Kari Tanaka – Book Talk Whisperer




We sat down with Kari Tanaka of the University of Lethbridge Bookstore as she walked us through several books for educators, students, and families covering titles from preschool/kindergarten through Grade 12 and beyond. Kari once again proves to be a valuable resource for anyone who loves books and is always on the lookout for new additions to their own TBR piles or classroom libraries. She brought everything from non-fiction to graphic novels to picture books to hybrid texts (includes elements of fiction and non-fiction). There is something for everyone in this list!


Accountable by Dashka Slater is written for everyone who is using social media.  Students, teachers, parents, administrators, and community members would be well served to read this book as it shares the fallout story from a single Instagram account with all 12 followers in the school and community.

The Probability of Everything is a middle-grade title that could easily extend into upper grades written by Canadian author Sarah Everett that explores what you might or might not do when faced with a dangerous HUGE event.  Everett recently received the Governor General’s Literary Award in the category Young People’s Literature for the book.  A real page turner with a WHOA I DID NOT SEE THAT COMING plot twist that will have you going back to look for clues.  (No jumping ahead allowed).

Seals are Jerks is a picture book with a bonus.  Jared Chapman has added significant value to the book, bringing it into the category of hybrid text in that it is fiction paired with a non-fiction section at the end which explores information about Antarctica.  Teachers might see a place for this text in Living Systems in science as it explores the environment and food chain conversations (including peanut butter and jelly sandwiches), as well as ELAL 5 and 6 as an example of hybrid texts.

Charlie offered another example of hybrid texts, a book written by Joyce Sidman entitled, Winter Bees. Additional books that fit into this genre can be found here.

Ten Word Tiny Tales to Inspire and Unsettle by Joseph Coelho, an award-winning author who lives in England, would work for all ages and helps inspire writing (and reading). The illustrations come from a group of artists and challenge readers to flesh out, add, and build upon the 10-word tiny tales from each of the illustrations in the book.  Kari shares some of the spreads in the book speaking to how you might expand on the 10 words accompanying that picture and take it in 1000 directions.

Joseph Coelho has also recently written the YA Novel in verse,  The Boy Lost in the Maze (Due to be released in March 2024).  The book has been shortlisted for the Carnegie Medal in writing. His other titles include, Thank You illustrated by Sam Usher, Zombierella: Fairytales Gone Bad illustrated by Freya Hartas, The Girl Who Became a Tree: A Story Told in Poems, Luna Loves Dance illustrated by Fiona Lumbers, My Beautiful Voice illustrated by Allison Colpys, How to Write Poems and many more.

Joseph is England’s Children’s Laureate awarded once every two years to a “writer or illustrator of children’s books to celebrate outstanding achievement in their field.” The role promotes the importance of children’s literature, reading, creativity and storytelling while promoting the right of every child to enjoy a lifetime of books and stories.

Obaasan’s Boots – This beautiful picture book opened the door for Kari to reflect on her own upbringing and her Obaasan (Japanese for Grandma).  Recommended for ages 9 – 12 but can be read by anyone.  A family story, cousins who go to a family reunion at Obaasan’s house.  The connections of families and memories surrounding food and then the cousins having an opportunity to hear the stories of the family, how and why they have moved.  The book has pictures of the real life of the Obaasan upon whom the book is based.

Mark Sakamoto’s book Shizue’s Path is a picture book that speaks to the importance of sharing the more difficult elements and events of our life.  The book includes a detailed timeline at the back, another illustrated hybrid book.

A middle-grade novel from the Canadian author, Leslie Gentile, that is told through the eyes of Shamus: The Urban Rez Dog P.I.  Kari hopes that this book can become a series and maybe even a cartoon series. ( *cough cough* CBC, are you listening?)  There is a lot of humour and silliness in the book as the author attempts to slide the difficult and challenging pieces into the story.


Ryan La Sala provides another thriller for high school students and Young Adults.  Falling into the Horror genre, the writing, in Kari’s opinion, is brilliant, drawing the reader into the book as well as the lives of the characters. The adventure in Beholder begins from the opening sentence (written in second person), “The Sunday night of the party, a few hours before everyone dies, a girl with bleached bangs is telling you all about her future.”  In Kari’s words, “terrifying but beautifully written”. 


Transitioning to graphic novels, Kari shared a couple of titles starting with a book written for middle to high school (any even beyond).  Scott Chantler’s Squire & Knight has a great message that reaches many levels of complexity if the reader takes the time to “listen”.  The book includes some of the raw sketches and some information shared by Scott on the process he undertakes in writing the book.

A collection of short stories presented in graphic novel form is the second offering in this area and illustrates (pun intended) the need for more of this form of literature.  Neal Shusterman and illustrator Andrés Vera Martinez have created Courage to Dream: Tales of Hope in the Holocaust.  Each story depicts a different story of the Holocaust and folded in Jewish folklore into the narrative presenting a “what if…” that could have changed history that then folds back toward the factual historical events of each story.

Tales of Hope reminds Charlie of “This Place: 150 Years Retold by Kateri Akiwenzie-Damm (Author), Sonny Assu (Author), Brandon Mitchell (Author), Rachel Qitsualik-Tinsley (Author), Sean Qitsualik-Tinsley (Author), David A. Robertson (Author), Niigaanwewidam James Sinclair (Author), Jen Storm (Author, Illustrator), Richard Van Camp (Author), Katherena Vermette(Author), Chelsea Vowel (Author), Alicia Elliott (Foreword), Tara Audibert (Illustrator), Kyle Charles (Illustrator), GMB Chomichuk (Illustrator), Natasha Donovan (Illustrator), Scott B. Henderson (Illustrator), Andrew Lodwick (Illustrator), Scott A. Ford (Illustrator), Donovan Yaciuk (Illustrator), Ryan Howe(Illustrator) which explores the past 150 years through the eyes of Indigenous leaders in another graphic novel anthology.  Each story includes a timeline of related historical events and notes from the author.

Books connected to the upcoming holiday season include Our Favorite Day of the Year by AE Ali and Winter Cake by Lynne Rae Perkins.

Our conversation concluded with Salma Writes a Book by Danny Ramadan. Readers may recognize the main character from Salma the Syrian Chef. In this book, Salma explores traditions, expectations, and the impact of living in a new place.