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 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!