Tundra Telegram: Books That Liege You Wanting More

Hello, and thanks for joining us at Tundra Telegram, the column where we talk about the subjects people are feuding about online, and recommend some majestic books that are without peer(age).

Unless you’ve been living under a rock – and no shade if you have (though living under a rock probably involves lots of shade, TBH) – you know that England has a new king. By extension, the Commonwealth country that the gang at Tundra Books lives in, Canada, also has a new king. (Same guy, even!)

And no matter what your personal feelings or politics are on monarchies, or this particular monarchy, or the best way for a person to clear a desk for signing important documents, you have to admit – everyone was talking about kings this week. Accordingly, we’re recommending some great picture books, chapter books, middle-grade novels, and YA titles about some of our favorite kings. And, spoiler: none of them are about Charles III.

PICTURE BOOKS

You can’t claim England and the British Commonwealth are small by any stretch, so the new king may have little in common with Bil Lepp and David T. Wenzel’s The King of Little Things. This book stars a king who is very happy to rule over an incredibly tiny kingdom, but he runs into conflict with King Normous, who wants to be Ruler of All the World. (Remind you of anyone?) This imaginative picture book is not so much a study of royalty as a tribute to the power and importance of the small things in life.

Not to be confused with the protagonist of the previous book, King Jasper is The King of Too Many Things, a picture book by Laurel Snyder and Aurore Damant. But the message of this book is similar. King Jasper can (and does) order his wizard to conjure up all sorts of cool things: dragons, robots, superheroes. But the king soon learns that wanting more can lead to less happiness. (Heavy is the head that wears the crown, they say.)

King Mouse by Cary Fagan and Dena Seiferling, among other things, is a story about finding your own royalty and when to abdicate it. In it, a little mouse finds a tiny crown in the grass and lets the other animals assume he’s king. But soon, the others find crowns that fit them and more and more of them claim to be kings and queens. But when the bear can’t find a crown big enough for his head, King Mouse decides friendship is more important than the monarchy.

A book that has special relevance in the early fall is Derrick Barnes and Vanessa Brantley-Newton’s The King of Kindergarten, a book that will give kids starting kindergarten a big confidence boost as they start in a joyful new kingdom of learning and friends. But we’re sure the book has lessons for any starting royal.

Speaking of royal lessons, The Barefoot King: A Story about Feeling Frustrated by Andrew Jordan Nance and Olivia Holden, is a parable told in rhyming couplets about the unintended consequences of rash decisions and the importance of acceptance and responsibility. King Creet, who rules where everyone walks barefoot, stubs his toe on a rock, which causes a lot of pain. He orders the entire kingdom covered in leather – what could go wrong?

And for a totally different kind of kingdom – the icky kind – try Slime King by Catherine Daly and Maine Diaz. Not about Charles III (I kid, I kid – no Tower of London for me, please), the book not only tells you about Leo and his slime-making business, but also show you how to make slime and crown yourself slime royalty, to boot!

CHAPTER BOOKS & MIDDLE GRADE

His domain may only be as expansive as a skating rink, but Miles Lewis: King of the Ice by Kelly Starling Lyons and Wayne Spencer is no less regal than any other king. And our titular hero holds a special place in Canadian hearts, as he must learn to ice skate in order to win a bet when his teacher leads them to an ice rink to learn about physics.

The Letter for the King by Tonke Dragt (which has since been turned into a Netflix series) is a medieval fantasy that centres on an important task that sixteen-year-old Tiuri (a hopeful teenage squire) must accomplish for the king. All he has to do is deliver a secret letter across the Great Mountains. And while it may seem like something postal carriers do daily, they never have to deal with menacing forests, sinister castles, and deadly enemies who want to take that letter from him.

Though The Children of the King by Sonya Hartnett is set during World War II in England, the king referenced is not George VI. Rather, the book follows two privileged children, Cecily and Jem, who are evacuated from London during the blitz to the country estate of their Uncle Peregrine. At Cecily’s request, they bring along a poor and seemingly orphaned girl named May with them. Uncle P tells them the estate lies on the ruins of Snow Castle, and regales them with a tale of royalty and betrayal that has resonance for their – and the world’s – current situation.

YOUNG ADULT

We’ve mentioned this YA series before, but anything royal is a great excuse to mention Katharine McGee’s American Royals, an alternate present in which in which George Washington was crowned king after the Revolutionary War, and readers follow Princesses Beatrice and Samantha as they court romances and vie for the crown – a crown that is currently held by a . . . you guessed it . . . king: King George IV (no relation).

Leslie Vedder’s The Bone Spindle may not feature a king, but Briar Rose is a prince (close) under a sleeping curse, waiting for a kiss to wake him in this rollicking fantasy adventure that doubles as a gender-swapped Sleeping Beauty. Unluckily for bookish treasure hunter Fi, she pricks her finger on a bone spindle (title alert), which connects her with the spirit of the cursed Briar Rose. She and her BFF Shane, a tough northern warrior who loves girls and busting skulls, soon find themselves on an adventure to break the prince’s sleeping curse.

The YA novel Beasts Made of Night by Tochi Onyebuchi asks an interesting ethical question for any hereditary ruler: what is someone could literally eat your sin? Taj is one such sin-eater (or aki), who slay the sin-beasts that mages will create from the corrupt elite. But when he’s called upon to live in the palace eat the sins of the royal family, Taj finds himself in the midst of a dark political conspiracy. Your favorite show The Crown could never.

And Jeff Zentner’s The Serpent King, being set in rural Tennessee, has a distinct lack of actual kings or crown jewels. But what it does have is three hardscrabble friends at the end of high school, eager to leave their town behind them – especially the guy who’s the son of a Pentecostal minister who has to handle poisonous snakes on the regular. (We could say more, but it would just spoil it. Suffice to say, Dill’s life is no Buckingham Palace.)

Cheerio, friends, and happy reading!

Black History Month YA Reading List

February is Black History Month and while we believe you should be reading books by BIPOC creators all year, we’ve made a list of some of our recent favorite titles by Black authors.

Chlorine Sky
By Mahogany L. Browne
192 Pages | Ages 14+ | Hardcover
ISBN 9780593176399 | Crown BFYR
She looks me hard in my eyes
& my knees lock into tree trunks
My eyes don’t dance like my heartbeat racing
They stare straight back hot daggers.
I remember things will never be the same.
I remember things.
With gritty and heartbreaking honesty, Mahogany L. Browne delivers a novel-in-verse about broken promises, fast rumors, and when growing up means growing apart from your best friend.

Concrete Kids
By Amyra León
Illustrated by Ashley Lukashevsky
96 Pages | Ages 12+ | Paperback
ISBN 9780593095195 | Penguin Workshop
Concrete Kids is an exploration of love and loss, melody and bloodshed. Musician, playwright, and educator Amyra León takes us on a poetic journey through her childhood in Harlem, as she navigates the intricacies of foster care, mourning, self-love, and resilience. In her signature free-verse style, she invites us all to dream with abandon – and to recognize the privilege it is to dream at all.

Dear Justyce
By Nic Stone
288 Pages | Ages 14+ | Hardcover
ISBN 9781984829665 | Crown BFYR
In the highly anticipated sequel to her New York Times bestseller, Nic Stone delivers an unflinching look into the flawed practices and silenced voices in the American juvenile justice system. Vernell LaQuan Banks and Justyce McAllister grew up a block apart in the Southwest Atlanta neighborhood of Wynwood Heights. Years later, though, Justyce walks the illustrious halls of Yale University . . . and Quan sits behind bars at the Fulton Regional Youth Detention Center. Through a series of flashbacks, vignettes, and letters to Justyce – the protagonist of Dear Martin – Quan’s story takes form. Troubles at home and misunderstandings at school give rise to police encounters and tough decisions. But then there’s a dead cop and a weapon with Quan’s prints on it. What leads a bright kid down a road to a murder charge? Not even Quan is sure.

Every Body Looking
By Candice Iloh
416 Pages | Ages 12+ | Hardcover
ISBN 9780525556206 | Dutton BFYR
When Ada leaves home for her freshman year at a Historically Black College, it’s the first time she’s ever been so far from her family – and the first time that she’s been able to make her own choices and to seek her place in this new world. As she stumbles deeper into the world of dance and explores her sexuality, she also begins to wrestle with her past – her mother’s struggle with addiction and her Nigerian father’s attempts to make a home for her. Ultimately, Ada discovers she needs to brush off the destiny others have chosen for her and claim full ownership of her body and her future.

Rebel Sisters
By Tochi Onyebuchi
464 Pages | Ages 12+ | Hardcover
ISBN 9781984835062 | Razorbill
It’s been five years since the Biafran War ended. Ify is now nineteen and living where she’s always dreamed – the Space Colonies. She is a respected, high-ranking medical officer and has dedicated her life to helping refugees like herself rebuild in the Colonies. Back in the still devastated Nigeria, Uzo, a young synth, is helping an aid worker, Xifeng, recover images and details of the war held in the technology of destroyed androids. Uzo, Xifeng, and the rest of their team are working to preserve memories of the many lives lost, despite the government’s best efforts to eradicate any signs that the war ever happened. Though they are working toward common goals of helping those who suffered, Ify and Uzo are worlds apart. But when a mysterious virus breaks out among the children in the Space Colonies, their paths collide. Ify makes it her mission to figure out what’s causing the deadly disease. And doing so means going back to the homeland she thought she’d left behind forever.

The Beautiful Struggle
By Ta-Nehisi Coates
176 Pages | Ages 12+ | Hardcover
ISBN 9781984894021 | Delacorte BFYR
As a child, Ta-Nehisi Coates was seen by his father, Paul, as too sensitive and lacking focus. Paul Coates was a Vietnam vet who’d been part of the Black Panthers and was dedicated to reading and publishing the history of African civilization. When it came to his sons, he was committed to raising proud Black men equipped to deal with a racist society, during a turbulent period in the collapsing city of Baltimore where they lived. Coates details with candor the challenges of dealing with his tough-love father, the influence of his mother, and the dynamics of his extended family, including his brother “Big Bill,” who was on a very different path than Ta-Nehisi. Coates also tells of his family struggles at school and with girls, making this a timely story to which many readers will relate.

The Black Friend: On Being a Better White Person
By Frederick Joseph
272 Pages | Ages 12+ | Hardcover
ISBN 9781536217018 | Candlewick
For Frederick Joseph, life as a transfer student in a largely white high school was full of wince-worthy moments that he often simply let go. As he grew older, however, he saw these as missed opportunities not only to stand up for himself, but to spread awareness to those white people who didn’t see the negative impact they were having. Speaking directly to the reader, The Black Friend calls up race-related anecdotes from the author’s past, weaving in his thoughts on why they were hurtful and how he might handle things differently now. Touching on everything from cultural appropriation to power dynamics, “reverse racism” to white privilege, microaggressions to the tragic results of overt racism, this book serves as conversation starter, tool kit, and invaluable window into the life of a former “token Black kid” who now presents himself as the friend many readers need. Backmatter includes an encyclopedia of racism, providing details on relevant historical events, terminology, and more.

The Gilded Ones
By Namina Forna
432 Pages | Ages 12+ | Hardcover
ISBN 9781984848697 | Delacorte BFYR
Sixteen-year-old Deka lives in fear and anticipation of the blood ceremony that will determine whether she will become a member of her village. Already different from everyone else because of her unnatural intuition, Deka prays for red blood so she can finally feel like she belongs. But on the day of the ceremony, her blood runs gold, the color of impurity – and Deka knows she will face a consequence worse than death. Then a mysterious woman comes to her with a choice: stay in the village and submit to her fate, or leave to fight for the emperor in an army of girls just like her. They are called alaki – near-immortals with rare gifts. And they are the only ones who can stop the empire’s greatest threat. Knowing the dangers that lie ahead yet yearning for acceptance, Deka decides to leave the only life she’s ever known. But as she journeys to the capital to train for the biggest battle of her life, she will discover that the great walled city holds many surprises. Nothing and no one are quite what they seem to be–not even Deka herself.

This Is My America
By Kim Johnson
416 Pages | Ages 12+ | Hardcover
ISBN 9780593118764 | Random House BFYR
Every week, seventeen-year-old Tracy Beaumont writes letters to Innocence X, asking the organization to help her father, an innocent Black man on death row. After seven years, Tracy is running out of time – her dad has only 267 days left. Then the unthinkable happens. The police arrive in the night, and Tracy’s older brother, Jamal, goes from being a bright, promising track star to a “thug” on the run, accused of killing a white girl. Determined to save her brother, Tracy investigates what really happened between Jamal and Angela down at the Pike. But will Tracy and her family survive the uncovering of the skeletons of their Texas town’s racist history that still haunt the present?

When You Were Everything
By Ashley Woodfolk
400 Pages | Ages 14+ | Hardcover
ISBN 9781524715915 | Delacorte BFYR
It’s been twenty-seven days since Cleo and Layla’s friendship imploded. Nearly a month since Cleo realized they’ll never be besties again. Now Cleo wants to erase every memory, good or bad, that tethers her to her ex-best friend. But pretending Layla doesn’t exist isn’t as easy as Cleo hoped, especially after she’s assigned to be Layla’s tutor. Despite budding friendships with other classmates – and a raging crush on a gorgeous boy named Dom – Cleo’s turbulent past with Layla comes back to haunt them both. Alternating between time lines of Then and Now, When You Were Everything blends past and present into an emotional story about the beauty of self-forgiveness, the promise of new beginnings, and the courage it takes to remain open to love.