Hello, and thanks for joining us at Tundra Telegram, the column where we’re unapologetic about recommending books for topics that readers have on the brain.
This weekend, one of the world’s largest sporting events will be held. And every year, that sporting event features an intermission that boasts some of the biggest, most elaborate musical performances of the year (sometimes even overshadowing the game). This tradition goes back to the 1990s, when record-breaking musicians took over the intermission from marching bands.
This Sunday, February 12, Barbadian singer, actress, and businesswoman Rihanna will perform this show, so we’ve gone through our library of children’s and YA titles to suggest some perfect book pairings to match your favorite Rihanna single. Sit back and relax; we’re about to talk that talk.
“Umbrella”: The color of the brolly in Rihanna’s hit single isn’t described (because it’s largely metaphorical), but The Pink Umbrella by Amelie Callot and Geneviève Godbout matches the song perfectly. For it is raining more than ever in café owner Adele’s life, but her friends and customers let her know – in one way or another – they’ll always be her friend.
“What’s My Name?”:Anoosha Syed’s picture book That’s Not My Name! shares the song’s interest in knowing names and loving your own. And when Mirha’s classmates begin – after a little coaching – to pronounce her name correctly, she thinks to herself, They’re so amazing, they took the time to figure me out. (And, like featured artist Drake, Syed also hails from Toronto.)
“Work”: Nobody tells Duck he has to work, but in Sonny Ross’s Duck Gets a Job, career-focused Duck decides he needs a job in the city. Duck gets that job to make that bread (presumably to eat), but finds himself bored with the drudgery of spreadsheets, sitting in a cubicle, and filing reports. (Join the club, Duck!) Our feathered friend quits to find new work in another field and finds not all work makes him feel like dirt.
“Shut Up and Drive”: Few picture books can match the feeling of bombing around in a hot rod like Rihanna’s ode to car culture more than Wheels, No Wheelsby Shannon McNeill. Sure, the tractor, bicycle, and skateboard that a llama, cat, and turtle thieve from their farm may not be rides smoother than a limousine, but the farm animals and the book’s humor have momentum to spare.
“Rude Boy”: There’s nothing ruder than selfishly claiming a row of bushes for your own and not letting any other animals live there. Especially when it’s winter! That’s why Hedgehogby Ashlyn Anstee is our choice for “rude boy.” He kicks out birds, squirrels, groundhogs (last week throwback) out of his hedge before things go a little “boom boom boom,” and he learns a few important lessons.
CHAPTER BOOKS & MIDDLE GRADE
“B*tch Better Have My Money”: Gabby, Priya, and Mindy learn about both accounts payable and dogs in the graphic novel PAWS: Gabby Gets It Together by Nathan Fairbairn and Michele Assarasakorn. The trio combine their shared love of animals and shared inability to have pets of their own and turn it into a lucrative dogwalking business. Things are fun for a while, but like RiRi, they soon learn the dangers of combining friendship and money.
“Diamonds”: Twelve-year-old Piper’s astronaut-slash-television-host hero frequently shouts the catchphrase “shine on” in the novel Shine! by J.J. and Chris Grabenstein. It’s a phrase which would not be out of place in this hit single. But Piper, newly arrived at Chumley Prep where every kid seems to be the best at something, does not feel bright like a diamond. In time, she discovers the brightest diamonds don’t shine just for themselves.
“Stay”: I want you to stay, is what young Bea says when her parents divorce in The List of Things That Will Not Change by Rebecca Stead. But the sentiment is not directed to one parent or another, but rather her life, which is rapidly going through changes. That’s why she keeps a green notebook with the titular list – so she knows that when her dad remarries, when she gains a new stepsister, there are certain things that will always stay true.
“Only Girl (in the World)”: In Red Fox Roadby Frances Greenslade, thirteen-year-old Francie feels like she’s the only girl in the world. Mainly because she finds herself stranded in the wilderness after a number of mishaps during a family vacation. Only her survival skills – not love – will keep her alive.
“Disturbia”: For one of Rihanna’s spookiest songs, we recommend one of the scariest YA novels in recent years: There’s Someone Inside Your House by Stephanie Perkins. Combining steamy romance and blood-soaked horror with equal aplomb (just like the song), the book follows Makani Young, new to her Nebraska town, as she tries to find a little romance while students at her high school die in increasingly gruesome ways.
“Don’t Stop the Music”: It may be hard to imagine a single Rihanna song making it onto the subject of Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan. But the playlist is infinite in this late-night love story in which two music fans trawl NYC’s bars and clubs to find a legendary band’s secret performance, so by definition, it will not stop.
“Love the Way You Lie”: Okay, technically this is an Eminem song, but nevertheless it showcases Rihanna and is a great companion to YA novel No Filter and Other Liesby Crystal Maldonado. Fat, brown, bisexual Kat creates a fake Instagram account for “Max” in a moment of weakness, populating it with photos of her thin, white friend Becca. Kat begins to thrive in her fake online persona. But when the truth is revealed, will Kat’s life be ruined? No matter what, readers will very much love the way the messy and very human Kat lies.
“We Found Love”: What more hopeless place is there than 1950s Red Scare America for two lesbians to find love? That’s the setting of Last Night at the Telegraph Club by Malinda Lo, in which Chinese American Lily Hu falls for white American Kathleen Miller in a Chinatown lesbian bar. While their romance blossoms, anti-Chinese and homophobic sentiment threatens to end their connection at every turn.
“Love on the Brain”: If romance and grey matter are what you’re looking for, you need Alexene Farol Follmuth’s My Mechanical Romance, in which two robotics team members fall for each other and find they soon have more than transistors and college applications on their minds.
We’d love to hear more Rihanna book recommendations from you, so suggest your picks in the comments!
Here at Penguin Random House Canada, we’re lucky to work with so many different publisher lists. This holiday season, we’ll be highlighting each one with a dedicated post to help you find the perfect gift (or your next read). Today’s post is all about Penguin Young Readers.
All My Rage By Sabaa Tahir 384 Pages | Ages 14+ | Hardcover ISBN 9780593202340 | Razorbill Lahore, Pakistan. Then. Misbah is a dreamer and storyteller, newly married to Toufiq in an arranged match. After their young life is shaken by tragedy, they come to the United States and open the Clouds’ Rest Inn Motel, hoping for a new start. Juniper, California. Now. Salahudin and Noor are more than best friends; they are family. Growing up as outcasts in the small desert town of Juniper, California, they understand each other the way no one else does. Until The Fight, which destroys their bond with the swift fury of a star exploding. Now, Sal scrambles to run the family motel as his mother Misbah’s health fails and his grieving father loses himself to alcoholism. Noor, meanwhile, walks a harrowing tightrope: working at her wrathful uncle’s liquor store while hiding the fact that she’s applying to college so she can escape him – and Juniper – forever. When Sal’s attempts to save the motel spiral out of control, he and Noor must ask themselves what friendship is worth – and what it takes to defeat the monsters in their pasts and the ones in their midst. From one of today’s most cherished and bestselling young adult authors comes a breathtaking novel of young love, old regrets, and forgiveness – one that’s both tragic and poignant in its tender ferocity.
Busy Betty By Reese Witherspoon Illustrated by Xindi Yan 40 Pages | Ages 3-7 | Hardcover ISBN 9780593465882 | Flamingo Books Busy Betty has always been busy . . . even when she was just a baby! When Betty gives Frank a big hug, she realizes he needs a bath, PRONTO! Her best friend, Mae, is coming over, and Betty can’t have the smelliest dog in the whole world! But giving Frank a bath is harder than she thought and just when everything seems impossible, with Mae’s help, Betty learns she can accomplish anything with perseverance, teamwork, and one great idea. From Reese Witherspoon comes a smart and larger-than-life character who encourages young readers to celebrate what makes them unique and realize that anything is possible!
ChupaCarter By George Lopez with Ryan Calejo Illustrated by Santy Gutierrez 272 Pages | Ages 8-12 | Hardcover ISBN 9780593465974 | Razorbill Twelve-year-old Jorge is a misunderstood middle school misfit who has been sent to live with his grandparents in New Mexico. After catching the attention of his belligerent principal and the school bullies on his very first day of school, Jorge is lonely, resentful, and desperate for a friend. But the only kid who shares his interest in junk food and games turns out to be a young chupacabra – a legendary monster with a fearsome reputation! The truth is, Carter is anything but savage – he’s kind, a good listener, and has great taste in sneakers. For Jorge, being friends with a mythical creature is awesome. But when local cattle turn up dead and his principal – who’s obsessed with hunting – learns of Carter’s existence, Jorge must play a dangerous game of cat and mouse to keep his friend safe.
Echoes and Empires Morgan Rhodes 400 Pages | Ages 12+ | Hardcover ISBN 9780593351659 | Razorbill Josslyn Drake knows only three things about magic: it’s rare, illegal, and always deadly. So when she’s caught up in a robbery gone wrong at the Queen’s Gala and infected by a dangerous piece of magic – one that allows her to step into the memories of an infamously evil warlock – she finds herself living her worst nightmare. Joss needs the magic removed before it corrupts her soul and kills her. But in Ironport, the cost of doing magic is death, and seeking help might mean scheduling her own execution. There’s nobody she can trust. Nobody, that is, except wanted criminal Jericho Nox, who offers her a deal: his help extracting the magic in exchange for the magic itself. And though she’s not thrilled to be working with a thief, especially one as infuriating (and infuriatingly handsome) as Jericho, Joss is desperate enough to accept. But Jericho is nothing like Joss expects. The closer she grows to Jericho and the more she sees of the world outside her pampered life in the city, the more Joss begins to question the beliefs she’s always taken for granted – beliefs about right and wrong, about power and magic, and even about herself. In an empire built on lies, the truth may be her greatest weapon.
Green Is for Christmas By Drew Daywalt Illustrated by Oliver Jeffers 32 Pages | Ages 4–8 | Hardcover ISBN 9780593353387 | Philomel Books When Green Crayon claims that green is the only color for Christmas, other crayons let him know that there would be no Christmas without them either. No candy canes or Santa without Red, no snow without White, no bells or stars without Silver, and no cookies or reindeer without Tan! The crayons agree that they all need to come together to make Christmas special. This humorous, small hardcover Christmas story is the perfect stocking stuffer and a great gift for fans of The Day The Crayons Quit – and all kids who like to color.
Singing with Elephants Margarita Engle 224 Pages | Ages 8-12 | Hardcover ISBN 9780593206690 | Viking Books for Young Readers Cuban-born eleven-year-old Oriol lives in Santa Barbara, California, where she struggles to belong. But most of the time that’s okay, because she enjoys helping her parents care for the many injured animals at their veterinary clinic. Then Gabriela Mistral, the first Latin American winner of a Nobel Prize in Literature moves to town, and aspiring writer Oriol finds herself opening up. And when she discovers that someone is threatening the life of a baby elephant at her parents’ clinic, Oriol is determined to take action. As she begins to create a world of words for herself, Oriol learns it will take courage and strength to do what she thinks is right – even if it means keeping secrets from those she loves. A beautifully written, lyrically told story about the power of friendship – between generations, between humans and animals – and the potential of poetry to inspire action, justice, and acceptance.
That’s Not My Name! by Anoosha Syed 40 Pages | Ages 3-5 | Hardcover ISBN 9780593405178 | Viking Books for Young Readers Mirha is so excited for her first day of school! She can’t wait to learn, play, and make new friends. But when her classmates mispronounce her name, she goes home wondering if she should find a new one. Maybe then she’d be able to find a monogrammed keychain at the gas station or order a hot chocolate at the cafe more easily. Mama helps Mirha to see how special her name is, and she returns to school the next day determined to help her classmates say it correctly – even if it takes a hundred tries.
The Life and Crimes of Hoodie Rosen Isaac Blum 224 Pages | Ages 12+ | Hardcover ISBN 9780593525821 | Philomel Books Hoodie Rosen’s life isn’t that bad. Sure, his entire Orthodox Jewish community has just picked up and moved to the quiet, mostly non-Jewish town of Tregaron, but Hoodie’s world hasn’t changed that much. He’s got basketball to play, studies to avoid, and a supermarket full of delicious kosher snacks to eat. The people of Tregaron aren’t happy that so many Orthodox Jews are moving in at once, but that’s not Hoodie’s problem. That is, until he meets and falls for Anna-Marie Diaz-O’Leary – who happens to be the daughter of the obstinate mayor trying to keep Hoodie’s community out of the town. And things only get more complicated when Tregaron is struck by a series of antisemitic crimes that quickly escalate to deadly violence. As his community turns on him for siding with the enemy, Hoodie finds himself caught between his first love and the only world he’s ever known. Isaac Blum delivers a wry, witty debut novel about a deeply important and timely subject, in a story of hatred and betrayal – and the friendships we find in the most unexpected places.
This Book is Not a Present By Max Greenfield Illustrated by Mike Lowery 40 Pages | Ages 4-8 | Hardcover ISBN 9780593462362 | G.P. Putnam’s Sons BFYR We all know kids who carry a book everywhere they go. Kids who can’t stop reading, even if it’s long after bedtime. Kids who love nothing more than sitting quietly in the corner, turning page after page . . . this book is a love letter to all the other kids. The ones who wouldn’t dream of asking for a book as a present. The ones who unwrap the box hoping to find anything – a dog, a skateboard, even socks – besides a book. Packed with clever, fourth-wall-breaking gags from Max Greenfield (New Girl) and eye-popping art from New York Times bestselling illustrator Mike Lowery, this ideal read-aloud may not wag its tail or come with wheels, but it’s sure to have even the most reluctant bibliophiles laughing all the way to the end.
Thirst Varsha Bajaj 192 Pages | Ages 10+ | Hardcover ISBN 9780593354391 | Nancy Paulsen Books Minni lives in the poorest part of Mumbai, where access to water is limited to a few hours a day and the communal taps have long lines. Lately, though, even that access is threatened by severe water shortages and thieves who are stealing this precious commodity – an act that Minni accidentally witnesses one night. Meanwhile, in the high-rise building where she just started to work, she discovers that water streams out of every faucet and there’s even a rooftop swimming pool. What Minni also discovers there is one of the water mafia bosses. Now she must decide whether to expose him and risk her job and maybe her life. How did something as simple as access to water get so complicated?
The Forest of Reading® is Canada’s largest recreational reading program. This initiative of the Ontario Library Association offers seven reading programs to encourage a love of reading in people of all ages. The Forest helps celebrate Canadian books, publishers, authors, and illustrators. Here at Tundra Book Group and Friends, we’d like to congratulate our nominated authors and illustrators.
2023 Blue Spruce Award™️ Nominee
Rodney Was a Tortoise By Nan Forler Illustrated by Yong Ling Kang 40 Pages | Ages 3-7 | Hardcover ISBN 9780735266629 | Tundra Books Bernadette and Rodney are the best of friends. Rodney’s not so good at playing cards, but he’s great at staring contests. His favorite food is lettuce, though he eats it VERRRRRRY SLOOOOOWLY. And he’s such a joker! When Bernadette goes to sleep at night, Rodney is always there, watching over her from his tank. As the seasons pass, Rodney moves slower and slower, until one day he stops moving at all. Without Rodney, Bernadette feels all alone. She can’t stop thinking about him, but none of her friends seem to notice. Except for Amar. Rodney Was a Tortoise is a moving story about friendship and loss. It shows the importance of expressing kindness and empathy, especially in life’s most difficult moments.
That’s Not My Name! By Anoosha Syed 40 Pages | Ages 3-5 | Hardcover ISBN 9780593405178 | Penguin Young Readers Group Mirha is so excited for her first day of school! She can’t wait to learn, play, and make new friends. But when her classmates mispronounce her name, she goes home wondering if she should find a new one. Maybe then she’d be able to find a monogrammed keychain at the gas station or order a hot chocolate at the cafe more easily. Mama helps Mirha to see how special her name is, and she returns to school the next day determined to help her classmates say it correctly – even if it takes a hundred tries.
2023 Red Maple Award™️ Nominees
The Bear House By Meaghan McIsaac 272 Pages | Ages 10-14 | Hardcover ISBN 9780823452620 | Holiday House Moody Aster and her spoiled sister Ursula are the daughters of Jasper Lourdes, Bear Major and high king of the realm. Rivals, both girls dream of becoming the Bear queen someday, although neither really deserve to, having no particular talent in… well, anything. But when their Uncle Bram murders their father in a bid for the crown, the girls are forced onto the run, along with lowly Dev the Bearkeeper and the half-grown grizzly Alcor, symbol of their house. As a bitter struggle for the throne consumes the kingdom in civil war, the sisters must rely on Dev, the bear cub, and each other to survive – and find wells of courage, cunning, and skill they never knew they had.
Children of the Fox: Thieves of Shadow #1 By Kevin Sands 416 Pages | Ages 8-12 | Paperback ISBN 9780735270435 | Puffin Canada A magic-infused fantasy that brings together a ragtag group of kids to pull off a crime so difficult, countless adults have already tried and failed. Lured by the promise of more money than they’ve ever dreamed of, five young criminals are hired to steal a heavily guarded treasure from the most powerful sorcerer in the city. There’s Callan the con artist, Meriel the expert at acrobatics (and knives!), Gareth the researcher, Lachlan who can obtain anything, and Foxtail, whose mysterious eyeless mask doesn’t hinder her ability to climb walls like a spider. Though their shadowy backgrounds mean that they’ve never trusted anyone but themselves, the five must learn to rely on each other in order to get the job done. But as Callan has been warned most of his life, it’s best to stay away from magic. It can turn on you at any moment, and make you think you’re the one running the con game, when in reality you’re the one being fooled. Faced with these unsurmountable odds, can the new friends pull off this legendary heist, or has their luck finally run out?
Walking in Two Worlds By Wab Kinew 296 Pages | Ages 12+ | Hardcover ISBN 9780735269002 | Penguin Teen Canada Bugz is caught between two worlds. In the real world, she’s a shy and self-conscious Indigenous teen who faces the stresses of teenage angst and life on the Rez. But in the virtual world, her alter ego is not just confident but dominant in a massively multiplayer video game universe. Feng is a teen boy who has been sent from China to live with his aunt, a doctor on the Rez, after his online activity suggests he may be developing extremist sympathies. Meeting each other in real life, as well as in the virtual world, Bugz and Feng immediately relate to each other as outsiders and as avid gamers. And as their connection is strengthened through their virtual adventures, they find that they have much in common in the real world, too: both must decide what to do in the face of temptations and pitfalls, and both must grapple with the impacts of family challenges and community trauma. But betrayal threatens everything Bugz has built in the virtual world, as well as her relationships in the real world, and it will take all her newfound strength to restore her friendship with Feng and reconcile the parallel aspects of her life: the traditional and the mainstream, the east and the west, the real and the virtual.
2023 Silver Birch Express Fiction Award®️ Nominee
Crimson Twill: Witch in the City By Kallie George Illustrated by Brigitta Sif 64 Pages | Ages 7-9 | Hardcover ISBN 9781536214635 | Candlewick Crimson Twill is a little witch, but you might not know it. She lives in the country and loves polka dots and puppies instead of pointy shoes and black dresses. She even wears a big bow on her hat – which is crimson, just like her name. Tonight, for the very first time, Crimson is riding on her mother’s broom all the way to New Wart City to go shopping at Broomingdale’s! The huge department store has everything a witch could itch for. For Crimson, each floor (hats! cats! brooms!) is a new adventure. But is Broomingdale’s ready for a witch as unique as Crimson? A rich and playful new world comes to life in the first book of this charming series.
Flipping Forward Twisting Backward By Alma Fullerton Illustrated by Sarah Mensinga 144 Pages | Ages 8-12 | Hardcover ISBN 9781682633663 | Peachtree The gym is where Claire shines and she’s on her way to qualifying for the state championships. But at school, she’s known as a troublemaker – which is fine with her since it helps her hide her reading problem. Claire has never been able to make sense of the wobbling jumble of letters on a page. When a sympathetic principal wonders if she’s acting out because she may have dyslexia, she’s stunned. Claire has always assumed she’s dumb, so she’s eager to get evaluated. But her mother balks. Afraid Claire will be labeled “stupid,” she refuses testing. Can Claire take on both her reading challenges and her mother’s denial? Is it worth jeopardizing her dream of the state championships? Told in clear and poignant verse and featuring black and white illustrations, Claire’s struggle with something that seems to come easily to everyone else will resonate with readers and have them cheering her on.
Pink, Blue, and You! Questions for Kids about Gender Stereotypes By Elise Gravel and Mykaell Blais 40 Pages | Ages 4-8 | Hardcover ISBN 9780593178638 | Ann Schwartz Books Is it okay for boys to cry? Can girls be strong? Should girls and boys be given different toys to play with and different clothes to wear? Should we all feel free to love whoever we choose to love? In this incredibly kid-friendly and easy-to-grasp picture book, author-illustrator Elise Gravel and transgender collaborator Mykaell Blais raise these questions and others relating to gender roles, acceptance, and stereotyping. With its simple language, colorful illustrations, engaging backmatter that showcases how “appropriate” male and female fashion has changed through history, and even a poster kids can hang on their wall, here is the ideal tool to help in conversations about a multi-layered and important topic.
2023 Silver Birch Fiction Award® Nominees
Sneaks By Catherine Egan 336 Pages | Ages 8-12 | Hardcover ISBN 9780593306406 | Knopf BFYR When Ben Harp sees his teacher’s watch crawling across the hallway, he thinks he must be dreaming. But no, he’s just seen his first Sneak – an interdimensional mischief-maker that can borrow the form of any ordinary object. He figured this school year would be bad – his best friend moved away, the class bully is circling, and he’s stuck doing a group project with two similarly friendless girls, Charlotte and Akemi. Still, he wasn’t expecting aliens! And he certainly wasn’t expecting that the woman he and Charlotte and Akemi are assigned to interview for their “living local history” project would be a Sneak expert. Or that she’d foist an old book on them to keep safe . . . and then disappear. Now Ben, Charlotte, and Akemi are trying to understand a book that seems to contain a coded map while being pursued by violent clothes hangers, fire-spitting squirrels, and more. The Sneaks want that book! And they want something else, too: to pull a vastly more dangerous creature into the world with them. Can three misfit kids decode the book in time to stop an alien takeover? And if they do, will they get extra credit on their group project?
The Stone Child: The Misewa Saga #3 By David A. Robertson 256 Pages | Ages 10+ | Hardcover ISBN 9780735266162 | Puffin Canada After discovering a near-lifeless Eli at the base of the Great Tree, Morgan knows she doesn’t have much time to save him. And it will mean asking for help – from friends old and new. Racing against the clock, and with Arik and Emily at her side, Morgan sets off to follow the trail away from the Great Tree to find Eli’s soul before it’s too late. As they journey deep into the northern woods, a place they’ve been warned never to enter, they face new challenges and life-threatening attacks from strange and horrifying creatures. But a surprise ally comes to their aid, and Morgan finds the strength to focus on what’s most important: saving her brother’s life.
2023 Yellow Cedar Award Nominees
The Hanmoji Handbook By Jason Li, An Xiao Mina, and Jennifer 8. Lee Illustrated by Jason Li 160 Pages | Ages 14+ | Hardcover ISBN 9781536219135 | MITeen Press Even though their dates of origin are millennia apart, the languages of Chinese and emoji share similarities that the average smartphone user might find surprising. These “hanmoji” parallels offer an exciting new way to learn Chinese – and a fascinating window into the evolution of Chinese Han characters. Packed with fun illustrations and engaging descriptions, The Hanmoji Handbook brings to life the ongoing dialogue between the visual elements of Chinese characters and the language of emoji. At once entertaining and educational, this unique volume holds sure appeal for readers who use emojis, anyone interested in learning Chinese, and those who love quirky, visual gift books.
2023 White Pine Award™️ Nominees
Iron Widow By Xiran Jay Zhao 400 Pages | Ages 14+ | Hardcover ISBN 9780735269934 | Penguin Teen Canada The boys of Huaxia dream of pairing up with girls to pilot Chrysalises, giant transforming robots that can battle the mecha aliens that lurk beyond the Great Wall. It doesn’t matter that the girls often die from the mental strain. When 18-year-old Zetian offers herself up as a concubine-pilot, it’s to assassinate the ace male pilot responsible for her sister’s death. But she gets her vengeance in a way nobody expected – she kills him through the psychic link between pilots and emerges from the cockpit unscathed. She is labeled an Iron Widow, a much-feared and much-silenced kind of female pilot who can sacrifice boys to power up Chrysalises instead. To tame her unnerving yet invaluable mental strength, she is paired up with Li Shimin, the strongest and most controversial male pilot in Huaxia. But now that Zetian has had a taste of power, she will not cower so easily. She will miss no opportunity to leverage their combined might and infamy to survive attempt after attempt on her life, until she can figure out exactly why the pilot system works in its misogynist way – and stop more girls from being sacrificed.
Wrong Side of the Court By H. N. Khan 312 Pages | Ages 12+ | Hardcover ISBN 9780735270879 | Penguin Teen Canada Fifteen-year-old Fawad Chaudhry loves two things: basketball and his mother’s potato and ground-beef stuffed parathas. Both are round and both help him forget about things like his father, who died two years ago, his mother’s desire to arrange a marriage to his first cousin, Nusrat, back home in Pakistan, and the tiny apartment in Regent Park he shares with his mom and sister. Not to mention his estranged best friend Yousuf, who’s coping with the shooting death of his older brother. But Fawad has plans: like, asking out Ashley, even though she lives on the other, wealthier side of the tracks, and saving his friend Arif from being beaten into a pulp for being the school flirt, and making the school basketball team and dreaming of being the world’s first Pakistani to be drafted into the NBA. All he has to do now is convince his mother to let him try out for the basketball team. And let him date girls from his school. Not to mention somehow get Omar, the neighborhood bully, to leave him alone.
I Am Not Starfire By Mariko Tamaki Illustrated by Yoshi Yoshitani 184 Pages | Ages 13+ | Paperback ISBN 9781779501264 | DC Comics Seventeen-year-old Mandy, daughter of Starfire, is NOT like her mother. Starfire is gorgeous, tall, sparkly, and a hero. Mandy is NOT a sparkly superhero. Mandy has no powers, is a kid who dyes her hair black and hates everyone but her best friend Lincoln. To Starfire, who is from another planet, Mandy seems like an alien, like some distant angry light years away moon. And it’s possible Mandy is even more distant lately, ever since she walked out on her S.A.T.s. Which, yeah, her mom doesn’t know. Everyone thinks Mandy needs to go to college and become whoever you become at college, but Mandy has other plans. Mandy’s big plan is that she’s going to move to France and…do whatever people do in France. But then everything changes when she gets partnered with Claire for a school project. Mandy likes Claire (even if she denies it, heartily and intensely). A lot. How do you become the person you’re supposed to be when you don’t know what that is? How do you become the person you’re supposed to be when the only thing you’re sure of is what you’re not? When someone from Starfire’s past arrives, Mandy must make a choice: give up before the battle has even begun, or step into the unknown and risk everything to save her mom. I am Not Starfire is a story about teenagers and/as aliens; about knowing where you come from and where you are going; and about mothers.
Hello, and thanks for joining us at Tundra Telegram, the column where we talk about things that are our current mood, and recommend some sick books you might low-key love.
We’re cheating a little this week by talking about yet another Netflix television series, but the entire Tundra team was just too excited for the return of one of the funniest teen comedy-dramas in some time, Never Have I Ever, to avoid it. And as star Maitreyi Ramakrishnan hails from Mississauga, Ontario, our Canadian pride was just too strong to resist. Plus, there are so few children’s books about heads of state taking classified documents.
Resultingly, this week we’re recommending picture books, middle-grade titles and – perhaps most fittingly – YA that connect, in one way or another, to the popular teen comedy series chronicling the victories and embarrassments of Sherman Oaks high school student Devi Vishwakumar. Read on, fellow Coyote Girls and Boys.
We’re sure that Devi (and the actor who plays her, Maitreyi) can relate to Mirha, the protagonist of picture book That’s Not My Name!, written and illustrated by Torontonian Anoosha Syed. Mirha’s classmates mispronounce her name, she can’t find a monogrammed keychain at the gas station, and begins to wonder if she should find a new one until Mama helps her see how special her name is.
Whether it’s grief that causes temporary paralysis or a volcanic anger that leads to verbal altercations with her mother and declaring nuclear war at model U.N., one thing Devi has is Big Feelings, which is also the name of a picture book by Alexandra Penfold and Suzanne Kaufman. The book, much like Devi’s therapist Jamie Ryan, helps children’ navigate life when they feel mad, frustrated, or overwhelmed.
This isn’t a spoiler, as Never Have I Ever essentially opens with the death of Devi’s father, Mohan, but a lot of the emotional challenges Devi faces are traced back to the loss of a parent. Many Shapes of Clay: A Story of Healing by Kenesha Sneed uses ceramics to tell the story of a mother and son (Eisha), coping with a lost father. Eisha learns to live with the sense of loss and of the joyful power of making something new out of what is left behind (even if it’s just a single voice mail).
More than a few times Devi’s father’s death has manifested itself in her dreams, which reminds us of another wonderful book about grief for young readers, A Garden of Creatures by Sheila Heti and Esmé Shapiro. After a bunny and cat lose their fellow garden friend, the big bunny, a strange dream prompts the smaller bunny to begin asking questions big questions about death. Along those same lines, Lost in the Clouds by Tom Tinn-Disbury, part of the new series, Difficult Conversations for Children, acts as a guide to talking to young kids about grief, as it follows Billy and his father while they navigate the loss of Billy’s mother
Never Have I Ever also makes us happy as it features a main character who is the romantic interest of several appealing suitors – and she has body hair. It reminds us of Laxmi’s Mooch by Shelly Anand and Nabi H. Ali, in which young Indian-American girl Laxmi falls in love with the hair on her upper lip, her arms, legs, and between her eyebrows!
The show wouldn’t be the same without the incredible narration from tennis star John McEnroe. Not only do McEnroe and Devi share a reputation for hot tempers, Devi’s story has sentimental connections to the tennis star. For a picture book that combines tennis greatness, temporary debilitating injuries, and social-emotional learning, you have to check out former US Open champion Bianca Andreescu’s Bibi’s Got Game, co-written by Mary Beth Leatherdale and illustrated by Chelsea O’Byrne.
CHAPTER BOOKS & MIDDLE GRADE
One element we haven’t dwelled on much yet is how uproariously funny Never Have I Ever is. Need another hit of humor? Funny Girl: Funniest. Stories. Ever. has got you covered. Edited by Betsy Bird and featuring hilarious stories by Cece Bell, Libba Bray, Raina Telgemeier, and many more – all featuring funny girl friends (not unlike Devi, Eleanor, and Fabiola).
For a book that more precisely marries comedy with the challenges of being a second-generation teenager in America, try Jessica Kim’s beloved Stand Up, Yumi Chung! Yumi, a shy outsider whose parents run a Korean barbecue restaurant, plots to become a stand-up comedian (under a false identity) while she’s supposed to be studying for a private school scholarship. Like Never Have I Ever, it’s a charming story with bighearted characters.
In The Science of Breakable Things by Tae Keller, Natalie and her friends’ interest in science may be more of a Fabiola thing than a Devi one . But it’s a funny story about three friends who hope to use science to win an egg-drop contest in order to get Natalie’s mom out of a depression funk. And, like much of the show, it’s all about a kid learning their mother is a real person, too!
And though the protagonist of The Secret Diary of Mona Hasan by Salma Hussain is a first-generation immigrant (from Dubai), and lives about 30 years before Devi’s story, we think there are definitely similarities. It features a headstrong young girl who falls in love and deflects from big problems with humor: “We didn’t even get any days off school!” she notes, when talking about the first Persian Gulf War.
Debate club? Witty banter? A headstrong brown girl fighting back against some anti-Indian online memes. High school romance? While those sound like the ingredients of an episode of Never Have I Ever, they also describe the new YA novel TJ Powar Has Something to Prove by Canadian Jesmeen Kaur Deo, in which a pretty, popular debater, TJ, sets out to demonstrate she can let her body hair grow naturally and still be beautiful.
Academic high-achieving rivals to lovers – shades of Devi and Ben Gross – Kavya and Ian anchor Beauty and the Besharamby Lillie Vale. Kavya has always been told she’s a little too ambitious, a little too mouthy, and a little too much – or besharam (remind you of any TV characters?). But when she’s cast as Ariel in a job that supplies Disney princesses to children’s birthday parties, and her academic rival Ian is cast as Prince Eric? You know what happens next!
With a teen romance in the robotics club, My Mechanical Romance by Alexene Farol Follmuth falls more into the Fabiola territory. But like Devi, protagonist Bel has no interest in robotics or engineering (even if she’s good at it), until handsome Mateo Luna (the book’s Paxton Hall-Yoshida), captain of the robotics club, insists they need her talent.
While there’s a conspicuous lack of Bollywood content on Never Have I Ever, we still feel Nisha Sharma’s very funny romance My So-Called Bollywood Life should be included with our recommendations. Sure, Winnie Mehta is obsessed with Bollywood films and Devi shows no interest in them, but they both experience romantic disaster with comic results and are feisty, second-generation heroines readers will root for.
Frankly in Love by David Yoon is the story of Frank Li, who – like Devi – is a teenager living in Southern California and is torn between the more traditional expectations of his family (who sacrificed a lot to raise him in the U.S.A.) and his strong desire to live the life of a “regular American teen” – and that includes dating a white girl. Plus, like Devi’s cousin Kamala, he winds up in a fake relationship within his culture that turns out to be something more.
And Perfectly Parvin by Olivia Abtahi, follows Parvin Mohammadi, a bassoon-playing, frizzy-haired, Cheeto-eating Iranian-American who’s just been very publicly dumped. But she’s got a scheme to solve all her problems with dating the hottest boy in school, Matty Fumero. She just has to study rom-coms and be the perfect dream girl. But over the course of the book she learns, as Devi so often does, that to get the boy, you just have to be yourself.