Hello, and thanks for joining us at Tundra Telegram, the column where we sense topics ascending in popularity and exalt a constellation of star titles that are definitely worth a read.
One of the biggest films opening in theatres this weekend is Knights of the Zodiac, a live-action epic based on a popular anime that stars Famke Janssen, Sean Bean, and many others. When a goddess of war reincarnates into the body of a young girl, a street orphan named Seiya discovers that he is destined to protect her and – naturally – save the world. But he can only do that if he can face down his past demons and become a Knight … of the Zodiac.
We’ll be honest, we don’t know that much about Knights of the Zodiac (though we wish it only the best), but it seemed like as good an opportunity as any to recommend some books for young readers – one for each sign of the traditional western horoscope. This way, your reading nights (and days) can be filled with the zodiac.
Before recommending books for the various astrological signs, we want to note there’s no better time to read about astrology than immediately after birth. That’s why the Baby Astrology series by Roxy Marj is so perfect. No matter whether you were born March 21 to April 19, or October 23 to November 21, there is a board book that shares gentle thoughts about the characteristics of a child born under each star sign.
Capricorn: For this sign, we have to recommend the G.O.A.T. of goat books: Sergeant Billy: The True Story of the Goat Who Went to War by Mireille Messier and Kass Reich. This is the true story of a goat adopted from the prairies by a World War I platoon – a goat who persevered, Capricorn-style, to become a bonafide war hero.
Aries: Speaking of hoofed mammals, Not All Sheep Are Boring by Bobby Moynihan and Julie Rowan-Zoch is a great pairing for Aries, the ram. A comedic book that fights back against the idea sheep will put you to sleep, it showcases a zany cast of the weirdest sheep you’ll ever see, riding jetpacks and prancing on the moon. (Since Aries are competitive, you know they want to stand out from the crowd!) This rollicking read is the antithesis of a bedtime book.
Taurus: As you might imagine from the title, Petal the Angry Cow by Maureen Evans and Olga Demidova features a cow (not a bull), but we’re no chauvinists here at Tundra Books. And while Taurus is often associated with calm and serenity, this bovine has a short temper, blowing up at the other barnyard animals for the slightest provocations. She has to learn a few unusual lessons from a swan (who sadly has no associated zodiac sign) to manage her rage.
Cancer: Crustaceans can rejoice at this interactive picture book intro to the hard-shelled arthropods, This Is Crab by Harriet Evans and Jacqui Lee. Like many Cancers, Crab is a shy creature, but with a little encouragement he takes readers on a journey through his underwater home, complete with flaps to lift and pieces to move.
CHAPTER BOOKS & MIDDLE GRADE
Gemini:Jose Pimienta’s Twin Cities, about twins growing up on the Mexico-U.S. border, is a wonderful pick for Gemini readers. Luis Fernando and twin sister Luisa Teresa have been close their entire lives, but when Luis goes to middle school in Mexico andLuisa crosses the border every day so she can go to a private school in California, their relationship gets messy (just like Geminis, am I right?).
Scorpio: The quantity of actual scorpions in Scorpion Mountain, the fifth book in the fantasy adventures The Brotherband Chronicles by John Flanagan, is minimal, but the image of the scorpion looms large. Ranger Gillan is given a mission: protect the princess Cassandra, prone to assassination attempts, since a deadly sect known as the Scorpion Cult (see?) wants her dead. Luckily, the Brotherband crew has his back – which is more than we can say for most Scorpios.
Leo: There are a lot of books for young readers about lions, but we’re going to do the unexpected and recommend The Lion of Mars by Jennifer L. Holm. A slice-of-life science fiction story, it follows Bell, a curious, cat-loving eleven-year-old who just happens to live in the Martian settlements when a strange virus breaks out. (Bell’s favorite animals are lions because the settlers’ small township reminds him of a lion’s pride – classic overly dramatic Leo in action.)
Libra: Likewise, there are a bunch of middle-grade novels about choosing that show the balance Libra represents, but we’re picking Flipping Forward Twisting Backward by Alma Fullerton. Not only must Claire find equilibrium between the demands of gymnastics, family life, and her difficulties at school with a new dyslexia diagnosis, she must also find literal equilibrium on balance beams and stuff like that.
Aquarius: Not only does Natasha Bowen’s Skin of the Seafeature an aquatic setting and mermaid (or, more accurately, Mami Wata) heroine, that heroine – Simi – demonstrates the most admirable humanitarian qualities of Aquarius, saving the life of a boy thrown overboard, and going against the laws of her people for the greater good. (And yes, we know Aquarius is an “air sign,” but it has “aqua” in its name!)
Sagittarius: You can probably think of a blockbuster YA series that would be a good fit with the archer sign, but we don’t publish those books. So instead, we recommend No Good Deed by Kara Connolly, a modern reimagining of the Robin Hood legend. Ellie Hudson is an Olympic archer hopeful who takes a wrong turn in the caverns under Nottingham Castle and ends up – in true adventurous Sagittarian fashion – in Medieval England.
Pisces: Intuitive and sensitive describes Tiến in graphic novel The Magic Fish by Trung Le Nguyen to a “T.” Typical of a Pisces, he keeps a secret from his immigrant Vietnamese family to protect them: he’s gay. And though he’s unable to find the words to speak to his parents, he navigates his troubles through the fairytales, largely fish-based ones, that his mother tells him.
Virgo: We recommend The Best Laid Plans by Cameron Lund as a Virgo pick, because (a) it’s a sex-positive story about a high school virgin determined to lose that virginity, and (b) like any good Virgo, main character Keeley Collins takes on the task practically and systematically.
The Forest of Reading® is Canada’s largest recreational reading program. This initiative of the Ontario Library Association offers seven reading programs to encourage a love of reading in people of all ages. The Forest helps celebrate Canadian books, publishers, authors, and illustrators. Here at Tundra Book Group and Friends, we’d like to congratulate our nominated authors and illustrators.
2023 Blue Spruce Award™️ Nominee
Rodney Was a Tortoise By Nan Forler Illustrated by Yong Ling Kang 40 Pages | Ages 3-7 | Hardcover ISBN 9780735266629 | Tundra Books Bernadette and Rodney are the best of friends. Rodney’s not so good at playing cards, but he’s great at staring contests. His favorite food is lettuce, though he eats it VERRRRRRY SLOOOOOWLY. And he’s such a joker! When Bernadette goes to sleep at night, Rodney is always there, watching over her from his tank. As the seasons pass, Rodney moves slower and slower, until one day he stops moving at all. Without Rodney, Bernadette feels all alone. She can’t stop thinking about him, but none of her friends seem to notice. Except for Amar. Rodney Was a Tortoise is a moving story about friendship and loss. It shows the importance of expressing kindness and empathy, especially in life’s most difficult moments.
That’s Not My Name! By Anoosha Syed 40 Pages | Ages 3-5 | Hardcover ISBN 9780593405178 | Penguin Young Readers Group 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.
2023 Red Maple Award™️ Nominees
The Bear House By Meaghan McIsaac 272 Pages | Ages 10-14 | Hardcover ISBN 9780823452620 | Holiday House Moody Aster and her spoiled sister Ursula are the daughters of Jasper Lourdes, Bear Major and high king of the realm. Rivals, both girls dream of becoming the Bear queen someday, although neither really deserve to, having no particular talent in… well, anything. But when their Uncle Bram murders their father in a bid for the crown, the girls are forced onto the run, along with lowly Dev the Bearkeeper and the half-grown grizzly Alcor, symbol of their house. As a bitter struggle for the throne consumes the kingdom in civil war, the sisters must rely on Dev, the bear cub, and each other to survive – and find wells of courage, cunning, and skill they never knew they had.
Children of the Fox: Thieves of Shadow #1 By Kevin Sands 416 Pages | Ages 8-12 | Paperback ISBN 9780735270435 | Puffin Canada A magic-infused fantasy that brings together a ragtag group of kids to pull off a crime so difficult, countless adults have already tried and failed. Lured by the promise of more money than they’ve ever dreamed of, five young criminals are hired to steal a heavily guarded treasure from the most powerful sorcerer in the city. There’s Callan the con artist, Meriel the expert at acrobatics (and knives!), Gareth the researcher, Lachlan who can obtain anything, and Foxtail, whose mysterious eyeless mask doesn’t hinder her ability to climb walls like a spider. Though their shadowy backgrounds mean that they’ve never trusted anyone but themselves, the five must learn to rely on each other in order to get the job done. But as Callan has been warned most of his life, it’s best to stay away from magic. It can turn on you at any moment, and make you think you’re the one running the con game, when in reality you’re the one being fooled. Faced with these unsurmountable odds, can the new friends pull off this legendary heist, or has their luck finally run out?
Walking in Two Worlds By Wab Kinew 296 Pages | Ages 12+ | Hardcover ISBN 9780735269002 | Penguin Teen Canada Bugz is caught between two worlds. In the real world, she’s a shy and self-conscious Indigenous teen who faces the stresses of teenage angst and life on the Rez. But in the virtual world, her alter ego is not just confident but dominant in a massively multiplayer video game universe. Feng is a teen boy who has been sent from China to live with his aunt, a doctor on the Rez, after his online activity suggests he may be developing extremist sympathies. Meeting each other in real life, as well as in the virtual world, Bugz and Feng immediately relate to each other as outsiders and as avid gamers. And as their connection is strengthened through their virtual adventures, they find that they have much in common in the real world, too: both must decide what to do in the face of temptations and pitfalls, and both must grapple with the impacts of family challenges and community trauma. But betrayal threatens everything Bugz has built in the virtual world, as well as her relationships in the real world, and it will take all her newfound strength to restore her friendship with Feng and reconcile the parallel aspects of her life: the traditional and the mainstream, the east and the west, the real and the virtual.
2023 Silver Birch Express Fiction Award®️ Nominee
Crimson Twill: Witch in the City By Kallie George Illustrated by Brigitta Sif 64 Pages | Ages 7-9 | Hardcover ISBN 9781536214635 | Candlewick Crimson Twill is a little witch, but you might not know it. She lives in the country and loves polka dots and puppies instead of pointy shoes and black dresses. She even wears a big bow on her hat – which is crimson, just like her name. Tonight, for the very first time, Crimson is riding on her mother’s broom all the way to New Wart City to go shopping at Broomingdale’s! The huge department store has everything a witch could itch for. For Crimson, each floor (hats! cats! brooms!) is a new adventure. But is Broomingdale’s ready for a witch as unique as Crimson? A rich and playful new world comes to life in the first book of this charming series.
Flipping Forward Twisting Backward By Alma Fullerton Illustrated by Sarah Mensinga 144 Pages | Ages 8-12 | Hardcover ISBN 9781682633663 | Peachtree The gym is where Claire shines and she’s on her way to qualifying for the state championships. But at school, she’s known as a troublemaker – which is fine with her since it helps her hide her reading problem. Claire has never been able to make sense of the wobbling jumble of letters on a page. When a sympathetic principal wonders if she’s acting out because she may have dyslexia, she’s stunned. Claire has always assumed she’s dumb, so she’s eager to get evaluated. But her mother balks. Afraid Claire will be labeled “stupid,” she refuses testing. Can Claire take on both her reading challenges and her mother’s denial? Is it worth jeopardizing her dream of the state championships? Told in clear and poignant verse and featuring black and white illustrations, Claire’s struggle with something that seems to come easily to everyone else will resonate with readers and have them cheering her on.
Pink, Blue, and You! Questions for Kids about Gender Stereotypes By Elise Gravel and Mykaell Blais 40 Pages | Ages 4-8 | Hardcover ISBN 9780593178638 | Ann Schwartz Books Is it okay for boys to cry? Can girls be strong? Should girls and boys be given different toys to play with and different clothes to wear? Should we all feel free to love whoever we choose to love? In this incredibly kid-friendly and easy-to-grasp picture book, author-illustrator Elise Gravel and transgender collaborator Mykaell Blais raise these questions and others relating to gender roles, acceptance, and stereotyping. With its simple language, colorful illustrations, engaging backmatter that showcases how “appropriate” male and female fashion has changed through history, and even a poster kids can hang on their wall, here is the ideal tool to help in conversations about a multi-layered and important topic.
2023 Silver Birch Fiction Award® Nominees
Sneaks By Catherine Egan 336 Pages | Ages 8-12 | Hardcover ISBN 9780593306406 | Knopf BFYR When Ben Harp sees his teacher’s watch crawling across the hallway, he thinks he must be dreaming. But no, he’s just seen his first Sneak – an interdimensional mischief-maker that can borrow the form of any ordinary object. He figured this school year would be bad – his best friend moved away, the class bully is circling, and he’s stuck doing a group project with two similarly friendless girls, Charlotte and Akemi. Still, he wasn’t expecting aliens! And he certainly wasn’t expecting that the woman he and Charlotte and Akemi are assigned to interview for their “living local history” project would be a Sneak expert. Or that she’d foist an old book on them to keep safe . . . and then disappear. Now Ben, Charlotte, and Akemi are trying to understand a book that seems to contain a coded map while being pursued by violent clothes hangers, fire-spitting squirrels, and more. The Sneaks want that book! And they want something else, too: to pull a vastly more dangerous creature into the world with them. Can three misfit kids decode the book in time to stop an alien takeover? And if they do, will they get extra credit on their group project?
The Stone Child: The Misewa Saga #3 By David A. Robertson 256 Pages | Ages 10+ | Hardcover ISBN 9780735266162 | Puffin Canada After discovering a near-lifeless Eli at the base of the Great Tree, Morgan knows she doesn’t have much time to save him. And it will mean asking for help – from friends old and new. Racing against the clock, and with Arik and Emily at her side, Morgan sets off to follow the trail away from the Great Tree to find Eli’s soul before it’s too late. As they journey deep into the northern woods, a place they’ve been warned never to enter, they face new challenges and life-threatening attacks from strange and horrifying creatures. But a surprise ally comes to their aid, and Morgan finds the strength to focus on what’s most important: saving her brother’s life.
2023 Yellow Cedar Award Nominees
The Hanmoji Handbook By Jason Li, An Xiao Mina, and Jennifer 8. Lee Illustrated by Jason Li 160 Pages | Ages 14+ | Hardcover ISBN 9781536219135 | MITeen Press Even though their dates of origin are millennia apart, the languages of Chinese and emoji share similarities that the average smartphone user might find surprising. These “hanmoji” parallels offer an exciting new way to learn Chinese – and a fascinating window into the evolution of Chinese Han characters. Packed with fun illustrations and engaging descriptions, The Hanmoji Handbook brings to life the ongoing dialogue between the visual elements of Chinese characters and the language of emoji. At once entertaining and educational, this unique volume holds sure appeal for readers who use emojis, anyone interested in learning Chinese, and those who love quirky, visual gift books.
2023 White Pine Award™️ Nominees
Iron Widow By Xiran Jay Zhao 400 Pages | Ages 14+ | Hardcover ISBN 9780735269934 | Penguin Teen Canada The boys of Huaxia dream of pairing up with girls to pilot Chrysalises, giant transforming robots that can battle the mecha aliens that lurk beyond the Great Wall. It doesn’t matter that the girls often die from the mental strain. When 18-year-old Zetian offers herself up as a concubine-pilot, it’s to assassinate the ace male pilot responsible for her sister’s death. But she gets her vengeance in a way nobody expected – she kills him through the psychic link between pilots and emerges from the cockpit unscathed. She is labeled an Iron Widow, a much-feared and much-silenced kind of female pilot who can sacrifice boys to power up Chrysalises instead. To tame her unnerving yet invaluable mental strength, she is paired up with Li Shimin, the strongest and most controversial male pilot in Huaxia. But now that Zetian has had a taste of power, she will not cower so easily. She will miss no opportunity to leverage their combined might and infamy to survive attempt after attempt on her life, until she can figure out exactly why the pilot system works in its misogynist way – and stop more girls from being sacrificed.
Wrong Side of the Court By H. N. Khan 312 Pages | Ages 12+ | Hardcover ISBN 9780735270879 | Penguin Teen Canada Fifteen-year-old Fawad Chaudhry loves two things: basketball and his mother’s potato and ground-beef stuffed parathas. Both are round and both help him forget about things like his father, who died two years ago, his mother’s desire to arrange a marriage to his first cousin, Nusrat, back home in Pakistan, and the tiny apartment in Regent Park he shares with his mom and sister. Not to mention his estranged best friend Yousuf, who’s coping with the shooting death of his older brother. But Fawad has plans: like, asking out Ashley, even though she lives on the other, wealthier side of the tracks, and saving his friend Arif from being beaten into a pulp for being the school flirt, and making the school basketball team and dreaming of being the world’s first Pakistani to be drafted into the NBA. All he has to do now is convince his mother to let him try out for the basketball team. And let him date girls from his school. Not to mention somehow get Omar, the neighborhood bully, to leave him alone.
I Am Not Starfire By Mariko Tamaki Illustrated by Yoshi Yoshitani 184 Pages | Ages 13+ | Paperback ISBN 9781779501264 | DC Comics Seventeen-year-old Mandy, daughter of Starfire, is NOT like her mother. Starfire is gorgeous, tall, sparkly, and a hero. Mandy is NOT a sparkly superhero. Mandy has no powers, is a kid who dyes her hair black and hates everyone but her best friend Lincoln. To Starfire, who is from another planet, Mandy seems like an alien, like some distant angry light years away moon. And it’s possible Mandy is even more distant lately, ever since she walked out on her S.A.T.s. Which, yeah, her mom doesn’t know. Everyone thinks Mandy needs to go to college and become whoever you become at college, but Mandy has other plans. Mandy’s big plan is that she’s going to move to France and…do whatever people do in France. But then everything changes when she gets partnered with Claire for a school project. Mandy likes Claire (even if she denies it, heartily and intensely). A lot. How do you become the person you’re supposed to be when you don’t know what that is? How do you become the person you’re supposed to be when the only thing you’re sure of is what you’re not? When someone from Starfire’s past arrives, Mandy must make a choice: give up before the battle has even begun, or step into the unknown and risk everything to save her mom. I am Not Starfire is a story about teenagers and/as aliens; about knowing where you come from and where you are going; and about mothers.