Category Archives: Children & Teens

Fiction that is written for a younger reader (K to 12th grade) and / or includes content appropriate for all ages. Can include the same themes as Young Adult but without the added adult themes that may not be suited for some in the same age group depending on maturity or parental guidance.

The Journey of Captain Scaredy Cat by Andrés & Wimmer

There are three areas that a children’s book must excel at, and where this one fails: language, story and artwork. So if the story doesn’t matter, the artwork isn’t important and you don’t mind pausing the story to explain the words used then this book is for you.

The Journey of Captain Scaredy Cat
Somos8 (Book 21)
Written by José Carlos Andrés
Illustrated by Sonja Wimmer
NubeOcho
April 2016

The story is supposed to encourage children who deal with fears to cover come them by asking the question, “is this fear real?” and then responding, “[thing] isn’t real” three times. This idea isn’t a bad one. Many times, a child’s fears are irrational. Ghosts? Sure, they aren’t real and self-talk is helpful in overcoming that fear. Vampires? Werewolves? Yes and yes. In fact, those are the three fears that Captain Scaredy Cat faces.

The problems start when the author starts the book out with the captain being scared of real things and it continues when any adult recognizes that children have fears that are all too often actually real. Death? Abuse? Fighting with siblings? Divorce? Yes, yes, yes, yes and more. And saying, “divorce isn’t real! Divorce isn’t real! Divorce isn’t real!” isn’t helpful. This logic applies to the things that Captain Scaredy cat is inexplicably afraid of as well: his clothes, his height, his shadow, the size of his shoes. How does saying, “It’s not real!” help any of his stated fears? They don’t. If a child is afraid of ghosts, well the refrain may work. But not so much for real fears.

If your child is afraid of ghosts, by the way, I wouldn’t recommend this book anyway. The very well done art can be terrifying for younger children. The ghost was his blanket that inexplicably turns into a giant monster ghost. The vampire and werewolf are similarly giant and scary. I have four children. I’ve never once, when one of them were afraid at night, thought, “I should show them scary pictures! That will help!” A shadow or the hint of a scary thing would be much more effective without actually causing fear in the viewer.

The choice of language used in the book is poorly selected. Odd words, including words not usually used by children (or even many adults) leaves the adult reader to explain words rather than moving through the story. Do you normally refer to “rancid” milk? Me either. I know that’s a thing, but a child may better understand “spoiled” or “rotten” milk leaving them free to follow the story.

In my experience with my children and with working with children for more than a decade I can tell you I would not show this book to them or recommend it to parents dealing with fear. The message is a good one for dealing with not real fears and in those cases I could see me asking guided questions like the book does, “Are ghosts real?” Then a refrain like the one included may help. Otherwise, I would pass on this one.


Scott Asher is the Editor-in-Chief of BookGateway.com. His personal blog is AshertopiA – a land flowing with milk and honey… and a lot of sticky people where he turns real life into stupid cartoons, writes on Christianity, Zombies, and whatever else he wants and posts Bible studies from his classes at church.

This book was provided by the publisher as a review copy.

Tales of a Fifth-Grade Knight by Gibson

knightJust your average story of three fifth graders who look for a missing little girl in their elementary school and who find themselves in a world of magic and nonsense.

Tales of a Fifth-Grade Knight
by Douglas Gibson
Capstone
August 2015

Isaac, Max and Emma’s Narnian transition from school play practice to the domain of the Elf King is equal parts fun and silly. Older readers, like me, will find the King’s threat of the children getting stuck there to be empty, but the fun isn’t in the resolution, but the adventure. All three characters are fun and bring different personalities and perspectives to the adventure. They are joined along their quest by an invisible person, a man-sized bat who is way smarter than he looks, and other zany characters who are slightly different than normal humans (I don’t want to give anything away.)

This is a fun book that kids in fourth or fifth grade will enjoy. My fourth grader did. He didn’t have much trouble understanding words and I was happy to find a clean book without worry about language or activities. We both recommend it.


Scott Asher is the Editor-in-Chief of BookGateway.com. His personal blog is AshertopiA – a land flowing with milk and honey… and a lot of sticky people where he turns real life into stupid cartoons, writes on Christianity, Zombies, and whatever else he wants and posts Bible studies from his classes at church.

This book was provided by the publisher as a review copy.

The Journey by Sanna

As I lay down on the ground with my 7 and 10 year old boys to read this book I considered the reasons for doing so. This book is not your typical children’s book with an upbeat and happy story. This is a story about war, death, destruction, fear, migration and refugees. Why should I read this to my young boys? Because I want them to understand the crisis and to empathize with those who have lost almost everything. Empathy is so powerful and it’s so lacking in the world today.

The Journey
by Francesca Sanna
Flying Eye Books
September 2016

We took turns reading the beautifully illustrated pages about the war (obviously Syria based on the starting point and the journey). The reading level was higher than my first grader but fine for my fourth grader. As we finished, I took a minute to unpack this for them. We discussed what happened and what it would be like to live through this. I explained that this is a true story and it really happens. I showed them before and after pictures of the destruction in Syria (careful to avoid pictures of casualties and injuries). “Why don’t we stop this?” they asked. I said it wasn’t that easy. In language they could understand I told them about the crisis and encouraged them to care and to pray for these people.

Hours later when they told mom about this story they were still upset that we couldn’t save these people – the nearly 6 million displaced, the over 4 million refugees, and the nearly half a million deaths. My hope is that thanks to a book like this children and their adult readers can come to empathize and care. That this isn’t just a news story that can be ignored.


Scott Asher is the Editor-in-Chief of BookGateway.com. His personal blog is AshertopiA – a land flowing with milk and honey… and a lot of sticky people where he turns real life into stupid cartoons, writes on Christianity, Zombies, and whatever else he wants and posts Bible studies from his classes at church.

This book was provided by the publisher as a review copy.

My First Book of Hockey by Sports Illustrated

Almost everything you need to know about hockey.

My First Book of Hockey
A Rookie Book: Mostly Everything Explained About the Game
Designed by Beth Bugler
Sports Illustrated
September 2016

This children’s book contains cut outs of photos of real players that are used to describe action and how the game is set up. There is a cartoon little boy who shows up occasionally to allow your child to connect and see themselves in the game. It covers very basic information, like how many players, what happens at face offs, scoring and some fouls. Exactly what a young person needs, in my experience.

My youngest guy, who is 7, is taking part in our local NHL team’s training program for new and have never played kids and so this book was my attempt to help acclimate him to that and to his first visit to watch a game live. It was very easy for him to follow along with and to get an idea of what he was watching and what he would be doing. The pictures had just enough visual appeal to keep interest (although as an adult, I found the pictures boring and sometimes out of context, but it’s not for me.)

I recommend this to others who want to introduce their children to the basics. I found it helpful.


Scott Asher is the Editor-in-Chief of BookGateway.com. His personal blog is AshertopiA – a land flowing with milk and honey… and a lot of sticky people where he turns real life into stupid cartoons, writes on Christianity, Zombies, and whatever else he wants and posts Bible studies from his classes at church.

This book was provided by the publisher as a review copy.

Oxblood by Grant

OXBLOODVictoria Asher and her older brother are untimely orphans when their parents die in a plane crash.

Oxblood
The Victoria Asher Novels
by AnnaLisa Grant
Open Road Media Teen & Tween
September 2016

After a settlement and after her brother is old enough to take custody of her, Victoria finds herself on her own for a summer while her brother is on a work assignment. When she receives a package with his journal and the word “oxblood” she comes to believe he’s in trouble. When she calls around looking for him she can’t find him anywhere – it’s clear he hasn’t been honest about what he was doing in Italy.

Victoria travels to Italy to find her brother [SPOILER] only to find herself in front of a man who works for interpol, where apparently her brother was working to combat sex trafficking. She joins the team to find her brother and stop the criminals. [END SPOILERS]

There are a lot of plot twists to keep the young reader interested. Comedy and a little bit of romance as well. Victoria Asher is a good heroine – fearless, smart and tenacious. Only a few minor cuss words are spoken by the bad guys.

Overall a fun, clean novel for middle schoolers aged 14 and up.


Freckles is a long suffering wife of twenty years and mother of four children in every stage of adolescence who enjoys coffee and silence. She gets coffee sometimes.

This book was provided by the publisher as a review copy.

Hilo: The Boy Who Crashed to Earth by Winick

HiloWhimsical. Clipped. Fun.

Hilo: The Boy Who Crashed to Earth
by Judd Winick
Random House Books for Young Readers
September 2015

D.J. isn’t special at all. Not like his four siblings or his former best friend Gina who are all great at something. When a meteor falls to the earth, D.J. is the first on the scene and the first to meet Hilo, a naked (except for underwear) boy who isn’t familiar with earth or humanity. D.J. invites Hilo to his home and the friendship is born.

Shortly after Hilo shows up things take a darker turn. More meteorites fall from the sky – this time with dangerous creatures. Hilo – although he doesn’t remember much – knows that it is his job to stop them. As more and more attacks come we start to find the answers to both where the bad guys are coming from and where Hilo is from.

This is part one in a series and looks to pick up the pace as it goes. Judd Winick does a good enough – if uneven at times – job on the art, thanks in large part to Guy Major who’s coloring really fills in quite a lot of the gaps in drawing. It is standard but fun fare for young readers and with the colorful art and science fiction story it’s worth reading.


Scott Asher is the Editor-in-Chief of BookGateway.com. His personal blog is AshertopiA – a land flowing with milk and honey… and a lot of sticky people where he turns real life into stupid cartoons, writes on Christianity, Zombies, and whatever else he wants and posts Bible studies from his classes at church.

This book was provided by the publisher as a review copy.

Nooks & Crannies by Lawson

nooksFlavia. Wonka. Fun.

Nooks & Crannies
Written by Jessica Lawson
Narrated by Susan Riddell
Dreamscape Media
June 2015

Tabitha Crum, an abused (although she doesn’t know it) and neglected child, is selected to visit a prestigious manor and a reclusive benefactor, Countess Camilla DeMoss, but doesn’t know why. Five other kids are brought as well as their parents for an unknown reason, with unknown possibilities. When someone turns up dead, this shy girl turns full Clue and sets out to solve the case.

This story is very much Flavia De Luce (by Alan Bradley) and the Chocolate Factory. The roadmap to the story has been done again and again. Child detective (from England, of course,) solves a mystery and passes tests for an unknown, but important rich person with a new future in the balance. That said, Jessica Lawson does it well. Tabitha is very likeable and easy to empathize with. The children are interesting. Her pet mouse, Pemberley, is cute and different. All to say that, while this is familiar, it is worth reading.

Susie Riddell does a great job as the reader. She hits just the right notes to bring alive the inner life of Tabitha and her cheekiness as well. Characters are easy to differentiate and the story moves quickly.


Scott Asher is the Editor-in-Chief of BookGateway.com. His personal blog is AshertopiA – a land flowing with milk and honey… and a lot of sticky people where he turns real life into stupid cartoons, writes on Christianity, Zombies, and whatever else he wants and posts Bible studies from his classes at church.

This book was provided by the publisher as a review copy.

Galaxy Buck: Mission to Sector 9

galaxybuckOutstanding production. Lesson learned. One gap.

Galaxy Buck: the Mission to Sector 9
by Phil Vischer
Jellyfish Labs
October 2015

Buck Denver, a Gospel Galaxy with Pastor Paul call center representative, feels like he isn’t doing any good. He doesn’t want to be a “tote bag guy,” he wants to be a “big thing guy.” When he takes a call from Sector 9 that is suffering a service interruption, Buck decides to take the issue straight to the top – to Pastor Paul. The two repair ships are out and it will be weeks before someone can fix the transponder. Fortunately, Buck has been studying to be a ship captain – on an app – and just needs a chance to take the third ship and repair it himself. Why? Because “God wants us to do big things!” Quickly selecting a crew, Buck takes a ship and the adventure is on.

This new story by Phil Vischer, best known as the creator of VeggieTales, uses his popular Buck Denver character from What’s In The Bible. The Phil Vischer Podcast is one that I follow and listen to regularly. I’ve also read Vischer’s book, Me, Myself and Bob (2008), about the rise and fall of his Big Idea Entertainment (the company that owned VeggieTales prior to its sale to DreamWorks Classics.) All this to say that I’ve been hearing about and looking forward to this 40 minute show for most of this year. Overall, I’m very happy with the final product and look forward to showing it to my children.

The production looks outstanding. Vischer filmed his puppets on green screen and digitally inserted the really built sets and very good digital effects. Each puppet is really well animated and looks great. The voices will be recognizable as variations of Vischer’s other characters.

This science fiction story includes quite a bit of tongue-in-cheek references and Easter eggs for fans of both Star Trek and Star Wars. The ship, uniforms, how they solve issues and even the lens flares are all Trek (including Abrams’ Trek). There is a scene under water that is very reminiscent of the underwater scene on Naboo from Star Wars Episode 1. Even the scene wipes are Wars. When Buck finds an Obi Wan-like hermit, he finds someone to break the monotony of his simplistic non-stop “God wants me to do big things!” message.

A minor complaint that I have is that there isn’t diversity on display in the puppets. Buck, Pastor Paul and three out of four ship members are all peach/white. One is blue. The hermit is also blue and says he is from another planet. [SPOILER] The inhabitants of Sector 9 are ant-like, blue creatures. [END SPOILERS] Humans are peach/white. Aliens are blue. Children from non-white households won’t find anyone to identify with. No black, brown, Asian, islander, or native puppets exist. There are also only two females out of the 11 characters on the show and both are “other” rather than normal. One is an old lady and one is an alien. I think this could have been done just a little differently to be more inclusive. Honestly, after listening to Vischer’s podcast I’m surprised this happened.

The message of God Wants You (no: To Do Big Things!) is right on target. It is clear, easy to digest and spot on theologically. The Rule of Love is easy to appreciate.

Congrats to N. Priebe of Rockvale, TN for winning a copy of this!


Scott Asher is the Editor-in-Chief of BookGateway.com. His personal blog is AshertopiA – a land flowing with milk and honey… and a lot of sticky people where he turns real life into stupid cartoons, writes on Christianity, Zombies, and whatever else he wants and posts Bible studies from his classes at church.

This movie screener was provided for the purpose of evaluation.

The Biggest Story by DeYoung and Clark

biggestBeautiful. Connected. Clear.

The Biggest Story: How the Snake Crusher Brings Us Back to the Garden
Written by Kevin DeYoung
Illustrated by Don Clark
Crossway
August 2015

Don Clark does an amazing job illustrating this children’s story book of the big picture of redemption. His artwork is angular, colorful and full of allusions about deeper things than the words express. The bold colors are vivid and hold the attention of children very well.

Kevin DeYoung isn’t known for his children’s books or even topics that would be safe for children. (The last book I read of his was What Does the Bible Really Teach about Homosexuality? published in April 2015, for example.) Reformed and a prominent voice at the Gospel Coalition, I was taken aback by the way he so minimalizes and then stretches the Gospel in a way that children can fully understand.

I am a teacher and preacher myself and also have been blessed to teach Kindergarten children for most of the last decade so I know first hand the simple but clear way that the huge truths of the Bible have to be expressed to children. This isn’t the end of their studies. DeYoung doesn’t have to go into the Trinity, explain sacrifice and atonement or justification, or even spend much time at all on sanctification or eschatology. A simple, “We haven’t seen the end of the story -not yet. We live in the beginning of the end of the story… we know it’s not the end because we haven’t made it back to the garden” (p 120) fully expresses the hope of eternity without systematic theology. And kids love this because they get it. We follow the first Adam or the second Adam (p 129) makes sense. It plants seeds for us, other teachers and their own studies to grow over the years.

This is a fantastic book. An amazing, beautiful, poignant, simple, clear and deep book. And it’s for every Christian tradition. What an accomplishment by DeYoung. I highly recommend it.

Congratulations to Jessica B. of Smyrna, TN for winning a copy of this book!


Scott Asher is the Editor-in-Chief of BookGateway.com. His personal blog is AshertopiA – a land flowing with milk and honey… and a lot of sticky people where he turns real life into stupid cartoons, writes on Christianity, Zombies, and whatever else he wants and posts Bible studies from his classes at church.

This book was provided by the publisher as a review copy.

The Taken by Iserles

the-takenFROM THE PUBLISHER: The first book in a thrilling fantasy trilogy starring one of the animal kingdom’s most hunted heroes. Foxcraft is full of excitement and heart, and a touch of magic.

The Taken
Foxcraft #1
by Inbali Iserles
Scholastic Press
September 2015

Isla and her brother are two young foxes living just outside the lands of the furless — humans. The life of a fox is filled with dangers, but Isla has begun to learn mysterious skills meant to help her survive. Then the unthinkable happens. Returning to her den, Isla finds it set ablaze and surrounded by strange foxes, and her family is nowhere in sight. Forced to flee, she escapes into the cold, gray world of the furless. Now Isla must navigate this bewildering and deadly terrain, all while being hunted by a ruthless enemy. In order to survive, she will need to master the ancient arts of her kind — magical gifts of cunning known only to foxes. She must unravel the secrets of Foxcraft.

REVIEW: A fox, Isla, returns to her home one day to find it destroyed and her family missing. So she goes in search of them. To find them she will have to gain new magical abilities (Foxcraft). While this is a pretty straight forward premise, this story diverges from the expected by placing the world of the magical foxes firmly in contemporary human society (think muggles). This isn’t just about fantastical creatures who live in a fantasy setting and I appreciated that. Personally, I found the book to be a little slow at times and ended up skimming some chapters to get to better ones later on. By the end, there was a satisfying set up for the next book in the series. I found it a fun, interesting, easy fantasy read. But I’m not the target audience.

Here’s what my 12 year old daughter thought: “This book is absolutely amazing! It’s so full of adventure and mystery. I really loved the idea of foxes and how the story was laid out. I enjoyed the interactions between the characters and how they acted differently towards each other. I think everybody will enjoy this book a lot for those reasons! And many many more!” So satisfied target audience: achieved.


Sunshine is a 12 year old avid book reader who we love to ask what she thought of the books she reads so we can share a young reader’s perspective with you!

Scott Asher is the Editor-in-Chief of BookGateway.com. His personal blog is AshertopiA – a land flowing with milk and honey… and a lot of sticky people where he turns real life into stupid cartoons, writes on Christianity, Zombies, and whatever else he wants and posts Bible studies from his classes at church.

This book was provided by the publisher as a review copy.