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Review: Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day, Winifred Watson

miss pettigrew lives for a dayMiss Pettigrew is a lonely, desperate fortyish spinster in the whirlwind of social change happening between the two World Wars. Desperate for work, she’s sent by her agency seemingly by accident to work for a nightclub singer instead of the normal group of unruly children. Almost immediately on meeting Delysia LaFosse, Miss Pettigrew’s life starts to change drastically in this heart-warming Cinderella-esque tale. After this day, will her life ever return to normal? Does she even want it to?

I’ve been hearing about Persephone books for nearly the entire time I’ve been blogging, but I’ve never actually owned one before. This is not a proper Persephone, but rather one of their newer Classics editions, highlighting the books that have enjoyed the most success out of those they’ve published. And what a classic this book truly is; I can see why some people hold it up as their favorite book ever, period.

That’s because it really is a proper feel-good novel. It’s a fast read and I loved Miss Pettigrew instantly. Her timidity and anxiety immediately wraps you up in her problems; she’s exactly the same as a shy unemployed single woman would be now in terms of attitude, if in little else. And as soon as Miss LaFosse opens that door, we’re lost right along with her in this madcap comedy, where a proper spinster meets a woman with no less than three lovers and several glamorous friends. It feels completely unlikely and delightful at the exact same time; a fantasy that it’s easy to imagine a woman having at this point in time.

One aspect of this that I really liked is that Miss Pettigrew completely transforms when she is given just a little bit of nudging. In reality, she’s not a timid shy woman; or, rather, she is, but she’s also brave and bold and capable of defying expectations. Society has placed a cloak on her and this novel is all about casting that away and embracing what life might throw at you. And fantasy or not, that’s something that most of us could use a little reminder about ourselves. Miss Pettigrew’s story alternately thrills us and dares us to think what might happen if we stepped outside the boundaries as far as she begins to.

For example:

Flattered, bewildered, excited, Miss Pettigrew made for the door. She knew she was not a person to be relied upon. But perhaps that was because hitherto every one had perpetually taken her inadequacy for granted. How do we know what latent possibilities of achievement we possess? (7)

It’s incredibly delightful. Combine that characterization and transformation with a fantastic atmosphere, complete with a visit to an actual nightclub, Miss Pettigrew’s complete innocence and discovery of the world of men, and a first taste of alcohol, and you have what is a remarkable, charming, adorable read that simply deserves the hours of your time required to read it. I loved it, and next time I’m in a bookshop, you might just find me in front of the row of Persephones, pondering just how many will fit within my budget.

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Thoughts on a Re-read: Anne of the Island

anne of the islandAnne is growing up further; this novel finds her attending Redmond College to get her BA after her short early teaching career. She has dreamed of getting her BA since Anne of Green Gables and so her education is top priority. While there, however, she experiences her first love affairs, including proposals from several men and an embarrassing first proposal, and meets new friends as well as retaining old ones like Gilbert Blythe. Though Anne retains her dreamy nature, it’s clear that she is grown and ready to face the real world after her education.

I first read these books as a young girl and I found my enjoyment of them diminishing as they went on. I enjoyed this one more than I remembered, but at the same time I could see why I started to lose interest in the series as a kid. They turn more to romance than adventurous escapades, and while Anne is just as endearing as ever, her refusal to admit her love for Gilbert among other things obviously frustrated me when I was younger.

Saying that, though, I felt Anne really matured in this book and started to set aside her youthful foibles to become a proper young lady, somehow without losing the spirit at the core of her. I loved the addition of Phil, a completely lively new friend of Anne’s, and it was a delight to remember just who she falls in love with for all of her beauty and vivacity. Similarly, reading about all of the Avonlea folk getting settled and moving along in life is simply a delight for someone like me who would quite happily live in this world for a long, long time. Billy Andrews’ proposal to Anne through his sister was hilarious, as was Anne’s mortification over her story’s publication.

Reading Anne of the Island was a lovely trip through familiar and new experiences alike in Anne’s world. As always I was eager to read the next once I’d finished and I’m enjoying my reread very much!

All book links to external sites are affiliate links. I downloaded this book for free through Project Gutenberg.

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Thoughts on Rereading Anne of Avonlea, L.M. Montgomery

I know I meant myself to space out my rereads over the course of each month, but I honestly just couldn’t wait to read the next in the Anne series! I was very tempted to start Anne of Avonlea immediately after finishing Anne of Green Gables a couple of weeks ago, but I managed to make myself wait until the 2nd of March. I’m not sure I’ll make it until April before I read Anne of the Island but I’m not sure that’s a bad thing either!

Anyway, in this installment, Anne and Marilla set about their relatively peaceful life in Avonlea. Anne has become the teacher at the school, which poses its own unique challenges. She wants her students to love her, but at times it seems as though Anthony Pye will never oblige. Meanwhile, Marilla’s third cousin finds himself with two twins that he can no longer take care of, and so the two ladies find themselves with Davy and Dora. Dora is a perfect princess, but Davy is mischievous and a ridiculously lovable handful.

As Anne gets a little older, she starts to enter the world of womanhood. As a result, this book focuses a lot more on romance. It’s hard to believe a seventeen year old young woman would completely fail to have any interest in the men around her, but somehow for Anne it works – she’s still busy being imaginative even as her friends start to fall in love. She recognizes that this stage in her life is very much the next one, but instead of developing crushes herself reflects on the fact that her childhood is really over.

It’s a funny juxtaposition because she’s now treated as an adult by everyone around her – she’s the teacher at the Avonlea school, responsible for instilling education and virtue in the minds of a classroom full of young people. She’s very much in charge of Davy and Dora at times as she and Marilla share responsibility for them. Her bringing up is clearly over because she’s automatically entrusted with bringing up the next generation of young kids, even at sixteen and seventeen.

Like the last one, this book is divided into a series of episodes in Anne’s life. She has a variety of adventures, but they aren’t quite as fun as they were when she was a child; instead, the incidents are more adult in nature. She works to gain the affection of the children in the school; Davy nearly loses Dora and she has to find her; and she plays a part in befriending an older, single woman and trying to reunite her with her long-lost love. Because Anne is mostly done growing up, the book holds together a little less cohesively around these incidents, but it’s still a delightful and overall comforting read.

I had half-forgotten a lot of this book, with my memory fixated on bits and pieces throughout rather than specific episodes, like in the last. I do think I liked it better than I did as a child, though, mainly because I have a much greater appreciation for more adult activities. At 12, I didn’t really care about Anne’s society or the efforts she undertook to teach children. It’s more interesting to me now, especially because I can appreciate the book in more ways. As with the first, finishing this book made me want to pick up the next in the series right away, which is always an encouraging sign when you do intend to read an entire series!

I am an Amazon Associate. I purchased this book.

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Thoughts on Rereading Anne of Green Gables

The first of my epic rereads of 2011 is Anne of Green Gables. Rather than going for a stricter review format, I thought it would be more fun and more likely to succeed if I just wrote my thoughts down. Luckily, this book fits that perfectly and has had my little brain working since I finished it. I can also completely spoil the suspense by telling you right now that I adored this book, one of my ultimate childhood favorites, just as much as an adult.

Almost every little girl who loved to read knows this story; orphan red-headed Anne is sent to Marilla and Matthew Cuthbert by accident. They wanted a boy to help out on the farm, but found themselves with a talkative, dreamy wisp of a child instead. After a day’s acquaintance, and knowing Anne’s dim future prospects, neither Marilla nor Matthew can bear to send her back, so they decide to keep her, leaving Marilla, an old maid, to raise a girl child on her own.

I must have read this book countless times as a child. It’s always been one of my favorites, but I haven’t read it in at least ten years. The number just went up and up as I got older. I’m not sure what drove me away from reading this one as a teenager; I suspect it may have been my early high school love affair with romance novels. Regardless, it was certainly high time for a reread, and the combination of my new Kindle and the excellent Gutenberg project meant I could have the entire series at my disposal whenever I wanted. I never owned the whole series as a kid, though I always longed to, and it’s nice to finally have that sense of completion. Since I don’t have to haul the entire series over the pond to read it, this is much more convenient for me.

Anyway, on to the book. As I mentioned earlier, I completely and unreservedly adored it all over again. There are so many reasons to love it, but naturally the foremost is Anne herself. Vivacious, dreamy, and incredibly intelligent, I think every little girl can see something of themselves in her. She is not only all of us, but she becomes all that we’d like to be, something I never really picked up on reading the book as a kid. She may not be beautiful, she may make mistakes, she may use big over-dramatic words, but she is incredibly loveable and no one can resist her copious amounts of charm. I know I wished to have so many friends at that age; I had some, but never the situation where my best friend was right next door and available to play every day. Anne is so very girlish, longing to have lovely dark hair, dresses with puffed sleeves, and an absence of freckles. She’s easy to relate to because most of us feel like ugly ducklings at 12 and 13; they are such awkward ages. Anne’s trials can help young girls who are similarly not allowed to wear the latest fashions accept that this is a simple reality, and that such rewards will come in time.

What was most interesting was how I remembered the book. I knew some of the big events that were going to happen, but I managed to mix up part of this one with the next, so I kept expecting a few things to happen only to find that they didn’t! Obviously I read Anne of Avonlea more than I thought I did. But even as I remembered where the story was going and what pitfalls were along the way, I also rediscovered so many things and found myself enjoying the journey far more than I would have expected. The entire book is something of an idyll and gives the reader a feeling that the past was a wonderful place. Even though, as I mentioned, Anne has her faults and makes mistakes that cause her to suffer bitterly, most of the book has a rosy glow about it. Life has issues, but they are never insurmountable so long as one is good and honest and does her best. There are always friends, and dreams, and hard work can make these dreams come true. Even that irritating boy you thought you’d always hate can turn out to be a friend. In this respect, it really is the perfect book for a little girl, and I know if I ever have one of my own, my own paper copy will be hers to hopefully cherish as much as I did.

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Thoughts: Jane Eyre, Charlotte Bronte

jane eyreJane Eyre has been one of my favorite books for more than ten years. I read it regularly as a teen, before I went to college. When I had to choose a book to read aloud from in my public speaking class, Jane Eyre was it, and nothing else quite matched it (until, of course, I read The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton, and I’ve never been able to choose between them since!).

But when I went to college, many of my reading habits lapsed. I had friends constantly around and, while I still read, for about three years I read considerably less than I do now and than I did in high school. Rereading was the first to go, and I hadn’t read Jane Eyre in about six years. I knew I wanted to read it again, but it was hard to persuade myself to do so, with other review books stacking up and, finally, feeling financially comfortable enough to buy new books and support the publishing industry on a regular basis. Rereading still falls by the wayside.

Luckily, I received just the impetus I needed to read Jane Eyre again in the form of a lovely publicist, who let me know about a new series of pocket classic editions from White’s Books. All of them have new, lovely art and introductions commissioned just for them. I couldn’t resist the opportunity to receive a gorgeous new edition of this book, especially when it’s so lovely. And the edition is nice; the front and back of the book have appropriate, evocative art and the book fit right in my hands for easy reading. There’s even a little ribbon to mark my page. The font did happen to be a bit small, but I expected that out of something called a “pocket” edition. The publisher also sells more expensive, normal size versions; here’s their website for more. Here are a few of the book covers for this edition:

white's book covers

Anyway, as the book itself went, I loved it just as much this time. Mostly, I adore Jane herself; she’s such a passionate person even when she’s determined to hide it in herself. She doesn’t let people push her around and sticks by her morals even when she would rather do otherwise, to the point of turning aside from her own love. She lives on her own terms even as she relies on others for employment, as a woman in her position at the time had to do, and she actively seeks people who appreciate her for who she is, the people who don’t dismiss her for being a governess, teacher, poor relation, or younger student.

I’d forgotten so much of the Gothic atmosphere as well, with creepy, dark Thornfield, Jane’s many dreams, and how much the book has to say about religion – what is true faith and what is twisting Christianity to suit one’s own goals. I’m not surprised, but reading it now after four years of English literature classes and lots of classics read on my own, it really sticks out as a Victorian novel. The new introduction by Jacqueline Wilson was also a pleasure to read and picked out many points about the book’s treatment of Jane that I wouldn’t have considered on my own – just right for someone who’d read the book multiple times before.

Have you read Jane Eyre? What did you think of it? I know not everyone agrees with me and I’d love to hear your thoughts.

I received this edition free from a publicist.

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Review: We Have Always Lived in the Castle, Shirley Jackson

Mary Katherine Blackwood, nicknamed “Merricat” by those who love her, hates going into town. She’s convinced everyone is against her and all she really wants is to go back to her cozy life with her sister Constance and her uncle Julian. No one in town likes her, but she still has to buy the supplies twice a week and exchange library books for new ones. The townspeople have reason to be suspicious, though; the entire rest of the Blackwood family was killed by arsenic in the sugar, and Constance was accused, though later acquitted, of the crime. Merricat herself is a very peculiar girl, who is convinced that by nailing books to trees and burying various items of treasure she can keep Constance safe. Her methods don’t succeed when a cousin, Charles, comes to visit, and proceeds to shake up her careful existence.

I originally intended to read this for Carl’s RIP challenge last fall; I didn’t get to it then but I was in the mood for a creepy book over the holidays so I picked this up anyway. It isn’t a horror novel at all, which is what I expected, but more of a psychological story, focusing for me on the innate peculiarity that is Merricat herself. It’s very eerie – Merricat’s first scene in the town has a masterful atmosphere, especially with her dark thoughts towards all of the townspeople – but it isn’t particularly scary, which I’ll admit was something of a let down. Still, it has plenty of merit, and I did like it.

What was most interesting for me was the peek inside Merricat’s obviously very disturbed mind. At times I felt sorry for her sister, Constance; when Charles arrived I could almost feel her straining for a more normal life. He had the potential for that, and undoubtedly she would have enjoyed meeting a man, falling in love, cooking for her children. But she at the same time has a lot of affection for her disturbed little sister; she sees that things aren’t right, but she seems to have no idea how to fix them, or even the will to do so. After a time she sees her folly in leaning on Charles, who Merricat decided was a demon straightaway, and when she and Merricat begin to construct their own life together, she seems content to stay in her kitchen and keep with the status quo.

Indeed, by the end of the novel, the sisters have become a creepy legend, a pair of spirits that the villagers leave offerings to in forgiveness for their sins. It’s a very peculiar, creepy, atmospheric little novel. Some of the scenes towards the end are so evocatively described that I could see them in my head, which is a rare occurrence for me, and I think I’ll be rereading We Have Always Lived in the Castle with the right set of expectations this time, just to see what I get out of it. Maybe for next fall’s RIP challenge!

I am an Amazon Associate. I purchased this book.

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Review: The Brontes Went to Woolworths, Rachel Ferguson

The Brontes Went to WoolworthsSummary from the back:

As growing up in pre-war London looms large in the lives of the Carne sisters, Deirdre, Katrine, and young Sheil still cannot resist making up stories as they have done since childhood; from their talking nursery toys to their fulsomely imagined friendship with real high-court Judge Toddington.  But when Deirdre meets the judge’s real life wife at a charity bazaar the sisters are forced to confront the subject of their imaginings.  Will they cast off the fantasies of childhood forever?

I really wanted to love this book.  I think what threw me was how imaginative the sisters actually were.  I had such a hard time figuring out when they were playing and when they were actually living.  It’s playful and funny, but almost too much so for the first half.  Luckily, it improved when Deirdre met Mrs. Toddington because finally real life started to have a discernible effect on the novel and it all interwove in a charming way as the girls start to grow up and realize how damaging their fantasies can be.

I did enjoy the language; it’s so playfully British that it’s hard not to cherish each individual word!  The time period is also interesting and I know I’d like to read more classics with this sort of feel to them.  But mostly, I feel like I missed the part that makes this book brilliant.  I think I was too caught up in just how childish their games felt to me – and I thought it was a little mean on their part, as well.  It was all in fun but it did feel a little like they were mocking the people when they didn’t even know what they were like.  I guess I’m just too much of a wet blanket!

In short, I think The Brontes Went to Woolworths could be charming for another reader, but it didn’t quite cut it for me.

I am an Amazon Associate. I bought this book.

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Classics Circuit Review: Germinal, Emile Zola

GerminalEtienne Lantier is unemployed and desperate.  Economic conditions are bad and no one wants to take on new workers.  As he wanders, he finally comes across a coal mine where he is hired on.  If possible, though, working down the mine is even more difficult than starving to death and Etienne has a hard time adjusting.  Whole families work in the mine – elderly people who can still manage it, mothers, fathers, small children – and people are injured and sicken under Etienne’s very eyes.  When the managers attempt to lower wages, Etienne’s vast amount of reading kicks in and he riles the rest of the workers to protest their poor conditions and lack of adequate pay.

Germinal is very much a political book and that’s not really what I’d expected of it – probably because I’d only read The Ladies’ Paradise and I wasn’t quite prepared for a book so unrelentingly dreary.  I know some books like that can be great but this one dragged on for five hundred and thirty-two long pages.

I found the writing to be strikingly evocative of the mine and I’m sure the fact that I felt so very sorry for these people made the book that much harder to read for me. The darkness was pervasive and it just got worse.  Even when the people began to strike, they also began to starve and made almost no progress in their strike.  It was hard to bear, especially when they were contrasted with the wealthier mine owners.  One of the managers even envies the poor people their freedom as compared to his restricted aristocratic lifestyle – I don’t think he quite understood the situation.

I was amazed throughout at the violence of all the characters, which I think prevented me from getting attached to any of them.  All the men beat their wives and sometimes their children as well.  Everyone is valued only for the wages they can bring in; small children who are not yet old enough to work are almost nothing but a burden.  There are some glimpses of maternal love through La Maheude, the main motherly character in the book, but she still often feels anger towards her children for eating and not earning.

The book is very political and much of the workers’ revolution felt like a cry out for socialism.  Etienne has read all the big names and attempts to get all the workers to join an organization.  I thought in this respect it was an interesting picture of its time; I have a hard time imagining any workers to ask for socialism these days even though the wage gap is still very much in evidence.  But somehow Zola creates a bit of sympathy for the managers as well, so the true solution is unclear (as history proved anyway).

In the end, my feelings toward Germinal are mixed.  There’s no way to deny that it took me a week to read and at times I avoided it because I didn’t want to deal with the miners’ lives any longer.  But as a political novel, as a picture of its time, it’s invaluable and it left me with a lot to think about.  It’s not cheerful in any sense but it’s surprisingly easy to read with lovely prose that’s truly evocative of the imagery within – whether underground or above.  It’s a piece of literature that I think has held quite a bit of value, and for those reasons it’s worth reading even if it does go slowly.

I am an Amazon Associate. I borrowed this book from my local library.

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Joint Review: Lorna Doone, R.D. Blackmore

Tasha and I decided to team up and read a classic together for Classics Month in March. We chose Lorna Doone when we realized I had it and she could get it easily out of the library. This is the first part of our joint review, head on over to Truth, Beauty, Freedom and Books for the second half!

First, though, a summary:

John Ridd is a young mischievous school boy faced with the abrupt reality of his father’s death, reportedly by the Doones of Exmoor, a band of high-born outlaws who constantly terrorize the area around his home town. On a fishing trip after his return home to care for his mother and sisters, John accidentally enters Doone territory and meets young Lorna Doone, who is something of a queen to them. John can’t help but fall immediately in love with her, but his struggle to win her from the Doones will be long-lasting and dangerous for both of them.

Heidenkind: Love or hate? :)

Meghan: I think I have to go with hate!! Actually, my feelings aren’t quite as strong as that. I mostly just feel a mild dislike. I know you disagree though. =)

Heidenkind: Yeah, I actually liked it a lot. I love the A&E miniseries based on the book, and I think the actual novel is a lot better. It’s very romantic, no? :)

So, in the introduction in my copy, the person compared Lorna Doone to Jane Eyre and bemoaned the fact that it’s not as popular as Jane Eyre even though it’s just as good–if not not better–and has similar themes. What do you think–is LD the forgotten Jane Eyre?

Meghan:

Definitely not! I love Jane Eyre and I think it’s vastly better. For one thing, I don’t think it suffers nearly so much from the same long-windedness. I love a well-crafted sentence as well as the next former English major but I think there are definitely extremes. Charlotte Bronte does it well, but R.D. Blackmore not so much. I can’t really forgive any book pages on nature – maybe it’s for others, but not for me.

Also I have to admit that Mr Rochester is a far more dashing hero than John ever could be. I think of John as big and strong but rather boring. At least Mr Rochester has a bit of a scandalous history to make him more interesting and I can’t help but imagine him as a very attractive man. I also much prefer the romance in Jane Eyre, obviously, even if it is initially bigamy.

What do you think?

Heidenkind:  Even though I enjoyed Lorna, I don’t think it’s anywhere close to Jane Eyre, and I can’t see any modern high schooler picking up LD and just falling in love with it the way I did with JE. For one thing, there’s too much pointless stuff in the book. And for another, the writing is just impenetrable, especially in the first part. A Victorian trying to do 17-th-century speak is just not good–and don’t even get me started on the accents. Ugh! Every time that John Fry guy started to speak, I just skipped it. My brain had a hard enough time trying to understand the book already.

Meghan:  I think I skipped a whole conversation that they had in there somewhere. There was the cook who spoke in it as well. I shuddered! I really, really hate dialect in books and it was NOT done well here.

Heidenkind:  I agree. As for John, he’s not as dashing as Mr. Rochester, no, but he’s the “average guy” hero of the story. Lorna is supposed to be the dashing, mysterious love interest. I actually liked John a lot–I though he was charming in a simple way. Not that I would ever go out with him or anything. :P

Meghan:  I certainly wouldn’t, I didn’t like him at all and he was one of the problems I had with the book. I really felt like he was constantly demeaning to the women in his life even though I could tell he loved them. I’m not sure whether the author was just that bad or he was trying to emulate 17th century attitudes, but I did not appreciate feeling like all the women were silly and little and cute. And he didn’t like the sister he had with a brain, Eliza, instead being annoying about how she was always buried in books. I could not figure out why Lorna wanted to be with him. And his behavior towards his cousin Ruth really annoyed me as well – once it was established that he was going to marry Lorna, he still flirted with her and IMO really led her on when he shouldn’t have been doing that.

Heidenkind:  I couldn’t figure out what John and Lorna saw in eachother, either! But on the other hand, Lorna did really want out of the Doone encampment, and here’s John telling her he loves her and offering to help her escape. So maybe there’s a knight-in-shining-armour complex going on there.

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Review: The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, L. Frank Baum

I’m not sure I need to summarize this, but why not?  Dorothy lives in the gray land of Kansas with her aunt, uncle, and little dog called Toto.  One afternoon a tornado strikes and Dorothy, her house, and her dog are swept away to the magical land of Oz.  Accidentally, she kills the Wicked Witch of the East, and attains some measure of fame in Oz, but how will she get home?

This was a surprisingly delightful read.  It’s not too old and reads very smoothly.  The movie and the book are very similar in story, and I’ve seen the film about a million times, so there weren’t many surprises for me here.  There are a few extra lands, and some of the events are a little different, but the basic story and characters are completely the same.  I’ll admit that it dragged towards the end for me when these extra things were introduced, but I think someone less familiar with the film wouldn’t have felt so impatient.

The book is written for children, so some things are rather simplistic; it’s fairly clear that as the characters develop a bit that they don’t really need their gifts from Oz, but it was all very sweet.  Dorothy is a bit too sweet, but I love that she actually had some initiative and seemed quite clever for a little girl.  The message for children is excellent, IMO, as all the characters work together to vanquish their foes and try their hardest to be smart, good, and courageous.

I actually read this on my phone and was surprised by how well it held my attention, especially given it was the first book I ever read on there.  It’s helpful that it’s so short, but I did find the story absorbing and I looked forward to continuing it when I got pulled away.  I’m really looking forward to sharing this with my own children someday, although I think I’ll be getting a paper version before that time!  The Wonderful Wizard of Oz has held up as a great children’s classic and I can see it continuing on into the future.

I am an Amazon Associate. I downloaded this book to my phone for free through Aldiko.

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