Hello, and thanks for joining us at Tundra Telegram, the column where we dig down into the themes that have readers agitated and recommend some books for literary bliss and feeling good.
This Thursday, Tundra publicists Evan and Sam will venture out to another concert together (following a successful outing to Carly Rae Jepsen and Bleachers) – this time to see British space-paranoia prog rockers Muse at their Toronto concert date at the Rogers Centre, where much melodic caterwauling and epic guitars will be heard.
To celebrate, we’ve assembled children’s books – from picture books to YA – that sound like they should be Muse songs (whether or not the content of the books fit the band’s themes of technological fear, government oppression, and/or visitors from outer space at all). Plug in, baby, and enjoy!
With a title that sounds like it could be a 10-minute, three-act epic from the boys in Muse, Time Is a Flower by Julie Morstad is a playful and poignant exploration of the nature of time and a 2021 New York Times/New York Public Library Best Illustrated Children’s Book. From a seed that grows into a tree to a memory captured in a photo and a sunbeam that crosses the floor, this book will have kids thinking about time in ways like never before.
The Darkest Dark by Chris Hadfield, Kate Fillion, and The Fan Brothers was written by an actual astronaut, and definitely has a title about outer space poetic enough to make our list. “The darkest dark” of the title refers to outer space, a place young Chris Hadfield dreams of exploring as an astronaut – a dream that intensifies as he family watches the 1969 moon landing. Only one problem: he needs to get over his fear of the dark at bedtime.
The songs of Muse tend to stay above ground (and far above in some cases – into outer space), but we can’t help but think The Aquanaut by Jill Heinerth and Jaime Kim would fit their oeuvre. The content at first seems far from Muse lyrics: the book is about a girl who feels too young and too far away from her dreams of exploring the world. But she imagines things like her bedroom as a space station and her body growing flippers or tusks. (Now we’re talking!) The book looks at how the author Heinerth’s childhood wonder led to her accomplishments and experiences as an underwater explorer and photographer.
Blips on a Screen may be all that we are on a Supreme Being’s iPad, but it’s also a book by Kate Hannigan and Zachariah OHora about Ralph Baer, a pioneer in the video game revolution. This picture book biography chronicles how a refugee from Nazi Germany used his tech skills to make video games you could play in your own home a reality. Not only did he create the blueprint for the first home video game console, he invented the Simon electronic game!
The extraterrestrial and intergalactic become the intimate in The Stuff of Stars by Marion Dane Bauer and Ekua Holmes. The book blends science and art, describing how the Big Bang that began the universe hurled stardust everywhere, and the ash of those stars turned into planets – and into us! We are all the stuff of stars, and this picture book describes just how that happened!
Resist! by Diane Stanley sounds like a Muse track, though the subtitle Peaceful Acts That Changed Our World makes it sound a little less metal. Nevertheless, young readers will be inspired by these accounts of activists who fought back with music and marches, sit-ins and walk-outs to defend the disenfranchised and demand reform, refusing to back down even in the face of violent oppression. And since Muse sings “love is our resistance,” maybe this picture book is the most fitting comparison title!
CHAPTER BOOKS & MIDDLE GRADE
Apocalypse abounds in both the songs of Muse and Eric Walters’s Fourth Dimension, a look at one teenager and her family in the midst of the disintegration of society after a massive and mysterious outage that knocks out all modern amenities. Emma and her family canoe to an isolated island, but find they are far from safe, as people become increasingly desperate to find food and shelter. Time to panic!
Pluto Rocket by Paul Gilligan technically has a subtitle – New in Town – that makes it sound less like a song. But “Pluto Rocket” itself is a perfect Muse song. Plus, the graphic novel for young readers is all about an alien! This alien happens to be very friendly and just wants to find out what life in the neighborhood (a.k.a. Earth) is really like, and luckily, she meets a streetwise pigeon (Joe Pidge) who is very happy to inform her.
What is a “ghostlight”? It sounds intriguing yet celestial enough to be a Matt Bellamy metaphor, but Ghostlight is actually a supernatural spook-fest from acclaimed and bestselling author Kenneth Oppel. Gabe, a young tour guide at a historic lighthouse, accidentally awakens the ghost of a dead girl, and has to join forces with her to protect the world of the living from a malevolent and terrifying ghost named Viker.
Middle school meets a sci-fi epic in Michael Merschel’s Revenge of the Star Survivors, a book which could double for another of Muse’s more prog-rocky, multi-movement compositions. Clark Sherman is an eighth-grader obsessed with the sci-fi show Star Survivors, and views everything in his miserable new school through the lens of the show, whether it be hostile natives (violent bullies) or his fiendishly evil Principal Denton. But then he meets a few kindred spirits who make him realize he’s not alone in this world.
Canadian Wesley King wrote the book Dragons vs. Drones, in which a young computer genius transports himself into a realm populated by giant dragons (and – sometimes – people who ride them), pursued by deadly sleek, high-tech government drones. Given Muse did a whole album just about drones, you know this is right up their alley.
Fewer YA book titles match that fear of technology so prevalent in Muse songs than Killer Content by Kiley Roache. And in the case of the book, there are many reasons to be afraid, as a group of famous TikTokers descend into paranoia and backstabbing when one of them is found dead in the infinity pool at their beachfront Malibu mansion, And no amount of “stitching” will put them back together again!
Of course, there’s also Chaos Theory by Nic Stone, with a title we’re shocked isn’t already the name of a Muse song. The book has less to do with that mathematical concept that Jeff Goldblum talks about in Jurassic Park, and more to do with unlikely romances. Two teens – one, a certified genius living with a diagnosed mental disorder, and the other a politician’s son who is running from his own addiction and grief – find something in each other. But their connection threatens to pull their universes apart the closer they get to one another.
Terrors from above abound in the songs of Muse, which is why Hunted by the Sky by Tanaz Bhathena is a perfect fit for this list. The book follows a young heroine, Gul, on a journey of discovery, warrior magic, and forbidden romance in a fantasy world (Ambar) inspired largely by Indian history and myth. And while the novel is more in the realm of fantasy than technological apocalypse, the title alone makes it the right choice here.
We can’t talk about the songs of Muse without noting that Iron Widow by Xiran Jay Zhao (now out in paperback!) would double as a perfect song title – and even song concept. Giant transforming robots piloted by teenagers that can battle aliens outside the Great Wall of China? And the girls die from the process until 18-year-old Zetian demonstrates she’s able to reverse the process? Muse wishes they thought up a song with that plot!
In the realm of YA books that have fitting titles, but stories that may be less so falls Free Radicals by Lila Reisen. The book does have some thematic connections – fighting power and injustice – since it follows Afghan-American Mafi’s calamitous sophomore year in high school when she accidentally exposes family secrets, putting her family back in Afghanistan in danger. This is all done as she is dispensing small doses of justice as the school’s secret avenger “the Ghost of Santa Margarita High.”
Finding Jupiter by Kelis Rowe can fit in that same category. The title makes the story seem interplanetary, but its story of a fraught but star-crossed romance set against the backdrop of a Memphis roller rink is down-to-earth in its poignancy. It also features a fair deal of found poetry – and what is poetry if not lyrics?
Though it could refer to a computer network outage, Black Internet Effect by Shavone Charles and illustrated by Alex Lukashevsky actually outlines the author, musician, model, and technology executive’s epic journey through Google, Twitter, and more, and how it shaped her mission to make space for herself and other young women of color both in the online and physical worlds.
No, it’s not the new album from Muse. It’s the new YA novel from Morgan Rhodes: Echoes and Empires! In a world where magic is rare, illegal, and always deadly, one girl – Josslyn Drake – finds herself infected by a dangerous piece of magic after a robbery gone wrong at the Queen’s Gala. Now sharing the memories of an infamously evil warlock, Joss needs the magic removed before it corrupts her soul and kills her. But who can she trust to help her when practicing magic comes with a death penalty?
Finally, what would a Muse-song-like-titles list be without at least one entry from bestselling science fiction writer Brandon Sanderson? We’ve narrowed it down to one book: Cytonic. The third in Sanderson’s Skyward series, it stars Spensa, a girl who becomes a Defiant Defense Force pilot and travels beyond the stars to save the world she loves from destruction. And in this installment of the series, Spensa learns about the alien weapon that the Superiority – the governing galactic alliance bent on dominating all human life – plans to use in their war, and desperately seeks a way to stop it.