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From Kristina–Summer reading is important as well as fun. Students engaging in this activity practice and improve their reading skills. It is the opportunity to have an unlikely adventure or read a teacher’s recommendation. Teachers often put together a reading list for their students based on certain types of literature. It is also a great opportunity for parents to rediscover reading and literature with their children.

I encourage children of all ages and parents to check out their local library. Many local libraries offer summer reading programs. Such programs give students a reading goal for the summer. Children are often asked to write a report about a book. Younger children draw a picture. Reading provides an alternative to the digital media realm, and an opportunity for children to learn from some great literature.

From Nancy– We’ve put together several lists–one for middle grade readers, one for YA and parents, and one especially for boys.

Reading a non-fiction book or a novel together can be great family fun and a terrific summertime activity. So why not choose a couple of books and give the TV and the video games a rest. Take your family on an armchair holiday/adventure. Listen to your own voices as you take turns reading to each other. It could be a very special time for all of you.

I asked Books 4 Christian Kids reviewers to recommend some books for such an activity. Here is the list. (The titles are linked to the review. Other titles for middle graders or YA may be found by selecting Book Lists on the Menu at top. For road trips check into audio books. Our review of Little Women will surely whet your appetite for such material.)

Anna’s Fight for Hope
The Avion My Uncle Flew
Chancey of Maury River
Cheaper by the Dozen
Escape from Warsaw
Hidden Figures Young Readers’ Edition
Horse to Love, A
I Get a Clue
In Grandma’s Attic
The Incredible Journey
The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe
Jungle Doctor Meets a Lion
Little Lord Fauntleroy

Meet Josephina
Meet Kaya
Mustang, Wild Spirit of the West 
Nanea: Growing Up with Aloha
Nick Newton Is Not a Genius
Running with Roselle
Sarah, Plain and Tall
Secret Garden, The
The Tarantula in My Purse and 172 Other Wild Pets
The Trumpet of the Swan

We All Get a Clue
The Wolves of Willoughby Chase

You and your older teen might enjoy reading the same book and then talking about it. Here are a few suggestions:

9 Slightly Strange Stories with an Uplifting Edge
Found in Translation
God’s Smuggler
Mere Christianity
Night Flight
Night of the Cossack
Scarlet Pimpernel, The
Sophie’s Heart
Soul Surfer
Through Rushing Waters
Zookeeper’s Wife, The

You can find other titles by selecting the Book Lists on the Menu at the top.

Boys do read and here are 2 lists of books we’ve recommended that boys might enjoy. (The lists do overlap with a number of titles from the lists above.) Girls might like these books as well. We are suggesting these particular books for boys because most of them have male protagonists. (Some books appear on two lists. We thought they were appropriate for both age groups.) FYI: Some of the books such as The City Bear’s Adventures, Jungle Doctor Meets A Lion, Full Metal Trench Coat, etc. are part of a series.

Middle Grade Books

Adventures of Pearley Monroe
Avion My Uncle Flew
Babe the Gallant Pig
The Children’s Book of America
The City Bear’s Adventures
Danger on Panther Peak
Dragon and Thief
Escape from Warsaw
The Forgotten Door
Full Metal Trench Coat
Hero Tales
Incredible Journey, The
Journey Under the Sea
Jungle Doctor Meets a Lion
Operation Rawhide
Nick Newton Is Not a Genius
Night of the Cossack
Running with Roselle
Spam Alert
The Tarantula in My Purse and 172 Other Wild Pets
Tim Tebow: A Promise Kept
Trumpet of the Swan, The
Two Mighty Rivers: Son Of Pocahontas
World War II Pilots

Young Adult Books

Ben Hur
Boys, in the Boat, The
The Bronze Bow
The City of Tranquil Light
Escape from Warsaw
Escape to Witch Mountain
God’s Smuggler
Journey Under the Sea
Les Miserables
Night Flight
Night of the Cossack
9 Slightly Strange Stories with an Uplifting Edge
Robinson Crusoe
7 Men: And the Secret of Their Greatness
Tim Tebow: A Promise Kept
Thunder Dog

If you are wondering about books that you have heard about, don’t know about and don’t find on this blog, take a look at Focus on the Family’s online book reviews. The reviews will give you useful information and discussion topics for specific titles. Notice that the reviews are for information purposes and not necessarily recommendations.

Happy Summer Reading!!!!

Kristina O’Brien is a mother of three, an avid reader and a credentialed teacher. She has taught both middle school and high school history.

Nancy Ellen Hird is a mom, a writer and a credentialed teacher. (She taught seventh grade and preschool.)  Her latest work for children is I Get a Clue, a mystery novel for girls 10-13. For several years she was a freelance reviewer of children’s and teen’s literature for the Focus on the Family website.


A Horse to Love written by Marsha Hubler (Keystone Stables) and published by Zonderkidz (2004, 2009) is a page-turner.

Skye Nicholson is a troubled teen. When the novel opens, her life is at a crossroads. A judge is about to sentence her to a juvenile detention center. Though only thirteen, this is not Skye’s first run in with the law. She already has a criminal record and the attitude to match. But God sees beyond Skye’s past and beneath her anger. He steps into her life in the form of Eileen Chambers, her husband and their special needs dude ranch. The Chambers offer to be Skye’s new foster parents.

At the dude ranch Skye learns to ride and care for a Quarter horse—Champ. Skye’s growing love for Champ and the horse’s affection for her have a positive effect on her. She decides to keep the rules that the Chambers have laid out because it means that she can be with Champ. But it is not only the horse that helps Skye grow and change.

The Chambers, a Christian couple, respect and encourage her while still being clear and firm. Morgan, another foster child living with the Chambers, also helps Skye see the world differently. Despite being in a wheelchair and abandoned a number of years ago by her mother because of her disability, Morgan is determined to make the most of her life, to have dreams and to follow them.

Skye’s changes do not come effortlessly–for anyone. She has been hurt and she is on the defensive. There are strong temptations for her; and there are missteps. Readers (I think it is best suited to readers, 11- to 13-year-olds) will root for Skye, watching her wrestle with her decisions, struggling with her, and hoping that she will find a way to accept and embrace the better life that is being offered to her. (FYI: the novel does end on a high note.)

This is the first novel in a series of eight. I think if your child enjoys this novel, they will want to read more books in the series. Reading the blurbs on the other novels, I see that the child-characters often deal with issues that are quite serious. This type of “realistic” writing is very, very popular in the secular market. This might concern you. You are not alone. It troubles me. Kids, in my opinion, are being inundated with books that portray some of the more extreme elements of teen life. The kids are not prepared emotionally or psychologically to deal with this flood. I think we would be wise to be choosy about how many and which books we promote to the kids.

That said, I am impressed with the way that Marsha Hubler handles the problems of a troubled teen. Letting the reader see God in action was thrilling and uplifting. I expect that other books in the series will also help young readers know something of life’s harsher experiences, but not frighten them. In the stories they will see that He is with us.

Nancy Ellen Hird is a mom, a writer and a credentialed teacher. (She taught seventh grade and preschool.)  Her latest works for children are I Get a Clue and We All Get a Clue, mystery novels for girls 10-13. For several years she was a freelance reviewer of children’s and teen’s literature for the Focus on the Family website.

Happy Easter!!!!

From Nancy —Spring Break is upon us in some parts of the country. I think a good read, an escape from school work, is definitely called for. And for teens and better upper elementary school readers, what could be more inspiring than Ben Hur? Here’s Donna’s review of this great classic.

Ben Hur: A Tale of the Christ by Lew Wallace, is a much beloved and acclaimed story read by millions. It begins with a retelling of the nativity of Christ and then moves into the life of Judah Ben Hur, a wealthy young man living in first century Jerusalem. Messala, his boyhood friend and a Roman, returns from soldiering, changed in his view of the world. When he cannot convince Ben Hur to embrace his cause, Messala betrays his friend, sending him on a journey through trials and victories. Eventually the two men face each other once more, meeting as opponents in a high-stakes chariot race.

Now also a man, Christ re-enters the narrative. His gentle influence has a profound effect on Ben Hur. Wallace illustrates how choices for good or evil, when fully embraced, mark a person’s life.

The author tells a compelling tale, particularly in his ability to define the inner journey, not only of the hero, but also of a large cast of supporting characters. Vivid scenes stay with the reader after the book is closed. However, the style of writing reflects the tastes of Wallace’s time (1880s). By current standards it may seem wordy and slow. The point of view is omniscient, which is rarely employed in contemporary books. Although historical and political details are meticulously researched, personal and cultural descriptions seem more imaginative than realistic.

Another feature distinguishing Ben Hur from modern novels is the explanation, once conflicts are past, of what happens to characters followed faithfully through its pages. Ben Hur, rather than leaving the reader wanting more, offers satisfaction that the story is complete.

Donna Fujimoto is a graduate of Alliance Theological Seminary. She has published both devotionals for adults and short stories for teens. Her children love to read.

The time between Christmas and New Year’s is a lovely time for the kids to unwind and savor the goodness of God. Here are some book suggestions that might just be the right thing.

For your YA:

The Boys in the Boat— the true, inspiring story of the young men, who to everyone’s surprise, won Olympic gold in rowing at the 1936 Olympics.

A Christmas Gift for Rose–an uplifting story about God’s provision and care. A young Amish woman discovers the story of her parentage.

First Date–a contemporary novel with small nods to the story of Esther from the Old Testament. Teenage American girls in a  beauty pageant compete for a first date with the President’s son.

Found in Translation–a humorous and heart-warming novel of a young woman’s adventures and misadventures on her first short-term mission trip.

God’s Smuggler–a true and thrilling story of Brother Andrew, who smuggled Bibles into countries closed to Christianity.

Oxygen–science fiction, a space crew traveling to Mars suspect that one of them is a saboteur.

Thunder Dog— the story of  Roselle, the guide dog who helped the blind Michael Hingson and those who were with him escape the plane-struck Tower 1 on 9/11.

For middle schoolers:

Anne of Green Gables–classic for girls, with a number of books in the series

Callie–a book for emerging independent readers about a finding a home for a cat

The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe–the thrilling first book of C. S. Lewis’ The Chronicles of Narnia

Full Metal Trench Coat–first novel in a series for elementary school children, especially boys

Nick Newton Is Not a Genius–fun, wacky characters in a steampunk setting. An average kid with a lot of grit finds adventure when he tries to put together a clockwork bird.

The Pilgrim’s Progress–Christian classic, an allegory on the Christian life that comes in several versions

The Prince Warriors–a Christian allegory for boys and girls based on using the armor of God

Sarah, Plain and Tall–historical fiction about life on the American prairie of the 19th century

Scout— a boy’s adventures with a lost dog

The Voyage of Patience Goodspeed–historical fiction, a sea adventure for boys and girls set aboard a 19th century whaling ship

We All Get a Clue–a contemporary mystery/adventure, second book in the two-book series about pre-teen detectives in Edinburgh, Scotland


Growing Up with Aloha: Nanea, Classic 1 was written by Kirby Larson, illustrated by Juliana Kolesova and published by American Girl (2017). This novel is a fictional account of a young girl growing up in Hawaii during World War II. It is recommended for children ages 8 to 12.

Nine-year-old Nanea is the youngest in her family. The story begins at breakfast on a morning late in 1941 and introduces the reader to Nanea’s older sister, brother, mother and father. The family live in Honolulu, Hawaii. Nanea’s father, who is from Oregon, works as a welder at the Pearl Harbor shipyards. Nanea’s mother is a native Hawaiian born on the island of Oahu. Her parents, Nanea’s grandparents, own a grocery store in town.

Nanea, eager to help her family and show them that she is responsible, works at the market. She is has two close friends, Lily and Donna. The girls are active in school activities. They are learning to hula dance and planning to perform for the upcoming USO Christmas show.

The story picks up with a Thanksgiving–Hawaiian style. Nanea is happy about school and helping with activities for the Christmas shows. On December 6, 1941, she and her friends note that the Christmas ship will be arriving in a week with trees and Christmas decorations from the mainland. Nanea decides to make a breakfast for her family the following morning to show them she is getting older and can take on more responsibilities. The next morning is December 7, 1941.

Nanea, up to prepare breakfast, goes outside and hears planes. Hearing planes is nothing unusual, until she sees the symbol of a red circle which the children of Hawaii call “meatballs” and instantly she knows that the plane is Japanese.

Her brother pulls her from the yard and into the house. She asks what is happening just as her father switches on the radio which announces that all military personnel must report to duty stations. Her father, though a civilian, receives a phone call that he is to be ready to leave for the base in five minutes. David, Nanea’s older brother, who is a boy scout, says he also must go. Nanea does not know it then but she will not see her father or brother for a few days.

Grandma and Grandpa come over to stay with the family. Later it is discovered that Lily’s father has been taken in for questioning because he is of Japanese descent. (He would later be released but many others remained for questioning and internment.)

Nanea reads the Newspaper Bulletin: “War Declared on Japan by US.” She soon understands the scope of the attack. She feels helpless. What can she do? Over the next few days she decides to make lunch for the emergency workers, to help find her dog that went missing during the attack, to work in the grocery store, and to start a re-cycling drive for bottles.

In these early days of the war there is a lot of uncertainty for Nanea. Will her father be all right? What will she do when one of her friends must leave Hawaii?  Will there still be an upcoming performance at the USO? Nanea learns through this that she can be useful, responsible and helpful in the war effort as Hawaii and the United States prepare for war.

This novel is part of the American Girl Beforever series. There are two other novels about Nanea and her family. The book has a Hawaiian language words section which was helpful and a brief history of Hawaii before and during WWII. I liked how it said many people did not know where Hawaii was prior to December 7, 1941, but after that everyone knew. President Franklin D. Roosevelt on December 8, 1941, would say,  “Yesterday, December 7, 1941–a date which will live in infamy–. . .  .” I encourage people to remember this date in history, and if possible to visit Pearl Harbor to learn more about US History.

Kristina O’Brien is a mother, an avid reader and a credentialed teacher. She has taught both middle school and high school history.



Louisa May Alcott, who wrote Little Women, also wrote short stories, many of which have been rediscovered in recent years. Some collections were released in the 1990s as small gift books. Kate’s Choice contains three short stories that take place at Christmas time with themes focusing on kindness, generosity, and contentment in one’s circumstances, no matter how humble.

The main characters are girls and young women, who must make choices about how their attitudes and behaviors will make life better for themselves and the people they care about. The stories have that romantic historical feeling of a time long past. The book is charming, definitely G-rated, and geared for upper elementary to middle grade readers.

In Kate’s Choice a wealthy orphan from England must move to America and live with relatives until she grows up. Kate visits the different homes of her relatives, trying to decide where she wants to live. Her choice may surprise you! What Love Can Do tells of Dolly and Grace, sisters who became poor after their father died. Sadly planning a simple Christmas with what little they have, they are overheard by neighbors. Then we see what a little generosity can do to both the giver and receiver! The third story, Gwen’s Adventure in the Snow is about a group of boys and girls on a sleigh ride. Caught in a winter storm, they must work together to get safely home again.

The book contains interesting notes about the life and work of the famous author. Alcott’s stories reflect the values and social roles of her time, which are more traditional in comparison to today’s society.

Currently, it is available in hardback (Riveroak Pub, 2001) with pretty illustrations and a presentation page from Amazon. (It is temporarily out of stock at Barnes and Noble and Powell’s.) New or used, Kate’s Choice is a treasure.

Donna Fujimoto’s children love to read. She is a graduate of Alliance Theological Seminary. Her collection of short stories, 9 Slightly Strange Stories with an Uplifting Edge  is available as an e-book at Amazon.  The Shining Orb of Volney, a science-fiction novel, is her latest title. 


People can sometimes be foolish and sometimes they can even be mean. They can put labels on us. And we wear those labels, allowing  them to define us. School, sadly, can be one place where children acquire labels–sticky, icky labels that can last even into adulthood. School can also be a place where children become skilled at labeling others. Max Lucado in You Are Special, illustrated by Sergio Martinez and published by Crossway Books (1997), tells a simple, but profound fable about the Wemmicks, who are very good at labeling.

The Wemmicks are small wooden people. They were all carved by the same woodworker and each Wemmick is unique. But the Wemmicks have a poor understanding of the value of being unique. They spend their days giving gold stars to those they think are beautiful or talented or both and giving gray dots to those they think defective or inadequate.

Punchinello has been given many gray dots and it makes him afraid and sad. His life begins to change when he meets Lucia who surprisingly has no marks at all. She tells him that her daily visits to the wood carver enable her to stay free of marks. That Punchinello will eventually make a visit to the master carver seems inevitable for such a forlorn character, but what Punchinello learns on that visit will delight and soothe a child’s heart. It may even bless your own.

One story element that may surprise the reader/listener, and sets this book apart from other books with a similar theme, is that Lucado includes “stars” in the labels.  Aren’t “stars”  a good thing to receive? But Lucado puts them in the same category as he does gray dots.

It can make you stop and think. When you do, you remember that labels, even “good” ones, can wound or be troublesome. Beautiful children can become obsessed with their looks. Smart kids who want to keep wearing the “brilliant” label can retreat from asking questions and learning. Gifted children, trying desperately to live up to their talent, may lose their joy as they continually try to prove that they are indeed gifted. Lucado wisely offers a way to avoid those traps.

Martinez’s illustrations are subtly humorous, colorful and evocative. They capture the busy life of the village and the sadness that labeling can bring. I particularly like the depiction of the wood carver. He is kind, gentle and yet strong. The golden light present in his workshop and around him invites us into a warm, friendly, safe place.

This picture book for children, ages four to eight,  flows nicely, making it easy to read aloud. That should be good news because your children, I think, will ask you to read this wise, encouraging book again and again.

Older children also experience some “serious” labeling and some are even bullied. In an earlier post, Mean Girl Makeover, I talked about three novels for upper elementary and middle school girls that explore this topic. Written by Nancy Rue, one novel looks at the problem from the point of view of an onlooker. A second book tells the story of the girl being bullied and how she begins to overcome her labels. The third takes a deeper look at the bully. I thought all three were great reads.

Nancy Ellen Hird is a mom, a writer and a credentialed teacher. (She taught seventh grade and preschool.) You can learn more about her and her mystery novels for pre-teens, I  Get a Clue and We All Get a Clue, at .

For several years she was a freelance reviewer of children’s and teen’s literature for the Focus on the Family website.

Are you trying to keep up with a voracious reader? and losing?  Are you feeling left out–in the dark–about the books your kid’s carpool buds are talking about? Do you need more info about the books your child will be reading and discussing in school this coming year?

Plugged In, on the Focus on the Family website, is not just about films and TV. Info on the site says they have more than 6,000 reviews of entertainment media– books, films and TV programs. I was told that the number of reviews/reports on the books grows by three books a week.

The books are listed alphabetically by title. Click on the title and it will take you to the report/review.

The info in the report/review is different from the usual info found in a review. Reviewers of books for Plugged In don’t give an approval or disapproval rating. A report/review offers a plot summary and then goes on to cover Christian beliefs (if there are any), other belief systems, authority figures, profanity, violence, kissing, sex and homosexuality. A link on the page will take you to discussion topics and questions especially created for that particular book. (I like this last feature a lot. Talking through a book with a child develops a child’s critical thinking skills.)

Here at Books 4 Christian Kids we love recommending books. We love imagining a young person discovering a terrific, uplifting book and being blessed by reading it, all because we let you know about it. We love being part of that chain. We strive to find and point you to worthy books; we recognize that a young person’s time and your money are limited. But we also recognize that there are a vast number of books available for children/young adults/new adults. I can imagine that you want more info. I think the Plugged In site will help.

Nancy Ellen Hird is a mom, a writer and a credentialed teacher. (She taught seventh grade and preschool.) You can learn more about her and her books at .

For several years she was a freelance reviewer of children’s and teen’s literature for the Focus on the Family website.

This can be that time in the summer when your kids are saying they’re bored, bored, bored. They want something new, something to happen. They want to go someplace, have an adventure, make new friends.

So why not send them to Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe? or have them choose their own sea adventure: Journey under the Sea? or visit a small town in the woods of the Sierra Nevada: The City Bear’s Adventures? or solve mysteries with Libby and her friends in Edinburgh, Scotland: I Get a Clue and We All Get a Clue ?

Those are just a few suggestions. We have others. Check out and scroll through Book Lists on the menu at the top of this page. Titles are linked to the reviews.

And while you are at it, maybe you would like to go someplace too–this is, after the kids are in bed. Take a look at the list for College Age/Working Person. Ah, England! Ah, the American West! Ah, Hawaii!

Nancy Ellen Hird is a mom, a writer and a credentialed teacher. (She taught seventh grade and preschool.) You can learn more about her and her books at .

For several years she was a freelance reviewer of children’s and teen’s literature for the Focus on the Family website.


Nick Newton Is Not A Genius is a steampunk (science fiction set in Victorian times which emphasizes historical or imagined steam-powered technology) chapter book for middle grade readers. It is written by S.E.M. Ishida with illustrations by Dana Thompson. Published by JourneyForth (2016), it is 160 pages. Boys will especially enjoy its exploration into the world of robots and technology.

Nick Newton is the only one in his family who is not a genius. Upon learning that he will have to go to a new school, Nick decides to explore the attic filled with his grandfather’s belongings. His grandfather was a hero and general in the Last War and defeated his enemy, Draicot, with his military inventions. Nick discovers schematics and parts for one of his grandfather’s inventions, a clockwork bird. He names it Plink. Nick tries to put the clockwork bird together, but he is hindered by some of his wacky family’s escapades.

At Nick’s new school rumors abound about Mr. Volk, whose parents were founders of the school. Mr. Volk lives alone with his family of robots. Nick and his family visit Mr. Volk. While there Erma, Nick’s older sister, gets into dangerous trouble. Erma is saved but at great expense to Mr. Volk. When Mr. Volk is interested in buying Plink, Nick refuses even though he is grateful to him. Mr. Volk asks if Nick has found a clockwork heart.

Nick with his new friends, Elliot and Solomon, search for the clockwork heart. Nick believes the heart may be in his grandfather’s locked trunk. They think clockwork birds are the key to unlocking it and they must find all three birds. In the end, they discover what happened to the clockwork heart as well as what happened to Draicot, his grandfather’s enemy.

Stocked with quirky characters and creative inventions, Nick Newton Is Not A Genius is a fun book to read with your children. I can’t wait to read about Nick’s next adventure. You can see pictures of Plink, the clockwork bird, on the author’s Facebook page.

J. D.  Rempel , is a graduate of Simpson College. She is endeavoring to pen a YA science fiction novel and an adult fantasy series. Currently, she is seeking a publisher for her middle grade fiction novel. J. D. loves to read, work with her husband in youth ministry, and play peekaboo with her turtle, Applesauce. 

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