Do You Think You Can?

Do you remember the story about the little  engine that was sure, if he tried hard enough, he could pull a heavy load up the mountain?  “I think I can, I think I can,” was his mantra.  Sure enough he did and impressed everybody.  70 some years later, I still remember that story and use the mantra to keep writing and sending my stories out.


Here are three stories that echo that same sentiment.


Were you ever the little kid who tried to enter the school talent show, but didn’t have a talent? Read what happens to Penny and how her dog, Jelly, helps her out.


Penny & Jelly: The School Show

Maria Gianferrari

Illustrated by Thyra Heder

Penny is doing her best to find a talent to show off during her school’s talent show, but she fails miserably.  Without even trying Penny knows singing and dancing are out, either each by itself or together. Well, how about playing the tuba? Nah, the instrument is bigger than she. Or juggling?  Nope, Penny can’t keep more than one object in the air or catch it on its way down.  Yodeling just scares the animals away, and Penny gets herself and her dog, Jelly, tangled up in the jump rope.  Penny tries her hand at being a “dog fashion” designer, but Jelly hates her designs. The attempt to be a ballroom dancer leaves Jelly hiding under the bed and Penny covered in bruises.  Her attempt at being a magician is another failure, as are all her other ventures in the talent realm.  Finally she accepts defeat and crawls into the closet, with Jelly by her side.  Jelly howls in sympathy and Penny joins in.  Then she comes up with the perfect thing for a talent.  She and Jelly harmonize on their howling tune. Penny blows her kazoo and Jelly sings along. This is a sweet story about determination and the illustrations are adorable.  Penny is depicted as the far from perfect little girl with plenty of spunk and belief in herself.

BIBLIO: 2015, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company, Ages 7 to 10, $16.99.

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Picture Book

ISBN: 978-0-544-23014-9



Some times we want to be what the rest of our family is, but something is blocking our way.  Read what happens to Princess Pinecone when she doesn’t get the warhorse she wants.


The Princess and the Pony

Kate Beaton

Illustrated by Kate Beaton

Princess Pinecone wants a warhorse for her birthday present, but what does she get?  A pony!  And not just any pony, the fattest, the roundest, and the fartiest pony imaginable, who is not at all interested in being a warhorse.  Still Pinecone figures the pony is better than even more soft sweaters like the ones she already has stacked in her wardrobe.  Princess and Pony go to the battle field anyway, because that’s what warriors do.  Princess P. looks for a spot to weasel her way into the middle of the tussle, and is just about to jump in when the most fearsome warrior there is, Otto the Awful, charges right at the pair.  Just as our stalwart princess readies her first spitball, Otto the A, comes to a screeching halt and hunkers down in front of Pony.  “Who could hurt such a pony?” he asks.  Then, one by one, all the warriors come to cuddle with Pony, and Otto explains that warriors hardly ever get to show their cuddly sides.  Princess Pinecone has just the thing to keep peace.  Cuddly and warm sweaters are just the thing!  Princess and her pony earn the Most Valuable Warrior of the day trophy.  The book is fun and once the reader gets used to the idea that the pony looks hardly anything like a horse, the illustrations are cute.

BIBLIO: 2015, Arthur A. Levine Books/Scholastic, Ages 4 to 8, $17.99.

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Picture Book

ISBN: 978-0-5456-3708-4



The final book for this blog will rip your heart and soul apart, only to put them back together in a better fashion.  It definitely fills the bill of doing what you think you can.


Everything Everything

Nicola Yoon

Illustrated by Daniel Yoon

Madeline Whittier is sure she’s read more books than anybody else on the planet.  What else can she do in her white room in her sterile house? She can’t leave her house since she’s allergic to the outside world.  Her only physical visitors are her nurse, Carla, her mother and just one of her tutors. At seventeen, she has accepted her life. But things change in Maddie’s soul when Oliver—Olly—moves in next door, with his rebellious younger sister, enabling mother and abusive, alcoholic father.  Olly sees Maddie at her window watching him and starts communication through sign language, pantomime, notes and eventually their electronic devices.  It doesn’t hurt that he’s drop dead gorgeous and compassionate.  As their relationship deepens, Maddie wishes to meet Olly in the flesh, though she knows they may never have physical contact.  Carla arranges everything while Maddie’s mom, a doctor, is at work. The reader matures along with Maddie and begins to wonder where her quality of life is?  Secretly she arranges a trip to Hawaii with Olly.  Olly is resistant at first, but Maddie, now eighteen, feels she can make her own choices.  She does get sick on their trip and ends up in the hospital with an infection in her heart.  But she doesn’t die and comes home stronger than she ever thought possible.  The Hawaiian pathologist sends her a letter informing Maddie that there is no sign of disease.  So Maddie goes to a specialist who confirms that Maddie is not sick.  Turns out her mother, after losing Maddie’s father and brother in a car accident, can’t deal with the thought of losing her daughter.  She made Maddie’s illness up.  Now the girl has to deal with the aftermath of this revelation.  This is a fantastic read.

BIBLIO: 2015, Delacorte Books/Random House Teens/ Random House Children’s Books/Penguin Random House, Ages 14 +, $18.99.

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Young Adult

ISBN: 978-0-553-40664-2

ISBN: 978-0-553-40665-9

ISBN: 978-0-553-40666-6


So keep having dreams and trying to make them real.  You can do it and so can I.


Until my next blog, hope all goes well with you.  Sarah


P.S. If you want other inspiring blogs, check out Linda Martin Andersen’s blog,


Joan Y. Edwards’




7 thoughts on “Do You Think You Can?

  1. Sarah,
    I was so happy to see you had reviews up again. Isn’t Penny and Jelly a series? I’m thinking so. I haven’t read this but I remember it was recommended elsewhere too. I think Everything Everything sounds interesting too. Nice job!

    So nice of you to put in a plug for my blog and for Joan’s too! Thank you very much! It’s been great fun having you visit so frequently this month.

  2. Dear Sarah,
    I enjoy reading your reviews. You do an awesome job and I especially like these books that encourage children to keep on going, to believe in themselves, and to never give up.

    How sweet of you to put a link to my blog here!

    Believe in you.
    You are great!
    Never Give Up

    1. Thanks Joan. I have been reviewing books for 8+ years now and I love doing it. A lot of the books aren’t really worth a good review, but I’m required to say something positive about them, just like in a critique group. But others, like the “Everything, Everything” book are a joy to read. I just finished reviewing what could very easily turned into a sappy romance novel, instead is a winner about learning how to deal with the ups and downs of life and where your place is in it. I’ll review that one next week.

      Are you dancing on the clouds about your upcoming launching?

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