Flap copy: Everyday a young boy sits for hours on his front porch, watching from a safe distance as large, scary-looking horses plod up the street, pulling the wagons of vendors and collectors for the war effort. Ashamed of his fears, he longs to be brave like his soldier father. But no matter how hard he tries, he can't get up the courage to approach the street horses.

Finally, through his search for the perfect birthday present to send to his dad overseas, the boy manages to overcome his fear and take a big step toward growing into a young man who will make his father proud.

This beautiful story of love, fear, and sacrifice by Dori Chaconas, brought to vibrant life through the poignant illustrations of Ted Lewin, provides a striking and often heart-wrenching picture of the World War II home front that will touch readers young and old.

Behind the Scenes: As a young child in the 1940s, our big front porch became the center of activity in the summer months.  By day, it was a playroom, scattered with paper dolls, coloring books, and whatever toys happened to be the favorites of the day.  In the evening, the porch became a gathering place for family, friends, and neighbors.  Newspapers were read, stories were shared, and there was always an adult lap handy for a sleepy child.  We watched the world go by from the safe haven of our front porch, and I especially loved watching the street horses. I wanted to capture a bit of those times in story, and so Pennies in a Jar was born.

Kirkus: Parallels to current events, including parents with military duty and gasoline availability, make this story of a boy growing up during World War II extra-accessible. In a time when horse-drawn conveyances share suburban streets with automobiles, a young boy painstakingly puts aside pennies in a green glass jar, saving to buy his serviceman dad a special birthday gift. Dad isn't the boy's only worry: He is painfully afraid of the enormous, stinky street horses that pull the milk cart, the garbage wagon and the rag-and-newspaper collector's cart. If he can't face this fear, how can he possibly take care of things until dad gets home? A photographer's pony is a problem of more manageable size, and the boy gathers all his courage and most of his hard-won 56 cents to make an important present of proof of his bravery for dad. Text and art are well-matched here. Chaconas's narrative hits the right notes, and Lewin's shimmering watercolors are sun-splashed and copper-kissed, with studies in scale allowing the reader to get a real sense of the child's perspective. A fine, illustrated author's note explains how those who stayed at home during World War II worked together to support their loved ones overseas. (Picture book. 5-10)

Cleveland Plain Dealer: Dori Chaconas provides another tale of the home front, Pennies in a Jar (Peachtree, $16.95), a picture book about a boy whose father is fighting overseas. Dad's birthday is soon, and the young narrator takes the pennies from his jar and finds the best gift, a photo of himself astride a pony. He has conquered his fear of horses and wanted his dad to know. Ted Lewin's striking watercolors are filled with light and depth. An excellent author's note, complete with photos and illustrations, explains how folks at home worked together to support the troops (ages 5-8). Kathy Englehart


Dori Chaconas