Hello, and thanks for joining us at Tundra Telegram, the column where
Wii we plumb readers’ minds and try to Switch you on to some books that are Peachy.
You’d have to be hiding in a drainpipe to not know that the long-anticipated Super Mario Brothers Movie graced movie theatre screens across North America yesterday. Though the world’s most popular video game has been adapted into film before (we’ll never forget you, Bob Hoskins), excitement for this new animated film has been so massive, you’d think it ate a red mushroom.
To mark the occasion, we’re recommending some books about video games. Whether it’s about making games, playing them, or finding yourself inside one – no Dry Bones about it, we have books for all ages that are the perfect match for gamers.
To get to Mario, you need to start with the first home video game console, and that was created by Ralph Baer, the subject of the picture book biography Blips on a Screen by Kate Hannigan and Zachariah OHora about Ralph Baer, a pioneer in the video game revolution. The book tells how a refugee from Nazi Germany used his tech skills to make video games you could play in your own home a reality – and without Ralph, there might never have been a certain heroic Italian American plumber.
Do Not Eat the Game! is a hard instruction to follow when your video game is full of mushrooms and turnips, but it’s also the name of a fun picture book by Matthew McElligott. Full disclosure: the book is about a board game, rather than a video game. But it is about competition, playing well with others, and being a good loser. Plus, the kid’s opponent is a monster (not unlike Bowser), so there are plenty of parallels.
Finally, we only have the audiobook rights, but the American Girl book Courtney Changes the Game by Kellen Hertz is all about a gamer girl. Set in 1986, at the height of arcade popularity, protagonist Courtney is the best gamer at the arcade, and is frustrated there aren’t more girl characters in video games. When a school project allows her to create her own video game, she develops a girl who can handle whatever the bosses throw her way – something Courtney struggles with in real life.
CHAPTER BOOKS & MIDDLE GRADE
If only young Courtney in 1986 could have read 2023’s Rebel Girls Level Up: 25 Tales of Women in Gaming and Tech. The book highlights the women designing games, leading gamer communities, and paving the way for more women to enter the gaming and tech industries. This includes people like Mabbel Addis, the first female video game designer (back in 1964!), and Aya Kyogoku, who directed Animal Crossing: New Leaf, among others.
How about a book written by an actual video game developer and writer? My Video Game Ate My Homework by Dustin Hansen, is about a thirteen-year old kid who is failing in his science class, but when he and his friends magically wind up in a virtual world, he excels in battling all sorts of digital creatures and solving a number of puzzles in order to get home. (This is, as they say, something for which he has trained his entire life.)
A book series in that same vein but fictional is the Girls Who Code books by Stacia Deutsch, Jo Whittemore, and Michelle Schusterman. Published in partnership with the organization Girls Who Code, the books follow four girls: Lucy, Sophia, Maya, and Erin – strangers at first – who form a strong friendship in a new computer coding club at school. (Though sadly, while they code everything from apps to the tech at the school play and even participate in a hackathon, they don’t create a video game.)
If reading about a group of four kids with some connection to video games is your bag, then Player vs. Player: Ultimate Gaming Showdown by M.K. England and Chris Danger should be, too. Four kid gamers (“The Weird Ones”) take on 63 other teams in an epic tournament of Affinity, a battle-royale-style game. And out this summer is Player vs. Player: Attack of the Bots, a book that brings back the kid gamers, who have since gone pro and set up their own streaming channel. Only one problem: one-fourth of their crew – Wheatley – is missing. In another proverbial castle, one might say.
Winnipeg politician and author Wab Kinew was inspired by video games like Minecraft and Fortnite to build his immersive Floraverse series. In Walking in Two Worlds, readers meet Bugz, an Indigenous girl living on the Rez who happens to be a dominant player in a massive multiplayer online game. The Everlasting Road, the follow up, follows Bugz’s adventures in the ‘Verse, as she builds a weapon and virtual friend Waawaate, who fills the hole left by the death of her brother – with, as you might expect, problematic results. (It’s a book that tackles video games and grief more elegantly than Luigi’s Mansion.)
Another YA series that looks at the push-and-pull of the virtual gaming world is Jason Segel and Kirsten Miller’s Otherworld, in which gamers can leave your body behind to enter into a virtual reality game so addictive users never want to leave. Of course, in the remaining books in the trilogy – OtherEarth and OtherLife – young gamers Sam and Kat discover the threats inherent in the VR gaming system, and escape The Company, who would do anything to keep those threat secret!
Warcross and Wildcard by Marie Lu explore the nightmarish possibilities of immersive gaming that involves millions of players. Teenage hacker Emika Chen works as a bounty hunter, tracking down Warcross players who bet on the hugely popular game illegally. But when she is hired by the game’s creator, young billionaire Hideo Tanaka, to hack into the International Warcross Championship to uncover a security problem, she digs up – you guessed it – a dark conspiracy the likes a Koopa could never dream of.
For something a bit more optimistic, there’s Game On, a charming YA anthology edited by Laura Silverman all about games. The fifteen stories include Nina Moreno’s fan favorite adorable love story about two girls who find each other via a farming, Animal Crossing-esque video game. Just reading about it makes my heart go for a speed run.