Tundra Telegram: Books That Reach for Disguise

Hello, and thanks for joining us at Tundra Telegram, the column where we check out the things that are posing particular problems for social media users and recommend some verified great reads.  

One thing that came up often on Twitter this past weekend, with the implementation of the new blue check mark system: impersonation! The new CEO is very concerned with users pretending to be someone they are not – in particular, pretending to be someone who just purchased Twitter for $44 billion. The new management was adamant they would condone no impersonation of famous billionaires, no matter how amusing it might be.

In honor of the good times that were had pretending to be a thin-skinned plutocrat, we’ve assembled the best children’s book featuring impersonation, impostors, and mistaken identities. These aren’t your grandaddy’s Prince and the Pauper!

PICTURE BOOKS

Ooko, the title character of Esmé Shapiro’s Ooko, is a fox who can’t really be said to be impersonating a dog as he really thinks he is one. Or rather, the thinks dogs are foxes, and can’t understand why the other foxes (including the fur-less two-legged foxes) don’t want him around. Ooko tries to make himself look like the other foxes (or dogs), but learns that being yourself is the best policy in this adorable book of inadvertent identity theft.

It’s one thing to impersonate a look, but what about a sound? In the new book Little Echo by Al Rodin, Little Echo lives alone in a cave and mimics the noises all around her, repeating only what she hears. But when a boy named Max enters the cave, she follows him and discovers she might have a voice of her own. Little Echo is a book about mimicry that suggests intense shyness and loneliness is often the cause of that impersonation.

Lookalike cats who live in adjacent apartment buildings wind up with the wrong owners in a comic story of mistaken cat identities Niblet & Ralph by Zachariah OHora. But though the two cats look similar, their tastes are very different. (Ralph loves listening to his tunes. Niblet loves his potato chips.) And they struggle to let their not-very-observant owners know they’re in the wrong household.

This next entry kind of gives the ending of the book away, so skip ahead one title if you don’t like your picture books spoiled. Great Dog by Davide Cali and Miguel Tanco follows a pup and his dog father as they stroll past portraits of great dogs in their family and discuss what the pup might grow up to be: an astronaut? A marathon runner? But the book reveals that all those great dogs were actually not great at all! And even the pup at the center of the story may, in fact, be a cat.

CHAPTER BOOKS & MIDDLE GRADE

The titular Yumi Chung allows one of her favorite YouTube stars and the campers at a comedy camp for kids believe she is a girl named “Kay Nakamura” for the majority of Stand Up, Yumi Chung! by Jessica Kim. Yumi wants her parents to think she has a future career as a comedian, but they want her to pass a scholarship exam so she can attend an exclusive private school. But when she stumbles into a comedy camp led by her idol Jasmine Jasper and is mistaken for another camper, her quite funny double life begins!

Speaking of funny kids, Jake in Jake the Fake Keeps It Real by Craig Robinson (!) and Adam Mansbach (and illustrated by Keith Knight) is hilarious. But he also fakes his way into a prestigious music and art academy by auditioning with the only song he knows how to play on piano. Feeling like a real impostor and surrounded by young geniuses and artists, Jake will have to fake it until he makes it, or else the last laugh will be on him.

YOUNG ADULT

As the title of Genuine Fraud by E.We Were LiarsLockhart might suggest, this is a book about an impostor. Imogen is an orphaned heiress, and Julie is her closest friend. But months later, Julie is posing as Imogen, living at the fabulous Playa Grande Resort in Cabo San Lucas. What happened to Imogen and why is Julie pretending to be her? (Especially since Julie has not tagged herself as a parody account.)

It seems like it would be easy (and almost expected) for twins to impersonate one another, but thriller The Twin by Natasha Preston takes it to extremely creepy levels. Ivy and Iris are twins who haven’t lived together for years after their parents have a nasty divorce. But when their mom dies in an accident, Iris moves in with Ivy and her dad. Soon after, the Single White Female treatment begins, with Iris quickly taking over her sister’s entire identity.

In an impersonation feat, two girls pose as one in the romance We Are the Perfect Girl by Ariel Kalpan. An outgoing girl with an immense body dysphoria, Aphra, poses as her deeply shy but conventionally beautiful friend Bethany on a dating app. And together, with Cyrano-like precision, they win over Bethany’s hunky crush, Greg D’Agostino. How long can the dating duo keep D’Agostino in the dark – and can the two girls remain friends when their deception is inevitably revealed?

David Yoon’s Super Fake Love Song follows roleplaying nerd Sunny Dae, who pretends he’s the front man of a rock band to impress the girl of his dreams – going to all lengths to not reveal the lie. He should have called that band The Pretenders (but it was already taken), so he called his imaginary band The Mortals – don’t even get me started on The Mortal’s instruments. (Rimshot!)

And Spin the Dawn by Elizabeth Lim is an epic fantasy about fashion and tailoring magic dresses. But Maia Tamarin, our heroine and daughter of a renowned tailor, must pretend she is her own brother to enter a cutthroat competition to prepare three magic gowns for the emperor’s bride-to-be – so we’re counting her as an impostor, too!

Tundra Telegram: Books That You Should Never Ever Put Down

Hello, and thanks for joining us at Tundra Telegram, the column where we talk about things that are our current mood, and recommend some sick books you might low-key love.

We’re cheating a little this week by talking about yet another Netflix television series, but the entire Tundra team was just too excited for the return of one of the funniest teen comedy-dramas in some time, Never Have I Ever, to avoid it. And as star Maitreyi Ramakrishnan hails from Mississauga, Ontario, our Canadian pride was just too strong to resist. Plus, there are so few children’s books about heads of state taking classified documents.

Resultingly, this week we’re recommending picture books, middle-grade titles and – perhaps most fittingly – YA that connect, in one way or another, to the popular teen comedy series chronicling the victories and embarrassments of Sherman Oaks high school student Devi Vishwakumar. Read on, fellow Coyote Girls and Boys.

PICTURE BOOKS

We’re sure that Devi (and the actor who plays her, Maitreyi) can relate to Mirha, the protagonist of picture book That’s Not My Name!, written and illustrated by Torontonian Anoosha Syed. Mirha’s classmates mispronounce her name, she can’t find a monogrammed keychain at the gas station, and begins to wonder if she should find a new one until Mama helps her see how special her name is.

Whether it’s grief that causes temporary paralysis or a volcanic anger that leads to verbal altercations with her mother and declaring nuclear war at model U.N., one thing Devi has is Big Feelings, which is also the name of a picture book by Alexandra Penfold and Suzanne Kaufman. The book, much like Devi’s therapist Jamie Ryan, helps children’ navigate life when they feel mad, frustrated, or overwhelmed.

This isn’t a spoiler, as Never Have I Ever essentially opens with the death of Devi’s father, Mohan, but a lot of the emotional challenges Devi faces are traced back to the loss of a parent. Many Shapes of Clay: A Story of Healing by Kenesha Sneed uses ceramics to tell the story of a mother and son (Eisha), coping with a lost father. Eisha learns to live with the sense of loss and of the joyful power of making something new out of what is left behind (even if it’s just a single voice mail).

More than a few times Devi’s father’s death has manifested itself in her dreams, which reminds us of another wonderful book about grief for young readers, A Garden of Creatures by Sheila Heti and Esmé Shapiro. After a bunny and cat lose their fellow garden friend, the big bunny, a strange dream prompts the smaller bunny to begin asking questions big questions about death. Along those same lines, Lost in the Clouds by Tom Tinn-Disbury, part of the new series, Difficult Conversations for Children, acts as a guide to talking to young kids about grief, as it follows Billy and his father while they navigate the loss of Billy’s mother

Never Have I Ever also makes us happy as it features a main character who is the romantic interest of several appealing suitors – and she has body hair. It reminds us of Laxmi’s Mooch by Shelly Anand and Nabi H. Ali, in which young Indian-American girl Laxmi falls in love with the hair on her upper lip, her arms, legs, and between her eyebrows!

The show wouldn’t be the same without the incredible narration from tennis star John McEnroe. Not only do McEnroe and Devi share a reputation for hot tempers, Devi’s story has sentimental connections to the tennis star. For a picture book that combines tennis greatness, temporary debilitating injuries, and social-emotional learning, you have to check out former US Open champion Bianca Andreescu’s Bibi’s Got Game, co-written by Mary Beth Leatherdale and illustrated by Chelsea O’Byrne.

CHAPTER BOOKS & MIDDLE GRADE

One element we haven’t dwelled on much yet is how uproariously funny Never Have I Ever is. Need another hit of humor? Funny Girl: Funniest. Stories. Ever. has got you covered. Edited by Betsy Bird and featuring hilarious stories by Cece Bell, Libba Bray, Raina Telgemeier, and many more – all featuring funny girl friends (not unlike Devi, Eleanor, and Fabiola).

For a book that more precisely marries comedy with the challenges of being a second-generation teenager in America, try Jessica Kim’s beloved Stand Up, Yumi Chung! Yumi, a shy outsider whose parents run a Korean barbecue restaurant, plots to become a stand-up comedian (under a false identity) while she’s supposed to be studying for a private school scholarship. Like Never Have I Ever, it’s a charming story with bighearted characters.

In The Science of Breakable Things by Tae Keller, Natalie and her friends’ interest in science may be more of a Fabiola thing than a Devi one . But it’s a funny story about three friends who hope to use science to win an egg-drop contest in order to get Natalie’s mom out of a depression funk. And, like much of the show, it’s all about a kid learning their mother is a real person, too!

And though the protagonist of The Secret Diary of Mona Hasan by Salma Hussain is a first-generation immigrant (from Dubai), and lives about 30 years before Devi’s story, we think there are definitely similarities. It features a headstrong young girl who falls in love and deflects from big problems with humor: “We didn’t even get any days off school!” she notes, when talking about the first Persian Gulf War.

YOUNG ADULT

Debate club? Witty banter? A headstrong brown girl fighting back against some anti-Indian online memes. High school romance? While those sound like the ingredients of an episode of Never Have I Ever, they also describe the new YA novel TJ Powar Has Something to Prove by Canadian Jesmeen Kaur Deo, in which a pretty, popular debater, TJ, sets out to demonstrate she can let her body hair grow naturally and still be beautiful.

Academic high-achieving rivals to lovers – shades of Devi and Ben Gross – Kavya and Ian anchor Beauty and the Besharam by Lillie Vale. Kavya has always been told she’s a little too ambitious, a little too mouthy, and a little too much – or besharam (remind you of any TV characters?). But when she’s cast as Ariel in a job that supplies Disney princesses to children’s birthday parties, and her academic rival Ian is cast as Prince Eric? You know what happens next!

With a teen romance in the robotics club, My Mechanical Romance by Alexene Farol Follmuth falls more into the Fabiola territory. But like Devi, protagonist Bel has no interest in robotics or engineering (even if she’s good at it), until handsome Mateo Luna (the book’s Paxton Hall-Yoshida), captain of the robotics club, insists they need her talent.

While there’s a conspicuous lack of Bollywood content on Never Have I Ever, we still feel Nisha Sharma’s very funny romance My So-Called Bollywood Life should be included with our recommendations. Sure, Winnie Mehta is obsessed with Bollywood films and Devi shows no interest in them, but they both experience romantic disaster with comic results and are feisty, second-generation heroines readers will root for.

Frankly in Love by David Yoon is the story of Frank Li, who – like Devi – is a teenager living in Southern California and is torn between the more traditional expectations of his family (who sacrificed a lot to raise him in the U.S.A.) and his strong desire to live the life of a “regular American teen” – and that includes dating a white girl. Plus, like Devi’s cousin Kamala, he winds up in a fake relationship within his culture that turns out to be something more.

And Perfectly Parvin by Olivia Abtahi, follows Parvin Mohammadi, a bassoon-playing, frizzy-haired, Cheeto-eating Iranian-American who’s just been very publicly dumped. But she’s got a scheme to solve all her problems with dating the hottest boy in school, Matty Fumero. She just has to study rom-coms and be the perfect dream girl. But over the course of the book she learns, as Devi so often does, that to get the boy, you just have to be yourself.

Happy reading, friends!

Holiday Spotlight: Penguin Young Readers

Here at Penguin Random House Canada Young Readers, we’re lucky to work with so many different lists. This holiday season, we’ll be highlighting each one with a dedicated post to help you find the perfect gift (or your next read). Today’s post is all about Penguin Young Readers.

Antiracist Baby
By Ibram X. Kendi
Illustrated by Ashley Lukashevsky
32 Pages | Ages 0-3 | Hardcover
ISBN 9780593110508 | Kokila
From the National Book Award-winning author of Stamped from the Beginning and How to Be an Antiracist comes a new 9×9 picture book that empowers parents and children to uproot racism in our society and in ourselves, now with added discussion prompts to help readers recognize and reflect on bias in their daily lives. With bold art and thoughtful yet playful text, Antiracist Baby introduces the youngest readers and the grown-ups in their lives to the concept and power of antiracism. Providing the language necessary to begin critical conversations at the earliest age, Antiracist Baby is the perfect gift for readers of all ages dedicated to forming a just society.

Before the Ever After
By Jacqueline Woodson
176 Pages | Ages 10+ | Hardcover
ISBN 9780399545436 | Nancy Paulsen Books
For as long as ZJ can remember, his dad has been everyone’s hero. As a charming, talented pro football star, he’s as beloved to the neighborhood kids he plays with as he is to his millions of adoring sports fans. But lately life at ZJ’s house is anything but charming. His dad is having trouble remembering things and seems to be angry all the time. ZJ’s mom explains it’s because of all the head injuries his dad sustained during his career. ZJ can understand that–but it doesn’t make the sting any less real when his own father forgets his name. As ZJ contemplates his new reality, he has to figure out how to hold on tight to family traditions and recollections of the glory days, all the while wondering what their past amounts to if his father can’t remember it. And most importantly, can those happy feelings ever be reclaimed when they are all so busy aching for the past?

Bunheads
By Misty Copeland
Illustrated by Setor Fiadzigbey
32 Pages | Ages 5-8 | Hardcover
ISBN 9780399547645 | Putnam BFYR
From prima ballerina and New York Times bestselling author Misty Copeland comes the story of a young Misty, who discovers her love of dance through the ballet Coppélia–a story about a toymaker who devises a villainous plan to bring a doll to life. Misty is so captivated by the tale and its heroine, Swanilda, she decides to audition for the role. But she’s never danced ballet before; in fact, this is the very first day of her very first dance class! Though Misty is excited, she’s also nervous. But as she learns from her fellow bunheads, she makes wonderful friends who encourage her to do her very best. Misty’s nerves quickly fall away, and with a little teamwork, the bunheads put on a show to remember. Featuring the stunning artwork of newcomer Setor Fiadzigbey, Bunheads is an inspiring tale for anyone looking for the courage to try something new.

Girl on a Motorcycle
By Amy Novesky
Illustrated by Julie Morstad
48 Pages | Ages 5-9 | Hardcover
ISBN 9780593116296 | Viking BFYR
One day, a girl gets on her motorcycle and rides away. She wants to wander the world. To go . . . elsewhere. This is the true story of the first woman to ride a motorcycle around the world alone. Each place has something to teach her. Each place is beautiful. And despite many flat tires and falls, she learns to always get back up and keep riding. Award-winning author Amy Novesky and Governor General’s Award-winning illustrator Julie Morstad have teamed up for a spectacular celebration of girl power and resilience.

The Last Kids on Earth and the Skeleton Road
By Max Brallier
Illustrated by Douglas Holgate
320 Pages | Ages 8-12 | Hardcover
ISBN 9781984835345 | Viking BFYR
Now wielding the Midnight Blade, Jack Sullivan and the gang are furiously searching for the villainous Thrull and his skeleton army. The clock is ticking: the enemy has begun constructing the Tower–a portal with the power to bring Rezzoch the Ancient, Destructor of Worlds, to our dimension. Equipped with a crucial clue discovered by June on her Wild Flight, the group does the once-unthinkable: they leave Wakefield behind and embark on an . . . EPIC ROAD TRIP! That means music blasting, kitschy roadside attractions, snacks snacks snacks, dangerous detours, and a slew of skeletons and monsters at every turn. But this is no ordinary post-apocalyptic joyride. Because soon, they are pursued by a new threat: the return of a monster they thought long dead, who has taken on a terrifying new form. Jack, June, Quint, and Dirk will be lucky to make it far enough to find the answers they seek. But when the future of the world depends on it, these heroes don’t pump the brakes–they go full throttle.

Shirley & Jamila Save Their Summer
By Gillian Goerz
224 Pages | Ages 8-12 | Hardcover
ISBN 9780525552857 | Dial BFYR
Jamila Waheed is staring down a lonely summer in a new neighborhood – until she meets Shirley Bones. Sure, Shirley’s a little strange, but both girls need a new plan for the summer, and they might as well become friends.  Then this kid Oliver shows up begging for Shirley’s help. His pet gecko has disappeared, and he’s sure it was stolen! That’s when Jamila discovers Shirley’s secret: She’s the neighborhood’s best kid detective, and she’s on the case. When Jamila discovers she’s got some detective skills of her own, a crime-solving partnership is born. The mystery of the missing gecko turns Shirley and Jamila’s summer upside down. And when their partnership hits a rough patch, they have to work together to solve the greatest mystery of all: What it means to be a friend.

Stand Up, Yumi Chung!
By Jessica Kim
320 Pages | Ages 9-12 | Hardcover
ISBN 9780525554974 | Kokila
On the outside, Yumi Chung suffers from #shygirlproblems, a perm-gone-wrong, and kids calling her “Yu-MEAT” because she smells like her family’s Korean barbecue restaurant. On the inside, Yumi is ready for her Netflix stand-up special. Her notebook is filled with mortifying memories that she’s reworked into comedy gold. All she needs is a stage and courage. Instead of spending the summer studying her favorite YouTube comedians, Yumi is enrolled in test-prep tutoring to qualify for a private school scholarship, which will help in a time of hardship at the restaurant. One day after class, Yumi stumbles on an opportunity that will change her life: a comedy camp for kids taught by one of her favorite YouTube stars. The only problem is that the instructor and all the students think she’s a girl named Kay Nakamura–and Yumi doesn’t correct them. As this case of mistaken identity unravels, Yumi must decide to stand up and reveal the truth or risk losing her dreams and disappointing everyone she cares about.

Super Fake Love Song
By David Yoon
368 Pages | Ages 14+ | Hardcover
ISBN 9781984812230 | Putnam BFYR
When Sunny Dae–self-proclaimed total nerd–meets Cirrus Soh, he can’t believe how cool and confident she is. So when Cirrus mistakes Sunny’s older brother Gray’s bedroom–with its electric guitars and rock posters–for Sunny’s own, he sort of, kind of, accidentally winds up telling her he’s the front man of a rock band. Before he knows it, Sunny is knee-deep in the lie: He ropes his best friends into his scheme, begging them to form a fake band with him, and starts wearing Gray’s rock-and-roll castoffs. But no way can he trick this amazing girl into thinking he’s cool, right? Just when Sunny is about to come clean, Cirrus asks to see them play sometime. Gulp. Now there’s only one thing to do: Fake it till you make it. But it’s only a matter of time before Sunny’s house of cards starts tumbling down. As his lies begin to catch up with him, Sunny Dae is forced to wonder whether it was all worth it–and if it’s possible to ever truly change.

The Kingdom of Back
By Marie Lu
336 Pages | Ages 12+ | Hardcover
ISBN 9781524739010 | Putnam BFYR
Born with a gift for music, Nannerl Mozart has just one wish–to be remembered forever. But even as she delights audiences with her masterful playing, she has little hope she’ll ever become the acclaimed composer she longs to be. She is a young woman in 18th century Europe, and that means composing is forbidden to her. She will perform only until she reaches a marriageable age--her tyrannical father has made that much clear. And as Nannerl’s hope grows dimmer with each passing year, the talents of her beloved younger brother, Wolfgang, only seem to shine brighter. His brilliance begins to eclipse her own, until one day a mysterious stranger from a magical land appears with an irresistible offer. He has the power to make her wish come true–but his help may cost her everything.

The Little Engine That Could: 90th Anniversary Edition
By Watty Piper
Illustrated by Dan Santat
Introduction by Dolly Parton
48 Pages | Ages 3-7 | Hardcover
ISBN 9780593094396 | Grosset & Dunlap
The kindness and determination of the Little Blue Engine have inspired millions of children around the world since the story was first published in 1930. Cherished by readers for ninety years, The Little Engine That Could is a classic tale of a little engine that, despite her size, triumphantly pulls a train full of wonderful things to the children waiting on the other side of a mountain. This anniversary edition features the original text, all-new reimagined artwork and an introduction from Caldecott Medal-winner Dan Santat, and a special letter from Dolly Parton, award-winning singer-songwriter and founder of Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library.