Hello, and thanks for joining us at Tundra Telegram, the column where we talk about the subjects people are feuding about online, and recommend some majestic books that are without peer(age).
Unless you’ve been living under a rock – and no shade if you have (though living under a rock probably involves lots of shade, TBH) – you know that England has a new king. By extension, the Commonwealth country that the gang at Tundra Books lives in, Canada, also has a new king. (Same guy, even!)
And no matter what your personal feelings or politics are on monarchies, or this particular monarchy, or the best way for a person to clear a desk for signing important documents, you have to admit – everyone was talking about kings this week. Accordingly, we’re recommending some great picture books, chapter books, middle-grade novels, and YA titles about some of our favorite kings. And, spoiler: none of them are about Charles III.
You can’t claim England and the British Commonwealth are small by any stretch, so the new king may have little in common with Bil Lepp and David T. Wenzel’s The King of Little Things. This book stars a king who is very happy to rule over an incredibly tiny kingdom, but he runs into conflict with King Normous, who wants to be Ruler of All the World. (Remind you of anyone?) This imaginative picture book is not so much a study of royalty as a tribute to the power and importance of the small things in life.
Not to be confused with the protagonist of the previous book, King Jasper is The King of Too Many Things, a picture book by Laurel Snyder and Aurore Damant. But the message of this book is similar. King Jasper can (and does) order his wizard to conjure up all sorts of cool things: dragons, robots, superheroes. But the king soon learns that wanting more can lead to less happiness. (Heavy is the head that wears the crown, they say.)
King Mouse by Cary Fagan and Dena Seiferling, among other things, is a story about finding your own royalty and when to abdicate it. In it, a little mouse finds a tiny crown in the grass and lets the other animals assume he’s king. But soon, the others find crowns that fit them and more and more of them claim to be kings and queens. But when the bear can’t find a crown big enough for his head, King Mouse decides friendship is more important than the monarchy.
A book that has special relevance in the early fall is Derrick Barnes and Vanessa Brantley-Newton’s The King of Kindergarten, a book that will give kids starting kindergarten a big confidence boost as they start in a joyful new kingdom of learning and friends. But we’re sure the book has lessons for any starting royal.
Speaking of royal lessons, The Barefoot King: A Story about Feeling Frustrated by Andrew Jordan Nance and Olivia Holden, is a parable told in rhyming couplets about the unintended consequences of rash decisions and the importance of acceptance and responsibility. King Creet, who rules where everyone walks barefoot, stubs his toe on a rock, which causes a lot of pain. He orders the entire kingdom covered in leather – what could go wrong?
And for a totally different kind of kingdom – the icky kind – try Slime King by Catherine Daly and Maine Diaz. Not about Charles III (I kid, I kid – no Tower of London for me, please), the book not only tells you about Leo and his slime-making business, but also show you how to make slime and crown yourself slime royalty, to boot!
CHAPTER BOOKS & MIDDLE GRADE
His domain may only be as expansive as a skating rink, but Miles Lewis: King of the Ice by Kelly Starling Lyons and Wayne Spencer is no less regal than any other king. And our titular hero holds a special place in Canadian hearts, as he must learn to ice skate in order to win a bet when his teacher leads them to an ice rink to learn about physics.
The Letter for the King by Tonke Dragt (which has since been turned into a Netflix series) is a medieval fantasy that centres on an important task that sixteen-year-old Tiuri (a hopeful teenage squire) must accomplish for the king. All he has to do is deliver a secret letter across the Great Mountains. And while it may seem like something postal carriers do daily, they never have to deal with menacing forests, sinister castles, and deadly enemies who want to take that letter from him.
Though The Children of the King by Sonya Hartnett is set during World War II in England, the king referenced is not George VI. Rather, the book follows two privileged children, Cecily and Jem, who are evacuated from London during the blitz to the country estate of their Uncle Peregrine. At Cecily’s request, they bring along a poor and seemingly orphaned girl named May with them. Uncle P tells them the estate lies on the ruins of Snow Castle, and regales them with a tale of royalty and betrayal that has resonance for their – and the world’s – current situation.
We’ve mentioned this YA series before, but anything royal is a great excuse to mention Katharine McGee’s American Royals, an alternate present in which in which George Washington was crowned king after the Revolutionary War, and readers follow Princesses Beatrice and Samantha as they court romances and vie for the crown – a crown that is currently held by a . . . you guessed it . . . king: King George IV (no relation).
Leslie Vedder’s The Bone Spindle may not feature a king, but Briar Rose is a prince (close) under a sleeping curse, waiting for a kiss to wake him in this rollicking fantasy adventure that doubles as a gender-swapped Sleeping Beauty. Unluckily for bookish treasure hunter Fi, she pricks her finger on a bone spindle (title alert), which connects her with the spirit of the cursed Briar Rose. She and her BFF Shane, a tough northern warrior who loves girls and busting skulls, soon find themselves on an adventure to break the prince’s sleeping curse.
The YA novel Beasts Made of Night by Tochi Onyebuchi asks an interesting ethical question for any hereditary ruler: what is someone could literally eat your sin? Taj is one such sin-eater (or aki), who slay the sin-beasts that mages will create from the corrupt elite. But when he’s called upon to live in the palace eat the sins of the royal family, Taj finds himself in the midst of a dark political conspiracy. Your favorite show The Crown could never.
And Jeff Zentner’s The Serpent King, being set in rural Tennessee, has a distinct lack of actual kings or crown jewels. But what it does have is three hardscrabble friends at the end of high school, eager to leave their town behind them – especially the guy who’s the son of a Pentecostal minister who has to handle poisonous snakes on the regular. (We could say more, but it would just spoil it. Suffice to say, Dill’s life is no Buckingham Palace.)
Cheerio, friends, and happy reading!