Tundra Telegram: Books That Aren’t Gonna’ Take It Anymore

Hello, and thanks again for reading the Tundra Telegram, the column where we dig into the subjects on readers’ minds and recommend some recent great books to continue the discussion.

And what is on many North Americans’ minds this week? The fight for abortion rights in the United States. No doubt, our readers have heard about the leaked draft of a U.S. Supreme Court opinion that indicated the court is set to overturn the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade case that legalized abortion nationwide. In the days and nights that followed, abortion rights protesters have rallied in cities around the United States (and sometimes outside Supreme Court Justices’ houses) to express their outrage and opposition.

While few picture books delve much into abortion or abortion rights, we have included a few YA titles that do in a frank manner. But our focus in this telegram is on books that demonstrate the power of protest and collective action to influence political decisions.

PICTURE BOOKS

To get your kids involved in activism early, start with an ABC book, like A Is for Activist, written and illustrated by Innosanto Nagara. Perfect for families who want their kids to grow up in a space that is unapologetic about activism, environmental justice, civil rights, LGBTQ rights, and everything else that activists believe in and fight for, A Is for Activist will have your kids associating M with Megaphones and Marches over Moons and Monsters.

Inspired by the 5 million people (many of them children) in 82 countries who participated in the 2017 Women’s March, Andrew Joyner’s The Pink Hat follows the journey of a pink hat that is swiped out of a knitting basket by a pesky kitten, blown into a tree by a strong wind, and – after a series of misadventures – finally makes its way onto the head of a young girl marching for women’s equality.

Kids in protest march are also central to Lubaya’s Quiet Roar by Marilyn Nelson and Philomena Williamson, a book that shows the power of introverts in social justice movements. A reserved girl draws pictures on the back of her parents’ protest posters. So when the posters are needed again when Lubaya and her folks march in the streets, the girl’s artwork makes a massive visual statement and demonstrates how “a quiet roar can make history.”

Shirley Chisholm Dared: The Story of the First Black Woman in Congress by Alicia D. Williams and April Harrison is not just a picture book biography, but the story of an activist turned political leader. Chisholm started as a kid who asked “too many questions,” soon became a young activist with the Harriet Tubman Society and Bedford-Stuyvesant Political League, and eventually became the first Black woman to run for Congress, as you’ll learn when you read this acclaimed picture book!

MIDDLE GRADE

We Rise, We Resist, We Raise Our Voices is an anthology of poems, letters, personal essays, art, and other works by 50 diverse creators who lend voice to young activists, and edited by legendary writers and editors Wade and Cheryl Willis Hudson. From authors like Kwame Alexander, Jacqueline Woodson, Ellen Oh, and others comes a book that, as Ashley Bryan says in the foreword, “just to touch this book … will lift your spirits.”

Grassroots organizing is highlighted in Take Back the Block by Chrystal D. Giles. In it, Wes is more focused on his style and playing video games than the protests his parents keep dragging him to. But when a developer attempts to buy Kensington Oaks, the neighborhood where Wes has lived his entire life, he gets a hard lesson in gentrification and becomes a reluctant activist who learns the power of community.

It may not have the awesome power of a thousands-strong march, but Tanya Lloyd Kyi’s Banksy and Me features a street-art-style protest against cameras being brought into classrooms and unites a group of middle-grade students together against an unfair school policy.

And Property of the Rebel Librarian by Allison Varnes celebrates a different kind of activism, when straitlaced student June Harper starts an underground reading movement in reaction to a massive book ban at her middle-school, showing you can make a difference by marching in the streets and by granting access to forbidden information!

YOUNG ADULT

Maybe she’s not fighting for reproductive rights, but young feminist Jemima Kincaid takes aim at her private school’s many problematic traditions in The Feminist Agenda of Jemima Kincaid by Kate Hattemer. When Jemima is named to student council’s Senior Triumvirate, she’s finally in a position to change things, but she may inadvertently end up reinforcing patriarchy instead of fighting it!

If that’s not angry enough for you, you’ll love Iron Widow, Xiran Jay Zhao’s “400 pages of female rage.” It’s like Pacific Rim mashed up with The Handmaid’s Tale and a heaping spoonful of Chinese history. As Julie C. Dao insists, “Zetian’s fight to shatter patriarchal definitions of power makes for a truly thrilling read.”

But if you’re looking for YA books that discuss abortion, you can’t go wrong with E. K. Johnston’s Exit, Pursued by a Bear, an unforgettable story about the aftermath of a cheerleader’s sexual assault, that refuses to play to stereotypes and focuses instead on the importance of creating strong community support systems. It’s no spoiler to say an abortion is pivotal in our heroine Hermione’s journey.

And an oldie-but-goodie on the topic of abortion is bestselling author Sarah Dessen’s Someone Like You, following teen best friends Scarlett and Halley as they encounter new understandings of love, sex, and responsibility – something highlighted when Scarlett finds herself pregnant two months after her boyfriend dies in a motorcycle accident. Could abortion be her answer? You’ll never know unless you read this classic from 1998!

Tundra Telegram: Books That Do a Li’l Turn on the Catwalk

Hello, and thanks for joining us at Tundra Telegram, the column where we dig into the subjects on readers’ minds and recommend some recent great books to continue the discussion.

This past Monday was the Met Gala – ostensibly a fundraiser for New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art, but more widely known as “Fashion’s Biggest Night.” The theme in 2022 is “The Gilded Age” (not to be confused with the new HBO show by the same name), and while we didn’t see Rihanna as a bejeweled pope or Katy Perry as a hamburger, there were some notable fashions, like Blake Lively‘s reversible gown and Ashton Sanders‘s vampire steampunk look.

If you want to read some books that delve as deeply into high fashion and serving lewks, we have some recommendations for you. But whatever you read, as Tim Gunn would say, “Make it work!”

PICTURE BOOKS

With such fans as InStyle magazine and Game of Thrones star Gwendoline Christie, the picture book Mitford at the Fashion Zoo by Donald Johnson, the fashion illustrator and a creative director at Estée Lauder, should be on your list of fashion picture books. Part Zootopia, part The Devil Wears Prada, Mitford’s story is both a fashion satire and inspirational tale of following your dreams.

But there’d be no fashion without the textiles used to make those gorgeous gowns and thrilling threads. And Julie KraulisA Pattern for Pepper follows Pepper as she journeys through notable patterns and their origins – pinstripe, houndstooth, ikat, toile, and more – in her effort to make a dress for a special occasion (not unlike the Met Gala).

If Lady Gaga’s 2019 Brandon Maxwell gown was one of your favorite Gala look in recent years, Kyo Maclear and Julie Morstad’s Bloom: A Story of Fashion Designer Elsa Schiaparelli will probably intrigue you. Schiaparelli, known for turning art into fashion and for her imaginative designs, invented the color shocking pink (among other things). And you’ll learn that and more in this lyrical picture book biography.

MIDDLE GRADE

There are few better guides to fashion than Canada’s own Jeanne Beker. The FashionTelevision correspondent, style columnist, and Canada’s Next Top Model judge wrote Passion for Fashion: Careers in Style, illustrated by Nathalie Dion, as an introduction to the fashion industry and career guide, with information and profiles of agents, designers, models, photographers, stylists, makeup artists, publicists, journalists, fashion illustrators, creative directors, fashion show producers, color specialists, personal shoppers, and more!

The couture outfits of the Met Gala are one thing, but Fashionopolis: The Secrets Behind the Clothes We Wear by Dana Thomas, looks at the social issues surrounding fast fashion and its impact on the environment and social justice. If you ever wondered how designer jeans ended up in your local mall, this book is a helpful tool.

In the mood for fiction instead? Look no further than Lakita Wilson’s Be Real, Macy Weaver, a funny and fashion-filled story of friendship. Macy is fresh from a friend breakup and a move when she meets Brynn, a smart girl who seems to have her whole life figured out – right down to her future as a high fashion model. That’s when one small fib turns Macy’s life into one of dazzling dresses and glamour – like a Met Gala Junior High!

As Lee Pace could tell you at the 2021 Met Gala, The Swag Is in the Socks. And that’s the name of a novel by Kelly J. Baptist, in which young Xavier learns about the power of some out-there socks, and the importance of swagging out and speaking up.

YOUNG ADULT

If you’re looking to marry your love of high fantasy and high fashion, Spin the Dawn by Elizabeth Lim has you covered. A teenage girl, Maia, poses as a boy to compete for the role of imperial tailor and enters a cutthroat competition to sew three magic dresses – from the sun, the moon, and the stars. If that sounds like a cosmic version of Project Runway, you’re not wrong! (And check out the sequel, Unravel the Dusk.)

One thing the Met Gala excels in is showing a little skin. This very idea propels Marya Cuevas and Marie Marquardt’s Does My Body Offend You?, a story about two teenagers who join forces to fight the school’s dress code and find friendship, despite their different backgrounds.

Okay, so Namina Forna’s bestselling and blood-soaked fantasy The Gilded Ones may not have a lot to do with fashion, but it is an incredible tale filled with warrior women, and the title just fits the theme so well.

There is no shortage of reality TV stars and social media influencers found at the Met Gala, from Kendall Jenner to Addison Rae, which makes Raziel Reid’s Followers another perfect YA pick. This over-the-top satirical romp follows a naïve teenager thrown into a back-stabbing world of reality television, designer labels, and tabloid gossip.

Tundra Telegram: Books to Verse-Shift-fy Your Shelf

Hello, and thanks for joining us at Tundra Telegram, a column in which we look at the subjects on readers’ minds and recommend some recent great books to continue the discussion.

One movie we can’t stop thinking about – and neither can some of our fellow readers and authors – is the Michelle Yeoh-starring, Daniels-directed action movie, Everything Everywhere All at Once (or EEAAO, for short). The frenetic action-drama-comedy is unlike much else currently on movie screens, but we’re thinking some page-turners might be able to fill the gap. Whether it’s the multiple parallel dimensions, the over-the-top martial arts action, or the multigenerational family conflict that appeals to you most about the film, we’ve got a few book recommendations that “every rejection, every disappointment has led you” to.

PICTURE BOOKS

Let’s face it, there aren’t a ton of picture books about alternate dimensions (yet), but a book that combines family with something a little superhuman – and one that mixes a few tears with laughs and a comic-booky premise, is Minh Lê and Dan Santat’s The Blur, in which a superhuman child zips and zooms through her childhood, with her parents frantically trying to keep up.

If your picture book story times could use a little more fight choreography, you’ll want to check out The Rise (and Falls) of Jackie Chan, a picture book biography of the inimitable action star by Kristen Mai Giang and Alina Chau. Read this book closely enough and you might be able to do what Waymond Wang does with a fanny pack.

And this may be a stretch, but if your favorite part of the movie involved a rock with googly eyes, you should definitely check out Marianna Coppo’s Petra, a picture book about a rock willing to just roll with the circumstances.

MIDDLE GRADE

S. G. Wilson’s Me vs. the Multiverse series (Pleased to Meet Me and Enough about Me) follows Meade Macon, a young boy who learns about the mysteries of the multiverse (and the many Meades), as first revealed to him in the form of a note written on an origami octopus.

Christopher Edge’s science-fiction adventure, The Many Worlds of Albie Bright follows a young boy who grieves the death of his astrophysicist mother by searching for her by universe-hopping to alternate timelines. And in his search, he stumbles upon the answers to life’s most challenging questions. (Seems like a positive side effect.)

For a little Canadian content in your multiverse meanderings, read Downside Up by Richard Scrimger. In it, Fred isn’t grieving his mother, but his dearly departed dog Casey, when he falls down a sewer grate into an alternate universe. In this other version of life, his dog is alive, his mom and sister are happier, and the version of him is happier, too. But something’s not quite as it seems.

We consider tax returns the adult equivalent of homework, so Winnie Zeng Unleashes a Legend by Katie Zhao, featuring a girl tackling school projects, family troubles, and otherworldly chaos follows EEAAO pretty closely plot-wise. Add to that a heroine who must quickly embrace new powers to save the world and you have a legendary book recommendation.

If the blend of family history, queer coming-out story, and the fantastic most appealed to you in the movie, you might like the widely acclaimed graphic novel The Magic Fish by Trung Le Nguyen. Not only are those elements present, so is the generational conflict between first- and second-generation Asian immigrants – and the imagery is just as (googly) eye-opening!

YOUNG ADULT

If, like Evelyn Wang, you have lived a life of some regret, wondering how the many small choices you’ve made led you to where you are now, you’ll want to check out Kristin Cashore’s Jane, Unlimited. The book by the author of the Graceling series follows Jane, a girl with no direction a year out of high school, who is invited to a gala at her family’s island mansion called Tu Reviens. What she doesn’t know is Tu Reviens is a world of infinite choices that will ultimately determine the course of her currently untethered life.

If the Sliding Doorsesque idea of the parallel worlds created by seemingly simple choices intrigues you, may we also suggest Again, Again by TikTok’s favorite author, E. Lockhart? What if there were alternates universes and different version of you, who acted differently and made different choices to the same trying circumstances in life? Could you be braver, happier, lonelier? More in love? Questions that lie at the heart of both the film and this book.

And for reasons that will be clear only to those who have seen Everything Everywhere All at Once in all its bananas glory, we also suggest Hot Dog Girl by Jennifer Dugan. (IYKYK!)

Tundra Telegram: Books To Carry You Home

Welcome to another exciting edition of Tundra Telegram, a column in which we look at the subjects on readers’ minds and recommend some recent great books to continue the discussion.

We’ve had fun talking popular music and baseball these past two weeks, but one issue that has been top of mind for so many readers is the terrible conflict that has raged for nearly two months in Ukraine. And – central to that – the millions of Ukrainian refugees who have fled their country for other temporary homes around the world. Just this past week, some of the first Ukrainian refugees began to arrive in Canada. Fleeing countries for reasons of political violence, war, or persecution is not always an easy subject matter to approach in children’s books or even YA, but we’ve got a few recommendations if you’d like to read stories that look at refugees’ perspectives.

PICTURE BOOKS

The two children in Kyo Maclear and Rashin Kheiriyeh’s Story Boat are fleeing a non-specific crisis in a non-specific land, but their story of leaving behind nearly everything for an uncertain future will ring true for many refugees – as will how the tiniest things (a cup, a lamp, a flower) can become beacons of hope. (And it was even given a shout-out from the UN Refugee Agency!)

Lubna and Pebble by Wendy Meddour and Daniel Egnéus is likewise subtle in its depiction of the refugee life. Lubna is a girl who live in the World of Tents, and her best friend is a pebble, who makes her feel better when she’s scared. But when a lost little boy arrives, Lubna realizes that he needs Pebble even more than she does.

Quebec’s own Elise Gravel gives kids the straight talk with her What Is a Refugee?, an accessible nonfiction picture book that introduces the term “refugee” to picture book readers: Who are refugees? Why are they called that word? Why do they need to leave their country? Answers to these questions and more are illustrated within.

Francesca Sanna’s The Journey is a picture book about many journeys (not just one). Sanna interviewed refugees from dozens of different countries who now found themselves in an Italian refugee center about their personal journeys. The resulting picture book is a collage of those personal stories and looks at the incredibly difficult decisions families make to leave their homes.

And in the Rebecca Young and Matt Ottley picture book, Teacup, a boy is forced to leave his home to find another. He brings with him only a teacup (what else?) full of earth from the place where he grew up, and sets off on a dangerous sea journey

MIDDLE GRADE

New York Times bestselling author/artist Victoria Jamieson teamed with former Somali refugee Omar Mohamed to tell When Stars Are Scattered, a National Book Award nominated comic-book memoir of Mohamed’s childhood, chronicling the day-to-day highs and lows of growing up in a refugee camp in Kenya with his younger brother Hassan.

Newbery honor book The Night Diary by Veera Hiranandani takes readers back to India’s partition in 1947, and a half-Muslim, half-Hindu twelve-year-old named Nisha, whose family decides they can no longer stay in the newly formed Pakistan. She and her family become refugees, travelling by train and foot toward what they hope will be a brighter future.

And Canadian author Eric Walters tells the story of Muchoki and his younger sister, Jata in Walking Home, who flee the political violence that kills their father, and soon find themselves in an overcrowded Kenyan refugee camp. Soon they set off on a treacherous journey in hopes of reaching their grandparents, hundreds of kilometers away.

YOUNG ADULT

Rachel DeWoskin’s Someday We Will Fly explores the journey of a fifteen-year-old Jewish refugee from Poland during World War II. Lillia, her sister, and father flee to Shanghai, one of the only places that would welcome Jewish refugees at that time.

Walk Toward the Rising Sun is the moving autobiography of Ger Duany, a young Sudanese boy who became a child soldier, then a refugee – one of the 20,000 “Lost boys of Sudan.” He eventually was resettled to the U.S. from the Dadaab refugee camp in Kenya, reunited with his family with some help form the UNHCR, and later became a peace activist and Hollywood actor (check him in I Heart Huckabees!)

If you like your refugee narratives with a dash of sports drama, you’ll score with Warren St. John’s Outcasts United, the story of the Fugees – a real-life youth soccer team made up of refugees from around the world (now living in Georgia) and coached by a young Jordanian-American woman.

And Susan Kuklin’s We Are Here to Stay is an anthology of the real stories of nine undocumented young adults living in the U.S. They come from Colombia, Korea, Ghana, and more – many escaping poverty and fleeing violence. Real stories from real teenaged refugees living in America.

Tundra Telegram: Books That Are Real Dingers

We’re back with another edition of Tundra Telegram, a column in which we look at the subjects on readers’ minds and recommend some recent great books to continue the discussion.

Last weekend in cities across North America, baseball season began. Baseball: America’s pastime, a thing to watch while eating a few chili dogs. Readers could hear the crack of the bat, smell the aroma of Cracker Jacks, taste the awkwardness of crowds doing half-hearted waves. And if you, like so many others, have been knocked flat by a case of baseball fever, we prescribe a few of these books and plenty of rest!

PICTURE BOOKS

If you think your child is showing sure signs of infielding and arm strength before they can even walk, you should pick up the board book Baseball Baby by Diane Adams and Canadian illustrator Charlene Chua in which a toddler is introduced to baseball for the first time.

A Ticket to the Pennant by Mark Holtzen is a story of baseball in Seattle, back when the Seattle Mariners were the Seattle Rainiers. (We have heard it’s rainier in Seattle.) Huey searches for his lost ticket to the big game, and wanders through the city’s diverse communities – all united by their love of the sport.

But if it’s the characters of baseball you love, you’ll want Barb Rosenstock and Terry Widener’s Yogi, a picture book tribute to Yankee catcher Yogi Berra, an all-star and true personality who coined such classic wisdom like, “It ain’t over ‘till it’s over,” and “Always go to other people’s funerals, otherwise they won’t come to yours.”

And if you like baseball AND hockey, check out NHL player and author Zachary Hyman’s The Bambino and Me, about a boy in 1920s New York and his quest to watch Babe Ruth face off against the dreaded Red Sox.

CHAPTER BOOKS

Mac Barnett and Greg Pizzoli’s Jack at Bat may not have the history or the literary pedigree of a “Casey at the Bat,” but it does have a mischievous rabbit, a cranky old lady, a lovable dog, and baseball teams named the Lady Town Ladies and the Big City Brats, so kids seem to like it more.

Jack and Annie have encountered dinosaurs, mummies, dolphins, and pirates, but in Magic Tree House #29: A Big Day of Baseball, they meet Jackie Robinson, the first Black player in Major League Baseball, as they are whisked back to 1947 to see Number 42 and learn about a longer-held American pastime than baseball. (Spoiler: it’s racism.)

MIDDLE GRADE

If you loved A League of Their Own and like your baseball stories with a dash of history and civil rights, you’ll love Out of Left Field by Ellen Klages. In 1957 small-town America, Katy Gordon proves that even if you’re the best ten-year-old pitcher in town, people will try to stop you from playing Little League. (And for this reader, there was, in fact, crying in baseball.)

But don’t just stop there, as you’ll also want to follow along the journey of Shenice Lockwood and her Fulton Firebirds as they go to the regional softball championship in New York Times bestselling author Nic Stone’s coming-of-age softball page turner Fast Pitch. Not only will you cheer their triumphs, you’ll also learn a little about baseball history!

If you like classic books just as much as you like baseball, Alan Gratz’s Fantasy Baseball is probably for you. If you’ve ever wondered what a baseball game would look like with Dorothy Gale, The Big Bad Wolf, and Pinocchio in the infield, search no further!

Learn about Vancouver’s legendary Asahi baseball team in Ellen Schwartz’s Heart of a Champion, in which Kenny and his brother and local baseball star Mickey’s worlds are turned upside-down when Japan attacks Pearl Harbor, and a dark period in Canadian history follows.

And maybe Paolo Bacigalupi’s Zombie Baseball Beatdown doesn’t have that much to say about the game (and is more about a zombie apocalypse caused by corrupt food producers) but no one can deny baseball bats do get swung frequently.

YOUNG ADULT

Matt de la Peña’s Mexican WhiteBoy tells the story of Danny, a biracial kid with a killer fastball. When he spends a summer with his father’s family in Mexico, he faces personal demons tougher than any slugger.

And including Karen M. McManus’s blockbuster One of Us Is Lying (now a successful television series) is a stretch, but may we remind you that Cooper, one of the Bayview Four (and one of our murder suspects) is an all-star pitcher. So, we’re keeping it!