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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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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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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Hidden Figures: The True Story of Four Black Women and the Space Race by Margot Lee Shetterly with Winifred Conkling, illustrated by Laura Freeman

Published by HarperCollins

Summary:  In case you haven’t read the original book, the young readers’ edition, and/or seen the movie, this picture book tells the story of four women who worked for NASA between 1943 and 2007.  Dorothy Vaughn, Mary Jackson, Katherine Johnson, and Christine Darden were all good at math.  Very good.  This refrain is repeated throughout the story, as each one is shown overcoming the barriers in place for them at school and later on at NASA.  But they succeeded, and their work helped launch the space program and eventually send men to the moon.  As they looked to their careers after that dream had been fulfilled, “Dorothy, Mary, Katherine, and Christine knew one thing: with hard work, perseverance, and a love of math, anything was possible.”  Includes a timeline, additional biographical information about each woman, a glossary, and an author’s note.  40 pages; grades 1-5.

Pros:  Many kids will recognize these women from the movies.  All are inspiring, and emphasize the importance of hard work and the exciting adventures to be found in STEM careers.  Laura Freeman illustrated Fancy Party Gowns, one of my favorite biographies of last year, and does an excellent job here portraying the four women, NASA, and outer space.

Cons:  The story of Christine Darden (who wasn’t portrayed in the movie) didn’t seem as well integrated to the rest of the book as the other three.

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Love by Matt de la Pena, illustrated by Loren Long

Published by G. P. Putnam’s Sons

Summary:  What is love?  For many, it begins with two happy parents gazing at you while you sleep.  Life can get more complicated later on, as friendships and other relationships end, and scary things happen that you may not always understand.  But love is reassuring in those times.  After awhile, you begin to recognize love even in imperfection, like burned toast made just for you and the lines on your grandfather’s face.  And when the time comes for you to go off on your own, the love of the people around you will go with you.  40 pages; ages 4 and up.

Pros:  Newbery author Matt de la Pena explores the complexities of love, beautifully illuminated by Loren Long’s illustrations of a diverse group of people from many walks of life.  This would make a good graduation gift.

Cons:  While this has the look of a picture book for young children, much of it will be appreciated more by older readers.

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My Pillow Keeps Moving! by Laura Gehl, illustrated by Christopher Weyant

Published by Viking Books for Young Readers

Summary:  A cat and dog sit shivering outside a store with a sign reading “Pillows on Sale Today!!!”.  The dog scoots in just ahead of a customer and curls himself into a pillow shape.  When the man gets home with his new “pillow”, he finds that it keeps moving while he sleeps.  He tries to return it, but the clerk asks, “Is your pillow soft? Is it fluffy?” to which the man can only reply, “Yes”.  Next, he goes shopping for a footstool, and the routine is repeated.  (“My footstool is noisy!”)  It happens again when he tries to buy a jacket.  Finally, he tells the dog, “As a jacket, you stink, but maybe you’re more of a Jackie than a jacket,” and the dog has a new home.  As the two head out to shop for a new hat, Jackie winks at the cat, and the next to last page shows Jackie and the man walking home with the cat perched on his head.  On the final page, the three are sitting happily by the fire.  40 pages; ages 4-8.

Pros:  Told entirely with cartoon dialog, kids will find the visual humor hilarious.

Cons:  That cat looks like a heavy hat.

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