Hello, and thanks for joining us at Tundra Telegram, the column where we check out the things that people are vibing (short for vibranium-ing) with on social media and recommend some forever heroic reads.
This past weekend, Black Panther: Wakanda Forever was released in theatres across North America. The Marvel superhero film had an opening weekend box office of $180 million, making it the year’s second largest movie opening, and the largest movie opening in November ever. In addition to the financial success, the film is also, reportedly, a hit with critics and a fitting tribute to the late star of the original Black Panther, Chadwick Boseman.
With the release of any new Black Panther movie (yes, we know there have only been two so far), our minds naturally turn to afrofuturism, and the many great books – particularly YA – that combines science-fiction, history, and technology to explore the African diaspora experience. If you’re a fan of T’Challa, Shuri, Okoye, and the entire Black Panther supporting cast, and have been wondered what to read (with the youngsters in your life or by yourself) to hit that same chord, we have a few recommendations for you.
It may not surprise you to discover there aren’t that many science fiction picture books. (Why there aren’t is another story. There are so many ones based in fantasy!) But perhaps the most obvious scratch for your afrofuturist itch can be found in the Frank Berrios-authored Little Golden Books Black Panther (illustrated by Patrick Spaziante) and Shuri Is Brave (illustrated by Anthony Conley). The Black Panther and his sister Shuri are each featured defending the technological utopia of Wakanda in these picture books with a fun retro design.
It’s less science fiction than science fact that’s featured in Rocket Says Look Up! by Nathan Bryon and Dapo Adeola, a picture book about an aspiring young astronaut who rouses her community (with a charisma worthy of T’Challa) to take a break from their various distractions and look to the skies for a rare comet appearance. (You can read more Rocket adventures with Rocket Says Clean Up!, but the astronaut stuff seemed more futuristic.)
Finally, STEM enthusiast Ruby does some futuristic things in This Is Ruby by Sara O’Leary and Alea Marley. Ruby is curious about her world, which leads to her inventing things like a time machine and a book with smells instead of words (so dogs can read it). And illustrator Alea Marley has depicted Ruby growing up in Caribbean, based on her own youth in Barbados.
CHAPTER BOOKS & MIDDLE GRADE
A futuristic amusement park in – or rather over – Atlanta? You’ll find it Futureland: Battle for the Park by H. D. Hunter. When an extraordinary flying theme park where you can live out your wildest dreams arrives above Atlanta, it’s up to one boy – Cam Walker, the son of the park’s famous creators – to stop a sinister force from stealing the park’s technology and taking over the world.
Ikenga by Nnedi Okorafor is the perfect read if you’re looking for more African superheroes with superpowered family legacies. Nnamdi is a twelve-year-old boy whose father was the chief of police in their town in Nigeria until he was killed. But with his death, Nnamdi inherits a magical Ikenga figurine that allows him to transform into a huge and powerful monster, in a superhero origin story steeped in Igbo spiritualism.
Let’s be clear: there’s nothing futuristic or supernatural in Tight by Torrey Maldonado, a realistic and contemporary coming-of-age story. But the lead character Bryan loves reading comics and drawing superheroes – and relies on them and their guidance, in fact, when trying to escape the drama in his life. Especially when that drama is a new friend who might be pressuring him to do things he doesn’t want to. Tight shows how superheroes like Black Panther can lead us all on the right path.
My Life as an Ice Cream Sandwich by Ibi Zoboi is about a kid, Ebony Grace Norfleet, who loves everything science fiction. Her grandfather, who raises her, was one of the first Black engineers at NASA. An ds long as she can remember, Ebony has loved all things Star Trek and Star Wars. When Ebony is sent to live with her father in Harlem, she has trouble finding her place as a lover of all things space, but she finds even the big city can make room for stargazers.
If you’re looking for a YA novel that manages to be afrofuturist, superheroic, AND have connections to Hollywood, you want Nubia: The Awakening, the first book in a new series by acclaimed actor Omar Epps (Love & Basketball, House) and Clarence A. Haynes. The story follows three teens – Zuberi, Uzochi, and Lencho – the children of refugees from a fallen African utopia, who must navigate their newfound powers in a climate-ravaged New York City. It’s like X-Men meets Black Panther who team up to tackle class stratification and the climate crisis – who doesn’t want to read that?
Tochi Onyebuchi has been carrying the afrofuturist torch in YA for some time now, and his War Girls (and the follow-up, Rebel Sisters) are must-reads. Onyii and Ify star as two sisters in the futuristic, post-apocalyptic Nigeria of 2172 (where people fight in flying mech suits, which rules) who are willing to fight their way to a better future – but soon find themselves at battle with one another. Like the best afrofuturist fiction, it combines future with history, as Onyebuchi used the Nigerian civil war of the 1960s and 1970s as inspiration.
For a real charcuterie platter of some of the best afrofuturist women authors working in YA today, check out A Phoenix First Must Burn, edited by Patrice Caldwell, and featuring stories from Dhonielle Clayton, Ashley Woodfolk, Alaya Dawn Johnston, and many more. Alternate planets, soucouyants, dystopian future societies – this anthology has something for everyone.
Finally, the name Nnedi Okorafor has come up before – and with good reason: she’s one of the foremost authors of afrofuturist books and comics working today. Binti: The Complete Trilogy collects her Hugo- and Nebula-award-winning series that follows one extraordinary girl’s space journey from her home to distant Oomza University – a journey waylaid by an attack by the jellyfish-like Medusae on Binti’s spaceship. It’s an attack that leaves her the only survivor on a ship full of the beings who murdered her crew, and an event that leads to Binti herself trying to broker peace between two different species.
Wakanda forever, friends! See you in the (afro)future!