Learn about The Polar Express' Michigan Roots

How many of you knew that the classic picture book, The Polar Express, has Michigan roots? The book itself is based in Grand Rapids, which is where the author, Chris Van Allsburg, is from! The story starts out with a young boy who is feeling a bit sad because he’s not so sure anymore that Santa Claus is real. As he lies in bed on Christmas eve, waiting hopefully for the sound of Santa, he instead hears the sound of a locamotive! He hops out of bed and runs outside, only to find a gigantic train waiting for him, filled with other young children. Together, they set off on a Christmas eve adventure to the North Pole.

The Polar Express was also adapted into a film back in 2004, starring Tom Hanks. Did you know that the film, too, has Michigan connections? NPR recently did a story on the locamotive that the film makers used for direct inspiration. When making the movie, the film crew traveled all the way out to little Owosso, Michigan, in order to capture the magic that is the 400 ton Pere Marquette 1225!

“Finally, the train arrives: 16 feet tall, puffing huge blasts of steam. The smell of burning coal fills the air, and the ground literally shakes.”

Do you love The Polar Express? Click through the links in this blog post to place requests on the original book, DVD, or Blu-ray. In fact, if you or your little one are interested in some festive decorating during this holiday season, the AADL even has a Polar Express art print that you can check out and hang up on your walls at home!

The last installment of Phyllis Reynolds Naylor's beloved "Alice" series is now available!

Phyllis Reynolds Naylor, the author of the long-running, much-loved “Alice” series, has written the series’ final installment, Now I’ll Tell You Everything, available now. This book chronicles Alice from the ages of 18 to 60. It has been long-awaited by many of her fans that have been with Alice since she was nervously starting 6th grade at a new school in The Agony of Alice, first published in 1985.

Since The Agony of Alice, Naylor has published 28 total Alice books, including three prequels to the series geared towards younger readers. Over the course of the series, Alice navigates many of the challenges of growing up. The books often make the list of the American Library Association’s most challenged books due to their frank discussion of families, friendships, religion, dating and sex.

The recent publication of Now I’ll Tell You Everything has left many readers nostalgic. After “growing up with Alice,” knowing that Alice’s adventures are over is a difficult realization for devoted fans. Throughout her writing of the series, Naylor received thousands of letters and emails from these fans expressing their love of the books, sharing their stories and making suggestions for future Alice books (some of which Naylor actually used!).

The Alice books can be enjoyed by all ages. The earlier novels are appropriate for elementary school children, and readers can age along with Alice over time. Older fans who remember Alice from their youth can reread some of the books and now finally find out what the rest of Alice's life has in store for her.

For the Child Learning to Write: Little Red Writing

Little Red Writing by Joan Holub is a fun, witty picture book about Little Red, a brave little red pencil who sets out to write a story using what she knows about grammar and writing. First, however, she must face the hungry pencil sharpener, the Wolf 3000. Here is a sample of the cleverness of this book: ". . . she found herself writing a sentence that would not end but just kept going and going and running on and on although it had no purpose yet it would not get out of her story or say anything important . . . " School Library Journal named this one of the Best Picture Books of 2013.

The Snowman

Every winter, when I was little, I would get out one of my favorite books, The Snowman by Raymond Briggs. But I would not read this book – because there are no words – only pictures. These pictures tell a magical, yet simple story of a young boy who builds a snowman, only to wake up in the middle of the night and find that the snowman has come alive. The boy and his snowman get into all sorts of mischief during the night, from trying on his dad’s clothes to flying across the big night sky. This cozy story is ingrained in my memory to this day, and carries with it so much nostalgia!

This classic picture book is available in the AADL collection, not only in its traditional format, but now also in the reader format and as well as a movie on DVD.

Nothing Can Possibly Go Wrong . . . righhht!

This is one fun read you gotta try - full of humor, angst, friendship, rivalry and action! Nate and Charlie are two guys most people would never imagine being friends. Charlie’s the laid-back captain of the basketball team, and Nate is the neurotic, scheming president of the robotics club. But these guys are friends, however unlikely — until Nate declares war on the cheerleaders, and the cheerleaders retaliate by making Charlie their figurehead in the ugliest class election campaign the school has ever seen. And what’s at stake? Student group funding that will either cover a robotics competition or new cheerleading uniforms — but not both.

In Nothing Can Possibly Go Wrong writer Prudence Shen and artist Faith Erin Hicks create unforgettable characters and so many plot twists and turns you won’t be sure you’ve reached the end until you read the final page.

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #441

Winner of the American Booksellers Association "Indies Introduce Debut Authors" and Amazon Editors' Fall Pick", Australian Fiona McFarlane's The Night Guest * * * is also one of Kirkus Reviews' Best Fiction Book of 2013, "(a)n enrapturing debut novel that toys with magical realism while delivering a fresh fable."

Widowed Ruth Field lives alone in an isolated beach house. Her days are measured by calls from her grown sons and predictable routines. Lately, she thinks she hears a tiger on the prowl around her property at night, bringing back memories of her childhood in Fiji. One day a stranger arrives claiming to be a care worker sent by the government, and Ruth let her in, but not without suspicions that this Frida is hiding secrets. As strange things begin to happen, Ruth's sense of reality becomes shaky.

"This is a tale that soars above its own suspense to tell us, with exceptional grace and beauty, about aging, love, trust, dependence, and fear; about processes of colonization; and about things (and people) in places they shouldn't be."

"A pleasurable novel, with turns of plot and phrase both startling and elegant."

A readalike for S.J. Watson's debut Before I Go to Sleep

* * * = 3 starred reviews

The Best of 2013 and Holiday Picks

Need some ideas?

You can always count on the New York Times for an inspired and thorough job in its annual Holiday Gift Guide, whether it be books, music, movies or games. And just released is the list of The 10 Best Books of 2013.

The LA Times has its finger on the pulse when it comes to great holiday book gifts. This year's list is chuck-full of smart and winsome picks for every genre, taste and demographics. Narrowing down your choices might be the biggest problem.

NPR Best Books 2013 is a list of 200 standout titles selected by NPR staff and critics.

Confounded by too many choices? Take a look at USA Today Critics' pick Top 10 must-read books of 2013. Every one a sure bet.

Library Journal's Top Ten is a solid mix of fiction and nonfiction chosen by the review editors. Don't miss out on the rest of the Best of 2013, as well as the Best in Genre Fiction and Core Nonfiction. I am delighted with their choices for the Best YA Lit for Adults and Graphic Novels for the hard-to-please on my list.

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #440 - "There is no odor so bad as that which arises from goodness tainted" ~ Henry David Thoreau

Ewart Hutton's debut Good People * * is one of Kirkus Reviews' Best Fiction Book of 2013, and shortlisted for the 2012 British Crime Writers' Association New Blood Dagger for best first novel.

In this "atmospheric, criminally smart" new police procedural, award-winning playwright (BBC Radio) introduces Detective Sergeant Glyn Capaldi. Disgraced and banished from Cardiff to the Welsh countryside, Capaldi (half-Welsh, half-Italian) investigates the disappearance of a van packed with young men after a night of rugby and hard drinking. Those who turn up could not explain why one of the men and the only woman in the group are missing.

In the face of opposition from the local constabulary and his superior, Capaldi delves deeper when one of the men is found hanged, and uncover a network of conflicts, betrayals, and depravity that resonates below the outwardly calm surface of rural respectability.

"(A) stunningly dark debut. The first-person narrative keeps it personal, making the detective's vulnerabilities that much more intense."

"...the plot twists are cunning, and Glyn Capaldi is the most appealing antihero this side of Ian Rankins' John Rebus."

Readers who enjoyed Peter May's The Blackhouse would not want to miss this one. (See previous FFF blog).

* * = 2 starred reviews

The Historical House Series

If you have a young reader in your life who loves historical fiction, check out The Historical House Series. Written by Adèle Geras, Ann Turnbull and Linda Newbery, this unique series follows the lives and times of young women who live in the same house in London over a period of 200 years. Follow along as the young women meet famous people the likes of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, join in the fight with suffragettes to allow women the right to vote and watch the first moon landing! Each book is written from the perspective of the young girls and captures the enchanting stories of their dreams and determination, all while set in the colorful world of London.
Polly’s March by Linda Newbery
Lizzie’s Wish by Adèle Geras
Mary Ann & Miss Mozart by Ann Turnball
Andie’s Moon by Linda Newbery

Pope Francis, the first Pope from the Americas, is Time Magazine's Person of the Year

Pope Francis, one of the Catholic Church's most popular pope's, was named Time Magazine's Person of the Year this morning on NBC's Today Show..

Pope Francis, born Jorge Mario Bergoglio in Argentina almost 77 years ago (December 17th is the Pontiff's birthday), was elected Bishop of Rome and absolute sovereign of Vatican City on March 13th of this year. He is a Pope of many firsts, including he is the first Jesuit priest to become a Pope and the first one born in the Americas.

In his nine short months as the 266th Pope (the anti-Popes are excluded), he has rocked the globe with his humility and his rejection of the opulent trappings of the papacy (from garments to living quarters to transportation). But it his public walking of the talk of the Gospels that has galvanized peoples of all faiths and nationalities. Pope Francis focuses a light on the need to help the poor, feed the hunger, and heal the sick through social action. He urges the Church to be pragmatic in its priorities -- he views the intense focus on gay marriage, abortion, and the "tyranny of unfettered capitalism" as impediments to the important work that needs to be done to restore compassion worldwide and renewed efforts to bridge differences that block the way to world peace.

Social media went into overdrive this summer when it was reported that Pope Francis said even atheists can go to heaven. That's not exactly what he said in response to an open letter written by a well-respected atheist and published in La Repubblica. This translation gets close to the heart of the matter: "First of all, you ask if the God of the Christians forgives those who do not believe and do not seek faith. Given that—and this is fundamental—God's mercy has no limits if he who asks for mercy does so in contrition and with a sincere heart -- the issue for those who do not believe in God is in obeying their own conscience."

Pope Francis has enchanted the world by his embrace of social media. In addition to being a presence on Facebook, the Pope can be found on Twitter at @Pontifex. At last count, he was up to 3,349,929 followers.

To learn more about his approach to life and religion, read his latest book, published earlier this year -- On Heaven and Earth: Pope Francis on Faith, Family, and the Church in the 21st Century.

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