Hello, and thanks for joining us at Tundra Telegram, the column where we zoom in on a few subjects that have people doing long takes, and filter out some great books that really hit the mark: both blockbusters and cult classics.
As the WGA and SAG-AFTRA labor dispute with major studios and streamers enters its fourth month, the Toronto International Film Festival, which starts this evening and runs until September 17, will look a lot different. There will be no press conferences and fewer actors and writers in town to promote their works. But that doesn’t mean the festival won’t feature a variety of delights for filmgoers.
As we did last year, we’re going to shine the spotlight on a shortlist of highly anticipated films screening at the 2023 Toronto International Film Festival and recommend a few books that could be just the ticket for you or your young reader. Let’s get rolling!
All the film buffs are psyched about South Korean films, so the Gala Presentation of a new action movie from Ryoo Seung-wan, Smugglers, is sure to be a hot ticket. A female-led heist movie and action film about a crew of free divers turned smugglers, the movie features some dazzling underwater action scenes. While Constellation of the Deep by Benjamin Flouw features a underwater fox explorer in pursuit of a rare and valuable plant and some mind-blowing aquatic scenes, no laws are broken in Fox’s sea quest.
One of the most high-profile films at TIFF is Dream Scenario, the surreal new Nicolas Cage movie, directed by Kristoffer Borgli and co-produced by Ari (Midsommar) Aster, about a university professor who suddenly finds celebrity when he starts appearing in nearly everybody’s dreams (!). Frankie, the bear who has trouble getting to sleep, may not appear in others’ dreams in A Bedtime Yarn by Nicola Winstanley and Olivia Chin Mueller, but the waking world nevertheless affects the dream world. When Frankie’s mother gives him some yarn to hold while sleeping, so she can knit a surprise for him, the yarn’s colors enter his sleeping thoughts, affecting the plot and color, and reminding him he’s always connected to loved ones, even in his dreams.
It’s not just narrative films drawing attention at the festival. Stamped from the Beginning is a buzzed-about documentary from filmmaker Roger Ross Williams, based on a book from Dr. Ibram X. Kendi, that takes a deep dive into the full history of anti-Black ideas in a way that grapples with present-day racism. For younger audiences, Antiracist Baby by the very same Dr. Ibram X. Kendi and illustrated by Ashley Lukashevsky is what you should read to your kid before watching the film: a picture book that encourages parents and children to uproot the racism in society and ourselves.
CHAPTER BOOKS & MIDDLE GRADE
Awkwafina and Sandra Oh star as sisters Anne and Jenny in Jessica Yu’s comedy Quiz Lady, which has its world premiere at TIFF. When the siblings find out their mother has racked up an impressive gambling debt, there’s only one solution: hit the road and use Anne’s trivia skill to win a television game show. Of course, the film reminded us of the comedic No Fixed Address by Susin Nielsen, in which homeless twelve-year-old Felix Knuttson attempts to win on a national quiz show to turn his and his mother’s luck around.
The director of Borat (Larry Charles) will premiere his wild, queer musical-comedy take on The Parent Trap, Dicks: The Musical, as part of TIFF’s Midnight Madness program. The film follows a pair of identical twins who conspire to reunite their divorced and disturbed parents (Nathan Lane and Megan Mullally). The kids may not be identical and the plot not as madcap or crude, but Auriane Desombre’s The Sister Split is also a queer, reverse take on The Parent Trap, featuring a pair of soon-to-be-stepsisters who try to break up their parents so they can stay out of the suburbs.
TIFF’s opening film is the long-awaited new (and perhaps final?) film from Japanese animation master Hayao Miyazaki, The Boy and the Heron. During World War II, young Mahito Maki suffers a heartbreaking family tragedy and must move immediately to the countryside, where his father works for a family making planes for Japan’s military. There he encounters a grey heron, which eventually leads him into wondrous, strange world. The film was originally planned as a direct adaptation of Genzaburo Yoshino’s novel How Do You Live?, one of Miyazaki’s favorite books. But in the final film, that philosophical coming-of-age story is but one of the many layers of inspiration that connects fiction with the director’s own youth.
Everyone is talking about the world premiere Next Goal Wins, the new film from Taika Waititi, an off-beat sports comedy about the American Samoa soccer team’s attempt to make a World Cup twelve years after a disastrous 31-0 loss in a 2002 World Cup qualifying match. While the young soccer players are not quite as hopeless in Warren St. John’s Outcasts United, they are a team of real underdogs. The book is the story of the Fugees – a real-life youth soccer team made up of refugees from around the world – and how they overcame many challenges and rallied support in their Georgia community.
The Holdovers marks the return of director Alexander Payne to TIFF, and it stars his sometime muse Paul Giamatti as a strict professor stuck supervising students who stay at an elite boarding school over winter break. Enter one rebellious student, which leads to a battle of wills and, eventually, a mutual respect. The students are less rebellious and more assassin-y in S.T.A.G.S. by M. A. Bennett, a book in which a scholarship student at a prestigious private school learns the legacy students are keen to invite her to a real-life game of manhunt – with her as the prey!
In a North American premiere that was just announced, director Ava DuVernay will present her new film Origin at TIFF in a Gala Presentation. The film is a creative biopic of author Isabel Wilkerson’s life, as she works on the book that would become her New York Times bestseller, Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents. You can read the final product, as there is a version of Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents adapted for young adults by Isabel Wilkerson. The book (and we’re guessing the film) chronicles the lives of real people to reveal an insidious phenomenon in the United States: a hidden caste system. It looks at social hierarchies in India and Nazi Germany, and explains how these systems destroy the lives of vast sections of societies – and how those systems work in America today.
Finally, if you’re in the mood for a good, old-fashioned horror-comedy directed by one of the kids from Stranger Things, check out Hell of a Summer in the Midnight Madness program. Directed by actors Finn Wolfhard and Billy Bryk (Ghostbusters: Afterlife), this is a self-aware slasher set at a doomed summer camp with plenty of twists. There’s no better pairing than the new YA horror-comedy There’s No Way I’d Die First by Lisa Springer, which hit bookstores earlier this week! The book concerns teen horror buff Noelle Layne, who throws a massive Halloween party that turns deadly when the actor she hired to play Pennywise from Stephen King’s It starts killing off her party guests. Luckily, Noelle has been spending most of her life training to be a final girl.
That’s a wrap! See you at the movies – AND the bookstore!
June is Pride month when the spotlight is on celebrating and honoring all types of love – here are a bunch of books for all ages that recognize people’s different orientations! For more options, check out last year’s recommendations!
‘Twas the Night Before Pride By Joanna McClintick Illustrated by Juana Medina 32 Pages | Ages 3-7 | Hardcover ISBN 9781536213430 | Candlewick This joyful picture-book homage to a day of community and inclusion – and to the joys of anticipation – is also a comprehensive history. With bright, buoyant illustrations and lyrical, age-appropriate rhyme modeled on “’Twas the Night Before Christmas,” it tackles difficult content such as the Stonewall Riots and the AIDS marches. On the night before Pride, families everywhere are preparing to partake. As one family packs snacks and makes signs, an older sibling shares the importance of the march with the newest member of the family. Reflecting on the day, the siblings agree that the best thing about Pride is getting to be yourself. Debut author Joanna McClintick and Pura Belpré Award–winning author-illustrator Juana Medina create a new classic that pays homage to the beauty of families of all compositions – and of all-inclusive love.
Ho’onani: Hula Warrior By Heather Gale Illustrated by Mika Song 40 Pages | Ages 4-8 | Hardcover ISBN 9780735264496 | Tundra Books Ho’onani feels in-between. She doesn’t see herself as wahine (girl) OR kane (boy). She’s happy to be in the middle. But not everyone sees it that way. When Ho’onani finds out that there will be a school performance of a traditional kane hula chant, she wants to be part of it. But can a girl really lead the all-male troupe? Ho’onani has to try. . . . Based on a true story, Ho’onani: Hula Warrior is a celebration of Hawaiian culture and an empowering story of a girl who learns to lead and learns to accept who she really is – and in doing so, gains the respect of all those around her.
Julián Is a Mermaid By Jessica Love 40 Pages | Ages 4-8 | Hardcover ISBN 9780763690458 | Candlewick While riding the subway home from the pool with his abuela one day, Julián notices three women spectacularly dressed up. Their hair billows in brilliant hues, their dresses end in fishtails, and their joy fills the train car. When Julián gets home, daydreaming of the magic he’s seen, all he can think about is dressing up just like the ladies in his own fabulous mermaid costume: a butter-yellow curtain for his tail, the fronds of a potted fern for his headdress. But what will Abuela think about the mess he makes — and even more importantly, what will she think about how Julián sees himself? Mesmerizing and full of heart, Jessica Love’s author-illustrator debut is a jubilant picture of self-love and a radiant celebration of individuality.
Love Makes a Family By Sophie Beer 24 Pages | Ages 0-3 | Board ISBN 9780525554226 | Dial Books This fun, inclusive board book celebrates the one thing that makes every family a family . . . and that’s LOVE. Love is baking a special cake. Love is lending a helping hand. Love is reading one more book. In this exuberant board book, many different families are shown in happy activity, from an early-morning wake-up to a kiss before bed. Whether a child has two moms, two dads, one parent, or one of each, this simple preschool read-aloud demonstrates that what’s most important in each family’s life is the love the family members share.
My Family and Other Families By Richard and Lewis Edwards-Middleton Illustrated by Andy Passchier 32 Pages | Ages 3-5 | Hardcover ISBN 9780744059816 | DK Children A book for every family, this story gently shows children that it’s wonderfully normal for every family to be different and the things that set us apart can bring us closer. Liam has just one thing on his mind: making it to the Ferris wheel to use his ticket. There’s just time to check out the rest of the funfair, where his friends are playing games, munching popcorn, and going on rides with their families. But when Liam’s Ferris wheel ticket goes missing, it’s a race against time for him and his friends to find it. Will they make it? Featuring bold, colorful illustrations and an inspiring message, toddlers and young children will love reading along and engaging in this story that celebrates all different types of families.
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.
Obie is Man Enough By Schuyler Bailar 352 Pages | Ages 10+ | Paperback ISBN 9780593379493 | Yearling Obie knew his transition would have ripple effects. He has to leave his swim coach, his pool, and his best friends. But it’s time for Obie to find where he truly belongs. As Obie dives into a new team, though, things are strange. Obie always felt at home in the water, but now he can’t get his old coach out of his head. Even worse are the bullies that wait in the locker room and on the pool deck. Luckily, Obie has family behind him. And maybe some new friends too, including Charlie, his first crush. Obie is ready to prove he can be one of the fastest boys in the water – to his coach, his critics, and his biggest competition: himself.
Scout Is Not a Band Kid By Jade Armstrong 272 Pages | Ages 8-12 | Hardcover ISBN 9780593176238 | Random House Graphic When Scout learns that her favorite author is doing an exclusive autograph session at the end of the year, she’s determined to be there! She officially needs a plan… and when she finds out that her school’s band is heading to the same location for their annual trip, an idea takes shape. Being a band kid can’t be that hard, right? As it turns out, learning how to play an instrument when you can’t even read music is much, much, MUCH tougher than expected. And it’s even harder for Scout when her friends aren’t on board with her new hobby. Will she be able to master the trombone, make new band friends, and get to her favorite author’s book signing? Tackling everything seems like a challenge for a supergenius superfriend supermusician – and she’s just Scout.
The Sister Split By Auriane Desombre 256 Pages | Ages 8-12 | Hardcover ISBN 9780593568682 | Delacorte Press Autumn is looking forward to summer vacation. She and her best friend plan on going to all the best ice cream places their stomachs can handle—and in NYC, the possibilities can’t get any sweeter. Linnea is still not over the fact that her dad has found love after her parents’ divorce. Luckily, she can take out all her feelings on the tennis courts for a winning summer. But then Autumn and Linnea discover the news: their parents are getting married. Autumn will be moving to the suburbs to live with her soon-to-be stepdad and stepsister, which means kissing the fun summer with her best friend goodbye. For Linnea, she knows her dream of getting her parents back together is officially over. Devastated, the two of them come up with an idea: if they can split up their parents, their lives can go back to normal. As Autumn and Linnea secretly try to sabotage everything from date nights to wedding planning, the two of them discover that having a sister is not the worst thing after all . . . but will they learn about love in a whole new way?
Too Bright to See By Kyle Lukoff 224 Pages | Ages 10+ | Paperback ISBN 9780593111178 | Dial BFYR It’s the summer before middle school and eleven-year-old Bug’s best friend Moira has decided the two of them need to use the next few months to prepare. For Moira, this means figuring out the right clothes to wear, learning how to put on makeup, and deciding which boys are cuter in their yearbook photos than in real life. But none of this is all that appealing to Bug, who doesn’t particularly want to spend more time trying to understand how to be a girl. Besides, there’s something more important to worry about: A ghost is haunting Bug’s eerie old house in rural Vermont . . . and maybe haunting Bug in particular. As Bug begins to untangle the mystery of who this ghost is and what they’re trying to say, an altogether different truth comes to light – Bug is transgender.
You Know, Sex: Bodies, Gender, Puberty, and Other Things By Cory Silverberg and Fiona Smyth 432 Pages | Ages 10-14 | Paperback ISBN 9781644210802 | Triangle Square In a bright graphic format featuring four dynamic middle schoolers, You Know, Sex grounds sex education in social justice, covering not only the big three of puberty—hormones, reproduction, and development—but also power, pleasure, and how to be a decent human being. Centering young people’s experiences of pressures and joy, risk and reward, and confusion and discovery, there are chapters on body autonomy, disclosure, stigma, harassment, pornography, trauma, masturbation, consent, boundaries and safety in our media-saturated world, puberty and reproduction that includes trans, non-binary, and intersex bodies and experience, and more. Racially and ethnically diverse, inclusive of cross-disability experience, this is a book for every kind of young person and every kind of family. You Know, Sex is the first thoroughly modern sex ed book for every body navigating puberty and adolesence, essential for kids, everyone who knows a kid, and anyone who has ever been a kid.
Another Dimension of Us By Mike Albo 320 Pages | Ages 12+ | Hardcover ISBN 9780593223765 | Penguin Workshop In 1986, Tommy Gaye is in love with his best friend, budding teen poet Renaldo Calabasas. But at the height of the AIDS crisis and amidst the homophobia running rampant across America, Tommy can never share his feelings. Then, one terrible night, Renaldo is struck by lightning. And he emerges from the storm a very different boy. In 2044, Herron High student Pris Devrees jolts awake after having a strange nightmare about a boy named Tommy and a house in the neighborhood the locals affectionally call “The Murder House.” When she ventures to the house to better understand her vivid dreams, she happens upon an old self-help book that she soon realizes is a guide to trans-dimensional travel. As bodies and minds merge across the astral plane, Pris, Tommy, and their friends race to save Renaldo from a dangerous demon, while uncovering potent realities about love, sexuality, and friendship.
Coven By Jennifer Dugan Illustrated by Kit Seaton 288 Pages | Ages 12+ | Paperback ISBN 9780593112182 | G.P. Putnam’s Sons BFYR Emsy has always lived in sunny California, and she’d much rather spend her days surfing with her friends or hanging out with her girlfriend than honing her powers as a fire elemental. But when members of her family’s coven back east are murdered under mysterious circumstances that can only be the result of powerful witchcraft, her family must suddenly return to dreary upstate New York. There, Emsy will have to master her neglected craft in order to find the killer . . . before her family becomes their next target.
Different for Boys By Patrick Ness Illustrated by Tea Bendix 104 Pages | Ages 14+ | Hardcover ISBN 9781536228892 | Walker Books US Anthony “Ant” Stevenson isn’t sure when he stopped being a virgin. Or even if he has. The rules aren’t always very clear when it comes to boys who like boys. In fact, relationships of all kinds feel complicated, even with Ant’s oldest friends. There’s Charlie, who’s both virulently homophobic and in a secret physical relationship with Ant. Then there’s drama kid Jack, who may be gay and has become the target of Charlie’s rage. And, of course, there’s big, beautiful Freddie, who wants Ant to ditch soccer, Charlie’s sport, and try out for the rugby team instead. Ant’s story of loneliness and intimacy, of unexpected support and heart-ripping betrayal, is told forthrightly with tongue-in-cheek black-bar redactions over the language that teenagers would actually use if, you know, they weren’t in a story. Award-winning author Patrick Ness explores teen sexuality, friendship, and romance with a deft hand in this structurally daring, illustrated short novel.
Hell Followed With Us By Andrew Joseph White 448 Pages | Ages 14+ | Paperback ISBN 9781682635636 | Peachtree Teen Sixteen-year-old trans boy Benji is on the run from the cult that raised him – the fundamentalist sect that unleashed Armageddon and decimated the world’s population. Desperately, he searches for a place where the cult can’t get their hands on him, or more importantly, on the bioweapon they infected him with. But when cornered by monsters born from the destruction, Benji is rescued by a group of teens from the local Acheson LGBTQ+ Center, affectionately known as the ALC. The ALC’s leader, Nick, is gorgeous, autistic, and a deadly shot, and he knows Benji’s darkest secret: the cult’s bioweapon is mutating him into a monster deadly enough to wipe humanity from the earth once and for all. Still, Nick offers Benji shelter among his ragtag group of queer teens, as long as Benji can control the monster and use its power to defend the ALC. Eager to belong, Benji accepts Nick’s term . . . until he discovers the ALC’s mysterious leader has a hidden agenda, and more than a few secrets of his own.
Iron Widow By Xiran Jay Zhao 416 Pages | Ages 14+ | Paperback ISBN 9780735269958 | Tundra Books 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.
Never Trust a Gemini By Freja Nicole Woolf 320 Pages | Ages 12+ | Hardcover ISBN 9781536230543 | Walker Books US It’s Libra Season, and Cat Phillips is ready to run headfirst into love. The only problem is that her crush is on her best friend, Alison Bridgewater, who is more interested in chatting with boys. Maybe Cat should take this as a sign to get over Alison, even if that means dating the musically challenged Jamie Owusu. After all, a new boyfriend is the best cleanse, at least according to Cat’s friends. Unfortunately, having a boyfriend is a lot harder than Cat expected. And then Morgan Delaney swoops in with her green glasses, enigmatic smile, and talent for teasing Cat in ways that make her feel überlicious. But Morgan is a Gemini, and there’s no way that’s in Cat’s horoscope. Will Cat finally get the girl of her dreams? Or is there a chance there’s more to life than Alison Bridgewater? The stars align for the cast of this energetic romp full of comedic misunderstandings and sparkling language.
Queer Power!: Icons, Activists & Game Changers from Across the Rainbow By Dom&Ink 160 Pages | Ages 12+ | Paperback ISBN 9780593521359 | Penguin Workshop An inspiring, expansive anthology that celebrates some of the LGBTQIA+ community’s trailblazers, champions, and icons from across the rainbow. In a follow-up to Free to Be Me, DOM&INK returns with a collection of essays that highlight modern-day LGBTQIA+ pioneers who have changed the world — from well-known public figures and allies to up-and-comers you’ll wish you’d heard of earlier. Covering topics including coming out, gender, mental health, and activism, this book is packed full of empowering quotes, inspiring life lessons, and helpful advice that will encourage you to embrace your story and find your power.
The Heartbreak Bakery By A.R. Capetta 352 Pages | Ages 14+ | Paperback ISBN 9781536230444 | Candlewick Syd (no pronouns, please) has always dealt with big, hard-to-talk-about things by baking. Being dumped is no different, except now Syd is baking at the Proud Muffin, a queer bakery and community space in Austin. And everyone who eats Syd’s breakup brownies . . . breaks up. Even Vin and Alec, who own the Proud Muffin. And their breakup might take the bakery down with it. Being dumped is one thing; causing ripples of queer heartbreak through the community is another. But the cute bike delivery person, Harley (he or they, check the pronoun pin, it’s probably on the messenger bag), believes Syd about the magic baking. And Harley believes Syd’s magical baking can fix things, too – one recipe at a time.
The Wicked Bargain By Gabe Cole Novoa 368 Pages | Ages 12+ | Hardcover ISBN 9780593378014 | Random House BFYR On Mar León de la Rosa’s sixteenth birthday, el Diablo comes calling. Mar is a transmasculine nonbinary teen pirate hiding a magical ability to manipulate fire and ice. But their magic isn’t enough to reverse a wicked bargain made by their father, and now el Diablo has come to collect his payment: the soul of Mar’s father and the entire crew of their ship. When Mar is miraculously rescued by the sole remaining pirate crew in the Caribbean, el Diablo returns to give them a choice: give up their soul to save their father by the harvest moon, or never see him again. The task is impossible – Mar refuses to make a bargain, and there’s no way their magic is a match for el Diablo. Then Mar finds the most unlikely allies: Bas, an infuriatingly arrogant and handsome pirate – and the captain’s son; and Dami, a gender-fluid demonio whose motives are never quite clear. For the first time in their life, Mar may have the courage to use their magic. It could be their only redemption – or it could mean certain death.