Tundra Telegram: Books That Put You in Your Element

Hello, and thanks for joining us at Tundra Telegram, the column where we dig into the burning topics floating in the ether and recommend some books to dive into and set your synapses ablaze.

This Friday (June 16), Disney and Pixar release the animated film Elemental in theatres, a movie set in a world inhabited by anthropomorphic versions of the four classical elements (fire, water, air, earth). The romantic story follows a fire element (Ember) and water (Wade), who meet and fall in love and attempt to make their relationship work, against the odds and their society’s preconceived notions.

People are excited to visit Element City and mix it up with the characters. Accordingly, we’re recommending three books for each classical element in each age category. So, no matter if you’re a down-to-earth reader or your flair is for air, we’ve got some elemental reads for you!

PICTURE BOOKS

Looking for books about air? We’ve got a few books that will have you on Cloud 9, starting with Elbert in the Air by Monica Wesolowska and Jerome Pumphrey, a picture book about a boy who begins to float shortly after birth. Shortly after he is born, Elbert floats up into the air, making life a little tricky for him and his mother. Everyone in town has some homespun advice for keeping her boy down on the ground, but Elbert’s mother knows her son is meant to float.

Elly MacKay’s In the Clouds is another wonderful book for young skywatchers and cloud stans. A dreamy book that takes place mostly in the stratosphere, if features a bored and curious little girl whisked off by a friendly bird to an adventure in the sky, where she can contemplate questions about the sky: how do clouds float? Or carry the rain? Where do they go when they disappear?

For a picture book that speaks more to the power of air, there’s Jeremy Worried about the Wind by Pamela Butchart and Kate Hindley. Anxious Jeremy learns his worries are well-founded when it comes to the wind: on a very windy day, he’s literally blown right out of his shoes and up into the sky. What follows is a madcap adventure, powered by the element of air, that makes Jeremy realize the things he worries about could be incredible experiences in disguise.

Maybe you’re looking for books that take a plunge into water? Dip your toes into the subject with Benjamin Flouw’s Constellation of the Deep, in which a daring fox dons scuba gear and embarks on an underwater quest for an elusive, bioluminescent plant that reportedly grows at the bottom of the ocean.

If you’re ready to fully dive into the element, The Aquanaut by Jill Heinerth and Jaime Kim is ideal. Written by an actual underwater explorer and photographer (who is in the Women Divers Hall of Fame!), this is an inspiring picture book that encourages readers to explore their world, build their self-esteem and imagine what they can do and become when they grow up. This a book about chasing your dreams, especially when those dreams involve immersing yourself in water.

And David A. Robertson and Maya McKibbin’s The Song That Called Them Home is a fantastical adventure inspired by Cree legends, in which a canoe trip in the lake goes horribly wrong and, after being thrown overboard, Lauren’s little brother, James, is taken underwater by mischievous creatures called the Memekwesewak. Lauren must journey into the watery depths to retrieve him.

What about some picture books that are on fire?Any reader of Dragons Love Tacos, the hit picture book by Adam Rubin and Daniel Salmieri, knows that once spicy salsa – which dragons do not like – enters the picture, a conflagration is sure to follow. Accordingly, spicy salsa is one element that dragons do not want at their taco bar.

The flames in Logan S. Kline’s Finding Fire are considerably less destructive. A prehistoric young boy hunts for fire to bring his family warmth, and will face multiple challenges and dangers – and maybe make one woolly friend – in his attempt to bring the fire home.

While the 2023 Caldecott winner Hot Dog by Doug Salati may not feature much in the way of actual fire, the book is hotter than a short order cook’s grill. Depicting one dog and his sweltering travails in a New York City heatwave, the book is enough to make any young readers sweat.

And for some picture books that are the salt of the earth: Two friends tunnel deep into the element in Sam and Dave Dig a Hole by Mac Barnett and Jon Klassen. Experience the joys of earth and soil as Sam and Dave endeavor to find something spectacular under the ground in this deadpan story.

Marianna Coppo’s Petra, on the other hand, features a character who is made of earth herself. Petra is a little rock with an irresistibly flexible self-perception – no matter what her situation, she knows she belongs – that goes to show not even earth is set in stone.

And if you’re a young reader who wants to know what’s really going under the soil, there’s Under Your Feet … Soil, Sand and Everything Underground by Wenjia Tang, a book that excavates all the information you want about the materials under your feet and the miraculous creatures that live there.

CHAPTER BOOKS & MIDDLE GRADE

A fast-paced fantasy adventure that spotlights the magical powers of air, Momo Arashima Steals the Sword of the Wind by Misa Sugiura features a Momo, an ordinary twelve-year-old who discovers her mother is a banished Shinto goddess who used to protect a long-forgotten passageway to the land of the dead. Momo will have to unlock her divine powers and team up with her former best friend and talking fox to protect that passageway from evil spirits. Plus, there is a weapon made of wind, which is why it’s on the list here.

The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind (Young Readers Edition) by William Kamkwamba and Bryan Mealer is a book that similarly showcases the power of air (though in a less stabby way). Based on the true story of how a young inventor (and the book’s co-author) brought electricity to his Malawian village, the story demonstrates how a windmill of scrap metal could generate electricity to pump the water needed in the village – all thanks to air.

The comics anthology Flight Volume One, edited by Kazu Kibuishi and featuring work from Derek Kirk Kim, Dylan Meconis and Hope Larson, among others, shies away from the power of air to instead highlight its majesty and wonder. Featuring dozens of short stories that circle around the topic of flight, with kites, airships, birds and more, it’s all about what takes place up in the air.

Is there such a thing as too much water? Rafe, the protagonist of Water, Water by Cary Fagan and Jon McNaught, would certainly think so. In this surreal adventure, Rafe wakes up one morning to discover his bedroom is floating in a vast sea of water. Alone with only his dog by his side, Rafe adapts to this watery new world by fishing cans of food out of the water and keeping an eye on the waves.

A futuristic underwater adventure worthy of Jules Verne, Rick Riordan’s Daughter of the Deep is set at an academy for the best marine scientists, naval warriors, navigators, and underwater explorers in the world. Freshman Ana Dakkar is on her class’s weekend trial at sea, when her class is attacked by a rival land school and the uneasy peace between land and sea is shattered forever.

A love letter to lake communities, Hello from Renn Lake by Michele Weber Hurwitz takes place in a Wisconsin town, where Annalise’s family has run lakeside cabins for generations. Annalise herself feels a real connection to the lake (and even speaks to it) – that is, until the lake becomes polluted by harmful algae. This is a book about water conservation, and – even better – there are sections written from the perspective of the lake itself!

Fire of the volcanic kind comes to play in Lei and the Fire Goddess by Malia Maunakea, a fantasy adventure based on Hawaiian legend and mythology. The book stars twelve-year-old Anna Leilani Kamaʻehu, who doesn’t think curses and magic are real until she accidentally insults Pele the fire goddess by destroying her lehua blossom on a return visit to Hawaii. (Whoops.)

No curses necessary, only poorly maintained ecosystems for fire disaster to strike in Iain Lawrence’s Fire on Headless Mountain. Virgil and his older siblings are on a mission to scatter their mother’s ashes (another fire reference) at her favorite mountain lake when a forest fire breaks out. Separated from his brother and sister, Virgil must remember the lessons of his science teacher mother to survive the sudden inferno.

And tween detectives Asim and Rokshar have a few close encounters of the fiery kind in Spooky Sleuths: Fire in the Sky by Natasha Deen and Lissy Marlin. When their friend Max finds himself in danger, Asim and Rokshar are attacked by fireballs. Is science … or a witch from Guyanese folklore … behind the flying fire?

You can’t talk children’s books and earth without mentioning Louis Sachar’s modern classic Holes. At a boys’ detention center, Camp Green Lake, Stanley Yelnats and his fellow detainees spend all day, every day digging holes exactly five feet wide and five feet deep. Soon Stanley realizes this isn’t just a punishment – the warden is looking for something under the dry earth. But what?

Continuing the tradition of books about underground tunnels, The Lifters by Dave Eggers, tells the story of two kids who discover the ground beneath their feet is not made of solid earth and stone but has been hollowed into hundreds of tunnels and passageways, created by mysterious forces for enigmatic reasons.

Set in a post-apocalyptic underground city, The City of Ember by Jeanne DuPrau, is an under-earth adventure without parallel. A last refuge for the human race, Ember is teetering on the edge of doom, its lamps flickering and threatening to extinguish forever. Only young Lina and her friend Doon can figure out the clues to save this city under the soil.

YOUNG ADULT

The air is a battlefield in Stateless by Elizabeth Wein. Teen pilot Stella North enters an air race across Europe in 1937, billed as “Circuit of Nations Olympics of the Air.” When she sees a plane deliberately knocked out of the sky by a fellow pilot, she must unwind the baffling mystery in the tense pre-war climate of the time.

The skies are also the site of terror in Flight 171 by Amy Christine Parker, though for entirely different reasons. In this case, a four-hour flight takes a turn for the horrific when a supernatural creature highjacks the plane and gives the senior class ski trip a deadly ultimatum: sacrifice one of them to die before the flight ends, or the entire plane will crash. (And you thought flying Sunwing was unpleasant!)

Science fiction makes us think of space (where there famously is no air), but Brandon Sanderson’s Skyward is a science-fiction epic about aerial dogfights on an alien world. Spensa, a teenager who is one of a group of shipwrecked humans living on a ruined world under constant attack from mysterious aliens called the Krell. Spensa is determined to become a pilot, one of the brave few who can protect her people from the Krell, but she has the reputation of her father – a pilot who deserted his team and was killed – to overcome.

When you’re talking YA and water, you know there will be piracy in the mix. And that’s the case with The Wicked Bargain by Gabe Cole Novoa, a Latinx pirate fantasy starring a transmasc nonbinary teen with a mission of revenge and revolution – as well as the power to manipulate fire and ice (which is technically water). Add in a bargain with the Devil, an arrogant and handsome pirate, and a gender-fluid demon with opaque motives and you’ve got yourself a thrill ride wetter and wilder than Pirates of the Caribbean.

Those We Drown by Amy Goldsmith (out June 27) is an ocean-drenched, atmospheric horror novel about a high school semester-at-sea program – or “Seamester” – that turns into a dread-filled voyage with disappearing classmates and strange creatures that haunt the students’ dreams. Imagine Breaker High rewritten by H. P. Lovecraft and you know this is a book that plunges into darker waters than usual.

And In the Serpent’s Wake by Rachel Hartman was – at one point – called Tess of the Sea, to note its aquatic bona fides. A follow-up to Tess of the Road, it sees Tess on a mission from the Queen to sail across the oceans to the bottom of the world and prevent a war, though she may take a few sea-faring diversions on the way there.

Fire meets thriller in Jennifer Lynn Alvarez’s Lies Like Wildfire, a book that features five friends who accidentally spark an enormous and deadly wildfire and – as the title suggests – lie about doing so. But as the blaze roars through their town and towards Yosemite National Park, Hannah, who is the daughter of the sheriff, feels her friends begin to crack and finds herself going to extreme lengths to protect their secret.

Another novel set into motion by wildfires, Up in Flames by Hailey Alcaraz, finds a wealthy and entitled teen, Ruby Ortega, whose life is turned upside down by wildfires that devastate her California hometown (and her parents’ business). Ruby must rebuild her life with the help of unexpected allies – including a beguiling, dark-eyed boy (naturally) – and become an unexpected heroine to the many people displaced by the fire.

The fires may be wild in Burn Our Bodies Down by Rory Power, but they are anything but natural. After all, it’s a massive fire in a cornfield in her mother’s hometown from which Margot pulls a girl who looks exactly like her. And things only get stranger after those fires.

Earth is at the heart of Bridge of Clay by Markus Zusak, an epic, multi-layered story of five brothers who – with a dead mother and absent father – raise each other, which not only features a main character named Clay, but also has that Clay build a bridge (also out of clay … or at least some form of earth) at the request of their suddenly returned father.

The novel Dig by A. S. King is a strange fever dream of a story that looks at racism, patriarchy, colonialism, toxic masculinity, and the systems that keep them all going, but it does so through five estranged cousins whose grandparents created a fortune potato farming (!) – a fortune they will not pass along to their grandchildren. In addition to the earth the potatoes are buried in, soil metaphors abound, looking at the darkness that finds root under white suburban respectability, and how one generation might be able to dig a way out to the light.

Finally, in less metaphoric matters, The Wrath & the Dawn by Renée Ahdieh is the first of a fantasy series with plenty of sand. Set in a desert kingdom, this reimagining of 1001 Nights sees Khalid, the eighteen-year-old Caliph of Khorasan, take a new bride each night only to have her executed at sunrise. When sixteen-year-old Shahrzad volunteers to marry Khalid, she has a plan to stay alive and get revenge for her best friend. But she discovers that the murderous boy-king is not what he seems and there is more to the deaths of so many girls. Also, she may be falling in love? (Time for Plan B!)

Tundra Telegram: Books To Put Some Spring In Your Step

Hello, and thanks for joining us at Tundra Telegram, the column where we dig into the topics germinating in readers’ thoughts, then root around in our library to suggest some books that will leaf you breathless.

We just passed the first day of spring (at least we did in the northern hemisphere), and though – depending on where you live – the weather may be less than spring-like, we’re now in the season when nature begins its rebirth, rejuvenation, renewal, and regrowth.

To celebrate, we’re recommending books about gardens, flowers, vegetables, trees – these are books all about growing. And not in that character development way. These are books literally about plant growth, from picture books to YA. Read on and reap what we sow!

PICTURE BOOKS

Where most rainforests are located, it’s actually fall right now, but we’re going to start our list with Zonia’s Rain Forest by Juana Martinez-Neal, anyway. Readers are invited to join Zonia, an Asháninka girl, as she plays in the lush Amazonian rain forest, and one can’t help but be reminded of springtime.

Though cherry blossom season usually isn’t until the end of April, we think Sakura’s Cherry Blossoms by Robert Paul Weston and Misa Saburi is another great inclusion on this list. Ostensibly about a girl missing home but making new friends after she moves from Japan, it’s also about blossoming cherry trees in the spring – famous in Japan, but also found in some neighborhoods of North America, too!

The Golden Glow by Benjamin Flouw indulges in the simple joys of the quest to find a rare and mysterious plant. Fox hikes through hills and mountains, observing many flora (and some fauna) on his way, all in an effort to catch a glimpse of a special flower: the titular golden glow.

Speaking of flowers, Welcome, Flower Child by Brigette Barrager is a picture book for the very youngest readers, as it’s all about the magic of your birth flower. Whether your birth flower is a larkspur or jonquil, this book celebrates the personality traits of individuals born in each month (through their accompanying flower) and demonstrates we need all the flowers together to make a wonderful garden.

For less subjective information about different flowers, young readers should track down Rachel Ignotofsky’s What’s Inside a Flower?, a nonfiction picture book that beautifully illustrates the answers to all your flowering questions, from seeds to roots to blooms.

But if you want your floral facts with a side of strange, Flowers Are Pretty … Weird by Rosemary Mosco and Jacob Souva is for you. Inside the book, a knowledgeable bee reveals just how bizarre flowers can be: some only bloom in the nighttime, some look like ghosts, and some smell like rotting meat. Spring is in the air!

When you’re talking spring, you’re talking trees – especially deciduous ones – and that’s exactly the kind featured in This Is the Tree We Planted by Kate McMullan and Alison Friend. The book, House-That-Jack-Built-style, recounts how one class plants a tree in a playground, then watches it grow and create a home to more and more animals as it does.

Another such tree is the focus of The Forever Tree by Tereasa Surratt and Donna Lukas, illustrated by Nicola Slater. Based on real tree in Wisconsin, the book is about the special connection a tree can have to a community – of people and animals – and how people can work together when that tree’s existence is threatened.

Zee Grows a Tree by Elizabeth Rusch and Will Hillenbrand, on the other hand, is all about an evergreen tree. In fact, it is about a girl (Zee Cooper) and a Douglas fir born on the very same day, and the parallel milestones they reach together as their lives intersect.

The tree in Corinna Luyken’s The Tree in Me is neither deciduous nor coniferous. It’s more metaphorical, as the text describes the tree-like strength within each of us and our connections to nature. That natural connection is strengthened by the illustrations of kids frolicking in the outdoors. (When was the last time you had a good frolic?)

Likewise, Only a Tree Knows How to Be a Tree by Mary Murphy is not as much about a tree as you would think. The book is about trees, as well as birds, and fish, and all sorts of living things, but it is also a book about the concept of self and how every thing (and person) is unique, and are the only ones who really know how to be themselves.

Those books are great if you appreciate tree quality, but what if you’re all about tree quantity? Enter One Million Trees: A True Story by Kristen Balouch. The book is the true story of the author’s family, who planted 1,000,000 trees (!) to fight deforestation in British Columbia. That is a tree-mendous undertaking!

Springtime is also all about planting, so we need to include a few books about gardens. Let’s start with My Baba’s Garden from acclaimed Canadian picture book duo Jordan Scott and Sydney Smith. Inspired by Scott’s childhood, the book follows a kid as he helps his grandmother tend her garden, immersing himself in the sights, sounds, smells – and worms, too!

A gardening book that many readers might find themselves in is Lola Plants a Garden by Anna McQuinn and Rosalind Beardshaw. Lola is inspired by a book of garden poems to start her own garden, so she and her mommy check out some books from the library, do a little plant research, and start gardening in no time! Libraries and gardens: two great places that go great together.

The book that could have inspired Lola is Behold Our Magical Garden by Allan Wolf and Daniel Duncan, as the book is filled with witty and playful poems about a school garden and the budding young gardeners who keep it growing.

We’ve already told you about a class of kids growing a tree. A different class of kids – these ones in a busy city – start their own rooftop garden in In Our Garden by Pat Zietlow Miller and Melissa Crowton. Inspired by new student Millie, who moved to the city from across the ocean, the entire classroom embarks on a project to develop green thumbs.

The Wild Garden by Cynthia Cliff demonstrates there’s more than one way to garden. While the village of Mirren has a tidy community garden, carefully organized and tended by the townspeople, it also has a wild patch of land the other side of the garden wall – a place full of trees, mushrooms, and wild vegetables. When the townspeople decide they need a bigger garden, they want to expand into the wild place. Jilly and her grandfather develop a plan, inviting the townspeople to discover a new kind of gardening, in this tribute to biodiversity.

Tending plants becomes an endearing substitute to animal companionship in Gwendolyn’s Pet Garden by Anne Renaud and Rashin Kheiriyeh. Gwendolyn really wants a pet, but her parents – unsure of the idea – give her a box of dirt instead. It takes her a while, but soon Gwendolyn is enthusiastically caring for her “pet” garden, which learns a few fancy tricks of its own.

And we’d be remiss if we didn’t mention all of JaNay Brown-Wood and Samara Hardy’s Where in the Garden? series. Across four books, encompassing Amara’s Farm, Miguel’s Community Garden, Logan’s Greenhouse, and Linh’s Rooftop Garden,readers are introduced to young gardeners and the many different ways kids can engage in horticulture – whether you have many acres or just a tiny spot on a roof at your disposal.

But you can’t grow much without seeds. And Seeds by Carme Lemniscates revels in the potential of seeds – whether they are spread by the wind or carried on the back of a few animals to their destination – and how they can grow into all variety of wonderful vegetation. The book also reminds us humans plant non-vegetable seeds, too (in a way), and with care we can cultivate and nurture wonderful things in the world (including actual plants).

For a more in-depth and close-up view of how a seed becomes a plant, you can read A Seed Grows by Antoinette Portis. The book outlines each step of the growth cycle of a sunflower, from tiny seed to big, bold bloom, in lively (and award-winning) illustrations.

Of course, there’s also the bestselling classic Seed to Plant by Gail Gibbons, which outlines the growth process from seed to adult plant, and informs young readers where the plants they see at home and the park, as well as the fruit and vegetables they eat, get their start.

CHAPTER BOOKS & MIDDLE GRADE

Older readers interested in all things botanical will gravitate to nature expert Ben Hoare’s The Secret World of Plants. Subtitled Tales of More than 100 Remarkable Flowers, Trees, and Seeds, the treasury includes facts about underwater seagrass, carnivorous Venus flytraps, and expensive tulips, all beautifully illustrated and augmented with information about photosynthesis, pollination, and all the plant essentials.

The lovable Nina Soni tries her hand at horticulture in Kashmira Sheth’s Nina Soni, Master of the Garden. When Nina accompanies her mom, a landscape architect, to work, she picks up a few tips on how to start a garden. But Nina quickly realizes the business potential and turns her (future) vegetable growth into an entrepreneurial enterprise. Many calamities (and hilarities) ensue for the first-time gardener.

Jen, the main character of Stepping Stones, a graphic novel by Lucy Knisley, is not as willing a participant in the vegetable growing business. She’s suddenly living in the country with her step-family, working a farm and selling produce at markets, while having left her city friends behind. Can Jen fit into her new agrarian lifestyle?

Aggie Morton is a girl more about deathstyle than lifestyle. And in Marthe Jocelyn’s Aggie Morton, Mystery Queen: The Dead Man in the Garden, that deathstyle is garden chic. Young detective Aggie and her friend Hector Perot find a body in the garden of a Yorkshire spa, and the two take it upon themselves once again to solve the mystery in this springtime thriller inspired by the life and works of Agatha Christie.

Technically Holler of the Fireflies by David Barclay Moore takes place over the summer, but the book is about Javari, a boy from Brooklyn, who goes to rural Appalachia for a STEM summer camp. Javari, a fish out of water at first, soon learns about the pleasures – both plant-based and otherwise – of the great outdoors.

The Big Sting by Rachelle Delaney is more about insects (bees, to be precise) than plants, but you can’t have many bees without flowers nearby. Eleven-year-old Leo prefers his books and video games to outdoor adventures, but when he visits Grandpa on Heron Island and his late Grandma’s beehives go missing, Leo heads out on an adventure with his little sister to brave the wild and find the missing bees.

YOUNG ADULT

While only some of them actually do any plant growing or gardening, all of the 34 young women in Girls Who Green the World by Diana Kapp are dedicated to fighting for biodiversity and renewed plant growth on planet earth. The book profiles environmental changemakers, social entrepreneurs, visionaries, and activists who want to save the planet and make the world turn green.

A book that explores the darker side of plants is Rory Power’s creepy thriller Burn Our Bodies Down, in which teenage Margot returns to her mother’s small-town homestead to uncover some family secrets and things weirder still. (Spoiler alert: there may be cornfields growing clones.)

Okay, so Violet Made of Thorns by Gina Chen isn’t really about flowers. Violet is just the name of our morally ambiguous hero, a prophet who misleads the royal court with her carefully worded predictions. But when she’s asked to provide a false prophecy for Prince Cyrus, a nemesis she’s strangely attracted to, and his upcoming wedding, Violet awakens a curse and an epic enemies-to-lovers adventure. (And spring is all about new love, too – so there.)

Tundra Telegram: Books for Your To-Be-Dread Pile

Hello, and thanks for joining us at Tundra Telegram, the column where we look at the things currently haunting readers, and recommend some petrifying publications in which to bury themselves (figuratively speaking, of course).

My fellow creatures of the night know that Halloween is just around the corner: the time to embrace all things spooky and eerie. In many parts of the world, this is the first year in a while that the young and ghoulish are able to gather at costume parties or take in a scary movie at the theatre or even trick-or-treat door-to-door. So, we’re a little more hyped for Halloween than usual.

Luckily, we’ve been able to scare up scads of scary, blood-curdling books, from those from the youngest readers to YA that might make Stephen King blanche. Read on – if you dare!

PICTURE BOOKS

Ghosts – they’re a classic Halloween costume. All you need is a sheet and two eyeholes. They’re also a classic element of many a Halloween book, and that includes some picture books featuring entirely friendly ghosts. There are few friendlier ghosts than Cale Atkinson’s Simon, who first rose to prominence with the picture book Sir Simon: Super Scarer. Simon is given his first house-haunting assignment, but it doesn’t go well because the kid who lives in the house, Chester, isn’t afraid and can think of nothing more fun than spending time with a real, undead ghost! And for the true horror fans, there are dozens of horror-movie Easter eggs throughout the book’s illustrations.

In other tales of failed ghosts, No Such Thing by Ella Bailey features a poltergeist who can’t seem to spook a clever, skeptical girl named Georgia. No matter what the ghost does, Georgia has an explanation! This picture book is a perfectly not-too-spooky blend of supernatural and STEM.

And Riel Nason and Byron Eggenschweiler’s The Little Ghost Who Was a Quilt is a ghost who demonstrates that being different is great, even if it makes being a ghost a little harder than he’d like. The book also makes for a great homemade Halloween costume that’s a level-up from the traditional sheet.

Lest we forget Gustavo: The Shy Ghost by Flavia Z. Drago, about a ghost who would love to make some friends – if only he could work up the courage. Technically a Day of the Dead book (rather than a Halloween one) – but that’s just a couple days after Halloween – Gustavo is a sweet story about introverted ghosts and companionship.

If these ghosts sound pretty cool and you need a few tips on how to make a ghost friend of your own, you need to read How to Make Friends with a Ghost by Rebecca Green. It whimsically provides tips for ghost care so you’ll make a spectral friend for life, including how to read your ghost spooky stories, and what snacks ghosts prefer.

Not to be outshone by ghosts, witches are also a time-honored Halloween favorite, and the perfect place to start, book-wise, is Leila: The Perfect Witch, by Flavia Z. Drago. From the creator who brought us Gustavo comes this other spooky picture book, featuring a witch who excels at nearly everything she does: flying, conjuring, shape-shifting. There’s only one thing she can’t do: cook. She tries to learn from her witchy sisters, but instead learns the value of trying your best, even if it’ll never win you any awards.

Witches are usually associated with Halloween, but what about Christmas? That’s where The Legend of the Christmas Witch by Aubrey Plaza (April Ludgate herself), Dan Murphy, and Julie Iredale comes in. The Christmas Witch is Santa Claus’s misunderstood twin sister, separated from the big elf at a young age, in a picture book that rethinks everything we know about witches and the holidays!

If you want to get a sense of the kinds of things witches get up to outside of the major holidays, Little Witch Hazel by Phoebe Wahl is for you. In four stories (one for each season), a tiny witch gets into adventures in the forest, be they rescuing an orphaned egg, investigating the howls of a ghost (this story is the spookiest), or lazing on a summer’s day.

But then, there are many other monsters to consider at Halloween, as well. Best to start with the guidebook, Monsters 101 by Cale Atkinson (man, he loves Halloween). Professors Vampire, Blob and Werewolf, along with their trusty lab assistant – a zombie named Tina – reveal some ridiculous and fang-in-cheek monster facts about creepy favorites from swamp creatures to demons.

And if you like monsters, you’ll want to read the story of the woman who created one of the granddaddies (if not the entire genre of horror): Mary Who Wrote Frankenstein by Linda Bailey and Júlia Sardà. This is the picture book biography of the girl behind one of the greatest novels and monsters of all time: Mary Shelley, who wrote Frankenstein. The book is also a wonderful exploration of creativity and where stories come from, complete with spine-chilling and gothic illustrations.

CHAPTER BOOKS & MIDDLE GRADE

Once again, we start with ghosts, this time with beloved Canadian writing legend Kenneth Oppel giving us chills with Ghostlight. It’s a fun (though sometimes terrifying) horror story in which young Gabe’s summer job scaring tourists with ghost stories turns real when he accidentally summons the spirit of a dead girl – and must join forces with her to protect the world of the living. As a bonus, it’s partially based on a real ghost story about Toronto’s Gibraltar Point Lighthouse.

Like ghosts by the water? Well, Double O Stephen and the Ghostly Realm by Angela Ahn features ghost pirates. A kid who loves pirates, Stephen Oh-O’Driscoll, comes face-to-pale-face with the ghost of pirate Captain Sapperton, who needs his help to cross over to the titular ghostly realm.

Karma Moon: Ghosthunter by Melissa Savage looks at the intersection of the supernatural and the reality-television in the story of a girl whose father is a TV ghost-hunter! Karma stays in a haunted Colorado hotel and must face her own anxiety and help her dad’s flailing TV series in this spooky book that’s part Veronica Mars, part The Shining.

Ghosts and spooky dolls? Sign us up for The Dollhouse: A Ghost Story by Canadian master of the middle-grade macabre Charis Cotter. When Alice and her mom head to some small town where Alice’s mom has been hired as the new live-in nurse to a rich elderly lady, Alice finds a dollhouse in an attic that’s an exact replica of the house she’s in. Then she wakes up to find a girl who look a lot like one of the dolls from the dollhouse – let the creeping dread begin!

And Sir Simon returns – this time in comic form, with the Simon & Chester graphic novel series (again by Mr. Halloween, Cale Atkinson). In the three books that exist so far, the ghost and human friends solve mysteries (Super Detectives), stay up late (Super Sleepover), and visit the waterpark and a ghost conference (Super Family). Who says it’s all hauntings and eerie moans?

But we have witchcraft for early readers and middle-grade lovers, as well! Evie and the Truth about Witches by John Martz is about a girl who wants to be scared, and the usual horror stories aren’t doing it for her anymore (we’ve all been there). When she stumbles across a different sort of book, The Truth about Witches, she hopes she’s found a new scare, but she’s forbidden by a kindly shopkeeper from reading the last page out loud! Find out why in this graphic novel that is honestly quite unsettling!

Escape to Witch City by E. Latimer explores an alternate Victorian London where a sentence of witchcraft comes with dire consequences. Here, all children are tested at age thirteen to ensure they have no witch blood. So, Emmaline Black must attempt to stamp out her power before her own test comes. But the more she researches, the more she begins to suspect that her radically anti-witch aunt and mother are hiding something.

Speaking of witches and cities . . . readers so often encounter witches in the woods, standing over a bubbling cauldron. But what about urban witches? Crimson Twill: Witch in the City by Kallie George and Birgitta Sif features a little witch who loves bright colors as she ventures out on a big-city shopping adventure (think the Shopaholic series meets Bewitched). The book is also up for the Silver Birch Express Award, which makes us think there may be a few covens hidden amongst the Ontario Library Association.

And the city witches keep coming with Sophie Escabasse’s Witches of Brooklyn graphic novel series. Life in Brooklyn takes a strange turn when Effie discovers magic runs in the family when she starts to live with her weird aunts – and weird in the Macbeth version of the term.

Ghosts and witches are fine, but what about the scary stuff out there. You know, the creepy things from outer space that Agents Fox Mulder and Dana Scully protected us from? Then you need The Area 51 Files from Julie Buxbaum and illustrator Lavanya Naidu. When Sky Patel-Baum is sent to live with her mysterious uncle, she didn’t imagine she’d end up at Area 51, a top-secret military base that just so happens to be full of aliens.

And Natasha Deen’s Spooky Sleuths series, illustrated by Lissy Marlin, follows kids Asim and Rokshar as they uncover paranormal mysteries in their town. Whether it’s ghostly trees or teachers who glow in the moon or mermaids, the creepy supernatural encounters our heroes have are all based on ghost stories and folklore from Guyana!

Halloween in summer? It’s possible with New York Times bestselling author Kiersten White’s Sinister Summer books. In each, the Sinister-Winterbottom twins solve mysteries at increasingly bizarre (and creepy) summer vacation spots. The books begin with an amusement park that’s seemingly cursed (Wretched Waterpark), then travel to a suspicious spa in the Transylvanian mountains (Vampiric Vacation).

And from the creator of Séance Tea Party (which is also a good Halloween read), Remeina Yee, comes the uncategorizable creatures of the graphic novel My Aunt Is a Monster. Safia thought that being blind meant she would only get to go on adventures through her audiobooks. This all changes when she goes to live with her distant and mysterious aunt, Lady Whimsy (who may be – okay, definitely is – a monster).

YOUNG ADULT

Now, do you want to be scared, or have a good horror-adjacent time? Because we have YA for both moods. In the realm of real scares is How to Survive your Murder by Danielle Valentine, that comes recommended by Mr. Goosebumps R. L. Stine himself! Kind of like a more murdery Back to the Future, the book concerns Alice, a teen about to testify in her sister Claire’s murder trial. But as she approaches the courtroom, she’s knocked out cold. When she awakes, it is Halloween night (see?) a year earlier, the same day Claire was murdered. Alice has until midnight to save her sister and find the real killer in this inventive slasher.

Speaking of slashers, let’s talk Stephanie Perkins and There’s Someone Inside Your House. The thriller works like a classic slasher, with students at Makani Young’s high school dropping like flies to a grotesque series of murders. Makani tries to sort out the rhyme and reason as the body count increases. Read it, then check out the Netflix adaptation (don’t watch this trailer unless you’re not easily spooked!) and see which you prefer.

And the slasher gets witchy with Coven by Jennifer Dugan and Kit Seaton, a queer, paranormal YA graphic novel featuring a young witch racing to solve a series grisly supernatural murders of her coven members in upstate New York before the killer strikes again.

Like your spooky stories with a healthy heaping of Cronenberg-esque body horror? You need to be reading Rory Power. Her debut novel Wilder Girls starred three best friends living in quarantine at their island boarding school where a disturbing infection, the Tox, has started seeping into everything – and everyone. She then followed that up with Burn Our Bodies Down a creepy yarn about weird and dark secrets in a teen girl’s mom’s hometown, for fans of Invasion of the Body Snatchers and people frightened by corn mazes.

The Taking of Jake Livingston by Ryan Douglass gives sixteen-year-old Jake Livingston the ability to see dead people everywhere. But for him, watching the last moments of dead people is easy compared to the racism he faces as one of the few Black students at St. Clair Prep. Just when a little romance enters his life, he encounters a dangerous ghost: Sawyer Doon, a troubled teen who shot and killed six kids at a local high school before taking his own life. Jake finds his supernatural abilities bring him into contact with some very dark forces.

If you like the trappings and style of horror, but a little less distress, we have YA novels for you, too. Case in point: Undead Girl Gang by Lily Anderson. In it, teenage Wiccan Mila Flores investigates the murders of three classmates (including one friend), but accidentally ends up bringing them back to life to form a hilariously unlikely – and mostly unwilling – vigilante girl gang. Sounds rad, right?

What We Harvest by Ann Fraistat isn’t all fun-and-games – in fact, it’s a folk horror about an idyllic small town being devoured by a mysterious blight called Quicksilver – but it certainly has some funny moments. And when Wren finds herself one of the last in her town unaffected by the blight, she turns to her ex, Derek, and the two have to uncover the weird and disturbing secrets that kept their town’s crops so plentiful.

Jessica Lewis’s Bad Witch Burning is a witchy story full of Black girl (occult) magic. Katrell’s ability to summon the dead offers her a chance at a new life, as she figures it could help out at home, where her mother is unemployed and her dad avoids paying child support. So she doesn’t listen to the ghosts and takes her summoning a little too far, with very dark consequences.

Finally, The Babysitters Coven by Kate M. Williams is a funny, action-packed series about a coven of witchy babysitters who protect the innocent and save the world from evil. The series follows the indoctrination of seventeen-year-old babysitter Esme Pearl’s to this heroic lineage when she meets Cassandra Heaven, a force of nature who – for some reason – wants to join her babysitters club. And the sequel, For Better or Cursed, takes readers to the Summit of the Synod, the governing group of the Sitterhood – a sort of work conference for super-powered demon-fighting babysitters. Spells Like Teen Spirit wraps up the trilogy.

Tundra Telegram: Books that will Flip You Upside Down

Hello, and thanks for joining us at Tundra Telegram, the column where we delve into the topics on the tips of readers’ tongues and recommend some recent great books to continue the discussion.

The Duffer Brothers’ Netflix phenomenon, Stranger Things – a blend of horror, science fiction, and 1980s nostalgia – returned to the streaming service this past weekend with seven episodes featuring your friends Eleven, Mike Wheeler, Hopper, Joyce Byers, and all your faves (like my personal favorite, Mr. Clarke). And by all accounts, it’s an ambitious epic, filled with secret government projects, unfathomable horror, and Kate Bush needle-drops galore.

You’ll have to wait until July to watch the final two episodes of Season 4, but we have lots of like-minded reading suggestions for Stranger Things fans of all ages to tide them over through June!

PICTURE BOOKS

It’s a bit difficult to find picture books that are good pairings with Stranger Things, as so few picture books feature anything close to demigorgons, and very few have ample ’80s references. But one exception are the picture books created by Calgary artist Kim Smith. Her Pop Classics Illustrated Storybooks – like Back to the Future, E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial, and X-Files: Earth Children Are Weird – capture all the classic moments of these pop-culture milestones that are often referenced throughout Stranger Things, and a great introduction for the youngest readers to the genre of science fiction.

MIDDLE GRADE

Probably the closest title in tone and subject matter to Stranger Things is the Last Kids on Earth book series by Max Brallier and Douglas Holgate. Suburban middle schoolers playing video games, eating inhuman amounts of candy, and battling the forces of the supernatural and monstrous (usually zombies)? Check, check, and check! And there’s nine books to enjoy so far. Join Jack Sullivan, his friends Quint, June, and Dirk, and his trusty Louisville Slicer as they battle monstrous hordes in this heavily illustrated book series (which was also adapted into a Netflix series – Finn Wolfhard even voices Jack!).

Another middle-grade title that’s a good match for Stranger Things is Sneaks by Catherine Egan. Three kids (Ben, Charlotte, and Akemi) uncover a secret society in their town to keep interdimensional sprites (called ‘Sneaks’) from slipping into our universe. And while the Sneaks may seem not as dangerous as some of the creatures from the Upside Down, they are planning to pull a much more dangerous creature – along the lines of a Mind Flayer! – into our world!

Most books by Melissa Savage (The Truth about Martians, Nessie Quest) could fit on this list, but we’re going to recommend Karma Moon: Ghost Hunter, in which a girl (Karma), whose father is a TV ghost-hunter, stays in a haunted Colorado hotel to help her dad’s flailing TV series. However, there are a few problems – namely Karma struggles with anxiety, and the Stanley Hotel seems to be home to a real haunted house!

And if you can wait until July – you’ll need to wait until then for the Stranger Things season finale anyway – you might like Strangeville School Is Totally Normal by Darcy Miller and illustrated by Brett Helquist. Harvey Hill is the new kid at Strangeville Middle School, trying to blend in, until he realizes his new school is filled with strange sea creatures, giant rats, and a Bermuda-Triangle-like lunch room. A school that might fit in really well in Hawkins, Indiana.

YOUNG ADULT

For YA reading, you can’t do better than the genuine article – actual licensed Stranger Things books, like Runaway Max by Brenna Yovanoff (which focuses on Sadie Sink’s skateboarding loner, who shows up in Season 2) or Rebel Robin by A. R. Carpetta (which focuses on the inner life of the fan-favorite third-season introduction portrayed by Maya Hawke). And you can pre-order the third book in the series, Lucas on the Line by Suyi Davies, about Lucas Sinclair in his own words, out this July.

Likewise, you may enjoy Matthew J. Gilbert’s How to Survive in a Stranger Things World, a hardcover gift book filled with wisdom and guidance to help you through school, friendships, and your town’s darkest secrets. Plus, it’s jam-packed with photos from the television series.

But if you’re looking for something with a similar feel to the show, rather than an officially licensed book, you might like Wilder Girls by Rory Power, which matches (if not surpasses) the show’s creep factor. A feminist Lord of the Flies with a splash of body horror is how we’d describe this mind-melting debut science fiction novel about three girls locked in quarantine at their island board school as a body-altering illness begins to infect everyone else.

You might also be intrigued by What We Harvest, the debut novel from Ann Fraistat that hinges on dark horror in a small town. Hollow’s End is a town that provides food for much of America with its miracle crops, but that bounty comes – as Wren and her family discover – with a deadly price! A blight called ‘Quicksilver’ poisons the land and turns the livestock into staggering, infected zombies. Can Wren and her ex Derek save Hollow’s End?

And Pete and Alistair Montague may be a bit older than the Party in Stranger Things, but they – along with friends like Charlie, Rachel, and Rowan – investigate mysterious goings on in their town of Port Howl in Nathan Page and Drew Shannon’s The Montague Twins graphic novels. The books in the series have definite ST vibes, but are set about twenty years earlier, so there are more Donovan musical cues than Echo and the Bunnymen. And, like Eleven, the Montagues have a few tricks up their sleeves – including some witchy powers.

Teen Top Ten: June 2021

Wanna know what everyone else has been reading and loving lately? Every month we’ll post our list of top ten bestselling YA books that we publish and sell in Canada. Here are the Teen Top Ten titles for the month of June 2021 – how many have you read?

1. We Were Liars
By E. Lockhart
320 Pages | Ages 12+ | Paperback
ISBN 9780385741279 | Delacorte Press
A beautiful and distinguished family.
A private island.
A brilliant, damaged girl; a passionate, political boy.
A group of four friends – the Liars – whose friendship turns destructive.
A revolution. An accident. A secret.
Lies upon lies.
True love.
The truth.
Read it.
And if anyone asks you how it ends, just LIE.

2. One of Us Is Lying
By Karen M. McManus
416 Pages | Ages 14+ | Hardcover
ISBN 9781524714680 | Delacorte Press
Pay close attention and you might solve this. On Monday afternoon, five students at Bayview High walk into detention. Bronwyn, the brain, is Yale-bound and never breaks a rule.  Addy, the beauty, is the picture-perfect homecoming princess. Nate, the criminal, is already on probation for dealing. Cooper, the athlete, is the all-star baseball pitcher. And Simon, the outcast, is the creator of Bayview High’s notorious gossip app. Only, Simon never makes it out of that classroom. Before the end of detention, Simon’s dead. And according to investigators, his death wasn’t an accident. On Monday, he died. But on Tuesday, he’d planned to post juicy reveals about all four of his high-profile classmates, which makes all four of them suspects in his murder. Or are they the perfect patsies for a killer who is still on the loose? Everyone has secrets, right? What really matters is how far you would go to protect them.

3. A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder
By Holly Jackson
400 Pages | Ages 14+ | Hardcover
ISBN 9781984896360 | Delacorte Press
Everyone in Fairview knows the story. Pretty and popular high school senior Andie Bell was murdered by her boyfriend, Sal Singh, who then killed himself. It was all anyone could talk about. And five years later, Pip sees how the tragedy still haunts her town. But she can’t shake the feeling that there was more to what happened that day. She knew Sal when she was a child, and he was always so kind to her. How could he possibly have been a killer? Now a senior herself, Pip decides to re-examine the closed case for her final project, at first just to cast doubt on the original investigation. But soon she discovers a trail of dark secrets that might actually prove Sal innocent . . . and the line between past and present begins to blur. Someone in Fairview doesn’t want Pip digging around for answers, and now her own life might be in danger.

4. All the Bright Places
By Jennifer Niven
416 Pages | Ages 14+ | Paperback
ISBN 9780385755917 | Knopf BFYR
Theodore Finch is fascinated by death. Every day he thinks of ways he might kill himself, but every day he also searches for – and manages to find – something to keep him here, and alive, and awake. Violet Markey lives for the future, counting the days until graduation, when she can escape her small Indiana town and her aching grief in the wake of her sister’s recent death. When Finch and Violet meet on the ledge of the bell tower at school – six stories above the ground – it’s unclear who saves whom. Soon it’s only with Violet that Finch can be himself. And it’s only with Finch that Violet can forget to count away the days and start living them. But as Violet’s world grows, Finch’s begins to shrink.

5. The Book Thief
By Markus Zusak
608 Pages | Ages 12+| Paperback
ISBN 9780375842207 | Knopf BFYR
It is 1939. Nazi Germany. The country is holding its breath. Death has never been busier, and will become busier still. Liesel Meminger is a foster girl living outside of Munich, who scratches out a meager existence for herself by stealing when she encounters something she can’t resist–books. With the help of her accordion-playing foster father, she learns to read and shares her stolen books with her neighbors during bombing raids as well as with the Jewish man hidden in her basement.

6. Instructions for Dancing
By Nicola Yoon
384 Pages | Ages 12+ | Hardcover
ISBN 9780735271234 | Penguin Teen Canada
Evie Thomas doesn’t believe in love anymore. Especially after the strangest thing occurs one otherwise ordinary afternoon: She witnesses a couple kiss and is overcome with a vision of how their romance began . . . and how it will end. After all, even the greatest love stories end with a broken heart, eventually. As Evie tries to understand why this is happening, she finds herself at La Brea Dance studio, learning to waltz, fox-trot, and tango with a boy named X. X is everything that Evie is not: adventurous, passionate, daring. His philosophy is to say yes to everything – including entering a ballroom dance competition with a girl he’s only just met. Falling for X is definitely not what Evie had in mind. If her visions of heartbreak have taught her anything, it’s that no one escapes love unscathed. But as she and X dance around and toward each other, Evie is forced to question all she thought she knew about life and love. In the end, is love worth the risk?

7. The Maze Runner
By James Dashner
416 Pages | Ages 12+ | Paperback
ISBN 9780385737951 | Delacorte Press
When Thomas wakes up in the lift, the only thing he can remember is his name. He’s surrounded by strangers – boys whose memories are also gone. Outside the towering stone walls that surround them is a limitless, ever-changing maze. It’s the only way out – and no one’s ever made it through alive. Then a girl arrives. The first girl ever. And the message she delivers is terrifying: Remember. Survive. Run. Book one in the blockbuster Maze Runner series that spawned a movie franchise and ushered in a worldwide phenomenon!

8. The Outsiders
By S. E. Hinton
224 Pages | Ages 12+ | Paperback
ISBN 9780140385724 | Viking BFYR
The 45th anniversary of a landmark work of teen fiction. Ponyboy can count on his brothers and his friends, but not on much else besides trouble with the Socs, a vicious gang of rich kids who get away with everything, including beating up greasers like Ponyboy. At least he knows what to expect – until the night someone takes things too far. Written forty-five years ago, S. E. Hinton’s classic story of a boy who finds himself on the outskirts of regular society remains as powerful today as it was the day it was written.

9. Dear Martin
By Nic Stone
240 Pages | Ages 14+ | Paperback
ISBN 9781101939529 | Crown BFYR
Justyce McAllister is a good kid, an honor student, and always there to help a friend – but none of that matters to the police officer who just put him in handcuffs. Despite leaving his rough neighborhood behind, he can’t escape the scorn of his former peers or the ridicule of his new classmates. Justyce looks to the teachings of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. for answers. But do they hold up anymore? He starts a journal to Dr. King to find out. Then comes the day Justyce goes driving with his best friend, Manny, windows rolled down, music turned up – way up, sparking the fury of a white off-duty cop beside them. Words fly. Shots are fired. Justyce and Manny are caught in the crosshairs. In the media fallout, it’s Justyce who is under attack.

10. Wilder Girls
By Rory Power
400 Pages | 14+ | Paperback
ISBN 9780525645610 | Delacorte BFYR
It’s been eighteen months since the Raxter School for Girls was put under quarantine. Since the Tox hit and pulled Hetty’s life out from under her. It started slow. First the teachers died one by one. Then it began to infect the students, turning their bodies strange and foreign. Now, cut off from the rest of the world and left to fend for themselves on their island home, the girls don’t dare wander outside the school’s fence, where the Tox has made the woods wild and dangerous. They wait for the cure they were promised as the Tox seeps into everything. But when Byatt goes missing, Hetty will do anything to find her, even if it means breaking quarantine and braving the horrors that lie beyond the fence. And when she does, Hetty learns that there’s more to their story, to their life at Raxter, than she could have ever thought true.