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Sterling Publishing: Children's Book Reviews Round-Up

Sam Wu is still totally NOT scared. Even though he’s already demonstrated his bravery by conquering a ghost (Sam Wu Is Not Afraid of Ghosts, 2018), Sam somehow once again finds himself trying to shake the nickname “Scaredy-Cat Sam.” After an embarrassing incident during a school trip to the aquarium, he and his friends face a beach birthday party and the twin specters of swimming (turns out his brainy friend Bernard can’t swim) and sharks (obviously). He notes, in his characteristically wry way, that “apparently, bravery is something you have to prove over and over again.” This second installment, like Sam, seems anxious of venturing beyond the surf; it largely clings to the format of the first book, nearly act for act. Nonetheless, it should find its readers, who may find comfort and confidence in following Sam’s incremental growth. Additional time spent with Na-Na, Sam ‘s sharp and sassy grandmother, reveals more about Sam’s family’s Hong Kong origins and highlights a loving, realistic, intergenerational relationship. Foodies will enjoy the additional references to Chinese fare—one memorable scene finds Sam, white-skinned Bernard, and darker-skinned Zoe happily chewing on grilled squid. While Reed’s Na-Na isn’t a particularly compelling image of a Hong Kong grandma, readers will otherwise appreciate the illustrations’ big-eyed humor as well as the dynamic type styling, graphics, and page design. A sequel skittish of unchartered waters still finds its way.
— Kirkus Reviews
Mirabel is a shy mouse with lots of determination. Despite her nervousness she makes Valentine’s Day cards for her classmates. In spite of her trepidation, she slowly makes her way to school on the fateful day. Unbeknownst to her, the cards have fallen from a hole in her bag and have brightened the day of each person (animal) who picked one up—a lonely lady, construction workers, a busy papa, a jogger, a garbage man. Arriving at school with an empty bag Mirabel cried, “I’ve lost my Valentines!!” Hearing her cry, smiling folks return her cards and thanking her for sharing them, if only for a little while. Emboldened by unintentionally making new friends, Mirabel joins in the fun at party time. As she skips home from school, her pals slip more valentines into her bag. Lawler’s rhyming text is a pleasure to read. Using muted colors and plenty of detail, Mueller’s digital illustrations are warm and cozy with a small town feel. The opening endpapers depict Mirabel’s path to school and the folks she’ll encounter while the back pages depict those same folks exchanging their own valentines. VERDICT This sweetly inspiring story of a timid mouse stepping outside her comfort zone is a winner. Great for Valentine’s or any day.
— School Library Journal
Cocca-Leffler draws an easy metaphor between growing children and growing potted plants in this relatable story. El and Jo are the smallest students in their class, and they do everything together (“Even their names were short”). One spring, though, Jo starts to grow, just like the plants that the students will care for at home over the summer; neither El nor her plant, though, grow any taller. While Jo is away all summer, the girls exchange letters and El plants both of the flowers in the garden. Finally, Jo arrives home to find that both of the plants have bloomed—and she and El are the same height. Cocca-Leffler proffers a reassuring message to readers: no two growing up experiences are alike, and one develops at one’s own pace. A note on plant life cycles concludes.
— Publisher's Weekly
This picture book biography introduces young readers to the Hollywood legend famous for her beauty and the many hit movies in which she starred throughout the 1940s and 1950s, and her passion for science and technology. Lamarr’s zeal is conveyed superbly. Growing up in Austria in the 1920s, she wanted to understand how things worked. She took apart her toys to study their mechanisms and, during long walks with her father, explored subjects ranging from streetcars to the night sky. She also reenacted her favorite scenes from movies on a stage she built beneath her father’s desk. Wallmark brings Lamarr to life by including quotes from her subject. During World War II, Lamarr worked with another inventor on technology called frequency hopping, which is still in use today and allows users to send and receive secure cell phone messages and protect computers from hackers. The back matter includes a spread detailing frequency-hopping in more depth. Vibrant digital artwork expands upon the text by showcasing a handful of Lamarr’s other inventions and using period details to convey the golden era of Hollywood. VERDICT A must for both school and public libraries, especially where collections are looking to increase their STEM holdings and round out biography collections with women working in science.
— School Library Journal
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In this debut picture book, Deenihan offers a charmingly literal rendition of the proverbial phrase “when life gives you lemons, make lemonade,” with a colorful and cute story of a child who gets an unwanted birthday gift from grandma: a lemon tree. Once her mischievous plots to rid herself of the tree fail, a fruitful alternative arises: nurture the tree to make lemonade to sell in order to get what she really wants. In addition to the comical efforts of the girl, this playful picture book showcases the concept of delayed gratification. The girl truly has to wait for good things to come to fruition, and once they do, she makes some surprising choices (perhaps just what Grandma wanted). These concepts are enhanced by the eyecatching colors, bold cartoon figures with deeply expressive faces, and diverse cast of characters in Rocha’s illustrations, which are filled with plenty of fun background details to pore over. A nice complement to Matt de la Peña’s Last Stop on Market Street (2015) or Katherine Pryor’s Zora’s Zucchini (2015).
— Booklist
A girl discovers that her passions can help her make sense of a difficult skill. Bug is a girl who loves drawing bugs more than anything else, “especially math.” When her teacher, Mrs. Muskie, announces that they will go to the science museum, which has a cool bug room, if the class performs well on the upcoming math test, Bug takes the challenge seriously. She goes to a field to study but, frustratingly, finds herself continually distracted by new bugs to draw. After several failed attempts, she realizes that her doodles hold the visual key to understanding the math problems: adding spots on a butterfly’s wings and subtracting the number of ants that drop their seeds. Notably, Koontz acknowledges her young character’s agency by having Bug independently come to this revelation and later calmly assist Mrs. Muskie when Bug’s “lucky crickets” (stashed in her lunchbox to help with the test) get in her hair. The latter moment offers a spot of fun for Bug’s multiracial classmates. Pale-skinned Bug is precocious with her short, light-brown hair, rolled-up pants, and antenna headband; Mrs. Muskie has brown skin and a “cloud of curly hair.” Proud’s illustrations in pencil and acrylic take on the style of doodles themselves, with pronounced, colored outlines and circular eyes for characters and bugs alike. The crawling critters appear charming instead of off-putting. A respectful boost of encouragement for young minds that may be struggling with school.
— Kirkus Reviews
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A picture-book celebration of individuality and diversity. Helig and Hembrook’s text opens with the lines, “In all the world over, / this much is true: / You’re somebody special. / There’s only one you.” The art depicts a white-appearing child with red pigtails, first on the floor, drawing, beside a big dog, then getting dressed as the dog sits on the bed and a woman, also white, peeks in. The next scene depicted in the digital, car toon-style art shows the child hugging the woman and about to get on a school bus with a gaggle of diverse children with varying skin tones, hair textures and colors, and visible disabilities (one child wears a hearing aid, another wears glasses, a third uses a forearm crutch, and a fourth uses a wheelchair). As the rhyming text continues, it celebrates the diversity of these children not just in terms of their identities, but by commenting on their personalities, their talents, and ultimately their families. At book’s end, the first child is revealed to have two moms when they both pick her up at the end of the school day, the family dog in tow. “Families are families, / but soon you will find / that each can be different— / a ‘best for them’ kind,” reads the accompanying, inclusive text. Affirming and welcome.
— Kirkus Reviews
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A bonanza of possibilities opens up for Moose, Bear, and Squirrel, three forest companions. There are two outcomes, one unremarkable and the other outlandish, for each of many causes, starting with the first page of the story. “When a tree grows,” it can become either a “scratching post for Moose’s itchy antlers,” or it can crash and fall, waking up Bear, who can do one of two things. And so it continues, as Moose encounters a truck, which leads Squirrel to set off for the city for a “job at Nifty Nuts as a quality control inspector.” Or not, which could lead to either a career as an actor or to his missing Moose and home. Which leads to an awesome “Welcome Home party,” which leads to—and the book concludes with—an even more awesome Edenic forest setting for reading, lounging, and just being one’s animal self. The text and the colorful digital illustrations work together in this silly but entertaining tale. Each verso page is busily filled with action and onomatopoeia while the corresponding recto page highlights one of the characters. The bottom right of this page features an image of a turned-up flap and a large “OR…” providing quick pacing for each far-fetched but why-not outcome. Laugh along as a story about a tree in the forest comes full circle, bringing three creatures along for a bumpy but fun ride.
— Kirkus Reviews

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