The 2023 Forest of Reading® Nominees

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

2023 Blue Spruce Award™️ Nominee

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

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

2023 Red Maple Award™️ Nominees

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

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

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

2023 Silver Birch Express Fiction Award®️ Nominee

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

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

2023 Silver Birch Express Non-Fiction Award®️ Nominee

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

2023 Yellow Cedar Award Nominees

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

2023 White Pine Award™️ Nominees

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

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

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

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!