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 Are Hot Tropics

Hello, and thanks for joining us at Tundra Telegram, the column where we dip into the subjects on readers’ minds, and recommend some lush literature for young readers to dive into.

This coming weekend, it’s time for Hollywood rom-com fans to rejoice. That’s because two of the titans of the genre, Julia Roberts and George Clooney, are returning for the major motion picture Ticket to Paradise, directed by the man who brought us Pierce Brosnan dancing in the Greek islands in Mamma Mia 2: Here We Go Again. The actors star as a divorced couple who decide to team up to sabotage the impending wedding of their daughter in Bali (so sweet!). Will they fall back in love?!

In anticipation of what we hope will be a return to form, we’re recommending some books that bring the characters to a tropical paradise for their adventures. It seemed like a pleasant thing to do, with many cities in North America having already experienced their first snowfalls. Bon voyage!

PICTURE BOOKS

A summer in Japan may not technically qualify as “tropical,” but there are plenty of hot sandy beaches and summer festivals featured in Natsumi’s Song of Summer by Robert Paul Weston and Misa Saburi. Two young cousins who are separated by language, continent, and culture – Jill and Natsumi – meet for the first time when Jill’s family travels from America to Japan to stay with Natsumi’s family during the summer holidays. Is it a ticket to paradise? Only if your idea of paradise includes reunions with faraway family and friends . . . and cicadas!

Most people consider Hapuna Beach in Hawaii a paradise on earth, but for Claire, the protagonist of Snow Angel, Sand Angel by Lois-Ann Yamanaka and Ashley Lukashevsky, it’s a little lacking because she has never seen snow! So, her father drives her and her family to the top of Mauna Kea to see snow in person, but it’s not the holiday wintertime she’s seen in books and movies. Claire decides to celebrate winter on the Big Island the tropical way in this book that celebrates the environment and culture of Hawaii.

Islandborn by Junot Diaz and Leo Espinosa is all about a tropical island that young Lola can’t remember, even though she was born on it. But with the help of her family and friends, and their memories – some joyous and fantastical, some heartbreaking and frightening – Lola’s imagination takes her on an extraordinary journey back to The Island, and she learns that just because you don’t remember a place doesn’t mean it’s not in you.

On This Airplane by Lourdes Heuer and Sara Palacios takes place entirely in an airport and airplane – not most people’s idea of paradise. But it’s clear all the passengers are headed somewhere special, and there are few faster ways to get to your ideal vacation spot than by air travel (despite the carbon footprint). And this book reveals a temporary community inside the cabin with passengers who are filled with optimism and bonhomie. If you ever find yourself on a similar flight, you’d have to admit it’s the closest thing to heaven on earth.

CHAPTER BOOKS & MIDDLE GRADE

The “paradise” featured in Turtle in Paradise: The Graphic Novel by Jennifer L. Holm and Savanna Ganucheau happens to be Key West, circa 1935. Turtle is a tough eleven-year-old who is sent to live with relatives in The Sunshine State when her mom gets a housekeeping job that doesn’t allow for children. In the humid Florida environment, surrounded by rambunctious boy cousins, Turtle finds her world opening up in ways she couldn’t expect.

The paradise of a California beach is where Kaia and her family live in Any Day with You by Mae Respicio – all the more idyllic because it’s near the center of the filmmaking industry she longs to be a part of. Kaia and her friends spend a summer working on a short movie inspired by Filipino folktales, and conscript her beloved Tatang (great-grandfather) in the process, as he told her those tales. But there’s trouble in paradise: Tatang wants to return to his homeland in his own personal paradise: The Philippines.

Inspired by the author’s childhood, Kereen Getten’s When Life Gives You Mangos is a celebration of island life, set in a small village on a Jamaican island. Some people think of it as an exotic paradise, but Jamaica isn’t exotic to Clara. The only thing strange and different for Clara is that something happened to her memory that made her forget everything that happened last summer after a hurricane hit. This is paradise with a shocking twist ending!

The Fitzgerald-Trouts by Esta Spalding and illustrated by Sydney Smith and Lee Gatlin (depending on the book) is a book series about a band of four loosely related children living together on a lush tropical island. They take care of themselves. They sleep in their car, bathe in the ocean, eat fish they catch and fruit they pick, and can drive (that very same car) anywhere they need to go. It might sound like paradise to any kid, but real contentment would come if they found a permanent home.

When is a paradise not a paradise? When you’re in Bermuda, but can’t enjoy the weather and foliage because you’re being chased by Nazi agents. That’s the situation George finds himself in Camp X: Trouble in Paradise the tropical installment of history-based spy series by Eric Walters. George and his entire family are now working for Little Bill and his team of spies on the island, but brothers George and Jack aren’t on vacation: they continue their secret missions, foiling Nazi conspiracies that would put the lives of thousands of people in jeopardy.

YOUNG ADULT

The setting is just a typical summer camp in Kasie West’s Sunkissed, but it is in California, so that’s warm enough for us. This is a swoony romance title set at a family resort. That resort quickly becomes paradise when Avery – having a rough few months and dreading summer with her family – meets the mysterious, charming resort staff member Brooks.

Maybe the English seaside is far from tropical, but the hazy, dreamy summer during which The Great Godden by Meg Rosoff takes place could certainly be considered a wonderland – and a steamy one at that. A family on holiday is visited by the mysterious Godden brothers from Los Angeles, and many romantic entanglements follow in this coming-of-age tale about serpents released into paradise.

Jesse Q. Sutanto’s Well, That Was Unexpected is the most relevant title on this list as it partially takes place in Bali, the location of Ticket to Paradise. And, like the movie, it’s a comedic rom-com featuring George Clooney (!). Sharlot Citra, is whisked away from her native LA to her mother’s country, Indonesia, after a scandalous embarrassment. In Indonesia, she finds herself roped into dating George Clooney . . . Tanuwijaya, that is, the wealthy son of a celebrity-obsessed father, who is obviously a fan of the silver fox.

Happy reading, friends!

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:

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!

Jewish Heritage Month 2022

May is Jewish Heritage Month! Here are a few books by or about Jewish people, celebrating different holidays or just exploring their heritage.

Meet the Hamantaschen
By Alan Silberberg
36 Pages | Ages 3-5 | Hardcover
ISBN 9780593351574 | Viking BFYR
The Purim play is about to start, but the megillah is missing! Without the scroll that recounts the Purim story, how can the show go on? Never fear: three determined hamantaschen – DETECTIVES! Right. Three determined DETECTIVES are on the case. With the help of a mysterious stranger and a few disguises, the detectives uncover the facts so the true story of Purim can be told. In this companion to Meet the Latkes and Meet the Matzah, holiday mistellings have never been so fun.

More Than Enough: A Passover Story
By April Halprin Wayland
Illustrated by Katie Kath
40 Pages | Ages 3-5 | Hardcover
ISBN 9780593462546 | Dial BFYR
In this story told in spare, lyrical prose, a Jewish family prepares for their Passover seder, visiting the farmer’s market for walnuts, lilacs, and honey (and adopting a kitten along the way!), then chopping apples for the charoset, and getting dressed up before walking to Nana’s house. The refrain throughout is “Dayenu” – a mind-set of thankfulness, a reminder to be aware of the blessings in each moment. At Nana’s, there’s matzo ball soup, chicken, coconut macaroons, and of course, the hidden afikomen. After opening the door for Elijah and singing the verses of “Chad Gadya,”Nana tucks the children in for a special Passover sleepover. This warm, affectionate story embraces Passover in the spirit of dayenu, and offers a comprehensive glossary – it’s a perfect read for the entire family in anticipation and celebration of the holiday.

Tia Fortuna’s New Home: A Jewish Cuban Journey
By Ruth Behar
Illustrated by Devon Holzwarth
32 Pages | Ages 4-8 | Hardcover
ISBN 9780593172414 | Knopf BFYR
When Estrella’s Tía Fortuna has to say goodbye to her longtime Miami apartment building, The Seaway, to move to an assisted living community, Estrella spends the day with her. Tía explains the significance of her most important possessions from both her Cuban and Jewish culture, as they learn to say goodbye together and explore a new beginning for Tía. A lyrical book about tradition, culture, and togetherness, Tía Fortuna’s New Home explores Tía and Estrella’s Sephardic Jewish and Cuban heritage. Through Tía’s journey, Estrella will learn that as long as you have your family, home is truly where the heart is.

Welcoming Elijah: A Passover Tale with a Tail
By Leslea Newman
Illustrated by Susan Gal
32 Pages | Ages 5-8 | Hardcover
ISBN 9781580898829 | Charlesbridge
Inside, a boy and his family sit around the dinner table to embrace the many traditions of their Passover Seder around the dinner table. Outside, a cat wonders, hungry and alone. When it’s time for the symbolic Passover custom of opening the family’s front door for the prophet Elijah, both the boy and the cat are in for a remarkable surprise. . . .

Middle Grade: 

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.

RBG’s Brave & Brilliant Women: 33 Jewish Women to Inspire Everyone
By Nadine Epstein
Illustrated by Bee Johnson
Introduction by Ruth Bader Ginsberg
224 Pages | Ages 10+ | Hardcover
ISBN 9780593377185 | Delacorte Press
The fascinating lives detailed in this collection – more than thirty exemplary female role models – were chosen by Ruth Bader Ginsburg, or RBG, as she was lovingly known to her many admirers. Working with her friend, journalist Nadine Epstein, RBG selected these trailblazers, all of whom are women and Jewish, who chose not to settle for the rules and beliefs of their time. They did not accept what the world told them they should be. Like RBG, they dreamed big, worked hard, and forged their own paths to become who they deserved to be. Future generations will benefit from each and every one of the courageous actions and triumphs of the women profiled here. Real Wonder Women, the passion project of Justice Ginsburg in the last year of her life, will inspire readers to think about who they want to become and to make it happen, just like RBG.

Starfish
By Lisa Fipps
256 Pages | Ages 10+ | Hardcover
ISBN 9781984814500 | Nancy Paulsen Books
Ever since Ellie wore a whale swimsuit and made a big splash at her fifth birthday party, she’s been bullied about her weight. To cope, she tries to live by the Fat Girl Rules – like “no making waves,” “avoid eating in public,” and “don’t move so fast that your body jiggles.” And she’s found her safe space – her swimming pool – where she feels weightless in a fat-obsessed world. In the water, she can stretch herself out like a starfish and take up all the room she wants. It’s also where she can get away from her pushy mom, who thinks criticizing Ellie’s weight will motivate her to diet. Fortunately, Ellie has allies in her dad, her therapist, and her new neighbor, Catalina, who loves Ellie for who she is. With this support buoying her, Ellie might finally be able to cast aside the Fat Girl Rules and starfish in real life – by unapologetically being her own fabulous self.

Summer of Stolen Secrets
By Julie Sternberg
288 Pages | Ages 10+ | Hardcover
ISBN 9780593203644 | Viking BFYR
Catarina has never met her strict Jewish grandmother. But now, with an opportunity to spend three weeks in Baton Rouge and away from her best-friends-turned-bullies, Cat packs her bags and leaves New York City to get to know the woman who has always been a mystery. Down South, she begins working at her grandmother’s luxury department store with her rebellious cousin Lexie. Nothing seems to be going right and nobody talks about the past. But just when Cat is starting to think that this whole trip may have been a huge mistake, she stumbles onto a secret from a time her grandmother refuses to speak of. Suddenly Cat’s summer, and everything she thought she knew, has changed.

Turtle Boy
By M. Evan Wolkenstein
400 Pages | Ages 10+ | Paperback
ISBN 9780593121597 | Yearling
Seventh grade is not going well for Will Levine. Kids at school bully him because of his funny-looking chin. And for his bar mitzvah community service project, he’s forced to go to the hospital to visit RJ, an older boy struggling with an incurable disease. At first, the boys don’t get along, but then RJ shares his bucket list with Will. Among the things he wants to do: ride a roller coaster; go to a school dance; swim in the ocean. To Will, happiness is hanging out in his room, alone, preferably with the turtles he collects. But as RJ’s disease worsens, Will realizes he needs to tackle the bucket list on his new friend’s behalf before it’s too late. It seems like an impossible mission, way outside Will’s comfort zone. But as he completes each task with RJ’s guidance, Will learns that life is too short to live in a shell.

Young Adult:

Color Me In
By Natasha Diaz
384 Pages | Ages 12+ | Paperback
ISBN 9780525578253 | Delacorte BFYR
Growing up in an affluent suburb of New York City, sixteen-year-old Nevaeh Levitz never thought much about her biracial roots. When her Black mom and Jewish dad split up, she relocates to her mom’s family home in Harlem and is forced to confront her identity for the first time. Nevaeh wants to get to know her extended family, but because she inadvertently passes as white, her cousin thinks she’s too privileged, pampered, and selfish to relate to the injustices African Americans face on a daily basis. In the meantime, Nevaeh’s dad decides that she should have a belated bat mitzvah instead of a sweet sixteen, which guarantees social humiliation at her posh private school. But rather than take a stand, Nevaeh does what she’s always done when life gets complicated: she stays silent. Only when Nevaeh stumbles upon a secret from her mom’s past, finds herself falling in love, and sees firsthand the prejudice her family faces does she begin to realize she has her own voice. And choices. Will she continue to let circumstances dictate her path? Or will she decide once for all who and where she is meant to be?

Dancing at the Pity Party
By Tyler Feder
208 Pages | 12+ | Hardcover
ISBN 9780525553021 | Dial BFYR
Part poignant cancer memoir and part humorous reflection on a motherless life, this debut graphic novel is extraordinarily comforting and engaging. From before her mother’s first oncology appointment through the stages of her cancer to the funeral, sitting shiva, and afterward, when she must try to make sense of her life as a motherless daughter, Tyler Feder tells her story in this graphic novel that is full of piercing – but also often funny – details. She shares the important post-death firsts, such as celebrating holidays without her mom, the utter despair of cleaning out her mom’s closet, ending old traditions and starting new ones, and the sting of having the “I’ve got to tell Mom about this” instinct and not being able to act on it. This memoir, bracingly candid and sweetly humorous, is for anyone struggling with loss who just wants someone to get it.

It’s a Whole Spiel: Love, Latkes, and Other Jewish Stories
Edited by Katherine Locke and Laura Silverman
Foreword by Mayim Bialik
320 Pages | Ages 12+ | Hardcover
ISBN 9780525646167 | Knopf BFYR
A Jewish boy falls in love with a fellow counselor at summer camp. A group of Jewish friends take the trip of a lifetime. A girl meets her new boyfriend’s family over Shabbat dinner. Two best friends put their friendship to the test over the course of a Friday night. A Jewish girl feels pressure to date the only Jewish boy in her grade. Hilarious pranks and disaster ensue at a crush’s Hanukkah party. From stories of confronting their relationships with Judaism to rom-coms with a side of bagels and lox, It’s a Whole Spiel features one story after another that says yes, we are Jewish, but we are also queer, and disabled, and creative, and political, and adventurous, and anything we want to be. You will fall in love with this insightful, funny, and romantic Jewish anthology from a collection of diverse Jewish authors.

The Ghosts of Rose Hill
By R. M. Romero
384 Pages | Ages 14+ | Hardcover
ISBN 9781682633380 | Peachtree Teen
Sent to stay with her aunt in Prague and witness the humble life of an artist, Ilana Lopez – a biracial Jewish girl – finds herself torn between her dream of becoming a violinist and her immigrant parents’ desire for her to pursue a more stable career. When she discovers a forgotten Jewish cemetery behind her aunt’s cottage, she meets the ghost of a kindhearted boy named Benjamin, who died over a century ago. As Ilana restores Benjamin’s grave, he introduces her to the enchanted side of Prague, where ghosts walk the streets and their kisses have warmth. But Benjamin isn’t the only one interested in Ilana. Rudolph Wassermann, a man with no shadow, has become fascinated with her and the music she plays. He offers to share his magic, so Ilana can be with Benjamin and pursue her passion for violin. But after Ilana discovers the truth about Wassermann and how Benjamin became bound to the city, she resolves to save the boy she loves, even if it means losing him – forever.

The New Queer Conscience
By Adam Eli
Illustrated by Ashley Lukashevsky
64 Pages | Ages 12+ | Paperback
ISBN 9780593093689 | Penguin Workshop
Voices4 Founder and LGBTQIA+ activist Adam Eli offers a candid and compassionate introduction to queer responsibility. Eli calls on his Jewish faith to underline how kindness and support within the queer community can lead to a stronger global consciousness. More importantly, he reassures us that we’re not alone. In fact, we never were. Because if you mess with one queer, you mess with us all.

The Way Back
By Gavriel Savit
384 Pages | Ages 12+ | Paperback
ISBN 9781984894656 | Ember
For the Jews of Eastern Europe, demons are everywhere: dancing on the rooftops in the darkness of midnight, congregating in the trees, harrowing the dead, even reaching out to try and steal away the living. But the demons have a land of their own: a Far Country peopled with the souls of the transient dead, governed by demonic dukes, barons, and earls. When the Angel of Death comes strolling through the little shtetl of Tupik one night, two young people will be sent spinning off on a journey through the Far Country. There they will make pacts with ancient demons, declare war on Death himself, and maybe – just maybe – find a way to make it back alive.

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.