Hello, and thanks for joining us at Tundra Telegram, the column where we illuminate the topics that have us all chatting, and recommend some great books to generate further discussion.
Last Friday, nearly half of Canada found itself without telephone or internet service as one of Canada’s few major telecommunications companies, Rogers, experienced a massive network blackout. Millions of people were unable to make a call (even for 911 emergencies), send an email, or – in many cases – make a purchase via debit or credit card. People crowded around outside coffee shops and stores (on networks other than Rogers) for their sweet, sweet WiFi. The Weeknd was forced to cancel a show – ironically at the Rogers Centre – due to the outage’s effect on venue operations and ticketing.
The big telecommunications company has remained vague about the reason for the nationwide outage, and customers are, understandably, still upset. (In fact, as of this writing, there are still many Canadians affected by the outage who still have no service!) So, we thought we’d highlight some books on outages, telephones, and general communication breakdown. If you still have internet service: enjoy!
To remind you of what we all lost in the Rogers outage, we recommend Pamela Druckerman and Benjamin Chaud’s Paris by Phone. Little Josephine decides that Paris is where she really belongs, and all it takes is a quick call on her magical phone to whisk her away to the City of Lights. And though she loves her visit, she finds herself missing home. It’s a love letter to Paris (and to home) and a metaphor (at least we think it is?) for the independence a telephone can grant.
Before there was WiFi, there was Grace Banker and switchboard operators like her. Grace Banker and Her Hello Girls Answer the Call by Claudia Friddell and Elizabeth Baddeley is a historical picture book about a telephone switchboard trainer in New York who becomes the Chief Operator of the 1st Unit of World War I telephone operators in the battlefields of France. Thirty-two female telephone operators transferred orders from commanders to battlefields and communicated top-secret messages between American and French headquarters. (And you thought telephones were just for Candy Crush!)
In this instance, it wasn’t a power outage – though if your lights and other home electronics were connected to “the internet of things” – it may have felt that way. Nevertheless, we recommend astronaut Chris Hadfield and The Fan Brothers’ The Darkest Dark, to remind you that the dark (whether the dark of infinite space or a downed network) is beautiful and exciting And the newest edition has a special glow-in-the-dark cover, in case you are caught in a real blackout.
And if you do find yourself in a real power blackout – not just a telecommunications one – you should make sure you have a copy of Ray by Marianna Coppo handy. The humorous picture book is about a light bulb who spends most of his time at the end of a hall in darkness until he goes on a magnificent journey. It’s also a book about the power of imagination – something you’ll need to rely on without access to social media or streaming services!
CHAPTER BOOKS & MIDDLE GRADE
To understand the tremendous Rogers outage, you have to start at the beginning. And that’s with Who Was Alexander Graham Bell? by Bonnie Bader and David Groff. Learn all about the man who invented the telephone – a sometime Canadian, no less! – whose technological revolution resulted from his work with teaching deaf students. Fun fact: his namesake telecommunications company (Bell Canada) did not experience a monster outage last week.
Mya’s Strategy to Save the World by Tanya Lloyd Kyi is, ostensibly, about protagonist Mya Parsons and her quest to get her own cell phone. So, she would be understandably upset by the network outage of last week. That said, she also runs her school’s social justice club and is determined to change the world for the better, so she’d probably be against large corporate communications oligopolies (look it up!) anyway.
And a novel that starts with faulty network communications and goes downhill from there is Frances Greenslade’s Red Fox Road. Francie’s family vacation goes awry with the GPS leads them astray. Soon, she becomes stranded alone – no phone, no internet – in the bush, and must rely only on her survival skills to keep her alive in this modern-day Hatchet.
And though it’s not available until the fall, Babble!: And How Punctuation Saved It by Caroline Adderson and Roman Muradow is the perfect book to talk about communication breakdowns. Chaos reigns in the village of Babble! All day, the residents fight, yell and argue, and no one is heard or understood – it’s like a life full of network outages. But then … punctuation arrives to build bridges. This book is both a parable for communication failures and catnip for grammar teachers.
If you’re talking outages, you’re talking the gripping Rule of Three series by Eric Walters: The Rule of Three, Fight for Power, and Will to Survive. One ordinary afternoon, every single machine in sixteen-year-old Adam’s high school computer lab stops working. Cars won’t start, phones are down, and a blackout is widespread. Follow Adam and his allies in this epic survival adventure about what happens when all the modern technological amenities on Earth suddenly just … stop working. (Some of it is pretty violent!) And check out the standalone book, The Fourth Dimension, which follows fifteen-year-old Emma’s journey in that same all-encompassing power outage.
And if you or the young readers in your life are looking to “unplug” a bit more this summer (voluntarily, of course), Tundra Book Group is involved in a number of excellent summer reading programs we encourage you to check out, like: