The Little Engine That Could – NINETIETH Anniversary Edition

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Seriously! How is it possible that this delightful, inspirational tale is NINETY years old!?! Well, it is and to celebrate there is a brand new edition just waiting to be read and added to your library!

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Everyone knows the story of the little engine, right? I think I can…. I think I can…. and soon she absolutely could! By far this was my favorite story as a child. I was small and so often there were things I was told I was “too little” to do. This engine became my hero, her mantra became mine. When I was a Weight Watchers group leader the members in my group used it as their mantra as well. If you think you can, you will do!

The text in this updated version is the same heart felt prose we always adored but the illustrations are new and absolutely gorgeous. They will make you fall in love with them! Just look at the colors in this one:

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This anniversary edition features the original text, all-new re-imagined artwork and an introduction from Caldecott Medal-winner Dan Santat and a special letter from Dolly Parton, award-winning singer-songwriter and founder of Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library. Every child and adult alike should have a copy of this inspiring tale on their shelves to read when self-doubt rears its head. It’s perfection.

 

(Thank you to #Edelweiss, #PenguinPublishingGroup, #Grossett&Dunlap for my copy of The Little Engine That Could)

Sunday Morning for Kids featuring: The Hat Who Was Left Behind, Billie Jean and Marie Montessori

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The Hat Who Left Behind is such a beautiful book for young readers. The prose is brilliant and written in a flowing verse with which children will be enraptured  It is the illustrations, however, that captured my attention.

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Each of these gorgeous watercolours tell a story in themselves. They invite the reader to use their own imagination to describe what is happening within them. The language is simple enough that whoever is reading, adult or child, can elaborate on commentary and that is very important for young readers especially.

The theme is one of purpose: can we or an inanimate object be more than what we think we can be. Can a hat, whose purpose was beauty for a small child, be more than just a hat. Think about that and you will find that the philosophy behind this one can be as deep as you want it to be. Again, this is a skill I highly encouraged my own children to develop and the author and artist have done an exquisite job illustrating this. The Hat Who was Left Behind is a perfectly marvelous book and I cannot recommend it highly enough.

Meet the Author and Illustrator:

Céline Lamour-Crochet was born in Brittany, France and is a well known children’s author whose titles are available worldwide. This is her first book for minedition. Feridun Oral was born in 1961 in Kirikkale, Turkey and graduated from Marmara University. He has illustrated his own children’s books as well as those of other authors. He is the recipient of many awards including an award from UNESCO in Japan. His books with minedition include The Message of the Birds, A Red Apple, A Whisper In the Snow, and A Warm Winter.
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On a different note and in the genre of children’s non-fiction, there were two incredible books that I added to our library: Billie Jean and Maria Montessori.
I think there are few women who are not familiar with Billie Jean King and the accomplishments she achieved for all women. A tennis star in the latter part of the 20th century (that looks strange, doesn’t it?) Billie Jean King played tennis against Bobby Riggs in a match entitled “The Battle of the Sexes.” Billie Jean won the match and went on to open new paths for women of all ages.
She didn’t start out as champion, however. At one point she was a little girl who was considered overweight and wore “coke bottle” glasses. To overcome the stigma, she began playing tennis where is steadfastly prevailed. She is a role model for all children on perseverance, overcoming bullying and what we all can achieve when we work hard. Billie Jean, by Mara Rockliff,  is a well told story of an amazing woman whose legacy should be known by children everywhere.
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Oh wow. I probably could write my own book about Maria Montessori who is and has been my own role model and hero. Few have influenced my life and that of my children as much as Maria Montessori!
Maria Montessori, by Maria Isabel Sánchez Vegara, is part of the Little People, Big Dreams series for children. The books are basically biographies written on child’s level about people who not born into greatness but, instead, lived to achieve their dreams. Montessori is best known for her unique method of educating children that was and still is practiced in many countries through schools founded on her philosophy and by many homeschool families who appreciate the child centered approach to learning. The book often points out, rightly so, that Maria received her education, in science, medicine and more, at a time when girls were not encouraged to do so. She overcame the odds to become an expert in childhood education.
My one drawback to this book is that the author describes Montessori’s method as education through play. While playing in an important part of learning for us all, that is not the foundation of Montessori’s teachings. Learning is everywhere – play, cooking, building, every day skills that we must achieve. Giving the child access to multiple areas in which to learn – including play – is essential to their growth. My son was cooking Mac and Cheese from scratch when he was five years old because he was never told that he couldn’t. All of my kids stayed well above the “normal” achievements of others because they were never held back from learning new skills. Freedom to learn everywhere, that is the beauty of Montessori’s method.
Maria Montessori is marvelous addition to this incredible series and one that I hope parents and teachers alike will utilize to their fullest extent.
If you read these book, or have already, let me know what you think. If you haven’t, then I encourage you to do so regardless of your age. You will learn something new, guaranteed.

The Helios Disaster by Linda Bostrom Knausgaard

The Helios Disaster, written by Linda Bostrom Knausgaard, is an amazingly beautiful work of prose. Please do not go into it expecting your run of the mill fiction narrative for it is far more than that.

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Told in two parts, this is the story of Anna who bursts from her father’s head in full armor, we quickly discover that the birth scream is from her father who is being rushed off to an asylum for schizophrenia. Anna, first taken in by a neighbor, eventually ends up with social services and asks if it is hell. The story continues with Anna who eventually ends up in an asylum herself. This is both a retelling of the birth of Athena and a sad commentary on those with any mental illness. It is, at once, heartbreaking and achingly beautiful. A mere 128 pages, it is very worth reading.

Recent Reads and Rapid Reviews: Watch Over Me/ The Prized Girl/How Quickly She Disappears

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For various reasons, I’ve struggled with writing reviews for these three books. I enjoyed reading each of them but I felt as though I was saying the same thing over and over again. Rather than be redundant, I decided to go with shorter reviews for them. That doesn’t negate the fact that I truly did like all three and I hope you will as well.

THE PRIZED GIRL by Amy K Green

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Told from two distinct points of view, The Prized Girl is a slow burning mystery revolving around a murdered former beauty queen, Jenny, and her older sister’s quest for finding the truth. When Jenny is murdered, the police quickly arrest a developmentally challenged man who was obsessed with Jenny. Virginia, the sister, thinks there is more to the murder and begins seeking answers. The story is told in such a way that Jenny is reliving the events leading up to her death  while Virginia is dealing with past demons, lies and suspicions that not all of what she thought of as the truth was actually true.

This is a debut for the author, Amy K Green, and I think she did an incredible job with her story telling. The writing was suspenseful, fluid and the characters were very realistic and believable. My only concern was that I felt as though I had “been there, done that” with the story line itself. In a genre that is saturated, it is difficult to be unique and, while this was a very good, interesting read, it offered nothing new to the genre. If you like crime fiction, I think you would like The Prized Girl. Just don’t set your expectations too high.

How Quickly She Disappears by Raymond Fleischmann

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Set in the early 1940s in a sparsely populated area of Alaska, How Quickly She Disappears is an atmospheric, suspenseful tale that is dark, gritty and psychologically taut.

Twenty years ago, Elizabeth’s sister disappeared. It changed Elizabeth’s life irreparably. Not a day passes when she doesn’t think about Jacqueline and wonder if she is still alive and, if so, where she might be. Living in a remote area of Alaska, Elizabeth struggles with her loveless marriage and extremely brilliant daughter who she loves more than life itself and who reminds her of Jacqueline. When I strange man suddenly appears in their village, Elizabeth’s world is turned upside down when the man murders her friend and then, when in custody, proclaims that he knows where Jacqueline is. However, in return for the information, Elizabeth must do three things for this killer. How far is she willing to go to find answers?

Ironically enough, my family actually has had someone vanish into thin air. While she was no one’s favorite person, except her daughter’s, her disappearance left an unusual hole in the lives of all those who knew her. From that perspective I completely understood what Elizabeth have been feeling when this monster told her he had information about her sister. However, the plausibility of the remainder of the plot was filled with too many holes and inconsistencies.

How Quickly She Disappears was, at once, one of the best atmospheric books I’ve read in a long time and also one of the most unbelievable. This is where I have struggled with reviewing the book. I both loved it and disliked it. I wanted more than it was offering, while I also relished the beauty of the prose. I think this is a book that readers will either love or hate. Into which category will you fall?

Watch Over Me by Jane Renshaw

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Watch Over Me was a complete surprise. I was expecting a simple crime story and what I got instead was a dark, twisty, psychological thriller. Yes, I know, it says psychological thriller right there on the cover but we know that what we readers think of a “thriller” is not always what publisher’s consider “thrilling.” Let me tell you, Watch Over me was suspenseful, edgy, creepy and, yes, thrilling!

A child, Beckie, is being torn between families. One is educated and wealthy and desperately searching for a child they can love and call their own. The other is, well, there aren’t a lot of kind descriptors for this family. They are poverty stricken, unhealthy, morally bankrupt and Beckie’s mother is in jail for murder. It doesn’t sound like the ideal situation, does it? The government didn’t think so and they removed Beckie from the squalor and “gave” her to Flora, a mother with so much love to give. However, Beckie’s family loved her. Her grandmother, a foul-mouthed obese woman, really did love Beckie. So, when is it okay to take a child from one family and give it to another. That is the question at the heart of this book as Beckie’s biological family goes to amazing lengths to get Beckie back. Their actions had me wondering if they were truly as ignorant as they appeared.

BUT – and that is a huge but right there – BUT, the ending and the twist is what will leave you sitting in your seat with your mouth hanging open. I generally do not like twists at the end and only appreciate them when they are amazing. Let me tell you, IT IS. I highly recommend Watch Over Me which grip you tight from start to the startling conclusion.

(My thanks to Netgalley and Edelweiss for my copies of these three interesting reads)

 

#MurderousMondays – The Look-Alike and When You See Me

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I’m doing my best at “beating the backlist” which includes some amazing crime fiction that earlier got erased from saved files. Just because I failed to review them in time does not make them less than stellar suspense thrillers. I hope you’ve either read them or will be enticed to do so after today.

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Erica Spindler has become of my favorite suspense authors. While she began her writing career in the romance genre, she has quickly made a name for herself with her crime fiction series and her stand-alones, which are the ones I love most. Now she is back with The Look-Alike, a can’t put down thriller that will have the reader doubting their own sanity. Let me also state, up front, that I admire any author or publisher who remembers to put a hyphen in the wordd look-alike!

Sienna Scott, our primary character, has led a bizarre and rather sad life living with a mother who a diagnosed paranoid schizophrenic. She literally lives a life in constant fear and paranoia. Sienna’s father has done everything he can to protect Sienna from her mother including shipping Sienna off to London to keep her from “shattering” after Sienna discovers a fellow college student dead on campus. However, now Sienna is back home, with her mother, where she begins wondering if, in fact, she was the target of the killing so many years ago. The victim could have been Sienna’s exact “look-alike.”

Spindler weaves a tale of suspense that will leave you doubting your own sanity as much as Sienna and her mother doubt theirs. The Look-Alike is filled with twists and turns that will keep you reading until the end – but, never once do the surprises appear staged for shock value, Rather, they are the perfect course for a case like to take. Who is telling the truth? Who is really behind the murder and how much paranoia is real and how much is being exacerbated to make Sienna and her mother off balance. Fabulously written, this is a thriller that I highly recommend to all who enjoy crime fiction, thrillers and suspense.

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I have come to adore Lisa Gardner’s writing and the characters from her various series. Now, in When You See Me, Gardner has brought together the most-loved characters of two of series together: DD Warren, Kimberly Quincy and Flora Dane. Detective series just don’t get much better than this!

Earlier in the series we were introduced to Flora Dane who spent over a year as a captive of a deranged killer. Now bones have been discovered in a remote area of Appalachia that suggest the killings are associated with Flora’s kidnapper. FBI agent Quincy, Det Warren and Flora go to the site in hopes of finally putting to rest Dan’s abductor once and for all. What they find is a crime far larger than they bargained for.

When You See Me is an extremely well written, tense thriller. We’ve come to know these characters through other reads and feel a connection to them, their quirks and their flaws so much so that it is very easy to become fully engrossed in the danger that is lurking in the dark, rural mountains. As mentioned, this is part of a series – two actually – and I do not recommend reading it as a stand-alone. I started the series in the middle with the introduction of Flora Dane and have since gone backward to catch up and to read the Profiler series which includes Agent Quincy. When You See Her feels more like a conclusion to a story-line that should be followed, rather than a place to begin. I know that many of you already follow Gardner, as do I, and if you haven’t read this one yet, it is a must read for her fans. For others, at least go back to Find Her and start the series there. You will be glad you did.

 

Sunday Morning for the Kids! Featuring King of the Tightrope by Donna Janell Bowman, Adam Gustavson (Illustrator)

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Good morning! I love Sunday mornings because I adore reviewing Children’s books. I always manage to learn something new and different when I read this genre. Does that mean I’m still a child? Hopefully, it means you are  never too old to learn!

KING OF THE TIGHTROPE: When the Great Blondin Ruled Niagara by Donna Janell Bowman, Adam Gustavson (Illustrator)

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I love all things related to the circus and being a mom of a circus performer, I have heard a lot about the kings of the tightrope – those daring men, and a few women, who boldly did (do) what others could not or will not do. Blondin is one of the most famous of these dare-devils because he was the first in many areas, particularly the first to actually walk on a rope across Niagara Falls, a feat that many considered his death sentence. They were wrong. Not only did he do it, he went on to even greater stunts. But how does a young boy decide this is what he will do when he is older? That is the story given to us here with Bowman’s wonderfully written, beautifully illustrated book: King of the Tightrope.

This is the story of how a boy who was born into a performing family – as many are – became bored with the acts he was doing and began challenging himself to do bigger, greater, more daring acts that he and others never had done before. What is so fascinating about this is that he had to use physics and mathematics to figure out how to accomplish these feats without falling. It is both an art and science to all of these types of performances. Kids reading this book are subtly made aware of how important being knowledgeable and well rounded is for success.  In addition, the illustrations are marvelous! Using bold, bright colors, the illustrator creates images that stimulate the child’s imagination, as well as those of an adult. This is a book that opens up new possibilities for kids of all ages. My own son had a such an “aha moment” experience when he was quite young and it led him to be a circus performer for the largest circus in the world – Cirque du Soleil. You never know what being introduced to magical performances will bring.

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My son, Toby, during a recent performance of the “O” show at the Bellagio in Las Vegas.

King of the Tightrope is the perfect book for children ages 6-11ish. I hope they will love it as much as I did!

 

 

 

Fab Fiction on Friday: Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reid

Let me just say that Such a Fun Age definitely will be on my Top Ten list of reads for 2020. That just goes without saying, I think, and I also think it will be on a lot of “favorite” lists this year. I have, however, hesitated to write a review of the book out of fear of diminishing its importance as well as its enjoyability.  Such a Fun Age is a cross-genre tale about race, class, upbringing and the difficulty it is to cross those barriers. Age even plays a role in this clever, well written, very timely book.

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Emira is a babysitter – not a nanny – for Peter and Alix (who changed the spelling of her name to be more relevant.) Peter is a newsreader on television and Alix is an “influencer” on social media. Emira is charged with caring for Briar, their very precocious, charming daughter and she loves it. There is a beautiful, loving relationship throughout the book between Emira and Briar. It reminded me a bit of the The Help, another book that looks at these same themes. Problems arise when Peter makes a racist on-air remark and their house is egged as a result. Alix asks Emira to take Briar out of the house to an upscale store until things can get sorted. There, however, Emira is accused of kidnapping Briar; after all, why would a black teenage girl have a white little girl at a store at 11pm? There is a huge scene and isn’t resolved until Peter arrives to clear up the confusion. Emira remarks that the security guard should be pleased since “Peter is an old, white guy.”  Things escalate from there as Alix and her extremely politically correct friends try to make things better for Emira who is more concerned about not having health care than she is about “the incident.” Things grow more tense throughout the book leaving you feeling as though you are watching a snowball grow into an avalanche until the very final page of this book.

So, after reading Such a Fun Age twice through, I realized that this is far more than a book about “transactional relationships,” – seriously, did you even know that word existed until this book? I didn’t. It is far more than a book about race, although it very clearly is that too. This is a story about the disconnect we all have with one another as we make assumptions about the people who come into and out of our lives. Do I treat the migrant differently than I treat others in my world? Do I see a person in their 30s and immediately make assumption about their “millennial” lifestyle? Do I try to make others see me as “relevant,” when, in fact, we all are. But, what I came away with most is that Emira was her own person, with her own goals and her own identity. She didn’t want to be super successful like some of her “home girls.” Neither did she want to be left behind in the job market. Most importantly, she didn’t have her life all figured out on the time-table that society set for her – few do! We forget that we are individuals and each of us – regardless of race or religion or lifestyle choices – have to allow that individuality to flourish. Stop putting people into boxes to fit your own ideas, ideals or beliefs. It really is that simple and Such a Fun Age illustrates this beautifully.

GENRE: Domestic Fiction, Contemporary Fiction

Thank you to #PenguinPublishingGroup and #GPPutnamandSons