Tundra Telegram: Books To Carry You Home

Welcome to another exciting edition of Tundra Telegram, a column in which we look at the subjects on readers’ minds and recommend some recent great books to continue the discussion.

We’ve had fun talking popular music and baseball these past two weeks, but one issue that has been top of mind for so many readers is the terrible conflict that has raged for nearly two months in Ukraine. And – central to that – the millions of Ukrainian refugees who have fled their country for other temporary homes around the world. Just this past week, some of the first Ukrainian refugees began to arrive in Canada. Fleeing countries for reasons of political violence, war, or persecution is not always an easy subject matter to approach in children’s books or even YA, but we’ve got a few recommendations if you’d like to read stories that look at refugees’ perspectives.

PICTURE BOOKS

The two children in Kyo Maclear and Rashin Kheiriyeh’s Story Boat are fleeing a non-specific crisis in a non-specific land, but their story of leaving behind nearly everything for an uncertain future will ring true for many refugees – as will how the tiniest things (a cup, a lamp, a flower) can become beacons of hope. (And it was even given a shout-out from the UN Refugee Agency!)

Lubna and Pebble by Wendy Meddour and Daniel Egnéus is likewise subtle in its depiction of the refugee life. Lubna is a girl who live in the World of Tents, and her best friend is a pebble, who makes her feel better when she’s scared. But when a lost little boy arrives, Lubna realizes that he needs Pebble even more than she does.

Quebec’s own Elise Gravel gives kids the straight talk with her What Is a Refugee?, an accessible nonfiction picture book that introduces the term “refugee” to picture book readers: Who are refugees? Why are they called that word? Why do they need to leave their country? Answers to these questions and more are illustrated within.

Francesca Sanna’s The Journey is a picture book about many journeys (not just one). Sanna interviewed refugees from dozens of different countries who now found themselves in an Italian refugee center about their personal journeys. The resulting picture book is a collage of those personal stories and looks at the incredibly difficult decisions families make to leave their homes.

And in the Rebecca Young and Matt Ottley picture book, Teacup, a boy is forced to leave his home to find another. He brings with him only a teacup (what else?) full of earth from the place where he grew up, and sets off on a dangerous sea journey

MIDDLE GRADE

New York Times bestselling author/artist Victoria Jamieson teamed with former Somali refugee Omar Mohamed to tell When Stars Are Scattered, a National Book Award nominated comic-book memoir of Mohamed’s childhood, chronicling the day-to-day highs and lows of growing up in a refugee camp in Kenya with his younger brother Hassan.

Newbery honor book The Night Diary by Veera Hiranandani takes readers back to India’s partition in 1947, and a half-Muslim, half-Hindu twelve-year-old named Nisha, whose family decides they can no longer stay in the newly formed Pakistan. She and her family become refugees, travelling by train and foot toward what they hope will be a brighter future.

And Canadian author Eric Walters tells the story of Muchoki and his younger sister, Jata in Walking Home, who flee the political violence that kills their father, and soon find themselves in an overcrowded Kenyan refugee camp. Soon they set off on a treacherous journey in hopes of reaching their grandparents, hundreds of kilometers away.

YOUNG ADULT

Rachel DeWoskin’s Someday We Will Fly explores the journey of a fifteen-year-old Jewish refugee from Poland during World War II. Lillia, her sister, and father flee to Shanghai, one of the only places that would welcome Jewish refugees at that time.

Walk Toward the Rising Sun is the moving autobiography of Ger Duany, a young Sudanese boy who became a child soldier, then a refugee – one of the 20,000 “Lost boys of Sudan.” He eventually was resettled to the U.S. from the Dadaab refugee camp in Kenya, reunited with his family with some help form the UNHCR, and later became a peace activist and Hollywood actor (check him in I Heart Huckabees!)

If you like your refugee narratives with a dash of sports drama, you’ll score with Warren St. John’s Outcasts United, the story of the Fugees – a real-life youth soccer team made up of refugees from around the world (now living in Georgia) and coached by a young Jordanian-American woman.

And Susan Kuklin’s We Are Here to Stay is an anthology of the real stories of nine undocumented young adults living in the U.S. They come from Colombia, Korea, Ghana, and more – many escaping poverty and fleeing violence. Real stories from real teenaged refugees living in America.

2022 Outstanding International Books List

Since 2006, the United States Board on Books for Young People (USBBY) has put together an honor list of international books for young people. The list is published each year in February and highlights international books that are deemed to be outstanding in their field. We would like to congratulate Angela Ahn,  Julie Morstad, and Wab Kinew whose books were included on this year’s Outstanding International Books list!

Peter Lee’s Notes From the Field
By Angela Ahn
Illustrated by Julie Kwon
312 Pages | Ages 9-12 | Hardcover
ISBN 9780735268241 | Tundra Books
Eleven year-old Peter Lee has one goal in life: to become a paleontologist. Okay, maybe two: to get his genius kid-sister, L.B., to leave him alone. But his summer falls apart when his real-life dinosaur expedition turns out to be a bust, and he watches his dreams go up in a cloud of asthma-inducing dust. Even worse, his grandmother, Hammy, is sick, and no one will talk to Peter or L.B. about it. Perhaps his days as a scientist aren’t quite behind him yet. Armed with notebooks and pens, Peter puts his observation and experimental skills to the test to see what he can do for Hammy. If only he can get his sister to be quiet for once – he needs time to sketch out a plan.

Time Is a Flower
By Julie Morstad
56 Pages | Ages 3-7 | Hardcover
ISBN 9780735267541 | Tundra Books
What is time? Is it the tick tick tock of a clock, numbers and words on a calendar? It’s that, but so much more. Time is a seed waiting to grow, a flower blooming, a sunbeam moving across a room. Time is slow like a spider spinning her web or fast like a wave at the beach. Time is a wiggly tooth, or waiting for the school bell to ring, or reading a story . . . or three! But time is also morning for some and night for others, a fading sunset and a memory captured in a photo taken long ago. In this magical meditation on the nature of time, Julie Morstad shines a joyful light on a difficult-to-grasp concept for young readers and reminds older readers to see the wonders of our world, including children themselves, through the lens of time.

Walking in Two Worlds
By Wab Kinew
296 Pages | Ages 12+ | Hardcover
ISBN 9780735269002 | Penguin Teen Canada
Bugz is caught between two worlds. In the real world, she’s a shy and self-conscious Indigenous teen who faces the stresses of teenage angst and life on the Rez. But in the virtual world, her alter ego is not just confident but dominant in a massively multiplayer video game universe. Feng is a teen boy who has been sent from China to live with his aunt, a doctor on the Rez, after his online activity suggests he may be developing extremist sympathies. Meeting each other in real life, as well as in the virtual world, Bugz and Feng immediately relate to each other as outsiders and as avid gamers. And as their connection is strengthened through their virtual adventures, they find that they have much in common in the real world, too: both must decide what to do in the face of temptations and pitfalls, and both must grapple with the impacts of family challenges and community trauma. But betrayal threatens everything Bugz has built in the virtual world, as well as her relationships in the real world, and it will take all her newfound strength to restore her friendship with Feng and reconcile the parallel aspects of her life: the traditional and the mainstream, the east and the west, the real and the virtual.

Thank you to the Outstanding International Books (OIB) committee for all their work!

National Housing Day

Each year, National Housing Day is held on November 22 to recognize and improve access to housing for everyone in Canada. Here are some books that celebrate the different shapes and forms that houses – and homes – can take!

A House for Every Bird
By Megan Maynor
Illustrated by Kaylani Juanita
32 Pages | Ages 3-6 | Hardcover
ISBN 9781984896483 | Knopf BFYR
A young artist has drawn birds and bird houses in corresponding colors. Now it’s time to match them up. The blue bird goes in the blue house, the orange bird in the orange house, and so on. But wait! The birds don’t agree with the narrator’s choices and, much to her distress, are rebelling by swapping houses. Can the narrator make the birds see sense? Or is it possible that you just can’t tell a bird by its feathers?

Home: A Peek-Through Picture Book
By Britta Teckentrup
32 Pages | Ages 3-7 | Hardcover
ISBN 9780593379295 | Doubleday BFYR
A family of bears wanders through the forest, spying all the different places animals call home, including a bird’s nest, a beaver lodge, an icy river full of fish, and a maze of rabbit burrows. Finally, as the snow falls, the bears come home to their cozy cave to hibernate, safe and warm. This comforting celebration of home and nature will enchant children as they peek through the holes on each page to spy each animal. It’s the perfect way for families to share a love of science and nature, while cuddled up together in their own homes.

Home
By Carson Ellis
40 Pages | Ages 4-8 | Hardcover
ISBN 9780763665296 | Candlewick
Home might be a house in the country, an apartment in the city, or even a shoe. Home may be on the road or the sea, in the realm of myth, or in the artist’s own studio. A meditation on the concept of home and a visual treat that invites many return visits, this loving look at the places where people live marks the picture-book debut of Carson Ellis, acclaimed illustrator of the Wildwood series and artist for the indie band the Decemberists.

Mi Casa Is My Home
By Laurenne Sala
Illustrated by Zara González Hoang
32 Pages | Ages 3-7 | Hardcover
ISBN 9781536209433 | Candlewick
Bienvenidos to Lucía’s home. Lucía lives in her casa with her big, loud, beautiful familia, and she’s going to show you around! From la puerta, where Abuela likes to wave to the neighbors and wait for packages from Puerto Rico or Spain, to la cocina, where Lucía watches her Mamá turn empty pots into soups and arroces, to el patio, where Lucia and her cousins (and her cousin’s cousins!) put on magic shows, Lucía loves her busy and cozy casa. With warmth and joy, author Laurenne Sala and illustrator Zara González Hoang celebrate home in this bilingual picture book that feels like an abrazo from your most favorite people, your familia.

No Fixed Address
By Susin Nielsen
288 Pages | Ages 10+ | Hardcover
ISBN 9780735262751| Tundra Books
Felix Knuttson, twelve, is an endearing kid with an incredible brain for trivia. His mom Astrid is loving but unreliable; she can’t hold onto a job, or a home. When they lose their apartment in Vancouver, they move into a camper van, just for August, till Astrid finds a job. September comes, they’re still in the van; Felix must keep “home” a secret and give a fake address in order to enroll in school. Luckily, he finds true friends. As the weeks pass and life becomes grim, he struggles not to let anyone know how precarious his situation is. When he gets to compete on a national quiz show, Felix is determined to win – the cash prize will bring them a home. Their luck is about to change! But what happens is not at all what Felix expected.

Over the Shop
By JonArno Lawson
Illustrated by Qin Leng
48 Pages | Ages 3-7 | Hardcover
ISBN 9781536201475 | Candlewick
A lonely little girl and her grandparent need to fill the run-down apartment in their building. But taking over the quarters above their store will mean major renovations for the new occupants, and none of the potential renters can envision the possibilities of the space – until one special couple shows up. With their ingenuity, the little girl’s big heart, and heaps of hard work, the desperate fixer-upper begins to change in lovely and surprising ways. In this bustling wordless picture book, JonArno Lawson’s touching story and Qin Leng’s gentle illustrations capture all angles of the building’s transformation, as well as the evolving perspectives of the girl and her grandparent. A warm and subtly nuanced tale, Over the Shop throws open the doors to what it means to accept people for who they are and to fill your home with love and joy.

Red House, Tree House, Little Bitty Brown Mouse
By Jane Godwin
Illustrated by Blanca Gómez
40 Pages | Ages 3-5 | Hardcover
ISBN 9780525553816 | Dial Books
A little mouse makes her way around the world, and invites preschoolers along as she sets out: Red house / Blue house / Green house / Tree house! / See the tiny mouse in her little brown house? Seamless, simple, and inspiring, the rhyming story abounds in concepts for the very young, with a particular focus on colors, and a delightful search-and-find element on every spread – the intrepid mouse herself!

Shelter
By Christie Matheson
192 Pages | Ages 8-12 | Hardcover
ISBN 9780593376386 | Random House BFYR
Fifth grade can be tough for anyone. There are cliques and mean kids and homework and surprise math tests. But after tragedy strikes her family, almost-eleven-year-old Maya has a painful secret that makes many days feel nearly impossible. And today might be Maya’s toughest yet. Her family is on edge, she needs to travel alone across the city, a bully is out to get her, and Maya has to face this winter’s biggest rainstorm without a coat or an umbrella. But even on the rainiest days, there’s hope that the sun will come out soon. Emotional and compassionate, Shelter looks at homelessness through one girl’s eyes and explores the power of empathy, friendship, and love.

Ship in a Bottle
By Andrew Prahin
32 Pages | Ages 3-7 | Hardcover
ISBN 9781984815811 | Putnam BFYR
All Mouse wants to do is eat gingersnaps, lie in the sun, and enjoy her ship in a bottle. All Cat wants to do is eat Mouse. This is a problem. So one day, Mouse sets off in her ship in a bottle in search of a new home. But the great big world is a scary place for one small mouse. As she sails downriver, she faces grabby seagulls, selfish rabbits, and stormy waters before finally finding refuge in a park on the shores of an enormous city, where she is welcomed by friends of all shapes and sizes. Readers will cheer Mouse’s quiet perseverance on her epic journey as she seeks a tiny spot to call her own.

Story Boat
By Kyo Maclear
Illustrated by Rashin Kheiriyeh
40 Pages | Ages 3-7 | Hardcover
ISBN 9780735263598 | Tundra Books
When a little girl and her younger brother are forced along with their family to flee the home they’ve always known, they must learn to make a new home for themselves – wherever they are. And sometimes the smallest things – a cup, a blanket, a lamp, a flower, a story – can become a port of hope in a terrible storm. As the refugees travel onward toward an uncertain future, they are buoyed up by their hopes, dreams and the stories they tell – a story that will carry them perpetually forward. When you have to leave behind almost everything you know, where can you call home? Sometimes home is simply where we are: here. A imaginative, lyrical, unforgettable picture book about the migrant experience through a child’s eyes.

Take Back the Block
By Chrystal D. Giles
240 Pages | Ages 8-12 | Hardcover
ISBN 9780593175170 | Random House BFYR
Wes Henderson has the best style in sixth grade. That – and hanging out with his crew (his best friends since little-kid days) and playing video games – is what he wants to be thinking about at the start of the school year, not the protests his parents are always dragging him to. But when a real estate developer makes an offer to buy Kensington Oaks, the neighborhood Wes has lived his whole life, everything changes. The grownups are supposed to have all the answers, but all they’re doing is arguing. Even Wes’s best friends are fighting. And some of them may be moving. Wes isn’t about to give up the only home he’s ever known. Wes has always been good at puzzles, and he knows there has to be a missing piece that will solve this puzzle and save the Oaks. But can he find it . . . before it’s too late? Exploring community, gentrification, justice, and friendship, Take Back the Block introduces an irresistible 6th grader and asks what it means to belong – to a place and a movement – and to fight for what you believe in.

The Blue HouseThe Blue House
By Phoebe Wahl
40 Pages | Ages 4-8 | Hardcover
ISBN 9781984893390 | Tundra Books
For as long as he can remember, Leo has lived in the blue house with his dad, but lately the neighborhood is changing. People are leaving, houses are being knocked down and shiny new buildings are going up in their place. When Leo and his dad are forced to leave, they aren’t happy about it. They howl and rage and dance out their feelings. When the time comes, they leave the blue house behind – there was never any choice, not really – but little by little, they find a way to keep its memory alive in their new home.

The Cot in the Living Room
By Hilda Eunice Burgos
Illustrated by Gaby D’Alessandro
40 Pages | Ages 4-8 | Hardcover
ISBN 9780593110478 | Kokila
Night after night, a young girl watches her mami set up a cot in the living room for guests in their Washington Heights apartment, like Raquel (who’s boring) and Edgardo (who gets crumbs everywhere). She resents that they get the entire living room with a view of the George Washington Bridge, while all she gets is a tiny bedroom with a view of her sister (who snores). Until one night when no one comes, and it’s finally her chance! But as it turns out, sleeping on the cot in the living room isn’t all she thought it would be.

Time for Bed, Old House
By Janet Costa Bates
Illustrated by A. G. Ford
32 Pages | Ages 3-7 | Hardcover
ISBN 9781536209983 | Candlewick
Isaac is excited about having a sleepover at Grandpop’s house, but he’s a little nervous about being away from home for the first time. Luckily, his knowing Grandpop tells him it’s not quite time to go to bed yet – first, he needs Isaac’s help in putting the house to bed. Quietly and slowly, they move from room to room, turning out lights and pulling down shades, as Grandpop gently explains the nighttime sounds that Isaac finds unfamiliar. Now it’s time to read the house a bedtime story (Isaac is good at reading the pictures). By the time the house is settled in for the night, Isaac and Grandpop are ready for bed, too. Janet Costa Bates’ tender story and A. G. Ford’s cozy illustrations will have families – and extended families or friends – eager to take a wise Grandpop’s cue and embrace a new nighttime tradition.

Uma Wimple Charts Her House
By Reif Larsen and Ben Gibson
40 Pages | Ages 4-8 | Hardcover
ISBN 9780593181188 | Anne Schwartz Books
Uma’s been making charts since she was a little kid. But when her teacher gives the class Uma’s dream assignment – to make a chart of their own homes – she is thrown for a loop. Oh, the possibilities! Oh, the pressure! What makes a house housey? she wonders. In order to figure it out, she asks each member of her family – Mom, Dad, and brothers Rex, Bram, and Lukey. But it’s not until she has a meltdown and Lukey comforts her that Uma figures out the secret to her chart – and her family. It’s the love that is shared inside a house’s walls.

2021 Sheila Barry Best Canadian Picturebook of the Year Award Winner

The Sheila Barry Best Canadian Picturebook of the Year Award is named for the late publisher of Groundwood Books, and honors books that follow in the footsteps of its namesake, celebrated for her talent for matching authors and illustrators in the creation of beautiful and resonant picture books. We would like to congratulate Kyo Maclear and Rashin Kheiriyeh whose gorgeous Story Boat won this year’s award.

Story Boat
By Kyo Maclear
Illustrated by Rashin Kheiriyeh
40 Pages | Ages 3-7 | Hardcover
ISBN 9780735263598 | Tundra Books
“Where is home for a refugee child? In Story Boat, home is ‘here’ and ‘now’, shaped by imagination from objects of comfort.  This elegant picture book is both a story in lyrical prose about the refugee crisis from a child’s perspective and a visual narrative describing the harsh ‘lived’ experience of the adults. Comfort to a child is found in things that are ‘here’: a cup, a blanket, a flower, a lamp.  These represent home, family, dreams, and hope. Along the journey, objects are reimagined into the uncertain future, becoming a sail boat, a ladder, a lighthouse, and a story. In contrast, the adult perspective, revealed in vivid illustrations, is a story of hardship.  A continuous line of people burdened with their belongings trudges along, resting in tents, boarding a boat, sailing a rough sea. Their faces are sad, fearful and anxious, yet hopeful and joyful in story and song. Kheiriyeh uses a limited colour palette to create a multi-layered landscape of lines: a line of refugees, of birds, of trees, of waves on the sea, beams from the lighthouse, a constellation of stars. The colours are symbolic, stories in colour. Blue merges land and sea, orange is warmth, light and hope. In beautifully crafted language and multi layered visual narrative about the refugee crisis, Story Boat is a powerful example of the picture book as an art form.”  – Sheila Barry Award jury

We’d also like to congratulate the Fan Brothers and Lauren Soloy whose titles, The Barnabus Project and When Emily Was Small were named honor books.

The Barnabus Project
By Terry Fan, Eric Fan, and Devin Fan
72 Pages | Ages 5-9 | Hardcover
ISBN 9780735263260 | Tundra Books
“Welcome to the dystopian (if rather cozy) world of genetically-engineered pets.  Such pets as the Turtle Puff and Moop are deemed a success and are marketed through the outlet “Perfect Pets.” But what of the failed experiments? Such is Barnabus, half elephant half mouse, a doughty hero who leads a group of other “failures” to a rebellion, escaping imprisonment in the bell jars of a lab to a life of autonomy, freedom and the joys of the natural world.  For the youngest reader/listener this is an adventure of suspense and the triumph of the little guy.  Older readers will pick up on the subversive social satire, a world where “cuteness” is valued above all.  Young adults will resonate to the critique of genetic engineering. Everyone will enjoy the goofy inventive language (who could resist creatures called Lite-Up Lois and Wally the Ripple?) and the generous large-format detailed illustrations that invite visiting and revisiting, finding the embedded jokes, solving the mysteries, perusing the endpapers, dustjacket and cover for more information.”  – Sheila Barry Award jury

When Emily Was SmallWhen Emily Was Small
By Lauren Soloy
44 Pages | Ages 4-8 | Hardcover
ISBN 9780735266063 | Tundra Books
“When Emily Was Small is a poetic burst of joy, a celebration of creative inspiration found in nature. The book imagines a day in the life of a young Emily Carr, when she wanders beyond the currant bushes. Emily feels small when her mother reprimands her. But when she dances through the garden into the wild place, she becomes Small, a creature wild and curious.  A wolf appears, Wild, perhaps an imagined part of herself. Look closely, it urges, at the ‘thousand shades of green, the sunlight in every shadow, the sun dazzled wings and clouds of flowers’.  Emily flies above it all and is inspired. When Emily hears her mother’s voice, Wild vanishes and she is lying at her mother’s feet, small again, reprimanded for getting dirty. But Emily is changed, ‘the butterfly wings dancing to the rhythm of her own small heart. Soloy’s poetic text sparkles and pops: lippety, lippety, thumpety, bumpety, glitter and glimmer, fizz. It begs to be read aloud. The illustrations, primarily watercolours with bold outlines, capture the look of Emily and are reminiscent of Emily Carr’s art. When Emily Was Small invites the reader to hurry into the wild places. Then it urges them to pause at paintings overfilling the pages, lush landscapes in many shades of green.” – Sheila Barry Award jury

2021 Outstanding International Books List

Since 2006, the United States Board on Books for Young People (USBBY) has put together an honor list of international books for young people. The list is published each year in February and highlights international books that are deemed to be outstanding in their field. We would like to congratulate Tanaz Bhathena, Kyo Maclear, Rashin Kheiriyeh, and David A. Robertson, whose books were included on this year’s Outstanding International Books list!

By Tanaz Bhathena
384 Pages | Ages 12+| Hardcover
ISBN 9780735267022 | Penguin Teen Canada
Gul has spent her life running. She has a star-shaped birthmark on her arm, and in the kingdom of Ambar, girls with such birthmarks have been disappearing for years. Gul’s mark is what caused her parents’ murder at the hand of King Lohar’s ruthless soldiers and forced her into hiding to protect her own life. So when a group of rebel women called the Sisters of the Golden Lotus rescue her, take her in, and train her in warrior magic, Gul wants only one thing: revenge. Cavas lives in the tenements, and he’s just about ready to sign his life over to the king’s army. His father is terminally ill, and Cavas will do anything to save him. But sparks fly when he meets a mysterious girl – Gul – in the capital’s bazaar, and as the chemistry between them undeniably grows, he becomes entangled in a mission of vengeance – and discovers a magic he never expected to find. Dangerous circumstances have brought Gul and Cavas together at the king’s domain in Ambar Fort . . . a world with secrets deadlier than their own. Exploring identity, class struggles, and high-stakes romance, Hunted by the Sky is a gripping adventure set in a world inspired by medieval India.

Story Boat
By Kyo Maclear
Illustrated by Rashin Kheiriyeh
40 Pages | Ages 3-7 | Hardcover
ISBN 9780735263598 | Tundra Books
When a little girl and her younger brother are forced along with their family to flee the home they’ve always known, they must learn to make a new home for themselves – wherever they are. And sometimes the smallest things – a cup, a blanket, a lamp, a flower, a story – can become a port of hope in a terrible storm. As the refugees travel onward toward an uncertain future, they are buoyed up by their hopes, dreams and the stories they tell – a story that will carry them perpetually forward.

The Barren Grounds: The Misewa Saga #1
By David A. Robertson
256 Pages | Ages 10+ | Hardcover
ISBN 9780735266100 | Puffin Canada
Morgan and Eli, two Indigenous children forced away from their families and communities, are brought together in a foster home in Winnipeg, Manitoba. They each feel disconnected, from their culture and each other, and struggle to fit in at school and at their new home – until they find a secret place, walled off in an unfinished attic bedroom. A portal opens to another reality, Askí, bringing them onto frozen, barren grounds, where they meet Ochek (Fisher). The only hunter supporting his starving community, Misewa, Ochek welcomes the human children, teaching them traditional ways to survive. But as the need for food becomes desperate, they embark on a dangerous mission. Accompanied by Arik, a sassy Squirrel they catch stealing from the trapline, they try to save Misewa before the icy grip of winter freezes everything – including them.

Thank you to the Outstanding International Books (OIB) committee for all their work!