Tundra Telegram: Books That Push the Envelope

Hello, and thanks for joining us at Tundra Telegram, the column where we address the topics that correspond to our readers’ concerns and deliver some appropriate books that have our stamp of approval.

Yesterday, December 7, was National Letter Writing Day, a day to celebrate the art of handwritten correspondence. Whether it’s a thank-you note, a message to update a friend or family member (and find out what’s new with them!), or a missive to the big man in red at the North Pole, yesterday was a great day to sit right down and write someone a letter.

We’ve got a great collection of books for every age all about written correspondence. Pen pal communications, love letters, messages written to people who may never read them: this list has it all when it comes to letter writing. P.S. Not only will we recommend these titles, we’ll try to include who is writing to whom – and why!

PICTURE BOOKS

I Do Not Like Yolanda by Zoey Abbott is an excellent picture book to start our letter journey because Bianca, the book’s main character, loves writing letters – everything about them: the stamps, the addresses, the pictures she can draw on them. She writes multiple letters a week, to everyone from her Uncle Kenta to her Sri Lankan pen pal. The only thing she does not like about writing letters is when she has to go to the post office to mail them and encounters Yolanda, her most dreaded post office employee. But Bianca soon learns first impressions can be as variable as mail delivery times.

A pivotal letter changes everything in The Bug Girl by Sophia Spencer (who is also the title character), Margaret McNamara, and Kerascoët. Seven-year-old Sophia is bullied at school for liking insects. Sophia’s mother writes to an entomological society looking for a bug scientist to be a pen pal for her daughter, and she’s overwhelmed by the response: letters, photos, and videos flood in and scientists tweet hundreds of times using the hashtag #BugsR4Girls to encourage Sophia’s interest in bugs. It’s the power of the written letter in action!

Drew Daywalt and Oliver Jeffers also demonstrate the power of the written message in their modern classic The Day the Crayons Quit. Eager to do some coloring, Duncan opens his crayon box only to find a series of “Dear John” letters. All the crayons have written to say they’ve quit – though all for their own particular reasons – in this ode to drawing, writing letters, and labor action.

Author Troy Cummings has written a fun trilogy of letter-writing picture books. The unusual part is that these letters are paw-written, as they’re penned by Arfy, a dog. In Can I Be Your Dog?, homeless Arfy writes cover letters to a series of people in an effort to find a forever home. In I Found a Kitty!, he seeks the same for a cat he discovers in a sewer pipe (!). And with Is This Your Class Pet?, Arfy writes letters to the teachers and principal of the school in which he’s a reading buddy after he finds a pet turtle gone astray. These books are essential reading for letter and animal fans.

We can believe a dog writing letters, but a dragon? Well, it happens in Dear Dragon: A Pen Pal Tale by Josh Funk and Rodolfo Montalvo. George writes regularly to his pen pal Blaise to talk sports, pets, and school. But George doesn’t realize his friend Blaise is a dragon, and Blaise doesn’t realize George is a human kid. Unintentional catfishing with mythical creatures? Count us in!

The Thank You Letter by Jane Cabrera is about writing letters of gratitude. In particular, it’s about Grace, who – after her birthday – decides to write letters to thank her friends and family for all their kind gifts. Realizing she has so much to be thankful for, she adds a letter to her teacher for helping her learn to write and one for her dog for wagging his tail. Grace soon finds this gratitude is reciprocated by the community, as she receives letters back from so many of her addressees.

What’s better than one thank-you letter? Ten Thank-You Letters, which also happens to be the name of a book by Daniel Kirk. Pig is trying to write a thank-you letter to his grandma when he’s interrupted by his friend Rabbit, who wants to play. Rabbit, inspired by Pig, begins to write a flurry of thank-you letters of his own – to everyone from the crossing guard to the President (shades of Grace!). His tenth thank-you letter is written to Pig for being such a great friend. (Awwww.)

For a book that’s both about letter-writing and the holidays, check out Dear Santa, Love, Rachel Rosenstein by Amanda Peet (yes, that Amanda Peet), Andrea Troyer, and Christine Davenier. Rachel Rosenstein is determined to celebrate Christmas. The fact that her family is Jewish is not going to stop her, since she’s writing Santa a letter to explain her situation (on top of dropping in on him at the mall). In the end, though Rachel loves the trappings of Christmas, she also gains a greater understanding of her own family’s traditions.

CHAPTER BOOKS & MIDDLE GRADE

Technically they are postcards in The Collected Works of Gretchen Oyster by Cary Fagan, but they count as written letters! Even better, they’re letters with a mystery attached. Hartley Staples is having some family troubles at home when he starts to notice handmade postcards all over his small town, all signed “G.O.” Soon Hartley becomes obsessed with these cryptic messages and the person responsible for them.

You already know who the letter recipient is in Susin Nielsen’s Dear George Clooney, Please Marry My Mom. The question is: does People Magazine’s Sexiest Man Alive (1997, 2006) write back? Violet’s parents have recently split up, and she lives with her mom, dragged along on her awkward quest for love as Violet faces her own struggles with anger management. When Violet’s mom starts dating someone named Dudley Wiener (!), Violet and her friend Phoebe embark on a campaign to lure Mr. Clooney.

The entire middle school seems to be writing letters to Autumn in Dear Student by Elly Swartz. See, Autumn has become the anonymous voice of an advice column in her school newspaper, which is fun until she finds herself in the middle of a problem that puts two of her friends on the opposing sides of a conflict. Can she provide fair advice, given her personal connection? Can her identity remain a secret? This is a book that digs into the ethics of letter responses.

YOUNG ADULT

Perhaps we don’t publish Jenny Han’s most famous letter-based YA romances, but we have plenty of quality YA literature featuring messages in envelopes. Even romances! For instance, Rachel Cohn and David Levithan’s Dash & Lily series are all about romance and the written word. In Dash & Lily’s Book of Dares (now a delightful Netflix series) it’s a red notebook full of challenges on a bookstore by which Dash and Lily flirt before they ever meet face-to-face. But by the third book, Mind the Gap, Dash & Lily, our lovestruck odd couple are writing each other from across the Atlantic Ocean, as Dash studies at Oxford University. (Twelve Days of Dash & Lily doesn’t have much letter writing content, to be honest, but it’s part of the series.)

An enthusiastic English teacher’s assignment is to blame for the letters in Sarah Henstra’s We Contain Multitudes. Closeted jock Kurl and nerdy and out Jo are thrown together in English class and forced to write an old-fashioned letter to each other every week. The unlikely pair become friends, sharing their experiences of homophobia, bullying, and familial abuse with one another, then something more in this emotional queer romance.

Again, not so much a series of letters as entries in a journal, Dear Martin by Nic Stone features Justyce McAllister, a Black teen facing challengers from police violence to toxic masculinity who turns to the teachings of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. In his journal, he addresses his questions and concerns to the late Dr. King in an effort to see if King’s philosophies still have relevance in contemporary America, and these letters are interspersed throughout Justyce’s story. And if you like that, check out the follow-up Dear Justyce, in which incarcerated teen and friend from the neighborhood Quan writes letters to Justyce about his experiences in the juvenile justice system.

Write on, young readers!

Holiday Spotlight: Penguin Young Readers 2022

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?

Valentine’s Day Reading

This Valentine’s Day, spend some quality time with your littlest reader and a good book – here are some suggestions!

Bunny Roo and Duckling Too
By Melissa Marr
Illustrated by Teagan White
32 Pages | Ages 1-3 | Hardcover
ISBN 9780525516040 | Nancy Paulsen Books
A loving mama has fun sharing the various animals her growing child resembles, in this delightful companion to Bunny Roo, I Love You. It’s hard to keep up with an energetic toddler, and as an adoring mom tries to, she describes all the frisky young animals her little one reminds her of – from a hopping frog and a squirming snake, to her adorable cuddly bunny.

Crocodiles Need Kisses Too
By Rebecca Colby
Illustrated by Penelope Dullaghan
40 Pages | Ages 2-5 | Hardcover
ISBN 9780451480071 | Viking BFYR
Fun-to-read-aloud, rhyming text describes prickly porcupines, roaring tigers, and slithery snakes – not the most cuddly creatures, but still worthy of hugs and snuggles from their mamas! With a luscious and colorful palette, Crocodiles Need Kisses Too shows that animals (and children) don’t have to be warm and fuzzy to be totally lovable.

Elmo Loves You
By Sarah Albee
Illustrated by Maggie Swanson
26 Pages | Ages 2-5 | Board
ISBN 9780399552182 | Golden Books
In this Sesame Street Little Golden Book, Elmo tells in a rollicking, rap-like rhyme how everybody has something special to care about. And Elmo reminds his readers that, yes, “Elmo loves you!” Though this humor-laced poem is a natural for Valentine’s Day, toddlers will love it year-round.

Guess How Much I Love You: Blush Sweetheart Edition
By Sam McBratney
Illustrated by Anita Jeram
32 Pages | Ages 2-5 | Hardcover
ISBN 9781536216806 | Candlewick
It’s a sentiment shared across the world – and a classic book treasured from one generation to the next. Now the droll tale of a big and little hare vying to love each other as high as they can hop, as far as they can reach, up to the sky and beyond, receives a captivating new treatment. With shiny rose-gold lettering, a pearlescent pale-pink cover frames Little Nutbrown Hare inside a cut-out heart – an endearing design sure to charm anyone who adores somebody more than they can measure.

Huggy Kissy
By Leslie Patricelli
26 Pages | Ages 0-3 | Board
ISBN 9781536211351 | Candlewick
When you’re an adorable bald baby, your family finds lots of ways to show you how much they love you: Mommy lifts you uppy, Daddy kisses you on the tummy, and everyone wants to snuggle. What’s not to love? With comedy and warmth, Leslie Patricelli offers a universal tribute to love and affection in a board book full of instant appeal for little valentines everywhere.

I Love You to the Moon and Back
By Amelia Hepworth
Illustrated by Tim Warnes
28 Pages | Ages 2-5 | Board
ISBN 9781589255517 | Tiger Tales
The sun rises, and a bear and cub begin their day together. They splash in the water, climb mountains, watch the colorful lights in the shimmering sky, and play with friends. They show their love for each other by touching noses, chasing each other, and, of course, hugging and snuggling before bed. A sweet, gentle rhyme, perfect for sharing with a special little one that also includes a “To” and “From” personalization page in the front of the book, making this heartwarming book an ideal gift.

I Love You With All My Heart
By Jane Chapman
32 Pages | Ages 3-7 | Hardcover
ISBN 9781680101898 | Tiger Tales
With a wonderfully strong message of unconditional love, this book is perfect for little ones who need reassurance from time to time. Little Bear has broken Mommy’s favorite sunflower plant. What if her mom won’t love her anymore? Luckily, Mommy knows just what to do. . . . “Put your paw on your heart,” she smiles, “and you’ll feel my love going on and on forever!”

Love
By Matt de la Peña
Illustrated by Loren Long
40 Pages | Ages 4-8 | Hardcover
ISBN 9781524740917 | Putnam BFYR
In this heartfelt celebration of love, Newbery Medal-winning author Matt de la Peña and bestselling illustrator Loren Long depict the many ways we experience this universal bond, which carries us from the day we are born throughout the years of our childhood and beyond. With a lyrical text that’s soothing and inspiring, this tender tale is a needed comfort and a new classic that will resonate with readers of every age.

Love from the Crayons
By Drew Daywalt
Illustrated by Oliver Jeffers
32 Pages | Ages 5-8 | Hardcover
ISBN 9781524792688 | Penguin Workshop
Ring in Valentine’s Day – and love – with the New York Times Best-Selling Crayons! This charming new title featuring everyone’s favorite coloring crew is the perfect gift for that special someone on Valentine’s Day – or any day of the year. This special gift book, featuring all the The Crayons from The Day the Crayons Quit, explores the bright colors and subtle shades of love. This is a must-have for fans of The Crayons, and the perfect gift for that special someone.

Love from the Very Hungry Caterpillar
By Eric Carle
32 Pages | Ages 3-5 | Hardcover
ISBN 9780448489322 | World of Eric Carle
“You are the cherry on my cake; you make the sun shine brighter; you make my heart flutter.” Using a range of images from the World of Eric Carle, and featuring the Very Hungry Caterpillar, this special gift book gives all the reasons why someone special makes the world a better and brighter place. Perfect for that someone special any day of the year!

My Love Is All Around
By Danielle McLean
Illustrated by Sebastien Braun
32 Pages | Ages 3-7 | Hardcover
ISBN 9781680101942 | Tiger Tales
Mommy Bear shows Baby Bear how love is all around them no matter where they go and what they do! Join Mommy Bear and Baby Bear as they discover that love is all around them.

Sharon, Lois & Bram’s Skinnamarink
By Sharon Hampson, Lois Lilienstein, and Bram Morrison, with Randi Hampson
Illustrated by Qin Leng
40 Pages | Ages 3-7 | Hardcover
ISBN 9780735264069 | Tundra Books
What does “skinnamarink” mean? You may not find its definition in a dictionary, but the meaning is clear to the generations of children who sang along: friendship, happiness, sharing, community and, ultimately, love. This song has been sung in weddings and in classrooms. It can be fun and silly – especially with the accompanying actions! And it has a way of bringing people together. Through Qin Leng’s wonderfully imaginative illustrations, this delightful picture book tells the story of a community coming together. Young and old, from little mice to a big elephant, people and animals gather into a spontaneous parade as they follow the sound of music.

The Boy Who Loved Everyone
By Jane Porter
Illustrated by Maisie Paradise Shearring
32 Pages | Ages 3-7 | Hardcover
ISBN 9781536211238 | Candlewick
Dimitri may be small, but his heart is as big and as open as a cloudless blue sky. “I love you,” Dimitri tells his new classmates at preschool. “I love you,” Dimitri tells the class guinea pig and the ants on the ground. “I love you,” Dimitri tells the paintbrushes and the tree with heart-shaped leaves. So why doesn’t anyone say “I love you” back? Could love also be expressed in unspoken ways? In a familiar story of navigating the social cues of new friendship, author Jane Porter and illustrator Maisie Paradise Shearring offer a thoughtful tribute to the tender ones – those who spread kindness simply by being, and who love without bounds.

Vintage Valentines
By Golden Books
12 Pages | Ages 3-7 | Paperback
ISBN 9780375875144 | Golden Books
This nostalgic Little Golden Book will conjure up memories of dollies, glitter, and shoeboxes full of homemade valentines! A very special collection of vintage-style press-out cards and envelopes with red flocking on the cover that will make consumers long for the simpler times when these cards were originally created.