Tundra Telegram: Books To Put Hare On Your Chest

Hello, and thanks for joining us at Tundra Telegram, the column where we burrow into the issues of the day, and suggest a few books beyond comp-hare that might warren-t a closer read.

This past weekend was the beginning of the Lunar New Year, arguably the most important annual holiday in Chinese culture, and a celebration in several other Asian countries. The Lunar New Year began on Sunday, January 22, and will last fifteen days, ending on the first full moon. This year is the Year of the Rabbit (except in Vietnam, where it is the Year of the Cat), which, in the Chinese Zodiac, symbolizes longevity, peace, and prosperity. (Sounds good to us!)

If you know children’s books at all, you know rabbits pop up now and then, so we’ve assembled a colony of kids’ books featuring everyone’s favorite fuzzy lagomorphs. While we could have included the classics: your Peter Rabbits, your Velveteen Rabbits, your Pat the Bunnies, your Guess How Much I Love You Nut-Brown Hares . . . instead we tried to highlight some bunnies off the beaten path that are worth a read. So, let’s hop to it!

PICTURE BOOKS

An unforgettable rabbit who actually forgets quite a bit stars in Barnaby Never Forgets by Pierre Collet-Derby. Barnaby insists he has a great memory, even though he can’t remember where he put his glasses when they’re on his own face! Barnaby’s story is very funny, with a lovable lead character and a totally hilarious surprise ending.

If you like your rabbits strong-willed rather than absent-minded, you’ll like Marjoke Henrichs’s No! said Rabbit. A perfect read for anyone, like Rage Against the Machine, who doesn’t like to be told what to do. It’s all about a bunny who doesn’t want to listen when he’s told to get up, get dressed, have breakfast, play outside, have a bath or more. (This must be why rabbits are so difficult to train!)

Mr. Mole Moves In by Lesley-Anne Green may seem from its title and cover to be thin on rabbit content, as it’s the story of the arrival of Mr. Mole to Juniper Hollow, who surprises his new neighbors with some peculiar behavior – talking to watermelons and giving children erasers to eat, among other bizarre actions. But it’s an observant rabbit who befriends Mr. Mole and diagnoses exactly why the newcomer is acting so wacky.

When it comes to observant rabbits, no one does it better than Katherine Battersby’s Squish Rabbit. Squish is a tiny rabbit and others seldom see or hear him. But Squish notices everything – especially when someone needs some help. Squish proves that even small animals can make a big difference in a book intended for some of the youngest readers.

Richard Scarry may be known as a classic children’s author, but do you know his book Rabbit and His Friends, an unusual ode to rabbit fatherhood? Rabbit finds an egg and assumes it belongs to Hen, until it hatches. That’s when Rabbit and his friends learn what a platypus is and how it takes a village to raise a child.

In the same vein of unexpected companionship lies Dog and Rabbit by Barney Saltzberg, about Dog who likes Rabbit, but Rabbit only likes Bunny. (Can we blame all these animals for liking rabbits and bunnies?) Dog and Rabbit is a calm and gentle book about unrequited friendship and patience (rather than a how-to guide to multiple pet ownership).

Bunny uses the power of books and libraries in the rabbit-and-reading-lover dream project Bunny Figures It Out by Ruby Shamir and Andrew Joyner. Bunny runs out of jelly while making a sandwich (must be at Shakira’s house), so she endeavors to make her own. How will she do it? She heads to the library and does jelly research in a book with lessons for any DIY preserve fan.

The bunny in Peter Raymundo’s The Mysterious Sea Bunny may not be the kind you’re used to seeing in picture books. It’s not fluffy; it’s kind of slimy. And it’s only an inch long! A sea bunny is a species of sea slug and young readers will love learning about it (even if they may not want to give it a cuddle).

And for a rabbit that knows how to defend itself, you’ll want to read Black Belt Bunny by Jacky Davis and Jay Fleck, with a rabbit who can do front-kicks and back-flips to air-chops – but gets anxious when he has to try something new: making a salad. This is a very funny book that features a bunny, a bunny’s favorite food and how martial arts can help even in basic food prep.

CHAPTER BOOKS & MIDDLE GRADE

Rabbits practicing martial arts makes sense – everyone knows they are phenomenal at kicking – but what about a rabbit playing baseball? Or a rabbit zapped into a video game? Or blasting into outer space? Such are the premises of the Jack books by Mac Barnett and Greg Pizzoli, which star the titular mischievous rabbit, a cranky old lady, and dog friend Rex.

The first book in the Melanie Watt’s Scaredy Squirrel Nutty Adventures graphic novels, Scaredy Squirrel in a Nutshell, sees our anxiety-plagued hero overcome his fears to leave his tree (despite the danger) and make a new fluffy bunny friend Ivy! (And, trust us, it is not lost on Scaredy that this bunny friend shares a name with one of the most poisonous plants you can name, but the friendship may be worth the risk!)

If you need early reader graphic novels where a rabbit isn’t just a best friend, but is the main character, there’s Stone Rabbit by Erik Craddock. In BC Mambo, Stone Bunny finds a time portal under his bathroom rug and winds up in the Jurassic Period, running from thunder lizards. Things only get zanier as the series progresses, as Stone Rabbit finds himself fighting pirates, stopping alien invasions, becoming a ninja, and basically dipping into every other genre beloved by kids.

And Princess Magnolia and her unicorn Frimplepants face an unexpectedly adorable foe in the third book in the series by Shannon Hale, Dean Hale and LeUyen Pham, The Princess in Black and the Hungry Bunny Horde. Their monster alarm goes off and the dynamic duo is sent to a field full of cute little bunnies nibbling on grass, twitching their noses and wiggling their tails. Are these bunnies really monsters in disguise?

Speaking of monsters, Kelley Armstrong’s pulse-pounding A Royal Guide to Monster Slaying series doesn’t feature any rabbits, but it does feature the rabbit’s mythological cousin, the jackalope! And not just any jackalope – it’s a baby jackalope (mythical jackrabbit with antelope horns) that accompanies Rowan, the unexpected royal monster slayer, as she hunts down a dangerous gryphon, among other exploits.

Who loves the summer more than The Penderwicks? Maybe rabbits? (It is part of their mating season.) The Penderwicks by Jeanne Birdsall is the story of four sisters with very different personalities who spend one summer with their father at a beautiful Massachusetts estate called Arundel – an estate replete with a duo of tame rabbits! Other adventures happen, too – they meet a boy, Jeffrey, the son of the estate’s owner, and run into some trouble. But the important thing is there are two rabbits!

The ultimate rabbit book is The Last Rabbit by Shelley Moore Thomas, a magical story also about four sisters – four enchanted rabbit sisters – on an isolated Irish island that is slowly sinking into the sea. Each of Albie’s sister rabbits have left the island to become girls again, but Albie doesn’t want to leave. She has visits with each of her sisters, now human again, before making her ultimate decision.

YOUNG ADULT

Let’s be honest – there aren’t a lot of YA novels that have a high quotient of bunny content. (I guess most readers grow out of reading about fuzzy rabbits as they get more mature, but please do not count us among them!) One exception is Under a Painted Sky by Stacey Lee. Samantha is a Chinese girl in Missouri, 1849. Annamae has escaped slavery. The two meet at a crime scene they’re implicated in, and flee for the West disguised as boys along the Oregon Trail – and then Samantha starts to fall in love with a cowboy. But where it fits our list is Samantha reads the people she meets through their Chinese zodiac signs (including those born in the Year of the Rabbit). And Annamae tells a crucial parable about a rabbit and snake. (There’s even a rabbit on the hardcover – see if you can find it!)

There are few more famous rabbits in literature than Alice in Wonderland‘s White Rabbit. So, you know the World War II Blitz homage to Carroll’s classic, Steven Sater‘s Alice by Heart, will feature a white rabbit. Interestingly, in this version, as fifteen-year-old Alice Spencer takes shelter in an underground tube station recounts her favorite story and her real life and Wonderland begin to blend, it is her friend (and love interest), tuberculosis-stricken Alfred, who becomes the White Rabbit. Who hasn’t wanted to smooch that perpetually late critter? (Be sure to check out the musical, as well!)

And what is an illusionist without a classic rabbit-out-of-a-hat trick? We’re not sure if fifteen-year-old budding magician Quinn Purcell, the star of Don Calame’s The Delusionist, has a rabbit trick, or his partner Perry does, or if his magic rival-slash-crush Dani Darling does, for that matter. But that would be some real sleight-of-hand if a bunny never even made an appearance.

Tundra Telegram: Books That Blue Us Away

Hello, and thanks for joining us at Tundra Telegram, the column where we run through the issues giving readers grief, and suggest a few books for reading AND weeping.

Since 2005, people have acknowledged “Blue Monday.” (Celebrate is not exactly what we’d say happens.) The third Monday of January was given that name by a UK travel company, since they had allegedly calculated it as the most depressing day of the year. (One can assume they hoped to inspire some January travel to combat said blues.) Relatedly, “Blue Monday,” the song by New Order, has been acknowledged since 1983 to be a serious banger.

Whether there is any basis for “Blue Monday” being the saddest date on the calendar – many mental health professionals have dismissed it as pseudoscience – we nevertheless felt it’s never a bad time to recommend some books for all ages that discuss sadness, grief, and clinical depression. (Though, as a content warning, we should note many of the YA books, in particular, feature frank depictions of mental illness, self-harm, and suicidal ideation.) That said, let’s wallow in some great books about being blue.

PICTURE BOOKS

The titular ursine friend in Cecile Metzger’s Invisible Bear is not necessarily sad or depressed (per se), but he does spend his days alone in his quiet, colorless home in a forgotten place, where no one comes to visit him. That is, he does until the colorful Madam Odette bursts into his life as a friendly neighbor and both their lives are forever changed for the better.

The Pink Umbrella by Amélie Callot and Geneviève Godbout is similarly about the transformative power of friendship over sadness. Café owner Adele finds the care that she gives her customers and community is returned when she finds herself in the midst of (emotionally and physically) rainy days. One café customer helps her find the sun during a period of severe gray weather.

There are many metaphors for sadness – lack of color, rainy days. And in What’s Up, Maloo? by skipper of sadness Geneviève Godbout, it’s a kangaroo who loses his hop. Maloo the kangaroo starts stepping everywhere instead. His animal pals look for ways to help Maloo to un-stop the hop, and find patience and support can help get a bounce back.

Some say grief is love persevering, which is a beautiful analogy. But for the purposes of this list, grief is a deep sorrow, usually caused by a great loss. A Garden of Creatures by Sheila Heti and Esmé Shapiro is a tender and moving picture book about a great loss and the big questions it poses. Featuring a little bunny and cat whose friend, a big bunny, passes away, the book is a perfect read for anyone struggling with grief and a non-traditional meditation on death that offers tranquility.

Grief is also at the heart of Rodney Was a Tortoise by Nan Forler and Yong Ling Kang, a book that perfectly captures the sorrow of losing a pet. But as devastating as Bernadette’s loss of her dear friend Rodney is, the book shows the importance of expressing kindness and empathy, especially when people are experiencing some of life’s most trying moments.

Completing our grief picture book trilogy is Many Shapes of Clay: A Story of Healing by Kenesha Sneed. Eisha’s mother helps her make a special shape out of clay that reminds her of her father. But as her day goes on, the piece of clay hardens and then eventually shatters into pieces when Eisha bumps into it. Eisha has to live with the loss, and work to make something new out of what is left behind. This is a very subtle book about grief, as well as a book about the joys and pain of the creative process.

Kids don’t always know what to do with their sadness, nor do the adults in their lives know how to respond. The Rabbit Listened by Cory Doerrfeld has lessons in sadness for all ages. Young Taylor doesn’t know who to talk to when feeling sad. All the animals Taylor approaches have their own reactions – they want to talk, they want to get angry. But only the rabbit, who simply listens, can provide Taylor with any comfort.

Eva Eland’s When Sadness Is at Your Door is similar, but suggests young readers treat a feeling of sadness as if it were a guest. Sadness – especially when it lasts a long time – can be confusing and overwhelming. This book suggests you give your sadness a name, maybe do some activities to do with it, like sitting quietly, drawing, or going outside for a walk. This is an excellent book that helps separate sadness from the self, and eschews the idea of “getting over it” or that sadness is, in itself, inherently bad.

And once you finish that, you can read the follow up, Where Happiness Begins, that anthropomorphizes happiness in the same fashion. The book gives happiness a shape, and show readers where they might find it (though it can be elusive).

Being sad or depressed can be a heavy emotion. And Whimsy’s Heavy Things by Julie Kraulis is about a young girl whose things keep weighing her down. Whether she tries to sweep them under the rug or set them out to sea, they keep returning to trip her up. Only by dealing with her heavy things one at a time does Whimsy’s fortune change.

A Shelter for Sadness by Anne Booth and David Litchfield also looks at depression through a figurative lens, and shares some similarities with Eva Eland’s work. In it, a boy creates a shelter for his sadness so that he can visit it whenever he needs to, and the two of them can cry, talk, or just sit. The book views sadness as something that needs to be tended and cared for as much as any friend.

Rachel Tomlinson and Tori-Jay Mordey’s A Blue Kind of Day is less fanciful and more straightforward in its depiction of childhood depression. Coen is depressed and his family members all think they know the way to cheer him up. But (like The Rabbit) only when they begin to listen can they hear what Coen needs as support.

While there are many emotions depicted in Big Feelings by Alexandra Penfold and Suzanne Kaufman – anger, fear, glee, anxiety – sadness is certainly one of the stars of the emotional show. And the adorable kids from the class first seen in All Are Welcome navigate their emotions together, partially by trying to empathize and see multiple points of view.

Finally, Blue: A History of the Color as Deep as the Sea and as Wide as the Sky by Nana Ekua Brew-Hammond and Daniel Minter may not be about sadness or depressions, but Blue Monday is a perfect opportunity to recommend this fascinating cultural history of the color blue. From Afghan painters grinding sapphire rocks to the slave trade’s connections to the demand for indigo pigment and the ways blue jeans are worn, Blue will make you think twice about what colors mean.

CHAPTER BOOKS & MIDDLE GRADE

Susin Nielsen’s No Fixed Address is a very funny book that deals with some difficult issues. Felix is a twelve-year-old kid who lives in a camper van with his mom and has a knack for trivia. While the book chronicles his quest to hide his family’s poverty and compete on a national quiz show to earn them a windfall, it also documents his mother Astrid’s struggles with depression and how their poverty affects how she manages, looking at the economic contributors to mental health.

Natalie in The Science of Breakable Things by Tae Keller also has a mom with depression. And while Felix thinks winning a quiz show will solve most of his problems, Natalie leans into an egg drop competition for similar reasons. With the prize money, she can fly her botanist mother to see the miraculous Cobalt Blue Orchids – flowers that survive against impossible odds – and bring some hope into her life. The novel is a great read for any kid trying to grasp the nuances of depression and loneliness, especially in a parent or guardian.

Laura Tucker’s All the Greys on Greene Street also features a depressed mother – in this case it’s Olympia’s mother, who falls into a deep funk after Olympia’s father, an antique painting restorer, mysteriously leaves in the middle of the night. Olympia’s mom’s depression is depicted with honesty and sensitivity, and the book looks at family, friendship, and art – all set in 1981 Soho, New York City.

But – as you probably know – it’s not just parents who have depression. And Dunkin Dorfman, one half of the titular duo in Donna Gephart’s Lily and Dunkin, is a thirteen-year-old new in town with bipolar disorder. His best friend is a trans girl and together, they’re going to do their best to survive school, despite the odds stacked against them.

Lucy’s mother in Chasing the Milky Way by Erin E. Moulton also has bipolar disorder, and Lucy finds it a challenge in her efforts to become a world-famous robotics scientist. But despite her frustration, Lucy and her baby sister Izzy will go to great lengths to protect the mother they love in a empathetic portrayal of manic depression.

Delsie in Shouting at the Rain by Lynda Mullaly Hunt does not, as far as readers know, have bipolar disorder or depression, but she is having one cruel summer in Cape Cod. She’s dealing with the loss of a best friend, bullying, and her absent mother. But in time, Delsie learns to live with gratitude and in a way that helps others respond in positive ways.

YOUNG ADULT

Nothing is more emo than YA, so obviously there are tons of great novels that delve into sadness and depression. Exhibit A: The Year After You by Nina De Pass, in which Cara is consumed by grief and survivor’s guilt after she survives a tragic accident on New Year’s Eve – but her friend does not. Months later, at a boarding school in Switzerland where no one knows the accident happened, new classmates Ren and Hector try to break through the walls Cara has built and help her begin to forgive herself.

Do you need another novel about a young woman trying to outrun tragedy in her past written by someone named ‘Nina’? Try We Are Okay by Nina LaCour, a moving portrait of loss and loneliness, which one GoodReads reviewer said had her crying “in a park while staring into the unsympathetic rodent eyes of a squirrel hiding nuts for the winter.” Sounds perfect.

Girl in Pieces by Kathleen Glasgow is a difficult book that looks at self-harm, one method many teens sadly use to handle their grief and sadness. And protagonist Charlie’s life is filled with traumas – a dead father, abusive mother, life on the street – that can be hard to read, but her journey to put herself back together and find new outlets for her grief is inspiring.

All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven (which is now also a movie!) is a romance between two very sad (read – trigger warning – suicidal) teens, dealing respectively with deep grief or bipolar disorder. But when Finch and Violet meet on the ledge of the school’s bell tower, it’s unclear who saves whom. Together, they decide to discover the natural wonders of their state of Indiana and give them reasons to live – finding they can really be themselves with each other. But how long can that feeling last?

There’s a similar journey to an unknown land in Home Home by Lisa Allen-Agostini: Kayla is sent to Canada (!) from Trinidad to live with an estranged aunt after she is hospitalized for depression. Her mother sees it as the only solution (someone didn’t read When Sadness Is At Your Door!) and Kayla finds herself in the cold and confusing North. But Canada – in addition to frozen landscapes and Tim Hortons iced capps – also could feature the chance at a family that loves unconditionally, some new friends, and the promise of a hopeful future.

Julia in Erika L. Sánchez’s I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter is a teenager moving through the grief of losing her older sister – the perfect daughter her parents had all their hopes pinned upon. Not only must she deal with her own devastation, she finds her mother is channeling her grief into criticizing her for all the ways she is not like her dead sister.

For a book about depression and – in particular – intergenerational mental illness, readers should check out How It Feels to Float by Helena Fox. Biz, who lost her dad when she was seven, has begun seeing her dad again. But she keeps this information – along with her many dark thoughts – from everyone in her life, so she seems like she’s just floating along, totally fine. Biz slowly begins to come undone, but the book explores the beautiful places loss can sometimes take people and how – ultimately – to return to the world.

Darius the Great Is Not Okay by Adib Khorram documents a nerdy Persian American who never feels like he’s enough, as he takes his first-ever trip to Iran. He feels out of sorts, and his clinical depression is hard for him to explain to his grandparents. But things start to look up when he meets a sweet boy next door, Sohrab.

Not only is the content of Who Put This Song On? by Morgan Parker profoundly emo – the soundtrack is, too! One of the funnier novels about depression, the book features a seventeen-year-old Black girl in mostly white suburbia dealing with clinical depression (largely through listening to Sunny Day Real Estate).

Many of Heather Smith’s bittersweet novels have their moments of intense sadness, but we wanted to limit ourselves to one. That one book is The Agony of Bun O’Keefe, mainly because “agony” is in the title. But also, we love the 1980s Newfoundland setting and the found family Bun discovers after leaving her solitary life in an unsafe house – though those found family members she ends up rooming with all have their sad tales to tell, as well.

Unhappy reading, friends!

Tundra Telegram: Books for a New Start

Hello, and thanks for joining us at Tundra Telegram, the column where we run through the issues streaming through readers’ minds, and suggest some books that will succeed in keeping you reading.

It’s a brand-new year, and what better way is there to start 2023 than with a new book series! Luckily for you readers, there were many books published in 2022 that have a sequel (or sequels!) coming this year. If you’re keen to hop into a new duology, trilogy, quadrilogy, or ongoing series, we have options for you for every category and genre.

So take a chance on something new and dive into a new saga. New year, new series!

PICTURE BOOKS

A curious cockroach first met readers this past year in Maggie Hutchings and Felicita Sala’s Your Birthday Was the Best!, in which the friendly insect crashes a kid’s party with hilarious (and sometimes stomach-churning results). That cockroach will be back in 2023, joining his hapless human child friend to class in Your School Is the Best! and this time, he’s brought the whole family!

Speaking of school, Our Classroom Rules! by Kallie George and Jay Fleck brings back the good-natured forest creatures from 2022’s Our Playground Rules! to talk about kindness and community in the classroom – and how a few simple empathetic “rules” can make school a cool place for everyone to be.

CHAPTER BOOKS & MIDDLE GRADE

The year 2023 will be a big one for graphic novel series for the youngest readers. Maureen Fergus and Alexandra Bye’s rollicking pet comedy series Weenie featuring Frank & Beans will chase 2022’s Mad about Meatloaf with more food fun in The Pancake Problem. Whereas in the first book, dachshund Weenie conscripted his cat and guinea pig friends (Frank and Beans) in his quixotic quest to obtain some meatloaf, this book sees the trio battling a malfunctioning machine that makes flapjacks.

Comic readers and 80’s nostalgia fans were delighted by the return of Jessica and Elizabeth Wakefield in graphic novel form last year with Sweet Valley Twins: Best Friends by Francine Pascal, Nicole Andelfinger,and Claudia Aguirre. They were a bit younger (now in middle-school), but dealing with those same school and sisterly concerns. In 2023’s Sweet Valley Twins: Teacher’s Pet, Elizabeth and Jessica take a page from Center Stage and find themselves competing for the leading role in their dance class.

Mason Dickerson’s Housecat Trouble was a true joy for cat lovers in 2022, as it featured a house with three cats – Buster, Nova, and Chauncey – some invisible spirits (that explains a lot, if you know cats) and tons of feline hijinks. Housecat Trouble: Lost and Found has our trio of cat friends discover a lost cat who may or may not be … a ghost? Spooky (but still adorable)!

For more of the creepy stuff, readers have Spooky Sleuths, a series begun in 2022 by Natasha Deen and Lissy Marlin in which friends Asim and Rokshar investigate strange phenomena in their town, X-Files-style. Rokshar, ever the skeptic, believes the paranormal activity can be explained by science, but Asim is not so sure, given how closely the events match Guyanese ghost stories. In 2023, readers have two new adventures to look forward to: Spooky Sleuths: Don’t Go Near the Water! and Spooky Sleuths: Fire in the Sky.

In the same creep-tastic vein is Kiersten White’s Sinister Summer series, in which the Sinister-Winterbottom siblings visit increasingly questionable summer vacation spots and end up solving a few mysteries along the way. This year will see the Sinister-Winterbottoms visiting an eerily normal summer camp where nothing is what it seems in Camp Creepy and far more bizarre science camp at the manor of Mr. Frank and Dr. Stein in Menacing Manor.

While the Sinister-Winterbottom siblings often encounter creepy circumstances, Travis NicholsThe Terribles are kids who are literal monsters: a vampire, alien, mummy, kaiju and more. Plus, they all live on an island called Creep’s Cove (which could be the title of a Sinister Summer book). 2022’s The Terribles: Welcome to Stubtoe Elementary introduced readers to the monster gang and included a slew of comics, charts, and fun activities. A Witch’s Last Resort, out later this year, introduces a new witch and chronicles a class election for next school overlord!

For the geeks, 2022 also had much to celebrate, including T.P. Jagger’s new series Hide and Geek, in which the GEEKs (Gina, Edgar, Elena, and Kevin) – four nerdy lifelong friends – solve a cryptic puzzle left by a famous toymaker in an attempt to save their town. Spoiler alert: they succeed, but a blogger begins casting doubt on their puzzle-solving powers. So the GEEKs saddle up again to take on another tremendous treasure hunt in The Treasure Test.

If reading about a group of four kids sounds appealing, but video games are more your thing, Player vs. Player: Ultimate Gaming Showdown by M.K. England and Chris Danger (!) might be your bag. Four kid gamers (“The Weird Ones”) take on 63 other teams in an epic tournament of Affinity, a battle-royale-style game. This year, Player vs. Player: Attack of the Bots brings back the kid games, now gone pro and with their own streaming channel. Only one problem: one-fourth of their crew – Wheatley – has gone missing!

While the Mapmakers graphic novels by Cameron Chittock and Amanda Castillo might sound like a young reader’s intro to cartography, Mapmakers and the Lost Magic actually introduces fans to a group of magical protectors long thought lost, until Alidade finds a secret door that leads to Blue, a magical creature called a memri who may help her protect the Valley from the merciless Night Coats. 2023’s Mapmakers and the Enchanted Mountain has Alidade and her allies ready to restore magic to the rest of the world outside the Valley – starting with a hidden Mountain village.

YOUNG ADULT

Winnipeg politician and author Wab Kinew’s The Floraverse began in 2022 with Walking in Two Worlds, where readers met Bugz, an Indigenous girl living on the Rez who happens to be a dominant player in a massive multiplayer online game called (what else?) the Floraverse. The Everlasting Road (which hit stores just this week!) follows Bugz’s adventures in the ‘Verse, as she builds a weapon and virtual friend Waawaate, who fills the hole left by the death of her brother – with, as you might expect, problematic results.

The Outlaws Scarlett and Browne by Jonathan Stroud introduced YA readers to an unforgettable duo of fugitives – one with the power to read minds, one with a way with weapons – running for their lives in a future England. The follow-up to the slam-bang, action-packed intro, The Notorious Scarlett and Browne, out later this year, brings the pair of renegades back. This time, they have to save their friends, who have been taken hostage, via a mission nothing short of impossible!

And The Night in Question by Kathleen Glasgow and Liz Lawson continues the adventures of Castle Cove’s mystery solving odd couple – Alice Ogilvie and Iris Adams – first seen in The Agathas. After cracking the case of Brooke Donovan’s death, the pair dig into a violent assault at their school dance which seems to be connected to the unsolved death at the same site of a film starlet decades prior.

Tundra Telegram: Books That Raise the Bar

Hello, and thanks for joining us at Tundra Telegram, the column where we articulate the issues readers are dreaming about, and Mat-tell you about some books that we figure you’ll love.

Like most of social media, the gang at Tundra Books were buzzing with the release of the trailer to filmmaker Greta Gerwig’s seemingly bananas film, Barbie. The teaser got us thinking about the other doll-based movie of 2023 we’re champing at the bit to watch: M3GAN. (Team-up when?) We’ve got dolls on the brain. Besides, who doesn’t want to unwrap a new doll as a holiday gift?

As a holiday present to you readers in this final Tundra Telegram of 2022, we’ve collected the best books featuring dolls that we publish. (Batteries not included.) See you with new recommendations in 2023!

PICTURE BOOKS

A little doll’s world is blown wide open in Gemma and the Giant Girl by Sara O’Leary and Marie Lafrance. Gemma lives in a forgotten dollhouse with her doll parents, never growing old and living a monotonous existence. But everything changes when a giant (!) opens the dollhouse and introduces her to the larger world, whether she likes it or not.

If you like stories about dolls, but wished they intersected more with modernist literature, Kafka and the Doll by Larissa Theule and Rebecca Green is the picture book for you! The author of some of the more surreal and absurd stories of the twentieth century was not inured to the charms of a doll. In 1923, when he encountered a girl distraught over the loss of her doll, the writer put his chops to the test by sending the girl letters in the hand of the doll, whom he suggested was traveling the world on grand adventures. (Now Franz Kafka’s Barbie is a movie I’d also like to see!)

It may lack a hot-pink palette and waterslide, but the dollhouse in Giselle Potter’s This Is My Dollhouse is a true testament to one girl’s creativity and imagination. A little girl proudly walks readers through her handmade dollhouse, pointing out the wallpaper she drew, the fancy clothes she made, and the little elevator she made out of a paper cup. But when she sees her friend Sophie’s “perfect” storebought house, her pride wavers. Soon, though, both girls realize how much more wonderful creative play can be.

We can’t pretend the holidays are barreling down upon us, and The All-I’ll-Ever-Want Christmas Doll by the late, great Patricia C. McKissack and Jerry Pinkney, is the perfect holiday doll book. Set during the Great Depression, Santa Claus doesn’t deliver presents to Nella’s family every year. But Nella’s really hoping that this year she and her two sisters will each get a beautiful Baby Betty doll. When the doll is unwrapped, Nella takes the doll and refuses to share before realizing – even with a really cool doll – it’s no fun to play by yourself.

Of course, there is a cornucopia of official Barbie books from which to select. If we were to highlight one, it would be seasonal favorite, Barbie: The Nutcracker (A Little Golden Book). Barbie stars as Clara in this retelling of the classic ballet. Does Ken play the Nutcracker or the Mouse King? You’ll have to read to find out for yourself!

And you’ll have to wait until July for The Story of Barbie and the Woman Who Created Her by Cindy Eagan and Amy Bates, but this picture book biography of Ruth Handler is worth the wait. After noticing how her daughter preferred to play with “grown-up” paper dolls rather than baby dolls, Handler designed a doll that would inspire little girls to use their huge imaginations to picture their futures, and wound up creating the most famous doll ever. If you preorder now, it should arrive just in time for the feature film!

CHAPTER BOOKS & MIDDLE GRADE

Before there was Barbie, there was Miss Kanagawa. The Friendship Doll by Kirby Larson is based on a real historical phenomenon: in the late 1920s, 58 friendship dolls were sent from Japan to America. This book follows the story of one such doll, Miss Kanagawa, and the stories of four American children who interact with her – from New York to Seattle, from the Great Depression to the modern day – like a handheld Forrest Gump.

Die-hard Barbie fans know it can be difficult to repair a plastic doll. But it wasn’t always this way. The Doll Shop Downstairs by Yona Zeldis McDonough and Heather Maione features Jewish sisters in New York City who play carefully with the dolls in their parents’ doll repair shop (!) until they’ve been fixed and need to be returned to their owners. When World War I breaks out, so does an embargo on German-made goods which threatens the shop, so it’s up to the sisters (naturally) to come up with a financial idea to save the family from poverty.

Of course, as readers get a bit older, the dolls get creepier. Case in point, the ultimate in creepy doll stories, The Dollhouse: A Ghost Story by Charis Cotter. When Alice heads to a small town where her mom finds work as a live-in nurse to an elderly woman, she discovers a dollhouse in the attic that’s an exact replica of the woman’s house. Soon she wakes to find a girl asleep next to her in her bed – a girl who looks like one of the dolls in the house, and things just get eerier from there.

That may remind you of the godmother of creepy doll books, The Dollhouse Murders by Betty Ren Wright, which is nearly 40 years old! As in Charis Cotter’s book, protagonist Amy begins to believe the dolls and the dollhouse are moving by themselves. And, stranger still, they may be trying to tell her something about how her great-grandparents died. The 35th anniversary edition even has a foreword from scary doll aficionado, R. L. Stine!

YOUNG ADULT

YA tends to not feature as many actual dolls, but we’d be remiss if we didn’t mention Raziel Reid’s over-the-top Barbie-themed satire Kens. At Willows High, a group of tyrannical, handsome gays – the Kens (not unlike their plastic namesakes) – rule over the student populace with Mean Girls-esque verve. Where can uncool queer Tommy Rawlins fit into this dangerous high school hierarchy? When he is given the chance to become the next Ken, should he take it? Is life in plastic really that fantastic?

Older readers often begin to get a taste for fashion design, and what better what to practice that than with Sewing Clothes for Barbie by Annabel Benilan? Readers can sew Barbie 24 stylish outfits, from aerobics outfits to ski wear – and even a mermaid costume (?). Without any knowledge of the behind-the-scenes process, I think it’s safe to say the Barbie film’s costume designer must have used this book as a principal reference.

Tundra Telegram: Books That Are Second to Nun

Hello, and thanks for joining us at Tundra Telegram, the column where we address the topics of the (holi)day, and offer some book recommendations we’re kvelling about – books that are anything but drei-dull.

There’s no escaping it; the holidays are right around the corner. Just this coming Sunday evening (December 18) will see the start of Hanukkah, the eight-day celebration to commemorate the rededication of the Second Temple in Jerusalem, where Jews rose up against their oppressors during the Maccabean Revolt in the second century BCE. It’s a holiday filled with song, games, menorah lightings, oily foods like latkes and sufganiyot, and books – at least it should be!

From the smallest kinder to readers who had their bar or bat mitzvahs long ago, we’ve got Hanukkah books for every age to read during the Festival of Lights. There might Macca-be one right for you! Chag sameach!

PICTURE BOOKS

Let’s start with the most important part of Hanukkah: the food. Latkes and Applesauce: A Hanukkah Story by Fran Manushkin and Kris Easle is the story of a stray cat and stray dog (named ‘Applesauce’ and ‘Latke’) who are taken in by the Menash family during a Hanukkah blizzard. The terrible weather dashes their hopes of harvesting apples or potatoes for either of their favorite Hanukkah eats, but the two animal guests may bring with them a brand-new miracle worthy of the holiday.

Likewise, Meet the Latkes by Canadian Alan Silberberg has potato fritters at its center – an entire family of them! Lucy Latke’s family celebrates Hanukkah, which includes a fractured retelling of the holiday legend from Grandpa Latke, who describes how the mighty Mega Bees (?) use a giant dreidel (?!) to fight against the evil alien potatoes.

The power of a good latke propels the plot in Eric A. Kimmel and Mike Wohnoutka’s Hanukkah Bear. Nearsighted Bubby Brayna makes the best latkes in the village. And the scent of her delicious potato pancakes attracts an unexpected visitor the first night of Hanukkah: a bear, wakened from hibernation! Brayna mistakes the lumbering beast for the Rabbi, and invites him in for food and few spins of the dreidel, proving Hanukkah can be enjoyed by everyone.

But if you have a young reader experiencing one of their first Hanukkahs, you may want to start with the reasons for the season. Enter Hanukkah: The Festival of Lights by Bonnie Bader and Joanie Stone. This Big Golden Book not only tells preschoolers how people usually celebrate Hanukkah – from the food eaten, the dreidels spun, and the gifts exchanged – but also why. Young readers will learn all about the destruction of the Temple, the bravery of the Maccabees, and the miracle of a tiny bit of oil that somehow lasted for eight nights.

David Martin and Melissa Sweet’s Hanukkah Lights similarly bring the winter holidays to life for the youngest readers, but on top of the usual traditions, adds a bit of free-form fun, including shadow puppetry (!), singing, and dancing.

Having trouble interesting young kids in the Festival of Lights? No arbet is too big, no quantity of oil too small! The PAW Patrol rushes to the rescue with Happy Hanukkah, Pups! Marshall, Skye, Rubble, and the rest of Ryder’s furry first-responders help their new friends Rachel and Jimmy decorate for a Hanukkah party. Along the way, they also help readers count from one to ten, with objects like dreidels, candles, and snowflakes.

Hershel and the Hanukkah Goblins by Eric A. Kimmel and Trina Schart Hyman is, by this point, a bonafide holiday classic. Based on a Ukrainian folktale, the book tells the story of folk hero Hershel of Ostropol, who, the first night of Hanukkah, arrives in a village where the villagers are too afraid of goblins haunting the synagogue to light the menorah. It’ll take a little cleverness on Hershel’s part to trick a series of goblins, one night after another, to help the locals truly celebrate the holiday.

Want your Hanukkah celebrations to get medieval? You need The Eight Knights of Hanukkah by Leslie Kimmelman and Galia Bernstein. A kingdom’s Hanukkah celebrations are disrupted by Dreadful the dragon, who is determined to scorch every dreidel and scarf up every sufganiyot. The kingdom must call upon eight special knights to perform deeds of kindness and bravery, in this fun interpretation of the holiday.

You may have noted the lack of a Santa-Claus-esque figure in Hanukkah. Author Arthur A. Levine and illustrator Kevin Hawkes have created an answer to that with The Hanukkah Magic of Nate Gadol, a picture book that introduces a mysterious gift-giver to the Jewish holiday. Set in late 1800s America, it features a miraculous figure who can make anything last as long as it is needed, whether it’s that legendary bit of oil that must stretch for eight nights, a flower that needs to stay fresh to keep someone cheerful, or a small lump of chocolate that grows to treat the entire family. Nate Gadol even teams up with St. Nick, in this Infinity War of holiday picture books.

Speaking of modern legends about Hanukkah, we’d be remiss if we didn’t talk about Richard Ungar’s Yitzi and the Giant Menorah. The Mayor of Lublin sends the people of Chelm a special gift: a giant menorah that they place in the square and gather around for the lighting each night of Hanukkah. The Chelm villagers try to figure out a fitting gift for the Mayor in return, and after multiple attempts, it’s Yitzi who figures out the perfect gift is sometimes . . . song.

There are also a few Hanukkah ditties in All-of-a-Kind Family Hanukkah by Emily Jenkins and Paul O. Zelinsky, featuring the characters from Sydney Taylor’s classic All-of-a-Kind Family, an immigrant family with five sisters living in New York’s Lower East Side in 1912, as they prepare for Hanukkah. Gertie, the youngest, is not allowed to help prepare the latkes, which bothers her to no end until she realizes – spoiler alert – she has the best job of all: lighting the first candle of the menorah.

A perfect gift for families that celebrate multiple holiday traditions, Daddy Christmas and Hanukkah Mama by Selina Alko, features Sadie’s family, who celebrate both Christmas and Hanukkah! (Watch out, Sandy and Kirsten Cohen.) Young readers can expect golden gelt under the Christmas tree, and candy canes hanging on eight menorah branches in this celebration of modern, blended traditions.

And Hanukkah, Here I Come! by D.J. Steinberg and Sara Palacios features a pile of funny and festival Hanukkah poems. Even better, the book comes with a sheet of Hanukkah stickers. So, if you’ve ever wanted to adorn your laptop or notebook with a menorah sticker, this is the book you need!

CHAPTER BOOKS & MIDDLE GRADE

An epic fantasy adventure inspired by Jewish traditions at Hanukkah? Yes, please. The Golden Dreidel by award-winning fantasy author Ellen Kushner has the adventure you crave, as Sara is gifted an enormous golden dreidel by her Tante Miriam that comes with a caveat: spinning the dreidel will spin literal miracles! So, she must be careful. But what kind of adventure would it be if Sara was careful? In no time at all, she’s spun herself into a dimension full of magical princesses, enigmatic riddles, and terrifying demons.

The only Jewish kid in school gets a new appreciation for the Festival of Lights in Amy Goldman Koss’s How I Saved Hanukkah. Marla Feinstein hates December. While everyone else is decorating trees, she forgets to light the candles on the menorah and stares at a big, plastic dreidel. Marla decides to find out what Hanukkah is really all about – and soon she has made Hanukkah the most happening holiday party in town.

Koss’s book has some genuinely funny moments, but for something to get you rolling with laughter, there’s always Hanukkah Mad Libs, in which young readers can fill in nouns, verbs, and adjectives in 21 Hanukkah-themed stories. The book is sure to be a shamash hit with kids who love funny stuff.

YOUNG ADULT

There aren’t too many YA books with a Hanukkah plot or theme, but an exception is the brand-new bubbly romance Eight Nights of Flirting by Hannah Reynolds. Sixteen-year-old Shira Barbanel has a mission to get a boyfriend over Hanukkah, she’s going to get a boyfriend. She even has a boy in mind – reliable and super-hot Isaac – but she is terrible at flirting. When she gets snowed in with Tyler Nelson, her nemesis and former crush, who is perhaps the most charming boy in school, she offers up a trade: flirting tips for career connections. (I think you can see where this is going.) Check out this holiday rom-com that’s hotter than an oiled pan.

And the anthology It’s a Whole Spiel: Love, Latkes, and Other Jewish Stories, edited by Katherine Locke and Laura Silverman, features a number of stories – some of which take place during Hanukkah! In particular, the stories “Jewbacca” by Lance Rubin, about a very secular boy invited to a disastrous Hanukkah dinner by the rabbi’s daughter, and “Some Days You’re the Sidekick; Some Days You’re the Superhero” by Katherine Locke, which tells the story of Gabe, who writes fanfiction of the X-Men as the Maccabees (!), most directly deal with the holiday. If your Hanukkah has Wolverine, count me in!