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.

The Land of Stories: The Enchantress Returns

By Chris Colfer

From the back cover

ENTER THE LAND OF STORIES
WHERE FAIRYTALES ARE REAL

The evil Enchantress, who cursed Sleeping Beauty, is back with a vengeance. Can Alex and Conner Bailey save the fairy-tale world from the greatest threat it’s ever faced?

My thoughts…

Did they really live “happily ever after”?
Alex and Conner manage to escape into the world of fairytales a second time and catch up with many characters we’ve read about during our childhoods. They find that The Enchantress has returned and begun casting spells on different kingdoms in order to take over both worlds, the fairytale world and our world.

Since this book is a continuation of the fairytale stories of characters like Sleeping Beauty, Cinderella, Little Red Ridinghood, Repunzal, Jack (from Jack and the beanstalk), and some more, parents should note that some kissing between male and female characters occur as well as romantic relationships and jealousy leading to tremendously evil deeds are carried out.

In a gist…

Extramarital Love/Relationship

  • Alex and Conner’s mother has a boyfriend. She receives a bouquet of red roses with a card saying “Happy six months, xoxo” from her boyfriend. The kids read it and ask their mother about it where she admits that she had been dating him for six months. Bob, the twin’s mother’s boyfriend tells them that he wants to propose to their mother and talks to them about how much he loves her and that he’d never been happy before meeting her.
  • Mother Goose tells the twins that her and Leonardo Da Vinci had a “fling” and that they dated.
  • Chapter 2: The twins’ mother says that she fell in love with their father and dated for 2 months before they got married. Conner then wonders if it would be awkward for both his dad and his mom’s boyfriend to be all together in heaven.
  • A villain tells a story of a girl that became pregnant out of wedlock and agreed to give her baby away for money.
  • Chapter 11: while the kids are in fairytale land, one of the characters tells them that he’s in a romantic relationship with Red Riding Hood and they’re living together. He talks about her ex and how she still has emotions for him but doesn’t doubt her affection towards him.
  • Red Riding Hood goes through an emotional turmoil after going on an adventure with her boyfriend and ex at the same time.
  • Chapter 13: The Enchantress recounts the stories of 5 men she either fell in love with or had fallen for her. These stories of broken hearts are what changed her into a villain. She began hating helping others and looking for vengeance.
  • Chapter 21: two characters (male and female) share a long intimate goodbye kiss.
  • Chapter 26: Red kisses the Frog and it is sated that she was not repulsed by his slimy lips.

Violence

  • The Enchantress sends vines around a Kingdom and tortures characters with them. She creates fires that consume villages.
  • Some polar bears attack the main characters but they escaped. A polar bear falls into ice water.
  • The Enchantress floods the village of the Trolls while some characters are under ground and escape death.
  • A mother is threatened that her baby will be thrown into the fire if the king does not surrender his land to The Enchantress.
  • The Enchantress disintegrates at the end.

 

Profanity

None

Smoking/Intoxicants

  • Mother Goose gets drunk on the first night she arrives at the twins’ house leading Conner to exclaim that she’s his favourite fairytale character for getting drunk. She also offers the drink to the twins but they refuse saying they’re not legally allowed.
  • Mother Goose continues getting drunk with some soldiers every night.
  • Mother Goose tells the kids that Humpty Dumpty had a great fall because he couldn’t hold his gin.

Degradation of Family/Islamic Values

  • The story includes magic, fairies, and immortal beings.
  • The characters in Fairyland live eternally. Only Allah lives eternally.
  • In chapter 7: Mother goose sings drunkenly “I haven’t had this much fun since I was so very young, and used to rub-a-dub-dub with the three men in the tub”.
  • Mother Goose keeps getting drunk and makes some inappropriate references.
  • Mother Goose gambled and won the giant goose she rides on.
  • The Enchantress has the ability of collecting souls and placing this inside glass jars.
  • Two main characters boast about stealing.
  • The Snow Queen controls the weather and tells prophecies.
  • Chapter 19: A character proclaims “what in the name of Mother Goose is going on?”
  • A statement describing severe winds and thunder “it was as if Mother Nature was mourning”.
  • The villain has to master the “seven deadly sins of this world and conquer its past, present, and future” to take over the fairytale world as well as our world. In Islam, it is believed that communicating with jinn and receiving aid from them requires committing a number of great sins as well, including some demonic rituals. Is the author blending “Fairytale world” with what we know as the world of the jinns? The fairytale characters have superpowers, live long lives (sometimes immortally), and some of them can travel to our world and be seen by humans.
  • A story is narrated about a character that was born out of wedlock.

Positive messages

The twins love their mother and go to great lengths to save her. Their mother also works hard to take care of them on her own after their father’s death. The children protect and take care of each other. They also remember their late father fondly.
The book also displays the extremes to which jealousy may lead. And finally, that the villain is always destroyed at the end.

Final Verdict

The plot is interesting and funny at times. Children would find joy in reading a continuation to the stories of their favourite characters from their childhood. However, like most, if not all, fairytales, some of this story’s main themes is love, relationships (including kissing), magic, and maliciously evil characters

The Scorpions of Zahir

By Christine Brodien

From the back cover

Zagora Pym has always wanted to be a desert explorer. Her father, Charlie Pym, is exactly that, and she’s always loved to look over his maps of far away exotic places. One day she’s be trekking through the deserts of Africa and China, discovering hidden treasures from lost tribes. But Zagora would never have guessed that her chance to prove herself would come so soon. Like most adventures, it starts with a mysterious letter. The question is, how will this adventure end?

Zagora’s dreams of desert exploration are about to come true, but are she and her father and brother being followed? And will they ever make it back to civilization?

My thoughts…

A seemingly harmless trip to Morocco to return a stone turns out to be a very dangerous one for Zagora and her brother Duncan. Young readers will follow the young duo along with their father into the mysteries of the Moroccan desert while learning about Bedouin culture and Moroccan food. Parents should note, however, that the story contains magic, some mentions of omens, and a magic stone that possesses unworldly powers.

In a gist…

Extramarital Love/Relationship

Zagora meets a Moroccan boy that she gets close to but only as platonic friends. A hug between the two is portrayed but only to show gratefulness for helping her.

Violence

The characters fight giant scorpions across the dessert.
A snake wraps around one of the characters feet in preparation for attack but gets swept away before harming anyone.
A villain gets stung by scorpions to find her demise.
Hyenas attack some characters but they manage to flee without harm.

Profanity

None

Smoking/Intoxicants

None

Degradation of Family/Islamic Values

  • The kids’ mother is dead. Not much mention of her, but Zagora seems to be fond of her. The father does not remarry.
  • The father is regarded highly by the children although he seems to be too distracted by his work away from his children.
  • There are several mentions of good and bad omens.
  • Among Zagora’s description of nomads she states that they know spells that give you bad luck for the rest of your life.
  • Zagora mentions that one days she’ll get a tattoo of Arabic letters intermingled.
  • There are mentions of sorcery, magic spells, and prophecies.
  • Zagora performs some acts behind her father’s back but realizes they are wrong and apologizes to her father thereafter. Some of those acts include:
    • She takes a valuable stone and wears it without her father’s permission.
    • She hid her father’s book because she found it fascinating and wanted to read it but kept quiet when her father started searching for it.
    • She decides to strolls around Marrakech secretly on her own because she was growing too curious to wait for her father to give her a tour.
  • A mention of a “desert prophet” is portrayed a number of times. Sometimes in reference to the Azimuth King in the book – as Zagora looks through some old glyphs on a cave wall she sees a picture drawn of a man with long flowing hair and a braided beard “exactly the way she [Zagora] imagined a desert prophet” is written.
  • The magic stone has the ability of bringing extinct creatures back to life.

Positive messages

The author is obviously fascinated by the desert and Arabic culture. Zagora and her father are passionate about the desert and it’s people. I think Muslim readers would be delighted by all the positive messages sent about the desert life and Bedouins. All the Arabic characters are harmless and very helpful at times; contradictory to what we see in the mainstream media nowadays. Zagora and her father love the sound of the Arabic language and the author’s description of Arabic writing makes the reader fall in love with the language all over again.

Final Verdict

Both, Zagora and her brother Duncan have high regards for their father. The book takes the reader on an exciting journey along the Moroccan deserts on a mission of restoring peace to a long lost city. Arabic culture is portrayed in a beautiful manner along with the heroism of some of the Moroccan children present in the book. References to magic and omens are present.

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 Great Shelby Holmes

By Elizabeth Eulberg 

 

From the back cover

As we rounded another corner, Shelby’s eyes go big. She looked like a little kid on Christmas morning. There, parked outside a deli on the opposite side of the street was a cop car with its lights flashing.
Shelby clapped her hands together excitedly. “Watson, I’ve got work to do”.

My thoughts…

John Watson’s mother finally settles with her son in New York City after years of moving around the United States serving at different military bases. Being new to the city, Watson finds himself shadowing his peculiar, yet interesting, neighbor Shelby Holmes: a self-proclaimed best detective in NYC. Watson not only helps his neighbour solve her new case, but also gains a friend along the way.
This book would attract to many young readers for its mysterious plot line and the kids’ impressive detective skills.
The book contains platonic relationship between John Watson and Shelby Holmes.

In a gist…

Extramarital Love/Relationship

– John Watson’s parents are going through a divorce. Not much details are given.
– Platonic relationship between John and Shelby
– In chapter 14, Shelby acts awkwardly around one of the male characters. She speaks nicely with him, which she never does with anyone, and she takes hold of his hand. John suggests she is flirting with him however, at the end of the book it is revealed that what was perceived as “flirtation” was only Shelby collecting clues to solve her case.

Violence

None.

Profanity

None.

Smoking/Intoxicants

None.

Degradation of Family/Islamic Values

– John’s parents are going though a divorce where his mother takes him and settles to New York and the father moves elsewhere. Throughout the book, John remembers his father and wishes he was with them. John’s father does not call when he promises to call throughout the story until the end of the book where the father-son relationship seems to heal upon his father’s call.

Final Verdict

This book contains interesting details about detective work and shows Shelby’s plausible abilities at collecting clues and solving mysteries around the city. John is very respectful of his parents and does not keep secrets from his mother. John and Shelby are engaged in an innocent platonic relationship.

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.