Tundra Telegram: Books to Break Your Souls

Hello, and thanks for joining us at Tundra Telegram, the column where we listen in on topics that are currently running the (social media) world, and count down some books we think are irreplaceable.

You don’t need to be a member of the BeyHive to know that after nearly a decade of surprise drops and visual albums, Beyoncé’s seventh full-length album, Renaissance, was unveiled this past Friday. The immediate response has been overwhelmingly positive for this massive sixteen-track opus that manages to both honor Black musical artists throughout history and contain enough dance-floor bangers destined to instill a wild rumpus in the club. We thought we’d use it – or rather its title – to create this week’s reading list.

So, take that plastic off the sofa and get cozy. Don’t get heated, because we’re about to get all up in your mind and recommend some books for young readers – both about the European Renaissance (of the 15th and 16th centuries) and the later Harlem Renaissance (of the early 20th century) – that might impel you to move your self to the closest bookstore.

PICTURE BOOKS

Langston Hughes was an author who was also one of the central figures of the Harlem Renaissance. That Is My Dream! is a picture book in which illustrator Daniel Miyares adapts his poem, “Dream Variation,” in which a young Black boy in confronted by the harsh reality of segregation and racism over this day, but he dreams of a different life – one full of freedom, hope, and so many possibilities!

Harlem’s Little Blackbird is a picture book biography by Renee Watson and Christian Robinson about Florence Mills, one of the most popular Black performers of the Jazz Age. The book tells her rise to fame on the stages of 1920s Broadway, and how she dedicated herself to supporting and promoting works by fellow Black performers – not unlike Beyoncé herself!

Schomburg: The Man Who Built a Library by Carole Boston Weatherford and Eric Velasquez tells the story of an Afro-Puerto Rican law clerk who collected letters, music, and art from Africa and Black American creators. When his collection began to overtake his house, he brought it to the New York Public Library, where he created and curated a collection now known as the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, one of the greatest primary source repositories of the output of the Harlem Renaissance! The book is also available en español.

Bonnie Christensen lets Galileo Galilei tell his side of the story in I, Galileo. Galileo’s contributions to science and the Renaissance were numerous and his ideas world-changing, but in his own time he was branded a heretic and put under house arrest. This is a great kids’ introduction to possibly the most important scientist of the Renaissance!

Few artists had a bigger impact on the Renaissance than Michelangelo, and Stone Giant: Michelangelo’s David and How He Came to Be by Jane Sutcliffe and John Shelley, describes how the artist turned a neglected hunk of marble into one of the world’s most famous hunk sculptures.

And while Dr. Seuss’s Horse Museum, illustrated by Andrew Joyner, doesn’t focus only on the Renaissance (and, in fact, explores different methods and movements of visual art through depictions of horses), it does include Renaissance artist Raphael’s Saint George Fighting the Dragon, and the accompanying horse.

CHAPTER BOOKS & MIDDLE GRADE

To get started in this age range, it’s best to begin with What Was the Harlem Renaissance? by Sherrie L. Smith and Tim Foley to get some background. Young readers learn how the vibrant Black neighborhood in upper Manhattan became home to the leading Black writers, artists, and musicians of the 1920s and 1930s – including profiles of Langston Hughes, Duke Ellington, Augusta Savage, and Zora Neale Hurston.

Did someone say “Zora Neale Hurston”? The influential Black author of Their Eyes Were Watching God is the protagonist of the Zora and Me trilogy by Victoria Bond and T. R. Simon, which fictionalize the youth of Zora Neale Hurston, and look at systemic racism and the power of storytelling in a Black community in the American south at the turn of the century. They serve as coming-of-age tales and great introductions to Hurston as an author.

Though the Magic Treehouse siblings never travelled through time to the Harlem Renaissance (hmmm), Jack and Annie did go back to encounter the artist, inventor, and visionary, Leonardo Da Vinci in Magic Treehouse: Monday with a Mad Genius by Mary Pope Osborne and Sal Murdocca. And, as we know, Bey and Jay are fans of Leo’s work.

Need a little more Da Vinci? The graphic novel The History of Western Art in Comics, Part Two by Marion Augustin and Bruno Heitz begins in the Renaissance, and two kids and their grandpa continue their guided tour of art kicking off with such hits as The Last Supper, The Mona Lisa, and the Sistine Chapel. The book only covers up to Modern Art, so the Lemonade visual album doesn’t make an appearance.

And while historians disagree on if we should categorize ol’ William Shakespeare in the Renaissance, we’re going to include him here. Tales from Shakespeare is an excellent introduction for young readers to Shakespeare’s greatest plays, as siblings Charles and Mary Lamb vividly bring to life Hamlet, Othello, As You Like It, Pericles, and more, but modified and retold in a manner sensitive to the needs of young children, without resorting to any actual censoring. Makes sense, as many have argued Beyoncé is our Shakespeare.

YOUNG ADULT

Inspired by their class unit on the Harlem Renaissance, Bronx Masquerade by Nikki Grimes (who was born in Harlem herself) follows the eighteen students of a Mr. Ward’s eleventh grade English class who begin having weekly poetry sharing sessions, revealing their most intimate thoughts about themselves and each another.

Blood Water Paint by Joy McCullough takes readers to Rome in 1610 and introduces them to seventeen-year-old nun Artemisia Gentileschi, the real-life painter who also participated in one of the world’s first high-profile trials of sexual assault. The book looks both at the highs of creative inspiration and the devastating lows of a system rigged against women. (Technically, she was a Baroque painter, not a Renaissance painter, but are you here for book recommendations or art history lessons?)

The European Renaissance is usually associated with cities in what is now known as Italy, but several historical websites claim the reign of Henry VIII marked the real beginning of the Renaissance in England. So, we can also recommend Fatal Throne: The Wives of Henry VIII Tell All, a collaborative work by seven authors (M.T. Anderson, Candace Fleming, Stephanie Hemphill, Lisa Ann Sandell, Jennifer Donnelly, Linda Sue Park, and Deborah Hopkinson), each telling the story of one of the king’s six wives – and Henry himself, who liked it, and put a ring on it a full six times.

Now let’s get back to business.

Tundra Telegram: Books that Won’t Be Upstaged

Hello, and thanks for joining us at Tundra Telegram, the column where we delve into the topics at the very top of readers’ minds and recommend some recent great books to continue the razzle-dazzle discussion.

This week, we give our regards to Broadway, as this past weekend saw the 75th celebration of a certain prestigious awards recognizing excellent in Broadway Theatre. Not only were new productions like A Strange Loop and SIX: The Musical showered with wins, but so were returning favorites like Company, not to mention Dame Angela Lansbury, who was given a lifetime achievement award – and not just for the role of Mrs. Lovett in Sweeney Todd!

Let’s put on a show! Get ready to tread the boards and hit the spotlights – these are your recommendations for kids and YA books about . . . The Theatre!

PICTURE BOOKS

First things first: Where Is Broadway? Luckily Douglas Yacka, Francesco Sedita, and illustrator John Hinderliter have written a book all about that. Not only does it have a fold-out map (very helpful), it covers the development of the first theaters and the birth of the American musical, as well as the shows and stars that have become Broadway legends.

And for those youngest readers, there are no better introductions to the world of Broadway than John Robert Allman and Peter Emmerich’s picture books, A Is for Audra: Broadway’s Leading Ladies from A to Z and B Is for Broadway: Onstage and Backstage from A to Z. These musical alphabet books will help you separate your Chita Riveras from your Lizas with a ‘Z,’ and your auditions from your choreographers. Even better, some of the proceeds are donated to the Entertainment Community Fund, and the books come highly recommended by stage legends like Bebe Neuwirth and Kristin Chenoweth!

Finally, we present a picture book about kids with big stage dreams: Maya’s Big Scene by Isabelle Arsenault. In it, Montreal’s Mile End Kids are putting together a play about a feminist revolution, written by Maya. But the playwright learns her cast and crew have their own opinions on everything from costumes to lines, so Maya begins to demand obedience and loyalty! But, as readers learn, absolute bossiness corrupts absolutely!

MIDDLE GRADE

A middle-school production of Fiddler on the Roof (winner of nine of those stage awards) sets up a chain of events that lead to uncovering a dark family secret in Broken Strings, a collaboration between writers Eric Walters and Kathy Kacer. Heroine Shirli Berman learns from her Zayde the power of music, both terrible and wonderful – something all musical theater lovers know intimately.

For installments of your favourite series for young readers where our heroes put on a show, check out Babymouse: The Musical by Jennifer L. Holm and Matthew Holm, in which Babymouse dusts off her dancing shoes and tries out for the school musical – but she has some dogged competition from Felicia Furrypaws. And in Craig Robinson and Adam Mansbach’s Jake the Fake Keeps It Real, our hero fakes his way into the Music and Art Academy for the gifted and talented. More funnyman than music man, Jake will have to think of something quick before he’s revealed as a bigger fraud than those fellows in The Producers.

And you can’t have a great musical without a few great dance numbers. Luckily, Sofia Acosta Makes a Scene by Emma Otheguy has a few! And like a great musical, it combines stage spectacle and social relevance. Sofia is a Cuban-American girl trying to figure out where she belong in her ballet-loving family and in the U.S. when she would rather be designing costumes. And – when she confides in a friend about some Cuban dancers defecting to the States – she learns her community isn’t as welcoming as she thought it was.

YOUNG ADULT

If you’re talking YA and musicals, then you have to mention John Green and David Levithan’s Will Grayson, Will Grayson in which two boys from very different social circles, both named Will Grayson, meet in Chicago, and their lives become intertwined. And while it’s a great book, it would not be on this list without the massive, and massively fabulous, Tiny Cooper, friend to Will Grayson 1, offensive lineman, and musical theater auteur extraordinaire. Will and Will, alongside some romantic plots, work toward the epic production of Cooper’s biographical musical, Tiny Dancer (the greatest high school musical since Hamlet 2). You’ll also want to check out the companion novel, Hold Me Closer: The Tiny Cooper Story by David Levithan, a book filled with honesty, humor, and “big, lively, belty” musical numbers from the full script of the fictional musical.

Like a modern-day Fame, You in Five Acts by Una LaMarche follows five friends with dreams of stage stardom after they enroll at a prestigious New York City performing arts school. Joy, Diego, Liv, Ethan, and Dave, have – among them – so much talent, so many romantic passions, and so much ambition, it’s a shock the novel (or Broadway itself) can contain them all!

Take a trip into the Great White Way’s past with Mazie by Melanie Crowder, in which an eighteen-year-old aspiring actress trades in starry Nebraska skies for the bright lights of 1950s Broadway. With money running out, and faced with too many failed auditions to count, Mazie begins to wonder if the dream is worth the cost – a dilemma explored in A Chorus Line, among other stage productions.

Looking for a little romance backstage? Always Never Yours by Emily Wibberley and Austin Siegemund-Broka is the story of Megan Harper, an aspiring theater director who is unlucky in love. She’s forced to take an acting role as part of a school requirement, gets cast as Juliet, and finds a potential Romeo in aspiring playwright, Owen Okita, though he’s totally unlike any one of her exes.

Justin, in Seth Rudetsky’s The Rise and Fall of a Theater Geek, has always longed to be on Broadway – the shows, the lights, the cute guys! So when he gets an internship with a famous Broadway actor, he jumps at the chance, even if it means straining things with his kind (though maybe a little uptight) boyfriend Spencer. But as Justin’s personal relationships falter and his famous actor boss heads for the C-list, he realizes he’ll need a little more than jazz hands to get him out of his situation. A very funny coming-of-age story for any kid who’s wished to be six feet from stardom.

Finally, Fatal Throne by M.T. Anderson, Candace Fleming, Stephanie Hemphill, Lisa Ann Sandell, Jennifer Donnelly, Linda Sue Park, and Deborah Hopkinson is not so much devoted to musical theatre as it is ideal reading for fans of one of this year’s big winners, SIX: The Musical. Like SIX, Fatal Throne is a reimagining of the story of the many wives of King Henry VIII. Told in seven different voices (including Henry’s) by seven different authors, each wife attempts to survive their unpredictable king as he grows more obsessed with producing a male heir. As the musical advises, “Don’t Lose Ur Head” reading this one!

Holocaust Education Week 2019

This year, Holocaust Education Week is being observed in Toronto from November 3-10, 2019. Their programs and workshops ensure that the next generation meaningfully learns about the Holocaust through best practices, resources, and engagement with survivor testimony. We’ve put together a list of books that may help bridge the gap for young readers.

PICTURE BOOKS

The Cat Who Lived With Anne Frank
By David Lee Miller and Steven Jay Rubin
Illustrated by Elizabeth Baddeley
ISBN 9781524741501 | Hardcover
Ages 4-8 | Philomel Books
Told from the perspective of the cat who actually lived with Anne Frank in the famous Amsterdam annex, this poignant book paints a picture of a young girl who wistfully dreams of a better life for herself and her friends, tentatively wonders what mark she might leave on the world, and, above all, adamantly believes in the goodness of people.

MIDDLE GRADE

Broken Strings
By Eric Walters and Kathy Kacer
ISBN 9780735266247 | Hardcover
Ages 10-14 | Puffin Canada
It’s 2002. In the aftermath of the twin towers — and the death of her beloved grandmother — Shirli Berman is intent on moving forward. The best singer in her junior high, she auditions for the lead role in Fiddler on the Roof, but is crushed to learn that she’s been given the part of the old Jewish mother in the musical rather than the coveted part of the sister. But there is an upside: her “husband” is none other than Ben Morgan, the cutest and most popular boy in the school. Deciding to throw herself into the role, she rummages in her grandfather’s attic for some props. There, she discovers an old violin in the corner — strange, since her Zayde has never seemed to like music, never even going to any of her recitals. Showing it to her grandfather unleashes an anger in him she has never seen before, and while she is frightened of what it might mean, Shirli keeps trying to connect with her Zayde and discover the awful reason behind his anger. A long-kept family secret spills out, and Shirli learns the true power of music, both terrible and wonderful.

How I Became a Spy: A Mystery of WWII London
By Deborah Hopkinson
ISBN 9780399557064 | Hardcover
Ages 8-12 | Knopf Books For Young Readers
Bertie Bradshaw never set out to become a spy. He never imagined traipsing around war-torn London, solving ciphers, practicing surveillance, and searching for a traitor to the Allied forces. He certainly never expected that a strong-willed American girl named Eleanor would play Watson to his Holmes (or Holmes to his Watson, depending on who you ask). But when a young woman goes missing, leaving behind a coded notebook, Bertie is determined to solve the mystery. With the help of Eleanor and his friend David, a Jewish refugee–and, of course, his trusty pup, Little Roo–Bertie must decipher the notebook in time to stop a double agent from spilling the biggest secret of all to the Nazis.

White Bird: A Wonder Story
By R.J. Palacio
ISBN 9780525645535 | Hardcover
Ages 8-12 | Knopf Books For Young Readers
In R. J. Palacio’s bestselling collection of stories Auggie & Me, which expands on characters in Wonder, readers were introduced to Julian’s grandmother, Grandmère. Here, Palacio makes her graphic novel debut with Grandmère’s heartrending story: how she, a young Jewish girl, was hidden by a family in a Nazi-occupied French village during World War II; how the boy she and her classmates once shunned became her savior and best friend.

YOUNG ADULT

What the Night Sings
By Vesper Stamper
ISBN 9781524700386 | Hardcover
Ages 12+ | Knopf Books For Young Readers
After losing her family and everything she knew in the Nazi concentration camps, Gerta is finally liberated, only to find herself completely alone. Without her papa, her music, or even her true identity, she must move past the task of surviving and on to living her life. In the displaced persons camp where she is staying, Gerta meets Lev, a fellow teen survivor who she just might be falling for, despite her feelings for someone else. With a newfound Jewish identity she never knew she had, and a return to the life of music she thought she lost forever, Gerta must choose how to build a new future.

The Book Thief
By Markus Zusak
ISBN 9781101934180 | Hardcover
Ages 12+ | Knopf Books For Young Readers
It is 1939. Nazi Germany. The country is holding its breath. Death has never been busier, and will become busier still. Liesel Meminger is a foster girl living outside of Munich, who scratches out a meager existence for herself by stealing when she encounters something she can’t resist–books. With the help of her accordion-playing foster father, she learns to read and shares her stolen books with her neighbors during bombing raids as well as with the Jewish man hidden in her basement.

The Red Ribbon
By Lucy Adlington
ISBN 9780763680176 | Paperback
Ages 12+ | Candlewick Press
Three weeks after being detained on her way home from school, fourteen-year-old Ella finds herself in the Upper Tailoring Studio, a sewing workshop inside a Nazi concentration camp. There, two dozen skeletal women toil over stolen sewing machines. They are the seamstresses of Birchwood, stitching couture dresses for a perilous client list: wives of the camp’s Nazi overseers and the female SS officers who make prisoners’ lives miserable. It is a workshop where stylish designs or careless stitches can mean life or death. And it is where Ella meets Rose. As thoughtful and resilient as the dressmakers themselves, Rose and Ella’s story is one of courage, desperation, and hope — hope as delicate and as strong as silk, as vibrant as a red ribbon in a sea of gray.

The Extra
By Kathryn Lasky
ISBN 9780735266247 | Hardcover
Ages 12+ | Candlewick Press
In this chilling but ultimately uplifting novel, Kathryn Lasky imagines the lives of the Romani—called the “Gypsy Plague” by the Nazis—who worked as extras for Hitler’s real favorite filmmaker Leni Riefenstahl. Fifteen-year-old Lilo and the other extras are barely fed, closely guarded, and kept in a locked barn when not on the movie set. And Riefenstahl is always present, answering the slightest provocation with malice, flaunting the power to assign prisoners to life or death. When faced with a rare opportunity, Lilo takes matters into her own hands, effecting an escape and running for her life, giving readers a story of survival unlike any other.

Playing for the Commandant
By Suzy Zail
ISBN 9780763664039 | Hardcover
Ages 12+ | Candlewick Press
“Look after each other . . . and get home safe. And when you do, tell everyone what you saw and what they did to us.” These are Hanna’s father’s parting words to her and her sister when their family is separated at the gates of the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp. Her father’s words — and a black C-sharp piano key hidden away in the folds of her dress — are all that she has left to remind her of life before. Before, Hanna was going to be a famous concert pianist. She was going to wear her yellow dress to a dance. And she was going to dance with a boy. But then the Nazis came. Now it is up to Hanna to do all she can to keep her mother and sister alive, even if that means playing piano for the commandant and his guests. Staying alive isn’t supposed to include falling in love with the commandant’s son. But Karl Jager is beautiful, and his aloofness belies a secret. And war makes you do dangerous things.

Code Name Verity
By Elizabeth Wein
ISBN 9780385676571 | Paperback
Ages 12+ | Doubleday Canada
Two young women from totally different backgrounds are thrown together during the Second World War. One is a working-class girl from Manchester, the other a Scottish aristocrat; one is a pilot, the other a wireless operator. Yet whenever their paths cross, they complement each other perfectly, and before long they are devoted friends. But then a vital mission goes wrong, and one of the friends has to bail out of a faulty plane over France. She is captured by the Gestapo and becomes a prisoner of war. The story begins in “Verity’s” own words, as she writes her account for her captors.