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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.

I just came in from a walk. Some of the neighbor kids were also out walking. Today is the first day of their summer vacation. It’s exciting for them; an adventure is about to begin. But I also got the impression they are little bit at loose ends. They’re missing their friends. And this might sound weird and totally improbable, but I think they miss being at school. School can be fun. (Yes, it can and sometimes they will even tell you that it is.) At school they learn new things and kids like to learn. They are all about growing.

Reading good books is one way for them to grow well. It is one way for kids to go on an adventure. We have created lists of books (select Book Lists found on the menu at the top of the page) that we think are interesting and fun. More than that we think they will bless a child or a young person. If you select the title, it will take you to the review. We don’t think our lists are the last word, but they might be a good place to start.

Just a thought, consider reading a book together as a family. Sharing a worthwhile story can be an enriching experience. It’s warm, friendly; it can build community, and reading aloud helps you to listen to each other.

Nancy Ellen Hird is a mom, a writer and a credentialed teacher. (She taught seventh grade and preschool.)  Her latest work for children is We All Get a Clue, a mystery novel for girls 10-13. It is the second book in the series that began with I Get a Clue.  You can learn more about her and her books at .

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



What Do You Do With An Idea?, written by Kobi Yamada, illustrated by Mae Besom, published by Compendium, Inc. (2014) is a picture book, but not one for small children. Its thought-provoking, life-enriching big idea will resonate better with older children and adults. If the YA people in your life can get past that it has illustrations, What Do You Do With An Idea? may find a place in their hearts as well.

The story is told from the point of view of a young boy. He says he had an idea. (The idea looks like an egg wearing a small crown.) The boy doesn’t know what to do with the idea and so, like many of us when we get an idea, he walks away from it. But the idea follows him on its chicken legs.

With the honesty and simplicity of a child, the boy tells us of his fears and his joy as he and the idea spend time together. He realistically tells us of his struggles as they continue their friendship. The story ends happily. The ending is a little over the top, but when we consider that this is a picture book, we can forgive it for its big happily-ever-after moment. (And who knows, some “ideas” do have this kind of ending.)

The illustrations are active and evocative. While full of energy, they also manage to have a thoughtfulness about them that perfectly suits the fable. There is a really interesting use of color. In the beginning it is used sparingly. The world is gray except for the yellow egg. As the boy and the idea become friends, more color enters the boy’s world. Vibrant color erupts and spills out onto the last pages as the story reaches its exciting ending.

Adults will be touched with compassion for the boy and his idea and remember with tenderness their own experiences with new ideas. Elementary school children will find themselves in this story and be encouraged.

What Do You Do With An Idea? is a great book. I think writers, artists, scientists and other dreamers should have it on their book shelves and take it down and read it when necessary. And there will be days when it will be necessary.

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





Awesome! I recently received an email from Focus on the Family full of good news. They are going to be publishing Brio again, a magazine for girls, ages 12 to 17.  It will be published 10 times a year.  The advert said they will do inspiring stories, profiles, practical helps, fashion, etc. The first issue will be out in May. Sadie Robertson of Duck Dynasty and Dancing With the Stars fame is on the cover. If you subscribe before March 31, you can get a year’s subscription for $10.

OK, I am being a little shameless in promoting this magazine, but I love Christian magazines for kids. And I think Focus on the Family does a terrific job with the ones they produce.

Magazines for kids are, I think, good value for  your money. The stories and articles are short, timely and age-appropriate. They appeal to kids, even those kids who struggle with reading.

While I’m on the subject of magazines for teens, I want to remind you about  Girlz 4 Christ.  Several of us at Books 4 Christian Kids looked at it last year and liked it. You can find out more about this quarterly online magazine at

Teen girls today are bombarded with voices that promote destructive values. The stories and articles in Christian teen magazines point girls toward godly values, helping them to grow  into God’s women. So I’m celebrating that Focus on the Family is again going to be publishing a magazine for teens. It’s great news.

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

A couple of weeks ago I suggested some books you might consider as gifts for middle schoolers. I promised some suggestions for YA. Here they are:

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.

In His Steps–the Christian classic that asks the question “What would Jesus do?” and then shows how various people who ask the question.

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

The Shining Orb of Volney–a deep, fantasy/science fiction novel with a strong story world that is rich in detail and realism. The female characters are strong and resourceful.

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.

The above are just a few of the books we have liked and written about. You can find titles of other books by selecting Book Lists on the menu above. Titles link to the reviews. Or you can use the drop down feature to your left. Select YA  and then scroll down through the reviews.

Nancy Ellen Hird is a mom, a writer and a credentialed teacher. (She taught seventh grade and preschool.)  Her latest work for children is We All 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.



Dawn at Emberwilde (A Treasures of Surrey Novel) was written by Sarah E. Ladd and published by Thomas Nelson (2016). I have read four of Ladd’s books, and they are all excellent. The spiritual message in this book is much more subtle, but the main character has many admirable qualities. The plot is quite interesting and you will be caught up in its mystery and intrigue.

The story is set in England, not far from London, and begins at Fellsworth School. Isabel Creston is summoned to the superintendent’s study. She has been at school for many years as a student and thinks his summons may mean she has secured a position as a governess. But it does not. Aunt Margaret, the sister of Isabel’s deceased mother, and Uncle Charles are offering to take Isabel and Lizzy, Isabel’s young half-sister, into their home, after just recently discovering their whereabouts. Isabel decides this is a good plan, and within the hour, she and Lizzy leave the school.

The man who has come to accompany them, Mr. Bradford, is a good friend of her Aunt and Uncle. He also runs the foundling home for orphans, located on their property. At first, the reader admires and believes him to be a suitable future match for twenty-year-old Isabel. He is handsome, polished and seems very caring and interested in his work. Later on though, we discover things are not as they seem.

Isabel also meets a handsome and charming young magistrate, Colin. Although a good friend of her uncle’s, Colin has fallen out of favor with her aunt who believes he encouraged their only son, Freddy, to go off to war where he was killed. She will not forgive him. The couple also has several daughters who are married, and one at home, Constance, who is engaged.

When the trio arrives at Emberwilde, Isabel and Lizzy are introduced to their long-lost relatives and the lovely mansion where they will live, but mystery soon abounds as Isabel discovers the window in her room has been nailed shut. She asks the servant, Burns, about this. She is told that the Emberwilde Forest at the rear of the property is called The Black Wood Forest and is believed to be haunted.  Later we discover that Colin believes that smugglers are counting on everyone’s fear, so people won’t discover the contraband hidden in the caverns by Hearne Pond.

As Isabel begins to see her aunt for who she really is, a woman extremely concerned with outward appearances and show, she begins to be homesick for Fellsworth School, the only real home and friends she has ever known. In her packed belongings, she pulls out a letter and a beautiful little sampler from her dearest friend, Mary. Mary was always completely drawn to the Lord and prayer, and sent her with a sampler that contained the Bible verse, “My voice shalt thou hear in the morning, O Lord; in the morning will I direct my prayer unto thee, and will look up,” This helps Isabel to focus on thankfulness and the responsibility she has to care for her younger sister.

At first, Isabel is drawn to Mr. Bradford, but she only sees one side of him, and suspects that he is not really as he seems. She and Lizzy begin reading to the children at the foundling home and develop some relationships there. Her young sister misses the company of other children and this experience helps her.

Aunt Margaret seems to constantly sing Mr. Bradford’s praises and when special dinners are attended by Isabel, Aunt Margaret encourages the couple to spend time together. Isabel also has several encounters with Colin and finds him to be sincere and very caring. She begins to prefer his company to Mr. Bradford’s. Aunt Margaret is not at all happy about this. Isabel discovers her aunt involved in a quiet argument with Mr. Bradford. This confuses Isabel, but she lets go of her worries.

About three weeks before Isabel turns twenty-one, Mr. Bradford proposes marriage to her. Since she feels she does not know him well and does not love him, she turns him down. She does not reveal to him another reason. She has started to have feelings for the magistrate, Colin.

Aunt Margaret is upset that Isabel turned down such a wonderful man. She accuses Isabel of disrespect and betrayal, sending her and Lizzy swiftly back to Fellsworth School. Isabel is thrilled to be reunited with Mary and thankful to be spared a loveless marriage, but she misses her life at Emberwilde, and Colin.

I won’t reveal the happy ending, but all the pieces of the mystery are solved in a clever way and all is well. This book is a very enjoyable read, especially if you like the English countryside, a little mystery, suspense, romance, and drama.

Patsy Ledbetter says she has many titles, but her favorite is being mom to her five children. Her two daughters, two sons and one son-in-law are her joy. A teacher with forty years experience Patsy has taught children of all ages and also special needs children and adults. She writes occasionally for a local newspaper and performs in church theater productions on a regular basis. Her husband is the church choir and orchestra director. They have been married for 32 years. She says, “It is my desire to bring honor and glory to my Lord Jesus in every area where He has allowed me to minister.”



Hudson Taylor: Deep in the Heart of China is a biography by Janet & Geoff Benge and published by YWAM Publishing (1998). Hudson Taylor grew up in a Christian home in the 19th century, but he was not a believer. Through the prayers of his mother and sisters, Hudson became a devoted follower of Christ and felt a calling to go to China as a missionary.

In his early years, he trained to be a doctor. As he studied, he learned to depend on God with his finances. Sometimes, Hudson had no money to pay for food and his bills, but God was faithful and provided what he needed at just the right time.

On the long and perilous boat ride to China, Hudson and his colleagues witnessed to the crew and later they led them to Christ. When they reached China, the missionaries’ lives were filled with sacrifices, hardship and persecution; but they depended on God and persevered. God was faithful.

These are true and powerful stories of God’s faithfulness when believers put their lives in His hands. It shows what wonderful things He can do when we trust in Him and what it means to truly follow the Lord.

Growing up my parents read missionary stories to my sister and me. It gave us a heart for missions. I recommend reading Hudson Taylor first since his work paved the way for other missionaries. There are over 40 books in this series; Christian Heroes: Then & Now by YWAM Publishing. Hudson Taylor: Deep in the Heart of China is for ages 10 and above and is 208 pages. You can order this book or Books 1-5 as a set, which includes Gladys Aylward, Nate Saint, Amy Carmichael, and Corrie ten Boom.

J. D. Rempel is a graduate of Simpson College. She is working on a middle grade novel and an adult fantasy series. She loves to read and started a library at her church. She enjoys working with her husband in youth ministry. She also enjoys spending time with and taking care of her turtle, Applesauce.


John Bunyan was a religious dissenter in 1600’s England. While imprisoned, he passed much of his time writing The Pilgrim’s Progress, one of the first allegories in Christian history. This classic remains relevant even today, though the language of his time is difficult for modern readers, and some of the historical references may not make sense to us. However, this is a story worth reading.

The Pilgrim’s Progress illustrates the walk of faith from seeker, to believer, and on through the trials and victories of life. It describes the journey as a road through places like “the Wicket-gate,” “the Slough of Despond,” “Vanity Fair,” and “the Delectable Mountain.” We follow Christian on his journey from the City of Destruction to the Celestial City. We fear for him and cheer for him  as he meets obstacles and also many companions on the way, including people named Obstinate, Goodwill, Hypocrite, Watchful, and The Shining Ones. We see him put on the armor of God, use the Key of Promise, and see him met by heavenly hosts. He faces temptation and makes mistakes; he repents and moves on. There are moments of great evil—as when his companion, Faithful, is killed at Vanity Fair.

For young readers, I recommend two other versions of the book, written in the mid-1900s. Pictorial Pilgrim’s Progress (by Moody Publishers) updates the language, while maintaining the entire original story line. Each page contains a line illustration of the text, making the action easy to follow. The costumes reflect the fashions of the time the story was written, and the style has the feel of an old-fashioned adventure tale, complete with fighting between good and evil. Some scenes are rather graphic, so you must decide if your reader is ready for that kind of conflict.

My favorite version is Little Pilgrim’s Progress, updated by Helen L. Taylor, which retells the story through the eyes of children. It, too, is illustrated, and the language is simplified and amplified to make the more abstract concepts accessible to young minds. It is a gentler, but still complete telling of the allegory. For example, when Little Christian’s companion, Faithful, dies, we do not see his death described or illustrated. Little Christian only sees that the angels carry his friend away. Another nice quality of this version is the inclusion of Little Christiana’s story, so that girls as well as boys feel that they may take that journey to the Celestial City.

All versions are saturated with scripture references, and might not be comprehended, at least in full, by a person unfamiliar with Christian beliefs and worldview.

These could be fun read-aloud stories for a family.

The Pilgrim’s Progress, Pictorial Pilgrim’s Progress, and Little Pilgrim’s Progress are all available in paperback on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and

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. 

Nancy:  A new movie that bases itself (loosely or not we cannot say yet) on Ben-Hur by Lew Wallace is due in theaters on August 19. I thought some of you might want to read Donna’s review of the book. The novel, it has been reported, has a different emphasis from both the present film and the 1959 version.

Ben Hur: A Tale of the Christ by Lew Wallace, is a much beloved and acclaimed story read by millions. It begins with the 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’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. 


The Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown is the true story of nine young men who electrify the rowing sports world by winning Olympic gold. (Brown’s book has been adapted for young readers by Gregory Mone and is published by Puffin, 2016.) The story focuses on the number two man in the boat, Joe Rantz

Joe grew up trusting no one. When he was about four years old, his mother died of cancer, and his father abandoned him. Joe’s older brother, a college student, was unable to care for his younger sibling. Joe took the train across the country to live with an aunt for about a year. Then his father came back to the eastern Washington area, with a new Canadian wife.

She did not like Joe from day one and this would put a wedge in Joe’s relationship with his father. She would demand that Joe’s father abandon Joe two more times, once when he was age 10 and again at age 15. Joe learned not to trust anyone, and to make his own way. He did meet one very important person. In Idaho he met Joyce, an understanding young woman who would become his wife.

At age 17, Joe left Idaho to live with his brother, a teacher at Roosevelt High School in the state of Washington. Joe was accepted to the University of Washington during the Great Depression. He would need to find a job to pay for his education. If he could make the freshmen crew team, he would get a job with the university helping him to pay for college. After months of hard practice on the icy lake near the university, he and seven others made the freshmen crew team.

The freshmen managed to win the races that counted, even against the formidable University of California. The boys in the boat struggled during practice and the coaches were perplexed. Joe seemed to struggle the most. He needed to figure something out that would take him to the top. He needed to trust the other members of the team, but he still trusted no one. In the middle of Joe’s sophomore year, his stepmother died and his father mended his relationship with Joe. His father even watched the races near his house where there was a race course.

During their junior year, the Washington crew was becoming established as the one which would make the 1936 Olympic trials.  But the team would have to beat the University of California crew. The two battled it out with Washington coming out on top. The junior crew won the national championship, earning them a spot at the Olympic trials.

The east coast teams were supposed to be the best, but Washington once again came out on top, securing the opportunity to represent the United States in Berlin. However, the U. S. Olympic Committee was not going to send them unless they could raise the funds to pay for their transportation. The east coast teams had members who could and would pay. When the University of Washington heard about this, the school was outraged. The school agreed to raise the money and in a few days they had enough to send their boys to the Olympics.

The University of Washington team was not expected to medal. Great Britain and Italy were tough competitors. Then there was the feared German team, claiming they were the best in the world. When the boys got to the games it seemed the German team was the best. The United States won a spot in the finals, but they were still considered the underdogs. The climactic moment in the book is the race.

The Boys in the Boat: The True Story of An American Team’s Epic Journey to Win Gold at the 1936 Olympics, is a great read for middle school and high school boys. (A version of this same story is also available for adults: The Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown, Penguin Books, 2014.)

The book shows the power of forgiveness and trust. It shows that teamwork and dedication are key to winning. There are some themes in the book that talk about the Great Depression and the pre-World War II era which may be  need to be discussed with younger children who are not familiar with this period of history. There is a glossary of rowing terms in the back of the book that I found very helpful. Also I encourage people to remember that 2016 is the 80th anniversary of the Berlin Games.

From Nancy–There are a several youtubes of the race that your reader might want to check out. The following is a link to one of them.

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

Book Reviews

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