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Culture Children's Books
In 1660 London, 14-year-old Christopher possesses a cipher that may be the key to finding the truth about who is murdering the city’s apothecaries. Officials suspect the boy, so he sets off down dark alleys and into strange, nearly magical shops to discover the real killer … before it is too late! Careful research lends historical realism to the apothecaries’ practices. Christopher’s narration is lively and enjoyable—but has occasional crude humor. Most young readers will race through the book to unlock the ending.
The Seventh Most Important Thing
Thirteen-year-old Arthur T. Owens doesn’t like collecting trash in a grocery cart, but after he throws a brick at a trash picker named James Hampton, authorities assign him the task as an alternative to juvenile detention. Still grieving his father’s death, Arthur initially despises helping Hampton retrieve “important” items such as bottles and lightbulbs. Eventually Arthur finds hope, friendship, and a kind of redemption among the rubbish. Pearsall’s portrayal of the 1960s isn’t convincing, but she tells an engaging story of the relationship between Arthur and Hampton.
Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard, Book 1: The Sword of Summer
On his 16th birthday, Magnus Chase learns he’s a Norse demigod and it’s his last day on earth. He dies battling a fire giant, which sends his soul to Valhalla, the realm of immortal heroes, where he learns of a plot to trigger the Norse Apocalypse. It’s up to Magnus and his friends to locate the Sword of Frey and prevent the end of the world. Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard has snappy characters and Rick Riordan’s signature wit, but also contains crude humor and an underwhelming multicultural worldview.
Fifteen-year-old Peak is on a Peace Climb in rural Afghanistan when French—not Muslim—kidnappers abduct his mother and several other climbers. Peak and a retired Marine set out to rescue them, scrambling across the Pamir Mountains to save them. Life-or-death chase scenes—rather than ho-hum descriptions of mountain climbing—help keep readers on the edge of their seats. Smith provides clean fare, both in language and sexual content, and the violence happens off the page. But he weaves into the book’s politically correct plot Buddhist superstitions and the sense that all religions are equally true.
The “young reader adaptation” of The Boys in the Boat: The True Story of an American Team’s Epic Journey to Win Gold at the 1936 Olympics (Viking Books for Young Readers) is inspiring. Daniel James Brown tells the story of Joe Rantz, who was abandoned by his family at age 10 and survived by selling moonshine, foraging for mushrooms, and stealing salmon out of a local stream. After his brother helped him into the University of Washington, Joe became part of the college crew team—a team so talented his coaches thought it could earn a spot at the 1936 Berlin Olympics, if Joe and his teammates learned to pull together.
Brown shows readers 12 and up Rantz’s quest for community and Olympic gold. The Boys in the Boat can serve as a launching point for family discussions about our place on God’s team and working for God’s glory. —E.W.