Wonder

By R. J. Palacio

From the back cover

My name is August.
I won’t describe what I look like.
Whatever you’re thinking,
it’s probably worse.

My thoughts…

August Pullman was born with a disease that caused facial deformity. But otherwise, he is a regular fifth grader. He had been homeschooled his entire life due to the many surgeries he had undergone as a result of his illness. In this book, we go on an incredible, heart moving journey of August’s first year of school. Middle school is especially difficult for kids to adjust into, but for August, it is even more challenging.
This is a wonderful book in the sense that it teaches empathy and delivers messages of strength and perseverance as we watch August grow and help everyone around him grow in one way or another. The Pullman family is full of love, happiness, and acceptance of predestination, which leaves readers in awe.
Parents need to note that there are mild mentions of crushes between male and female students in the fifth grade, as well as a kiss between August’s teenage sister and her boyfriend.

In a gist…

Extramarital Love/Relationship

  • August’s teenage sister, Via, states that she had an “instant’ crush on a boy she met at school in the chapter titled “Out with the Old”.
  • In the chapters narrated by Summer, there are some mentions of boy-girl attractions and dating. A boy sends a friend to see if Summer is interested in him so he can ask her out. Summer describes herself as “flat”.
  • A main character urges a boy to ask a girl out on a date because she likes him. He doesn’t end up asking her out though.
  • Via and her boyfriend kiss once.

 

Violence

  • August undergoes major bullying at school. From name calling like “freak” and “orc” to someone stating that he should kill himself because of his face. The kids at the school also avoid touching him or anything that he had touched afraid of catching his disease. August also faces some bullies that shove him and rip his sweater apart.
  • The Pullman’s family dog dies.

Profanity

Some name calling like “freak” and “orc”.

Smoking/Intoxicants

Miranda, Via’s friend, states that she smoked during summer camp of grade 9 and used to escape at night to meet with boys.

Degradation of Family/Islamic Values

  • A boy refers to August’s teenage sister as “hot” and also refers to one of their classmates as “hot” as well and that he has a crush on her.
  • Statement: “The universe was not kind to Auggie Pullman”. Allah is fair, and his love is all encompassing. Children should be constantly reminded that we are all tested in different ways and this world is nothing but a big test for all of us.
  • Ideology of incarnation in the following statement by Summer in the chapter “Warning: This Kid is Rated R”:”I think when people die, their souls go to heaven but just for a little while. Like that’s where they see their old friends and stuff, and kind of catch up on old times. But then I actually think the souls start thinking about their lives on earth, like if they were good or bad or whatever. And then they get born again as brand-new babies in the world.” To which August answers “I really like that, Summer. That means in my next life I won’t be stuck with this face”.
  • Some mention of ancient Egyptian gods when the kids work on a school project.
  • In one of the chapters narrated by Via, she remembers her late grandmother and questions herself: Will I really ever see her again or is that a fairy tale?
  • The author makes a number of references to the “face of God” being shown in the kindness of people. Towards the end of the chapter, the school principal also makes the reference to the face of God shown in humans and then he pauses and says “or whatever politically correct spiritual representation of universal goodness you happen to believe in.”

Positive messages

This book is full of positive messages. It gives the reader a glimpse into the struggles of people living with a certain disease or disability. The reader gets to experience a year in the life of Auggie with its struggles, endless bullying, but most importantly, empathetic helpers along the way. Seeing life through Auggie’s perspective will surely harbour empathy, compassion, and surely, some humility. One of the book’s main mottos is “When given the choice between being right, or being kind, choose kind”.

Aside from empathy and kindness, this book also portrays the following:

  • Summer calls her mom to pick her up from a “popular” group’s party, due to her feeling uncomfortable with the atmosphere of girls and boys partying together in a basement where a girl tells her that a boy is interested in her and wants to ask her out.
  • Summer states that her mother believes they are too young to date and says that she agrees.
  • Justin, Via’s boyfriend gets a glimpse of August’s struggles in life and tries to make sense of life:

“My head swirls on this, but then softer thoughts soothe, like a flattened third on a major chord. no, no, it’s not all random, if it really was all random, the universe would abandon us completely. and the universe doesn’t. it takes care of its most fragile creations in ways we can’t see. like with parents who adore you blindly. and a big sister who feels guilty for being human over you. and a little gravelly-voiced kid whose friends have left him over you. and even a pink-haired girl who carries your picture in her wallet. maybe it is a lottery, but the universe makes it all even out in the end. the universe takes care of all its birds.”

Final Verdict

The positive messages in this book are extremely valuable. Especially in today’s world of selfishness and vanity. The book emphasizes on the importance of love, acceptance, kindness, and finding happiness no matter what is thrown at you in this life. The concepts of life/death, predestination, and boy-girl interactions in Islam should be solidified in children’s minds before reading this book in order to protect them from unnecessary doubts.

Secret Agent Jack Stalwart: The Escape of the Deadly Dinosaur

By Elizabeth Singer Hunt

From the back cover

Meet Jack Stalwart, Code name COURAGE. Jack is an ordinary kid who becomes a secret agent by night, thwarting evil all over the world as he searches for his missing brother, Max.

DESTINATION: UNITED STATES

An eager young scientist has brought to life a dangerous flesh-eating dinosaur by crossing its DNA with that of his pet dog, Freddie. Can Secret Agent Jack Stalwart capture the dinosaur before it destroys New York City?

My thoughts…

There are 14 books in this series. This is a review of the first one.

I like this type of books for the thrill it provides young readers and the ideologies it instills that they can achieve so much more with knowledge and courage. It gives children the feeling that the world is truly at their fingertips and all they have to do is work hard towards their passion. Jack Stalwart learns about geography and the species of dinosaurs in the midest of an exciting adventure. Jack Stalwart’s adventures are fascinating and educational at the same time, but they are carried out without the knowledge of his parents.

 

In a gist…

Extramarital Love/Relationship

None.

Violence

None. There’s a dinosaur that destroys streets and scares people but does not lead to any casualties or physical human harm.

Profanity

None.

Smoking/Intoxicants

None.

Degradation of Family/Islamic Values

None. With the exception that the main character has joined the Secret Agency without the knowledge of his parents and is transported to different destinations around the world at night to carry out his missions.

Positive messages

  • Jack Stalwart risks his life by joining the Secret Agency in an attempt to find his missing older brother.
  • Jack Stalwart is very well-mannered among adults
  • This book provides a brief introduction to New York City, and it seems that each book in the series focuses on a country/city with some information provided.
  • A nice lesson on dinosaurs is presented in an interesting manner.

Final Verdict

Children would find this book exciting for it’s adventurous content and parents would be delighted for the history and dinosaur lessons interwound within the storyline. There is, however, a number of grammatical and spelling mistakes that left me wondering where the editor was at while editing the book.

The Baby-sitters Club: Mary Anne saves the day

By Raina Telgemeier

From the back cover

When The Baby-sitters Club gets into a huge fight, Mary Anne is left to her own devices. She has to eat by herself in the school cafeteria, figure out how to make new friends, and deal with her overprotective father. But the worst happens when she finds herself in a baby-sitting emergency and can’t turn to her friends for help. Will Mary Anne solve her problems and save The Baby-sitters Club from falling apart?

My thoughts…

This is the third book in the graphic series The Baby-sitters Club. A fight strikes between the girls of the baby sitters club resulting in a near collapse of their business. Mary Anne starts questioning her father’s strict parenting from the way he makes her wear her hair to how late he allows her to stay out on weeknights and weekends. At the end of the book, Mary Anne and her new friend from school discover that their parents used to be high school sweethearts.

In a gist…

Extramarital Love/Relationship

Mary Anne’s father has been a widower since Mary Anne was 2 years old, and Dawn’s mother has been recently divorced. The girls discover that their respective parents used to be high school sweethearts and start speaking to each other about how “dreamy eyed” their parents get when they mention one another. Towards the end of the book Mary Anne’s father asks Dawn’s mother out on a date and she accepts, their daughters get excited.

Violence

There’s a mention of one of the character’s mothers to have died when the girl was 2 years old.

Profanity

None

Smoking/Intoxicants

None.

Degradation of Family/Islamic Values

  • A girl from the babysitters club fights with her father and raises her voice at him for being too strict with her (not allowing her to stay at babysitting jobs until 10 PM like her friends and watching over her clothes and hair style). She states that she feels bad for treating her father this way but does not apologize. Her father comes to terms with the fact that his daughter has grown up at the end of the book and gives her some leeway.
  • A woman hopes the groundhog sees his shadow referencing a prediction to an early start to spring.
  • The girls toast with pizza at the end of the story.

 

Positive Messages

  • Mary Anne introduces the reader to her friend Stacy where she states that Stacy is so “glamorous, she even manages her diabetes in style”. This statement could possibly impact kids with diabetes in a positive manner, helping them realize that it is possible to manage such disease and live your life normally.
  • Mary Anne and her father say a prayer before dinner and pray for Mary Anne’s dead mother. Mary Anne mentions that her father prays for her mother before every meal.

 

Final Verdict

This may be a fun read among pre-teens. The idea of forming a babysitting club may give some inspiration for hard work and entrepreneurship. Two of the characters’ parents (now single) reconnect after many years of separation and agree to go on a date to rekindle their old love relationship. This part of the story is not the main theme but it is however emphasized on several occasions.

The Secret Zoo (Book 1)

By Bryan Chick

 

From the back cover

Noah’s sister Megan has disappeared, and he thinks that the Clarksville City Zoo has something to do with it. The animals are acting strangely, leaving cryptic messages for Noah and his friends Ella and Richie. Following the clues, they soon find themselves lost in a secret world more astonishing — and dangerous— than they ever imagined. Befriending polar bears, penguins, and rhinos on the way, Noah and his friends embark on a wild adventure to find Megan and bring her home.

My thoughts…

Noah finds cryptic leads to the whereabouts of his missing sister and calls upon his two best friends to help find her which makes one wonder, why didn’t he ask for his parents’ help instead? Eventually the kids are warned not to tell adults but they embark on the mission without their parents’ knowledge from the start. As in saying, if you get in trouble, ask your friends for help and not your parents. As the story progresses, it is revealed that a whole secret city was built by the magic of three Indian magicians. The purpose of the secret city is noble (to save some animal species from extinction) but the use of magic is Haram in Islam. As I was reading the book I couldn’t help but wonder if the lead character, Noah, was made to resemble the prophet Nooh’ in more than one aspect.

In a gist...

 

Extramarital Love/Relationship

None. However, the main characters are four friends, two girls and two boys. So boy-girl platonic friendship is displayed.

Violence

- The people of the secret zoo, including the main characters of the book, and the sasquatches engage in a battle that may be perceived as violent by some. The sasquatches attack the secret zoo animals and Noah with the clear intention of killing them. Noah at one point is pulled into a pond by one of the sasquatches and almost drowns to death. None of the animals or main characters die in the end.
- Mr. Darby’s story of the secret zoo may be emotional to some. A man loses his wife and son a few years apart and starts to go mad.

Profanity

Mild language like jerk, stupid, and butt are used.

Smoking/Intoxicants

Ella watches TV for a moment and sees a man smoking a cigarette on TV.

Degradation of Family/Islamic Values

- The kids embark on a mission to rescue Megan without informing their parents.
- They visit the zoo several times without their parents knowledge.
- The kids leave their homes at midnight, while their parents are asleep, after receiving a message about the secret zoo.
- Evolution is mentioned briefly without much details. Mr. Darby explains that some animals in the zoo are “almost human”, they have higher intelligence and awareness than others due to “higher evolutionary characteristics”. (Chapter 43)
- The story contains magic and supernatural abilities by humans. The whole magic zoo was built by the magic of three Indian magicians to save animals from extinction.
- Biblical references:
1. The boy’s name is Noah, and saves animals from extinction. Is the author retelling the story of the prophet Nouh’ from a modern perspective?
2. Noah’s friend teases him in Chapter 6 by saying “Looks like something’s been rocking Noah’s ark” when Noah tells them that he wasn’t able to sleep at night. He continues to say “Maybe the animals have been keeping him awake”. This was before Noah tells his secret to his friends, so it is obvious that his friend is referring to the story of the Prophet Nouh’ PBUH.

Final Verdict

This book would be a favourite for animal lovers. A magical city is built where animals and humans interact freely. The book ends on a positive note that when one believes, they can achieve the impossible - as is seen with the flying penguin. The book contains magic, biblical references, and some secrets are kept from the main characters’ parents.

Amulet #6: Escape from Lucien

By Kazu Kibuishi

 

From the back cover

A WORTHY MISSION … OR A TRAP?

Navin and his classmates journey to Lucien, a city ravaged by war and plagued by mysterious creatures, where they search for a beacon essential to their fight against the Elf King. Meanwhile, Emily heads back into the Void with Max, one of the Elf King’s loyal followers, when she learns his darkest secrets. The stakes, for both Emily and Navin, are higher than ever.

In a gist…

This is the sixth book of the series Amulet. Emily and Navin continue their quest to restore peace in different cities and fight the Elf King and his followers. The book carries on with the same concepts as the previous books of the series with one exception; the nullification of the mother’s concerns. I couldn’t help but notice by this sixth book of the series how naive Emily and Navin’s mother is and how they lead their own lives their way and she just follows their lead. It must be every child’s wish to have parents that let him do whatever he wants while controlling his parents as well but it was quite disturbing by this sixth book. The mother keeps babbling about how the kids shouldn’t be going out to fight and how they should be sending older people to fight but the children always ignore her or laugh her off and continue with their mission. The children’s neglect to their mother’s advice and commands are quite concerning in my opinion.

Extramarital Love/Relationship

None

Violence

– Their are ghost-like creatures that take over and control some residents of a town.
– An elf punches a boy in the nose and blood is illustrated dripping down the boy’s face.
– The ghost controlling the amulet is displayed and takes away a life.

Profanity

None

Smoking/Intoxicants

None

Degradation of Family/Islamic Values

– The dismissal of Emily and Navin’s mother’s concerns and advice, as mentioned above, is evident on page 20 of the book.
– On page 119, the mayor of Lucien states that she doesn’t believe in “prophecies, miracles, or premonitions” and Navin reassures her that he doesn’t either. The mayor is referring to prophecies given by talking trees but generalizing that one doesn’t believe in all miracles and prophecies may put doubts into young readers’ minds about the miracles and prophecies preformed by real prophets and messengers of Allah.
– the Stonekeeper that allowed his amulet to control him got the ghost of his amulet to prolong his life (page 182) but once her tried to get rid of the ghost’s control of him, it took his life away stating that it let him live longer than he would have without his help. The mere concept of anything prolonging one’s life is haram in Islam. This part of the book contains a form of Shirk in Allah SWT.

Final Verdict

The children’s mother is negated for most of the book, a ghost is believed to have prolonged a boy’s life, and two characters bluntly state that they don’t believe in prophecies and miracles. These are the main concerns I have for this book.

Amulet #5: Prince of the Elves

By Kazu Kibuishi

 

From the back cover

Emily survived the chaos of the Guardian Academy, but Mac Griffin has stolen the Mother Stone. With it, the Elf King forges new Amulets that will give him the power to invade and destroy the nation of Windsor. Emily land. Her friends lead the soldiers of the Cielis Guard in a fight to stop him, but Max stands in their way. And when she seeks information from the Voice of her Amulet, she discovers that the Voice is much more sinister than she ever could have imagined.

In a gist…

This book continues with the idea of the power of illusions.

Extramarital Love/Relationship

None

Violence

None other than the same type of supernatural battles that have been taking place throughout the series.

Profanity

None

Smoking/Intoxicants

None

Degradation of Family/Islamic Values

The book emphasizes the importance of family and strong family ties.

Final Verdict

This book displays supernatural powers and illusions while portraying the dangers of losing control of one’s self while seeking power.

 

Amulet #4: The Last Council

By Kazu Kibuishi

 

From the back cover

Emily and her friends think they’ll find the help they need in Cielis, but something isn’t right. Streets that were once busy are deserted, and the townspeople who are left live in crippling fear. Emily is exported to the Academy where she’s expected to compete for a spot on the Guardian Council, the most powerful Stonekeepers. But as the number of competitors gets smaller and smaller, a terrible secret is slowly uncovered – a secret that, if left buried, means certain destruction of everything Emily fights for.

In a gist…

The magic and superpowers displayed in this book are extreme. Extreme illusions are portrayed and the idea of gaining power through magic is emphasized. The Guardians of the Council at one point say to the Stonekeepers “show us your strength and we will make you a God”. This is a strong statement encouraging Shirk (denying the Oneness of Allah) and hence should be a reason for us to discourage our children from reading this book.

Extramarital Love/Relationship

None

Violence

The Stonekeepers are put in an area where they are expected to fight one another to death. One of the Stonekeepers jump at another and screams “I am going to kill you.
Vicious-looking creatures eat up some characters. No blood is shown but the idea is evident.

Profanity

Mild language like “shut up” is used at times.

Smoking/Intoxicants

None

Degradation of Family/ Islamic Values

The book emphasizes the importance of family and strong family ties.

Final Verdict

A character claims he can make the Stonekeeper a god on page 107. This is a great sin in Islam. If you feel the need for your child to read this book, you may be able to skip the bottom line of page 107 to avoid reading such Shirk and ensure your child understands the severity of such words.

Amulet #3: The Cloud Searchers

By Kazu Kibuishi

 

From the back cover

AN IMPOSSIBLE JOURNEY WITH DANGER AT EVERY TURN…
Emily, Navin, and their crew of resistance fighters charter an airship and set off in search of the lost city of Cialis. There they hope to find help from the Guardian Council’s powerful Stonekeepers. It’s a mission that Alledia’s survival depends on, and time is running out – Emily’s got to find Cielis before the Elf Kind finds her.

In a gist…

Book Three of the graphic novel series Amulet. Emily is still fighting the power of her amulet and trying to control it instead of being controlled by it. The only inappropriate seen I found in this book is that the kids, along with their escorts, walk into a bar that is referred to as a “drinking hole” where the customers are shown carrying beer mugs and later on are shown getting drunk.

Extramarital Love/Relationship

None

Violence

Much of this book is about using superpowers to blast off individuals and throwing enemies off of hills.
A hitman is hired to kill the King Elf’s son and another elf soldier.

Profanity

Mild language like “shut up” is used at times.

Smoking/Intoxicants

The lead characters walk into a “drinking hole” where pilots are getting drunk

Degradation of Family/ Islamic Values

None.

Final Verdict

Alcohol and violence are portrayed in this novel.

Amulet #2: The Stonekeeper’s Curse

By Kazu Kibuishi

 

From the back cover

Graphic novel star Kazu Kibuishi returns with his mysterious world full of new allies… and old enemies!

Emily and Navin’s mother is still in a coma from the arachnopod’s poison, and there’s only one place to find help: Kanalis, the bustling, beautiful city of waterfalls. But when Em, her brother, and Miskit and the rest of the robotic crew aboard the walking house reach the city, they quickly realize that seeking help is looking for trouble, dangerous trouble.

In a gist…

This book has a much intense plot compared to the first one in the series. The demons are illustrated with much more detail that could be found disturbing for young readers. There is some reference to some trees foretelling the future, which at first sounded alarming to me but later on in the book they explain that they cannot see the future but can predict based on past events. A curse was put on a city where it’s people started turning into animals. One of the animals is a pig and is shown on several pages. The amulet that Emily found in the first book gives her a lot of power which she needs to learn to control. The amulet speaks to her mind and she has to train her brain not to listen to it. I liked how the book emphasizes the importance of controlling one’s self when given great powers.

Extramarital Love/Relationship

None

Violence

– The elves’ mission is to kill Emily and her aid. Orders to kill Emily are given throughout the book.
– some killing between the elves is shown, no blood though.
– Very graphic depictions of beasts

Profanity

None

Smoking/Intoxicants

None

Degradation of Family/ Islamic Values

None, the family members put themselves through danger to save one another.

Final Verdict

Overall, this book seems harmless for your kids to read inshallah if you keep the above points in mind.

The Lonely Lake Monster (Book 2)

By Suzanne Selfors

 

From the back cover

Pearl Petal and Ben Silverstein can’t wait for their first official day as apprentices of Dr. Woo, veterinarian for imaginary creatures. That is, until they are tasked with clipping the sasquatch’s toenails. Gross!

Then Pearl spots a monster in the lake behind the hospital. Even though they were told not to leave the building for any reason, Pearl sets off for a closer look, with Ben trailing cautiously behind.

The outing goes awry when Ben is captured by the creature and held hostage on an island in the middle of the lake. It’s up to Pearl to hatch a rescue mission. Will she save the day or cement her reputation as the town troublemaker? And will the hospital’s secret patient be able to help?

Suzanne Selfors takes readers on an incredible adventure full of mythical creatures and astonishing discoveries that are anything but imaginary.

This book includes bonus writing, art, and science activities that will help readers discover more about the mythological creatures featured in The Lonely Lake Monster. These activities are designed for the home and the classroom. Enjoy doing them on your own or with friends!

In a gist…

This book is a continuation to the series The Imaginary Veterinary with Pearl Petal being the lead character instead of Ben Silverstein like we saw in the first book The Sasquatch Escape. Pearl has a reputation around town of being a troublemaker and the reason for this reputation is clearly portrayed in this book. Her curiosity and lack of self control seem to always get her into trouble. Ben follows Pearl’s lead in breaking the rules set by the hospital staff – as long as they don’t get caught then it’s ok to break the rules, as Pearl once states – They both lie to their parents and guardians about the worm hospital because they are asked to keep their real jobs a secret. Although lying and having secrets from one’s parents at such a young age are concerning, Pearl has plausible characteristics such as her love of learning, and seems to stop at nothing to achieve her goals.

Extramarital Love/Relationship

None

Violence

None. Dr. Woo has some scars and a missing finger but the book does not elaborate on their causes.

Profanity

None

Smoking/Intoxicants

None

Degradation of Family/ Islamic Values

– Lying to parents at some points.
– Hiding secrets from their guardians.
– Pearl tells Ben that “sometimes it’s ok to break the rules” as long as they don’t get caught.

Final Verdict

A thorough discussion of the above points with your children should resolve the issues of this particular book. The activities present at the back of the book are fun to try out and very beneficial.