Tundra Telegram: Books that Sit High in the Saddle

Hello, and thanks for joining us at Tundra Telegram, the column where we dig deep into the things that are wobblin’ all your jaws, and recommend some great books to spur further discussion.

Giddy-up, pardners! The Calgary Stampede opens July 8 with a rip-roarin’ Stampede Parade (led by none other than Dances with Wolves and Yellowstone star Kevin Costner), and is followed by over a week of rodeos, powwows, and country-western music. It’s an annual celebration of all things Western, and so we thought we’d put a bee in your bonnet to read up on the subject. We’ve got Westerns, we’ve got books about cowboys, cowgirls, broncs, and colts.

So, don’t be a bad egg or a yellow belly. Take some of our recommendations below of stories that are in apple pie order. Save a horse, read a cowboy!

PICTURE BOOKS

Even the toughest cowpoke needs their shut-eye. So, grab a bedroll, a lammy, and a copy of Good Night, Cowboys by Adam Gamble, Mark Jasper, and Joe Veno. Take in some horses, steer-roping, lassos, cowboy chow, ghost towns, cattle drives, square dancing, and more as you drift off to sleep.

Before he was known for “Montero” and “Industry Baby,” Lil Nas X was the man behind hit country-western single “Old Town Road.” He is also the writer of C Is for Country, illustrated by Theodore Taylor III, an alphabet book that equally celebrates the cowboy lifestyle (“B is for boots”) and being fabulous (“F is for feathers. And fringe. And fake fur.”).

In 2022, for the first time in its 110-year history, the Calgary Stampede will host a competitive powwow, as dancers from across North America will show off their talents – all thanks to one couple! Before you check it out, read Traci Sorell and Madelyn Goodnight’s Powwow Day, as River risks missing her powwow due to illness.

You can’t have the Stampede without horses, and author Kelly Cooper is an author who has a way with child-horse friendships. If a Horse Had Words, illustrated by Lucy Eldridge, is a story about the friendship between a boy and a horse, following their relationship from the day the horse is born, to when she is sent to auction, to the day she and the boy are reunited at a rodeo where she has become a bronc and he a cowboy. And in Midnight and Moon, illustrated by Daniel Miyares, a girl who doesn’t fit in befriends a blind horse who also struggles to find his place.

Cooper’s work is poetic, but The Horse’s Haiku by Michael J. Rose and Stan Fellows is literal poetry: it’s a series of haiku celebrating the beauty of horses whether they’re peacefully grazing or running full-tilt. (Tragically, no haiku devoted to a mustang making a cowboy chew gravel.)

Little Pinto and the Wild Horses of Mustang Canyon by Jonathan London and Daniel San Souci follows a young horse travelling with his family of rare wild mustangs for the first time. Can Little Pinto keep up with the band of horses?

And yes, the Stampede even has the dangerous and sometimes-controversial sport of bull riding. While those bulls may be angry, their rage pales to that seen in Petal the Angry Cow by Maureen Fergus and Olga Demidova. Petal is a thoughtful cow with a VERY big temper, and young readers will learn a few things as she attempts to manage her frustrations in this very funny book (which features absolutely no rodeo clowns).

CHAPTER BOOKS & MIDDLE GRADE

Hello, Horse by Vivian French and Catherine Rayner is an introduction to horse-riding – a combination of fiction and facts about horses . A boy is introduced to horses by his friend Catherine, who teaches him how to talk to a horse quietly, how to feed her carrots, how to lead her across a field. But is he really ready to climb up on the horse’s back and take a ride?

And Mean Girls meets Black Beauty in Horse Girl by Carrie Seim, a funny middle-grade novel about the awkward Wills who attempts to enter the stuck-up #HorseGirl world of the prestigious Oakwood Riding Academy.

Concrete Cowboy is maybe best known as the movie in which overly attractive actor Idris Elba plays a cowboy. But first it was the book Ghetto Cowboy by G. Neri and illustrated by Jesse Joshua Watson, in which a teen named Cole moves in with the dad he never knew and learns about the Cowboy Way and justice from his fellow Black urban riders of Philly. There’s also a sequel, Polo Cowboy, in which Cole starts working as a stable hand for the polo team at the very white George Washington Military Academy, and tries his hand at the sport.

YOUNG ADULT

Samantha is a Chinese girl in Missouri, 1849. Annamae has escaped slavery. The two meet at a crime scene they’re implicated in, and flee for the West, along the Oregon Trail in Stacey Lee’s Under a Painted Sky. And not unlike the computer game, the Trail is full of dangers, so the two disguise themselves as boys . . . until Samantha starts to fall in love with a cowboy. Under a Painted Sky is an Old West tale of love and friendship.

The setting isn’t the Old West in The Outlaws Scarlett and Browne by Jonathan Stroud – it’s a future England. But the book has bank robberies, shoot-outs, and renegades on the run, so we’re calling it a Future British take on the Western. Whatever you want to call it, it’s a rollicking series opener with varmints readers root for.

And The Perfect Horse by Elizabeth Letts is a true story about the lengths any cowboy would go to save a horse – but it takes place in World War II. A small American troop crosses enemy lines to save some of the world’s most treasured horses, kidnapped by Hitler and hidden in a secret Czechoslovakian breeding farm. It’s like The Horse Whisperer meets Saving Private Ryan.

The Downstairs Girl and More

You might have seen that Reese Witherspoon recently announced Stacey Lee’s The Downstairs Girl as her Late Summer YA book club pick and we couldn’t agree more! We love all of Stacey’s books, make sure you check them out!

The Downstairs Girl
By Stacey Lee
384 Pages | Ages 12+ | Hardcover
ISBN 9781524740955 | Putnam BFYR
By day, seventeen-year-old Jo Kuan works as a lady’s maid for the cruel daughter of one of the wealthiest men in Atlanta. But by night, Jo moonlights as the pseudonymous author of a newspaper advice column for the genteel Southern lady, “Dear Miss Sweetie.” When her column becomes wildly popular, she uses the power of the pen to address some of society’s ills, but she’s not prepared for the backlash that follows when her column challenges fixed ideas about race and gender. While her opponents clamor to uncover the secret identity of Miss Sweetie, a mysterious letter sets Jo off on a search for her own past and the parents who abandoned her as a baby. But when her efforts put her in the crosshairs of Atlanta’s most notorious criminal, Jo must decide whether she, a girl used to living in the shadows, is ready to step into the light. With prose that is witty, insightful, and at times heartbreaking, Stacey Lee masterfully crafts an extraordinary social drama set in the New South.

Need another reason to read The Downstairs Girl? Here are our FIVE reasons to add it to your TBR.

Luck of the Titanic
By Stacey Lee
384 Pages | Ages 12+ | Hardcover
ISBN 9781524740986 | Putnam BFYR
Valora Luck has two things: a ticket for the biggest and most luxurious ocean liner in the world, and a dream of leaving England behind and making a life for herself as a circus performer in New York. Much to her surprise though, she’s turned away at the gangway; apparently, Chinese aren’t allowed into America. But Val has to get on that ship. Her twin brother Jamie, who has spent two long years at sea, is there, as is an influential circus owner, whom Val hopes to audition for. Thankfully, there’s not much a trained acrobat like Val can’t overcome when she puts her mind to it. As a stowaway, Val should keep her head down and stay out of sight. But the clock is ticking and she has just seven days as the ship makes its way across the Atlantic to find Jamie, perform for the circus owner, and convince him to help get them both into America. Then one night the unthinkable happens, and suddenly Val’s dreams of a new life are crushed under the weight of the only thing that matters: survival.

Outrun the Moon
By Stacey Lee
416 Pages | Ages 12+ | Paperback
ISBN 9780147516916 | Putnam BFYR
Fifteen-year-old Mercy Wong is determined to break from the poverty of Chinatown, San Francisco in 1906, and an education at St. Clare’s School for Girls is her best hope. Although St. Clare’s is off-limits to all but the wealthiest white girls, Mercy gains admittance through a mix of cunning and a little bribery, only to discover that getting in was the easiest part. Not to be undone by a bunch of spoiled heiresses, Mercy stands strong – until disaster strikes. On April 18, a historic earthquake rocks San Francisco, destroying Mercy’s home and school. Now she’s forced to wait with her classmates for their families in a temporary park encampment. Though fires might rage, and the city may be in shambles, Mercy can’t sit by while they wait for the army to bring help – she still has the “bossy” cheeks that mark her as someone who gets things done. But what can one teenage girl do to heal so many suffering in her broken city?

Under a Painted Sky
By Stacey Lee
384 Pages | Ages 12+ | Paperback
ISBN 9780147511843 | Putnam BFYR
All Samantha wanted was to move back to New York and pursue her music, which was difficult enough being a Chinese girl in Missouri, 1849. Then her fate takes a turn for the worse after a tragic accident leaves her with nothing and she breaks the law in self-defense. With help from Annamae, a runaway slave she met at the scene of her crime, the two flee town for the unknown frontier. But life on the Oregon Trail is unsafe for two girls. Disguised as Sammy and Andy, two boys heading for the California gold rush, each search for a link to their past and struggle to avoid any unwanted attention. Until they merge paths with a band of cowboys turned allies, and Samantha can’t stop herself from falling for one. But the law is closing in on them and new setbacks come each day, and the girls will quickly learn there are not many places one can hide on the open trail.

And if you want to hear Stacey talk about writing historical fiction, catch up on our HerStory Tea Time from last fall!