Book Review of Three Times Lucky by Sheila Turnage

What My Kids Read Reviews Three Times Lucky by Sheila Turnage Three Times Lucky is a Newberry Honor winner, just published last year. It was exciting and well-written with warm, colorful thoroughly Southern descriptions, but I think the content is too mature for my kids who are 10 and under. I think it is better suited for middle schoolers. Three Times Lucky deals with heavy issues of an abandoned baby, murder, abusive parents, and divorce. Throughout it all, the sassy, scrappy main character, a girl named Mo (short for Moses), maintains a spunky, upbeat attitude. I enjoyed the story, but parents should be advised that there are some harsh scenes in this book.

If you want to get a taste, the sample of the audio book on Amazon definitely captures the essence of the book Just click here (affiliate link): Three Times Lucky and then on “Listen” right below the picture of the book.

Three Times Lucky emphasizes that family is not just about being blood-related, it’s about love.

My Mom-Meter gives Sheila Turnage’s Three Times Lucky an overall safety rating of 3 (caution) for ages 12 and up.

Click here to skip to a Plot summary

Click here to skip straight to Potential Discussion Points

Category ratings (click on the category to see specifics):

Alcohol/DrugsModerately Safe

BullyingModerately Safe

Disrespectful AttitudesModerately Safe

Gross BehaviorSafe

LanguageModerately Safe

Magic/SupernaturalSafe

Romance/SexCaution

Scary ThemesCaution

ViolenceExtreme Caution

Plot summary of Three Times Lucky: ***Contains Spoilers***

Focus on the Family’s book review website, Thriving Family, has a good plot summary here.

Potential Discussion Points for Parents in Three Times Lucky:

  • Mo’s best friend, a boy named Dale, has an abusive, alcoholic father. He’s “too sorry to bring home any air conditioning.” You might want to talk to your kids about how often addicts spend money on their addictions and neglect their families.
  • Dale stole, or “borrowed” without permission, a boat from a mean old man so he and Mo could go fishing. He then convinces the old man to offer a $10 reward for the boat. Dale then collects the reward. You might want to talk to your kids about Dale’s ethics.
  • Mo is looking for her mother by sending out bottles down the river, since her mother had sent her as a newborn down the river during a hurricane. You could talk with your children about why some mothers give up their babies.
  • Mo says “Some say I was born unlucky that night. Not me. I say I was born three times lucky. Lucky once when my Upstream Mother tied me to a makeshift raft and sent me swirling downstream to safety. Lucky twice when the Colonel crashed his car and stumbled to the creek just in time to snatch me from the flood. Lucky three times when Miss Lana took me in like I was her own, and kept me.” Was Mo lucky or unlucky? Isn’t interesting how you could see it either way, depending on your perspective?
  • Mo says “I might come home tore up from fighting or late from being punished, but I’d never come home crying.” Is that a good way to live?
  • Mo writes to her Upstream Mother:
    “Death makes you think. Everybody has a way of believing. The Colonel says… if God needs him, He knows where to find him. Miss Lana believes in treating people right. She mostly hits Church Festivities… Dale goes to church because Miss Rose likes him to. I sometimes go to keep him company, and to hear stories of the Original Moses. Lavender… believes in NASCAR Zen… If you’re wondering about me, like Miss Lana I believe in treating people good. And like the Colonel, I think God can find me.”

You might want to talk to your kids about what your family believes and maybe ask them what they believe about death.

  • Mo hears Anna Celeste’s mother being mean to Anna Celeste. You might want to talk to your kids about how bullies are often mean because they have been bullied by someone else.
  • Anna Celeste Simpson, Mo’s “Sworn Enemy for Life,” calls her a “throw-away kid” since Mo’s mother sent her away as a newborn. Mo says to Dale “I got nobody except an Upstream Mother I can’t find.” Dale says “Nobody? You got people driving out here to sit with you, bringing you food. You got Skeeter helping. You got Sal breaking her family rules for you. You for Anna Celeste helping, and she can’t stand you. You got me, and Mama, and Lavender. You got a town full of nobodies, in case you haven’t noticed… And I’m sick of hearing about your Upstream Mother. You think you’re the only person that ever got thrown away? You think Anna Celeste doesn’t get thrown away every time her mother looks razor blades at her? You think I don’t get thrown away every time Daddy…” He clamped his mouth shut. Is anyone a “throw away kid?” Was Mo really all alone, like she said? Just because someone has a family or is rich does not mean that they are not lonely and hurting. Did Mo really need her Upstream Mother?
  • Mr. Macon says “Rose, I’m sorry I hurt you. You just make me so mad I can’t help it.” Miss Rose divorced Mr. Macon at the end of the book. You might want to talk to your kids about how abusers blame their victims for “making” them behave that way. You also might want to talk about divorce and what your family believes about it.
  • Mr. Macon says “Shut up, Mo! You got too much mouth. No wonder your mother threw you away.” Finally, someone had said it out loud. And out loud, the words felt surprisingly thin. I looked Mr. Macon in the eye. “Maybe she did throw me away and maybe she didn’t.” I said. “But if she did, she only did it once. You throw your people away every day that rolls around, and it sure ain’t because something is wrong with them.” You might want to talk to your child about how important it is to treat those we love with love and respect – even when we don’t feel like it.
  • The Colonel says to Mo, “We can’t change the past, Soldier. We can only be grateful for the life of a new day, and move on.” Is the Colonel right? Can we change our past? What would it look like if we tried to change the past? So, if we can’t change the past, how do we gratefully move on?
  • At the end of the book, Mo realizes that the Colonel and Miss Lana are all the family she needs. You might want to talk to your child about what family really is.

Alcohol/Drugs:

  • Lavender and Dale’s father is an alcoholic. There are many references to him coming home “drinking again.”
  • The doctor tells Lavender that he may have a concussion. “No alcohol. No women.”
  • Mo says that the twin girls, who have been drinking 7-Up, were “sober out of their minds.”
  • Breathalyzing is mentioned once.
  • Dale’s dad had “too much to drink,” which is code for “passed out cold.”
  • Lavender’s friend drank so much, he smells “like a brewery.”
  • Dale’s dad beats Dale when he is drunk. Mo sees red marks on Dale’s ribs. “I used to think Dale was clumsy. then I realized he only got clumsy when Mr. Macon took drunk.” Mo later tells Dale “I hate him for hitting you, Dale… I’ve seen the marks. If he tries it around me, I’ll take him down… I’m a born scrapper, plus I have karate skills.” Dale replies “He’s twice as big as you are, Mo… When Daddy hits, he means it… Don’t hit him unless you aim to kill him, Mo, I mean it.”
  • Dale’s family has a tobacco barn, and tobacco plants are mentioned a few times. At the end of the book, Miss Rose starts “a living history tour of a 1930s tobacco farm.”
  • Miss Lana offers the detective wine.
  • Dale’s dad, Mr. Macon, is slumped at a diner table. The detective asked “Too much wine?” Miss Lana answered “Too much drink well before he arrived at my door.”
  • Mr. Jesse called Dale “you no-good son of a white trash drunk.”
  • The detective asks about Dale’s dad, Mr. Macon. “Had he been drinking?” Dale answered “He’s always been drinking.”
  • “Silence hung on the air like stale tobacco smoke.”
  • Mo compares her pounding heart to a”crack-head chimpanzee with a bongo.”
  • Mr. Macon is “drunk driving.” Dale says that his dad drives “straighter drunk than he does sober.”
  • The is a brief mention of “the still everybody pretends [Redneck Red] ain’t running.”
  • Mr. Macon shows up drunk and begins to bully and threaten his family.

Bullying:

  • Anna Celeste Simpson, Mo’s “Sworn Enemy for Life,” calls her a “throw-away kid” since Mo’s mother sent her away as a newborn.
  • Mo recounts her first encounter with Anna Celeste on the first day of kindergarten. Mo walked across the playground to meet her, and Anna Celeste’s mother said “No honey, It’s that girl from the café. She’s not one of us.” Anna Celeste then stuck her tongue out at Mo, and Mo head-butted Anna Celeste in the stomach. Mo says “I might come home tore up from fighting or late from being punished, but I’d never come home crying.”
  • Anna Celeste calls Mo “Mo-ron.” Mo calls her “Attila Celeste.”
  • Anna Celeste says “At least I have a mother, Mo-ron.”
  • Dale’s dad beats Dale when he is drunk. Mo sees red marks on Dale’s ribs. “I used to think Dale was clumsy. then I realized he only got clumsy when Mr. Macon took drunk.” Mo later tells Dale “I hate him for hitting you, Dale… I’ve seen the marks. If he tries it around me, I’ll take him down… I’m a born scrapper, plus I have karate skills.” Dale replies “He’s twice as big as you are, Mo… When Daddy hits, he means it… Don’t hit him unless you aim to kill him, Mo, I mean it.”
  • Mr. Jesse called Dale “you no-good son of a white trash drunk.” and he said “get your scrawny good-for-nothing self off of my land before I call the law.”
  • Mr. Macon grabs Miss Rose by the “front of her blouse and yanked her forward onto her toes… Mr. Macon’s hand swooped in a clean vicious arc, slamming Mis Rose’s face, snapping her head back. She staggered sideways, her knees buckling as she crashed to the floor.” Later, Mr. Macon says “Rose, I’m sorry I hurt you. You just make me so mad I can’t help it.”

Disrespectful Attitudes:

  • Mo tells Mr. Jesse that he could “stand to lose that belly.”
  • Mo says “Sometimes I could kill the Colonel for giving me a name like Mo.”
  • Lavender calls his alcoholic, abusive dad by his first name. He “slammed out of his daddy’s house the day he turned 18 and hasn’t been back.”
  • Dale calls Mr. Jesse “you ugly waste of human skin.” (Mr. Jesse said some hateful things to Dale prior to this.)
  • Mo rolls her eyes when the detective asks her question as his own.

Gross Behavior:

  • Dales mispronounces crepes and calls them “craps.”
  • The twin girls need to “pee.” It is mentioned twice.
  • “Butt” is said once.
  • Dale says “Gag me” once.
  • Mo throws up from nervousness. Dale asks if she is done “barfing.” He “can’t tolerate other people throwing up. He gets what known as Synchronized Heaves.”

Language:

  • Miss rose says “Lord have mercy” when she sees Mo in her house at 6am.
  • Dale says “Holy moly” once.
  • Mr. Jesse says some “jackass” stole his boat.
  • Thes, the son of the Baptist preacher, is a “weather freak.”
  • Dale says “boobs” twice.
  • “Son of a gun” is said several times.
  • “Arrogant fop” is said once.
  • “Dad-blamed” is used once. “The Colonel says he can’t find a dad-blamed thing in there. He would say more, but Miss Lana doesn’t allow cursing.”
  • Dale’s dad thinks that Dale singing in church is “sissified.” He wants him to be good at football and racing cars.
  • “Old coot” is said twice.
  • “Jeez Louis” is said once.
  • “Good Lord” is said once.
  • “Damn” is said once.
  • Anna Celeste calls Mo “Mo-ron.”
  • The Colonel says he would rather be “fricasseed in hell” before he gets a safety light and drowns out the stars.
  • “Idiot” is said twice.
  • “Crud” is used twice.
  • Mr. Macon calls his wife, Miss Rose, a “no-good mother.”
  • Miss Lana says “For heaven’s sake.”
  • Mr. Jesse called Dale “you no-good son of a white trash drunk.” and he said “get your scrawny good-for-nothing self off of my land before I call the law.”
  • Dale calls Mr. Jesse “you ugly waste of human skin.”
  • “Stupid” is used several times.
  • Mo calls the murderer Slate “reptile brain,” “pervert,” “you idiot,” and “dirtbag.”
  • Mo pretends to be talking to a telemarketer, and calls him “moron” and “jerk brain,” and tells him she doesn’t want his “stupid all-expense-paid vacation.”
  • Mo and Dale hear an intruder swear in her house. “Someone swore softly.”
  • Marla says she is tired of Dale’s “redneck mouth.”
  • The Colonel calls Mr. Macon a “yellow-bellied traitor.”
  • Mr. Macon says “Cripes.”
  • Miss Rose says “For God’s sake.”
  • The Colonel says “God help me.”
  • Dale tells someone to wait by saying “keep your pants on!”

Magic/Supernatural:

  • When wakened from a deep sleep, Dale shouts “Demons!”
  • Fate, luck, and “Forces Unknown” are attributed to Mo’s strange life story.
  • Mo says “Some say I was born unlucky that night. Not me. I say I was born three times lucky.”
  • Mo says that Miss Lana “studied her like a star chart ” and can read her “like a Gypsy reads tea leaves.”
  • The Colonel says he would rather be “fricasseed in hell” before he gets a safety light and drowns out the stars.
  • Mo says the weather is “hotter than the devil’s curling iron.”
  • Mo writes to her Upstream Mother:

“Death makes you think. Everybody has a way of believing. The Colonel says… if God needs him, He knows where to find him. Miss Lana believes in treating people right. She mostly hits Church Festivities… Dale goes to church because Miss Rose likes him to. I sometimes go to keep him company, and to hear stories of the Original Moses. Lavender… believes in NASCAR Zen… If you’re wondering about me, like Miss Lana I believe in treating people good. And like the Colonel, I think God can find me.”

  • Lavender believes in “NASCAR Zen.” “The car is the body… The driver is awareness zipping in and out of traffic. And the Zen is Everything of it – track, car, self, other drivers. You focus without thinking to win.”
  • Mo is called the “goddess of free enterprise” several times.
  • Lavender is “devilish handsome.”
  • Mr. Macon tells Miss Rose to “Shut up.” Later, he tells Mo to “Sit down and shut up. Don’t, and you’ll find yourself tied up like that loud-mouth step-mother of yours.”
  • Mr. Macon, Dale’s dad, calls Dale “you little nothing.”
  • “The Colonel backed away like he’d seen the Devil himself.”

Romance/Sex:

  • Mo lives with Miss Lana and the Colonel. They have their own living quarters in the same house. They spend more time apart than together. At the end of the book, we learn that they had been planning to elope when the Colonel wrecked his car, found Mo, and lost his memory. Miss Lana lived with them, hoping that the Colonel would fall in love with her again. They are finally together and in love at the very end of the book.
  • Dale’s mother, Miss Rose, “used to be a real beauty back before time and Dale’s daddy got hold of her.” She had a “sway that made men stand taller.”
  • Mo mentions often that Dale’s brother, Lavender, is good-looking. She often mentions him as “Lavender, who I will one day marry.” He is 8 years older than her. She plans to adopt six children with him. “If I was old enough, I’d snatch him up and marry him before sundown. I’ve asked him plenty of times.”
  • When Mr. Starr, the detective, looks at pictures of Miss Lana dressed up for Hollywood Night, Dale tells him twice that “the boobs aren’t real.”
  • Mo mentions in a letter to her Upstream Mother that she is “on the verge of puberty.”
  • Dale says that he was told that he is “too pretty to do hard time.”
  • Mo tells Lavender “That new girl friends of your – what’s her name? Candy? Taffy? You may not know it, but a girl like that will rot your teeth out. How about you marry me?”
  • Twin girls are winking at Lavender and his friend, Sam.
  • Mo’s teacher, Miss Retzyl, dates the detective, Mr. Starr.
  • The doctor tells Lavender that he may have a concussion. “No alcohol. No women.”
  • Mo embarrasses Anna Celeste by telling the detective that Anna Celeste is “boy-crazy.”
  • Miss Lana says that Mr. Jesse had a girlfriend, a “heavy-set beauty” with a “jealous husband.”
  • Sal has “a love for Dale that will go epic, if he ever notices.”
  • There are pictures of Miss Lana as a girl, “prior to blossoming.” Dale comments “way to blossom” when he sees pictures of her as a young woman.
  • Anna Celeste starts flirting with Dale because he is now famous as a murder suspect.
  • The twin girls ignore Lavender after his accident and link arms with another man.
  • Lavender tells Dale “You’re a regular celebrity. No wonder the girls are after you… I couldn’t get a date right now if my life depended on it.” Mo says “Yes you could. I’ll go out with you in just seven more years.”
  • Lavender’s house is messy. Dales asks “Did the twins do this?” Lavender answers “The twins have been scarce since the crash, little brother.” Mo thinks “those twins are idiots. Even depressed, Lavender is melt-down gorgeous.”
  • 19-year-old Lavender kisses 11-year-old Mo’s face after she helps him raise over a thousand dollars for a car. “What happened next will live as one of the great moments in history: Lavender smiled, bent down, and kissed my face. My first kiss! And it was from Lavender!”
  • Dale mentions that Lavender gave him weights to use after he hits puberty.
  • Mo asks the murderer, Slate, “You some kind of pervert, calling up little girls and asking if they’re alone? Because I’m not allowed to talk to perverts.”
  • Deputy Marla smiled at Lavender “the way that women smile at Lavender.”
  • Mr. Macon thought that Detective Starr was Miss Rose’s boyfriend.
  • Mo tells Mr. Macon that Detective Starr “got the hots” for Miss Retzyl.
  • Dale sends ice water over to Sal at the end of the book, and smiles at her. Sal then knocks over the glass.
  • Lavender calls Mo “Sherlock,” and she is thrilled to have a “pet name.” He stretches his legs out, “Lavender knows how to wear a pair of jeans.”

Scary Themes:

  • A murder is mentioned where the murderer “cut [his victim’s] phone line, same into his house, and pulled the trigger.”
  • Mr. Jesse is murdered, hit in the head from behind, and his body is found in his rowboat.
  • The Colonel says “There is a killer amongst us.”
  • Some people said that the Colonel had earned a black belt by killing a man.
  • Mo’s home is a mess from a struggle, and Miss Lana is kidnapped and held for a half million dollars ransom.
  • The Colonel writes a letter to Mo, describing what he thinks her mother went through, going into labor during a hurricane, her home flooding, and her deciding to put newborn Mo on a makeshift raft to save her life.
  • The Colonel jokes that without his private space staying neat, he would have to shoot Miss Lana and leave her for dead for her “creative chaos.”
  • There is blood everywhere in the abandoned house where the murderer had help Miss Lana. “Blood on the floor, blood on a shattered lamp, blood on the faded wallpaper.” They find a hand print of blood on the wallpaper and they follow it out to the driveway. You find out later that Miss Lana hit Slate with a lamp, and the blood is his, from a cut on his hand and his head.
  • Dale’s father comes home drink in the midst of the storm. He is violent, and Dale ends up pointing a gun at him, threatening to kill his father if he doesn’t leave.
  • You find out at the end of the book that the Colonel had been a lawyer, representing Slate, a bank robber accused of killing a security guard. When he was convicted, Slate told the Colonel to find the loot from that holdup and save it. If the Colonel didn’t, Slate would kill every person connected to the case. The Colonel didn’t believe Slate, and the next morning, the Colonel’s secretary was dead. He then went to warn everyone when the hurricane hit, he had his accident, lost his memory, and found baby Mo.

Violence:

  • Lavender is in a dramatic car crash while racing. “The night fell into slow motion as Lavender’s car somersaulted down the wall, bounced right side up, and wobbled to the infield.” Lavender ends up only needing some stitches in his arm, a black eye, and a possible concussion.
  • Dale’s dad beats Dale when he is drunk. Mo sees red marks on Dale’s ribs. “I used to think Dale was clumsy. then I realized he only got clumsy when Mr. Macon took drunk.” Mo later tells Dale “I hate him for hitting you, Dale… I’ve seen the marks. If he tries it around me, I’ll take him down… I’m a born scrapper, plus I have karate skills.” Dale replies “He’s twice as big as you are, Mo… When Daddy hits, he means it… Don’t hit him unless you aim to kill him, Mo, I mean it.”
  • Miss Rose has a shotgun by the door to shoot snakes.
  • Deputy Marla points a pistol at Mo and Dale, and the children learn she is working with the murderer Slate. She grabs Mo, and her fingers pinch Mo’s arm. Marla shakes Mo twice and pushes Dale. When Marla goes after a packet, Mo throws a steel-toe boot at her, and misses. Marla slips and falls while dodging the boot. The children tie her up with the Colonel’s neckties and slash her tires.
  • Dale’s dad shows up drunk in the middle of the storm and shoves his wife, Miss Rose, across the room when she tells him to leave.
  • Mr. Macon grabs Miss Rose by the “front of her blouse and yanked her forward onto her toes… Mr. Macon’s hand swooped in a clean vicious arc, slamming Mis Rose’s face, snapping her head back. She staggered sideways, her knees buckling as she crashed to the floor.” Mo uses her karate to knock Mr. Macon to the ground, and stepped forward to elbow his chin when Miss Rose stopped her. “Stop… He’ll kill you.” Mr. Macon laughs and comes forward with his fist raised when Dale fires the shotgun as a warning and then points the gun at his father. “Get out of the house or I swear I will kill you.” Mo tells Dale to pull the trigger, but he doesn’t have it in him to kill his father. The Colonel arrives just in time to take over. He ties up Mr. Macon.
  • The Colonel takes Mr. Macon’s unloaded pistol to confront Slate. He tells Miss Rose, “If Macon gives you any trouble, feel free to shoot him.”
  • The Colonel points the unloaded pistol at Slate, asking where Miss Lana is. Then, Mo holds the unloaded gun while the Colonel and Dale tie Slate up.
  • Miss Lana hit Slate with a lamp, and he was cut on his hand and his head.
Interested in purchasing this book? Please buy through this link to help us keep posting!
Three Times Lucky
Thanks so much!

Book Review of A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle

What My Kids Read Book Review: A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle I read A Wrinkle in Time out loud to the kids about two years ago. I enjoyed it, Liam enjoyed it (age 8 at the time), and Paul enjoyed what he understood of it (age 5 at the time). It can stand by itself, but it is the beginning of a series of 5 books, called the Time Quintet. I have read A Wrinkle in Time and A Wind in the Door, and both are age appropriate for around 9 and up, but I have heard that at least one of the later books gets a little strange. I will review them in the coming months, so you can decide for your family. There are also four more books that Madeleine L’Engle wrote about the children of Meg, the main character in A Wrinkle in Time. I have not read those.

*Edited to add: It has been pointed out to me that the later books may be a little difficult for 9 year olds to understand, so you may want to wait until your child is a little older before starting the series. For us, it has worked well to read this series out loud to my kids, since I am able to explain concepts as we go.

This book emphasizes that there is strength in being different and that love is the most powerful force.

[Read more…]

Book Review of Liar & Spy by Rebecca Stead

What My Kids Read Reviews Liar & Spy by Rebecca Stead Rebecca Stead’s book, Liar and Spy, is a difficult book for me to review. As a reader, I loved it. Emotionally, it moved me to tears as I identified with the main character’s mother. She even calls her son “Pickle,” just like I do. But as a mom reviewing this book for my kids, I have to say that this is definitely a book you will want to proceed with caution. I have not decided if Liam will be reading this book.

My Mom-Meter gives this particular book an overall safety rating of 3 (Caution) for age 9 and up.

Click here to skip to a Plot summary.
Click here to skip straight to Potential Discussion Points.
Category ratings (click on the category to see specifics):

Alcohol/Drugs: Safe

Bullying: Caution

Disrespectful Attitudes: Safe

Gross Behavior: Moderately Safe

Language: Caution

Romance/Sex: Moderately Safe

Violence: Moderately Safe

Plot: Here is my plot summary of Liar & Spy by Rebecca Stead ***Contains Spoilers***

Liar & Spy is about a boy, Georges (silent s). His father lost his job, and they have had to move out of their home and into an apartment building. Georges is a loner in seventh grade who lets himself be bullied because he believes that it doesn’t really matter in the big picture. He makes friends with a brother and sister in his apartment building, Safer and Candy. They are homeschooled, and have a very unconventional upbringing, but they are nice kids and they help teach Georges a valuable lesson. Georges’ class is obsessed with an upcoming taste-test, believing the results will predict someone’s destiny. As the book unfolds, you find out that Georges’ mother has been in the hospital with a serious infection, and Georges has to face his fears and live in the reality that, even though the big picture matters (as his mom says), life is still made up of small moments now (as his dad reminds him). Throughout the book, Georges’ dad is a warm, caring father, and his mother is as involved as she can be from the hospital. Georges and Safer spy on a man, Mr. X, that lives in their building. Safer tells Georges all kinds of creepy things about Mr. X, but Georges realizes in the end, that Safer was just playing a game – none of it was real. He then learns that Safer is actually afraid of most things, one main fear is leaving the apartment building. In the end, George faces his fears, visits his mother in the hospital, and outwits the bullies at school by banding together with uncool kids to defy the taste-test “destiny.” His mother comes home from the hospital, Safer ventures out of the apartment building, and Candy decides to go to school.

Potential Discussion Points for Parents in Liar & Spy:

  • The kids in Georges’ class thought that the taste-test revealed your destiny. What did Georges and the Blue Team realize about destiny?
  • Georges used to be close friends with Jason, but then Jason started hanging out with the kids at the cool table. Georges thinks that it is hard to hate Jason because underneath, “he’s the same person he always was.”
  • Candy tells Safer “I hate you.” Sometimes it’s easy to say terrible things out of anger.
  • Georges was really mad that Safer mislead him about Mr. X. Do you think Safer lied or was just playing a game?
  • Throughout the book, Georges refers to the Georges Seurat painting. “I know Mom is right about the big picture. But Dad is right too: Life is really a bunch of nows, one right after the other… The dots matter.”
  • Safer is afraid of lots of things, but manages to hide his fears with excuses. Georges does the same thing, pretending that his mom is just working extra shifts at the hospital. Do you think that sometimes it is easy to hide our fears by pretending we’re normal?

Alcohol/Drugs:

  • One school year, a boy that didn’t react to the taste test was killed by a drunk driver.
  • Safer drinks coffee out of a flask. Georges mentions that his father has two old flasks.

Bullying:

  • Dallas, a bully, puts his foot on Georges’ stomach while Georges is lying on the ground.
  • Dallas and Carter call Georges “Gorgeous.”
  • A bully comes up with a “gay test.” “Carter’s incredibly stupid new ‘gay test,’ which has something to do with what finger is larger than some other finger.”
  • A bully says that Georges is setting off the “freak alarm.”
  • Dallas keeps asking a girl if she will get a perfect SAT score because she is Asian.
  • Bullies keep call Georges a “freak,” and say “freaks aren’t good at sports.”
  • Bullies chant “Geek, geek, geek, geek!” at Georges.
  • Bullies call Georges “SDP” for “So Damn Pathetic.”
  • Bullies call Georges a “geek-sack,” a “big phlegmy wad of geek,” and says that he will be a “steaming pile of spaz.” (Spaz is short for spastic, meaning mentally retarded.)
  • A bully calls Teresa Conchette “Terry Conchesty,” implying a concave chest.

Disrespectful Attitudes:

  • Several different children roll their eyes at each other throughout the book.

Gross Behavior:

  • “Throw up” and “puke” are mentioned several times.
  • Candy explains that “‘stool’ means ‘poop.'”
  • Georges refuses to touch the dogs’ “poop bag.”
  • Bullies call Georges a “big phlegmy wad of geek.”

Language:

  • Georges’ mom tells him that things that happened at school are “classic bully crap.” This phrase is used several times throughout the book.
  • “Stupid” is used several times.
  • “Dumb” is used several times.
  • “Freak” is used a few times.
  • “Idiots” and “idiotic” is used.
  • Bullies call Georges “SDP” for “So Damn Pathetic.”
  • “Dork” is used a few times.
  • Bullies call Georges a “geek-sack,” a “big phlegmy wad of geek,” and says that he will be a “steaming pile of spaz.” (Spaz is short for spastic, meaning mentally retarded.)
  • Candy says “Geesh” once.
  • Candy tells Safer “I hate you.”
  • “Heck” is used once by Safer’s mom.

Romance/Sex:

  • “Mandy and Gabe are being careful not to stand too close because they secretly like each other.”
  • There is a rumor at the school that, one year, only two kids did not react to the taste test: a boy and a girl. They started dating in high school. “People said they got married, but I’ve never seen any proof.”
  • Mandy hopes that the taste-test reveals “that she and Gave are destined to fall in love and be together forever.”
  • A bully comes up with a “gay test.” “Carter’s incredibly stupid new ‘gay test,’ which has something to do with what finger is larger than some other finger.”
  • Bennie, the owner of the candy store, pretends he is in love with Georges’ mom.
  • Candy plans to marry someone who likes orange, since she doesn’t like the color or the flavor. She says “The whole getting married thing is kind of random anyway.” Her grandparents met one time before getting married, and they are still happy. A friend’s parents dated for 10 years, and then divorced after only being married 1 1/2 years.
  • Candy says her future husband will “have to be cute and everything… Not like, television cute. Real-person cute.”
  • Jason had a crush on Teresa Conchetti.
  • A bully calls Teresa Conchette “Terry Conchesty,” implying a concave chest.
  • Bullies shove Georges up against a potato chips display in a store.

Violence:

  • Safer makes Georges believe that Mr. X is “chopping people up and putting them in suitcases.” (It’s all pretend, but Georges does not know that for most of the book.)
  • Safer makes Georges believe that he plans to break into Mr. X’s apartment to collect evidence. While Safer is in the apartment, he supposedly finds a handsaw.
  • Safer asks Georges to be a lookout and let him know “before Mr. X gets in and murders him.” Safer says seriously, “He’ll probably kill me.”
  • Georges’ mom fainted before they moved, “Her head made a horrible sound when it hit the floor.”

If you are interested in buying books we talk about, or anything else on Amazon, please buy through this link!

Liar & Spy

It doesn’t cost you extra, and it helps us. Thanks!

The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett

The Secret Garden by Francis Hodgson Burnett What My Kids Read Review

Reading The Secret Garden out loud to my kids has been one of my favorite experiences as a mom. The boys were 8 and 5, and Brontë was 2 when I read it out loud to them. It was slow going at the beginning, but as the story unfolded, the boys would often beg for me to read “just one more chapter.”

Two considerations: The story is mostly set in Yorkshire, England, and several characters speak with a Yorkshire accent. It might be difficult for some kids to read, but it makes sense when you sound it out. Also, Frances Hodgson Burnett was heavily influenced by Christian Science, and that is clear throughout this book, although it is mostly referenced as “Magic.” I found that it was easy enough to navigate through our family’s beliefs as we read it out loud.

My Mom-Meter gives this particular book an overall safety rating of 1 (Safe) for ages 8 and up. 

Wikipedia has a good plot summary here.

Here are the potential moral issues parents might wish to talk with their kids about:

Bullying:

  • Children call Mary “Mistress Mary Quite Contrary.”
  • A boy tells Mary “You are to be sent home…and we are glad of it.”

Drugs/Alcohol:

  • While others in the house are dying of cholera, Mary drinks a glass of wine and it makes her sleepy.
  • Dr. Craven asks Colin if he took bromide salts (mild sedative).
  • Ben Weatherstaff drinks beer at the end of the book.
  • A man was called a “drunken brute” by his wife. He “got as drunk as a lord.”

Language:

  • There are words used in this book that can be misunderstood by modern readers: Gay (as in merry, happy), Queer (as in strange, odd), Wench (as in little girl), Stupid (meaning boring)
  • Mary calls her nurse terrible names. “‘Pig! Pig! Daughter of Pigs!’ she said, because to call a native a pig is the worst insult of all.” Mary calls Martha, her Yorkshire maid, a “daughter of pigs” once.
  • Mary’s mom says “What a fool I was!”
  • Ben Weatherstaff calls the robin a “cheeky little beggar.”
  • Ben Weatherstaff says “Well, I’m danged!”
  • Dr. Craven says “Good Lord!”
  • Mary says some terrible things to Colin while he is having a temper tantrum, and it shocks him out of his fit. She says, “I hate you! Everybody hates you! I wish everyone would run out of the house and let you scream yourself to death! You will scream yourself to death in a minute, and I wish you would!”
  • Ben says “Drat him!”
  • Ben says “jackasses.”
  • Dickon’s mother says “in Mercy’s name!”

Magic/Supernatural:

  • The wind is compared to an invisible giant twice.
  • The roses were “fairy-like.”The Secret Garden was like being in a “fairy place” and “the country of a magic king and queen.” Mary liked “fairy-story books.” Mary thought that Dickon was like a “wood fairy.” A chair looks fit for a “fairy king.” “The seeds…grew as if fairies had tended them.” A mole’s hands are described as “elfish.”
  • There are many references to snake charmers of India, and Colin thinks that Dickon is an “animal charmer.”
  • Colin asks Mary “Are you a ghost?”
  • Martha says Mary must have “bewitched” Colin.
  • The gardeners appeared to be “witched away.”
  • The word “Magic” is used many times throughout to refer to the power of nature or God. (influenced by Christian Science beliefs.) Please see Potential Discussion Points for more about this.
  • Someone appears to be “spellbound.”
  • Fakirs are mentioned (Hindu Dervishes).
  • Colin has everyone sit in the Secret Garden to “practice Magic.” He says “it will be like sitting in a sort of temple.” Mary thinks he looks like “a sort of priest” and he speaks with a “High Priest tone.”
  • Mary thinks Colin looks like a “strange boy spirit.”
  • Mrs. Medlock calls Mary and Colin “a pair of young Satans.”
  • Colin says “If I were [my mother’s] ghost – my father would be fond of me.”
  • Mr. Craven is described as being “under the spell” of a thought.

Racism:

  • There are many references to the “natives” of India. Martha, the Yorkshire maid, is very curious about “the blacks.”
  • Ben Weatherstaff calls the people of India “heathens.”

Romance:

  • The robin is “courting” a mate.

Violence:

  • Mary’s parents and several servants die of cholera. There is screaming and wailing.
  • Mary beat and kicked a servant.
  • Mary slapped her Ayah (her nurse in India).
  • Mrs. Craven fell out of a tree and died.
  • Mrs. Medlock threatens to box Mary’s ears.
  • Colin is obsessed with the fear of becoming a hunchback and dying.
  • There is a passing reference made that Dickon found a baby lamb lying by its dead mother.
  • There are three references to “a good hiding,” meaning a spanking or whipping.
  • Mary says that Dr. Craven is very patient with Colin: “If you had been his own boy and he had been a slapping sort of man…he would have slapped you.”

Potential Discussion Points:

  • Mary’s mother did not want to have a child, and neglected Mary completely. Mr. Craven wishes that Colin had never been born. Potential Discussion Point: Both Mary’s mother and Mr. Craven acted very selfishly and did not think about their children at all. Is that how parents should treat their children? Why do you think that?
  • The servants in India were treated like slaves. Potential Discussion Point: You might want to talk about the conditions of servants during British Colonialism.
  • Mary was very disagreeable, but she didn’t know it. She thought that everyone else was disagreeable. Potential Discussion Point: Is it easier to see other people’s faults than your own? How to you discover your own faults?
  • Mary says that she was “sour and cross” because she was lonely. She knows that no one likes her and realizes that she doesn’t like herself. Potential Discussion Point: Have you ever noticed how you act when you are lonely? Does acting “sour and cross” help you make friends if you are lonely? Do you like yourself when you act that way?
  • Colin is extremely spoiled and selfish. Colin’s father acts very selfishly too. Potential Discussion Point: Do you think that sickness or being deformed is an excuse for selfishness?
  • Mary and Colin disobey because no one had ever refused them. Colin says “Everyone is obliged to do what pleases me…It makes me ill to be angry.” Potential Discussion Point: Does it sound like Mary and Colin had a nice life without rules?
  • Colin says “My mother died when I was born and it makes [my father] wretched to look at me…He almost hates me.” He also said “I don’t see why [my mother] died. Sometimes I hate her for doing so.” Potential Discussion Point: You might want to talk about grief with your kids, and how they would feel if one of their parents died.
  • Mrs. Medlock said one time when Colin was very sick “He’ll die this time, sure enough, an’ best thing for him, an’ everybody.” Colin was convinced for most of his life that he was going to die. Potential Discussion Point: Word are very powerful. Colin believed the words Mrs. Medlock said, and he had a miserable life, expecting to die. Have you ever heard someone say something about you that you believed? What was it?
  • Dickon’s mother says that Colin’s Magic is called different things in different places, but that it is the same as the thing that sets seeds swelling, the sun shining, and makes Colin well. She calls it the “Big Good Thing.” The final chapter says that thoughts are as powerful as electricity. Fear and crankiness keep you sick and fretful, but filling your mind with good thoughts bring health and beauty.  Potential Discussion Point: You might want to talk with your kids about what your family believes about God.

From a 10 year old’s perspective: I liked the descriptions of the garden. They were very elaborate, but believable. It made you feel like you were there. It sounded magical and very cool.

If you are interested in buying books we talk about, or anything else on Amazon, please click through this link! It doesn’t cost you extra, and it helps us. Thanks!

Under Wildwood by Colin Meloy

Under Wildwood by Colin Meloy Illustrated by Carson Ellis This is the second book of a new series called “The Wildwood Chronicles,” written by Colin Meloy. You can read my review of the first book here. Under Wildwood is definitely darker than the first book in this series. There is more violence and language than the first book. The author uses an extensive vocabulary, which makes for an easy way for readers to pick up new words, but I think I had to look up 4 or 5 myself, so kids might be needing a dictionary handy for this book. It also does not seem like a book that could stand alone. The story does not resolve by the end of the book, so you might want to wait until the third book, Wildwood Imperium, is released in February, 2014.

My Mom-Meter gives this particular book an over-all safety rating of 3 (Caution) for ages 9 and up.

Wikipedia has a decent summary of the book here.

 Here are the potential moral issues parents might wish to talk with their kids about:
  • A coachman yells “Better luck next time, suckers!” “Darn it!” is said twice. “Oh my God” is said twice, and someone uses God’s name in vain once. A boy is described as chubby. “Flipping” is used twice (as in, “The flipping map”), “screwed up” is said twice, someone says “a quiet oath,” “godforsaken” is used by a boy (use of another profanity is implied but not stated). A boy boasts that they live in a place where there are “No rules. Do what you like… Tell dirty jokes…Let loose a curse word.” Someone in battle calls his foe a “cretin,” someone is called an “idiot,” and a villain is called a “creep.”
  • “Farted” is used to describe the sounds a machinery, someone mentions “butt” once, “pee” once, “puking” once, and “load of crap” once. A mole wets his pants in fear.
  • Prue is skipping school to go look at Wildwood. Potential Discussion Point: Is Prue right to skip school? Why do you think she isn’t telling her parents about it?
  • Curtis’ absence is hurting his family. Potential Discussion Point: Why does Curtis’ family miss him? Did you know that every member of a family is important? What are things that we would miss about each other if we could not be together?
  • Curtis’ parents think Curtis is in Turkey, so they put his sisters in an orphanage for safe keeping while they fly to Turkey to look for Curtis. Potential Discussion Point: Do you think it was a difficult decision for Curtis’ parents to leave their daughters at the orphanage? How would you handle it if you were Elsie?
  • Cigarettes, “poppy beer,”  are mentioned in passing. There is a drunk wolf who sells information for alcohol, he calls it “that demon liquid), a drunk tank is mentioned once, dive bars are mentioned once, a villain requests a “spritzer,” and someone promises “champagne on tap.” A father-figure smokes a pipe and a boy smokes a pipe with tobacco throughout his part in the story. He is proud of it and does not want to stop. The children see an empty container of chewing tobacco, something made of cigar tins, find a beer bottle “Pabst Blue Ribbon.” Prue and Curtis see someone who works at a bar in Portland picking up more beer, and he tells them that the are too young to be in a bar. Prue remembers stories of drunken sailors being abducted.
  • Orphanage uses child labor. Potential Discussion Point: Although the book only treat child labor like it is treated in a Dickens’ novel, you might want to talk about what child slavery looks like today and what we can do to change it.
  • Someone mentions that kids at the orphanage are playing poker.
  • Elsie has to work at a machine that will chop off her hand if she does not work fast.
  • There is a lot of violence. Plants attack and kill two shape-shifting (Kisune) assassins to protect the Mystics. Blood is mentioned seeping from nostrils, blood being spilled, etc. An assassin Kisune falls to her death, and the book mentions her as “lifeless.” Prue and Curtis remember a story of a spelunker who gets lost and dies in a cave. Infanticide is mentioned once. Curtis references the movie “Conan” in which James Earl Jones turns into a “giant toothy snake.” While in the dark, a mole makes so much noise that Curtis “envisioned some eldritch creature, all tentacles and glistening eyeballs, carrying… an ax maybe.” There is a brief, graphic description of a battleground – crying baby mole, blood splattered dress, crying over a fallen soldier. Prue learns that the Dowager Governess had chopped off the hands of a craftsman and poked out the eyes of the other craftsman. Someone mentions that the Dowager Governess was swallowed by ivy (as told in the first book). The kids at the “orphanage” riot, throwing foot lockers out of windows, breaking glass, and set fire to the machine shop. Prue stabs Kisune and there is a graphic description of their struggle.
  • Prue can hear plants communicate with her. Prue encourages a plant to slap a girl who is showing off.
  • Prue realizes that she is calling on the plants to murder Darla, the Kisune assassin. The books says “While that seemed like the right outcome, considering her own life was ver much in danger, it still gave her pause.”
  • Some children say they are setting off to set wire snares to catch animals, presumably to eat.
  • There are Mystics, people who have visions and can talk to trees. One of the Mystics assumes the lotus position before being killed. The “netherworld” and “underworld” are mentioned. Unicorns are mentioned in passing once. “Incantation” is mentioned once. Someone references Charles Dickens “Ghost of Christmas future.” Someone is in a “trancelike” state and someone snaps out of a “trance,” not meaning a true trance. Prue is sarcastically called an oracle. People who have ancestors from the Impassible Wilderness are said to have “Woods Magic” in them. A villain says “It is believed that we are descended of the trees themselves.” The moles mistake Prue, Curtis, and Septimus the rat for gods of the Overworld, and the children and rat play along as “demi-gods.” There are wooden dragon heads on a pagoda that are described as looking “wise to the ages.” There are Intuits who listen to the trees. Joffrey Unthank is compared to Hephaetus, the blacksmith to the gods in Greek mythology. “The God of Judeo-Christian beliefs had created the universe himself… God had seven days to make the universe; Unthank had been given five.” Someone is called a seer. There is a mole called a prophetess, or a sibyl. There is a reference to a “magic sigil” and “kismet.” Poltergeists are mentioned once. The children in the orphanage are compared to “furies released from the deep.”
  • As Prue struggled to stop the moles’ battle, her feet crushed parts of the mole city. “She decided that it was all for the good of peace.” Potential Discussion Point: Do you think that Prue made the right decision? How do we sometimes make decision that mess up something in order to create something better?
  • The Sibyl Gwendolyn says that she does not believe in the afterlife even though she is a prophetess. She says that she speak religious things for tradition. She says, “Faith. It’s an awfully beautiful idea, isn’t it? I’m fond of the poetry of it. As long as it’s not doing anyone any harm, I don’t see the reason for pulling the veil away….” Potential Discussion Point: Many people believe that religion is simply a lovely idea, irrelevant and nice as long as it doesn’t infringe on others. What does your family believe?
  • The Unadoptable kids lived in a place where they never age a day. Potential Discussion Point: If you had the chance to live there, would you? Why do you think we were created to age?
  • Prue feels the tree’s calling on her life eclipses everything else, including her family. She wonders if that feeling is the beginning of being an adult. Potential Discussion Point: Do you think that adults or kids focus on one thing and care more about that than anything else? Do you think that Prue is acting like an adult to forget about her family? How is she different from Mr. Unthank?
  • Joffrey Unthank is obsessed with the Impassable Wilderness, and he sacrifices everything to learn how to get into it. The book calls it “monomania.” Potential Discussion Point: Is it ever okay to sacrifice everything to get one thing? Do you think that Mr. Unthank will ever be satisfied?
  • Martha, an orphan, sacrifices her life to let Elsie and Rachel escape from Mr. Unthank, knowing that she and Carol, the blind father-figure craftsman, would be captured. Potential Discussion Point: Why did Martha take the girls’ place by Carol’s side? You might want to talk about stories of brave people who took another’s place during the Holocaust and other times.
  • The bear, Esben, had refused to help Prue save Wildwood, but he then appears in time to save Prue from being killed. He explains his change of heart as this. “A city of moles saved my life once; it occurred to me I had a calling to do the same for someone else.” Potential Discussion Point: How would you feel if you were about to die and someone saved your life? How would that change how you live your life now?

This review is hot off the press! Check back to read Liam’s review next week.

Interested in purchasing this book? Please click through this link to help us keep posting! Thanks!