke from a bar.  
  • At a party, two girls do cocaine near where River is trying to sleep. They offer her some, but she declines. 
  • River gets drunk at a powwow afterparty. 

Language  

  • Bullies at school refer to River’s eyes as “dogshit brown.” 
  • In a flashback, River gets called a racial slur by her peers. 
  • The word “shit” is used frequently throughout the narrative. 
  • “Bitch,” “slut,” “damn,” and “hell” are also used at times. 

Supernatural 

  • None 

Spiritual Content 

  • At a youth night, River smudges herself with sage and wafts tobacco smoke from a bowl. The youth leader explains that the smoke carries prayers up to the Creator.  
  • River “ask[s] the Creator for a sign” or “something that would show her the path she was supposed to be on.” 

Handbook for Boys: A Novel

After a fight with another student, sixteen-year-old Jimmy is charged with assault, a crime that would normally get him six months in juvenile detention. But the judge offers him an alternative: a six-month community mentoring program run by a man named Duke Wilson. On the judge’s request, Jimmy begins working at Duke’s barbershop. There, he and another student named Kevin meet Duke’s “old guy” friends, who have a lot to say about life.   

At first, Jimmy finds his time at the barbershop unbearable. Duke and his friends frequently tease Jimmy, and each new customer prompts them to launch into a philosophical conversation relating to Duke’s “rules of life.” Gradually, Jimmy begins to warm up to Duke and his friends. Despite his skepticism about their rules, Jimmy continually sees Duke’s wisdom about making choices reflected in other parts of his life. Eventually, Jimmy must grapple with his friend Kevin’s choices that lead to Kevin’s arrest for drug possession.  

 A major theme in Handbook for Boys is intergenerational differences. Jimmy and Kevin are teenagers, while the men at the barbershop are repeatedly described as “old guys.” The novel is told from Jimmy’s perspective and, as a result, readers may be sympathetic to Jimmy’s concern that Duke can’t “understand what it is to be young now.” The rift that this creates is frequently commented on. Jimmy initially finds Duke’s advice to be judgmental, but he comes to accept much of it in the latter half of the book. 

Another prominent theme is the role of agency in everyday life. Duke and his friends firmly believe that people decide their own fate and are therefore always responsible for what happens to them. In fact, this belief is central to Duke’s philosophy. Jimmy initially disagrees. When Duke first posits his “pull yourself up by the bootstraps” mentality to him, Jimmy says, “Anybody can make a mistake, but you figure everybody should be perfect. You’re not even perfect.” Jimmy pushes back in similar ways at various points in the story, but he also seems to internalize Duke’s worldview.  

Jimmy’s empathy makes him a likable character, and readers who often butt heads with respected elders may find him relatable. But even though the story is written through Jimmy’s eyes, he mostly serves as a vehicle for the lessons taught by Duke and his friends. Told as a series of conversations about life, Handbook for Boys frequently prioritizes life lessons over plot. Young readers looking for a clear storyline may find the novel’s philosophical tone preachy or see the issues explored in the story to be dated. 

Ultimately, Handbook for Boys is an insightful look into mentorship and second chances that presents some potentially helpful advice for young people, including the importance of making choices that better their lives. However, it occasionally leans too heavily into its advice-giving side at the expense of staying engaging. Readers who want an entertaining story about overcoming obstacles may want to skip Handbook for Boys and instead read the Hazelwood High Trilogy by Sharon M. Drape or the Alabama Moon Series by Watt Key. 

Sexual Content 

  • Duke and the guys discuss the dangers of pregnancy and venereal diseases like AIDS. Duke says that he’s not willing “to risk [his] health for a few minutes of pleasure,” but tells Jimmy and Kevin “[w]hat you want to do with your life is your business.” 

Violence 

  • Jimmy is on probation for assaulting another student. He describes the incident by saying, “We got into it and I wasted him. But then I was so mad that when it should have been over, I kept punching him. I knew it was wrong because he was hurt bad. His nose was broken and his lip was cut.” 
  • When Kevin makes a crack at him, Jimmy threatens to punch him in the face. The barbershop guys chastise Jimmy for the comment. 
  • One of Duke’s friends speculates about the life of a man in prison, saying that the man must be worried “somebody is going to stick a shank in” him. 
  • After another argument with Kevin, Jimmy thinks about “smashing his face.” 

Drugs and Alcohol 

  • Kevin’s mom catches him smoking weed and turns him into the police. 
  • A customer at the barbershop tells a story about getting arrested for accidentally purchasing a stolen watch. The previous owner sold it to the customer in order to buy drugs.  
  • Duke refers to a woman outside the barbershop as a “junkie,” which leads to a conversation about why people do drugs and the importance of avoiding them. 
  • One of Duke’s friends brings up the dangers of contracting AIDS from a drug needle. 
  • Kevin fails a drug test and is later arrested for possession. 

Language  

  • Jimmy calls a philosopher lame. 
  • The word crap is used several times. 
  • Words like stupid and dumb are occasionally used. For example, Jimmy refers to his uncle’s dog as stupid. 

Supernatural 

  • None 

Spiritual Content 

  • Duke asks Jimmy if he went to church Sunday morning. 
  • A woman comes to the barbershop and asks one of Duke’s friends to pray for her. 
  • Jimmy’s great-aunt Sister Smith visits and asks whether Duke is talking to Jimmy about “choosing the ways of the Lord over the ways of the world,” among other spiritual concerns. Jimmy is uncomfortable with the conversation. 
  • A customer says he needs a “good Christian man” to cosign a loan for him. 

What Was the First Thanksgiving?

After their first harvest in 1621, the Pilgrims at Plymouth shared a three-day feast with their Native American neighbors. Of course, the Pilgrims and the Wampanoag didn’t know it at the time, but they were making history. However, before that first Thanksgiving, the Pilgrims first had to travel to the New World and set up their colony.  

What Was the First Thanksgiving? begins with the reasons the Pilgrims left England and the difficult task of settling an untamed land. From the start, the Pilgrims had a rocky relationship with the Native Americans. But without the Native Americans’ help, the Pilgrims would most likely have perished. The book explores the complicated history between the Wampanoags and the Pilgrims.   

What Was the First Thanksgiving? will pull readers in with its fun format which has large, black and white illustrations on every page. The book uses large font, short chapters, and easy vocabulary that makes the book easy to read. Plus, each event is explained fully and broken into smaller sections, so readers will not get confused.  

To give readers a better understanding of the time period, the book includes sections with additional information about the people and the times. Plus, there are 16 pages of historical artwork depicting the Wampanoags, the Pilgrims, the Mayflower, and more. Topics cover everything from the Wampanoag, Squanto, and other historical people. The end of the book also includes a timeline.  

Even though the book focuses on the Pilgrims, it doesn’t portray them as if they were perfect people. Instead, the book explores how the Pilgrims took advantage of the Wampanoag people. For example, when they first arrived in Massachusetts, the Pilgrims “stole some corn. This meant that the Native Americans who’d harvested it would not have the corn for themselves. They might go hungry.” Despite this, for a brief time the Pilgrims and the Wampanoag people came together to “rejoice together after we had gathered the fruits of our labors.”  

Anyone interested in the Pilgrims should read What Was the First Thanksgiving? because it gives insight into the difficulties that the Pilgrims faced. Plus, it explains how Thanksgiving became a national holiday. Most people probably do not realize that without Sarah Hale, an author and editor for a magazine, Thanksgiving would never have become an important American tradition.  

What Was the First Thanksgiving? educates readers through interesting facts that are presented in an appealing format. The book is perfect for readers who need to research Thanksgiving and the Pilgrims. The back of the book also includes a bibliography with additional resources for readers who want to learn even more. Readers eager to read more about the Pilgrims should add The Mayflower by Kate Messner and A Journey to the New World: The Diary of Remember Patience Whipple by Kathryn Lasky to their must-read list. 

Sexual Content 

  • None 

Violence 

  • When the colonists began taking over the Algonquian’s land, the “tribe began attacking the settlers. In the winter of 1610, they surrounded the colony. Trapped, the colonists were soon starving. Only sixty settlers survived.” 
  • When they first got to Massachusetts, the Pilgrims stole the native people’s corn. “Native Americans attacked. They yelled war cries and shot arrows at the Pilgrims, who fired their muskets.” No one was injured. 

Drugs and Alcohol 

  • None 

Language   

  • None 

Supernatural 

  • None 

Spiritual Content 

  • The Puritans did not want to be part of the Church of England because they believed “the Bible was the law in religion.” 
  • When the Mayflower reached Massachusetts, the Pilgrims “said prayers of thanks.” 
  • The Pilgrims believed that the “Native Americans were savages because they lived in a different way. The Pilgrims believed they were special, and that God wanted them to claim the land in America for their own.”  
  • The Wampanoag had their own religion. “They believed there were spirits in the rivers and forest around them.” 
  • The Wampanoag leader tried to drive the white people away, so “he led attacks against English settlements all around New England. The English settlers attacked the Wampanoag in return. . . Many were killed on both sides.” 

Ice Wreck

In 1914, Ernest Shackleton and his crew set out for the South Pole. They never made it. Within sight of land, the ship ran into dangerous waters filled with chunks of ice. Then the sea froze around them! There was no hope of rescue. Could Shackleton find a way to save himself and his men?

Ernest Shackleton is an admirable explorer who demonstrates bravery and quick thinking. Even though the expedition to the South Pole was not a success, Shackleton and all of his men survived the brutal cold after their ship sank below the ocean. Ice Wreck explains Shackleton’s experiences through nonfiction text. Unlike a story, Ice Wreck only focuses on Shackleton and contains no dialogue or suspense.

Ice Wreck’s format will appeal to readers because of the short chapters, large font, and illustrations. The book contains photographs of the expedition as well as full-color drawings that appear every 1 to 2 pages. The Stepping Stones Series is specifically written for young readers and allows readers to explore different genres such as history, humor, mysteries, and classics.

Ice Wreck is an excellent choice for parents and teachers who want to introduce non-fiction reading to their children. Ernest Shackleton’s quick thinking and dedication to his men highlight the qualities of a great leader. To learn more about Shackleton’s expedition, Ice Wreck can be paired with Race to the South Pole.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • While stranded on an ice flow, the men were running out of food. “One sad day, there wasn’t enough left to feed the dogs. Soon they would starve. The men had to shoot them.”

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • None

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • None

What Goes Up

The past few months have not been ideal for Jorie, to say the least. Her ex-boyfriend, Ian, has left for college, but they are trying to “still be friends.” Her parents’ marriage is on the rocks after her father’s affair and she is struggling to trust him. In addition, Jorie is trying to understand why her mother chose to stay in the relationship. To escape life’s drama, Jorie decides to attend a college party with her boyfriend, Ian, and his two friends.

The next morning, Jorie wakes up in the dorm of an unfamiliar college boy, with a text from Ian that says, “you go and hook up with [one of my friends] right in front of me. You’re such a hypocrite.” Full of regret, Jorie decides to explore what led to this moment and where she goes from here.

What Goes Up is a novel in verse. Since the story is told through poems rather than traditional structure, the story is a little confusing. The reader must pay close attention to keep track of the timeline, as it is not well established. Another confusing element is that the bulk of the book is a series of flashbacks that aren’t in chronological order.

Jorie’s character is explored intimately, and she is easy to sympathize with. Her flaws are present, but they don’t detract from her likability. However, because of the introspective nature of the book, readers don’t learn much about the other characters. This is not a detriment to the overall story as the focus is clearly meant to be on Jorie’s emotions anyway.

Jorie is an artist with an interest in the science of mushrooms and fungi, using mushroom spore prints in her work. The reader will be surprised at how the mushroom and fungi facts parallel Jorie’s experiences and relationships. For example, she discusses signs of toxicity in mushrooms and how “even experts have been fooled by specimens they thought were safe,” clearly alluding to the trouble between her parents.

This breezy, uniquely told story is sometimes confusing. The shortness of the book will undoubtedly leave readers wanting more information about Jorie’s life and her relationships. The book implies that Jorie’s drunken hookup with Ian’s friend is just as big of a betrayal as her father cheating on her mother, which is puzzling. While insensitive, the hookup took place after her and Ian had broken up, so it was not adulterous.

Even though What Goes Up is a bit confusing, it is still a very interesting read that can be enjoyed by seasoned and new readers of verse novels. The writing is witty and charming which balances out the rawness of the serious topics. Overall, this story succeeds in sending out a powerful cautionary message about the domino effect that can be spurred by difficult moments in life and provides an important exploration of whether it is possible to still love someone after a betrayal.

Sexual Content

  • The book begins with Jorie waking up in the bed of a college boy who she recalls kissing the night before. They might have had sex, but her waking up to see his head “poking out from the shell of a green sleeping bag” leaves room for interpretation. She was drunk, and the book implies that the boy decided not to take advantage of her in that state.
  • Jorie recalls kissing a boy at recess when she was little, saying he “gagged me with his Dorito-crusted tongue.” The boy kisses her friend during the same recess period.
  • Ian begins jokingly “miming masturbation,” while alone with Jorie while talking about reproductive cells in mushrooms.
  • The day after the party, Jorie’s friend texts her in regards to how she made Ian feel. The friend asks how Jorie would feel if she saw him “ho it up with one of [her] friends.”

Violence

  • In seventh grade, Jorie and her friends were drunk while jumping on the trampoline. Jorie says, “a midair collision forced us back down to earth.” Her friend sustained a non-serious head injury.
  • Jorie remembers an incident in elementary school where a boy tried French kissing her friend. Her friend bit a boy’s lip “so hard it bled.”
  • In a fit of anger, Jorie slaps her mother. Jorie says “it was like smacking a stone, a wall . . . I was crying and thinking, Why is she letting me do this?”

Drugs and Alcohol

  • In seventh grade, Jorie goes to a friend’s house and drinks an old bottle of wine they found in the back of a cabinet. Jorie and her friend “passed it back and forth until the taste didn’t matter, until we couldn’t stop giggling.”
  • Jorie goes to a party where she and her friends drink White Russians. Jorie becomes disoriented and is hungover the next morning.
  • Jorie watches a video of herself while she was drunk. “Drunk me teeters on the edge of the couch like a Jenga tower.”
  • Jorie makes art using mushroom spore prints. A fellow student asks her if he could get high by licking it. The student calls to Ian, “‘remember that time we were shrooming and you thought your sister’s guinea pig was possessed?”

Language

  • Jorie says that the boy who kissed her and her friend in elementary school began calling them “ugly Slut and Lesbo Bitch.”
  • The boyfriend of the woman Jorie’s father is cheating with shows up at her house “yelling about his whore of a girlfriend, [her] mom’s piece of shit husband.”
  • Fuck is said a couple of times.
  • “Dickweed” is said once.
  • In a blind rage, Jorie says she called her mother “a bitch, a fucking idiot, a stupid–I can’t even write the word.”

Supernatural Content

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • None

by Erin Cosgrove

Cemetery Boys

Sixteen-year-old Yadriel’s family doesn’t accept his true gender. Despite this, he’s determined to prove to his family that he is a real brujo. Yardriel embarks on a mission to help a spirit cross over to the land of the dead. However, instead of summoning his cousin, Yadriel summons the ghost of his school’s bad boy, Julian Diaz.

Julian agrees to let Yadriel release his spirit, but only after Julian does a few things first. During their time together, the pair grow closer and begin to develop feelings for each other. However, Yadriel, Julian, and his friend, Maritza, slowly begin to realize that Julian’s death might be linked with a series of disappearances across East LA. What could be causing them? Will Yadriel’s family ever fully accept him? And will Yadriel be able to set Julian’s spirit free to the afterlife?

Cemetery Boys is an excellent introduction to the genre of magical realism mixed with a sweet and genuine, if somewhat saccharine, YA love story. The fantastical elements of brujo magic remain consistent throughout the story and helps the reader clearly understand what can be accomplished by magic, but the realistic elements are where Thomas’s writing truly shines. They convey a down-to-earth story of a young man seeking acceptance from his traditional family. In addition, the author interweaves several problems that Latinx teenagers face in East LA.

Julian discusses how his friend, Luca, was sucked into a gang. Julian and his friends “didn’t see [Luca] for weeks and his parents didn’t care . . . By the time we tracked him down, he was living in a drug den and had gotten branded with tattoos.” Julian also talks about how his friend’s parents were deported. His friend was “the only one who’s got parents that actually like him . . . But they got deported . . . They sacrificed everything to get to the US and make sure Omar had a better life than them.” In addition, Julian is incredibly open about his rough relationship with his brother, Rio.

Thomas excellently disperses the more upsetting material among scenes of Yadriel and Julian growing closer. The pair go on an Odyssey of cute moments and teenage shenanigans, which makes them and their relationship both believable and sweet. Because of their relationships, Yadriel gains confidence and learns the importance of accepting himself.

Yadriel and his friends—Julian, and Maritza—are strong role models for teenagers because they do what they believe is right, even if it is not easy or socially acceptable. For example, Yadriel goes against his family’s wishes by investigating the death of his cousin. Maritza sticks to her values as a vegan even though she cannot use her magic abilities effectively, since her healing abilities depend on her using animal blood. Plus, Julian chooses to stay in the land of the living in order to help Yadriel prove himself as a brujo.

Cemetery Boys is deeply rooted within Latin American culture, especially through its supernatural elements. Latin American folktales are also sprinkled throughout the story. Additionally, a lot of Spanish is spoken within the book, especially when Yadriel performs magic. While this novel can be easily enjoyed without being bilingual, having some knowledge of both Latin American culture and the Spanish language enhances the reading experience.

Thomas successfully creates a story within the genre of magical realism that is both heart-wrenching and heartwarming. If your child is interested in urban fantasy or wants to read a book featuring diverse LGBTQ+ characters, Cemetery Boys is an excellent choice.

Sexual Content

  • Yadriel kisses Julian. “Yadriel threw himself against Julian and wrapped his arms around his neck kissing him fervently. He felt Julian’s smile under his lips . . . Someone let out a low whistle.”

Violence

  • Animal blood is used in several of the brujo rituals. For example, when Yadriel performs a ritual to summon Lady Death, “The black Hydro Flask full of chicken blood thumped against Yadriel’s hip . . . the rest of his supplies for the ceremony were tucked away inside his backpack.”
  • Yadriel cuts himself to offer his blood to Lady Death in order to summon her. “Yadriel opened his mouth and pressed the tip of the blade to his tongue until it bit into him.” He then puts this blood into a bowl.
  • When Yadriel attempts to heal an injured cat, the ritual backfires and hurts the cat, causing it to bleed. Yadriel “could still picture the drops of scarlet on his mother’s white skirt. The terrible yowl. The sudden, sharp pain of the poor cat piercing into his head.” The cat is later healed by Yadriel’s mother and survives the encounter.
  • When Julian dies, there is “thrashing and pain on Julian’s face. The blood seeping through his shirt. His gasps for breath.” When Julian’s body is found “right above his heart, was a dagger.” Later, Julian finds out his Uncle Catriz killed Julian to be used in a sacrifice to gain powers offered by Xibalba, a jaguar spirit who seeks human sacrifices in exchange for preserving the world and granting power. Yadriel later resurrects Julian and he makes a full recovery.
  • Catriz kills three other people. When they die, the stone under them is “streaked with dark, dried up blood.” Yadriel resurrects them when he resurrects Julian.
  • Yadriel’s evil uncle is dragged to a hellish realm by Xibalba. The spirit “sank its teeth into Catriz’s shoulder, molten eyes blazing. A scream ripped through Catriz, the whites of his eyes surrounding his dark pupils. With a lurch, the jaguar dragged him down. Catriz’s howls turn to wet gurgles as he was pulled below the surface. Dark blood and water spilled across the floor in a wave.”

Drugs and Alcohol

  • In a ritual to call upon Lady Death, Yadriel uses tequila. “Yadriel had nicked a mini bottle of Cabrito tequila from one of the boxes that had been gathered for the Día de Muertos ofrendas.”
  • Yadriel carries alcohol that he uses in rituals. At one point he says, “Last thing I need is to get caught by campus security with alcohol and a knife in my backpack.”
  • Yadriel goes to a bonfire where there are “illegal substances” and alcohol.
  • People spread rumors that Julian’s older brother, Rio, is a drug dealer. These rumors are false.
  • While in the hospital, Julian is put on a sedative which causes, “a thick fog in his head, dulling his senses.”

Language

  • Profanity is used occasionally. Profanity includes asshole, badass, fuck, hell, and shitty.
  • When Julian sees Yadriel’s cat for the first time, he jokingly says, “Holy shit . . . That’s one messed-up looking cat!”
  • Julian tells his friend, “You got shitty taste in music, by the way.”
  • Someone calls Julian “a real asshole.”
  • After Yadriel questions why Julian doesn’t have a girlfriend, Julian says, “Because I’m gay, asshole.”
  • Julian, a gay man, says “Queer folks are like wolves . . . We travel in packs.”
  • After Julian has an outburst, Yadriel says, “What kind of machismo bullshit was that?”

Supernatural

  • The premise of the novel is centered around summoning ghosts, magical powers, and the idea of an afterlife.  Some rituals include summoning Lady Death, releasing spirits into the afterlife, and healing other people. Many of these rituals involve food and alcohol, and some involve blood.
  • Portajes, either daggers or rosaries, are used to release spirits into the land of the dead or heal people.
  • Quinces, fifteenth birthday celebrations, are when most brujos receive their powers from Lady Death.
  • Yadriel’s aunt tells him a story about Xibalba , a jaguar spirit who seeks human sacrifices in exchange for preserving the world and granting power. “Without human sacrifices to satiate his hunger, he threatened to unmake the land of the living.” Xibalba later enters the mortal plane to receive Catriz’s human sacrifices and, when Catriz fails to provide them, drags Catriz into his domain.

by Mia Stryker

The Duel at Araluen

King Duncan and Princess Cassandra are trapped in the south tower of Castle Araluen and under near-constant attack from the Red Fox Clan. Sir Horace and Ranger Commandant Gilan are holed up in an old hill fort, surrounded by the enemy. And Ranger’s apprentice, Maddie, is the only one who can save them all.

With the help of Hal, Thorn, and the rest of the Heron brotherband, Maddie will have to break her father and his men out of the hill fort, but will they reach Castle Araluen in time?

As the third installment of the Royal Ranger Series, Duel at Araluen continues the story of the Red Fox Clan who plan to kill King Duncan, Princess Cassandra, and Maddie. Unlike the previous two books in the series, Duel at Araluen describes many skirmishes between the rebels and the Araluens. While the book has less adventure, there is non-stop action as three groups—the Scandians, Horace and his soldiers, and Cassandra and her loyal army—prepare to defeat the Red Fox Clan.

While the book revolves around war, there is never senseless killing. Even though the Red Fox Clan planned to kill Horace and his men, when the rebels are defeated, Horace doesn’t execute the traitors. Instead, Horace orders his men to “leave the tents there for them so they won’t die of exposure. . . We’ll leave them what medical supplies and bandages we can spare and they can take care of one another.” Like the previous books, many people die, but all of the killings are in self-defense.

Duel at Araluen highlights the importance of loyalty, friendship, and bravery. For example, Jesper, one of the Scandians, makes several mean comments to one of his shipmates. Afterwards, Jesper claimed he was just joking. Hal scolds Jasper, saying, “A joke is when everyone can have a good laugh together. But when you do something that’s spiteful and hurtful and causes misery to someone else, that’s not a joke. That’s cruelty.”

Duel at Araluen uses the same format of all The Ranger’s Apprentice books. Even though the format is familiar, readers will be happy to see returning characters such as the Scandians from the Brotherband Series. Seeing the world from Maddie’s point of view gives the setting a fresh outlook. Plus, both Cassandra and Maddie have strong roles that involve leadership, planning, and fighting. Instead of being portrayed as stereotypical damsels in distress, Cassandra and Maddie are well-developed, capable characters who have many admirable traits. Readers who want to explore books with a strong female character and plenty of action should also add the League of Archers Series by Eva Howard to their reading list.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • After the Red Fox Clan took over the castle, the King, Cassandra and a group of loyal soldiers lock themselves in a tower. The Red Fox Clan started throwing projectiles at the tower. In response, Cassandra’s archers shoot arrows at the invading army. “Two of the first three shots found their targets. One man fell away from the windlass, an arrow in his upper body. Another. . . went down with a shaft in his thigh.”
  • The Red Fox Clan builds a trebuchet and uses it to throw rocks at the castle tower. Cassandra’s archers shoot fire arrows at the trebuchet and the invading army. “Two men went down. One of them stayed down. The other one hauled himself to his feet. . . an arrow through his lower leg. . . All the while, the tree archers peppered the trebuchet with arrows, but to no real effect. The only reward for their efforts was a sole figure lying unmoving on the flagstones.”
  • The Red Fox Clan begins throwing fire bladders at the tower. “Cassandra started in fear as the bladder struck the tower. . . Almost instantly, there was a roar of flame as the oil and pitch ignited, and a flood of fire erupted over the balcony, some of it clinging to the walls, while the rest dripped down and spread tendrils of flame over the floor.” No one is injured by the fire bladders.
  • The Red Fox Clan plan to swarm the fort that Horace, Gilan, and their army are hiding. “The light flared up, revealing a mass of some twenty men on the walkway. Instantly, the archers on the east and west walls drew, aimed and shot. A storm of arrows slammed into the attackers as they bunched together. . . more arrows slammed into them as they hesitated.”
  • During the attack, the rebels use ladders to scale the fort’s walls. “Their leader ran to be the first down one of the ladders. But, five spaces short of it, he was struck by an arrow and hurled back against the rough timbers of the palisade.”
  • One of the rebels lunges at Gilan with a sword. “Gilan’s sword, gleaming blood-red in the smoky firelight, struck like a viper, driving the man’s upper body, piercing the chain metal there. The swordsman gasped and stepped back. . . [Gilan] swung in a diagonal overhead cut at the man on his left. The stroke went home and the man fell to his knees, crying out in pain and shock. Then he toppled sideways.” The battle is described over nine pages.
  • After the battle, a man gives a casualty report. The Araluen’s lost two men and three others were injured. The rebels lost at least a dozen men and eight are wounded and cannot flee.
  • Along with the Scandians, the Araluens attack the rebel army. The Araluens use their lances to try to break up the enemy’s shield wall. “Some of the lances penetrated, forcing their way between the shields, hitting bodies, legs, and arms.” The battle is described over eight pages.
  • During the battle, one of the rebels “reared up in agony, clutching vainly at an arrow that had magically appeared between his shoulder blades.”
  • One of the leaders of the rebel army, Trask, steals his own soldier’s horse and tries to flee. But Maddie sees Trask and uses her sling as a weapon. Trask “felt a thundering impact on his helmet, right in the center of his forehead. . . Vaguely, he felt himself topple backward from the saddle and crash onto the soft grass. Then everything went black.”
  • The rebels set a door on fire, trying to chase Cassandra and her army to flee. One of Cassandra’s sergeants goes around the wall and a crossbowman “raised his weapon and shot. . . Then the crossbow bolt hit him and he reared back, falling dead at Cassandra’s feet.”
  • The book ends with a multi-chapter battle between the Araluens and the Red Fox Clan, where many people die. During the battle, one of Cassandra’s archers is stabbed and “with a startled cry of pain, the archer fell back on the steps, his spear clattering on the stonework as he dropped it.” Many men are killed in a similar manner.
  • During the attack, one of the rebels “felt a chill of fear clutch his heart as he realized he was seriously outmatched. . . In total panic, he turned to run, but Hal leaped forward and, reversing his sword, brought the heavy hilt down on the back of the man’s head, sending him sprawling unconscious on the boards of the walkway.”
  • Cassandra and the rebel leader, Dimon, fight. Cassandra injures him. “Blood dripped slowly from Dimon’s left arm, but not in sufficient quantities to weaken him.” At one point, Cassandra “twisted desperately to the right. The blade scored across her ribs, opening a long, shallow slash in her side. Blood welled out instantly, staining her jerkin.” Cassandra kills Dimon. The sword fight is described over five pages.

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • One of Cassandra’s sergeants was “nursing a mug of ale—a small mug, in view of their limited supply.”

Language

  • Damn is used three times. For example, Dimon says, “I should have thought of this damned tower, should have remembered how impregnable it can be.”
  • Maddie’s horse says, “By Blarney’s perpetual beard, when you sleep, you really sleep, don’t you?”
  • Maddie calls her horse a know-all and a blowhard.
  • Twice a Scandian uses “Orlog’s ears” as an exclamation.
  • The king calls the rebel’s leader scum.

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • Maddie’s horse makes a comment about Blarney, “a minor Hibernian deity. . .His beard grew constantly down to his feet, no matter how often he cut or shaved it.”

The Dark Matter of Mona Starr

Sometimes the world is too much for Mona Starr. She’s sweet, geeky, and creative, but it’s hard for her to make friends and connect with other people. So much so, that her depression seems to take on a vivid, concrete form. Mona Starr calls it her Matter.

The Matter seems to be everywhere, telling Mona she’s not good enough and that everyone around her wishes she’d go away. But with therapy, art, writing, and the persistence of a few good friends, Mona starts to understand her Matter and learns she can turn her fears into strengths.

Many readers will relate to Mona, who struggles with insecurity, indecision, and negative thoughts. Even though Mona tries to hide her dark thoughts, she realizes that she can rely on others for emotional support. As Mona tries to understand her depression, she has the help of a therapist, her parents, and her friends. While this takes away much of the shame associated with depression, the constantly shifting scenes make the story disjointed. Despite this, Mona’s personal journey allows teens to understand depression and how depression can impact people.

Throughout the graphic novel, Mona struggles with dark thoughts and wonders if “I’m doomed. . . and it’s all doomed. That I don’t matter. . . none of it matters.” Her emotions are expressed in both the text and the illustrations. For example, in one scene the picture shows her surrounded by speakers that blare comments such as, “You deserve to be alone. You’re lame. You’re a bad person.” Her dark thoughts take several different forms, such as a huge blanket, loudspeakers, and space. While the illustrations are beautiful and complex, the inconsistency may confuse some readers.

One negative aspect of the graphic novel is that some of the comments don’t connect with the story’s plot. For example, Mona tells her counselor, “I know I shouldn’t complain as a privileged white American” which may imply that Mona’s problems aren’t valid. Plus, there are several other comments that needed to be developed in more detail. For example, Mona thinks her depression caused a benign tumor to grow. However, this thought is never explained or discouraged.

The Dark Matter of Mona Starr will give readers insight into how to cope with depression. Not only does Mona go to therapy, but each chapter begins with advice that helps Mona deal with her dark thoughts. For example, “draw it out,” “turn emotion into action,” and “break your cycles.” Mona learns to lean on her friends and to be honest about her difficulties. She also learns that “I can’t erase the negative story in my head that says I’m crazy but maybe I can replace it with a story that is more accurate.”

The black-and-white illustrations are captivating because of their complexity. Instead of just relying on facial expressions, Mona’s emotions take on forms of their own. For example, at one point Mona is overwhelmed and the illustration shows her surrounded by a brick wall. In another image, Mona’s hope is highlighted by a yellow glow and when Mona’s parents support her, they have yellow hearts surrounding them.

Readers who would like to explore how other characters deal with anxiety should read Guts by Raina Telgemeier and Breath Like Water by Anna Jarzab. Page by Paige by Laura Lee Gulledge also deals with a teen’s overwhelming emotions and self-doubt, but it does a better job explaining these emotions better

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • Mona’s father talks about his sister who was “mentally unwell. She ended up taking her own life.”

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • Mona overhears her parents’ conversation. Her mother says, “Maybe she needs medication? My sister is on antidepressants and says it helps.”

Language

  • None

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • None

Charlie Thorne and the Curse of Cleopatra

After tracking down incredible discoveries by Einstein and Darwin, Charlie is back. This time, the great ruler Cleopatra has left behind an extremely valuable and powerful treasure, its location encoded on an ancient stone tablet.

In 30 BCE, Cleopatra and her husband, Marc Antony, lost their war against Octavian for control of the Egyptian Empire. However, Cleopatra knew Octavian was really after the mysterious item that was the source of all her wealth and influence, so she hid it before committing suicide. She left a series of devious clues behind for her children to find, but they were lost to history. . .until now.

In a breathless adventure that takes her across the globe, Charlie must fight for her life against ruthless enemies, match wits with Cleopatra, and solve the two-thousand-year-old mystery to prevent the most powerful treasure of the ancient world from falling into the wrong hands. 

Because the story revolves around finding Cleopatra’s hidden treasure, the story contains many historical facts about Cleopatra, Caesar, and other important people. The history lessons are not boring; the interesting facts help the reader understand the political issues surrounding Cleopatra and will help readers empathize with Cleopatra, who was misjudged because she was a woman.  

Charlie is an extremely likable character, who is intelligent, capable, and brave. In order to keep Cleopatra’s treasure out of the wrong hands, Charlie puts her trust in her half-brother and CIA agent, Dante, and his partner, Milana. Along the way, they must avoid both the CIA, the Israeli, and the Egyptian agents who are willing to kill to take control of Charlie. Despite being chased around the globe, Charlie is remarkably down to earth. At one point, when the Israelis capture her, she tells the agent, “If you were actually nice people, you wouldn’t have dragged me down into the bowels of the Colosseum to talk to me. You would have taken me out for gelato.” 

Charlie Thorne and the Curse of Cleopatra is best suited for older readers because of the violence, power-hungry villains, and deadly agents who are trying to capture Charlie. The action-packed story has a complicated plot, intense fight scenes, and life-or-death chases. The constant danger makes for an exciting book that readers will not want to put down. The mystery of Cleopatra adds an interesting dimension that will engage readers. Readers who are looking for another fast-paced mystery should check out the City Spies Series by James Ponti and the Secrets of the Seven Series by Sarah L. Thomson.  

Sexual Content 

  • None 

Violence 

  • Charlie sneaks into Ahmet’s office. When he appears, “Charlie tricked him into turning his back on her. Now she clamped the chloroform-soaked rag. . . over his nose and mouth. . . He tried to fight back. . . Charlie simply leapt onto his back as if he were giving her a piggyback ride, wrapping her arms around his head and keeping the rag pinioned directly over his face.” Ahmet collapses to the floor. 
  • While leaving Ahmet’s party, two bodyguards chase after Charlie. Before she can take off on a motorcycle, Charlie “headbutted another man who was trying to catch her.” She escapes the house but is followed. 
  • Hoping to lose her pursuer, Charlie drives into the desert and allows her motorcycle to fly over a sand dune. Then, Charlie sees “the stocky, muscular shape of his body. He was aiming a gun at her.” The man forces Charlie to surrender. The chase scene is described over two chapters. 
  • The men who captured Charlie encounter a roadblock. “And then the shooting started. The snipers were aiming at the tires of the van, and they were extremely accurate. All four tires were blown out within seconds.” Charlie is let go. 
  • The Egyptian secret service questions Charlie’s captor, Semel. When Semel doesn’t answer the questions, “someone clubbed him on the back of the head with the butt of a rifle. Not hard enough to knock him unconscious but close. He saw stars, felt blinding pain, and fell forward in the dirt.” 
  • While interrogating Semel, someone shoots the agent, who “yelped in pain, spun, and fell.” Multiple agents are shot in the leg, and Semel and his men escape.  
  • In order to get Charlie to comply with orders, one of her friends is captured by a man named Lembris. “Lembris stood behind Eva, pressing a crowbar against the front of her neck. Eva was crying.” Eventually, Milana fights Lembris and frees Eva. 
  • The following scenes are described over eleven pages. Ramses has his men surround Charlie, Milana, and Dante. In order to escape, Charlie “reached behind [Ramses’s] back and yanked on the electrical cord that dangled like a vine from the scaffolding above. The power drill attached to it tumbled off the scaffolding and landed squarely on Ramses’s head. . . The heavy drill hit Ramses hard, and he dropped like a stone.” 
  • Then, Milana goes after Ramses’s bodyguard. “She quickly disarmed him, then jabbed him with the sedative she had. . . it was just enough to incapacitate the big man.” 
  • When Ramses begins to get up, Dante “drove the Egyptian’s head down into the marble floor, knocking him out for good.” One of Ramses’s men, Baako, throws a crowbar at Dante. “Pain shot through him, but he could tell no bones were broken.” 
  • Baako and Dante continue to fight. Baako slammed into Dante, driving him backward into the scaffolding so hard that all four stories of it trembled. . .” Eventually the scaffolding falls onto Baako and he “lay unconscious beneath it all.”  
  • After finding one of Cleopatra’s clues, Charlie, Dante, and Milana are ambushed by their own agency, the CIA. Without warning “bullets came from all around. . . Dante sprang from where he’d been crouched and fired back, aiming at where the shots were coming from. There was a cry of pain in the darkness, and then at least one of the shooters stopped.” In order to escape, the group flees separately. 
  • As Charlie runs from the bullets, two cars begin following her. “The second car struck the first again, sending it into a low embankment, where it flipped and landed upside down. The second car was badly damaged as well. Its front axle snapped and it ground to a halt in the plaza in front of Charlie, blocking her escape.”  
  • When the driver of the car attempts to “escape through a shattered window. He was only halfway out when Semel clubbed him on the back of the head with the butt of his gun, knocking him cold. . .” 
  • The chase scene is described over 10 pages. Dante had “a burn across one bicep where a bullet had nicked him. Milana had a gash from a knife in her left arm. . .” 
  • In an epic multi-chapter conclusion, several CIA agents try to take down Dante and Milana, who they believe are rogue agents. Milana “disarmed the stunned CIA operative and threw her to the ground” and then ran into Central Park. Eventually, Milana is able to incapacitate all of the agents. 
  • A rich villain, Ahmet, tries to kill Charlie with cobra venom. “Charlie hated to use the elixir to defend herself, but she had no other choice. The remaining drops of liquid flew through the air, caught Ahmet in the face, and instantly began to react. His flesh smoked and sizzled.” Ahmet’s skin begins to burn. 
  • Despite being injured, Ahmet chases Charlie. “He stepped on the jagged glass of the syringe with his bare foot. It cut into his flesh, and he suddenly realized that, in addition to everything else, the very cobra venom he had brought with him to kill Charlie Throne was now in his system as well.” When Ahmet continues to chase Charlie, she hits him with a helmet made of medieval armor. Ahmet is too injured to continue after Charlie.  
  • Two villains, Israeli agents, Egyptian agents, and the CIA agents all try to capture Charlie, Dante, and Milana. During the chase, several people are injured. One villain lunges at Charlie, trying to poison her with cobra venom. “Charlie hit him with the mace. . . the heavy iron ball struck his forearm, snapping both bones. . . He cursed at Charlie and charged toward her, leaving her no choice but to defend herself. She leapt aside and swung the mace at him once more. . . the iron ball glanced off his head, sending him reeling.” The villain falls off a ledge and “onto the rocks below.”  

Drugs and Alcohol 

  • Instead of allowing Octavian to capture her, Cleopatra “drank her poison and imagined how horrified Octavian would be when he learned what she had done.” 
  • At a party full of adults, Charlie talks to a man who “had a glass of scotch in his hand and was slightly unsteady on his feet; this obviously wasn’t his first drink of the evening.” 
  • In order to find one of Cleopatra’s clues, Milana needs to get an archaeologist out of the way, so she drugs her.  
  • Milana uses sedation darts to incapacitate rival agents who are trying to kidnap Charlie.  
  • During dinner, Dante drinks wine. 

Language   

  • None 

Supernatural 

  • Cleopatra’s treasure is the philosopher’s stone which turns “base metals into gold.”  

Spiritual Content 

  • Some people considered Cleopatra “more than human. They thought her to be a goddess, the living incarnation of Isis.” 
  • Isis was “the most important goddess in Egyptian mythology, the goddess of life and magic, and the protector of women and children. Cleopatra sometimes claimed to be Isis in the flesh and a lot of Egyptians believed it.” 
  • During Cleopatra’s time, the Nile flooded almost every year. People believed “a good flood year meant the gods were smiling on the Egyptians.” 

Girl in the Blue Coat

Hanneke Bakker is struggling to find her place during World War II. Without her parent’s knowledge, Hanneke has been obtaining and selling black market goods. However, her life gets turned upside down when Mrs. Janssen, one of her usual customers, asks her to find Mirjam Roodveldt, a young Jewish girl that Janssen had been hiding in Mrs. Jansesen’s home.  

At first, Hanneke refuses to help find Mirjam. However, when she agrees to search for her, Hanneke quickly becomes exposed to the brutal realities of war. When Hanneke meets a group dedicated to hiding and rescuing Jewish citizens who are under threat from the Nazis, it causes Hanneke to question how beneficial her efforts have been. With blonde hair and light eyes, Hanneke identifies herself as the “Nazi’s poster child,” making her feel guilty about her negligence to the war.  Hanneke is eventually drawn further into the mystery of the missing girl and her search leads her to stunning revelations about the war and the people involved. 

Teens will relate to Hanneke because she falls deals with many of the same struggles that normal teens experience, such as young love and conflicts with parents. The story is told from Hanneke’s point of view in a very raw and honest way. Throughout the book, Hanneke must cope with the death of her boyfriend, Bas, as well as the loss of her normal life during wartime. She also deals with losing her best friend, Elsbeth, whose morals become questionable after marrying a Nazi soldier. The story teaches readers that grief is not a one-way street and that there are multiple coping mechanisms that help someone deal with loss.  

Since the story is written from Hanneke’s point of view, other characters are not well developed. While everyone is dealing with their own form of grief, describing the lives of other characters more in-depth would have made the novel more impactful. For example, Ollie copes with the loss of his brother who died in battle. When talking to Hanneke, Ollie reminisces on his brother’s life saying, “. . . I talk about him all the time. Him and his obnoxious jokes, his laugh, what he would have become.” Unfortunately, readers are given limited knowledge on Ollie’s personality and perspective. This leads readers to have a one-sided view of the conflicts in the story. 

Even though Hanneke is the protagonist, she is not always likable. However, she has several positive attributes including courage and determination. Her naivety comes out frequently, which makes her seem self-centered. For example, when Mrs. Janssen asks Hanneke to find Mirjam, Hanneke focuses on whether or not it would benefit herself. At times, she lacks conviction and she frequently questions her actions, which may frustrate readers. She asks people involved in the war resistance dumb questions too, then becomes angry with herself because she had previously shielded herself from the horrors of the war. 

Despite taking place in 1942, teens will be inspired by Hanneke and the positive messages she carries. Hanneke’s life would have been simpler had she not agreed to search for Mirjam; however, she knows it is what must be done for the sake of Mrs. Janssen, who is worrying herself sick over Mirjam’s disappearance. Despite making mistakes, Hanneke continues her journey. Ultimately, Hanneke’s compassion for Mrs. Janssen and for everyone who has lost people to the horrors of war is comes to drive her.  

While the characters are fictional, many of the events are historically accurate and the war within the Netherlands was extremely well-researched by the author. However, at times the plot felt like it went too slow, while other times it went too fast. Plus, the conclusion was rushed and confusing. Nonetheless, those who are interested in the history of WWII would find this an interesting read, especially those who wish to learn more about the German occupation of the Netherlands. For readers interested in learning more about the World War II resistance, Resistance by Jennifer A. Nielsen is a must-read. 

Sexual Content  

  • Hanneke and Ollie, the brother of Hanneke’s dead boyfriend, briefly kiss whilst pretending to be a couple in front of German soldiers. “Ollie cups my face in his hands and kisses me. His mouth is soft and full, his eyelashes brush against my cheek, and only he and I know that our lips are shivering in fear.” 
  • Hanneke occasionally flirts with German soldiers to avoid suspicion. “With the way I’m standing, my dress has risen above my knee, and the soldier notices . . . I shift my weight a little so the hemline rides even higher, now halfway up my goose-bumped thigh.” 
  • Hanneke frequently recalls previous romantic encounters she had with her boyfriend. In one instance, she recalls her first kiss with him. “When he kissed me, he dropped his bicycle and it clattered to the ground, and we both laughed.” 
  • Ollie confesses his love for Willem, saying, “Jews aren’t the only ones who suffer because of the Nazis. I don’t love Judith. I love Willem.” 

Violence  

  • At the beginning of the war in the Netherlands, “two thousand Dutch servicemen were killed when they tried but failed to protect our borders as the country fell” and “German planes bombed Rotterdam, killing nine hundred civilians.” 
  • Hanneke is shocked when Mrs. Janssen says, “I’ve heard of people imprisoned, taken away and never returned. But four people, including a woman and a child, shot dead in cold blood?” 
  • Mrs. Janssen recalls the death of her family at the hands of the Nazis. This took place at the Janssen family shop, where the Janssens were hiding their Jewish neighbors. Someone had tipped off the Nazis that these individuals were being hidden, leading to a massacre. “When the shooting was done, Hendrik was dead, and David, and Rose, and Lea. Only Mirjam managed to escape.” 
  • The Nazis capture and beat a man, causing “bleeding from the nose, his right eye split and swollen.” 
  • Hanneke talks about protests that have “left dead bodies in the streets.” 
  • A fight breaks out between two shop customers. Nazi soldiers come to disperse the fight. “A fight broke out in the shop, which led to the earliest major roundup and hundreds dead.” 
  • Hanneke talks about how resistance workers “could be shot” for their work. 
  • During a round up, a girl tries to escape, but she is shot and killed by a Nazi soldier. “They shoot her. In the middle of the bridge, in the back of the neck so that blood bursts from her throat, slick and shining in the moonlight.”  

Drugs and Alcohol  

  • Hanneke smuggles items through the black market, including “cigarettes and alcohol.” 

Language                                                                                                                                               

  • Profanity is used rarely. Profanity includes damn in both English and italicized Dutch. 
  • Mrs. Janssen goes to show Hanneke the cupboard where she hid Mirjam. When she sees it, Hanneke thinks, “Verdorie. Damn it, she’s crazier than I thought.” 

Supernatural  

  • None 

Spiritual Content  

  • Several of the characters are of Jewish faith, which is a big source of conflict within the story as it takes place during World War II.  
  • The Nazi soldiers sympathize with the Christian characters. A soldier says, “I feel bad punishing a good Christian woman who is too stupid to know where her husband was.” 

Afterward

Ethan was kidnapped four years ago. But when his captor, Marty, brings home a new eleven-year-old boy named Dylan, the police break down Marty’s apartment door shortly after. Now, Marty is dead, and both boys are able to reunite with their families. Ethan’s parents are overwhelmed with relief at having found their only child alive after all this time. While very glad to be home, Ethan himself struggles to readjust after having lost four years of his life to captivity and trauma.

Afterwards switches back and forth between the perspective of Ethan and Dylan’s older sister, Caroline, who feels like she is the only one in her family willing to acknowledge what happened to her brother. Caroline observes, “It’s like my mom wants to act like everything is going to be okay if she just says it over and over enough.” To complicate matters, Dylan is nonverbal autistic, and since the family can’t afford therapy, they can’t understand his trauma. While her parents are attempting to sweep the whole incident under the rug, Caroline knows her brother is suffering and still needs to heal.

After several months, when the media’s cameras have faded away and the rest of the world has moved on, Caroline decides that there is only one person who can give her the information she needs to help Dylan—and herself—deal with the kidnapping. Slowly, a powerful friendship begins to form between the two teenagers who are suffering because of the pain inflicted by the same man.

Since each chapter of Afterward alternates between both Ethan’s and Caroline’s perspectives the reader is able to better understand their interactions with each other.  Readers will sympathize with Ethan as he describes the difficulty of returning to a normal life. He thinks, “I think I probably can’t be fixed at all.” The reader feels the heartache of his struggle and can easily root for him to overcome his trauma. Caroline is a bit more difficult to like. She is rather reckless, and at one point reignites Ethan’s trauma in an act of selfishness. However, Caroline’s more nurturing and considerate side is showcased in her relationship with her brother.

Ethan’s therapist, Dr. Greenberg is a lovely addition to the story as he is professional but personable and he’s the light that guides Ethan along the road to recovery. However, Dylan gets a bit lost in the narrative. Because he disconnects from the world, readers will find it difficult to connect with him. The story becomes more about Ethan and Caroline’s friendship than helping Dylan through the trauma he suffered. The closest the story gets to suggesting Dylan gets the help he needs is Caroline telling her mother that he needs therapy, and the reader can only hope they will find a way to afford it.

Afterward ends with some uncertainty about where the characters will go next. Nonetheless, Afterward is a difficult but heartfelt read that shows that recovering from trauma is possible. The story doesn’t shy away from difficult topics, but it does handle them in a way that is respectful and manageable for a teen reader. Afterward would be a good read for older teens who are looking for a serious and mature story. Readers who want to explore another book that revolves around a kidnapping should read Pretend She’s Here by Luanne Rice.

Sexual Content

  • Caroline and Jason work together. Caroline describes kissing and “messing around” with Jason during breaks and after work. During one of their encounters, she describes him as delivering “these tiny, goosebump-inducing kisses and nibbles all over [my neck] that make my hair follicles go electric.” Then he pulls her to the ground and it is strongly implied that they have sex.
  • During work, Jason texts Caroline suggesting they hide behind one of the hay bales and “get nekkid.”
  • While musing over her blossoming friendship with Ethan, Caroline reveals that she has never been able to be just friends with a guy. Before Jason, Caroline “messed around” with three other boys.
  • Before he was kidnapped, Ethan was heading to his friend’s house. He was wondering if he could stay overnight and he became excited at the prospect of using Jesse’s binoculars to spy on his babysitter. He hopes that she’ll “take off her shirt and everything.”
  • While at a party, Caroline describes seeing two people “groping each other like two eighth graders under the bleachers.”
  • While intoxicated, Caroline takes off her shirt and tells Ethan to kiss her. He does; Ethan describes “getting hard” as they grope each other. He says, “her tongue is in my mouth, and she’s putting her hands on my shoulders and back.”
  • Kissing Caroline triggers memories of Ethan’s sexual trauma from his captivity. He remembers, “Hands on me. Rough hands. Big hands. Not stopping. Not when I pleaded for them to stop and then gave up when the pleading only made it worse.”
  • Dylan was likely sexually abused during his captivity, but it is not described. Caroline is disturbed when imagining “Dylan being touched or hurt.”
  • Ethan talks to his therapist about his abduction. Ethan says, “‘When I was with him, sometimes my body responded then, too. Even though I hated what was happening.’” He questions whether this means some part of him wanted the sexual acts.
  • When Caroline’s mother tells her that her father is having an affair, she says, “Your father is having sex with someone else.”

Violence

  • In an article detailing the boys’ reappearance, Ethan and Dylan’s captor, Marty, is described as dying of “a self-inflicted gunshot when authorities attempted to arrest him at his workplace.”
  • Ethan and Dr. Greenberg talk about the protesting of nukes in the eighties. Ethan thinks to himself, “People don’t talk about countries firing nuclear weapons much anymore. It’s just terrorists blowing shit up or people shooting up schools that freaks everybody out.”
  • Both Ethan’s and Dylan’s roadside kidnappings get described in detail and each description is about two pages in length. Both boys are held at gunpoint. Ethan recalls his captor telling “me to get down. Get on the floor, this is a gun on your neck.” Ethan describes, “The [gun’s] metal feels heavy on me. Heavier than the guy’s hand.” The weapon is never fired, and no physical injuries are noted.

Drugs and Alcohol

  • Ethan takes prescribed medications to ease his anxiety and help him sleep. At one point, he reveals he is taking four different prescriptions.
  • When they are together, Caroline and Jason often smoke weed and drink heavily spiked sodas. Caroline muses that Jason “only gets sweet and gentle when he’s high.”
  • Ethan recalls smoking weed at fifteen and possibly even younger.
  • While at a friend’s house, Caroline drinks Shiners from the fridge.
  • While her father is in the kitchen, Caroline takes a beer from the refrigerator “just to see if he’ll notice,” which he does not. She drinks half of it in her room and pours the rest out.
  • Caroline offer’s Ethan a swig of heavily spiked Diet Coke. This leads to the sexual encounter mentioned above.
  • Occasionally, adults are described as drinking beer.

Language

  • Dylan often repeats the phrase, “Damn, piece of cake.”
  • Occasionally, Ethan or Caroline will use the words hell, ass and fuck.
  • Shit and bullshit are said multiple times.

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual

  • After Dylan’s return, Caroline prays to God, though she is uncertain if she believes in him. She thanks God for bringing her brother home.
  • Near the end of the story, she again thanks God, even though she is pretty sure she doesn’t believe in him.
  • Ethan and Dr. Greenberg discuss why people do and don’t believe in God. Dr. Greenberg mentions that he is Jewish, but doesn’t elaborate on his beliefs. They briefly discuss atheism and Unitarian Universalism, a religion that lacks a set of beliefs and “supports the idea of everyone being on their own faith journey.”
  • Ethan thinks back to the idea he had of God before his abduction and how he began to resent God for not answering his prayers for help in captivity.
  • During one of his sessions with Ethan, Dr. Greenberg refers to the novel, Cat’s Cradle. He explains the story’s fictitious religion that involves a belief that people are cosmetically linked in ‘karasses,’ or teams, to do a section of God’s will. Ethan thinks of being connected to Caroline and Dylan in this sense and wonders why fate would link them in such a terrible way.

by Erin Cosgrove

The Midwife’s Apprentice

A girl known only as Beetle has no family, no home, and no future until she meets Jane the Midwife and becomes her apprentice. As she helps short-tempered Jane deliver babies, Beetle—who renames herself Alyce—gains knowledge, confidence, and the courage to want something in life for the first time. 

At first, Alyce thinks she is unimportant and unworthy of kindness. The midwife often reminds Alyce that she is a nimwit, a lackwit, and has no brains. At first, Alyce believes the midwife’s assessment of her and silently takes the midwife’s abuse. Slowly, with the help of fate, Alyce begins to realize that she is worthy and deserves a real name. However, Alyce’s growing confidence is often overcome by fear. And when Alyce faces failure, she runs away from the midwife and leaves the village. While she is gone, she learns to value herself and to ask herself what she really wants.  

As the title implies, the story revolves around a midwife who often delivers babies. While none of the births are described in detail, there are some long descriptions of the herbs and potions that are used during birth. In addition, the story discusses some of the medieval superstitions revolving around birth. Because Alyce is the midwife’s apprentice, she accompanies the midwife and learns many skills through observation. Due to this, there is little action (after all, babies take time and patience to deliver.) 

While Alyce isn’t necessarily a relatable character, readers will still sympathize with her plight and understand her fear of failure. Originally, Alyce allows her fear and uncertainty to paralyze her, but she eventually learns that failure is part of life and she must “try and risk and fail and try again and not give up.” Even though Alyce is frightened, she is brave when a boy almost drowns and she saves him, and when a woman is struggling to birth her child, Alyce uses her knowledge to safely bring the child into the world. These events help Alyce learn that “everyone is somebody” and everyone deserves to be treated with kindness. It is Alyce’s compassion for those in need that make her a truly remarkable character.  

The Midwife’s Apprentice received the Newberry Medalist award. It has universal appeal because Alyce wants what every human wants—to be loved. Through Alyce’s experiences, readers will step back into medieval times and learn about their superstitions, customs, and the importance of midwives. The rich period language, advanced vocabulary, and slow pace make The Midwife’s Apprentice best for strong readers who are interested in the topic. Readers who stick with the story will fall in love with Alyce and her cat, and the story’s conclusion will leave readers with a warm glow and encourage them to never give up.  

Sexual Content 

  • Alyce spies on the midwife and sees her kissing the baker, “and him with a wife and thirteen children in their cottage behind the ovens.”  
  • While looking at a comb, the merchant says, “Comb those long curls till they shine, girl, and sure you’ll have a lover before nightfall.”  
  • Some of the village boys have “too much ale and too few wits.” When they see Alyce, a boy says, “Dung Beetle, give me a kiss.” Alyce runs away. 
  • The priest opens the door to a barn and sees “the smith’s lardy daughter, and the pockmarked pig boy from the manor. The boy gathered his breeches and flung himself out the barn window.” Their behavior was blamed on the Devil. 
  • While looking for a friend, a man looked at Alyce and said, “Forget this Edward, curly top. . . Climb up here on this hay bale and give me a warm, sticky kiss.” Alyce tells the man, “Save your sticky kisses for your wife or your cow.” 

Violence 

  • The boys in the village are mean to Alyce and her cat. “The taunting, pinching village boys bedeviled the cat as they did her, but he, quicker and smarter than they, always escaped. She did not, and suffered their pinching and poking and spitting in silence. . .” 
  • Two of the village boys throw rocks at Alyce, “which made the villagers laugh.” 
  • One day the village boys capture the cat. A boy put the cat in a sack with an eel. “And the sack with eel and cat was tossed into the pond.” Alyce saves the cat. 
  • A boy drags Alyce to a pregnant woman’s house to help deliver a baby. When Alyce doesn’t know what to do, the woman yells, “‘ ‘By the bones of Saint Cuthbert, they have sent me a nimwit! You lackwit! No brains!’ Screeching still, the miller’s wife let go of Beetle’s arm and began to throw at the girl whatever she could reach from her bed—a jug of warm ale, half a loaf of bread, a sausage, the brimming chamber pot.” The midwife shows up and sends Alyce away. 
  • For fun, a mean boy would sit on Alyce, “so Jack and Wat could rub chicken manure in her hair.” The miller was also mean to Alyce. He “pinched her rump when she brought grain to the mill.” 
  • When the village boys begin teasing Alyce’s cat, “she took a handful of nuts, the biggest and hardest and heaviest in her basket, and heaved them at the boys.” Then she yells, “Touch that cat again and I will unstop this bottle of rat’s blood and viper’s flesh and summon the Devil, who will change you into women, and henceforth each of you will giggle like a woman and wear dresses like a woman and give birth like a woman!” The boys leave the cat alone. 
  • A pregnant woman sends someone to get Alyce, instead of the midwife. The midwife is furious and “she began to throw cooking pots.” Alyce quickly leaves the room.  

Drugs and Alcohol 

  • The midwife uses herbs and other plants such as “columbine seeds to speed the birth, cobwebs for stanching blood. . . jasper stone as a charm against misfortune, and mistletoe and elder leaves against witches.” 
  • Throughout the story, both children and adults drink ale. The adults also drink wine. 

Language   

  • After Alyce pulls the cat out of a pond, she says, “Damn you, cat, breathe and live, you flea-bitten sod, or I’ll kill you myself.” 
  • The midwife insults Alyce and calls her derogatory names such as a “clodpole,” “brainless bratt,” “good-for-nothing,” “shallow-brained wiffler,” etc. Other villagers call Alyce names as well. 
  • While delivering a baby, the midwife tells the woman, “Push, you cow. If an animal can do it, you can do it.” 
  • Alyce saves a boy from drowning in the river. When he calls Alyce brave, she says, “I near pissed myself. I did it for else you’d have drowned and gone to Hell, a drunken loudmouth bully like you, and I would have helped send you there. . .” 
  • The saints’ names, such as “corpus bones,” are used as exclamations, but rarely. For example, a pregnant woman says, “Let me die. By the bones of Saint Mildred, let me die.”  

Supernatural 

  • The midwife requested “a murder’s wash water” to help in delivering babies.  
  • People are superstitious and think there are witches and devils in town because a two-headed cow was born and a “magpie landed on the miller’s barn and would not be chased away.” Then they see strange footprints and the villagers are “convinced the Devil had found their village and was looking for souls to lead into sin.” For a while, when people were found sinning, the villagers thought the Devil tempted them. 
  • People believed that “newborn infants are readily seized by fairies unless salt is put in their mouths and their cradles, that a baby born in the morning will never see ghosts, and that a son born after the death of his father will be able to cure fevers.” 
  • The villagers believed that twin cows were “a joy and a boon while twin babies were ill-starred and unlucky.” 

Spiritual Content 

  • When the hay had been cut and was drying, “the village [was] praying for rain to hold off until the grain was safely cut and stored away.” 
  • When the midwife injures herself, “her furious oaths made Beetle truly fear she was a witch, for only someone who had truck with the devil could know such words.” 
  • Alyce helps birth a cow. During the labor, a boy tells her, “Rub her head and belly. If we can but calm her, God will tell her and the calf what to do.” 
  • An innkeeper cheats her customers. She tells Alyce, “Thundering toads. . . I am sure God does not begrudge me my little economies.”  
  • A peasant “cursed God for making him a peasant and not a lord.”
  • While delivering a baby, Alyce “called on all those saints known to watch out over mothers—Saint Margaret and Saint Giles and Saint Felicitas, and even Saint Loy who protects horses, and Saint Antony, who does the same for the pigs, for she believed it would do no harm.” After the baby is safely born, “the man and the servants, still on their knees before her, prayed and thanked her for the cure of their mistress.” 

Miss Mary Reporting: The True Story of Sportswriter Mary Garber 

“Press Box: Women and children not admitted.” So read the press pass that Mary Garber had to wear as a reporter at sporting events. It was embarrassing, even insulting, but in the 1940s, sports—and sports reporting—was a man’s world.

Mary didn’t let that stop her. She never let anything stop her really. As a kid, she played quarterback for her local football team. Later, as a reporter, she dug in her heels and built up her own sports beat. For close to fifty years, Mary shined the spotlight on local heroes whose efforts might otherwise have gone unnoticed. “‘That’s Miss Mary Garber,’ one boy said at a soapbox derby. ‘And she doesn’t care who you are, or where you’re from, or what you are. If you do something, she’s going to write about you.’”

This is the story of a woman who pursued her dream and changed the world.

If you’re looking for an inspirational story that will encourage young readers to follow their dreams, then Miss Mary Reporting is the book for you. While the story focuses on the hard work and dedication that made Miss Mary an excellent reporter, the story also shows how others helped Miss Mary along the way. In addition, the book briefly mentions the segregated Negro leagues as well as Jackie Robinson and the discrimination he faced.

While Miss Mary’s story is inspirational, younger readers may have a difficult time sitting through a reading of the book because of the text-heavy pages. Each page has four to seven complex sentences and the text includes difficult vocabulary. The full-page illustrations use muted tones that reflect the serious topic of discrimination. The illustrations will give readers a peek into the past because it shows the clothing, hairstyles, and other aspects of the time period. Readers who want to learn more will find an author’s note, a timeline, and a list of more resources at the end of the book.

Miss Mary’s biography will inspire readers and show how one woman impacted the world of sports. However, the heavy topic makes the picture book more suited to older readers. While Miss Mary’s story is interesting, it’s not necessarily entertaining; the book is best read by those who have an interest in sports and journalism. Readers who would like to learn more about women in sports should also read Catching the Moon: The Story of a Young Girl’s Baseball Dream by Crystal Hubbard and She Persisted in Sports by Chelsea Clinton.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • None

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • None

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • None

Amelia Earhart

When Amelia was young, she liked to imagine she could stretch her wings and fly away like a bird. As a grown woman, she set a new female world record for flying up to 14,000 feet. She also flew across the Atlantic and the Pacific oceans, and eventually undertook the most dangerous mission of all: to fly all the way around the world.

As part of the Little People, Big Dreams Series, Amelia Earhart retells the story of Amelia Earhart in a picture book format. Each two-page spread has one to two simple sentences that are easy to read. Another positive aspect of Amelia Earhart is the brightly colored illustrations. The simple illustrations are whimsical and beautiful. For example, one page features the ocean where a huge whale swims; Amelia flies over the whale, making her plane look tiny in comparison.

Because the picture book is intended for young readers, Amelia’s life is not explored in detail. However, the biography explains enough of Amelia’s accomplishments to show Amelia didn’t allow obstacles to stand in the way of her dreams. The back of the book also has a short timeline of Amelia’s life and includes four historical photos. There is also a list of other books about Amelia Earhart as well as a list of other books in the Little People, Big Dreams Series.

 Amelia Earhart’s story highlights her amazing accomplishments in a kid friendly format that won’t overwhelm young readers. Beginning readers will enjoy learning about Amelia’s bravery as she flew “thousands of miles, over oceans and jungles and over the savanna, where giraffes turned their heads.” By reading Amelia’s story, readers will learn that dreams do come true. Readers who are interested in flight should also read the picture book Wood, Wire, Wings: Emma Lilian Todd Invents an Airplane by Kirsten W. Lawson.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • Although the book doesn’t explain Amelia Earhart’s plane crash, it does say that “she flew on like a bird, farther than anyone had gone before. . . never to return.”

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • None

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • None

Becoming Muhammad Ali

Before he became the legend, Muhammad Ali, young Cassius Clay learned history and card tricks from his grandfather, hid report cards from his parents, and biked around Louisville with his pals. But when his bike is stolen, Cassius decides there’s something else he wants: to be able to fend off bullies by becoming a boxer.

Cassius has a best friend, Lucky, who sticks by him whether his fists are raised in victory or his back is against the ropes. Before long, Lucky is cheering Cassius on in his first amateur fight. With the support of all his friends and family, will Cassius make it to the top?

Becoming Muhammad Ali focuses on Cassius’ younger years and highlights the importance of his family and his community. Cassius’ story is told from both his point of view and his best friend’s point of view. When Cassius is telling his own story, the words appear in poetry format. This narrows the story and allows Cassius’ swagger to shine. When the story shifts to Lucky’s point of view, the text appears in paragraph structure that uses a conversational tone. Lucky’s perspective allows the reader to see Cassius’ intense training schedule and shines a light on Cassius’ fear. The joint perspectives give a well-rounded picture of Cassius’ bold personality and personal struggles.

Because the story begins in the late 1950s, Cassius’ story isn’t just about boxing. The biographical novel delves into the racism prevalent during this time period. Each example of racism is described in a kid-friendly manner that allows the reader to picture the events. The descriptions all focus on events that affected Cassius. He explains the events in a way that shows the unfairness of the situation without sounding bitter or preachy. However, some readers will not understand the correlation between racism and Cassius’ desire to change his name to Muhammad Ali and “use his time to focus on black pride and racial justice.”

Becoming Muhammad Ali is an entertaining and engaging biographical novel that will inspire readers to fight for their dreams. Through Cassius’ actions, readers will see the hard work and dedication that allowed Cassius to become one of the best boxers in history. However, Cassius’ story isn’t just a boxing story, it’s a story about family and friends. Cassius’ story doesn’t gloss over some of the unfairness in life. Instead, Cassius shows how he overcame obstacles and, in the end, realized that there are some things that are more important than boxing.

When a reporter asked what Cassius wanted to be remembered for, he said, “I’d like for them to say, he took a few cups of love, he took one tablespoon of patience, one teaspoon of generosity, one pint of kindness. He took one quart of laughter, one pinch of concern, and then he mixed willingness with happiness, he added lots of faith, and he stirred it up well. Then he spread it over a span of a lifetime, and he served it to each and every deserving person he met.”

Cassius’ story comes to life in easy-to-read prose and includes full page, black and white illustrations that are scattered throughout. Becoming Muhammad Ali is a must-read because it highlights how hard work and dedication allowed Cassius to achieve his dreams. Readers who want to read another inspirational sports book should check out The Crossover by Kwame Alexander, which has also been made into a graphic novel.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • Since Cassius watched boxing matches and later fought in them, there are some descriptions of the matches. For example, Cassius describes a fight when Frank Turley “broke a guy’s nose with a left jab, then smiled when the joker went tumbling outta the ring, blood spurting everywhichaway.”
  • Cassius and his friends were walking along the street when a “car filled with men. White men” drove by. One of the men “flashed a knife—a switch blade. [Lucky] saw the guy with the knife say something to the driver. The car engine stopped. Then all four car doors opened at once.” Cassius and his friends ran away from the men and were safe.
  • Cassius tells a story about “how Tom the Slave escaped freedom by hiding in a casket on a ship of dead bodies on its way to London, England, and how when he got there he became a famous bare-knuckle boxer. . . the Brits rushed the ring in the ninth round, clobbered Tom, and broke six of his fingers.”
  • A kid from the neighborhood, Corky, bullied Cassius and his friends. Corky “stepped on my sneaks, and bumped Lucky with just enough force to make him lose his balance, and knocked Rudy backwards like a domino into a couple. . .” then Corky wandered off.
  • During a match, Cassius landed “a series of short pops to his head, one right below his left ear that makes him stumble into the ropes. . .” Cassius wins the match.
  • Cassius’ father showed him “a gruesome magazine photograph of a twelve-year-old faceless boy who was visiting family. . . when he was shot in the head, drowned in the river, and killed for maybe whistling at a white woman.”

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • Darn is used once.

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • Cassius’ mom didn’t like him betting “on account of God not liking ugly, and all gambling is ugly.”
  • When Cassius says that the Bible didn’t get him and his brother into the whites’ park, his mother says, “Boy, don’t you dare blaspheme the Good book.”
  • During one match, Cassius “recited the Lord’s prayer.”
  • Cassius’ mother prays, “we gather together to send this boy out into the world, and ask that you hold his dreams tight, let them rocket to the stars and beyond.”
  • Cassius “joined the Nation of Islam—a movement that was founded to give black people a new sense of pride. A week later, he changed his name to Muhammad Ali.”

 

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

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