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Culture Children's Books


  • Handout

    Alex Gino Handout

Children's Books

Children's books

Historical profiles for ages 10-16

Young readers find biography a fascinating branch of nonfiction, and this glance at America’s best-known naturalist is both engaging and beautiful. From his childhood as the beloved illegitimate son of a wealthy French sea captain, to his joyful discovery of New World fauna while living hand to mouth as a portrait painter, to the unexpected triumph of Birds of America, Audubon lived a charmed life even in hardship. His footloose character (and that of his faithful and patient wife) comes through, but also his love and reverence for God’s creation, shown in the gorgeously reproduced prints.

Fatal Fever: Tracking Down Typhoid Mary

When typhoid fever broke out among New York elites in 1906, frightened citizens hired health inspector George Soper to track down the source of the disease, which was fatal in at least 1 case out of 10. The search ended with Mary Mallon, an Irish immigrant cook with excellent references who proved to be the rare case: a carrier who could pass on the disease without showing symptoms of it. Fatal Fever reads like a crime investigation, with tabloid touches and dramatic moments. Once authorities quarantine Mary, the tension drops, but readers will certainly feel convicted about washing their hands. 

Most Dangerous: Daniel Ellsberg and the Secret History of the Vietnam War

Daniel Ellsberg—the “most dangerous man in America”—is Sheinkin’s pivot point for his engaging history of the messy Vietnam War era. Ellsberg began the war as a promising young government analyst. By war’s end he was a prominent anti-war protester, intentionally leaking secret government documents—the Pentagon Papers—to the press. Sheinkin creates complex and nuanced portraits of historical figures from presidents to war correspondents, and offers no easy answers. Suspenseful action, terse descriptions, and a “spy movie” feel make this a page turner even for adults. Plentiful endnotes and documentation support Sheinkin’s claims.

Bonhoeffer, Student Edition: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy

Metaxas chooses interesting details and original quotations to humanize Bonhoeffer and explore his enormous influence on the German church during the rise of the Nazi regime. He challenges readers to connect Bonhoeffer’s struggles to present-day concerns such as personal faith, prayer, and boldness. Beginning with timelines and ending with “things to think about,” chapters form succinct units complete with vocabulary (“idolatry,” “pacifism”), maps, and photographs. Bonhoeffer’s critique of Nazi power can shed light for young Christians about the challenges facing the church today.

Spotlight

The protagonists of George by Alex Gino (Scholastic, 2015) and Gracefully Grayson by Ami Polonsky (Disney-Hyperion, 2014)—two recent novels aimed at middle-graders—long to play leading parts in their class plays. But Charlotte the spider and Persephone the goddess are female characters, and both George and Grayson were “assigned male” at birth. Thus the central conflict strides out front and center: how to assume a female identity when the world sees you as a boy.

With transgenderism framed as the new civil rights frontier, critics are lavishing praise on both books. Both George and Grayson come across as sympathetic, but the plotlines are thin and the writing style barely above average. The authors rely on stereotypical details like an obsession with clothes, accessories, and makeup to convey their characters’ female inclinations. That sets the books apart from most middle-grade novels, in which authors depict girly girls as airheads. Instead of fostering tolerance, such gender-blending and -bending is more likely to confuse than clarify. —J.B.C.

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  • Handout

    Alex Gino Handout

Children's Books

Children's books

Historical profiles for ages 10-16

Young readers find biography a fascinating branch of nonfiction, and this glance at America’s best-known naturalist is both engaging and beautiful. From his childhood as the beloved illegitimate son of a wealthy French sea captain, to his joyful discovery of New World fauna while living hand to mouth as a portrait painter, to the unexpected triumph of Birds of America, Audubon lived a charmed life even in hardship. His footloose character (and that of his faithful and patient wife) comes through, but also his love and reverence for God’s creation, shown in the gorgeously reproduced prints.

Fatal Fever: Tracking Down Typhoid Mary

When typhoid fever broke out among New York elites in 1906, frightened citizens hired health inspector George Soper to track down the source of the disease, which was fatal in at least 1 case out of 10. The search ended with Mary Mallon, an Irish immigrant cook with excellent references who proved to be the rare case: a carrier who could pass on the disease without showing symptoms of it. Fatal Fever reads like a crime investigation, with tabloid touches and dramatic moments. Once authorities quarantine Mary, the tension drops, but readers will certainly feel convicted about washing their hands. 

Most Dangerous: Daniel Ellsberg and the Secret History of the Vietnam War

Daniel Ellsberg—the “most dangerous man in America”—is Sheinkin’s pivot point for his engaging history of the messy Vietnam War era. Ellsberg began the war as a promising young government analyst. By war’s end he was a prominent anti-war protester, intentionally leaking secret government documents—the Pentagon Papers—to the press. Sheinkin creates complex and nuanced portraits of historical figures from presidents to war correspondents, and offers no easy answers. Suspenseful action, terse descriptions, and a “spy movie” feel make this a page turner even for adults. Plentiful endnotes and documentation support Sheinkin’s claims.

Bonhoeffer, Student Edition: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy

Metaxas chooses interesting details and original quotations to humanize Bonhoeffer and explore his enormous influence on the German church during the rise of the Nazi regime. He challenges readers to connect Bonhoeffer’s struggles to present-day concerns such as personal faith, prayer, and boldness. Beginning with timelines and ending with “things to think about,” chapters form succinct units complete with vocabulary (“idolatry,” “pacifism”), maps, and photographs. Bonhoeffer’s critique of Nazi power can shed light for young Christians about the challenges facing the church today.

Spotlight

The protagonists of George by Alex Gino (Scholastic, 2015) and Gracefully Grayson by Ami Polonsky (Disney-Hyperion, 2014)—two recent novels aimed at middle-graders—long to play leading parts in their class plays. But Charlotte the spider and Persephone the goddess are female characters, and both George and Grayson were “assigned male” at birth. Thus the central conflict strides out front and center: how to assume a female identity when the world sees you as a boy.

With transgenderism framed as the new civil rights frontier, critics are lavishing praise on both books. Both George and Grayson come across as sympathetic, but the plotlines are thin and the writing style barely above average. The authors rely on stereotypical details like an obsession with clothes, accessories, and makeup to convey their characters’ female inclinations. That sets the books apart from most middle-grade novels, in which authors depict girly girls as airheads. Instead of fostering tolerance, such gender-blending and -bending is more likely to confuse than clarify. —J.B.C.

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  • Robin V Brown

    Daniel James Brown Robin V Brown

Children's Books

Children's Books

Recent novels for teens

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.

The Edge

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.

Spotlight

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.

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