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Culture Children's Books

Finding courage

Children's Books

Finding courage

Four recent novels for preteens or teens

Podkin One-Ear

Kieran Larwood

A traveling bard narrates this tale of a warrior rabbit who loses his ear and confronts the vicious leader of the Gorm tribe. Once a spoiled chieftain’s son, Podkin gets “a sour taste of real life” when the Gorm pillage his underground village in search of a magical sword. The enemy kills Podkin’s father and captures his mother. Podkin and his siblings narrowly escape with the sword and set out to rescue their mother. Larwood’s fantasy-series opener includes good storytelling, sibling loyalty, and realistic black-and-white illustrations. After a David-and-Goliath-type standoff, Podkin’s sister chides, “Don’t let it go to your head.” (Ages 10-12)

Soldier Boy

Keely Hutton

This debut novel recounts the real-life experience of Ricky Richard Anywar, who at age 14 was abducted and forced to fight in Joseph Kony’s infamous Lord’s Resistance Army during Uganda’s long-running civil war. He and his brother witness scenes of brutal violence, murder, and rape, marred further by Kony’s twisted religious references. The novel jumps ahead to 2006, with a fictional “Samuel,” an 11-year-old recovering child soldier. Through that character Hutton shows there is hope for these traumatized young people. A graphic, troubling read suited for mature teens. (Ages 14 and up)

The Unexpected Life of Oliver Cromwell Pitts


Twelve-year-old Oliver Cromwell Pitts must fend for himself after a terrible storm destroys his home and his father disappears. Without money or food, the 18th-century British boy falls into a series of misfortunes as he makes his way to London hoping to find his father and sister. Told with dry wit and Dickensian style, Newbery Award–winning author Avi delivers a series opener replete with villains, adventure, and suspense. Among brutish adults, Pitts learns that even his neglectful father—a drunken gambler who taught him to “mask your heart with false smiles”—is capable of repentance. (Ages 9-12)

Yours Truly

Heather Vogel Frederick

Truly Lovejoy’s spring break begins with a disappointing 13th birthday, an unwelcome kiss, and unanticipated jealousy of her visiting cousin Mackenzie. But Pumpkin Falls, N.H., is abuzz as two local, rival maple syrup businesses report their sap lines sabotaged. Truly and her friends set out to solve the mystery and settle a small-town feud. Meanwhile, she discovers a hidden family diary that links their ancestors to the Civil War–era Underground Railroad. Frederick enhances this second Pumpkin Falls mystery with rural intrigue, historical subtext, and rich family and community ties. (Ages 10-12)


Kristen Hatton (Handout)


Written for teenage girls, Face Time: Your Identity in a Selfie World (New Growth Press, 2017) grew out of author Kristen Hatton’s experience helping her daughter overcome an eating disorder. A mother of three teens, Hatton pinpoints the “identity crisis” plaguing today’s young women and connects it to the pressures that come through social media.

Hatton roots the problem in our brokenness and inherited sinful nature: “Like Eve, we buy into lies and … want control. … We live as if we are the center of the universe.” She introduces topics like justification, sanctification, and idolatry, emphasizing that the cross of Jesus is the only place to find contentment.

Hatton also addresses common struggles for teen girls, including body image, drinking, sex, sexual identity, and self-harm. She uses short narratives with fictional characters to reveal root issues and Scriptural truth. Each chapter concludes with discussion questions, additional Bible verses, and journal space, providing a guide for parents and youth leaders. —M.J.