President George Washington

When George Washington was young, his mother would not let him go to sea. But later, George became a hero when he led the Continental Army in battle and helped America win its freedom from England. He was elected the first president of the new nation and tried his best to keep the country at peace. George Washington was one of the greatest men of his time. 

President George Washington covers George’s life, starting when he was nine years old and living in Virginia. The story explains how he became chief of the Continental Army in the Revolutionary War and the first president of the United States. The story ends with his death. While the book does not go into great detail, readers will learn interesting facts about George Washington and see how he became one of America’s heroes.

The book uses large text, short chapters, and simple vocabulary to make it accessible to readers in first and second grade. Each page has two to seven simple sentences and a large illustration. The earth-toned pictures bring George’s world to life. While the war scenes are not graphic, the scenes of soldiers fighting Native Americans may upset some readers. The back of the book includes important dates and suggested reading.

Adler gives readers a brief look into George Washington’s life and will help readers understand why George Washington was considered “first in war, first in peace, and the first in the hearts of his fellow citizens.” Beginning readers who want to learn more about colonial days will find President George Washington educational and engaging.

Sexual Content 

  • None

Violence 

  • During the French and Indian War, George Washington said, “I have heard the bullets whistle, there is something charming in the sound.”
  • The story has several pages that show George Washington and his army fighting Native Americans in the French and Indian War. In addition, the illustration for the Boston Tea Party shows people dressed up as Native Americans with feathers in their hair.

Drugs and Alcohol 

  • None

Language   

  • None

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content 

  • None

Code Breaker, Spy Hunter:  How Elizebeth Friedman Changed the Course of Two World Wars

In 1943, the CIA intercepted messages from Mexico and South America that were believed to be disguised war information. A team of ciphers was able to decode these messages and they discovered that a secret Nazi spy ring was sending the messages. These decoded messages were the evidence needed to arrest thirty-three German spies in what is now known as “the greatest spy roundup in history.” This team of ciphers was led by Elizebeth Smith Friedman, a renowned cryptanalyst. Elizebeth’s work as a spy and her incredible accomplishments were kept secret, until recently. 

Adapted from Friedman’s personal memoirs, Code Breaker, Spy Hunter utilizes watercolor illustrations and simple vocabulary to recount the amazing story of a previously unacknowledged figure. The story is told in a linear narrative detailing the most significant moments of Friedman’s career as well as some lesser-known fun facts from her personal life. For example, during dinner parties she hosted with her husband, a fellow cipher, they challenged their guests with the coded address of the restaurant.  

The book retells Friedman’s story in a way that is easy for younger readers to navigate while not compromising or minimizing important details to Friedman’s story. Although the book features small font and some particularly text-heavy pages, its colorful, minimalist illustrations help readers maintain a consistent understanding of the story. It is important to note that the book assumes that readers already have a basic understanding of both World Wars. If there are young readers who are not yet familiar with these historical periods, parental guidance will be needed. 

In Code Breaker, Spy Hunter, readers will receive an insightful and important education on an overlooked historical figure. Elizebeth’s story of small beginnings teaches that hard work and positive relationships are the keys to success.  

Sexual Content 

  • None 

Violence 

  • None 

Drugs and Alcohol 

  • None 

Language 

  • None 

Supernatural 

  • None 

Spiritual Content 

  • None 

Code Name Badass: The True Story of Virginia Hall

When James Bond was still in diapers, Virginia Hall was behind enemy lines, playing a dangerous game of cat and mouse with Hitler’s henchmen. Did she have second thoughts after a terrible accident left her needing a wooden leg? Please. Virginia Hall was the baddest broad in any room she walked into. When the State Department proved to be a sexist boys’ club that wouldn’t let her in, she gave the finger to society’s expectations of women and became a spy for the British. This boss lady helped arm and train the French Resistance and organized sabotage missions. There was just one problem: the Butcher of Lyon, a notorious Gestapo commander, was after her. But, hey—Virginia’s classmates didn’t call her the Fighting Blade for nothing.

So how does a girl who was a pirate in the school play, spent her childhood summers milking goats, and rocked it on the hockey field end up becoming the Gestapo’s most wanted spy? Audacious, irreverent, and fiercely feminist, Code Name Badass is for anyone who doesn’t take no for an answer. 

Code Name Badass chronicles Virginia Hall’s fight against societal norms and the Nazis. Hall’s experience highlights the amazing power of perseverance, bravery, and never taking no for an answer. As part of the French Resistance movement, Hall faced constant danger. However, she never stopped fighting.  

With historical photos and excerpts from historical documents, Code Name Badass brings the women who helped win World War II to light. A list of other exceptional women spies appears at the back of the book along with a long list of resources that Demetrios utilized. While Hall’s story is motivating, Demetrios’ tone and constant reminders of sexism become a little off-putting. For example, Demetrios writes, “Dindy (Hall’s nickname) had a lot of luck. Buckets of it. She had a lot of bad luck, too, but, with one major exception, that bad luck stemmed only from the fact that she had a vagina.” 

Readers who love history, especially World War II history, will find Code Name Badass full of little-known facts. While Hall’s story is interesting, it is not for the weak of heart. The brutality of the Germans is repeatedly described, and many of Hall’s contacts lost their lives because of the Germans’ cruelty. Because of the book’s difficult vocabulary and detailed descriptions, Code Name Badass is not the book for readers looking for a light, entertaining historical fiction book. However, anyone interested in spycraft, World War II, or the women who have impacted our world will find Code Name Badass informative and interesting.  

Sexual Content 

  • While discussing Dindy’s “badassery,” Demetrios writes: “Never take no for an answer. (Unless someone says they don’t want to have sex with you, kiss you, be touched by you, etc. Then no means no.)” 
  • During wartime, women were sexually assaulted and raped as “a key strategy” to breaking down “civilians and combatants alike.”  
  • During the French occupation, Germans visited brothels. 
  • One double agent was known to keep mistresses. 
  • One female agent “got knocked up in the field” by another agent. 
  • Another female agent “drove one agent so batty with love that he literally threw himself into the Danube, intending suicide.” The agent was known to cheat on her husband with “sexy spy guys.” 

Violence 

  • During a hunting expedition, Dindy accidentally shot herself. “The shell ripped into her left foot, tearing past the skin and driving through cartilage and bone. Virginia collapsed, staring down at what had once been called a foot.” Dindy’s foot is amputated. 
  • During the Battle of France, “Bullets started flying, bombs began to drop, and shit got real. . .” Dindy helped by becoming an ambulance driver, who “saw men dying around her every day in the most horrible of ways, the soil once again being soaked with French blood.”  
  • During the battle, roads were bombed, “caring little that the dusty streets and highways and country lanes were filled with refugees who were desperate to get away from the fighting.” 
  • During World War II, “the French government would cut off your head if you had an abortion.” 
  • During the war, William Simpson was “shot down” and sustained “terrible burns and los[t] both hands.”  
  • Resistance fighters “killed a Gestapo agent, then dumped the body on the steps of [the Germans’] headquarters with a note: ‘With the compliments of British Intelligence.’”  
  • Dindy has dinner with Olivier, another spy. The restaurant’s “door crashes open, and a dozen gendarmes swam in, guns, batons, or haughty chins raised. Screams fill the café, and glass shatters as tables are overturned and precious rationed food and drink fall to the floor. . .” With help, both spies escape.
  • The Gestapo was cruel to prisoners: “Dogs let loose on prisoners, fingernails pried off, prisoners tied up with spiked handcuffs. . . Agents and Resistance fighters were often tortured for information.”  
  • Dindy’s supervisors told Dindy that a “dangerous man” had infiltrated her group. The supervisor told Dindy “she was fully authorized to have him disposed of as neatly as possible.” 
  • Two men put their family on a ship heading to England. “Their parents, wives, and Alfred’s three children all drowned when their ship . . . was torpedoed by the Germans.”  
  • The book mentions people who were killed by the Germans. Most accounts are not graphic. For example, according to Dindy, “the Germans had gotten all ancient Rome on the Resistance, skewering their bodies on iron posts as a warning to all.” 
  • Several agents were “brutally murdered in the Dachau concentration camp. . . all three were shot in the back of the head, then their bodies shoved into the camp’s crematoriums.”   
  • One man refused to do the Germans’ biddings. The man “tried to cut his throat rather than bend his will.”   
  • If Dindy and her crew saw Germans lurking around, they would kill the Germans. “One story has it that Dindy’s boys would drop German bodies in the Lignon River after they’d done away with them.” 
  • One spy was captured and “he was beaten, tortured, and then shipped off to Buchenwald, where he suffocated and died in a cattle car stuffed with more than 150 prisoners.” Another captured spy “had her front teeth knocked out and her arm broken.” 
  • Gestapo agent Klaus Barbie was brutal. “His accusers testified about Barbie raping female inmates in the presence of not only other guards, but also of the Resistance members waiting in the hallway to get tortured . . . Barbie encouraged German shepherds to chase naked women around their cells; each time the women were viciously bitten, Barbie would laugh maniacally. He beat children.” 
  • Spy Odette Sanson “underwent fourteen Gestapo interrogations. . . was held captive by the Germans for two years. . . they branded her back with a hot iron and pulled out all her toenails.” 

Drugs and Alcohol 

  • Occasionally, the book mentions adults drinking alcohol. For example, during prohibition, Dindy traveled to Europe where she could “enjoy oodles of wine.” 
  • After accidentally shooting herself, Dindy was given morphine in the hospital. 
  • Spies were given cyanide pills to use “on themselves or others.”  
  • To help agents’ stamina, they were issued amphetamines. “For Dindy, popping those bitter-tasting blue Benzedrine pills was sometimes the only way she could juggle the revolving door of agents, Resistance workers. . . who knocked on her door, day and night.” 
  • Dindy loved to drink “gin and Italians, a mix of gin and vermouth.”

Language   

  • Profanity is used often. Profanity includes ass, bastard, bitch, dumbass, damn, dicked, pussy, fuck, hell, and shit. 
  • When Dindy was nineteen, she “became engaged to a complete douchebag.”  
  • Gaulle was a “total dick when it came to how he treated the foreign agents.”  
  • Klaus Barbie, an evil Gestapo agent, “was a real motherfucker.” 

Supernatural 

  • After accidentally shooting herself, Dindy “insisted until her dying day that on ‘several occasions’ her deceased father, Edwin Hall, came to visit.” 

Spiritual Content 

  • None 

Victor Dowd and the World War II Ghost Army

It’s a true story of deception: Meet the top-secret Ghost Army, a group of artists and sound engineers trained to fake out the Germans in World War II with inflatable rubber tanks and loudspeakers broadcasting the sound of marching troops. And meet real-life Sergeant Victor Dowd, who served in the fight for Normandy, through France, and across the Rhine.

It’s a mystery to solve:There are clues embedded in the story’s text and illustrations, and Spycraft materials come in an envelope at the beginning of the book. Now put on your spy thinking cap and find out what happened to Victor Dowd’s missing sketchbook. 

Unfortunately, Victor’s story lacks action and suspense. Since there is no dialogue, Victor and the other Ghost Army members are not developed, making them easily forgettable. Even though Victor is the narrator, readers will have a hard time connecting to him because he does not have a distinct voice. Plus, the action is discussed in the past tense, which eliminates the suspense. While there are many interesting facts about the Ghost Army, readers may have difficulty staying engaged in the book because of the bland storytelling. 

Despite the book’s flaws, the format is visually appealing. Every page has a graphic element, including pictures that are drawn in black, white, and red. Plus, most of the pages have a quote set apart from the other text. These quotes are printed in large fonts and help break up the text. The graphic elements are essential because hidden in the pictures and text are clues and codes. Readers will use a cipher wheel, a Morse code, and other methods to decipher Victor’s letters. 

Readers will enjoy using the spy tools and finding clues throughout the story. However, the lack of direction makes this task difficult. In addition, many of the clues are given by putting a red film over the pictures; while the clues are fun to look at, no code-breaking is involved. Since many of the clues are difficult to understand, adults may want to read the answer key that appears at the end of the book so they can assist young readers in finding and understanding the clues.  

Readers who are excited to try and uncover secret messages will enjoy testing their spycraft skills while reading Victor Dowd and the World War II Ghost Army. However, the lackluster story will only appeal to readers who are fans of history. If you’d like to learn more about the history of spying, sneak into the library and grab George Washington’s Spies by Claudia Friddell and Night of Soldiers and Spies by Kate Messner. 

Sexual Content 

  • None 

Violence 

  • After D-Day, Victor looks around the beach and sees “the casualties. Wounded men lay on the runway, waiting to be airlifted to medical units. Beyond them, Vic could see the bodies of soldiers who had lost their lives on the beach.” 
  • During one of the operations, the enemy fired on the unit. “The ground in front of them shook. It felt like an earthquake. The next shell flew over their heads and hit the truck behind them. Pieces of metal flew in every direction. . .” One member of the Ghost Army “was killed when his truck was hit by shrapnel. . . Fifteen other men were wounded. Some of them lost limbs.” The illustration shows a truck being blown up.

Drugs and Alcohol 

  • After setting up the fake tanks and guns, the ghost army went into the local bar and talked about their “fake” unit over beers. The illustration shows the men drinking beer. 

Language   

  • None 

Supernatural 

  • None 

Spiritual Content 

  • None 

Buttons for General Washington

Fourteen-year-old John Darragh was a spy. But British-occupied Philadelphia in 1777 was not a safe place for an American spy. If he were captured, John knew he would be hanged. In this suspenseful story based on accounts of the Darragh family’s spying activities for General Washington, young John undertakes a dangerous mission to deliver a message to the American army. 

Buttons for General Washington introduces history to beginning readers. While the book features real people from history, the story is fictional. The author’s note at the beginning of the book explains important historical information that makes the book easier to understand. For example, the author explains why the characters use thee and thou. To make the book accessible to beginning readers, each page has three to nine sentences with easy vocabulary. In addition, a large illustration appears on almost every page to break the text into manageable parts.  

Readers interested in history will find Buttons for General Washington intriguing. John Darragh’s dangerous mission to deliver a message to General Washington is suspenseful because John worries that if British soldiers discover he is a spy, they will hang him. The story does not go into depth, however, which may frustrate stronger readers. The book doesn’t explain what secret code was used or how others were able to decode the message. While the story stresses the importance of the message, readers are left to wonder why the message was important. Despite this, the story’s brevity makes the text accessible to beginning readers, who will learn many interesting facts about British-occupied Philadelphia in 1777. 

Sexual Content 

  • None 

Violence 

  • John thinks about the spies who were captured and were “lucky to end up in prison. Usually they were hanged.”  
  • While in town, John runs into Samuel, a Tory, who is the same age as him. After a brief argument, Samuel poked John and then pushed him to the ground. 
  • While in the woods, a man surprises John. “Suddenly, a hand grabbed [John] from behind. . . The man aimed a pistol at John.” The man turns John in to an American camp, where John’s brother was stationed. John is set free. 

Drugs and Alcohol 

  • None 

Language   

  • None 

Supernatural 

  • None 

Spiritual Content 

  • None 

Mysterious Messages: A History of Codes and Ciphers

This fascinating look at history’s most mysterious messages is packed with puzzles to decode and ciphers that kids can use themselves. In this book you can find the encrypted notes of Spartan warriors, the brilliant code-crackers of Elizabeth I, secret messages of the American Revolution, spy books of the Civil War, the famous Enigma Machine, and the Navajo code talkers. As computers change the way we communicate, codes today are more intriguing than ever.  

From invisible ink to the CIA, this exciting trip through history is a hands-on, interactive experience—so get cracking! 

Mysterious Messages is for readers who want an in-depth historical look at the practice of creating codes and ciphers. The book starts with the father of history, Greek writer Herodotus, who documented some of the first cases of hiding messages. Sections of the book go into more detail about the historical aspects of hidden messages and give examples that readers can try to solve. Along with the stories, the book contains small sections titled “the Boring Definitions Box” that define words. Scattered throughout the book are pictures of the people discussed in the stories. Many of the pictures are of statues, paintings, photographs, and black and white sketches. In addition, historical documents are featured such as a letter written in code to the Queen of Scots, who was planning to assassinate Queen Elizabeth I.   

Politics played a huge role in the development of codes and ciphers, and Mysterious Messages discusses the many ways spies secretly communicated. While the format has a visual element on every page, readers who aren’t interested in history and politics may find it difficult to finish the book. However, Mysterious Messages would be an excellent source to use for a research paper. The book will also appeal to readers who want to learn more about espionage and how codes and ciphers were used both in diplomatic times and times of war.  

Sexual Content 

  • None 

Violence 

  • In order to hide a message, a nobleman “slit open the belly of a freshly killed rabbit, hid his message inside, and sent it off with a courier posing as a hunter.” 
  • Christopher Marlowe was “murdered at the age of twenty-nine” because of his work as a secret agent. 
  • Several people who were caught spying were hanged.  
  • Mary, the Queen of Scots, used secret messages in an attempt to assassinate Queen Elizabeth I. “The Queen of Scots was tried, found guilty largely on the basis of the deciphered message, and beheaded.” The other people involved were “bowelled alive and quartered.”  
  • The British caught Nathan Hale spying. When he was found guilty of espionage, he was “hanged from the limb of an apple tree.”  
  • A British spy was captured with papers that contained details of a conspiracy. He was “hanged by the Americans.” 
  • During World War I, “a German submarine had torpedoed the Lusitania, a British passenger ship. Twelve hundred people drowned.”  

Drugs and Alcohol 

  • None 

Language   

  • None 

Supernatural 

  • During World War II, a Polish cipher “was so desperate to read Germany’s Enigma-enciphered messages that it hired a psychic to try to make sense of them.”  

Spiritual Content 

  • In the 1500s, a man from Germany believed that “if you wrapped up your message in a picture of the person you were sending it to, buried it under the threshold of the house, and said the proper incantation, it would be delivered telepathically by a network of angels.”  
  • Since Queen Elizabeth embraced Protestantism, “the

Anna Strong and the Revolutionary War Culper Spy Ring

Travel back in time to the American Revolution in this thrilling third book of the Spy on History series. Discover the secret Culper Ring, a network of American spies fighting against the British redcoats. Meet historical figures like George Washington and the soon-to-be-infamous Benedict Arnold. Also meet Anna Strong, an unsung heroine who found ingenious ways to communicate top-secret messages to her fellow spies—helping to free the American colonies from British rule.

Your mission: Decode Anna Strong’s hidden message and discover the secret assignment she undertook for the Culper Ring. There are clues embedded in the book’s text and illustrations, plus spy craft materials, including a cipher wheel in an envelope at the beginning of the book. 

Anna Strong and the Revolutionary War Culper Spy Ring allows readers to step back into history and play the part of a Culper spy. The story focuses on Anna and her role as a spy during the Revolutionary War. Even though Anna was often fearful, her bravery allowed George Washington to receive important wartime intelligence that was critical in winning the war. Focusing on Anna allows the reader to see how the war affected men, women, and children.  

Anna’s story is fast-paced, full of suspense, and jam-packed with historical information. In addition, the book’s format is visually appealing. Every page has a graphic element, including pictures that are drawn in black, white, and red. Plus, most of the pages have a quote set apart from the other text. These quotes are printed in large fonts and help break up the text. The graphic elements are essential because hidden in the pictures and text are clues and codes. Readers will use a cipher wheel, a pigpen code, and other methods to decipher Anna’s letter to Caleb Brewster, another spy. 

Readers will enjoy using the spy tools and finding clues throughout the story. However, the lack of direction makes this task difficult. The first page of the book has a map of the Culper Spy Ring. The top of the map has a coded question that is easy to miss. Without the essential question, the clues are just a collection of random words. Parents may want to read the answer key that appears at the end of the book so they can assist young readers in finding and understanding the clues.   

Anna Strong and the Revolutionary War Culper Spy Ring will appeal to readers who love ciphers, history, spies, and mystery. Plus, it gives recognition to many of the spies who helped win the American Revolution. The well-written story will keep readers’ attention and the hidden clues will make them feel like they are a part of history. Readers who want to learn more about women’s role in the Revolutionary War should also read Susanna’s Midnight Ride by Libby Carty McNamee. If you’re looking for more historical facts about the Culper Spies, George Washington’s Spies by Claudia Friddell will give you the inside scoop.  

Sexual Content 

  • None 

Violence 

  • British soldiers knock on Anna’s door in the middle of the night. Anna and her children watched as “one of the soldiers stepped behind her husband and roughly bound his hands.” Anna’s husband was arrested and taken prisoner on a prison ship. 
  • Anna goes to see her husband on the prison ship. When she gets there, the ship smelled “of death. The eyes of the prisoners were sunken, and their faces were taut with hunger.” When Anna sees her husband, “his hands and feet [were] in iron shackles, she saw the same look of starvation and mistreatment beginning to hollow his features.” 
  • Nathan Hale was spying for George Washington. When he got caught, “Nathan was identified as a spy within days and executed almost immediately after he was captured.”  
  • Benedict Arnold was sent into a battle where he “received a terrible leg wound.” 
  • One night, a British soldier is caught sneaking around outside of Anna’s house. Caleb, Anna’s friend, sees him and, “Just as [the soldier] began to dismount from his horse, Caleb burst from the hedge. . . Anna heard a series of thumps as Caleb struck the man, blow after blow.” Anna was afraid Caleb “was going to kill him” but the soldier runs off.  
  • John André, a British soldier, was captured. “André was charged and hanged as a spy.”  

Drugs and Alcohol 

  • One of the spies would go into the city and, when passing the British checkpoints, he bribes the solders with liquor. 
  • When a group of patriots took over a fort, the men helped “themselves to the fort’s liquor stores.” 

Language   

  • None 

Supernatural 

  • None 

Spiritual Content 

  • None 

Rebel Spy

Rebellious Frannie Tasker knows little about the war between England and its thirteen colonies until a shipwreck off her home in Grand Bahama Island presents an unthinkable opportunity. The body of a young woman floating in the sea gives Frannie the chance to escape her brutal stepfather—and she takes it.

Assuming the identity of the drowned Emmeline Coates, Frannie is rescued by a British merchant ship and sails with the crew to New York. For the next three years, Frannie lives a lie as Miss Coates, swept up in a courtship by a dashing British lieutenant. But after witnessing the darker side of the war, she realizes that her position gives her power. Soon she’s eavesdropping on British officers, risking everything to pass information on to George Washington’s Culper spy ring as agent 355. Frannie believes in the fight for American liberty—but what will it cost her? Inspired by the true “355,” Rebel Spy is rich in historical detail and intrigue. 

Rebel Spy was inspired by the true “355,” who was part of the Culper spy ring. However, 355’s identity has never been discovered, and Frannie is completely fictional. Frannie is a complex character whose stepfather, Sewel, is a tyrant. In order to escape Sewel’s abuse, Frannie makes a desperate move and assumes a dead woman’s identity. While on a ship sailing to New York, Frannie witnesses the British soldiers’ savage nature. These events lead Frannie to believe that “tyranny was wrong. Abuse was wrong. And power ought never be misused.” Frannie struggles between her desire to live a comfortable life as a lady and her belief that no one should be forced to live under a tyrant’s rule. 

As the events of the war unfold, readers will learn how the war affected the entire world, not just the colonies. Because Frannie is living the life of a Loyalist, she becomes friends with many people who believe the Rebels deserve their fate. While the cruelties of war are not glossed over, many of the Loyalists and British soldiers were good people fighting for what they believed was right. However, Frannie helps the Rebel cause because she is convinced that, “Access to life, liberty, and happiness should be equal to all. We should all have a say in deciding our own fates.” Even so, Frannie points out that women will not have this ability even if the Rebels win the war. Instead, they are controlled by their fathers or husbands. 

While Frannie’s story is interesting, she is slightly self-absorbed and doesn’t think about how her actions will impact others. For example, Frannie allows Duncan, a British officer, to court her and she has every intention of marrying him. Frannie claims to care for Duncan, but she often spies on Duncan and relays important information to the Rebels. Frannie never considers how her actions will affect Duncan. Since Frannie’s life is full of lies and deceit, she does not always come across as a sympathetic character.  

Full of danger, suspense, and interesting facts about the Revolutionary War, Rebel Spy will please readers who enjoy historical fiction. While Frannie is not necessarily a relatable character, readers will empathize with her struggle as a young woman living in colonial America. From Frannie’s experiences, readers will learn that “reading will strengthen your expression. Words have power. Learn them and that power becomes yours.” To learn more about how women played a pivotal role in the Revolutionary War, check out Susanna’s Midnight Ride by Libby Carty McNamee. 

Sexual Content 

  • When Frannie was a child, her mother was falsely accused of “having relations with men—some of them enslaved men—and she became a woman of ill fame. . . People crossed the road when they saw her. They hissed ‘filthy strumpet’ and ‘bloody doxy.’ They threw eggs and rubbish at our shop.” In order to survive, Frannie’s mother ended up “doing just what she’d been accused of.”  
  • The captain of the ship “brought the shore’s enjoyment to the Ambrosia—the ‘shore’s enjoyments’ being libations and women.” 
  • While sailing toward the colonies, Frannie meets a man. After dancing, Frannie “threw my arms around his neck, and kissed him. Asa pulled me in tight, his lips parting, his tongue sweeping against mine, and suddenly time disappeared. There was nothing beyond our mouths, gently searching.”  
  • On a different night, Frannie and Asa again kiss. Frannie often gets distracted by “Asa’s lips, which turned me liquid, and his chest, which was a perfect place for me to rest my head.” 
  • Frannie goes out on a midnight errand and sees “brothels and molly houses—brothels catering to men who favored men. Places where the orphaned and destitute often ended up. Where I might’ve ended up, if not for Miss Coates.” 
  • After a servant, Malcom, and Frannie are out most of the night, Malcom’s mother sees them. Malcom’s mother assumes they “snuck away to—” Malcom and Frannie do not correct his mother’s assumption because “the truth is. . . well, it’s worse.” 
  • Frannie’s guardian has arranged for her to court Lieutenant Duncan. After a brief conversation with him, Frannie felt “a velvety heat spreading through me. One thing I couldn’t deny: my body knew exactly how it felt about Lieutenant Duncan.” 
  • The British officers would board with the colonists. However, the officers were less than kind. One woman said, “A girl of barely twenty was got with child by a redcoat who breaks bread with her and her husband every night. Another has been told she will never bear children—she was savaged by five men, redcoats all.”  
  • Frannie is attracted to Duncan, who is courting her. When he leaned close to her, “his lips brushed my cheek, sending waves of heat down my center. He had yet to kiss me. I was so desperate for it to happen. . .” 
  • When Duncan kisses Frannie for the first time, she describes, “He was perfect. His kisses gentle, soft, warm. Desire struck me, and I stepped closer and clutched his arm.” 
  • Frannie gets upset that Asa isn’t “fighting” for her. After a brief argument Asa “wrapped me in his arms and kissed me. Deeply. Passionately. For blissful moments, we clung to each other like we’d only breathe again if we became one.” 
  • Frannie goes to talk to another spy. When the spy goes inside, a man on the street calls, “What’s wrong with us, trollop? We got the same parts he’s got!” 
  • When Duncan gets sent away, he goes to say goodbye to Frannie. “Alone in the dim entryway, we had kissed. It felt like our mouths were discussing something complicated and trying to reach an understanding.” 

Violence 

  • After Frannie backtalks to her stepfather, Sewel, he orders Frannie to go into the ocean even though a shark is nearby. Frannie “was praying for God’s protection as I lowered myself into the water, inch by terrible inch. And crying, too, though crying only ever turned him wickeder.” 
  • Sewel is a convicted murderer. He was “fighting in a tavern over a spilt drink and kill[ed] somebody. . . By reciting a Bible verse and getting the brand, he was saved from swinging by a rope round his neck.”  
  • While out to sea, a ship gets stuck on a reef. Frannie grabs the boat’s paddles in order to go help. Sewel orders her to stop rowing. When she doesn’t, Frannie attests, “something slammed into my back. The breath drove out of me. I flew forward, cracking my head on the keel. The world flashed white and went black.” 
  • After hitting Frannie, Sewel grabs her. “He leaned down, bringing his face close to mine. I kicked and thrashed, but he held me by the neck. . . His hand shot under my shirt and squeezed, hard.” Sewel tells Frannie, “You’ll learn and you will obey me.” 
  • In order to get away from Sewel, Frannie “reached back and swung the oar with every bit of strength in me. The paddle struck Sewel between the shoulder blades with a deep thud. . . Sewel flew forward and plunged into the foamy water. He disappeared without a splash, the sea swallowing him whole.” Another boater rescues Sewel. 
  • Before Frannie’s mother died, Sewel would hit her. After Frannie’s mother dies, Sewel announces that he is going to take Frannie as his new wife.  
  • While traveling to the colonies, two sailors disagree with who is right – the British or the Rebels. The two men get into a fight. “Hackett lunged at him – so fast, a blur – but suddenly everything seemed slow, like it was happening under water. He slammed into Lane and drove him back. . . Lane and Hackett grappled and swung, the sounds of their blows horrible.” The men are bruised, but not seriously injured. 
  • A sailor threatens Frannie, demanding that she give him jewels. The Sailor says, “Fail me and see if ‘old buzzard’ don’t slice you open gullet to gizzard, then dance a gig on your entrails.” 
  • The British come aboard the Ambrosia and force men to join the army. When Asa refuses to volunteer, two soldiers “tacked Asa to the deck, the sound of bone and muscle against wood thunderous. Asa kept struggling even as men piled on him. Then two men slipped cudgels from their belts and swung them.” Asa is beaten until he is bloody. Then, he is “dragged off the Ambrosia.” Asa’s beating is described over a page.  
  • While out on a midnight errand, Malcolm accompanies Frannie. A man “rammed into Malcom. He flew back and crashed into the dirt.” When the man holds a knife to Malcolm’s neck, Frannie “pulled my pocket watch over my head and threw myself on the man’s back. I slammed the hard silver into his ear as I came down. He yelled and rolled away, the knife falling from his hand.” Frannie and Malcom escape. The scene is described over three pages. 
  • While in a tavern, Lieutenant Duncan takes a soldier outside and “there was a grunt. The sound of a body thudding against brick.” Lieutenant Duncan warns the soldier to watch his mouth. 
  • When Frannie’s stepfather, Sewel, finds her, he kills one of the servants, Malcom. Frannie finds his body “lying in the dirt.” Malcom’s mother “pressed her hands to his neck, trying to stop the blood that poured out of him. So much blood. It was everywhere.” Malcom dies. 
  • Frannie has a plan to meet Sewel and frame him for spying. However, when she meets him, he kidnaps her and takes her out on a skiff. In order to get away, Frannie “dove at him, aiming the knife at his neck. . . The blade sank into his shoulder. He roared with pain and swung, his fist crashing into my temple.” In retaliation, Sewel tries to strangle her. A patrol of redcoats approaches the skiff. 
  • When Sewel sees the redcoats, he shoots. “The marines fired back, raising a thunderous noise. Wood popped and shattered all around [Frannie]. The skiff shuddered and shook.” When Sewel refuses to stand down and instead grabs his rifle. The redcoats fire. “Cracks exploded into the night. His body jerked back. His shoulder tore off. His hand disappeared in a bloody spray. Other pieces of him burst and broke.” Sewel is killed and Frannie is taken prisoner. The scene with the soldiers is described over three pages. 
  • When Frannie is imprisoned on a boat, she learns that a starving prisoner was “bayoneted through the gut for trying to filch a piece of bread.” 
  • When the Rebels found a major spying for the British, the traitor is “sentenced to death by hanging.” 
  • On a rainy night, Frannie jumps off the prison ship and into the ocean. As she swam away, Frannie “sensed the bullets slicing around me, but I kept going, even when one found my calf and bit.” 

Drugs and Alcohol 

  • Frannie’s stepfather is a drunk who often drinks rum.  
  • After being found on the beach half drowned, Frannie is offered laudanum, which she refuses. However, when she is offered a drink, Frannie “drank it half down before my throat lit with burning coals. It was watered rum—and not much watered.” 
  • During meals, Frannie and other adults are served wine. Alcohol is also served at parties. 
  • When Frannie takes on Emmie’s identity, her friends celebrate Emmie’s birthday by sharing a bottle of “spirits.” The girls get drunk.  
  • When Frannie gets upset, Duncan wants her to take laudanum. She refuses it. 
  • When Duncan’s uncle gets upset, he is given laudanum to calm him down. 
  • When Duncan and Frannie get engaged, they have a celebration and drink champagne. 

Language   

  • Lord is used as an exclamation infrequently. 
  • Frannie calls a sailor an “old hellhound.” 
  • Damn is used three times. Hell is used once. 
  • A sailor says that he is his father’s “bastard.” 
  • Frannie injures a man who attacked a servant. Afterward, the man calls Frannie a bitch.  
  • Bloody is used as profanity several times. For example, a soldier says, “bloody hell.” 

Supernatural 

  • None 

Spiritual Content 

  • Frannie occasionally prays. For example, when a storm is near, Frannie “saw thick clouds bunching on the horizon and whispered a quick prayer they’d stay there.” 
  • In the past, Frannie’s stepfather, Sewel, was almost killed. He said, “God looked out for drunks, fools, and sailors.” Frannie thinks, “God must’ve loved Sewel fierce ‘cause he was all three.” 
  • Sewel tells Frannie, “Lying’s a terrible sin. An abomination unto the Lord.” 
  • When Frannie sees a dead girl laying on the beach, she takes the girl’s clothes and the girl’s identity. When a sailor finds her, he says, “Unnatural, a lass surviving such a trial. God’s had a hand in this.” Someone replies, “or the devil.” 
  • After taking Emmeline Coates’ identity, Frannie “prayed for God’s forgiveness.” 
  • Frannie reads a pamphlet written by Thomas Paine, who wrote, “all men were born of equal power and no one could be born to preference. The Bible supported this notion, he wrote, which made kings and monarchies ungodly and wrong.” 
  • When Duncan reprimanded Frannie, she thinks, “it was a wife’s duty to obey. He for God and she for him. . . that was the proper order of things.” 
  • One of the servants tells Frannie, “I pray for you . . . Every night, I pray you find your place.” 

Charlotte Spies For Justice: A Civil War Survival Story

Twelve-year-old Charlotte lives on a plantation in Richmond, Virginia, where the American Civil War is raging. All around her, citizens and the Confederate army are fighting to protect slavery — the very thing Charlotte wishes would end. When she overhears the plantation owner conspiring against the Confederates, Charlotte knows she must help. Maybe together they can help the Union win the war and end slavery. Helping a spy is dangerous work, but Charlotte is willing to risk everything to fight for what is right — justice for all people.  

Charlotte Spies For Freedom is full of action and suspense that focuses on the heroic deeds of many historical events. While Charlotte is fictional, she is a relatable character who shows bravery despite her fear. Several times, Charlotte visits Libby prison. Even though the story shows the harsh conditions of Libby prison and includes the death of several Union soldiers, no gruesome details are given. However, the story highlights Charlotte’s fear of being caught and harmed. Despite her fear, Charlotte is willing to risk her life to help the Union cause. She says, “I’m willing to give my life away if it helps free my people.”  

Even though Charlotte is a fictional character, many of the book’s characters are based on real people. This includes Elizabeth Van Lew, who gathered important information to pass along to the Union Army. Readers will be fascinated with the different ways Elizabeth Van Lew used to send messages, including using invisible ink and ciphers. She also hides messages in hollowed-out eggs, the heels of boots, and loaves of bread. Several times, Charlotte comments on Elizabeth Van Lew’s “odd” behavior; the author’s note explains that Elizabeth Van Lew’s strange behavior was another way she disguised her activities.  

Another historical spy is Mister McNiven. Despite being surrounded by war, Mister McNiven greets Charlotte each morning by saying, “It’s a good day to be alive.” At first, Charlotte doesn’t understand his optimism. However, she soon realizes Mister McNiven believes this because “he knew he was doing something important. He hoped for a better tomorrow and he was doing his part.” 

To make the story easy to follow, each chapter begins with Charlotte’s location and the date. Every ten to seventeen pages there is a black-and-white illustration that focuses on Charlotte’s activities. One illustration shows a Confederate soldier hitting Charlotte. The back of the book contains an author’s note that goes into more detail about the historical facts of Elizabeth Van Lew, a glossary, and three response questions to help readers connect to the reading material. 

Charlotte Spies For Freedom is an engaging story that shows how ordinary people were willing to lay down their lives to fight for the freedom of all people. The story, which uses kid-friendly descriptions, is both educational and entertaining. Since the story is full of danger and action, it will appeal to a wide audience. Readers interested in historical fiction can also learn about the Underground Railroad by reading Long Road to Freedom by Kate Messner. 

Sexual Content 

  • None

Violence 

  • Charlotte goes to a prison holding Union prisoners. While there, she sees “a dead Union soldier. . . I caught a glimpse of his face. I could tell he had been beaten.” 
  • While delivering food to the prisoners, a Confederate soldier named Robert points a gun at Charlotte. Robert “walked toward me, put the barrel of his gun in my face, and cocked it.”  Another soldier, Erasmus Ross appears and grabs Charlotte’s face. “He squeezed even harder, and a sharp pain shot through my jaw.” Ross drags Charlotte outside. 
  • In order to protect Charlotte, Ross takes her outside and tells her, “I’m going to get you out of here, but I have to hit you.” He proceeds to backhand her. “It hurt, but not nearly as much as it should have. . . Mister Ross gave me a shove so hard it sent me to my knees.” As she was leaving, “a shot rang out behind me. I could only hope that Mister Ross had fired into the air.” 
  • After a prison break, Confederate soldiers “recaptured forty-eight Union soldiers. . . Two of them drowned.” 

Drugs and Alcohol 

  • None 

Language   

  • Some people called Elizabeth Van Lew “Crazy Bet.” 

Supernatural 

  • None 

Spiritual Content 

  • None 

Pigeon Hero!

In a town in Italy during World War II the people surrendered without firing a shot. But American warplanes are due to arrive, and the radio’s broken, so no one can tell them to call off the attack! G. I. Joe, a carrier pigeon, is the only one who can take the message to the Americans. Will he make it in time to save the town? 

The story of G.I. Joe is told in kid-friendly language and focuses on G.I. Joe’s dangerous flight. Despite the difficulties, G.I. Joe is able to deliver his message and then return. When he returns, “Joe carried a new message. The planes would not come! The town was safe.” Readers will enjoy seeing G.I. Joe complete his mission and be rewarded with a medal.  

As part of the Ready-To-Read Level 2 Series, Pigeon Hero! is intended for children who can read independently. The story is told using short chapters. Each page has four to seven sentences of various lengths; however, most sentences are short. G.I. Joe’s story has a complex plot that takes place in different locations. Each page has a full-colored illustration that will help readers visualize the story’s events. Several pages show German soldiers firing machine guns at G.I. Joe. Towards the end, two pages focus on the joy the townspeople feel when G.I. Joe returns with a new message. 

Readers who are interested in animals or war will find the story of G.I. Joe interesting. The short story highlights G.I. Joe’s bravery as he overcomes obstacles to deliver the message. G.I. Joe’s ability to save the day will leave readers with a smile. Plus, the last page of the book gives more information about the amazing things that war pigeons were able to do. Children interested in birds may want to take a step into the past by reading Ancient Animals: Terror Bird by Sarah L. Thomson. However, if you’re looking for a more motivational story, Bird Boy by Matthew Burgess would be a better choice. 

Sexual Content 

  • None 

Violence 

  • British soldiers plan to have a big battle with the Germans. But when the soldiers arrive, the Germans flee. Several soldiers are shown with their weapons. 
  • German soldiers try to shoot G.I. Joe. “G.I. Joe heard machine gun fire. The enemy below was shooting at him!” 
  • A hawk tries to eat G.I. Joe. 

Drugs and Alcohol 

  • None 

Language   

  • None

Supernatural 

  • None 

Spiritual Content 

  • None 

The Real Spy’s Guide to Becoming a Spy

Created by the founding executive director of the International Spy Museum, who is also a former operative in the CIA’s Clandestine Service, this is the official handbook for kids who dream of one day becoming a spy or working in the intelligence field.

Have you ever wondered what spies really do? What kind of training is involved? Do you have to go to a special school or take a polygraph test? How do you live your “cover?” How does your work life affect your relationships with your friends and family? Is there danger involved?

This fascinating, fact-filled book answers these questions and more while providing a historical timeline, definitions of key terms, suggestions for further reading, an index, quizzes, and exercises to see if you have the right spy stuff. 

The Real Spy’s Guide to Becoming a Spy is packed full of interesting information about the spy world and it explains why spies are important. “Every country wants to know what other countries—both friends and enemies—are doing and how it might affect their national interests.” Readers will learn about the world of spies through fun infographics that include spy terms, job descriptions, true stories, and quizzes. Readers will also learn about common spy myths and what a spy’s life is really like.  

Readers will also learn about other jobs within the spy world, such as people who create spy science and technology, a case officer, and an intelligence analyst. In addition, the book explains what qualities spies need and what steps to take in order to become a spy. While a spy’s life isn’t as exciting as James Bond portrays it, readers will still enjoy learning about dead drops, listening devices, and ciphers. After taking the quizzes, readers will know if a spy’s life is for them.   

The book’s conversational tone and graphic elements give the story an interesting flair. Every page has some type of graphic element including black and white illustrations, “Spy Speak” glossaries, lists, and/or bold red titles. Breaking up the text with these graphic elements makes the reading more enjoyable and presents facts in a way that makes them easy to remember. Even though the book’s topic is serious and the importance of intelligence gathering is highlighted, the book will not fail to entertain readers interested in the world of spies.  

As a former CIA operations officer and the founding executive director of the International Spy Museum, Peter Earnest uses his knowledge to teach readers about becoming a spy. By the end of reading The Real Spy’s Guide to Becoming a Spy, readers will have a better understanding of the spy world and if they have what it takes to go undercover. Readers who want to jump into the exciting, but the fictional world of a group of young spies should read the City Spies Series by James Ponti.  

Sexual Content 

  • None 

Violence 

  • A timeline titled “How Long Have Spies Been Around?” includes spies who were executed for espionage. For example, “Julius and Ethel Rosenberg were executed in the United States for espionage on behalf of the Soviet Union. . . The Rosenbergs were members of an atomic spy ring whose espionage helped the USSR develop its own nuclear bomb.” 
  • “A defector from Russian intelligence dies of radiation poisoning in London.” The defector believed the Russian president planned his assassination. 
  • Sometimes countries kill enemy leaders. “This is called targeted killing, rather than assassination.” 
  • In order to stop terrorist attacks, President Bush declared “war on terror. . . Armed drones have also been used to attack terrorist strongholds and kill terrorist leaders. The terrorists also rely on their own intelligence capabilities and covert tradecraft to plan and carry out their deadly activities.” 

Drugs and Alcohol 

  • When the KGB suspected that one of its operatives was working for the British, they gave him a truth serum.  

Language   

  • None 

Supernatural 

  • None 

Spiritual Content 

  • None 

When the World Was Ours

Leo Grunberg spends his ninth birthday riding Vienna’s Ferris wheel with his two very best friends, Elsa and Max. While at the top, they swear they can see the whole world. They promise each other that they “will never forget the day [that they] were kings and queen of all Vienna.” To ensure that that promise will be kept, Leo’s father takes a picture and makes a copy for each of them.   

But Europe is descending into war, and Max’s father is rapidly growing intolerant of his son’s two Jewish friends. As danger descends around Leo and Elsa’s families, their world falls apart. Soon, the lives of all three children take fateful turns when they move to separate countries.  With their lives taking them across Europe—to Germany, England, Prague, and Poland—will they ever find their way back to one another?   

The war dramatically changes the three friends’ lives. After Leo’s father is arrested for being Jewish, Leo and his mother escape to England. On the other hand, Elsa finds a short-lived sanctuary in Prague before being forced into a ghetto and eventually to a concentration camp. All the while, her hope that better days will return gradually dissipates. Meanwhile, starved for a sense of belonging he has only ever felt with Leo and Elsa, Max throws himself into the Hitler Youth. He convinces himself that his old friends could not have been Jewish, and when his father insists that they were, he convinces himself that they were never really his friends. All the while, one vivid childhood memory continues to link the three together. 

When the World Was Ours alternates among the narratives of the three children. Interestingly, each perspective takes on a different style. Max’s is presented in the third person while Elsa’s and Leo’s are in the first person. Additionally, Elsa’s is in the present tense while both boys’ are in the past tense. Though a little jarring at first, this technique ultimately allows the narratives to stand apart from one another in such a way that the reader will never lose track of which perspective they are currently reading. The characters’ heartbreaking journeys are extremely well told and will leave a lasting impact on readers. 

The book’s powerful climax occurs when Max’s father secures him a position as a guard at Auschwitz, and he is tasked to kill his first Jew, assuring himself that this is “the defining moment. Everything came to this.” He is ready to prove himself as a true Nazi but is taken aback when the emaciated girl beyond his pistol utters his name in an all too familiar voice. When she smiles at him, he knows for sure she is Elsa. In these pages, it becomes terrifyingly clear how easy it can be for ordinary people to be swept up in such a horrific regime. 

When The World Was Ours is a powerful must-read but it is not for the faint of heart. The story, which is based on a true story, is an unflinching look at one of the most horrific events in recent history. Readers will find it difficult to forget the characters’ trauma and will walk away with a determination to never let the atrocities of World War II happen again. Readers who would like to learn more about the Holocaust should also read Elie Wiesel’s autobiography Night.  To learn more about what happened to the Nazi’s after the war ended, grab a copy of The Nazi Hunters by Neal Bascomb. 

Sexual Content 

  • In the months before Elsa moves away, Elsa and Max have grown particularly fond of each other. When she informs her friends she is leaving, Max kisses her. “At first, her mouth was pursed up in shock. Then it softened and for two blissful seconds, their lips stayed together in a promise.” 
  • As a teenager, Leo gets close to a girl. One day, he says, “[during] a sudden attack of bravery on my part. . .I kissed her.” She reciprocates and they begin dating. 

Violence 

  • A group of men forces Leo’s father and two other Jewish men to scrub the pavement. One of the men, who he recognizes as Max’s father, kicks his father in the stomach “so hard that Papa fell forward, his face landing in the puddle.” 
  • Leo’s father was attacked at his local synagogue. “His face was cut and bleeding and he was limping.” 
  • While visiting a concentration camp for the first time, Max witnesses a prisoner “get punched in the stomach so hard he [falls] to the ground.” 
  • Elsa sees a man being pulled into a shed by an SS officer during a line-up. When they return, the man’s “left eye is closed and already swelling. He’s limping. He has blood dripping from his forehead.” 
  • While at a concentration camp, Elsa learns that two men are being punished for sending letters to their wives. The inmates are forced to watch both men being whipped. When one man begs for mercy, the officer “kicks him in the stomach so hard that [he] almost flies through the air and lands on his side.” 
  • Multiple people suffocate while being transported to Auschwitz in a cramped train car. The guards stop three times to “throw out the dead.” 
  • Upon their arrival at Auschwitz, Elsa’s family is sent to the gas chambers. When Elsa asks to go with them, a guard laughs and says, “‘Believe me, you don’t want to go that way.’” 
  • Elsa’s friend Greta plans to escape from the camp, but her plan is discovered by the guards. She is beaten to death. Elsa describes, “I watch one guard take hold of her while another kicks her in the stomach. And then I cannot watch anymore.” 
  • Elsa is sent to be executed and Max is tasked with shooting her. Elsa recognizes him and experiences a surge of hope, telling him he doesn’t need to do this. Overwhelmed, Max nearly walks to her before being coerced back into the act by his two fellow guards. He decides this moment is no different from the other tests of “his true commitment to the regime.” He hesitantly raises his pistol, but one of the other guards fires his weapon, apparently intending to kill Elsa himself. The bullet instead hits Max “in the head.”  
  • After shooting Max, the two guards panic and decide to stage the death to look like a suicide. In despair, Elsa demands they kill her too, saying she is done with her life. She closes her eyes, not letting them “into her soul while they [empty] out their own,” and is shot, but the death is not described in detail. This entire sequence spans 15 pages, alternating between Max’s and Elsa’s perspectives. 

Drugs and Alcohol 

  • Leo and Max’s parents had “drunk wine and sat talking together.” 

Language 

  • None 

Spiritual Content 

  • Leo’s family believes in Judaism. Leo and his family “say Shabbat prayers every Friday night.” 
  • When Leo’s father returns home from synagogue, he states that he and several friends were “praying for an end” to their persecution.  
  • While not as religious as Leo’s family, Elsa says that her family has begun “going to shul (Jewish services) on Saturday mornings when [they] can, and every Friday night [they] light candles . . . and say a brachah – a blessing – over them.” 
  • Elsa hears several fellow passengers on the cart to Auschwitz reciting Kaddish, the Jewish prayer of mourning.  
  • When Leo’s father returns to his family at the end of the war, he informs his son that both Elsa and Max died at Auschwitz. The family lights a candle and recites Kaddish for Leo’s friends.

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.” 

Rebecca Rides for Freedom: An American Revolution Survival Story

The American Revolution is raging in Philadelphia, and Rebecca is determined to do all she can to help. With her father stationed with Washington’s army at nearby Whitemarsh, it’s up to Rebecca to help her mother at home with her younger siblings. That includes selling vegetables to British officers stationed in wealthy houses nearby. When Rebecca intercepts a message about an impending British attack against the Patriots from one such house, she knows she must act. It’s up to her to get the message to the Patriot army – before it’s too late.

 Rebecca Rides for Freedom begins by describing how the American Revolution affected families. Rebecca’s father leaves the family alone so he can fight alongside General Washington. However, because of the families’ loyalties to the Patriots, there is constant fear that the Tories will harm them. Despite the danger, Rebecca is determined to deliver an important message to her father’s garrison. Rebecca’s ride through dangerous territory highlights her bravery and determination. When she is finally close to the Patriot’s camp, a soldier tries to send her away, but Rebecca refuses to give up. She thinks, “I’d ridden miles in the snow, been captured, escaped, and forded the frozen creek. I hadn’t come this far only to be dismissed as a silly girl.”

Rebecca’s experience doesn’t go in-depth about the history behind the American Revolution. However, readers will begin to understand people’s fear of the Redcoats and how the war impacted families. While Rebecca’s fear of the soldiers is obvious, the events are described in kid-friendly terms. However, this doesn’t detract from Rebecca’s harrowing experiences or her bravery.

To make the story easy to follow, each chapter begins with Rebecca’s location, the date, and the time. Every 7 to 10 pages there is a black-and-white illustration. The illustrations focus on Rebecca and the events surrounding her. Some of the illustrations show the Redcoats carrying rifles. The book ends with a note from the author that describes her inspiration for writing the story, a glossary, and three questions about the story.

Rebecca Rides for Freedom is a fast-paced, entertaining book that will spark readers’ interest in history. While Rebecca is a fictional character, the author explains how real women inspired Rebecca’s character. The author writes, “The women behind Rebecca’s story were real wives, mothers, and daughters. They were ordinary women who showed extraordinary courage in order to protect both family members they loved and the ideals they believed in.” This allows girls to see the important and often overlooked, contribution women made during the American Revolution. In addition, Rebecca Rides for Freedom will encourage readers to stand up for their beliefs. Readers who want to learn more about the Revolutionary War should grab a copy of George Washington’s Socks, which is a fast-paced time travel adventure that goes into more detail about the war.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • When the Redcoats moved into one family’s home, they “turned the families out onto the street in the middle of the night. Lydia Wright’s baby sister had died that way.”
  • A Redcoat officer accidentally “shot himself in the foot.”
  • Rebecca meets Betsy whose “brother was beaten in the street when he wouldn’t get out of the way of the Redcoats. They broke his arm.”
  • For Rebecca to take papers with attack plans, Betsy helps. Betsy “swept her arm across the surface of the desk. All the papers fluttered to the floor.” As Rebecca leaves the house, “there was a smacking sound, and Betsy cried out.”
  • Rebecca is captured by the Redcoats. When she escapes, she jumps on her horse, Brownie, who “ran directly through the soldier’s campfire before any of them could realize what was going on. . . the soldiers dived for safety to either side.”

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • A group of Redcoats apprehends Rebecca. That night at their camp, the men were “Passing their jug from hand to hand, sometimes breaking into song. When the sergeant speaks, there is the “unmistakable slur of drink in his voice.”

Language

  • A Redcoat refers to General Washington’s soldiers as “Patriot devils.”

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • When Rebecca is planning to escape from the Redcoats, she “prayed none of them would sense my movement.”
  • While crossing a swollen river, Rebecca “held the wet reins, clinging to Brownie’s wet mane, and prayed. It must have been heard because the water grew more shallow.”

George Washington’s Socks

When five kids take a walk along Lake Levart late one night, a mysterious wooden rowboat beckons them aboard. As if in a trance, they all step inside. But what they don’t realize is that this enchanted boat is headed back in time—to the time of George Washington. And their neighborhood lake has been transformed into the icy Delaware River on the eve of the battle at Trenton. Matthew, Quentin, Hooter, Tony, and Katie experience the American Revolution firsthand and learn the sobering realities of war. But how will they ever find their way home?

The first six chapters of George Washington’s Socks are slow, but readers who stick with the book will be glad they did. Matt and his friends time jump and end up in the middle of George Washington’s rebels crossing the Delaware. The rebels are preparing to attack the enemy, in a surprising way. Matt is soon separated from his sister and his friends and marching to battle. Along the way, Matt befriends Isaac, who didn’t join the Army because he believed in the cause, but rather because he needed to help support his younger siblings. While marching with Isaac and the other soldiers, Matt gets firsthand experience with the difficult situations that the rebels faced. Once Matt jumps into the past, he’s in for an action-packed adventure.

George Washington’s Socks gives readers a close look at war; while none of the descriptions are bloody, Matt sees several people whom he considered friends die. During the war, the rebels faced danger, death, and harsh conditions and yet they carried on. Seeing these experiences changes the way Matt views the rebels and the enemy. For example, Matt sees some of George Washington’s rebels being disrespectful to a Hessian soldier that they killed. “Matt suddenly felt sick to his stomach. He hated to see them acting so badly, for these were his rebels. They were the special brave men that he had always dreamed about and suddenly they seemed neither special nor brave.” Because of his experiences, Matt realizes that the line between good guys and bad guys isn’t always clear. Instead, “there’s no such thing as just good guys fighting bad guys. It seems like there’s good and bad on both sides.”

George Washington’s Socks will appeal to history lovers and readers who want a great time travel adventure. Even though the story focuses on colonial America and the Revolutionary War, the story highlights the kindness of others and has pockets of humor. In addition, Matt is a compassionate and relatable protagonist who learns that history books do not tell the whole story. Readers who enjoy historical fiction and want to learn more about the Revolutionary War should read Daniel at the Siege of Boston 1776 by Laurie Calkhoven.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • Adam Hibbs was supposed to take the kids to safety, but “Adam Hibbs lay bleeding, with his head resting in Hooter Melrose’s lap. It seemed the young corporal had been standing in a boat looking up the shore when he stumbled and fell onto his bayonet. . . Adam Hibbs was not expected to live the night.”
  • Two Indians find Matt alone in the woods. “One raised a tomahawk while the other held a bow with a long arrow pointed directly at Matt’s heart.”
  • When Katie wanders off, Hessian soldiers find her. When Matt and his friends discover the group, “Matt took a deep breath and reached for a musket. Tony and Hooter did the same. At the sound of their footsteps, the Hessians swung around and drew their swords. . . The soldiers waved their swords and shouted until Matt and the boys put their hands over their heads.”
  • A Hessian soldier, Gustav, was helping the kids when there was “the sound of musket fire.” The kids “looked on in horror as Gustav cried out in pain, for a musket ball had ripped through his back. He took a step, then fell forward, toppling to the ground with his face in the snow.”

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • One of the soldiers has “sour rum breath.”
  • A young soldier is eating snow when he says, “I wish we had a small beer to wash it down with.”
  • A soldier’s father “has a likeness for rum. . . He spends most of his day in the tavern.”

Language

  • One of Matt’s friends asks if Matt’s grandfather is “a little bit batty.”
  • Several times the soldiers refer to the enemy mercenaries as “Hessian pigs.” They are also said to be “blood-thirsty.”
  • While traveling to attack the enemy, Colonel Knox says, “We’re hours behind because of this damn storm.”
  • When Matt decides to stay close to his dying friend, a soldier calls Matt a “little fool.”
  • After killing Hessian solider, a man refers to the dead man as “scum.”

Supernatural

  • Matt’s grandfather tells a story about a friend, Adam Hibbs, who disappeared. Adam “was out on the lake in a rowboat, a rowboat my grandpa had never seen before. . . Grandpa ran to the tent to get a lantern. But when he got back to the lake it was too late. Adam Hibbs was gone, disappeared, boat and all, and no one to this day knows what happened to him.”
  • When Matt and his friends see a mysterious rowboat, “he was the first to come under the boat’s spell. It was the same desire to board the boat that he’d felt when he first saw it. . . Smiling, as if in a trance, Matt reached for an oar.”
  • After their adventure, Katie tells the rowboat to take them home. A soldier is surprised when it looks like the kids “disappeared into thin air. . . They were in a boat on the beach and suddenly they started to spin around and then they vanished!” The general thinks the soldier imagined it because of his “harsh whisky breath.”
  • While the kids were gone, no one missed them because, “a person traveling through time can experience days, weeks, and even years, and then return home to find that he’s only been gone a few hours.”

Spiritual Content

  • A soldier thinks Matt and the kids are enemy spies. The soldier says, “God forgive the cold Tory heart that would send children out to face the dangers of this night.”
  • General Washington says, “God willing, we’ll all live to remember this night.” Later he says, “God granting, the day will be dark.”
  • When Matt’s friend dies, a man says, “He’s no longer here, but in God’s glorious kingdom.”

 

Save the Sanctuary

Former Army rescue dog, Sgt. Rico, a bomb-sniffing Malinois, is on his first mission in Washington, D.C. to save The Sanctuary animal shelter from the evil Mr. Mocoso. But does Rico have what it takes to lead the Pawtriots to victory and save his fellow canines?

Throughout the story, Army values—loyalty, duty, respect, selfless service, honor, integrity, and personal courage—are demonstrated through the animals’ actions. In addition, the importance of putting the mission first is reinforced when Chaps, a disabled military dog, gives his life so his friends can escape. In the end, it is the military’s values that allow Rico to become a hero by helping him realize that “soldiers don’t give up on themselves and they don’t’ give up on their fellow animals.”

Army sayings and terminology are used throughout the story. For example, when Rico feels like giving up, another military dog says, “I need you to embrace the suck.” Each time an army word or phrase is introduced, Rico explains what it means. For example, Rico explains that north south is “Army-talk for ‘nodding your head when you understand something.’”

Each chapter starts with the location, date, and military time which makes it easy to follow the timeline. Black and white illustrations appear every 1 to 6 pages and show the animals in action as well as some of the dangers they face—including the villain, rats and crocodiles.

Even though Pawtroit Dog is an illustrated chapter book, it hits on some difficult topics that may upset readers. For example, the dog catchers, which are called “Snatchers,” chase after the animals with the intent to capture and kill them. However, the animals manage to stay safe because they help each other and work as a team. The overall theme that is reinforced repeatedly is “it doesn’t matter if you’re small, young, weak, or even missing a leg—it’s what’s on the inside that counts. You have to have heart! That’s what makes a true Pawtriot.”

Save the Sanctuary is an action-packed story that revolves around two, three-legged military dogs. Readers will enjoy seeing Rico’s growth from a despondent dog to a true hero with a mission. Readers who want a patriotic story that is told from a dog’s point of view should put this highly entertaining story on their reading list. If readers like Pawtroit Dog, they should check out the G.I. Dogs Series by Laurie Calkhoven, which is also told from a dog’s point of view.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • While on a mission, Rico accidentally sets off a bomb. “The explosion was so loud that for two weeks all I could hear was ringing in my ears. . . The blast took away my front left leg and my sense of purpose. And worst of all, it took Kris away from me.” The blast is illustrated and shows Rico and Kris being thrown from the impact.
  • Mocoso was angry with his pet monkey, Simon. “He grabbed Simon by the throat and squeezed him so hard that he turned blue. Simon managed to escape and nobody’s heard or seen him since.” Later, Rico finds out that Simon is at the zoo.
  • In order to intimidate Rico, Hans (a dog) approaches Rico and “presses his big wet snout against mine, but I don’t back down. Then he pushes me. I stumble to the ground because I don’t have the balance I used to without a front leg.”
  • The Snatchers “snatch up” the animals from the sanctuary and take them to the pound. Rico watches “as they snatch up each of my fellow animals with pole nets and lock them up in cages, one by one.”
  • While at the pound, “the Snatcher grabs the helpless cat by the scruff of its neck and hauls it away.” Rico realizes that the pound is a “kill shelter. If an animal isn’t adopted in thirty days, then that’s the end of the line.”
  • The animals break out of the pound and run from the Snatchers. The Snatchers finally locate the animals and try to capture them. Rico sees “the Snatchers tear through the woods and start racing towards us. Three of them have hand cannons that shoot nets. A Snatcher fires one at use and I watch it fly through the air.”
  • The animals make mud balls and hurl them at the Snatchers. “Penny quickly sends another one across the field, hitting another Snatcher in the face and sending him tumbling to the ground.” Rico and Sawyer create a diversion. Rico and Sawyer “weave in and out across the field as the Snatchers try to snag us with their nets.” The animals go into the sewers to escape the Snatchers. The scene is described over four pages.
  • While in the sewers, the animals are surrounded by rats until “suddenly a deafening roar breaks the chaos of the chase. . .The ground shakes and the water ripples as a massive reptile, the size of a crocodile, covered in scars and sludge stomps his way towards us.”
  • A dog named Chaps tries to stop the reptile from hurting the others. Rico sees Chaps. “He’s exhausted struggling to catch his breath and has cuts all over his snout.” Chaps gives Rico his prosthetic leg and then Chaps gives Rico “a soldier’s salute and turns to face the Beast. We all watch as he charges right at the massive reptile . . . I knew that was the last time any of us would ever see Chaps. But he went out like a true soldier and put the mission first.”
  • The animals break into Mr. Mocoso’s mansion in order to find a will. When Mr. Mocoso sees them, “Simon swoops down from the chandelier, sending Mr. Mocoso to the ground knocking him out cold.”
  • Mocoso’s Doberman Pinschers surround Rico, but then his friends arrive and surround the Pinschers. Rico tells his friend, “Franny, tie them up so they can’t follow us. And don’t worry, once Mr. Mocoso wakes up, he’ll free them.”
  • When Franny ties up the Pinschers, she uses an electrical wire. The wire starts a fire, and Rico saves Mr. Mocoso and his dogs.

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • Two mean dogs, Hans and Heinz, call Rico a “three-legged freak.”
  • Heinz calls the animals at the sanctuary knuckleheads.
  • One of the animals calls Mr. Mocoso a jerk.

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • None

 

The Red Fox Clan

Picking up where The Royal Ranger: A New Beginning left off, this next installment continues the story featuring young apprentice Maddie and the student-turned-master, Will Treaty. The time has come for the next generation to assume the mantle and become protectors of the kingdom of Araluen.

After passing her third-year assessment as a ranger’s apprentice, Maddie is called home to Castle Araluen. Forced to keep her ranger training a secret, Maddie feels trapped by her role as a princess of the realm and longs to find a way out. But there are whisperings of a new threat to the kingdom. The mysterious Red Fox Clan, a group of anarchists who don fox masks, have threatened Castle Araluen, and they question Princess Cassandra and Madelyn’s succession to the throne. Will they unseat Cassandra and Madelyn and take the throne for themselves?

In order to set up the conflict, the book’s chapters alternate between different points of view —Madelyn’s, Horace’s, and Gilan’s. In addition, The Red Fox Clan introduces new characters and brings some characters from the Brotherband Series into Madelyn’s world. The introduction of characters and conflict slows the pacing because there is little action. However, readers who have already become fans of the Ranger’s Apprentice Series will enjoy seeing familiar characters from a different perspective.

Like all the Ranger’s Apprentice books, The Red Fox Clan ends with an epic battle. Even though the Araluen must fight the rebel Red Fox Clan, they do not kill for the fun of it. Several times in the battle, the Ranger Gilan has the opportunity to kill enemy fighters, but he chooses not to. After one fierce battle, the rebels begin to retreat and Gilan stops his men from shooting at the fleeing enemy. While men die, the story never glorifies killing others. Instead, Gilan chooses to show mercy to the enemy.

The start of The Red Fox Clan has little action or adventure; however, readers will be glad they continued reading because of the exciting conclusion. The conclusion does not resolve any of the story’s conflicts but instead ends with a cliffhanger. Readers will be eager to read the next book in the series, Duel at Araluen. Despite having 14 books in the original series, readers will find The Royal Ranger Series’ action isn’t stale and repetitious; instead, Maddie’s struggle varies enough that readers will still be guessing what will happen next. Readers who love action, adventure, and noble characters will enjoy The Royal Ranger Series.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • Maddie and Ingrid are traveling to Castle Araluen when two robbers stop them and demand their valuables. Maddie shoots a lead shot at one of the robbers and hits his bow. “The broken limb flew loose, and then stopped by the string, flicked back and smacked the man across the jaw, raising a bleeding weal there. He cried out and staggered back. . .” The man grabs his knife and Maddie shoots again. The shot “hit him on the point of his shoulder, smashing the bone and bruising the flesh.”
  • One of the robbers “swing[s] wildly with the cudgel” trying to knock Ingrid off the horse. “Ingrid leaned out of the saddle, wielding the riding crop and bringing the heavy stone pommel crashing down on top of his leather cap . . . his eyes glazed and he simply folded up like an empty suit of clothes.” The man is knocked unconscious.
  • When one of the robbers tries to flee, Maggie’s horse “slammed his. . .The impact sent the man tumbling in the grass, rolling over several times before beginning to rise, groggily to his feet.” The man takes out his knife and goes after the horse, so Maddie uses her sling to shoot the man. “The scream was torn from him as the lead shot slammed into his forearm, breaking the bones there.” The men are tied up and taken to the jail of a nearby village. The scene with the robbers is described over 3 ½ pages.
  • The Foxes, a rebel group of men, attack an Araluen army as they forge a river. The Araluen army shoots a volley of arrows. Four of the enemies “screamed and fell. Another volley slammed into the enemy formation. More men fell.” At the end of the battle, the Foxes “were nursing their wounds and reluctant to move from the cover of the trees. . .eleven of their comrades lay where they had fallen.” The attack is described over four pages.
  • The rebels again send men to cross the river. The Ranger Gilan’s “arrow plunged down in a shallow arc and struck the lead swimmer in the right shoulder. The man let out a cry of agony and stopped swimming.” The man survives, but another rebel is “hit in the chest . . . he cried out once, threw up his hands and sank without a further sound.” Another rebel is injured when an arrow hit “his arm with its razor-sharp warhead, and blood started reddening the water around him.” After one man dies and three are injured, the rebels retreat. The skirmish is described over three pages.
  • As the Araluen army flees, the Ranger Gilan stays at the river. When the rebels send a man across the river, Gilan shoots an arrow but the next “arrow was even quicker. It slammed into the unprotected breastplate with the full force of Gilan’s massive bow behind it. . . ripped through the breastplate and into the man’s body.” When Gilan begins shooting “a volley of six arrows” the enemy retreats.
  • The Foxes again attack the Araluen army. Someone shoots at one of the leaders. “The arrow flew in a whimpering paragola, then struck home in the center of the rider’s chest, hurling him backward over the horse’s rump and leaving him lying still on the grass.”
  • During the skirmish, one of the Foxes’ sergeants looks at his men, and “the man next to him fell with an arrow through the top of his leather helmet.” The Foxes quickly retreat into the woods.
  • The Araluen army hides out in an old fort. The rebels stage an attack, trying to climb over the walls. “The bows thrummed with the ugly sound of release, and a few seconds later, six arrows slammed into the men crouched downhill.” As the arrows hit the men, they “cried out in pain and staggered back, clutching at the cruel barbed shafts that transfixed them.”
  • During the attack, Horace and a Fox commander fight. The commander “hacked wildly at Horace. There was a ringing clash of steel on steel as the two blades met. . . Horace’s sword darted out, fast as a striking viper. The super-hardened, razor-sharp blade cut through the man’s chainmail overshirt as if it wasn’t there . . . Horace jerked his sword free and rammed his shield into him. The Fox commander fell backward. . . crashing into the men on the ladder behind him.”
  • As the rebels begin to retreat, “the archers took up their bows again and began to pick them off as they slipped and staggered down the hill. Gilan shook his head wearily, sick of the slaughter.” Gilan orders his men to stop shooting. The battle is described over six pages.
  • Maddie was spying on the Fox Clan. Someone sees her and the men give chase. Maddie runs. As men charged toward her, “a shaggy form burst around the corner of the church, behind the men. Maddie’s horse, Bumper, slammed his shoulder into him and sent him flying. He dealt with a second in the same way, crashing into him with a sickening thud.” Maddie is able to escape.
  • The Red Fox Clan enters the castle through a bridge. “The rider drew his sword and cut left and right, killing them where they stood.”
  • Damon, the Red Fox Clan leader, tries to catch the queen. When the queen sees Damon, he has a “blood stained sword in hand and blood staining his doublet.”
  • In order to protect the queen, Maikeru and two men sword fight. One man “lunged at Maikeru. . . His sword was deflected immediately, and as he staggered slighty, the katana slashed quickly across his neck and he fell, a choked scream rising to his lips. His companion watched in horror. . . Maikeru went on the attack. Once again the deadly katana found its mark and sliced through chain mail and flesh. The second man fell, lifeless to the bridge.”
  • After Maikeru kills several men, the Red Fox Clan leader orders his men to kill him with arrows. “The two bows thrummed almost in the same instant. . . But the other [arrow] slammed into his chest, high on the right side. . . The two men shot again and two more arrows slammed into him, both hitting vital spots.” Even though Maikeru dies, the queen is able to get to safety because of him. The scene is described over three pages.
  • When the queen and her staff are safely closed up in a castle tower, Damon and his men try to smoke them out. When that doesn’t work, a man tries to use a ladder like a bridge to enter the room. Using her sling, Queen Cassandra attacks. “The shot slammed into [the attacker’s] left knee with a sickening crack and smashing bone and tendons.” The man falls to his death. Several men are killed in the same way.

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • At a festival, “barrels of wine and ale were propped up on trestles to ease the collective thirst.”

Language

  • Maddie is upset that a “damn nanny goat nuzzled [her cowl] aside and started chomping.”

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • A man wants to start a rebellion. He tells the crowd, “For thousands of years, our country was guided by a law that said only a male heir could succeed to the throne. . . And it was a law that respected the will of the gods.” A man wonders why people “accepted so readily the concept that this was a law approved by the gods.”

George Washington’s Spies

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

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

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

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

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

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

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • None

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

None

Pax

Twelve-year-old Peter regrets when he and his father abandon Pax, his pet fox, in a forest two hundred miles away from home. Pax has been part of their family since Peter lost his mother five years ago, and the two friends were inseparable. To Peter, “leaving Pax hadn’t been the right thing to do” so he sets out to bring Pax home. Not far into his journey, Peter fractures his foot, and Vola, a veteran who lost a leg and knows the cost of war, forces him to stay at her cabin until he can walk again.

Pax, with the help of the local foxes, travels through the forest to find Peter. At first, he struggles with living in the wild, but he befriends Bristle and Runt, who teach him about hunting and survival. However, the foxes get into a tiff with soldiers, including Peter’s father, who is gearing up for an unspecified war. As Peter and Pax try to reunite, they are changed by their experiences.

Each chapter alternates between Peter’s and Pax’s perspectives, which allows the reader to understand their bond. In Pax’s point of view, the foxes speak in italics because “fox communication is a complex system of vocalization, gesture, scent, and expression.” The “dialogue” in italics attempts to translate their eloquent language. Switching the point of view adds interest to the overall narrative as the main characters reflect on the five years they have known each other.

Peter faces his limits but resolves to find Pax amongst a brewing war. Peter’s recovery time with Vola helps him gather his scattered thoughts and focus on finding peace within himself, his relationship with his father, and his relationship with his late mother. Older elementary school readers will relate to Peter, who must consider if he should leave Pax in the forest, effectively putting his childhood behind him, or keep Pax and move forward without knowing their future. By the end of the story, Peter learns that “his fox belonged to [Bristle and Runt]. And they belonged to Pax. Inseparable.”

While Pax has several light-hearted moments, it hits on grim topics, including war, death, grief, and betrayal. The descriptive, violent content may shock sensitive readers. Even though there are minimal effects of war on the humans, the foxes are threatened with violence at every turn. Despite this, the story’s slow pacing gives respect for each character. In the end, Peter has found his peace, and Pax has found another place to belong. The story’s conclusion is bittersweet; nonetheless, it demonstrates the inseparable, yet distanced friendship between Peter and Pax.

Pax is a raw and entertaining story suited for more mature readers. The alternating chapters begin with an illustration of Peter or Pax, and other black and white illusions are clustered in the beginning, middle, and end. The illustrations will help readers visualize the story’s characters and events. Readers looking for a compelling, but tamer story about how war affects animals should read Survival Tails: World War II by Katrina Charman and Judy, Prisoner of War by Laurie Calkhoven.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • Gray, an older fox, mentions, “When the war-sick arrive here, [his] family will have to move nearer to those colonies or go north, into the mountains.” The soldiers would come into the forest and clear the land for war. While traveling through the forest, Pax watched “the war-sick spread out along the riverbank, rolling out more wires, digging more holes, and burying more dark boxes under the hot sun.”
  • Throughout the story, the foxes hunt frequently. “In a second, Bristle’s head reappeared, and in her jaws was a wood rat. She leaped clear of the grass, bit through the rat’s neck, then dropped it to the ground.”
  • Pax recalls a story about two foxes. “A mated pair of foxes, struggling with something that reminded Pax of his pen—steel, but with jaws and clamps instead of bars. The steel jaws and the white snowy ground were smeared with blood.”
  • Bristle tells Pax about her parent’s death from a gunshot. Just before Bristle and Runt’s mother reaches the chicken coop, “steel jaws sprang out of the earth with such speed that the air snapped. Our mother screamed. The clamp held her front leg.” Their father tries to help their mother, but “the human raised the stick, and in front of our eyes our mother and father burst into blood and fur and shattered bones spattered over the snow.”
  • Peter steals Vola’s knife because he thought she might kill him. Peter “found the knife she’d left . . . the knife he’d stolen grew heavier across his thigh.” Later, she confronts him about her missing knife and scolds him for thinking she would harm him. “My tools? I have twenty acres of trees to care for. And I’m a wood-carver. You thought they were weapons?”
  • Vola says she has post-traumatic stress disorder from being in a war. “People around me, they called it PTSD, post-traumatic stress disorder, from being in the war. . . I had forgotten everything that was true about myself.”
  • While in the military, Vola killed someone. “I killed someone. . .  probably killed a lot of people, or at least contributed to their deaths . . .” She regrets killing him, saying, “Even though he had grown up in a different country—we might have had something in common. . . But I’d killed him, so now we would never know. I searched his body, not for weapons, but for clues to who he’d been.”
  • An unnamed fox injures Gray. “The challenger ignored the peaceful greeting and sprang, hitting the old fox hard in the flank and pinning him down, then sank his teeth into Gray’s thin neck. . . The puncture was deep.”
  • An explosion kills Gray. “Gray tripped. Instantly, the scorched-air smell sizzled up from the spot like an earthborn bolt of lightning, and at the same second the riverbank exploded. . .The old fox was still. . . The scent of Gray’s death was on Pax’s fur, but the foxes knew already.”
  • Lightning strikes Bristle and Runt. Bristle’s “beautiful brush was burned to a black crust” and Runt lost a hind leg. “Where Runt’s hind leg should have been, where the neat black-furred leg and the quick white paw should have been, there was only a shredded red mess on the blood-soaked leaves.” Peter finds the hind leg, thinking it belongs to Pax. “Fleshless and singed, but still he knew it was a hind leg. . .” When Peter finds his father, he “pressed the fox leg into his father’s hand.”
  • The towns that Peter walks through are vacant because they had been evacuated due to the impending war. Peter “had traveled on roads though vacant towns, past abandoned schools and playgrounds and neighborhoods spookily silent without their squeaking tricycles, their car radios, their pickup ball games.”

Drugs and Alcohol

  • An employee in a hardware store “took a drag on his cigarette” while speaking with Peter. The man “stubbed out his cigarette” when following Peter around the store.
  • Vola says she will give Peter “something for the pain, something that’s legal to give a child. . .a measure of willow bark. . . Aspirin in the wild.”

Language

  • Peter’s mother calls the rabbit that stomped on her tulips a “little devil.”
  • Several times, Vola uses the word “dyableman,” a Haitian Creole word meaning damned.
  • Peter uses “holy dyableman” once.
  • Vola says her first prosthetic “scares the devil out of [her]” and “scares the devil out of the crows, too, apparently.”

Supernatural

  • Peter refers to Vola as “witchy.”

Spiritual Content

  • Peter refers to the baseball field as “holy.”
  • Vola describes her concept. “It’s a Buddhist concept. Nonduality. It’s about one-ness, about how things that seem to be separate are really connected to one another. There are no separations. . . All these things are separate but also one, inseparable.”

by Jemima Cooke

Salt to the Sea

Set during the end of World War II, Salt to the Sea follows the story of four refugees seeking shelter from the rampages of war. With the rapid advance of Soviet forces against Hitler’s Reich in Poland, Latvia, East Prussia, and Lithuania, thousands of refugees flood toward the port of Gotenhafen with the dim hope of escape. For these thousands, Gotenhafen is a chance to flee the inevitable onslaught and destruction created by the oncoming Soviets. Amidst this hurried procession of souls are four teenagers who witnessed the innumerable tragedy wrought by war. Each teen is from a different homeland and has a different background, yet all have equally dangerous secrets.

Joana is a nineteen-year-old Lithuanian expatriate who previously spent the entirety of the war as a conscripted nurse, tending to wounded and dying soldiers. Florian is an eighteen-year-old Prussian thief and forgery master wanted by the Nazis because of his shameful past. Alfred, also referred to as “Frick”, is a delusional seventeen-year-old Nazi Kriegsmarine soldier who is attempting to overwrite his troubled past through enlistment. Emilia is a fifteen-year-old Polish refugee running from the destruction of her homeland as both the Nazis and Soviets hunt her and her countrymen. Each character carries their own mysteries, whether shameful or perilous.

Salt to the Sea is told in first person point of view, with the main narrative being split between the four characters. Each chapter shifts from one character’s point of view to another, creating a cleverly knitted narrative that explores the ongoing tumult of their lives. Although each of our four protagonists have their own agendas, the audience can sympathize with each character as they struggle to not only survive but to also find themselves.

Salt to the Sea is a fast-paced, intense, and emotional story that will have readers gripped to the very last page. Sepetys does an incredible job weaving multiple narratives into one effortless adventure. Each chapter provides the reader with an increasingly dark understanding regarding the horrors of war and the vast challenges that refugees must overcome. As this book follows the inevitabilities of war, there are distinct violent moments and deaths which Sepetys has written to be intentionally jarring.

Although distressing and dark, Salt to the Sea tells the hopeful story of refugees fighting for a better future and their personal growth along the way. Salt to the Sea is a must-read for all those interested not only in history but also in the human condition as Sepetys colorfully illustrates the horrors of war.

Sexual Content

  • There are references to rape or other non-consensual sexual content. A passing elderly refugee asks Joana if she carries any poison. The woman says “I understand. But you are a pretty girl. If Russia’s army overtakes us, you’ll want some [poison] too.”
  • While on the boat, Joana kisses Florian. “She stood on her toes, took my face in her hands, and kissed me.”
  • When she was fifteen, Emilia became pregnant when she was raped.

Violence

  • While fleeing through a snow-laden forest, Florian kills a Russian soldier who was harassing Emilia. Florian “stood in the forest cellar, my gun fixed on the dead Russian.” The killing was not described.
  • Multiple references are made to Hitler’s Final Solution. “Hitler aimed to destroy all Poles. They were Slavic, branded inferior. . . Hitler set up extermination camps in German-occupied Poland, filtering the blood of innocent Jews in the Polish soil.”
  • While fleeing westward, Soviet planes drop bombs on top of forests which poses an immediate threat to Joana, Emilia, and Florian. “The bombs began falling. With each explosion, every bone in my body vibrated and hammered, clanging violently against the bell tower that was my flesh.”
  • Joana mentions the wartime atrocities committed by the Soviets. “Women were nailed to barn doors, children mutilated.” In addition to such terrors, Soviet soldiers were infamous for raping and pillaging entire villages, which involved the wholesale slaughter of male populations and the rape of a village’s women.
  • Eva, another refugee, references the potential violent fate of Emilia’s father. Eva says, “The senior professors in Lwów, they were all executed.”
  • While fleeing, Emilia saves Florian by shooting a wandering German soldier. The soldier “had a gun. He was pointing it. [Emilia] jumped up and screamed. Bang.”
  • Joana and a group of refugees stay at a deserted manor. Prior to this, soldiers brutally slaughtered the residents in their sleep. As Joana explores the rest of the manor, she discovers the house’s previous tenants and exclaims, “Dead in their beds. They’re all dead in their beds!” The bodies are not described in detail.
  • On their way to Gotenhafen, another refugee laments that the Soviets “shot his cow.”
  • While approaching the Frauenberg, the Soviet air forces shell the road. “A cluster of human beings behind us exploded with a bomb.”
  • As Joana and her group of refugees cross an icy river, one refugee falls through the ice and joins other unfortunate souls trapped beneath the frozen surface. “The ice in front of Ingrid was red, frozen with blood.”
  • Sepetys makes multiple mentions of refugees and their suffering, such as parents missing their children, or the children being abandoned.
  • Joana, a nurse, cares for the wounded on the Wilhelm Gustloff. Joana “would get these wounded men on the big ship.”
  • The Wilhelm Gustloff is struck by three Soviet torpedoes causing the ship to sink, killing thousands of refugees, including children. As the ship tilted deeper into the water, a passenger said, “The woman was right. We were all going to drown.” As the ship sinks, the ocean is strewn with dead bodies floating amidst the wreckage. “Thousands of dead bodies, eyes wide, floated frozen in life vests.”
  • A mother attempts to throw her child to a lifeboat, yet the baby tragically drowns. “The dark air was full of screams” of thousands of drowning men, women, and children.
  • Alfred attempts to throw Emilia off the raft, yet in doing so accidentally he kills himself. Alfred slams his head against the metal raft and falls into the freezing depths of the surrounding water. “Alfred was sent tumbling, crashing his head against the metal raft with a deafening scream”

Drugs and Alcohol

  • Before the start of the book, Florian is wounded with shrapnel which he sterilizes using vodka. Florian “turned the top of the soldier’s flask and raised it to my nose. Vodka. I opened my coat, then my shirt, and poured the alcohol down my side.”
  • Joana and Florian share cigarettes in a moment of respite from danger. Joana “pulled out a cigarette and ran it through my fingers, trying to straighten it.”

Language

  • None

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • None

by Daniel Klein

 

Slaves of Socorro

Hal and his fellow Herons return home to Skandia after defeating the pirate captain Zavac and reclaiming Skandia’s most prized artifact, the Andomal. With their honor restored, the Herons turn to a new mission: going to Araluen. But soon after they arrive, news comes of a Skandian wolfship attacking a village and enslaving twelve people.

With the help of the ranger Gilan, the Herons set off to track down Tursgud—leader of the Shark Brotherband and Hal’s constant opponent. Tursgud has turned into a pirate and a slave trader, and the Herons are determined to save the twelve Araluen villagers from him. The Heron crew sail into action. But finding Tursgud and freeing the slaves proves more difficult than the Herons ever imagined.

The Slaves of Socorro begins slowly, as it starts with the Herons returning home. When they are given a mission, the Herons travel to Araluen. Along the way, they see Tursgud’s ship and give chase, but Tursgud is able to slip away. Determined to find Tursgud, the Herons travel to Socorro. This causes the first half of the book to lack action and suspense, and readers will be glad when the Herons finally arrive at their destination.

The pace picks up in the second half of The Slaves of Socorro. Flanagan vividly builds the world of Socorro, which adds interest to the story. As the Herons come up with a plan to free the Araluens, Ingvar agrees to pose as a slave. His imprisonment shows his willingness to make sacrifices for strangers. Ingvar’s kind nature and loyalty are admirable. The Herons also highlight the importance of working as a team, as well as embracing each person’s strengths.

Fans of the Ranger’s Apprentice Series will cheer as Gilan joins the Herons on their mission. However, fans will be frustrated when several scenes depict Gilan in an uncharacteristic way. Gilan is not the only new character added to the story. Kloof, a misbehaving dog, joins the crew and adds humor to the otherwise serious story.

In typical Flanagan style, the book concludes with an epic battle that is somewhat bloody. Tursgud and his crew all die; however, their deaths are not celebrated. Even though many people die at the hands of the Herons, they intentionally try to disable their enemies instead of killing them when possible.

Slaves of Socorro may start off slowly, but the second half of the book is full of action as the Herons save the Araluens from slavery. The story’s difficult vocabulary and detailed sailing scenes make the Brotherband Series best for strong readers. Readers will enjoy the friendship between the Herons, Thorn’s gruff behavior, and the unexpected plans that Hal comes up with. Readers will be eager to begin the next book in the series, Scorpion Mountain, which will add another character from the Ranger’s Apprentice Series.

Sexual Content

  • When Lydia finds out that Karina and Thorn are going to a celebration together, Lydia sings, “Karina and Tho-orn, sitting in a tree-ee. Kay-eye-ess-ess-eye-en-gee.”
  • Thorn asks Karina to the celebration. Later, Thorn tells Hal, “Just wanted you to know, there’s been no . . . funny business between me and your mam. No . . . hanky-panky, if you know what I mean.”
  • Before Thorn sails off on a mission, Karina “threw her arms around Thorn’s neck and kissed him soundly on the mouth. For a moment, Thorn was caught by surprise. Then he responded eagerly.”
  • One of the saved Araluens thanks Hal and then “leaning in, she kissed him on the cheek.” When Lydia snorts, Thorn asks, “What’s got your undies in a twist, princess?”

Violence

  • The Oberjarl, Erak, sees Tursgud, “and half a dozen of his unsavory crew members” drinking ale. Tursgud’s “eyes were bleary and he was very much the worse for drinking ale.” When the boys are disrespectful, “Erak raised the cask high, then slammed it down on Kjord’s head. The bottom of the cask gave way and showered the remaining ale down over Kjord’s body and shoulders. . . He [Kjord] sat upright for a second or two. Then Erak grabbed his collar and jerked him up and back off the bench with one convulsive heave.” Kjord is knocked unconscious. Erak tells Tursgud, “‘Now pick that piece of garbage up.’ He jerked his head at Kjord, who was moaning softly. ‘And get out of my sight.'”
  • A man shows up in Cresthaven looking for help. The man says slavers “hit us after dark and caught us totally by surprise. Killed three and took twelve prisoners. The rest of us ran. . . [They] drove us off and sat around drinking and feasting on our food and ale—and burning down houses and barns.”
  • A group of men attacks the Herons. In the fight, Hal uses a large crossbow. “The force of the shot jerked the man’s leg out from under him, and he fell, dropping the bow and clutching at his injured leg.” The Herons create a shield with their bodies. “Four of the attackers went down in the first impact, as the Skandian axes, and Thorn’s mighty club-hand smashed into them. . . The leader looked back in an attempt to rally his men. . . [a crossbow bolt] hit him squarely in the chest. The impact hurled him backwards and crashed into two of his men, dead before he hit the sand.” Many of the bandits are wounded or killed in this eight-page fight.
  • While Ingvar is imprisoned in the slave market, another Slave named Bernardo, bullies him. “Each of his questions was accompanied by a vicious elbow jab into his [Ingvar’s] ribs.” Bernardo’s head jerked back with the first punch. . . Ingvar heard the sound of bones cracking as the man’s nose broke. Bernardo uttered a choked cry, dazed from the rapid sequence of devastating punches.”
  • To create a diversion, Gilan starts a fire in the gold market. As he is leaving, someone sees him and Lydia and calls for the guards. The guards attack and “Lydia took a pace forward and punched her dirk into the soldier’s upper arm. The heavy blade sliced through the man’s chainmail shirt like a hot knife through butter. He felt the sudden burning pain in his arm.” Several of the guards are injured.
  • As Gilan and Lydia flee, the guards continue to follow. “Gilan’s sword shot forward. . . the guard felt the impact, felt the point penetrate his chest and almost immediately withdrew. He felt the hot gush of blood that spelled the end.”
  • Hal and some of the Herons break into the slave quarters in order to free them. When they enter a room, a guard “began to rise, just as Thorn kicked the heavy table over. The two on the side nearest Thorn were caught by a quick back-and-forth sweep of his club, thudding into their skulls and sending them sprawling to either side.”
  • As the slaves try to escape, soldiers “began shooting at the fleeing slaves. . . the would-be escapees began to fall, some crying out in pain, others ominously silent.”
  • While trying to escape, a group of guards corner the Herons and slaves. Hal’s dog Kloof attacks. The guard “yelped in fear as Kloof’s jaws clamped shut on his sword arm with all the force of a bear trap. . .” Then the Herons rush the guards. “Thorn’s small shield slammed full into his face, breaking his nose and cheekbone. The sergeant stumbled backward, blinded by blood and tears, his hands to his face, sinking to the cobblestones, huddled over in agony.”
  • One of the Herons stabs a guardsman who “fell sideways, staring in horrified disbelief at the blood welling from the wound. His chain mail and his sword clattered as he crashed onto the cobbles.”
  • To prevent Tursgud from following the Herons, Hal secretly ties ropes to Tursgud’s ship. When Tursgud tries to follow, the ship is ripped apart, and “the water rushed in and the boat filled and sank. . . One or two heads bobbed on the surface and they could hear their desperate cries. Then they fell silent.”
  • As the Herons flee Socorro, guards use a catapult to throw huge boulders at the ship. The Herons use their own catapult to launch jars filled with pottery shards. The pottery shatters, hitting a guard. The guard “took a jagged, five-centimeter piece in the forehead. It tore a huge flap of skin from his head. Blood gushed out, blinding him, and he threw both hands to his face in pain.” Gilan and Lydia shoot arrows at the guards.
  • A guard accidentally hits a trebuchet, and a boulder fell on the commander who “was still hurling curses at the little ship as it slid past. . . when the huge, crushing weight landed on him. He screamed once, then he was silent.”

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • Hal’s mom soaks a “slab of meat. . . in a mixture of red wine and oil.”
  • At a dance celebrating the Heron’s return, wine and ale are served to the adults. “The band seemed to have mastered the art of drinking deep drafts of ale in sequence, so that the music continued, uninterrupted.”
  • The Herons go to Cresthaven to relieve a Skandian crew of duty. Someone tells Hal, “the ale is wonderful.” Before they leave, the villagers throw a party for the Skandians, who drink plenty of ale.
  • Smugglers bring brandy from Gallica into Cresthaven.
  • Wine is served at the gold market.
  • Tursgud and his men had been banned from “several drinking places.” So Tursgud went into a different tavern and “spent the night there, hunched over a table in the corner, repeatedly calling for his ale cup to be refilled.”
  • When the Herons return the Araluens, the village throws a party and offers their guests ale. The Herons drink coffee instead.

Language

  • The Skandians often use their gods’ names as exclamations. For example, when a dog eats a brush, Hal yells, “Let go, you fool! . . . Orlog blast you!”
  • When the Herons approach a damaged ship, Hal says, “Oh Gorlog’s socks, they think we’re going to attack them.”
  • Someone calls the Oberjarl a “silly old fool.”
  • Two brothers argue and call each other names, such as idiot and blithering twit.
  • Several times someone is called an oaf or an idiot.
  • Damn is used once.
  • A guard calls his commander a “son of a pig.”

 Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • The Socorrans build prayer towers for their gods. Hahmet is the god of war. Jahmet is the god of love. Kaif is the god of good harvest, fair weather, business and success, and family matters. The Socorrans pray three times a day.
  • The Hellenese believe in the goddess Ariadne.
  • When the Herons rescue slaves, one of them tells Hal, “May the gods bless you for coming.”
  • Someone says, “By Ergon’s tears,” which refers to an obscure Araluen god.

The Legend of the Shark Goddess: A Nanea Mystery

Ever since the war started, Nanea has done her best to follow all the new rules. When she meets a boy named Mano in her grandparents’ market, Nanea is shocked to hear him admit to breaking some rules—and bragging about getting away with it.

When things start to go missing from the market, Mano is the first person Nanea suspects. Nanea is determined to protect her grandparents, but Mano, whose name means “shark” in Hawaiian, seems to be hanging around the market more and more. What can Nanea do to keep her family safe from this dangerous boy?

Nanea’s story focuses on the effects of World War II in 1941. In a kid-friendly way, The Legend of the Shark Goddess illustrates some of the discrimination that Japanese Americans faced. Even though the story takes place after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, the story also revolves around Nanea’s efforts to discover who is stealing from her family. As the mystery evolves, Nanea realizes it is difficult to tell if someone is a “good shark or a bad shark.”

Nanea is obsessed with following the rules, which is one reason she focuses on her first impressions of others. For example, when Nanea meets Mano, she is convinced he is the thief because he breaks curfew. Nanea is so focused on proving that Mano is a thief that she never really considers that anyone else could have taken the items. While most of the suspects are not well developed, the story provides enough mystery to keep readers entertained.

The Legend of the Shark Goddess does an excellent job describing Hawaii during the 1940s. Readers will learn many facts about this time period as well as several life lessons. The story focuses on two main lessons: don’t spread rumors and don’t judge others. The repetition of the lessons is a little tedious, but the conclusion helps reinforce the story’s lesson in a surprising way.

Readers who love mysteries may be disappointed that Nanea doesn’t do much sleuthing and there are no clues to follow or riddles to solve. Instead, the story relies on Nanea’s impressions of others to build suspense. However, Nanea’s story is interesting and many middle school readers will relate to Nanea. At the end of the book, readers will find a glossary of Hawaiian words and facts about Nanea’s world. Even though The Legend of the Shark Goddess lacks mystery, readers will still enjoy spending time in Nanea’s world. Readers who like history with a dash of fantasy should also read The League of Secret Heroes by Kate Hannigan.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • None

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • None

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • Nanea often thinks about the shark goddess Ka’ahupahau, “who guarded the entrance of Pearl Harbor with her brother, Kahi’uka. . . She was born a human with fire-red hair. But as a shark, her body could take many forms. She could become a net, difficult to tear. And with her net body, she captured man-eating sharks that entered her harbor.”

Mare’s War

Mare’s War is a Coretta Scott King Award honoree and a tale of family, history, and resistance. Told in alternating “then” and “now” perspectives, the book follows Mare’s time in the Women’s Army Corps during World War II and as well as a road trip she takes back home to Bay Slough, Louisiana with her grandchildren in the present day.

The “now” sections are told from the perspective of Octavia, who is 15 and struggling to learn how to drive and fit in as a teenager. She tells about her conflicts with her older sister, Talitha.  Both sisters’ perspectives are given through postcards they write home to their mom and friends. Octavia does come to appreciate Talitha, at one point saying, “I’m actually kind of proud of my evil sister.”  Talitha is nearing her 18th birthday, and (through Octavia’s eyes) the readers see her struggles with boys, friendships, and growing up. Both sisters are reluctant to go on this road trip with their grandmother, thinking it will be boring, but the trip eventually brings the three women together, all with a greater appreciation for each other and their stories.

The “then” sections are told from Mare’s perspective. The story follows her from basic training all the way to Birmingham, England, and Paris, France. After an incident with Toby, a man her mother is involved with, Mare lies about her age to join the Women’s Army Corps. While she worries about her younger sister Josephine, Mare finds freedom and agency through her time in the army. She is relegated to some unsavory jobs as a member of a Black women’s unit.  In addition, Mare compares the discrimination she faces in the Southern U.S. to what she experiences in the military. When she returns home to Bay Slough, she sees how much has changed.

Mare’s War includes themes of family, growing up, and the importance of history. These themes teach readers to understand Talitha, Octavia, and Mare as they learn from each other. The reader sees the various forms of discrimination Black women experience at all ages, from the 1940s to the present day.

Mare’s War is an engaging story and one of the few books that address Black women’s role in World War II. However, the difficult scenes with Mare and Toby may upset younger readers even though these scenes are sexually charged, but not explicit. Mare’s sections use a form of African American Vernacular English, which could be confusing to readers who are unfamiliar with the dialect. At times, the easy-to-follow plot is slow. However, the characters make the story interesting and worth reading.

Sexual Content

  • When introducing Mare, Talitha and Octavia talk about finding her “panties” in the bathroom that have a “fake butt” attached. They describe them as “fanny pants”
  • There are two scenes where Toby, a character from Mare’s arc, makes unwanted sexual advances on Mare and other young women. “Toby been bumping me, touching me, cutting his eyes at Mama when he thinks she don’t see. He’s been talkin’ filth to Josephine…”

Violence

  • Mare’s younger sister Josephine (“Feen”) hides under the bed while Mare and Toby interact. Mare knows she must keep Josephine safe, so she defends herself with a hatchet. “[Toby] smacks me in the mouth before I can get my hand up. Feen hasn’t stopped screaming, but I have. I tighten my hands on the hatchet.” Mama eventually saves Mare and Josephine by shooting Toby, but he survives.

Drugs and Alcohol

  • Present-day Mare is a smoker, so there are many scenes that involve her and cigarettes.
  • Toby drinks and smokes in ways that impact his personality, character, and actions. Mare describes Toby. “I can smell that nasty pipe Toby always be smoking… his voice is slurred.”
  • While out at dinner, seventeen-year-old Octavia drinks an alcoholic beverage with Kahlua in it.
  • While out in London, Mare and her friends go to a cafe and a club where Mare drinks for the first time. She is 18, so it is legal, but the scenes do depict her enjoying drinking. When she first drinks, Mare says “when I take a sip, it’s not too bad at all.”

Language

  • Dad says Mare drives “like a bat out of hell”
  • When Mare goes out in London, she is racially targeted. Someone says “forgot who you are, n——found out you can get a white girl here. Been seeing you and them other c—ns of yours stepping out with them English whores.” Some of these words appear more than once in this section.

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • When Toby attacks Mare and Josephine, Josephine prays to Jesus asking him save her.
  • While Mare is in service, she communicates with Sister Dials, a religious figure.

by Talia Marshall

 

War Storm

In the splintered Kingdom of Norta, freedom for Reds and newbloods is closer than ever before. Torn between the two princes and the feuding noble Silver Houses, Norta is ripe for the taking. All the Scarlet Guard has to do is clean up the mess Maven Calore made, and create the type of nation that will never discriminate against Reds and newbloods. The first step is to rip the crown from Maven’s head.

In order to change the world, Mare Barrow must ally with Cal, the boy who chose the crown over her. Cal’s betrayal nearly broke Mare, but now she must fight alongside him if she wants any chance at winning freedom. If she doesn’t, Maven will surely overrun them all, and capture her for himself. Maven’s obsession with Mare runs deep, and he’ll stop at nothing to have her again.

For the Reds to rise, they must first go through a war storm. Scurrying from nation to nation and striking deep into the heart of Norta is only the beginning, and there are endless battles in sight. Are Mare and the Scarlet Guard willing to sacrifice everything to achieve the impossible? Or will Maven crush them and their dreams?

War Storm is the final entry in Aveyard’s Red Queen Series, and the story will not disappoint readers. As Mare and the Scarlet Guard are about to secure a future for themselves, they fight intense battles. The action-packed series features different combinations of Silver and newblood abilities, which makes every battle feel unique and fresh. Readers will love how each battle plays out differently than the last.

Of course, all those battles support the theme of war, as nearly the entire continent gets dragged into the civil war between Cal and his brother, Maven. Maven brokers alliances with the powerful nation of the Lakelands, as well as the smaller nation of Piedmont. While Cal allies with the free country of Montfort, the only nation known that allows equality for Reds, newbloods, and Silvers.

The characters in War Storm are strong and interesting. Mare has grown into a girl that’s strong enough to handle whatever is thrown at her. Another fascinating character is Evangeline Samos, Mare’s former enemy, who begins the long journey to overcome her Silver-born prejudices. These strong characters will keep readers on the edge of their seats. While not every main character gets the most satisfying ending to their arc, the ending ties up most of the loose ends and will leave readers happy. Warm Storm is a satisfying conclusion to Aveyard’s Red Queen Series.

Sexual Content

  • Evangeline is in love with her brother’s wife, Elane. Evangeline thinks, “It breaks my heart to know she isn’t really mine.”
  • Evangeline’s brother, tells her that their mother wants grandchildren. “Prodding after grandchildren. She escorts Elane to my rooms every night. I think she might even stand guard outside the door.”
  • Davidson, the leader of Montfort, shares a kiss with his husband, Carmadon. “They embrace quickly, touching foreheads and kissing, before Carmadon backs away.”

Violence

  • During an attack on a military transport, Mare sees Evangeline lift a vehicle. Mare watches as Evangeline “hisses as she raises the heavy transport off the road, revealing twisted limbs and a few flattened skulls seeping brain like popped grapes leaking juice.”
  • During a battle, Kilorn, Mare’s best friend, is thrown off a building. Mare thinks, “The crack and thud of Kilorn hitting the railing below makes me sick.” Minutes later, when Mare gets to Kilorn, he “jolts and hacks, painting the steps with his own blood.”
  • Mare gets revenge on the Silvers that threw Kilorn, killing them with lightning, “I have to look away from the charred remains. Only their buttons and guns remain intact, smoking with heat.”
  • When Iris meets with Cal’s grandmother, Iris pictures, “her grip changing, shifting, and then my skull exploding open, spewing brain and bone all over the transport interior.”
  • Just before being ambushed, Mare sees pine needles floating in the air. One pine needle, “sprouts before my eyes, a sapling growing in midair. It spears a soldier before any of us can react.
  • During an ambush, Tyton kills a lot of raiders with his ability to control lightning. Tyton, “blinks once, twice. Killing anyone within his reach, leveling them with a fury of electricity in their skills.”
  • Iris thinks about the man who killed her father. The man “cut his throat. Attacked him from behind like some honorees dog.
  • Mare kills a man who attacked her. She strikes him with her lightning and “then his face explodes; shards of bone and torn flesh arc forward. His body follows the momentum, slumping over me, and the thunderous touch of electricity returns as quickly as he falls.”

Drugs and Alcohol

  • During a dinner party, wine is served. Mare watches as her friend, Farley, “barely nods in thanks when Carmadon fills her glass with rich, almost black wine. She drinks deep.”

Language

  • Damn is used frequently. Mare thinks about Cal’s marriage to Evangeline, “Like us, Volo needs him. Needs his name, needs his crown, and needs his damn hand in that damn marriage to his damn daughter.”
  • Maven called Elane “Evangeline’s whore.”

Supernatural

  • Silvers and Newbloods have unique powers.
  • Mare is an electricon, a type of newblood that can manipulate lightning. Mare thinks, “I hardly know the depths of my own abilities. It’s the same for all newbloods I’ve met and helped train.”
  • Ella, another electricon, “used her own storm to strike the central, furious blue lightning cracking stone.”
  • Mare thinks about her ability to manipulate lightning, “I know what it is to pour lightning into a person, to sense their nerves sparking off and dying. It feels like a small death of your own, an ending you can never forget.”
  • Prince Bracken is a mimic. Iris thinks about his abilities, “If he were to touch me, he would be able to use my nymph abilities, albeit only for a time, and to a lesser extent. The same goes for any Silver.”
  • Jidansais is a telky. Iris thinks about Jidansa, “She used her talky ability to amuse Ti and me as children, juggling our shoes or toys with her mind.”
  • Evangeline is a magnetron, who can manipulate metal. After lifting a military transport, “Evangeline lowers the transport again. With a twitch of her fingers, she rips off one of the doors, allowing those inside to tumble out.”
  • Shadows can manipulate light. Mare sees, “The work of shadows, no doubt, manipulators of light. It sends harsh light and harsher darkness dancing across us all.”
  • Nymphs can manipulate water. Evangeline sees the signs of a nymph attack, “‘Nymph strike!’ I manage to scream as another towering wave crashes—backward.”
  • Evangeline recounts her first time teleporting, “It feels like being squeezed down to my marrow, all my organs twisting, my balance thrown off, my perception turned on its head.”
  • Windweavers can manipulate wind and air. Mare sees, “On the opposite side of the chamber, Radis gestures to Davidson, flicking out one hand. As he does so, a sudden breeze rustles through the Gallery.”

Spiritual Content

  • In the Lakelands, the people worship gods that don’t have faces.
  • Iris thinks it’s a blasphemy to speak for the gods.
  • Iris tries to get her betrothed, Maven, to accept her gods. When he refuses, she thinks, “Nonbelievers are not my problem. I can’t open their eyes, and it isn’t my job to do so. Let him meet the gods in death and see how wrong he was before he enters a hell of his own making.”
  • In Archeon, the capital of Norta, Iris tries to maintain her beliefs. She has, “a small temple—a shrine, more than anything—filled with candles and worn emblems of the nameless gods.”
  • In the Lakelands, the nameless gods are everywhere. Iris sees, “Worn faces, bland in their features, both strange and familiar, look down from the ceiling and walls. Our gods have no names, no hierarchy. Their blessings are random, their words sparse, their punishments impossible to predict.”

by Jonathan Planman

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