Tundra Telegram: Books That Strike a Chord

Welcome to the first edition of Tundra Telegram, where we look at the subjects on readers’ minds and recommend some recent great books to continue the discussion.

This past Sunday, some very important recording awards were held, celebrating the best in the past year’s music. (For legal reasons, we are refraining from naming those awards on this site, but we all know what we’re talking about, right?) Jon Batiste and Olivia Rodrigo were among the big winners. If those music-minded awards put you in a musical mood, you may want to check out some of the following titles.

PICTURE BOOKS

Brother, Sister, Family is a children’s book by music legend (and winner of dozens of musical awards) Willie Nelson and his sister and bandmate Bobbie Nelson, and illustrated by Kyung Eun Han. It’s a moving tale about a family with little money but a lot of love – especially for music.

Darryl’s Dream is a picture book about a quiet, nerdy kid who gets the chance to show his creativity at a school talent show. It also happens to be written by Darryl “DMC” McDaniels, a member of pioneering hip-hop group RUN-D.M.C. (who won a lifetime achievement award in 2016).

Why Not You? by performer Ciara and her Super Bowl champion husband Russell Wilson and illustrator Jessica Gibson is an inspiring picture book that encourages young readers to go after their biggest dreams – which may or may not include Song of the Year at an award show.

Paul McCartney, the author of Grandude’s Green Submarine (illustrated by Canadian artist Kathryn Durst) has been nominated for (and won) so many music awards, they probably take up several Wings (get it?) of his home.

And Nina, by Traci N. Todd and Christian Robinson is a lyrical picture book biography about Nina Simone who – improbably – was nominated, but never won an award of the kind they gave out last weekend. Can you believe that?!

MIDDLE GRADE

Jade Armstrong’s brand-new graphic novel Scout Is Not a Band Kid is a very funny story about a hapless girl who joins the school band for the trips (rather than an interest in music) – or one trip in particular (which will bring her closer to her favorite author). Trombone solos and hilarity ensues.

Celia C. Pérez’s The First Rule of Punk is a heartfelt exploration of friendship, being yourself, and rocking out. No one, not even the Posada Middle School’s anti-punk administration, will stop Malú from inciting a little anarchy in the USA.

This may be a bit more country than rock, hip-hop, or pop, but we’re sure Chris Stapleton would approve. In Kate O’Shaughnessy’s The Lonely Heart of Maybelle Lane, Maybelle is searching for her father. She soon discovers he’s a country radio DJ and will be judging a singing contest in Nashville. And you’d best believe she’s going to hop in an RV to Nashville to enter that contest!

Eric Walters and Kathy Kacer’s Broken Strings belongs more in awards for musical theatre, since it concerns a school production of Fiddler on the Roof that stirs up painful family secrets (as well as a little bit of romance), but given the Sondheim tribute at this year’s awards, we’re going to include it.

YOUNG ADULT

The boy band in Adib Khorram’s gay romance, Kiss & Tell is more 4*Town than BTS, but we’re sure they’d be up for Best Pop Duo / Group Performance.

David Yoon’s Super Fake Love Song follows 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. (Fun fact: we’re pretty sure this is also how Imagine Dragons was formed.)

Jose Pimienta’s Suncatcher is a graphic novel about a girl whose grandfather’s soul is trapped in his guitar. All she has to do is play the perfect song and his soul will be freed. (Looks like a job for Swedish one-man hit factory Max Martin, am I right?)

The Montague Twins: The Devil’s Music, the new graphic novel by Nathan Page and Drew Shannon, looks at the dark side of rock music, as the twin teen detectives form a rock band with their friends, and soon encounter rock star Gideon, who may or may not have sinister hypnotic powers.

And fifteen YA authors and one bonafide rock star contribute to the short stories in Battle of the Bands. Edited by Lauren Gibaldi and Eric Smith, the stories by Preeti Chhibber, Ashley Woodfolk, Jeff Zentner, and Motion City Soundtrack‘s Justin Courtney Pierre present a  kaleidoscopic view of one transformative night of music (not unlike the award show itself).

5 YA Romances We Love

Valentine’s Day is around the corner, so if you’re looking for a cute read, we have some suggestions (obviously)! We have so many favourites but we made ourselves pick five to start with – what else would you add to this list?

For fans of The Great British Bake Off and other baking shows:

A Taste for Love
By Jennifer Yen
336 Pages | Ages 12+ | Hardcover
ISBN 9780593117521 | Razorbill
To her friends, high school senior Liza Yang is nearly perfect. Smart, kind, and pretty, she dreams big and never shies away from a challenge. But to her mom, Liza is anything but. Compared to her older sister Jeannie, Liza is stubborn, rebellious, and worst of all, determined to push back against all of Mrs. Yang’s traditional values, especially when it comes to dating. The one thing mother and daughter do agree on is their love of baking. Mrs. Yang is the owner of Houston’s popular Yin & Yang Bakery. With college just around the corner, Liza agrees to help out at the bakery’s annual junior competition to prove to her mom that she’s more than her rebellious tendencies once and for all. But when Liza arrives on the first day of the bake-off, she realizes there’s a catch: all of the contestants are young Asian American men her mother has handpicked for Liza to date. The bachelorette situation Liza has found herself in is made even worse when she happens to be grudgingly attracted to one of the contestants; the stoic, impenetrable, annoyingly hot James Wong. As she battles against her feelings for James, and for her mother’s approval, Liza begins to realize there’s no tried and true recipe for love.

We love #OwnVoices:

The Sun Is Also a Star
By Nicola Yoon
384 Pages | Ages 12+ | Paperback
ISBN 9780735267008 | Penguin Teen Canada
This book is inspired by Big History (to learn about one thing, you have to learn about everything). In The Sun Is Also a Star, to understand the characters and their love story, we must know everything around them and everything that came before them that has affected who they are and what they experience. Two teens – Daniel, the son of Korean shopkeepers, and Natasha, whose family is here illegally from Jamaica – cross paths in New York City on an eventful day in their lives – Daniel is on his way to an interview with a Yale alum, Natasha is meeting with a lawyer to try and prevent her family’s deportation to Jamaica – and fall in love.

The classic tearjerker:

The Fault in Our Stars
By John Green
352 Pages | Ages 14+ | Paperback
ISBN 9780142424179 | Dutton BFYR
Despite the tumor-shrinking medical miracle that has bought her a few years, Hazel has never been anything but terminal, her final chapter inscribed upon diagnosis. But when a gorgeous plot twist named Augustus Waters suddenly appears at Cancer Kid Support Group, Hazel’s story is about to be completely rewritten. From John Green, the #1 bestselling author of Turtles All the Way Down, The Fault in Our Stars is insightful, bold, irreverent, and raw. It brilliantly explores the funny, thrilling, and tragic business of being alive and in love.

Read the book, watch the movie!

The Prom
By Saundra Mitchell, Bob Martin, Chad Beguelin, and Matthew Sklar
240 Pages | Ages 12+ | Paperback
ISBN 9781984837547 | Viking BFYR
Emma Nolan and Alyssa Greene share the same goal: debut as a couple at their senior prom. Only a few things stand in their way – okay, maybe more than a few. For one, Alyssa hasn’t come out yet. It’s not that she doesn’t want to, but with a mother on the PTA who will stop at nothing to prevent same-sex couples from attending prom, it’s not a conversation she’s eager to have – with good reason. Before long, Mrs. Greene has the entire town backing her up, and it’s starting to look as though Emma and Alyssa won’t get their happily-ever-after. Then, out of the blue, two Broadway stars arrive on the scene to fight on the girls’ behalf (and get a little publicity along the way). But when their good intentions fall flat, it’s up to Emma and Alyssa to take matters into their own hands and show their small Indiana town – and the world – that love is love is love.

Nerds, this one’s for you:

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.

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.