Veterans Day and Remembrance Day Reading 2022

On November 11, we will celebrate Remembrance Day (Veterans Day in the USA). Here are some books that will help children and young adults reflect on war and the sacrifices made by men and women on the front lines and the home front.

Picture Books

Proud as a Peacock, Brave as a Lion
By Jane Barclay
Illustrated by Renné Benoit
24 Pages | Ages 4-6 | Ebook
ISBN 9781770491274 | Tundra Books
Much has been written about war and remembrance, but very little of it has been for young children. As questions come from a young grandchild, his grandpa talks about how, as a very young man, he was as proud as a peacock in uniform, busy as a beaver on his Atlantic crossing, and brave as a lion charging into battle. Soon, the old man’s room is filled with an imaginary menagerie as the child thinks about different aspects of wartime. But as he pins medals on his grandpa’s blazer and receives his own red poppy in return, the mood becomes more somber.

Sergeant Billy: The True Story of the Goat Who Went to War
By Mireille Messier
Illustrated by Kass Reich
40 Pages | Ages 4-8 | Hardcover
ISBN 9780735264427 | Tundra Books
During World War I, a goat named Billy was adopted by a platoon of soldiers and made his way across the ocean to be part of the war effort. Billy trained with the soldiers, got snuck into the frontlines in a box of oranges, ate some secret documents and was arrested for treason, head-butted soldiers into a trench and saved them from a shell, and came back home a decorated war hero. This charming true story follows Sergeant Billy from his small prairie town to the trenches of World War I and back, through harrowing moments, sad moments, moments of camaraderie and moments of celebration.

When Your Daddy’s a Soldier
By Gretchen Brandenburg McLellan
Illustrated by EG Keller
32 Pages | Ages 4-8 | Hardcover
ISBN 9780593463901 | Viking BFYR
A lyrical, moving story about a family’s experience at home during their dad’s time away at war. For one young boy and his family at home, the days pass slowly. That’s because when your daddy’s a soldier and he’s away at war, you can’t wait for him to come home so you can be together again. This poignant and impactful story, inspired by the author’s lived experiences, captures the essence of the daily heartache, fear, joy, and uncertainty that a child whose parent has gone off to war must live with.  

Middle Grade

A Soldier’s Sketchbook: The Illustrated First World War Diary of R. H. Rabjohn
By John Wilson
112 Pages | Ages 10+ | Hardcover
ISBN 9781770498549 | Tundra Books
Award-winning author John Wilson brings his skills as a historian and researcher to bear, carefully curating the diary to provide context and tell the story of Private Rabjohn’s war. He has selected each of the diary entries and the accompanying images, and has provided the background that modern-day readers need to understand what a young soldier went through a century ago. The result is a wonderfully detailed and dramatic account of the war as seen through an artist’s eyes.

Broken Strings
By Eric Walters and Kathy Kacer
288 Pages | Ages 10-14 | Paperback
ISBN 9780735266261 | Puffin Canada
It’s 2002. In the aftermath of the twin towers, 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.

History Smashers: Pearl Harbor
By Kate Messner
Illustrated by Dylan Meconis
224 Pages | Ages 8-12 | Paperback
ISBN 9780593120378 | Random House BFYR
On December 7, 1941, the Japanese launched a completely unpredictable attack on the U.S. Navy base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. Right? Well, that’s not quite the real deal. Some military experts had suggested that Pearl Harbor was a likely target. There were other warning signs, too, but nobody paid much attention. From the first wave of the Japanese bombers to the United States’ internment of thousands of Japanese Americans, acclaimed author Kate Messner smashes history by exploring the little-known truths behind the story of Pearl Harbor and its aftermath.

Innocent Heroes: Stories of Animals in the First World War
By Sigmund Brouwer
208 Pages | Ages 9-12 | Paperback
ISBN 9780735267978 | Tundra Books
Never before have the stories of animal war heroes been collected in such a special way. This book consists of eight connected fictional stories about a Canadian platoon in WW1. The Storming Normans have help from some very memorable animals: we meet a dog who warns soldiers in the trench of a gas attack, a donkey whose stubbornness saves the day, a cat who saves soldiers from rat bites, and many more. Each story is followed by nonfiction sections that tell the true story of these animals from around the world and of the Canadian soldiers who took Vimy Ridge. Through the friendship that grows between three of these soldiers in particular, we get a close-up look at life in the trenches, the taking of Vimy Ridge, the bonds between soldiers and their animals and what it meant to be Canadian in World War I.

Island of Spies
By Sheila Turnage
384 Pages | Ages 9-12 | Hardcover
ISBN 9780735231252 | Dial Books
Twelve-year-old Stick Lawson lives on Hatteras Island, North Carolina, where life moves steady as the tides, and mysteries abound as long as you look really hard for them. Stick and her friends Rain and Neb are good at looking hard. They call themselves the Dime Novel Kids. And the only thing Stick wants more than a paying case for them to solve is the respect that comes with it. But on Hatteras, the tides are changing. World War II looms, curious newcomers have appeared on the small island, and in the waters off its shores, a wartime menace lurks that will upend Stick’s life and those of everyone she loves. The Dimes are about to face more mysteries than they ever could have wished for, and risk more than they ever could have imagined.

Saving Hanno
By Miriam Halahmy
112 Pages | Ages 8-12 | Paperback
ISBN 9780823446704 | Holiday House
What if you had to leave your dog behind when you fled? Rudi and his older sister Lotte have a chance to leave the dangers of Nazi Germany on a Kindertransport to England. However, he cannot bring Hanno, his wonderful dachshund. Luckily, his family finds a way to smuggle Hanno to London. But with England on the brink of war, Hanno is still not safe. As a German invasion of England becomes imminent, many British people decide their pets will suffer as well as drain limited resources, and thousands of pets are euthanized. To save Hanno, Rudi joins a group of scrappy London children who hide their pets away in a vacant lot. Just as London’s children are about to be evacuated to the countryside, the group finds a wealthy animal lover willing to care for the menagerie on her country estate. This fast-paced and accessible novel is full of courage and excitement.

The Unsung Hero of Birdsong, USA
By Brenda Woods
208 Pages | Ages 10+ | Paperback
ISBN 9781524737115 | Nancy Paulsen Books
For Gabriel Haberlin, life seems pretty close to perfect in the small southern town of Birdsong, USA. But on his twelfth birthday, his point of view begins to change. It all starts when he comes face-to-face with one of the worst drivers in town while riding his new bicycle – an accident that would have been tragic if Mr. Meriwether Hunter hadn’t been around to push him out of harm’s way. After the accident, Gabriel and Meriwether become friends when they both start working at Gabriel’s dad’s auto shop, and Meriwether lets a secret slip: He served in the army’s all-black 761st Tank Battalion in World War II. Soon Gabriel learns why it’s so dangerous for Meriwether to talk about his heroism in front of white people, and Gabriel’s eyes are finally opened to the hard truth about Birdsong – and his understanding of what it means to be a hero will never be the same.

Young Adult

Devotion
By Adam Makos
368 Pages | Ages 12+ | Hardcover
ISBN 9780593481455 | Delacorte Press
Lieutenant Tom Hudner and Ensign Jesse Brown, both Navy pilots during the Korean War in 1950, come from different backgrounds: Hudner is a white New Englander, a son of privilege; Brown is an African American son of a sharecropper from Mississippi. When the two men join forces in Fighter Squadron 32, they forge a deep friendship at a time when racial inequality was prevalent in America. An unwavering commitment binds Tom and Jesse to each other as well as to their comrades. The two fly to save a division of US Marines cornered during the battle at Chosin Reservoir, but catastrophe strikes when one of them is shot down behind enemy lines and trapped in the wreckage of his plane. The other will face an unthinkable choice: watch their friend die, or attempt one of history’s most audacious one-man rescue missions. What transpires is harrowing and heartbreaking, an inspirational story for all time.

Spearhead
By Adam Makos
352 Pages | Ages 12+ | Hardcover
ISBN 9780593303450 | Delacorte Press
Shut the hatches. It’s time to roll out. You’ll find yourself behind enemy lines with Clarence Smoyer and the 3rd Armored Division, the workhorse unit known as “Spearhead,” the best in the tank armor ranks. You’ll feel as if you are right beside Clarence and his fellow crew members – all formerly strangers from across America who have now become family to each other. You will be jarred by enemy fire, and then explore the other side, stepping into the boots of German tanker soldier, Gustav Schaefer and his crew. You’ll witness the heartbreaking tragedy, when an innocent young woman is caught in the crossfire. You’ll see what happens when all of these lives collide, and realize how the aftershock still affects the survivors more than a half a century later. A riveting and true account of the perils of war as well as the prospect of forgiveness.

The Enigma Game
By Elizabeth Wein
448 Pages | Ages 12+ | Paperback
ISBN 9780735265288 | Penguin Teen Canada
A German soldier risks his life to drop off the sought-after Enigma Machine to British Intelligence, hiding it in a pub in a small town in northeast Scotland, and unwittingly bringing together four very different people who decide to keep it to themselves. Louisa Adair, a young teen girl hired to look after the pub owner’s elderly, German-born aunt, Jane Warner, finds it but doesn’t report it. Flight-Lieutenant Jamie Beaufort-Stuart intercepts a signal but can’t figure it out. Ellen McEwen, a volunteer at the local airfield, acts as the go-between and messenger after Louisa involves Jane in translating. The planes under Jamie’s command seem charmed, as Jamie knows where exactly to go, while other squadrons suffer, and the four are loathe to give up the machine, even after Elisabeth Lind from British Intelligence arrives, even after the Germans start bombing the tiny town.

This Rebel Heart
By Katherine Locke
448 Pages | Ages 12+ | Hardcover
ISBN 9780593381243 | Knopf BFYR
In the middle of Budapest, there is a river. Csilla knows the river is magic. During WWII, the river kept her family safe when they needed it most – safe from the Holocaust. But that was before the Communists seized power. Before her parents were murdered by the Soviet police. Before Csilla knew things about her father’s legacy that she wishes she could forget. Now Csilla keeps her head down, planning her escape from this country that has never loved her the way she loves it. But her carefully laid plans fall to pieces when her parents are unexpectedly, publicly exonerated. As the protests in other countries spur talk of a larger revolution in Hungary, Csilla must decide if she believes in the promise and magic of her deeply flawed country enough to risk her life to help save it, or if she should let it burn to the ground. With queer representation, fabulist elements, and a pivotal but little-known historical moment, This Rebel Heart is Katherine Locke’s tour de force.

Tundra Telegram: Books That Deserve a Red Carpet

Hello, and thanks for joining us at Tundra Telegram, the column where we pull focus on a few subjects that have everyone reeling, and recommend some books worthy of two thumbs up (or ‘fresh’ certification, depending on your internet age).

Not only did this past weekend see more movie drama at the Venice Film Festival than the Billy Wilder classic Sunset Boulevard, today marks the start of the closer-to-home Toronto International Film Festival, which returns in a big way this year, with massive gala events and screenings across the city’s downtown.

So we’re shining the spotlight on ten films that will screen at the 2022 edition of the Toronto International Film Festival and recommending books you or your young reader might enjoy if you don’t happen to snag tickets at the box-office. Lights . . . camera . . . action!

PICTURE BOOKS

One of the most anticipated world premieres at TIFF is Devotion, a war film about the American Navy’s first Black aviator and his friendship with his white wingman that stars Jonathan Majors (who we all loved in Lovecraft Country, even though it scared us). But if you can’t make it to the movie, you can read Sprouting Wings by Louisa Jaggar, Shari Becker, and illustrated by Floyd Cooper. The book tells the story of another Black aviation pioneer, James Herman Banning, the first African American to fly across the country in 1932, over 20 years before the events of the film.

The festival’s closing night film is Dalíland, a biopic about the surrealist Spanish painter Salvador Dalí (played by Ben Kingsley) and his wife Gala, directed by Mary Harron (American Psycho). If you can’t be at the gala, you can always check out Just Being Dalí by Amy Guglielmo and Brett Helquist, a picture book that celebrates the artist’s individuality, from his melting clocks, his lobster phone, and his pet ocelot Babou. (No word yet on who plays Babou in the film!)

Music fans are losing it over TIFF’s opening night film for the Midnight Madness program, Weird: The Al Yankovic Story. This embellished account of the rise of everyone’s favorite parody songwriter promises to be a good time. And while no one has written a picture book about Al yet, Rosemary Mosco and Jacob Souva created Flowers Are Pretty … Weird!, which not only shares a similar title, but also shares a love of the strange, the funny, and the floral (be it real plants or Hawaiian shirts).

CHAPTER BOOKS & MIDDLE GRADE

Though it’s not premiering at TIFF, Martin McDonagh’s new film The Banshees of Inisherin, starring Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson, has been generating a lot of buzz on the festival circuit. Set on a remote Irish island, it illustrates what happens when one friend decides to abruptly end a longtime relationship. It’s not a perfect pairing, but the story reminds us a bit of the depiction of friendship in Wolfie and Fly by Cary Fagan and Zoe Si. Renata Wolfman (‘Wolfie’) doesn’t see much point to friends. But friendship finds her in the form of Livingston Flott (‘Fly’), a weird and loquacious boy Wolfie doesn’t like much at first, but then finds it hard to live without.

Another world premiere at TIFF is The Menu, a satire about high-end cuisine from one of the creators of Succession and starring Anya Taylor-Joy. While it’s not quite a satire, Alice Fleck’s Recipes for Disaster by Rachelle Delaney, is a comical book set in the world of food, as Alice must work with her culinary historian father to compete in a cooking reality show – while simultaneously solving a delicious behind-the-scenes mystery!

We’ll never say ‘no’ to a new Nicolas Cage film. And Butcher’s Crossing, a Western in which he plays a buffalo hunter in the 1870s who convinces an Ivy league grad to join him in a dangerous expedition, is on our “must-see list.” But if we can’t get a ticket, we’ll read R. J. Palacio’s similarly ambitious middle-grade Western, Pony. Though twelve-year-old Silas is no Ivy league student, he is drawn out on a dangerous journey – to find his kidnapped father, rather than hunt bison.

TIFF will also host the world premiere of Wendell & Wild, an animated collaboration between Jordan Peele (Get Out) and Henry Selick (The Nightmare Before Christmas), in which demon brothers team with a goth teen to defeat their demonic dad. All these Satanic high school hijinks make us think of The Mystery of the Meanest Teacher: A Johnny Constantine Graphic Novel by Ryan North and Derek Charm. The book is a middle-grade take on the comic book occult detective, in which Salem tweens John and Anna (with some help from a friendly demon Etrigan) use their occult powers to uncover if his homeroom teacher is really a witch. And, like the film, destined to be a goth teen cultural touchstone.

YOUNG ADULT

Another premiere at TIFF is Bros, written by and starring Billy Eichner, one of the first big-budget queer Hollywood rom-coms. Bobby is a cynical podcaster who writes off boring (but good-looking) Aaron, until they find something special blossoms in this movie that plays with the tropes of rom-coms. If the idea of unexpected romance and play with rom-com conventions through a queer lens is your thing, you’ll want to read Kevin Van Whye’s Nate Plus One, a friends-to-lovers story that takes place in the lead-up to a Johannesburg wedding.

Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig) is back in Rian Johnson’s Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery, which has its premiere at TIFF. The Southern detective has a new case and a new cast of suspects, all hiding their own mysteries, but this time they’re on a remote Greek island. Want a twisty mystery that’s also the second in a series AND set on an island? How about Family of Liars by E. Lockhart, in which readers return to the Sinclair family’s private island (made so popular in We Were Liars) and uncover the secrets of a previous generation. (If only there had been teen Benoit Blanc on hand to sort things out!)

Finally, we can’t believe we’ve waited this long to gush about The Woman King, the new film by Gina Prince-Bythewood (Love & Basketball) and starring Viola Davis. Davis stars as Nansica in this true story of the Agojie, an all-female military regiment charged with protecting the African Kingdom of Dahomey (in what is now known as Benin). The warrior women in Namina Forna’s The Gilded Ones may be fictional (and have certain magical powers), but the alaki in this fantasy novel share a few commonalities with the subject of this highly anticipated film, and were based somewhat on the stories Forna learned growing up in nearby Sierra Leone.

See you at the movies – AND the bookstore!