The Idea Jar by Adam Lehrhaupt, illustrated by Deb Pilutti

Published by Simon and Schuster

Image result for idea jar lehrhaupt amazon

Image result for idea jar lehrhaupt amazon

Summary:  “This is my teacher’s Idea Jar.  We keep our story ideas in it.”  The narrator explains how ideas can be about anything.  They can be used to create stories that are told, drawn, or written down.  There’s no such thing as a bad story idea.  But if the ideas stay in the jar, they can get bored and rowdy.  So it’s important to keep them under control by using them in stories, where they want to be.  On the last few pages, the class works together, starting with one idea, then weaving in others to create one big story.  40 pages; ages 4-8.

Pros:  The story jar is sure to find a home in many classrooms.  This would be a good read-aloud to encourage young writers.

Cons:  It looks so easy…just pick an idea, and you will be able to create a story.

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Checked by Cynthia Kadohata

Published by Atheneum

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Summary:  Conor’s life is all about hockey, his dog, and his dad.  During the year he turns 12, he rises from a peewee AA team to AAA and learns what it’s like to go from being the best on the team to struggling to keep up.  In addition to team practices and games, he does intensive exercise routines and gets private coaching, all of which is a financial strain for his policeman father who made it to the NHL for three weeks and hopes for a professional career for his son.  When Conor’s beloved Doberman Sinbad is diagnosed with cancer, Conor is forced to decide between some of his hockey extras and Sinbad’s $7,000 treatment.  During the course of the year, Conor is also forced to deal with some of his feelings about his maternal grandparents, who moved away after his mom died but now want to be back in his life.  By the end of the book, Connor has developed a greater understanding and compassion for those around him and taken a big step forward in the process of growing up.  404 pages; grades 5-8.

Pros:  Hockey fans and dog lovers will enjoy this slice-of-life story of approximately a year in Conor’s life.  He is a positive and resilient kids with a distinctive voice and caring heart.

Cons:  400+ pages is a lot for a story that tends to meander without any big climactic punch.

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The Big Umbrella by Amy June Bates and Juniper Bates

Published by Simon and Schuster

Image result for big umbrella bates amazon

Image result for big umbrella bates amazon

Summary:  A child in a yellow slicker takes a big, friendly red umbrella out on a rainy day.  This umbrella helps everyone stay dry, no matter if they are tall, hairy, plaid, or have four legs.  It likes to gather people (and other creatures) in and give them shelter.  “Some people worry that there won’t be enough room under the big umbrella.  But the amazing thing is, there is always room.”  On the final page, the sun has come out, and the umbrella has expanded to cover an entire park.  40 pages; ages 4 to those old enough to serve in the United States Congress.

Pros:  The illustrations are charming and show a wide diversity of humans and other living things; the message could lead to some interesting discussions for all ages.

Cons:  Maybe back matter would take away the opportunity for discussion, but I couldn’t help thinking there could be some good resources after the story.  Also, it was written by a mother and her 7th-grader daughter; I would like to know how they got the idea and carried it out.

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Elmore by Holly Hobbie

Published by Random House

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Image result for elmore holly hobbie

Summary:  Elmore loves his cozy home inside a maple tree, but he’s lonely.  He can’t understand why he has trouble making friends until he overhears some animals saying, “He’s too prickly.  It’s hard to be around him.”  What’s a porcupine to do?  When Elmore’s uncle comes by for a visit, he tells him he should treasure his quills rather than wishing them away.  This gives Elmore an idea, and he gets to work gathering up the quills around his house and tying them into bundles.  Next, he sets up shop giving away his genuine quill pens.  The neighbors love them, and before long, he is receiving friendly notes from all over.  40 pages; ages 3-7.

Pros:  Elmore is a lovable character, and the portrayals of his tree house are cozy; his story gently reminds readers of the importance of appreciating yourself and reaching out to others to make new friends.

Cons:  While Elmore receives many friendly notes by the end of the story, he still doesn’t seem to have any in-person friends.

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Bad Princess: True Tales from Behind the Tiara by Kris Waldherr

Published by Scholastic

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Summary:  For centuries, princesses have captured the public’s imagination.  From the “princess wars” between Henry VIII’s daughters Mary and Elizabeth to the 21st century obsession with Kate Middleton, princesses have long been in the public eye.  This book looks at some of history’s “bad” princesses who have been surrounded by scandals ranging from divorce to murder.  Many are European, but there are also appearances by other nationalities like Hawaii’s Princess Ka’iulani and Maitha bint Mohammed bin Rashid al Maktoum, a Dubai sheikha who competed in the 2008 Summer Olympics in tae kwon do.  Sidebars give interesting additional information about real-life princesses and their fairytale counterparts.  The book ends with a tournament of historical and storybook princesses (you’ll have to find out for yourself if Diana or Cinderella takes it all) and a princess board game.  Includes resources for further reading.  128 pages; grades 4-7.

Pros:  A heavy dose of history is handled with a light touch, complete with pink-tinged black-and-white illustrations and plenty of humor.  

Cons:  So many princesses to keep track of.

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Strongheart: Wonder Dog of the Silver Screen by Candace Fleming, illustrated by Eric Rohmann

Published by Schwartz & Wade

Summary:  Move over Charlie Chaplin and Mary Pickford; Strongheart is center stage in this novelization about a real-life canine silent film star.  When 1920’s-era director Larry Trimble had the idea to make a movie about a dog, he traveled all the way to Europe in search of the perfect animal.  He discovered Etzel, a ferocious German shepherd police dog, and was able to see past the growling and snapping to an intelligent, loveable pet.  They teamed up with screenwriter Jane Murfin to produce six films, making Strongheart a celebrity.  He never lost his police dog instincts, though, and the end of the book has him standing in his own defense at a trial to determine if he killed a little girl or not.  Several of his youngest fans come to his aid, and not only Strongheart is declared innocent, he helps apprehend the real criminals.  (Don’t worry, there’s no real murder; it was all a money-making scam).  End matter includes the facts about Strongheart and his career, photos, a bibliography, and notes.  256 pages; grades 3-6.

Pros:  Dog lovers will be enchanted with Strongheart, from his early days as a puppy forced to become a vicious police dog to his movie star career, and finally full circle to the father of his own puppies.  Illustrations on almost every page make this a good choice for reluctant readers.

Cons:  I was disappointed to learn that only one of Strongheart’s films, his last one, still survives.

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Brave Jane Austen: Reader, Writer, Author, Rebel by Lisa Pliscou, illustrated by Jen Corace

Published by Henry Holt and Co.

Summary:  Jane Austen grew up in England at a time when women received little education, and marriage seemed like the only way to get ahead.  Her family was poor, and when they did manage to send her to school, she learned only what she would need to know to become a good wife.  But Jane was observant and she loved to read.  As she grew older, she began to write about the people she saw around her, poking fun at them and the conventions of the day.  Her first book, First Impressions, was rejected by a London publisher, but she continued writing, even turning down a marriage proposal to live life on her own terms.  Finally, she published Sense and Sensibility, soon followed by First Impressions which was renamed Pride and Prejudice.  She died at age 41 in 1817, the same year two more of her books, Persuasion and Northanger Abbey, were published.  Includes biographical information, Jane Austen quotes, others’ quotes about her work, and sources of additional information.  48 pages; grades 2-5.

Pros:  Quite a thorough look at Jane and her times, placing her and her work in the context of her era.  The gouache illustrations are charming and bring the time period to life.

Cons:  Most kids won’t have any idea who Jane Austen is or be familiar with her work.

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