Hello, and thanks for joining us at Tundra Telegram, the column where we’re unapologetic about recommending books for topics that readers have on the brain.
This weekend, one of the world’s largest sporting events will be held. And every year, that sporting event features an intermission that boasts some of the biggest, most elaborate musical performances of the year (sometimes even overshadowing the game). This tradition goes back to the 1990s, when record-breaking musicians took over the intermission from marching bands.
This Sunday, February 12, Barbadian singer, actress, and businesswoman Rihanna will perform this show, so we’ve gone through our library of children’s and YA titles to suggest some perfect book pairings to match your favorite Rihanna single. Sit back and relax; we’re about to talk that talk.
“Umbrella”: The color of the brolly in Rihanna’s hit single isn’t described (because it’s largely metaphorical), but The Pink Umbrella by Amelie Callot and Geneviève Godbout matches the song perfectly. For it is raining more than ever in café owner Adele’s life, but her friends and customers let her know – in one way or another – they’ll always be her friend.
“What’s My Name?”: Anoosha Syed’s picture book That’s Not My Name! shares the song’s interest in knowing names and loving your own. And when Mirha’s classmates begin – after a little coaching – to pronounce her name correctly, she thinks to herself, They’re so amazing, they took the time to figure me out. (And, like featured artist Drake, Syed also hails from Toronto.)
“Work”: Nobody tells Duck he has to work, but in Sonny Ross’s Duck Gets a Job, career-focused Duck decides he needs a job in the city. Duck gets that job to make that bread (presumably to eat), but finds himself bored with the drudgery of spreadsheets, sitting in a cubicle, and filing reports. (Join the club, Duck!) Our feathered friend quits to find new work in another field and finds not all work makes him feel like dirt.
“Shut Up and Drive”: Few picture books can match the feeling of bombing around in a hot rod like Rihanna’s ode to car culture more than Wheels, No Wheels by Shannon McNeill. Sure, the tractor, bicycle, and skateboard that a llama, cat, and turtle thieve from their farm may not be rides smoother than a limousine, but the farm animals and the book’s humor have momentum to spare.
“Rude Boy”: There’s nothing ruder than selfishly claiming a row of bushes for your own and not letting any other animals live there. Especially when it’s winter! That’s why Hedgehog by Ashlyn Anstee is our choice for “rude boy.” He kicks out birds, squirrels, groundhogs (last week throwback) out of his hedge before things go a little “boom boom boom,” and he learns a few important lessons.
CHAPTER BOOKS & MIDDLE GRADE
“B*tch Better Have My Money”: Gabby, Priya, and Mindy learn about both accounts payable and dogs in the graphic novel PAWS: Gabby Gets It Together by Nathan Fairbairn and Michele Assarasakorn. The trio combine their shared love of animals and shared inability to have pets of their own and turn it into a lucrative dogwalking business. Things are fun for a while, but like RiRi, they soon learn the dangers of combining friendship and money.
“Diamonds”: Twelve-year-old Piper’s astronaut-slash-television-host hero frequently shouts the catchphrase “shine on” in the novel Shine! by J.J. and Chris Grabenstein. It’s a phrase which would not be out of place in this hit single. But Piper, newly arrived at Chumley Prep where every kid seems to be the best at something, does not feel bright like a diamond. In time, she discovers the brightest diamonds don’t shine just for themselves.
“Stay”: I want you to stay, is what young Bea says when her parents divorce in The List of Things That Will Not Change by Rebecca Stead. But the sentiment is not directed to one parent or another, but rather her life, which is rapidly going through changes. That’s why she keeps a green notebook with the titular list – so she knows that when her dad remarries, when she gains a new stepsister, there are certain things that will always stay true.
“Only Girl (in the World)”: In Red Fox Road by Frances Greenslade, thirteen-year-old Francie feels like she’s the only girl in the world. Mainly because she finds herself stranded in the wilderness after a number of mishaps during a family vacation. Only her survival skills – not love – will keep her alive.
“Disturbia”: For one of Rihanna’s spookiest songs, we recommend one of the scariest YA novels in recent years: There’s Someone Inside Your House by Stephanie Perkins. Combining steamy romance and blood-soaked horror with equal aplomb (just like the song), the book follows Makani Young, new to her Nebraska town, as she tries to find a little romance while students at her high school die in increasingly gruesome ways.
“Don’t Stop the Music”: It may be hard to imagine a single Rihanna song making it onto the subject of Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan. But the playlist is infinite in this late-night love story in which two music fans trawl NYC’s bars and clubs to find a legendary band’s secret performance, so by definition, it will not stop.
“Love the Way You Lie”: Okay, technically this is an Eminem song, but nevertheless it showcases Rihanna and is a great companion to YA novel No Filter and Other Lies by Crystal Maldonado. Fat, brown, bisexual Kat creates a fake Instagram account for “Max” in a moment of weakness, populating it with photos of her thin, white friend Becca. Kat begins to thrive in her fake online persona. But when the truth is revealed, will Kat’s life be ruined? No matter what, readers will very much love the way the messy and very human Kat lies.
“We Found Love”: What more hopeless place is there than 1950s Red Scare America for two lesbians to find love? That’s the setting of Last Night at the Telegraph Club by Malinda Lo, in which Chinese American Lily Hu falls for white American Kathleen Miller in a Chinatown lesbian bar. While their romance blossoms, anti-Chinese and homophobic sentiment threatens to end their connection at every turn.
“Love on the Brain”: If romance and grey matter are what you’re looking for, you need Alexene Farol Follmuth’s My Mechanical Romance, in which two robotics team members fall for each other and find they soon have more than transistors and college applications on their minds.
We’d love to hear more Rihanna book recommendations from you, so suggest your picks in the comments!