Editors' Note:We've taken advantage of the extra attention paid to children's publishing in this Religion Update to focus these brief reviews on series fiction, the bulwark of many children's religion publishing programs. Though PW's general preference is to review only the first volume in a projected series, here we examine new installments of some of the bestselling series.

Left Behind: The KidsLEFT BEHIND: THE KIDS
#17 Terror in the Stadium; #18 Darkening Skies
Jerry Jenkins and Tim LaHaye. Tyndale Kids, paper $5.99 each ISBN 0-8423-4299-0; -4312-1
In the versions of the adult Left Behind series, those "left behind" when the true believers disappear in the Rapture include four teenagers who then find Christ. Jenkins and LaHaye know how to maintain suspense. They deftly cross-cut scenes and roll the action at a Gary Paulsen-like pace. While readers don't have to share the characters' faith to enjoy these page-turners, the appeal is definitely not universal. The "stadium" in Terror is Teddy Kollek Stadium in Jerusalem, overflowing with "witnesses" eager to hear an influential rabbi extol Jesus and "the triune God." An Arab helps the good guys, not because she's found Christ but because she wants vengeance against the bad guys (these include Nicolae Carpathia, potentate of the Global Community, and Peter the Second, head of the Enigma Babylon One World Faith. By Skies the story line has reached Revelation 8:12, and the sun, moon and stars lose one-third of their light. Will the kids holed up in a remote schoolhouse be able to power their generator? And how many people will they save? With series sales topping 7.7 million copies, it doesn't take series prophets Eli and Moishe to predict a ready audience for these new titles. Ages 10-14. (Oct.)

Lois Gladys Leppard. Bethany House, $4.99 paper (156p) ISBN 1-55661-675-9
Unlike the Left Behind: The Kids volumes, the Mandie series is easy to jump into at any point. The 34th installment, set in 1903, finds the mystery-loving heroine leaving the Misses Heathwoods' School for Girls for spring vacation; little bits of the back story conveniently spliced into the beginning will quickly bring new readers up to speed. At the grand North Carolina mansion of her uncle/ adopted father, Mandie notices strange lights at a supposedly abandoned house. Fans of the series--and with in-print figures at about 7 million, they are many--shouldn't be too surprised when the mystery hinges on a runaway girl, a mistreated orphan, as Leppard's plots tend to favor theatrical elements. Religious messages are mostly subtextual, but what might deter readers (or presiding adults) is the language. The servants favor a Gone With the Wind dialect, as in "Aunt" Lou's "Lawsy mercy, this chile got to eat something right away, Doctuh.... We's gwine fix dat right now." Ages 8-12. (Sept.)
A prequel series, Young Mandie, is published by Bantam/Skylark.

Nancy Rue. Zonderkidz, paper $4.99 each (144p) ISBN 0-310-23254-6; -23255-4
Rue's appealing series has made consistent appearances on the CBA bestseller list since it began last year. It's no wonder--Lily, a brainy middle-schooler, is both lively and lifelike, much more robust than her counterparts in other religious-themed fiction. The problems she faces tend to be staples of girls' series: in Ask, for example, Lily starts an advice column in her school paper and ends up needing a dose of her own counsel. When she turns into a "rebel," Lily becomes interested in Martin Luther King Jr. and Mahatma Gandhi and goes overboard with her desire to improve students' treatment at school. But Rue develops these conflicts with imagination and sympathy for her character. Lily's parents and her stalwart friends redirect her to prayer and God. Fortunately, the parents are free-thinking enough that their responses may catch readers off-guard once in a while. A hallmark of this series is its nonfiction tie-ins; companion volumes offer straight, candid and Christian advice on topics related to the novels' themes. For these novels, there will be The Blurry Rules Book: It's a God Thing ($7.99 paper -70152-X) and The It's MY Life Book: It's a God Thing ($7.99 paper, -70153-8), both by Rue. A YWOF (Young Woman of Faith) journal and Bible are also available. (Sept.)

Tess Kindig, series created by Terry K. Brown. Tommy Nelson, $5.99 paper (134p) ISBN 0-8499-7714-2
TodaysGirls.comLike Lily, the TodaysGirls.com series debuted last year, and its popular Web site has boosted attention for the books. The six heroines (they take turns starring in the different installments) are techno-savvy and chat on-line, and each hosts a different part of their shared (fictional) Web site. The stories here run more toward moral lessons than do those of the other titles reviewed here. In this installment, Bren, the fashion-loving cheerleader, dives into newspaper horoscopes and toys that tell fortunes, to the dismay of Amber, who has a ready supply of Psalms from which to quote. Resolutions tend to be black-and-white: all of Bren's predictions backfire and her interest is utterly quashed, but Amber and the others are happy to embrace her once more. Ages 9-12. (Aug.)