Tundra Telegram: Books that Won’t Leave You on Read

Hello, and thanks for joining us at Tundra Telegram, the column where we illuminate the topics that have us all chatting, and recommend some great books to generate further discussion.

Last Friday, nearly half of Canada found itself without telephone or internet service as one of Canada’s few major telecommunications companies, Rogers, experienced a massive network blackout. Millions of people were unable to make a call (even for 911 emergencies), send an email, or – in many cases – make a purchase via debit or credit card. People crowded around outside coffee shops and stores (on networks other than Rogers) for their sweet, sweet WiFi. The Weeknd was forced to cancel a show – ironically at the Rogers Centre – due to the outage’s effect on venue operations and ticketing.

The big telecommunications company has remained vague about the reason for the nationwide outage, and customers are, understandably, still upset. (In fact, as of this writing, there are still many Canadians affected by the outage who still have no service!) So, we thought we’d highlight some books on outages, telephones, and general communication breakdown. If you still have internet service: enjoy!

PICTURE BOOKS

To remind you of what we all lost in the Rogers outage, we recommend Pamela Druckerman and Benjamin Chaud’s Paris by Phone. Little Josephine decides that Paris is where she really belongs, and all it takes is a quick call on her magical phone to whisk her away to the City of Lights. And though she loves her visit, she finds herself missing home. It’s a love letter to Paris (and to home) and a metaphor (at least we think it is?) for the independence a telephone can grant.

Before there was WiFi, there was Grace Banker and switchboard operators like her. Grace Banker and Her Hello Girls Answer the Call by Claudia Friddell and Elizabeth Baddeley is a historical picture book about a telephone switchboard trainer in New York who becomes the Chief Operator of the 1st Unit of World War I telephone operators in the battlefields of France. Thirty-two female telephone operators transferred orders from commanders to battlefields and communicated top-secret messages between American and French headquarters. (And you thought telephones were just for Candy Crush!)

In this instance, it wasn’t a power outage – though if your lights and other home electronics were connected to “the internet of things” – it may have felt that way. Nevertheless, we recommend astronaut Chris Hadfield and The Fan BrothersThe Darkest Dark, to remind you that the dark (whether the dark of infinite space or a downed network) is beautiful and exciting And the newest edition has a special glow-in-the-dark cover, in case you are caught in a real blackout.

And if you do find yourself in a real power blackout – not just a telecommunications one – you should make sure you have a copy of Ray by Marianna Coppo handy. The humorous picture book is about a light bulb who spends most of his time at the end of a hall in darkness until he goes on a magnificent journey. It’s also a book about the power of imagination – something you’ll need to rely on without access to social media or streaming services!

CHAPTER BOOKS & MIDDLE GRADE

To understand the tremendous Rogers outage, you have to start at the beginning. And that’s with Who Was Alexander Graham Bell? by Bonnie Bader and David Groff. Learn all about the man who invented the telephone – a sometime Canadian, no less! – whose technological revolution resulted from his work with teaching deaf students. Fun fact: his namesake telecommunications company (Bell Canada) did not experience a monster outage last week.

Mya’s Strategy to Save the World by Tanya Lloyd Kyi is, ostensibly, about protagonist Mya Parsons and her quest to get her own cell phone. So, she would be understandably upset by the network outage of last week. That said, she also runs her school’s social justice club and is determined to change the world for the better, so she’d probably be against large corporate communications oligopolies (look it up!) anyway.

And a novel that starts with faulty network communications and goes downhill from there is Frances Greenslade’s Red Fox Road. Francie’s family vacation goes awry with the GPS leads them astray. Soon, she becomes stranded alone – no phone, no internet – in the bush, and must rely only on her survival skills to keep her alive in this modern-day Hatchet.

And though it’s not available until the fall, Babble!: And How Punctuation Saved It by Caroline Adderson and Roman Muradow is the perfect book to talk about communication breakdowns. Chaos reigns in the village of Babble! All day, the residents fight, yell and argue, and no one is heard or understood – it’s like a life full of network outages. But then … punctuation arrives to build bridges. This book is both a parable for communication failures and catnip for grammar teachers.

YOUNG ADULT

If you’re talking outages, you’re talking the gripping Rule of Three series by Eric Walters: The Rule of Three, Fight for Power, and Will to Survive. One ordinary afternoon, every single machine in sixteen-year-old Adam’s high school computer lab stops working. Cars won’t start, phones are down, and a blackout is widespread. Follow Adam and his allies in this epic survival adventure about what happens when all the modern technological amenities on Earth suddenly just … stop working. (Some of it is pretty violent!) And check out the standalone book, The Fourth Dimension, which follows fifteen-year-old Emma’s journey in that same all-encompassing power outage.

And if you or the young readers in your life are looking to “unplug” a bit more this summer (voluntarily, of course), Tundra Book Group is involved in a number of excellent summer reading programs we encourage you to check out, like:

Back-to-School Readiness

Little ones can feel a mix of excitement and apprehension before school starts especially now that most of them are returning to full-time, in-person classes. Here are some great books to help prepare them for school and a return to some sense of normalcy.

Alis the AviatorAlis the Aviator
By Danielle Metcalfe-Chenail
Illustrated by Kalpna Patel
40 Pages | Ages 3-7 | Hardcover
ISBN 9781101919057 | Tundra Books
Come along on an aviation journey with Alis! This spunky female guide will take you through an ABC of planes featuring gorgeous cut-paper art. An A to Z of planes past and present, this book has stunning cut-paper art and a cute-as-a-button guide named Alis. Named for Dr. Alis Kennedy, likely one of the first Indigenous women to obtain a commercial pilot licence in Canada, Alis will take you on an aviation tour from the Avro Arrow to the Zeppelin and everything in between. Meticulously researched and uniquely crafted, this is a one-of-a-kind book that will delight aviation fans big and little.

Check out the Alis the Aviator activity kit!

Anne’s School Days
By Kallie George
Illustrated by Abigail Halpin
72 Pages | Ages 6-9 | Hardcover
ISBN 9780735267343 | Tundra Books
Anne loves autumn in Avonlea, and she’s been enjoying her first three weeks of school. It helps that she walks to school with and sits next to her kindred spirit, Diana Barry. However, one day, Gilbert Blythe joins the class. According to Diana, he’s very handsome, and smart too. However, Gilbert immediately gets on Anne’s nerves. When he pulls on Anne’s braid and calls her “Carrots” because of her red hair, enough is enough. How can Anne enjoy school when Gilbert is ruining everything? Anne vows never to talk to Gilbert again, and even stops going to school for a time when her teacher forces Anne to sit next to her rival. But later, when Anne has an accident on the pond and her wooden plank sinks, who should come to her rescue but her nemesis, Gilbert Blythe?

Check out the Anne’s School Days activity kit!

Babble! And How Punctuation Saved It
By Caroline Adderson
Illustrated by Roman Muradov
72 Pages | Ages 7+ | Hardcover
ISBN 9780735265837 | Tundra Books
Chaos reigns in the village of Babble! All day, the residents fight, yell and argue, and no one is heard or understood . . . until a mysterious little girl arrives and gives the locals something very strange: a period. But what is this thing that looks like a freckle or a spot? The villagers don’t even know how to ask. However, as the girl begins to share more gifts – a question mark, quotation marks – the residents slowly learn how to communicate. But when more fights arise and disaster strikes, can punctuation truly save the day?

Count on MeCount on Me
By Miguel Tanco
48 Pages | Ages 3-7 | Hardcover
ISBN 9780735265752 | Tundra Books
Everyone has a passion. For some, it’s music. For others, it’s art. For our heroine, it’s math. When she looks around the world, she sees math in all the beautiful things: the concentric circles a stone makes in a lake, the curve of a slide, the geometric shapes in the playground. Others don’t understand her passion, but she doesn’t mind. There are infinite ways to see the world. And through math is one of them. This book is a gorgeous ode to something vital but rarely celebrated. In the eyes of this little girl, math takes its place alongside painting, drawing and song as a way to ponder the beauty of the world.

Check out the Count on Me activity kit!

Narwhal’s School of Awesomeness
By Ben Clanton
88 Pages | Ages 6-9 | Hardcover
ISBN 9780735262546 | Tundra Books
Dive into four new stories about Narwhal and Jelly becoming substitute teachers! The two best friends come across an enthusiastic school of fish one morning. Unfortunately, Mr. Blowfish, their teacher, has come down with a cold, and class will have to be cancelled . . . until Professor Knowell (Narwhal) and Super Teacher (Jelly) volunteer to help out! The first subject is Wafflematics, in which Narwhal and Jelly calculate the number of waffles needed to feed the class. That’s what we’re chalking about! Next up is a super-fun science scavenger hunt, followed by a game of “Tag! You’re Awesome!” at recess. Narwhal’s teaching methods may be unconventional, but with Jelly’s help, the two teach (and learn) with their trademark positivity and humor. Before they know it, the day is over . . . but what grade will Narwhal receive from Jelly?

Check out the Narwhal’s School of Awesomeness activity kit!

Professor Goose Debunks Goldilocks and the Three Bears
By Paulette Bourgeois
Illustrated by Alex G. Griffiths
40 Pages | Ages 3-7 | Hardcover
ISBN 9780735267305 | Tundra Books
Mother Goose’s fairy tales are NOT based in science, and her great niece Professor Goose thinks it’s time to share the truth. Join Professor Goose as she – literally – travels through the pages of Goldilocks and the Three Bears, fact-checking, exposing the flaws and explaining the science. Bears don’t live in cottages – they prefer dens! The smallest bowl of porridge wouldn’t be “just right” – it would have been the coldest! Professor Goose is delighted to see Baby Bear use the scientific method and Goldilocks’s fight or flight response. And maybe Goldilocks should have used a GPS so she wouldn’t have gotten lost in the first place? Jammed with jokes and wonderfully silly illustrations, this book entertains while it introduces basic scientific laws and rules to young readers. At the back of the book, readers will find Professor Goose’s  instructions on how to engineer their own chair for a (teddy) bear!

Too Many Pigs and One Big Bad Wolf: A Counting Story
By Davide Cali
Illustrated by Marianna Balducci
36 Pages | Ages 3-6 | Hardcover
ISBN 9780735269910 | Tundra Books
In this clever counting book, the big bad wolf doesn’t want to tell a long story. He wants to get to the eating part. But the reader has other ideas. From a pig soccer team to a pig for every letter of the alphabet to 101 pigs in an animated movie, the stories get more and more fantastical . . . but they’re always too short and they ALL end the same way. Using an abacus as the basis for her illustrations, Marianna creates beguiling little pigs and a menacing but slightly bored wolf that perfectly complement the inventive story by Davide Cali. Come for the counting, stay for the storytelling! This book has it all.

What Does Little Crocodile Say?
By Eva Montanari
40 Pages | Ages 2-5 | Hardcover
ISBN 9780735268135 | Tundra Books
What sounds does the Little Crocodile hear on the first day of preschool?
The alarm clock goes ring, ring
The car goes vroom, vroom
The elephant says peekaboo
The drum goes rat-a-tat
The food goes nom nom nom
And the crocodile says . . . WAHHHH!
In this charming book of sounds, a little crocodile experiences the highs and lows of preschool, ultimately enjoying their day . . . after a small meltdown, of course! Little ones will delight in the adorable illustrations and fun read-aloud, and parents will delight in the sly humor and familiar emotional rollercoaster of a toddler’s day.

Check out the  What Does Little Crocodile Say? activity kit!

Your First Day of Circus School
By Tara Lazar
Illustrated by Melissa Crowton
40 Pages | Ages 3-7 | Paperback
ISBN 9781774880388 | Tundra Books
Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls of all ages! It’s the most amazing day on earth: the first day of school! It can be a daunting prospect, but don’t worry – your big brother can show you the ropes. Join a nervous boy and his enthusiastic older brother as they navigate the highs and lows of a first day at school . . . except this school is a big top, and the teacher is named Miss Stupendous, and the cafeteria can be a zoo, literally! It turns out, school isn’t so scary when you can let off steam during recess (on a steam train) and walk on stilts to all of your classes. With a bit of help from family and some new friends, you’ll make it to the top of the class in no time! This charming take on school readiness will delight new school-goers and take a bit of the fear out of those first-day jitters.