On Your Mark, Get Set, Grow! A “What’s Happening to My Body?” Book for Younger Boys, by Lynda Madaras

On Your Mark, Get Set, Grow! A “What’s Happening to My Body?” Book for Younger Boys. By Lynda Madaras.  Illustrated by Paul Gilligan.  Newmarket Press, 2008.  104 pages. $9.95

Content: On Your Mark, Get Set, Grow! Introduces preteens to the changes that are happening or will happen throughout puberty.  Chapters cover the growth of sex organs, body and facial hair, height spurts, weight and muscles, body odor and pimples, erection and ejaculation and “Becoming Your Own Self.”  With straightforward, understandable information as well as some humor, Madaras takes boys through the various changes they will experience, all the while reassuring them that these changes are entirely normal and natural and that variation in responses to puberty is also completely normal.  The text includes cartoon-like illustrations that further demonstrate points and/or are detailed diagrams of body parts.  Illustrations represent boys from a variety of racial backgrounds.  This book covers puberty from A to Z, and, in fact includes an index for quick reference to particular topics.  The content is comprised of the author’s text, the illustrations, sidebars with “tips,” quotes from other boys or men about their puberty experiences, and each chapter ends with a “Questions and Answers” section.  The Q&A sections addresses what one would imagine to be commonly asked questions from pre-pubescent and pubescent boys with practical, reassuring answers to each.  Though this book does address erections, masturbation, ejaculation and orgasm, it does not address issues of sexual attraction or sexual activity with another person.

Review: One of the things that makes this book so appealing is the author’s obvious comfort with the subject matter.  Madaras’ calm manner and matter-of-fact text puts the reader at ease, even though some of the topics could make young readers squirm in discomfort.  With practical and useful facts, and a non-judgmental approach, On Your Mark, Get Set, Grow! provides tween and young teens boys the information they need to navigate the confusing, potentially scary, and hopefully exciting time in their lives called puberty.

Genre(s): Non-Fiction

Reading/Interest Level: 9 -14 years

Available in: Hardcover, Paperback, eBook

ISBN: 978-1557047816

Similar Books: The “What’s Happening to My Body?” Book for Boys, AMA Boy’s Guide to becoming a Teen: Getting Used to Life in Your Changing Body, The Boy’s Body Book: Everything You Need to Know for Growing Up YOU

Subjects: puberty, boys’ bodies, human bodies, growing up, hygiene, health, nutrition

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It Gets Better Project

www.itgetsbetter.org.  Website for the It Gets Better Project. Created in 2010.

Content:  “The It Gets Better Project was created to show young LGBT people the levels of happiness, potential, and positivity their lives will reach – if they can just get through their teen years. The It Gets Better Project wants to remind teenagers in the LGBT community that they are not alone — and it WILL get better. “  The founders of the project, Dan Savage and Terry Miller were alarmed by the suicide rates of LGBT youth, and wanted to send out a message of hope.  One the website, viewers can find hundreds of video messages from the LGBTQ community and allies that tell young people things like: the harassment or bullying or teasing that they are experiencing will end, life will get better, there is hope for a happy future, and they are NOT alone.  From every day folks and teenagers telling their coming out stories to cast members from the TV program Glee, President Obama, Joe Jonas, Ellen DeGeneres, the staffs of The Gap, Google, Facebook, Pixar, and Apple there are over 10,000 videos that send the same message in hundreds of different ways: It Gets Better.  Anyone can upload an It Gets Better video, and the website also provides links and information to other organizations that can support LGBTQ youth.  Specifically, there is ample information about the Trevor Project, which operates a suicide prevention hotline and website with information about how young people can get support.

Review: What an amazing idea!  How sad that we continue to hear about LGBTQ youth who can’t stand the rejection/harassment/bullying and lose hope and take their own lives.  The concept is simple, remind young people that life is worth living, have people who have been there tell the viewers, they are not alone, it gets better.  The videos on itgetsbetter.org are moving, inspiring, motivating, and poignant.  And they work; from the website: “Trevor Project sees 400% increase in requests for in-school suicide prevention kits.”  Another benefit to this website is that young people can access it anonymously and in private, even if it means a trip to the library, if prying parental eyes are unwanted.  It’s not often that one gets to witness and have the opportunity to participate in something that truly changes lives, the It Gets Better Project gives all of us that chance.

Genre: non-fiction, self-help

Interest Level: 10-20 years

Available in: there is also a companion It Gets Better book

Subjects: LGBTQ, sexual orientation, gender identity, bullying, harassment

President Obama It Gets Better Video:


Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone Movie

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (PG Movie).  Directed by Chris Columbus. Warner Bros., 2001. 152 minutes. $19.98

Plot: Following along the lines of the book of the same name, eleven year old Harry Potter is living with his cruel and neglectful aunt, uncle, and cousin when he receives a letter telling him he has been accepted to Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.  Prior to this Harry had not known he was a wizard.  And, as it turns out, Harry’s famous in the wizarding world for not succumbing to an attack by the evil wizard Voldemort.  Once at Hogwarts, Harry, along with his best friends, Ron and Hermoine, get enmeshed in the mystery of the sorcerer’s stone, a magical crystal with the power of immortality.  With encounters with an angry troll, a three headed dog, and a baby dragon, the three friends show a great deal of resourcefulness, determination, and bravery, but danger seems to lurk around every corner.  Will they be able to save the sorcerer’s stone from the evil wizard searching for it?  Will they get through their first year of Hogwarts alive?

Review: Exciting and entertaining, this movie stays amazingly true to the book upon which it is based.  The characters are well developed and intriguing, with a cast of talented actors.  The special effects are well done, if not perfect.  There is a need to suspend disbelief anyway, so why not forget they’re special effects and sit back and enjoy?  The scenery is beautiful and once immersed in the magic of the movie, most viewers will not want to come back to real (I mean, muggle) life.

Genre(s): Fantasy, Adventure, Family, Mystery

Viewing/Interest Level: 8+ years

Available in: DVD; Blu-ray; Wide Screen, Full Screen, and Ultimate Editions

Subjects: magic, wizardry, spells, growing up, coming of age, family, friendship

Series Information: Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone is the first movie in an eight movie series, movies two through eight are: Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 (to be released later in 2011)


To Be Fat Like Me

To Be Fat Like Me (TV Movie, TV-14).  Directed by Douglas Barr. Ardmore Productions, 2007. 90 minutes. $14.95

Plot: Aly’s got it all; she’s pretty, popular, and a star player on her high school softball team.  She’s sure to get offered a softball scholarship this year, until an injury has her sitting on the bench missing all the college scout visits.  So, Aly decides to enter a filmmaking contest hoping to win the prize money to pay for college.  The topic if her film: an inside look into what it’s like to be a fat girl in high school.  Aly’s theory is that if you smile and act friendly, people will respond in kind, and that the size of your body is not relevant.  Then she puts on the fat suit.  Now Aly experiences taunts, teasing and bullying because of her apparent weight.  Will she be able to better understand what it’s like to be fat?  Will she be able to make peace with her mother, who Aly thinks hides behind her weight problems?

Review: This movie has an interesting concept.  There are probably plenty of people, fat and thin, who have ideas about what it might be like to have the opposite body type.  Perhaps this film provides some insight into both sides.  This film deals with some heavy topics: disordered eating, obesity, bullying, and prejudice, among others.  I would give it a B grade.  It provides some pause for thought, but mostly it deals in a fairly superficial way with the topics.  It is enlightening to see Aly struggle with her conflicted feelings of sympathy and empathy toward a fat friend and judgment and disapproval of her overweight mother.  The movie just misses the mark with regard to providing meaningful events.  There were also scenes that were utterly unrealistic, for example, when Aly, in the fat suit, first walked into her summer school classroom a boy in the class mooed, loudly.  He received a look of disapproval from the teacher, but nothing else happened.  This might happen once, but this type of thing happened over and over throughout the movie, lowering its credibility.  This movie covered important topics to address, but did not address them well.

Genre: Drama

Reading/Interest Level: 10-15 years

Available in: DVD, on Lifetime Cable Network, available to buy or rent on iTunes

Subjects: body image, obesity, bullying, popularity, high school, friendship, family


Soldier, DK Eyewitness Books, by Simon Adams

Soldier, DK Eyewitness Books.  By Simon Adams.  DK Publishing, 2009.  72 pages. $8.99

Content: Soldiers have been around a long time, defending their lands, invading other lands, protecting treasures.  Soldiers come from all over the world, wearing different uniforms, using different weapons and forms of intelligence, saluting to differing leaders.  In this information-packed book, readers can learn about soldiers from many times and places.  From English soldiers of 1204 defending medieval castles to samurai warriors of Japan and women soldiers to guerrilla fighters, there is a lot to learn about soldiers.  Read about enlistment, training, weaponry, uniforms, rations, intelligence and much more.  Learn the difference between a platoon and a brigade (a platoon is 30 soldiers a brigade is 3,000).  Find out how Zulu warriors shields were used to make the army look like it had twice as many soldiers as it did.  This book includes hundreds of facts along with hundreds of high quality, full color photos and a CD with Soldier Clip Art.

Review: High interest and high quality facts and visuals make this book a great choice for a tween interested in anything soldier-related.  Topics covered allow for a comprehensive overview of the subject, and there are also many intriguing details.  Many tweens, particularly tween boys, are fascinated by war, so this book is a good way to get those kids reading at a challenging level.  While some of the most harsh and dramatic realities of war are glossed over, this book maintains a fairly neutral stance without glorifying violence.  When a specific battle is discussed, there is a mention of the number of soldiers injured and killed.  There is a two-page spread on morale, and a two-page spread called “Honoring the soldier,” but the pictures include very little in the way of death or injury.  It’s a fine line, because too much gore could make the book inappropriate for this age group.  Too little, protects readers from the full story.  Overall, this is a high quality book, includes an index, and a timeline of soldiers and wars.

Genre(s): Non-Fiction

Reading/Interest Level: 8-12 years

Available in: Hardcover, Paperback

Similar DK Eyewitness Books: World War I, World War II, Arms & Armor, Battle, Civil War, American Revolution, Vietnam War

Subjects: soldiers, artillery, tanks, armor, army, navy, air force, marines, battlefield, battles, war, weapons, intelligence, spies, troops, mines


High School Musical

High School Musical (Movie, not rated).  Directed by Kenny Ortega. Buena Vista Home Entertainment/Disney, 2006. 98 minutes. $14.99

Plot: Originally created for the Disney Channel, High School Musical is like Grease for the present time.  Two high school students, Gabriella and Troy, come together from seemingly different worlds to make music together.  They also happen to like each other a lot too.  Gabriella is smart, pretty and being courted by the students in the scholastic decathlon to join in the competition.  Troy is captain of the basketball team, his father is the coach, and they are training for a championship game.  Troy and Gabriella both break out of their expected roles by trying out for the lead roles in the school musical; they even get called back for a second audition.  Gabriella’s friends don’t want her to be in the musical, they think she should concentrate on her studies.  The basketball team – and coach – think Troy needs to keep his “Head in the Game,” (“Keep Your Head in the Game” is also the name of a song from the movie).  Throughout it all, musical numbers with upbeat music and dancing periodically express some of the feelings the characters are dealing with.  Will Troy and Gabriella be able to break out of the roles that others have defined for them?  Will they be able to be friends, even though their friends think they area wrong for each other?

Review: Though the characters are in high school, this is a movie with major tween appeal.  By high school, this movie will likely be uncool.  There are a few worthy messages that this movie conveys: be yourself, follow your heart and dreams, accept yourself and others.  Being a Disney movie, the serious issues are addressed in a fairly superficial way; however, significant concepts are put out there and could stimulate critical thinking about peer pressure, cliques, and fitting in.  The music is an eclectic mix, mostly pop, with some hip-hop and Broadway influences.  The dancing is lively and upbeat.  Everyone is a little too beautiful and things tend to work out a little too well, but, then again, if this were just like real life, tweens probably wouldn’t be interested!  Parents and Guardians who do not like commercialism be warned: High School Musical swag comes in almost every shape and form; this is Disney, after all.

Genre: Musical

Reading/Interest Level: 7-11

Available in: DVD, Blu-ray, there are many books and other accompanying materials, including CD’s of the music from the movie, remixes of the movies, High School Musical, the Concert DVD, and much more

Subjects: high school, cliques, peer pressure, friendship, family, dreams

Series Information: There is also High School Musical 2 (2007), and High School Musical 3: Senior Year (2009)


Think for Yourself: A Kid’s Guide to Solving Life’s Dilemmas and Other Sticky Problems, by Cynthia MacGregor

Think for Yourself: A Kid’s Guide to Solving Life’s Dilemmas and Other Sticky Problems. By Cynthia MacGregor.  Illustrated by Paula Becker.  Lobster Press, 2008.  142 pages. $14.95

Content: Ethical dilemmas start when we’re young.  What to write in a thank you note to the aunt who sent you a sweater you hate?  What to say to a friend who wants to copy your math test?  What to do when you suspect a classmate might try to hurt himself?  These and many more dilemmas are included in Think for Yourself.  The introduction to this book begins with a step-by-step process for analyzing problems.  Then four chapters analyze dilemmas with friends, family, grown-up, and “everyday dilemmas.”  Each dilemma is presented in narrative form.  Then the following three questions are asked and answered by the author: Why is this a dilemma?  If you think of a solution, but it isn’t a good one, what is the problem with that solution? Is there a way around the problem?  The overall themes of the book include solving dilemmas while being truthful, without lying, without hurting anyone’s feelings, and while remaining true to oneself.  Over 50 realistic dilemmas are presented in this instructive and informative book, which a young person could easily use to figure out a solution to her/his own problem.

Review: This book is a great idea.  There are so many problems which tweens have to struggle with, it is a great option to have a book to consult and gain ideas and confidence from.  There are a few issues I have with the book.  Firstly, even though the title is, “Think for yourself,” there is a lot of advice and reference to what the right thing to do it.  I agree with the author in most cases, but it seems a little more instructive than the title implies.  Also, there were dilemmas for which the author recommended ways to skirt the truth in order to avoid hurting people’s feelings.  I agree that hurting people’s feelings is not ideal and avoiding hurting people’s feelings is a good thing to do, but basically she was advising readers to tell “white lies,” she says, “…technically you’re not lying,” and that made me uncomfortable.  I would have hoped for a better approach.  Otherwise, the book provides solid, sound information and could really help a confused, torn tween or teen.

Genre(s): Non-Fiction

Reading/Interest Level: 8-14 years

Available in: Paperback

ISBN: 978-1897073902

Similar Books: What Do You Stand For? For Kids: A Guide to Building Character; Speak Up and Get Along!: Learn the Mighty Might, Thought Chop, and More Tools to Make Friends, Stop Teasing, and Feel Good About Yourself; Stand Up for Yourself and your Friends: Dealing with Bullies and Bossiness and Finding a Better Way; A Smart Girl’s Guide to the Internet: How to Connect with friends, find what you need, and stay safe online

Subjects: problem solving, ethics, ethical dilemmas, friendship, families, honesty