Tundra Telegram: Books That Blue Us Away

Hello, and thanks for joining us at Tundra Telegram, the column where we run through the issues giving readers grief, and suggest a few books for reading AND weeping.

Since 2005, people have acknowledged “Blue Monday.” (Celebrate is not exactly what we’d say happens.) The third Monday of January was given that name by a UK travel company, since they had allegedly calculated it as the most depressing day of the year. (One can assume they hoped to inspire some January travel to combat said blues.) Relatedly, “Blue Monday,” the song by New Order, has been acknowledged since 1983 to be a serious banger.

Whether there is any basis for “Blue Monday” being the saddest date on the calendar – many mental health professionals have dismissed it as pseudoscience – we nevertheless felt it’s never a bad time to recommend some books for all ages that discuss sadness, grief, and clinical depression. (Though, as a content warning, we should note many of the YA books, in particular, feature frank depictions of mental illness, self-harm, and suicidal ideation.) That said, let’s wallow in some great books about being blue.

PICTURE BOOKS

The titular ursine friend in Cecile Metzger’s Invisible Bear is not necessarily sad or depressed (per se), but he does spend his days alone in his quiet, colorless home in a forgotten place, where no one comes to visit him. That is, he does until the colorful Madam Odette bursts into his life as a friendly neighbor and both their lives are forever changed for the better.

The Pink Umbrella by Amélie Callot and Geneviève Godbout is similarly about the transformative power of friendship over sadness. Café owner Adele finds the care that she gives her customers and community is returned when she finds herself in the midst of (emotionally and physically) rainy days. One café customer helps her find the sun during a period of severe gray weather.

There are many metaphors for sadness – lack of color, rainy days. And in What’s Up, Maloo? by skipper of sadness Geneviève Godbout, it’s a kangaroo who loses his hop. Maloo the kangaroo starts stepping everywhere instead. His animal pals look for ways to help Maloo to un-stop the hop, and find patience and support can help get a bounce back.

Some say grief is love persevering, which is a beautiful analogy. But for the purposes of this list, grief is a deep sorrow, usually caused by a great loss. A Garden of Creatures by Sheila Heti and Esmé Shapiro is a tender and moving picture book about a great loss and the big questions it poses. Featuring a little bunny and cat whose friend, a big bunny, passes away, the book is a perfect read for anyone struggling with grief and a non-traditional meditation on death that offers tranquility.

Grief is also at the heart of Rodney Was a Tortoise by Nan Forler and Yong Ling Kang, a book that perfectly captures the sorrow of losing a pet. But as devastating as Bernadette’s loss of her dear friend Rodney is, the book shows the importance of expressing kindness and empathy, especially when people are experiencing some of life’s most trying moments.

Completing our grief picture book trilogy is Many Shapes of Clay: A Story of Healing by Kenesha Sneed. Eisha’s mother helps her make a special shape out of clay that reminds her of her father. But as her day goes on, the piece of clay hardens and then eventually shatters into pieces when Eisha bumps into it. Eisha has to live with the loss, and work to make something new out of what is left behind. This is a very subtle book about grief, as well as a book about the joys and pain of the creative process.

Kids don’t always know what to do with their sadness, nor do the adults in their lives know how to respond. The Rabbit Listened by Cory Doerrfeld has lessons in sadness for all ages. Young Taylor doesn’t know who to talk to when feeling sad. All the animals Taylor approaches have their own reactions – they want to talk, they want to get angry. But only the rabbit, who simply listens, can provide Taylor with any comfort.

Eva Eland’s When Sadness Is at Your Door is similar, but suggests young readers treat a feeling of sadness as if it were a guest. Sadness – especially when it lasts a long time – can be confusing and overwhelming. This book suggests you give your sadness a name, maybe do some activities to do with it, like sitting quietly, drawing, or going outside for a walk. This is an excellent book that helps separate sadness from the self, and eschews the idea of “getting over it” or that sadness is, in itself, inherently bad.

And once you finish that, you can read the follow up, Where Happiness Begins, that anthropomorphizes happiness in the same fashion. The book gives happiness a shape, and show readers where they might find it (though it can be elusive).

Being sad or depressed can be a heavy emotion. And Whimsy’s Heavy Things by Julie Kraulis is about a young girl whose things keep weighing her down. Whether she tries to sweep them under the rug or set them out to sea, they keep returning to trip her up. Only by dealing with her heavy things one at a time does Whimsy’s fortune change.

A Shelter for Sadness by Anne Booth and David Litchfield also looks at depression through a figurative lens, and shares some similarities with Eva Eland’s work. In it, a boy creates a shelter for his sadness so that he can visit it whenever he needs to, and the two of them can cry, talk, or just sit. The book views sadness as something that needs to be tended and cared for as much as any friend.

Rachel Tomlinson and Tori-Jay Mordey’s A Blue Kind of Day is less fanciful and more straightforward in its depiction of childhood depression. Coen is depressed and his family members all think they know the way to cheer him up. But (like The Rabbit) only when they begin to listen can they hear what Coen needs as support.

While there are many emotions depicted in Big Feelings by Alexandra Penfold and Suzanne Kaufman – anger, fear, glee, anxiety – sadness is certainly one of the stars of the emotional show. And the adorable kids from the class first seen in All Are Welcome navigate their emotions together, partially by trying to empathize and see multiple points of view.

Finally, Blue: A History of the Color as Deep as the Sea and as Wide as the Sky by Nana Ekua Brew-Hammond and Daniel Minter may not be about sadness or depressions, but Blue Monday is a perfect opportunity to recommend this fascinating cultural history of the color blue. From Afghan painters grinding sapphire rocks to the slave trade’s connections to the demand for indigo pigment and the ways blue jeans are worn, Blue will make you think twice about what colors mean.

CHAPTER BOOKS & MIDDLE GRADE

Susin Nielsen’s No Fixed Address is a very funny book that deals with some difficult issues. Felix is a twelve-year-old kid who lives in a camper van with his mom and has a knack for trivia. While the book chronicles his quest to hide his family’s poverty and compete on a national quiz show to earn them a windfall, it also documents his mother Astrid’s struggles with depression and how their poverty affects how she manages, looking at the economic contributors to mental health.

Natalie in The Science of Breakable Things by Tae Keller also has a mom with depression. And while Felix thinks winning a quiz show will solve most of his problems, Natalie leans into an egg drop competition for similar reasons. With the prize money, she can fly her botanist mother to see the miraculous Cobalt Blue Orchids – flowers that survive against impossible odds – and bring some hope into her life. The novel is a great read for any kid trying to grasp the nuances of depression and loneliness, especially in a parent or guardian.

Laura Tucker’s All the Greys on Greene Street also features a depressed mother – in this case it’s Olympia’s mother, who falls into a deep funk after Olympia’s father, an antique painting restorer, mysteriously leaves in the middle of the night. Olympia’s mom’s depression is depicted with honesty and sensitivity, and the book looks at family, friendship, and art – all set in 1981 Soho, New York City.

But – as you probably know – it’s not just parents who have depression. And Dunkin Dorfman, one half of the titular duo in Donna Gephart’s Lily and Dunkin, is a thirteen-year-old new in town with bipolar disorder. His best friend is a trans girl and together, they’re going to do their best to survive school, despite the odds stacked against them.

Lucy’s mother in Chasing the Milky Way by Erin E. Moulton also has bipolar disorder, and Lucy finds it a challenge in her efforts to become a world-famous robotics scientist. But despite her frustration, Lucy and her baby sister Izzy will go to great lengths to protect the mother they love in a empathetic portrayal of manic depression.

Delsie in Shouting at the Rain by Lynda Mullaly Hunt does not, as far as readers know, have bipolar disorder or depression, but she is having one cruel summer in Cape Cod. She’s dealing with the loss of a best friend, bullying, and her absent mother. But in time, Delsie learns to live with gratitude and in a way that helps others respond in positive ways.

YOUNG ADULT

Nothing is more emo than YA, so obviously there are tons of great novels that delve into sadness and depression. Exhibit A: The Year After You by Nina De Pass, in which Cara is consumed by grief and survivor’s guilt after she survives a tragic accident on New Year’s Eve – but her friend does not. Months later, at a boarding school in Switzerland where no one knows the accident happened, new classmates Ren and Hector try to break through the walls Cara has built and help her begin to forgive herself.

Do you need another novel about a young woman trying to outrun tragedy in her past written by someone named ‘Nina’? Try We Are Okay by Nina LaCour, a moving portrait of loss and loneliness, which one GoodReads reviewer said had her crying “in a park while staring into the unsympathetic rodent eyes of a squirrel hiding nuts for the winter.” Sounds perfect.

Girl in Pieces by Kathleen Glasgow is a difficult book that looks at self-harm, one method many teens sadly use to handle their grief and sadness. And protagonist Charlie’s life is filled with traumas – a dead father, abusive mother, life on the street – that can be hard to read, but her journey to put herself back together and find new outlets for her grief is inspiring.

All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven (which is now also a movie!) is a romance between two very sad (read – trigger warning – suicidal) teens, dealing respectively with deep grief or bipolar disorder. But when Finch and Violet meet on the ledge of the school’s bell tower, it’s unclear who saves whom. Together, they decide to discover the natural wonders of their state of Indiana and give them reasons to live – finding they can really be themselves with each other. But how long can that feeling last?

There’s a similar journey to an unknown land in Home Home by Lisa Allen-Agostini: Kayla is sent to Canada (!) from Trinidad to live with an estranged aunt after she is hospitalized for depression. Her mother sees it as the only solution (someone didn’t read When Sadness Is At Your Door!) and Kayla finds herself in the cold and confusing North. But Canada – in addition to frozen landscapes and Tim Hortons iced capps – also could feature the chance at a family that loves unconditionally, some new friends, and the promise of a hopeful future.

Julia in Erika L. Sánchez’s I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter is a teenager moving through the grief of losing her older sister – the perfect daughter her parents had all their hopes pinned upon. Not only must she deal with her own devastation, she finds her mother is channeling her grief into criticizing her for all the ways she is not like her dead sister.

For a book about depression and – in particular – intergenerational mental illness, readers should check out How It Feels to Float by Helena Fox. Biz, who lost her dad when she was seven, has begun seeing her dad again. But she keeps this information – along with her many dark thoughts – from everyone in her life, so she seems like she’s just floating along, totally fine. Biz slowly begins to come undone, but the book explores the beautiful places loss can sometimes take people and how – ultimately – to return to the world.

Darius the Great Is Not Okay by Adib Khorram documents a nerdy Persian American who never feels like he’s enough, as he takes his first-ever trip to Iran. He feels out of sorts, and his clinical depression is hard for him to explain to his grandparents. But things start to look up when he meets a sweet boy next door, Sohrab.

Not only is the content of Who Put This Song On? by Morgan Parker profoundly emo – the soundtrack is, too! One of the funnier novels about depression, the book features a seventeen-year-old Black girl in mostly white suburbia dealing with clinical depression (largely through listening to Sunny Day Real Estate).

Many of Heather Smith’s bittersweet novels have their moments of intense sadness, but we wanted to limit ourselves to one. That one book is The Agony of Bun O’Keefe, mainly because “agony” is in the title. But also, we love the 1980s Newfoundland setting and the found family Bun discovers after leaving her solitary life in an unsafe house – though those found family members she ends up rooming with all have their sad tales to tell, as well.

Unhappy reading, friends!

Big Ideas for Little Readers

Here at Tundra Book Group we have many books to help start conversations about big thoughts and feelings your little readers may have. As part of #FindYourselfInABook this January, we have created a list of beautiful children’s books, plus educators’ guides and activity sheets, to explore those big ideas!

A Garden of Creatures
By Sheila Heti
Illustrated by Esmé Shapiro
40 Pages | Ages 4-8 | Hardcover
ISBN 9780735268814 | Tundra Books
Two bunnies and a cat live happily together in a beautiful garden. But when the big bunny passes away, the little bunny is unsure how to fill the void she left behind. A strange dream prompts her to begin asking questions: Why do the creatures we love have to die, and where do we go when we die? How come life works this way? With the wisdom of the cat to guide her, the little bunny learns that missing someone is a way of keeping them close. And together they discover that the big bunny is a part of everything around them – the grass, the air, the leaves – for the world is a garden of creatures. With its meditative text, endearing illustrations and life-affirming message, A Garden of Creatures reveals how the interconnectedness of nature and the sweetness of friendship can be a warm embrace even in the darkest times.

Bug in a Vacuum
By Mélanie Watt
Ages 5-9 | Tundra Books
ISBN 9781770496453 | Hardcover
A bug flies through an open door into a house, through a bathroom, across a kitchen and bedroom and into a living room . . . where its entire life changes with the switch of a button. Sucked into the void of a vacuum bag, this one little bug moves through denial, bargaining, anger, despair and eventually acceptance – the five stages of grief – as it comes to terms with its fate. Will there be a light at the end of the tunnel?

Check out the educators’ guide and activity sheet.

Kumo: The Bashful Cloud
By Kyo Maclear
Illustrated by Nathalie Dion
64  Pages | Ages 4-8 | Hardcover
ISBN 9780735267282 | Tundra Books
Kumo is a cloud whose only wish is to float unseen. When she’s assigned cloud duty for the day, she feels overwhelmed by self-doubt and her fear of being noticed. But after learning that closing your eyes isn’t a good solution to your troubles, Kumo pulls her fluff together and does her duties – drifting, releasing rain and providing shelter – meeting some new friends along the way and inspiring the imagination (and capturing the heart) of a small daydreamer like her. Kyo Maclear’s sweetly humorous and lyrical parable about shyness, vividly brought to life by Nathalie Dion’s ethereal illustrations, is an affirmation of the pleasures of community and the confidence that can arise from friendship and visibility.

Little Echo
By Al Rodin
32 Pages | Ages 3-7 | Hardcover
ISBN 9781774880623 | Tundra Books
Have you ever heard an Echo?
They live in lakes and tunnels and caves.
But have you ever seen an Echo?
Little Echo lives alone in a cave. Shy, she hides away, echoing the noises around her. But Little Echo isn’t just shy – she’s lonely. And when Max comes to the cave one day, in search of treasure, Little Echo starts to discover that maybe she has a voice of her own.

My Self, Your Self
By Esmé Shapiro
48 Pages | Ages 3-7 | Hardcover
ISBN 9781774880234 | Tundra Books
From the way you button your coat to the way you tap your toes, from the top of your head to your adorable tummy, there are so many reasons to love your self, and so many reasons to be loved. Join a group of endearing forest creatures as they bake and eat cranberry-butter-pie muffins, sing silly songs at bath time and stop to smell the chestnut-nettle roses, all the while exploring their individuality. This joyously affirming picture book from the inimitable Esmé Shapiro encourages the youngest readers to get to know and love and be kind to their wonderful selves and the equally wonderful selves around them.

Check out the activity sheets.

Rodney Was a Tortoise
By Nan Forler
Illustrated by Yong Ling Kang
40 Pages | Ages 3-7 | Hardcover
ISBN 9780735266629 | Tundra Books
Bernadette and Rodney are the best of friends. Rodney’s not so good at playing cards, but he’s great at staring contests. His favorite food is lettuce, though he eats it VERRRRRRY SLOOOOOWLY. And he’s such a joker! When Bernadette goes to sleep at night, Rodney is always there, watching over her from his tank.  As the seasons pass, Rodney moves slower and slower, until one day he stops moving at all. Without Rodney, Bernadette feels all alone. She can’t stop thinking about him, but none of her friends seem to notice. Except for Amar. Rodney Was a Tortoise is a moving story about friendship and loss. It shows the importance of expressing kindness and empathy, especially in life’s most difficult moments.

Check out the activity sheet.

The Invisible Bear
By Cecile Metzger
40 Pages | Ages 4-8 | Hardcover
ISBN 9780735266872 | Tundra Books
A bear sits in his quiet, colorless home in a forgotten place. He feels invisible; no one comes to see him, and he spends his days alone. Then someone moves in next door. Madame Odette is sound and sunshine, and at first, the bear isn’t sure about this colorful new neighbor. But through an act of kindness, the bear and the Madame Odette meet, and as time goes by, they become friends. And in the end, they are both forever changed by the gifts they bring each other. The first book from author-illustrator Cécile Metzger, The Invisible Bear is a powerful and beautiful meditation on the beauty of friendship and how two people can save each other just by being themselves.

The Unforgettable Party
By Noemi Vola
48 Pages | Ages 3-7 | Hardcover
ISBN 9780735270909 | Tundra Books
Caterpillar is SO bored. But everyone knows the best cure for boredom: a marvelous, super-long, super-fun, unforgettable party! He already has everything he needs: apple juice, confetti, decorations, party hats and star stickers to stick on your face. Everything is perfect, except for one missing ingredient: FRIENDS. Unfortunately, none of Caterpillar’s friends are available. Caterpillar is SO sad. But then he comes up with an ingenious solution: using a marker, he creates six new friends . . . on himself! After introducing themselves and shaking each others’ hands (or feet), it’s time for the party to begin. They dance, they play, they put on costumes and even eat seven feet of pizza. It’s a marvelous time! But what happens when the party is over? Will Caterpillar’s new friends leave him? Find out in this delightfully quirky picture book.

Thingamabob
By Marianna Coppo
44 Pages | Ages 3-7 | Hardcover
ISBN 9780735265790 | Tundra Books
What is a thingamabob? A thingamabob can be anything . . . and so can you! A sweet, empowering picture book about self-discovery from the acclaimed author-illustrator of Petra. In the beginning, the universe was one great big thing. Then that thing exploded into gobs and gobs of thingamabobs. All of the thingamabobs had a purpose . . . all except for one small, shapeless thingamabob. No one knew what it was for. It wasn’t this or that. It wasn’t here or there. What’s the use of this thingamabob? But everything changes for Thingamabob when it makes a friend in the park. And Thingamabob realizes that if you aren’t one thing . . . you can be everything!

Check out the activity sheet.

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.

Check out the activity sheet.

Find Yourself in a Book

Here at Tundra Book Group we have many books to help conversations around mental health for young readers. As January is self-love month, we have created a list of beautiful children’s books anyone can find themselves in, and to help celebrate who you are!

Celebrate yourself

My Lala
By Thomas King
Illustrated by Charlene Chua
40 Pages | Ages 3-7 | Hardcover
ISBN 9780735269347 | Tundra Books
Lala wakes up one morning and decides that she owns the world. Quick as a fox, she bounds to her box of treasures and finds her shiny red dots – to mark what is hers, because there’s nothing that’s not! Lala’s bear gets a dot, as does her blankie, boots, and even the markers she uses to make scrawls on her walls. When she finishes labeling everything in her room and goes to label her dad-daddy’s socks, Lala realizes that she’s out of dots! But when Lala discovers that she can simply create her own red dots, will anything be safe from Lala? Join rambunctious Lala on her quest to own the world in this joyful picture book that celebrates confidence and positive thinking.

My Self, Your Self
By Esmé Shapiro
48 Pages | Ages 3-7 | Hardcover
ISBN 9781774880234 | Tundra Books
From the way you button your coat to the way you tap your toes, from the top of your head to your adorable tummy, there are so many reasons to love your self, and so many reasons to be loved. Join a group of endearing forest creatures as they bake and eat cranberry-butter-pie muffins, sing silly songs at bath time and stop to smell the chestnut-nettle roses, all the while exploring their individuality. This joyously affirming picture book from the inimitable Esmé Shapiro encourages the youngest readers to get to know and love and be kind to their wonderful selves and the equally wonderful selves around them.

Listen to your voice

Kumo: The Bashful Cloud
By Kyo Maclear
Illustrated by Nathalie Dion
64  Pages | Ages 4-8 | Hardcover
ISBN 9780735267282 | Tundra Books
Kumo is a cloud whose only wish is to float unseen. When she’s assigned cloud duty for the day, she feels overwhelmed by self-doubt and her fear of being noticed. But after learning that closing your eyes isn’t a good solution to your troubles, Kumo pulls her fluff together and does her duties – drifting, releasing rain and providing shelter – meeting some new friends along the way and inspiring the imagination (and capturing the heart) of a small daydreamer like her. Kyo Maclear’s sweetly humorous and lyrical parable about shyness, vividly brought to life by Nathalie Dion’s ethereal illustrations, is an affirmation of the pleasures of community and the confidence that can arise from friendship and visibility.

Little Echo
By Al Rodin
32 Pages | Ages 3-7 | Hardcover
ISBN 9781774880623 | Tundra Books
Have you ever heard an Echo?
They live in lakes and tunnels and caves.
But have you ever seen an Echo?
Little Echo lives alone in a cave. Shy, she hides away, echoing the noises around her. But Little Echo isn’t just shy – she’s lonely. And when Max comes to the cave one day, in search of treasure, Little Echo starts to discover that maybe she has a voice of her own.

It’s okay to ask for help

The Pink Umbrella
By Amélie Callot
Illustrated by Geneviève Godbout
80 Pages | Ages 6-9 | Hardcover
ISBN 9781101919231 | Tundra Books
When it’s bright outside, Adele is the heart of her community, greeting everyone who comes into her café with arms wide open. But when it rains, she can’t help but stay at home inside, under the covers. Because Adele takes such good care of her friends and customers, one of them decides to take care of her too, and piece by piece leaves her little gifts that help her find the joy in a gray, rainy day. Along with cute-as-a-button illustrations, The Pink Umbrella celebrates thoughtful acts of friendship.

Tough Like Mum
By Lana Button
Illustrated by Carmen Mok
32 Pages | Ages 3-7 | Hardcover
ISBN 9780735265981 | Tundra Books
Kim’s mum is tough. Everyone says so. She can deal with unruly customers at the Red Rooster with a snap of her fingers. Kim is tough, too. She doesn’t need to wear a hat to keep her ears warm. And she can make soup all by herself, even without the stove. Kim and her mum are tough. But Kim is learning that sometimes toughness doesn’t look like what you’d expect. In this tender exploration of a mother-daughter relationship, Kim and her mother learn that in order to support and truly take care of each other, they need to be tough – and that sometimes being tough means showing vulnerability and asking for help.

It’s okay to feel down

The Invisible Bear
By Cecile Metzger
40 Pages | Ages 4-8 | Hardcover
ISBN 9780735266872 | Tundra Books
A bear sits in his quiet, colorless home in a forgotten place. He feels invisible; no one comes to see him, and he spends his days alone. Then someone moves in next door. Madame Odette is sound and sunshine, and at first, the bear isn’t sure about this colorful new neighbor. But through an act of kindness, the bear and the Madame Odette meet, and as time goes by, they become friends. And in the end, they are both forever changed by the gifts they bring each other. The first book from author-illustrator Cécile Metzger, The Invisible Bear is a powerful and beautiful meditation on the beauty of friendship and how two people can save each other just by being themselves.

What’s Up, Maloo?
By Geneviève Godbout
40 Pages | Ages 3-7 | Hardcover
ISBN 9780735266643 | Tundra Books
Maloo the kangaroo has lost his hop. Can his friends help him find it again? This sweet picture book explores the idea of sadness and the importance of friendship through ups and downs. No other kangeroo can hop like Maloo! But one day Maloo’s friends find him stepping instead of hopping. What’s wrong, Maloo? His pals look for ways to help Maloo regain the spring in his step. With patience, support and a little “hop” from his friends, Maloo gets his bounce back. Simple text and adorable art convey the power of friendship over a gloomy mood in Geneviève Godbout’s charming debut as both author and illustrator.

Coping with grief isn’t easy

A Garden of Creatures
By Sheila Heti
Illustrated by Esmé Shapiro
40 Pages | Ages 4-8 | Hardcover
ISBN 9780735268814 | Tundra Books
Two bunnies and a cat live happily together in a beautiful garden. But when the big bunny passes away, the little bunny is unsure how to fill the void she left behind. A strange dream prompts her to begin asking questions: Why do the creatures we love have to die, and where do we go when we die? How come life works this way? With the wisdom of the cat to guide her, the little bunny learns that missing someone is a way of keeping them close. And together they discover that the big bunny is a part of everything around them – the grass, the air, the leaves – for the world is a garden of creatures. With its meditative text, endearing illustrations and life-affirming message, A Garden of Creatures reveals how the interconnectedness of nature and the sweetness of friendship can be a warm embrace even in the darkest times.

Bug in a Vacuum
By Mélanie Watt
ISBN 9781770496453 | Hardcover
Ages 5-9 | Tundra Books
A bug flies through an open door where its entire life changes with the switch of a button. Sucked into the void of a vacuum bag, this one little bug moves through denial, bargaining, anger, despair and eventually acceptance – the five stages of grief – as it comes to terms with its fate.

Rodney Was a Tortoise
By Nan Forler
Illustrated by Yong Ling Kang
40 Pages | Ages 3-7 | Hardcover
ISBN 9780735266629 | Tundra Books
Bernadette and Rodney are the best of friends. Rodney’s not so good at playing cards, but he’s great at staring contests. His favorite food is lettuce, though he eats it VERRRRRRY SLOOOOOWLY. And he’s such a joker! When Bernadette goes to sleep at night, Rodney is always there, watching over her from his tank.  As the seasons pass, Rodney moves slower and slower, until one day he stops moving at all. Without Rodney, Bernadette feels all alone. She can’t stop thinking about him, but none of her friends seem to notice. Except for Amar. Rodney Was a Tortoise is a moving story about friendship and loss. It shows the importance of expressing kindness and empathy, especially in life’s most difficult moments.

Our Stars of 2022

At Tundra Book Group (Tundra Books, Puffin Canada, and Penguin Teen Canada), we think all our books are brilliant, and it’s nice when others think so too! Congratulations to our authors and illustrators; these are our starred books of 2022!

THREE STARS:

Night Lunch
By Eric Fan
Illustrated by Dena Seiferling
48 Pages | Ages 4-8 | Hardcover
ISBN 9780735270572 | Tundra Books
“Via the glow of streetlamps, the luminous moon, and the cart’s twinkling light, Seiferling (The Language of Flowers) theatrically illuminates the nighttime action,” – Starred Review, Publishers Weekly
“It’s difficult to create stories that plug directly into the looping logic of the minds of very young children that are also smart and engaging enough for adults in charge of bedtime reading.” – Starred Review, Quill & Quire
“An inspired inversion of the sleep-pushing picture book.” – Starred Review, Shelf Awareness

The Puffin Keeper
By Michael Morpurgo
Illustrated by Benji Davies
112 Pages | Ages 9-12 | Hardcover
ISBN 9780735271807 | Puffin Canada
“A memorable story of the healing powers of art, nature, and human kindness.” – Starred Review, Kirkus Reviews
“Morpurgo’s spare, deeply felt prose, with undercurrents of the otherworldly, creates an irresistible momentum for this elegant story of the sea and a destiny fulfilled.” – Starred Review, Publishers Weekly
“Whether on land or at sea, this tale of lasting friendship delivers adventure and charm in spades. A welcome addition to most collections.” – Starred Review, School Library Journal

TWO STARS:

My Self, Your Self
By Esmé Shapiro
48 Pages | Ages 3-7 | Hardcover
ISBN 9781774880234 | Tundra Books
“A sublime joy” – Starred Review, Kirkus Reviews
“Shapiro envelops big ideas within this whimsically affirming exploration of individuality and selfhood.” – Starred Review, Publishers Weekly

Rodney Was a Tortoise
By Nan Forler
Illustrated by Yong Ling Kang
40 Pages | Ages 3-7 | Hardcover
ISBN 9780735266629 | Tundra Books
“Wry, observational writing by Forler and loose, frequently funny vignettes by Ling Kang give this tale of loss its own distinctive, endearing resonance.” – Starred Review, Publishers Weekly
“This tender story about losing a friend and making room for a new one ends on a realistically hopeful note.” – Starred Review, The Horn Book

ONE STAR:

A Garden of Creatures
By Sheila Heti
Illustrated by Esmé Shapiro
40 Pages | Ages 4-8 | Hardcover
ISBN 9780735268814 | Tundra Books
“The discussions are thoughtful but direct, with no euphemisms or straightforward answers . . . . A beautiful and unconventional meditation on loss and love.” – Starred Review, Booklist

Arthur Who Wrote Sherlock
By Linda Bailey
Illustrated by Isabelle Follath
56 Pages | Ages 5-9 | Hardcover
ISBN 9780735269255 | Tundra Books
“Bailey, the author of Mary Who Wrote Frankenstein, writes with a sure sense of her audience . . . . Follath’s droll illustrations capture the look of the Victorian era, the drama of Doyle’s imagination, and the dry wit of Bailey’s text. A lively, memorable biography.” – Starred Review, Booklist

Baby Squeaks
By Anne Hunter
40 Pages | Ages 3-7 | Hardcover
ISBN 9780735269095 | Tundra Books
“The gift of gab proves deeply funny in Hunter’s (Where’s Baby?) earnest portrait of early language acquisition.” – Starred Review, Publishers Weekly 

Fight Like a Girl
By Sheena Kamal
272 Pages | Ages 14+ | Paperback
ISBN 9780735265578 | Penguin Teen Canada
“Kamal’s raw novel about a young fighter from a working-class background fittingly pulls no punches when it comes to examining the lasting impact of familial trauma. Trisha’s search for the truth will stay with readers, as will the satisfying feeling that they have finished reading a truly complex page-turner.” – Starred Review, Kirkus Reviews

Flowers Are Pretty . . . Weird!
By Rosemary Mosco
Illustrated by Jacob Souva
36 Pages | Ages 4-8 | Hardcover
ISBN 9780735265943 | Tundra Books
“Using wordplay (“Bee honest” and “bee-lieving”) and puns galore, a bee explains how flowers are both wonderful and weird.” – Starred Review, School Library Journal

Kumo: The Bashful Cloud
By Kyo Maclear
Illustrated by Nathalie Dion
64  Pages | Ages 4-8 | Hardcover
ISBN 9780735267282 | Tundra Books
“Sprinkled with Japanese vocabulary, Kumo will impart a new appreciation for clouds and show readers how it can sometimes be frightening to step into the world, then reassuring them that others are willing to help when we overcome our bashfulness.” – Starred Review, Quill & Quire

Midnight and Moon
By Kelly Cooper
Illustrated by Daniel Miyares
48 Pages | Ages 4-8 | Hardcover
ISBN 9780735266308 | Tundra Books
“The story’s gentle drama and quiet heroics of two characters with disabilities make this a wonderful read that also affirms being introverted, nonverbal, or shy.” – Starred Review, Booklist

Super Family: Simon and Chester #3
By Cale Atkinson
96 Pages | Ages 6-9 | Hardcover
ISBN 9780735272439 | Tundra Books
“Atkinson’s mastery of facial expressions is unmatched in comics today, and the combination of visual and written humor with genuinely sweet revelations about the nature of familial love is so perfectly balanced it’s simply superb.” – Starred Review, Kirkus Reviews

The Grave Thief
By Dee Hahn
344 Pages | Ages 9-12 | Hardcover
ISBN 9780735269439 | Puffin Canada
“Fast-paced and full of magic, this debut is sure to be a smash hit with fantasy and adventure lovers. Readers should come prepared with a box of tissues, however, as there are some tearjerker moments. Recommended first purchase.” – Starred Review, School Library Journal

Too Many Pigs and One Big Bad Wolf: A Counting Story
By Davide Cali
Illustrated by Marianna Balducci
36 Pages | Ages 3-6 | Hardcover
ISBN 9780735269910 | Tundra Books
“[A] a clever take on metafiction . . . Creative visuals and storytelling make for an absorbing read and a great bridge for both math and writing activities.” – Starred Review, Kirkus Reviews

Wrong Side of the Court
By H. N. Khan
312 Pages | Ages 12+ | Hardcover
ISBN 9780735270879 | Penguin Teen Canada
“H.N. Khan’s Wrong Side of the Court is finely crafted and well paced, it’s hard to believe it’s his literary debut. Toronto’s infamous Regent Park is brought vividly to life in the novel, and Khan creates relatable, true-to-life characters. He also portrays the multiculturalism of Toronto well, gradually immersing the reader in Fawad’s South Asian culture.” – Starred Review, Quill & Quire

The 2023 Forest of Reading® Nominees

The Forest of Reading® is Canada’s largest recreational reading program. This initiative of the Ontario Library Association offers seven reading programs to encourage a love of reading in people of all ages. The Forest helps celebrate Canadian books, publishers, authors, and illustrators. Here at Tundra Book Group and Friends, we’d like to congratulate our nominated authors and illustrators.

2023 Blue Spruce Award™️ Nominee

Rodney Was a Tortoise
By Nan Forler
Illustrated by Yong Ling Kang
40 Pages | Ages 3-7 | Hardcover
ISBN 9780735266629 | Tundra Books
Bernadette and Rodney are the best of friends. Rodney’s not so good at playing cards, but he’s great at staring contests. His favorite food is lettuce, though he eats it VERRRRRRY SLOOOOOWLY. And he’s such a joker! When Bernadette goes to sleep at night, Rodney is always there, watching over her from his tank.  As the seasons pass, Rodney moves slower and slower, until one day he stops moving at all. Without Rodney, Bernadette feels all alone. She can’t stop thinking about him, but none of her friends seem to notice. Except for Amar. Rodney Was a Tortoise is a moving story about friendship and loss. It shows the importance of expressing kindness and empathy, especially in life’s most difficult moments.

That’s Not My Name!
By Anoosha Syed
40 Pages | Ages 3-5 | Hardcover
ISBN 9780593405178 | Penguin Young Readers Group
Mirha is so excited for her first day of school! She can’t wait to learn, play, and make new friends. But when her classmates mispronounce her name, she goes home wondering if she should find a new one. Maybe then she’d be able to find a monogrammed keychain at the gas station or order a hot chocolate at the cafe more easily. Mama helps Mirha to see how special her name is, and she returns to school the next day determined to help her classmates say it correctly – even if it takes a hundred tries.

2023 Red Maple Award™️ Nominees

The Bear House
By Meaghan McIsaac
272 Pages | Ages 10-14 | Hardcover
ISBN 9780823452620 | Holiday House
Moody Aster and her spoiled sister Ursula are the daughters of Jasper Lourdes, Bear Major and high king of the realm. Rivals, both girls dream of becoming the Bear queen someday, although neither really deserve to, having no particular talent in… well, anything. But when their Uncle Bram murders their father in a bid for the crown, the girls are forced onto the run, along with lowly Dev the Bearkeeper and the half-grown grizzly Alcor, symbol of their house. As a bitter struggle for the throne consumes the kingdom in civil war, the sisters must rely on Dev, the bear cub, and each other to survive – and find wells of courage, cunning, and skill they never knew they had.

Children of the Fox: Thieves of Shadow #1
By Kevin Sands
416 Pages | Ages 8-12 | Paperback
ISBN 9780735270435 | Puffin Canada
A magic-infused fantasy that brings together a ragtag group of kids to pull off a crime so difficult, countless adults have already tried and failed. Lured by the promise of more money than they’ve ever dreamed of, five young criminals are hired to steal a heavily guarded treasure from the most powerful sorcerer in the city. There’s Callan the con artist, Meriel the expert at acrobatics (and knives!), Gareth the researcher, Lachlan who can obtain anything, and Foxtail, whose mysterious eyeless mask doesn’t hinder her ability to climb walls like a spider. Though their shadowy backgrounds mean that they’ve never trusted anyone but themselves, the five must learn to rely on each other in order to get the job done. But as Callan has been warned most of his life, it’s best to stay away from magic. It can turn on you at any moment, and make you think you’re the one running the con game, when in reality you’re the one being fooled. Faced with these unsurmountable odds, can the new friends pull off this legendary heist, or has their luck finally run out?

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.

2023 Silver Birch Express Fiction Award®️ Nominee

Crimson Twill: Witch in the City
By Kallie George
Illustrated by Brigitta Sif
64 Pages | Ages 7-9 | Hardcover
ISBN 9781536214635 | Candlewick
Crimson Twill is a little witch, but you might not know it. She lives in the country and loves polka dots and puppies instead of pointy shoes and black dresses. She even wears a big bow on her hat – which is crimson, just like her name. Tonight, for the very first time, Crimson is riding on her mother’s broom all the way to New Wart City to go shopping at Broomingdale’s! The huge department store has everything a witch could itch for. For Crimson, each floor (hats! cats! brooms!) is a new adventure. But is Broomingdale’s ready for a witch as unique as Crimson? A rich and playful new world comes to life in the first book of this charming series.

Flipping Forward Twisting Backward
By Alma Fullerton
Illustrated by Sarah Mensinga
144 Pages | Ages 8-12 | Hardcover
ISBN 9781682633663 | Peachtree
The gym is where Claire shines and she’s on her way to qualifying for the state championships. But at school, she’s known as a troublemaker – which is fine with her since it helps her hide her reading problem. Claire has never been able to make sense of the wobbling jumble of letters on a page. When a sympathetic principal wonders if she’s acting out because she may have dyslexia, she’s stunned. Claire has always assumed she’s dumb, so she’s eager to get evaluated. But her mother balks. Afraid Claire will be labeled “stupid,” she refuses testing. Can Claire take on both her reading challenges and her mother’s denial? Is it worth jeopardizing her dream of the state championships? Told in clear and poignant verse and featuring black and white illustrations, Claire’s struggle with something that seems to come easily to everyone else will resonate with readers and have them cheering her on.

2023 Silver Birch Express Non-Fiction Award®️ Nominee

Pink, Blue, and You! Questions for Kids about Gender Stereotypes
By Elise Gravel and Mykaell Blais
40 Pages | Ages 4-8 | Hardcover
ISBN 9780593178638 | Ann Schwartz Books
Is it okay for boys to cry? Can girls be strong? Should girls and boys be given different toys to play with and different clothes to wear? Should we all feel free to love whoever we choose to love? In this incredibly kid-friendly and easy-to-grasp picture book, author-illustrator Elise Gravel and transgender collaborator Mykaell Blais raise these questions and others relating to gender roles, acceptance, and stereotyping. With its simple language, colorful illustrations, engaging backmatter that showcases how “appropriate” male and female fashion has changed through history, and even a poster kids can hang on their wall, here is the ideal tool to help in conversations about a multi-layered and important topic.

2023 Yellow Cedar Award Nominees

The Hanmoji Handbook
By Jason Li, An Xiao Mina, and Jennifer 8. Lee
Illustrated by Jason Li
160 Pages | Ages 14+ | Hardcover
ISBN 9781536219135 | MITeen Press
Even though their dates of origin are millennia apart, the languages of Chinese and emoji share similarities that the average smartphone user might find surprising. These “hanmoji” parallels offer an exciting new way to learn Chinese – and a fascinating window into the evolution of Chinese Han characters. Packed with fun illustrations and engaging descriptions, The Hanmoji Handbook brings to life the ongoing dialogue between the visual elements of Chinese characters and the language of emoji. At once entertaining and educational, this unique volume holds sure appeal for readers who use emojis, anyone interested in learning Chinese, and those who love quirky, visual gift books.

2023 White Pine Award™️ Nominees

Iron Widow
By Xiran Jay Zhao
400 Pages | Ages 14+ | Hardcover
ISBN 9780735269934 | Penguin Teen Canada
The boys of Huaxia dream of pairing up with girls to pilot Chrysalises, giant transforming robots that can battle the mecha aliens that lurk beyond the Great Wall. It doesn’t matter that the girls often die from the mental strain. When 18-year-old Zetian offers herself up as a concubine-pilot, it’s to assassinate the ace male pilot responsible for her sister’s death. But she gets her vengeance in a way nobody expected – she kills him through the psychic link between pilots and emerges from the cockpit unscathed. She is labeled an Iron Widow, a much-feared and much-silenced kind of female pilot who can sacrifice boys to power up Chrysalises instead.​ To tame her unnerving yet invaluable mental strength, she is paired up with Li Shimin, the strongest and most controversial male pilot in Huaxia​. But now that Zetian has had a taste of power, she will not cower so easily. She will miss no opportunity to leverage their combined might and infamy to survive attempt after attempt on her life, until she can figure out exactly why the pilot system works in its misogynist way – and stop more girls from being sacrificed.

Wrong Side of the Court
By H. N. Khan
312 Pages | Ages 12+ | Hardcover
ISBN 9780735270879 | Penguin Teen Canada
Fifteen-year-old Fawad Chaudhry loves two things: basketball and his mother’s potato and ground-beef stuffed parathas. Both are round and both help him forget about things like his father, who died two years ago, his mother’s desire to arrange a marriage to his first cousin, Nusrat, back home in Pakistan, and the tiny apartment in Regent Park he shares with his mom and sister. Not to mention his estranged best friend Yousuf, who’s coping with the shooting death of his older brother. But Fawad has plans: like, asking out Ashley, even though she lives on the other, wealthier side of the tracks, and saving his friend Arif from being beaten into a pulp for being the school flirt, and making the school basketball team and dreaming of being the world’s first Pakistani to be drafted into the NBA. All he has to do now is convince his mother to let him try out for the basketball team. And let him date girls from his school. Not to mention somehow get Omar, the neighborhood bully, to leave him alone.

I Am Not Starfire
By Mariko Tamaki
Illustrated by Yoshi Yoshitani
184 Pages | Ages 13+ | Paperback
ISBN 9781779501264 | DC Comics
Seventeen-year-old Mandy, daughter of Starfire, is NOT like her mother. Starfire is gorgeous, tall, sparkly, and a hero. Mandy is NOT a sparkly superhero. Mandy has no powers, is a kid who dyes her hair black and hates everyone but her best friend Lincoln. To Starfire, who is from another planet, Mandy seems like an alien, like some distant angry light years away moon. And it’s possible Mandy is even more distant lately, ever since she walked out on her S.A.T.s. Which, yeah, her mom doesn’t know. Everyone thinks Mandy needs to go to college and become whoever you become at college, but Mandy has other plans. Mandy’s big plan is that she’s going to move to France and…do whatever people do in France. But then everything changes when she gets partnered with Claire for a school project. Mandy likes Claire (even if she denies it, heartily and intensely). A lot. How do you become the person you’re supposed to be when you don’t know what that is? How do you become the person you’re supposed to be when the only thing you’re sure of is what you’re not? When someone from Starfire’s past arrives, Mandy must make a choice: give up before the battle has even begun, or step into the unknown and risk everything to save her mom. I am Not Starfire is a story about teenagers and/as aliens; about knowing where you come from and where you are going; and about mothers.