What’s the Big Deal?, one of four books in the God’s Design for Sex series, offers parents a script about sex they can read with their sons and daughters ages 8-11. Stan Jones, former Wheaton college professor and administrator, brings his experience as a psychologist and a father to the series, making it both informative and heartfelt. With only 12 short chapters, families can hit the high points in just a few sittings—but the book, published initially in 1995 and revised in 2007, spends too much time on AIDS and doesn’t address pornography or smartphones. It does include Scripture references, simple line drawings, and tough topics like homosexuality and sexual abuse.
The Focus on the Family Guide to Talking with Your Kids about Sex
edited by J. Thomas Fitch and David Davis
More than a decade ago Focus on the Family teamed up with the Medical Institute for Sexual Health to help parents talk about sex with their children. The result was a nearly 300-page guide offering well-researched answers to questions most families ask. Compared with the God’s Design for Sex series (above), the Q&A here isn’t as conversational and goes well beyond need-to-know basics. With so many controversial topics (like contraception and dating), it’s also likely to step on everyone’s toes at some point. A 2013 revision helps keep the book relevant for today’s Christian families.
The Young Man’s Guide to Awesomeness
As a counselor to young men, Johnson knows their biggest temptations when it comes to sex. Here he pushes teens to see the big picture, including the long-term effects of things like pornography and a hookup culture. He also challenges them to rise above their peers in living out God’s wisdom. Johnson does more than write well—his innovative format will hold even reluctant readers’ interest. Each chapter features frank talk about sexual dangers, a Bible study on King David, funny (yet wholesome) cartoons, and take-away points that will stick with teens.
I Have the Right To
Chessy Prout with Jenn Abelson
Some studies show that women constitute 88-92 percent of sexual assault victims, with teen girls at greatest risk. For advocate Chessy Prout, this isn’t just a statistic. In 2014, a senior at her high school invited Prout, then 15, to an isolated location and raped her. Prout deserves praise for her courage and resilience, but she interprets her experience in a worldly way, with explicit language and destructive attitudes about sexuality, politics, and religion. Teens participating in the hookup culture need cautionary tales, but not this one. Augustine’s Confessions conveys similar life lessons with less explicit storytelling and a better redemption.
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Four tales of adventure
by Mary Jackson
The Penderwicks at Last
Eleven-year-old Lydia, the youngest of the Penderwick children, takes the spotlight in this fifth and final installment of an endearing series. Wedding plans are underway for the eldest sister, Rosalind, to marry at Arundel, the grand estate where the saga began (The Penderwicks, 2005). A ruckus ensues with unruly animals, unwelcome interference from the estate’s former mistress, and an older brother aspiring to be a filmmaker. The family wedding is full of thriftiness, laughs, and delightful camaraderie. Birdsall charms again with a retro take on modern-day family dynamics, sending her beloved characters “prancing, leaping, gamboling into the future,” but leaving readers wanting an encore. (Ages 8-12)
Outlaws of Time: The Last of the Lost Boys
Alex’s world is turned upside down when he learns that Sam and Glory, the daring time-traveling characters he read about in his father’s books, are actually his parents. His disillusionment leads him into danger when Mrs. Dervish, the Vulture’s master, turns him into a powerful villain, El Terremoto. A fast-moving and sometimes confusing adventure follows, with Sam and Glory attempting to thwart a son they never knew they had. Wilson’s series finale succeeds in jarring young readers to think deeply about life and death and the effects of their decisions. (Ages 8-12)
The Journey of Little Charlie Christopher
Little Charlie Bobo’s world shatters when he witnesses his father’s accidental death. To pay his father’s outstanding debt, 12-year-old Charlie agrees to an expedition with Cap’n Buck, the cruel overseer of the plantation they farm. But Charlie soon finds himself on an international manhunt to recapture an enslaved family. Set in South Carolina in 1858 and told from the unique perspective of a poor, white sharecropper’s son—a product of the era’s Southern racism—the story shows how a widening view of the world leads Charlie to attempt a bold rescue scheme. Some readers may struggle with the book’s Southern dialect, but it is a worthy addition to historical fiction. (Ages 9-12)
Peak Marcello and his friends Ethan and Alessia set out to summit Burma’s highest mountain, Hkakabo Razi, in an effort to redeem an ill-fated climb in the Pamir Mountains. But first they must complete a four-week trek through a dangerous tropical rainforest. They also learn that their guide, the mahout Lwin, is on the run for murdering a girl. When Peak’s father, a world-famous climber, joins the team, past hurts resurface. This third installment of Smith’s climbing series assumes some knowledge from previous titles, but readers will enjoy its heavy dose of outdoor adventure and a redemptive ending. (Ages 12 and up)
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Stories about the struggles some kids face
by Rachel Adams
Insignificant Events in the Life of a Cactus
Aven, born with no arms and adopted, must move to a new place when her parents take over a failing theme park full of secrets. Without focusing primarily on Aven’s disability, author Bowling emphasizes the bonds Aven creates with two other outcasts at her school—one who is overweight and the other who has Tourette’s syndrome. Along the way Aven, who has a healthy relationship with her parents, learns to set aside her own problems to help others. Upbeat, funny, and touching, the story is about overcoming physical difficulties and being compassionate with yourself rather than becoming a victim of circumstances. (Ages 9-12)
Fish in a Tree
Lynda Mullaly Hunt
Ally has spent most of her school-aged life fooling people so they don’t know her secret: She can’t read. But the arrival of a new teacher who is determined to find a way to help her succeed shows Ally that with learning disabilities, knowledge really is power. This is a sweet and encouraging story about the importance of having education fitted to the unique challenges and strengths of particular students. By book’s end, Ally has learned that extending help to others is as important as accepting it on the journey toward health and success. (Ages 10-12)
Dandi Daley Mackall
Unlike the rest of the class, 10-year-old Laney is relieved when Lara starts going to her school, because it gives her classmates someone else to pick on. But Lara surprises everyone when she doesn’t respond to bullies the way anyone expects, and her example turns the school upside down. Full of redemptive themes, the book focuses on the choices and responses of Lara rather than her victimhood. Mackall, who tells the story as if it is Laney’s writing assignment, is also honest about the unhealthy family situations facing Laney and her classmates, but her discussion stays appropriate for younger readers. (Ages 10 and up)
Some Kind of Happiness
When 11-year-old Finley’s parents encounter marital problems, they send her to stay with her dad’s parents, whom she has never met. She is afraid they will find out about her “blue days,” which she copes with by making lists and writing stories about a magical forest called Everwood. When she arrives, though, she discovers Everwood is a real place behind her grandparents’ house. As Finley bonds with her cousins and slowly starts unraveling a family mystery, she learns that the love of family is strong and necessary, even when things are not perfect or beautiful. Note: The plot includes divorce, a tragedy, and weighty themes related to depression. (Ages 12 and up)