Through the Skylight

Common Sense Media says

Suspenseful time-travel tale explores rich culture, history.

Age(i)

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Quality(i)

 

What parents need to know

Educational value

Real information is blended with the plot's fantastical facts, but Through the Skylight still teaches readers a great deal about the geography, history, lifestyle, and culture of Venice, Italy, as well as several Italian and Latin words. Kids will also learn about the Crusades, and the worldview that led Europeans to fight "holy wars."

Positive messages

Early in the novel, Jared and his sisters think their dad's focus on history and art is pretty boring, but their adventures teach them that the past offers everyone essential lessons. Loyalty and keeping promises to friends are also an important, and recurring themes.

Positive role models

Whether Jared, Shireen, and Miranda realize it or not, their dad is a powerful role model, as his "dull" fascination with art and history reveals key information they'll need to fight their enemies. The kids are also inspired by the magical animals who serve them loyally, and the kids from history -- Rashid, Maria, and Francesca -- who selflessly protect many other captive children.

Violence

Most of the book's suspenseful situations don't result in injury, but a couple of scenes involving fantastical creatures are bloody. In one, a dragon is injured and bleeds from his mouth. In another, a living cadaver attacks the dragon. Kids are manhandled and imprisoned, but violence against humans isn't shown, except for once when the kids encounter an injured old man after he was hurt.

Sex

Silvio, the faun, uses some bawdy language, referring to "buxom wenches." A character is pregnant, but there's no talk about where babies come from.

Language

No foul or bigoted language is used, but some characters talk about Jews and Muslims in a way that shows they're considered inferior to Christians.

Consumerism

A boy wonders how his real-life adventures could be played out as an X-box game.

Drinking, drugs, & smoking

Sylvio the faun (a fantastical creature) smokes a pipe and drinks wine to excess.

Parents Need to Know

Parents need to know that Through the Skylight is a time-travel novel that blends fantastical adventures with real facts about Venice's art, history, and geography. Author Ian Baucom sets a realistic modern family -- a mom and dad with two adopted Indian children and one biological daughter -- in a place rich in historical and cultural significance, and teaches his characters, and his readers, much about this magnificent city. Plot points involving the Crusades expose readers to harsh prejudice against Jews and Muslims, but also show the commonality between people of different beliefs and backgrounds. A few violent scenes involving fantasy creatures are bloody, and one chapter is particularly frightening. A wine-swilling faun offers comic relief.

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Kids say

What's the story?

While living temporarily in Venice with their parents, siblings Jared, Shireen, and Miranda visit a bookshop, where they are given three \"treasures\" with magical powers, and an old book that holds secrets to the adventures that the treasures will unlock. The kids have to learn quickly how to control their newfound powers, because it turns out they have a mission -- to fight evil forces unleashed centuries ago.

Is it any good?

QUALITY
 

THROUGH THE SKYLIGHT is a suspenseful adventure story full of culturally and historically rich detail. Without being too heavy-handed, the book also addresses ideas of prejudice vs. commonality between people from different faiths, nationalities, and even time periods. This is a very complicated fantasy book, however, where new plot twists, rules, and obstacles are being added up to the every end, to the point where the plot can seem awkward and difficult to follow.

Families can talk about...

  • Families can talk about how Through the Skylight blends fantasy and history. Can you think of some other books you've read that do this?

  • What similarities are there between the modern kids and the ones from the Middle Ages? What do the kids from these different times learn from each other? 

  • Miranda writes a story she hopes her family will add to. Try playing this game with friends or family: Write the beginning of a story and let someone else continue ...

Book details

Author:Ian Baucom
Illustrator:Justin Gerard
Genre:Fantasy
Topics:Adventures, Brothers and sisters, Friendship, History
Book type:Fiction
Publisher:Atheneum
Publication date:March 19, 2013
Number of pages:400
Publisher's recommended age(s):9 - 13
Available on:Hardback, iBooks, Kindle, Nook

This review of Through the Skylight was written by

About our rating system

  • ON: Content is age-appropriate for kids this age.
  • PAUSE: Know your child; some content may not be right for some kids.
  • OFF: Not age-appropriate for kids this age.
  • NOT FOR KIDS: Not appropriate for kids of any age.

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Quality

Our star rating assesses the media's overall quality.

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Learning ratings

  • Best: Really engaging; great learning approach.
  • Very Good: Engaging; good learning approach.
  • Good: Pretty engaging; good learning approach.
  • Fair: Somewhat engaging; OK learning approach.
  • Not for Learning: Not recommended for learning.
  • Not for Kids: Not age-appropriate for kids; not recommended for learning.

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Teen, 13 years old Written bydragonsrule April 14, 2013
AGE
10
QUALITY
 

A fun plot, without much depth in characters

Through the Skylight was slightly disappointing. The story, overall, wasn't that original, and the characters didn't have much depth. I really would have appreciated, with six main children in the story, if there had been a greater and more interesting variation in characters and personality. One thing, however, that I did appreciate in regards to characterization was how though Jared viewed himself differently from how his sisters viewed him, the two sides of the story still matched up. Still, Jared wasn't especially interesting to me. He seemed like what the author must have viewed as a "average" boy: he skateboarded, loved video games, wasn't especially interested in school, and thought he had to protect his sisters. However, by the end of the story, he had grown some in order to protect everyone. Shireen, Jared's biological sister, was maybe slightly more interested in schoolwork, and was definitely more organized; she also took great offense at her older brother's attitude towards males protecting "weaker" females. I almost liked the littlest sister, Miranda, best. She was very smart, saw things in more depth than her adopted siblings, and was the first to realize what was going on. She also seemed the least contrived, making her own mistakes but not truly fitting a stereotype role. The other set of children, Maria, Francesca, and Rashid, were probably more annoying to me. Maria and Francesca both came across as fairly intelligent, despite their blindness in regards to Fra Bartolomeo, which seemed to be simply because he was a monk and his "vision" fit their fantasies of being great heroines of the Christian church. Rashid was very surly and clearly had trust issues -- legitimate ones. Maldini's signore was not the best role model, seeing as he purposefully sent Jared, Shireen, and Miranda into danger. In the story, this was smoothed over because "he knew they'd be fine," because he's read the book that tells what will happen. However, he also tells the kids that he can't tell them what to do for fear of changing the ending, so it didn't seem like a very legitimate reason to endanger even more kids. The book addresses religious issues with a reasonable enough degree of openness and respect, though there is a scene where Maria demands to know if they acknowledge the cross, realistic for someone of her standing from the time of the crusades. The book also discusses family, and how adopted siblings are just as much your siblings as biological ones. There is violence, though most graphic violence is with fantastic creatures, however there is talk of selling children into slavery, torture, and blackmail. Silvio drinks and smokes, and faces repercussions due to the drinking; the parents ban the children from most internet access, but spend their time on Facebook; and the crusades are shown in a very honest and open light. The book has an unusual split-up of character gender, with four girls and two boys, but this is counteracted by the fact that the three animals (discounting the male dragon), Silvio the faun, Maldini the cat, and Lorenzo the stone lion, are all male, as are most of the adult characters. This, and the fact that Jared is the main character, serve to make the book appealing to boys, when otherwise it might have seemed to be aimed at girls. For people who want a fantasy that is fairly reminiscent of the Inkheart trilogy, and faintly similar to the Drowned Child, this is a good story, despite the fact that it might have been better served as two books, the first focusing on Rashid, Francesca, and Maria, and the second being essentially what Through the Skylight is.
What other families should know
Educational value
Great messages
Great role models

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