A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this book.
Author Melissa de la Cruz works a lot of vocabulary words into the story, e.g., "Joking helped assuage some lingering guilt about her mother's behavior." The story also introduces the concept of the antihero, the villain you root for.
The Descendants franchise's intriguing premise -- teen children of Disney arch-villains join the forces of good -- leads to a raft of relatable issues for young people: loyalty to your friends, even when appearances are bad; overcoming your fears; finding yourself. Also rising above bad circumstances and doing better.
Positive Role Models
There's not a lot of depth to any of the characters here (hey, they're the offspring of cartoon characters), who tend to be defined by a few one-note traits (for example, Evie's obsession with beauty) and dispense some half-baked speeches on the nature of evil and such. But King Ben (son of Belle and Beast) works hard to be a good, responsible king, even when it means missing the big game. The "villain kids" each grapple with their own issues and fears; while they don't always make the right choices, their intentions are usually noble and nothing really bad happens.
Violence & Scariness
Earthquakes rattle the kingdom of Auradon; a mysterious purple dragon (or is it a snake?) is on the loose causing mayhem; villains throw a character into the water to be eaten by crocodiles, but the kids come up with an ingenious solution. In the course of a rescue, there's hand-to-hand clawing and scratching ("Anywhere but the face!" wails Evie).
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Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that Melissa de la Cruz's Return to the Isle of the Lost, follow-up to Isle of the Lost, is the latest installment in Disney's relentlessly promoted, multiplatform (books! Movies! Apps! Games! Etc.!) Descendants franchise. It's lightweight and cartoonish and should probably be seen as another chance to spend a moment with well-loved characters rather than a stand-alone story. While the lead characters are in their teens, they're meant to appeal to a much younger audience, and this episode in what promises to be a long-running series allows each of them moments in the spotlight and bits of character development. Aside from nonstop promotion of Disney character -- nearly every one to come out of the Magic Kingdom makes at least a cameo appearance -- there's not much to worry about here. Even the brief violence, including a scene in which a character is thrown to the crocodiles and quickly rescued -- is cartoonish, and despite many threats of evil taking over the world, nothing really bad happens. Along the way there are lots of positive messages about friendship, loyalty, bravery, finding yourself -- and not letting bad circumstances, like, say, being the child of an arch-villain, define you.
Is It Any Good?
The Descendants series' premise -- Disney villains' kids discovering they like being heroes -- is brilliant, and this cartoonish visit with its now-beloved characters is harmless, positive fun. Characters are in their teens, but their concerns and interactions reflect those of much younger kids, and there's nothing age-inappropriate for the tween crowd. It's an entertaining, if millimeter-deep vehicle for a lot of positive messages about friendship, loyalty, kindness, doing the right thing, being considerate of others, and being true to yourself. Author Melissa de la Cruz also loads the text with big words likely to improve younger readers' vocabularies.
This installment is also almost hilariously marketing-driven. In addition to the lead characters, someone from Disney cartoons and references to events on their plot threads appear on practically every page. If your kid somehow missed one of these stories, expect to hear about it.
Did we miss something on diversity?
Research shows a connection between kids' healthy self-esteem and positive portrayals in media. That's why we've added a new "Diverse Representations" section to our reviews that will be rolling out on an ongoing basis. You can help us help kids by suggesting a diversity update.