On the Blue Comet by Rosemary Wells

Another boy’s book in which time travel makes my head hurt. “Time is a river in which we can travel both forward into the future and back into the past.” The urchins watched Back to the Future 2 last night, and it made my head hurt, too. With The Blue Comet I just gave up on trying to understand the river of time and enjoyed the story.

Eleven year old Oscar Ogilvie lives with his dad in a little house in Cairo, Illinois. Mom is dead, but Dad and Oscar are happy with Oscar doing the cooking, Dad working as a salesman for the John Deere Tractor COmpany, and the two of them enjoying the Lionel train layout that they have in the basement. Then, the stock market crashes, and the depression hits, and Oscar’s dad loses is job and has to go to California to look for work, leaving Oscar behind to live with his crabby Aunt Carmen. All of this and a little more happens in chapters 1-4, before the time travel/magic part of the book begins. It’s a little slow, and some kids may give up before they get to the good part.

But they shouldn’t. The Blue Comet is deceptively dull at first, but the pace picks up in chapter 5 with a bank robbery, a jump into that River of Time, and some cameo appearances by famous stars and celebrities of the 1940’s such as “Dutch” Reagan, A. Hitchcock, and even a very young Jack Kennedy. It was fun to try to pick out the celebs, and it was enjoyable just to follow the story of our boy-hero, Oscar, as he worked his way from one side of the country to the other and from one era to the next and then back to the past where he came from.

The illustrations in this book by Bagram Ibatoulline deserve, indeed require, a mention. I wish I could show you an example. The pictures are full-color painting in a sort of Norman Rockwell-style. They’re just beautiful and quite evocative of the time period. I guess the cover illustration will have to do to give you an idea, but the pictures inside the book are even better.

So time travel. Electric trains. Depression-era. A boy and his dad. Oh, and Rudyard Kipling’s “If” and a disappearing math teacher. Bank robbers foiled. Surely, one or more of those will capture your interest in this well-told tale of historical adventure.

Middle School Boys: Just Keep Swimming

Ratfink by Marcia Thornton Jones.
How To Survive Middle School by Donna Gephart.
How I, Nicky Flynn, Finally Get a Life (and a Dog) by Art Corriveau.
Milo: Sticky Notes and Brain Freeze by Alan Silberberg.

Logan is the fifth grade ratfink in Marcia Thornton Jones’ story of the same name, and he has a couple of problems. First of all, there’s his beloved but embarrassing grandfather who keeps getting lost and forgetting stuff and doing things that make Logan want to deny that he even has a grandfather living with his family. Then the new girl at school, Emily Scott, finds a way to blackmail Logan into betraying his best friend, Malik. And no one believes or listens to Logan even when he’s telling the truth. The relationships make this book: Logan and Malik have a friendship only a couple of fifth grade boys could love, and Logan and his grandfather love and help each other in spite of the issues that Grandpa’s failing memory causes.

How To Survive Middle School features sixth grader David Greenburg whose hero and role model is Jon Stewart of The Daily Show. In fact David plans to become a TV talk show host just like Jon Stewart. And he’s already gotten a head start on his future by posting a series of videos called TalkTime on YouTube. Most of the videos feature Hammy, the pet hamster that David’s mom gave him before she ran away with a guy named Marcus to a beet farm in Maine. Just before school starts, David and his best friend Elliott have a major argument, and Elliott ends up becoming pals with the school’s worst bully, Tommy. And David is the target. So, as he starts middle school, David Greenburg has a lot to survive.
I’m not sure the book lives up to its title, since David never does figure out how to repair his relationship with Elliott or get rid of the bully or get his mom to come for a visit. (Thing do sort of work out, but not because of any great epiphany for David.) However, he does survive, so I guess the main lesson is just “grit your teeth and wait for things to improve.”

How I (Nicky Flynn) Finally Get a Life (and a Dog) by Art Corriveau tells the story of another boy, Nicky, who like Logan in Ratfink, gets himself caught up in a web of lies and stories and half-truths. Nicky’s dad has left Nicky and his mom, and mom isn’t handling the situation too well. Neither is Nicky. So when Mom brings home a “retired” seeing eye dog named Reggie, it could be a solution for the emotional and family problems that Nicky won’t talk to anyone else about, or it could be a disaster. As Nicky begins to solve the mystery associated with Reggie’s past life as a guide dog, he also becomes attached to the dog and begins to deal with the fact that his dad just isn’t going to be there for him. It’s a sad, but realistic, picture of the aftermath of divorce, and Nicky and Reggie do come through OK, somewhat damaged but OK.

Milo in Milo: Sticky Notes and Brain Freeze also has a missing parent, but Milo’s mom is dead. In fact she died a couple of years before the opening of the book, but Milo still feels as if his life and his home are filled with fog. Milo’s goal is middle school survival, just like the other boys in these books. In fact, it seems as if it doesn’t get much better than mere survival in any of these stories. Milo eventually learns to cope with his mom’s absence by remembering the good times he had with her and by keeping some things to remind him of who his mom was and what she left him.

All of the boys in these books have major problems to deal with on top of the regular stresses of growing up and getting through school. Milo misses his mom, and his dad is still in mourning and doesn’t help Milo much. Nicky’s dad turns out to be loser who’s more interested in his new girlfriend than he is in Nicky. And Nicky’s mom tries to help, but she’s on an emotional roller coaster herself. David Greenburg’s mom has some kind of agoraphobia and can’t or won’t come to see him, even though she writes happy little letters to cheer him up. Neither her notes nor David’s dad’s advice is much help when it comes to middle school friendships and bullies and the high price of internet fame. Logan, at least, has an intact family and a grandfather who loves him, but Logan’s parents don’t listen too well, and Logan mostly has to work out his own problems by himself.

I read these books for the Cybils last fall but never actually posted this round-up on the blog. I think the books would all appeal to a particular demographic that’s sometimes hard to engage in reading, namely middle school boys.

The Wager by Donna Jo Napoli

Ms. Napoli has novelized several folk and fairy tales already, and The Wager is another good entry in that genre. It’s the story, taken from a Sicilian fairytale “Don Giovanni de la Fortuna“, of Don Giovanni who makes a wager with the devil: he can have riches unimaginable that will never run out if he will go for three years, three months, and three days without bathing, shaving, changing clothes, or combing his hair. If he loses the bet, the devil, of course, gets Don Giovanni’s soul.

The details of Don Giovanni’s three+ years of degradation are fairly graphic and horrific. If you’re not up for pustules and bodily wastes, don’t read the book. Nevertheless, although the book started out rather slowly, the tension and the theme in particular built to a compelling read that I’m still thinking about today. (I finished the book last night.) Making a bet or a deal with the devil, hazarding one’s soul in return for X, is a popular theme in folk tales and in literature. The story mirrors the first story of Adam and Eve who exchange their souls for a lie and a piece of fruit. And only the sacrifice of Christ can redeem the soul from Satan’s lies.

However, in many popular stories, like this one of Don Giovanni, the wagerer pays for his own folly, redeems himself, so to speak, by outwitting the devil. Don Giovanni emerges through great suffering to live happily ever after. The idea that suffering, in this case self-inflicted suffering, is redemptive in and of itself seems to me to be flawed. Suffering is suffering; it’s nasty, uncomfortable, and possibly meaningless—unless it can be redeemed and madeinto a growth experience by someone else, someone who transcends our suffering and gives us hope and a future. Of course, the Someone is Jesus Christ. Although, Don Giovanni professes to be a “good Catholic” in Ms. napoli’s novel, he doesn’t look either to religion or to Christ for rescue. He does find meaning in the simple kindness of strangers and fellow beggars and that of a myserious artist who sees past his appearance into his soul.

It’s true that if I can be loved in spite of, in the middle of, all my sin and humiliation, my life can become something beautiful by the power of Christ in me. It’s not true that any human love can accomplish this transformation in me; however, I suppose Don Giovanni’s story is an imperfect picture of The Great Story of God’s reclamation and cleansing of his people.

Other fairytales for young adults reimagined by Donna Jo Napoli (well worth your time if you like this sort of thing):
The Magic Circle (Hansel and Gretel)
Zel (Rapunzel) Brown Bear daughter recommends.
Beast (Beauty and the Beast)
Crazy Jack (Jack and the Beanstalk)
Spinners (Rumpelstiltskin)
Hush: An Irish Princess’s Tale (Icelandic folk tale) Brown Bear Daughter also recommends.
Breath (The Pied Piper of Hamelin)
Sirena (Greek mythology)
Bound (Chinese Cinderella)

I’ll leave you with a humorous take on making a bet with the devil, not to mention some fine fiddle playing, in this 1979 song, “The Devil Went Down to Georgia” by the Charlie Daniels Band:

In spite of the success of Johnny, the boy fiddle player, and Don Giovanni, I would suggest that you make no bets with the devil unless you’re prepared to pay the price. Satan is a deceiver, and our souls are already in hock without Jesus.

Ship Breaker by Paolo Bacigalupi

Ship Breaker is on the shortlist for the Cybils YA Fantasy/Science Fiction Award.

Ship Breaker was a finalist for 2010 National Book Award in the category of Young People’s Literature. (The winner was Mockingbird by Katherine Erskine.)

Ship Breaker won the 2011 Printz Award for Excellence in Young Adult Literature.

And, having just finished reading this award-winning piece of dystopian fiction, I would say it deserves the nominations and awards and accolades it’s recieved. I would also say that the PC setting and themes in the book didn’t hurt its chances in the running for awards. The world in Ship Breaker is a world destroyed and reconfigured by climate change and the greed of oil hungry corporations and industries. By the time the story opens, oil is an extremely scarce commodity, and the world’s transportation systems run on other forms of energy, for the most part. Our hero, Nailer, is one of the lowest of the low in the New World Order, a scavenger who works the light crew on wrecked oil tankers and other useless hulks washed up on the beach where Nailer lives. The best Nailer can hope for is a place on another crew when he outgrows his ability to crawl into the small spaces where copper wiring and other “scavenge” can be found on the wrecked ships. Nailer’s mother is dead, and his father is mean, violent and drug-addicted.

Ship Breaker becomes a story about loyalty and heredity and the limits of trust when Nailer finds a “lucky strike,” something that could make him rich beyond his wildest dreams. Will he take advantage of his luck and run with it, or will he choose to save the life of a worthless and dangerous captive at the risk of his own? This story was exciting and spell-binding. It will appeal to Hunger Games fans and other readers of dystopian science fiction and technofiction.

I had only one problem with the book, not a problem that made me consider quitting the book, but a problem, nevertheless. Why does Nailer make the choices he makes? Nailer is a classic hero. He chooses right, no matter that he stands to gain riches and save his own life by making other decisions than the ones he makes. Why? He’s loyal to his friend, Pima, and her mother, Sadna, because they have taken care of him in the past, given him a place to stay, food, and a job. Tit for tat. Pima is Nailer’s crew leader, and Nailer has sworn a blood oath to “have her back”. Then, other people enter the equation, and although Nailer has no rational reason, and no real sense of morality, to give his loyalty to anyone else, he does. Why? Nailer himself doesn’t know, and the reader is never given any good insight into Nailer’s core allegiance either. He’s realistic about the cruelty of the world he lives, somewhat superstitious, and highly intelligent inspite of his lack of education and opportunity. So why does he turn quixotic without Quixote’s code of knightly honor to sustain him?

“The blood bond was nothing. It was the people that mattered. If they covered your back, and you covered theirs, then maybe that was worth calling family. Everything else was just so much smoke and lies.”

If that’s so, then why does Nailer sacrifice himself for someone who has done nothing for him and very likely never will?

Still, it’s a good book, and you may find answers to my questions that I didn’t see. Warning: Lots of violence, very little or no language or sexual situations.

Moon Over Manifest by Clare Vanderpool

So, on Monday Moon Over Manifest was something of a surprise winner of the Newbery Medal for “the most distinguished American children’s book published the previous year” (2010). And I just happened to have a copy of the winning book in my library basket, a leftover from the Cybils Middle Grade Fiction panel that I hadn’t been able to find before the deadline in late December for our shortlist to be finalized. I read the book yesterday.

I can now say that if the publisher (Delacorte) had seen fit to send a review copy, I might very well have pushed to put Moon Over Manifest on our shortlist. Of course, that’s easy to say now, hindsight and all. But I haven’t been too excited about or fond of some of the recent Newbery Award books. And I said so. Last year’s book, When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead was great, but of course, I’m a Madeleine L’Engle fan, so I would like anything that paid tribute to A Wrinkle in Time. I tried to read Neil Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book three times year before last and never got past the first few chapters. Good Masters! Sweet Ladies! seemed sort of, dare I say it, boring, and The Higher Power of Lucky was just O.K.

Moon Over Manifest is the story of a girl, twelve year old Abilene Tucker, whose father, Gideon, is a hobo. Abilene and her dad have been riding the rails together for as long as she can remember, but now (summer, 1936) Gideon has sent Abilene to live with an old friend of his in Manifest, Kansas while Gideon takes a job on the railroad back in Iowa. Abilene is not happy about being separated from her loving and beloved father, and she is determined that Gideon will come get her by the end of the summer. In the meantime, Abilene wants to find some information about the time Gideon spent in Manifest during World War I, before Abilene was born. What she gets is a nun, Sister Redempta, who teaches at the Sacred Heart of the Holy Redeemer Elementary School and gives her a summer assignment on the last day of school. Abilene also meets:
Shady Howard, the bootlegger who is also the interim pastor of the First Baptist Church
Miss Sadie, fortune teller, spirit medium, conjurer, and story-teller extraordinaire,
Hattie Mae Harper Macke, newspaper columnist and amateur historian of Manifest,
and two new friends, Lettie and Ruthanne, who join Abilene in searching for The Rattler, a spy who may or may not be selling secrets from Manifest to the enemy.

The story alternates between 1936 and Abilene and her friends and 1917-18 when the Manifest townspeople of 1936 were just growing up and when Abilene’s father should have been making his mark on Manifest’s history. Will Abilene find mention of her father in any of the stories Miss Sadie tells? How does Miss Sadie know so much about all of the secrets and events that make up the story of Manifest, Kansas? Does Shady have stories to tell about Abilene’s father? Who is or was The Rattler, and is he still in Manifest, spying on people and keeping secrets? Will Gideon come back to get Abilene, or has he deserted her for good?

Let’s start with the cover. Abilene is walking on the railroad track, thinking about her father and about the stories Miss Sadie tells. Do kids walk on the railroad tracks anymore? I lived about four blocks from the railroad tracks when I was growing up, and I certainly did. I walked along the tracks and looked for lost coins and thought about stuff. I love the cover of this book. So nostalgic.

Then there’s the story. Abilene is an engaging character, independent, feisty, and determined. But she’s also respectful and grateful for the people in Manifest who help her and feed her and take care of her. I like respectful and thankful, since it seems to be in short supply sometimes in book characters and in real kids. Abilene’s story feels real and has a flavor of the summertime adventures of the Jem and Scout in To Kill a Mockingbird. Abilene and her two buddies roam all over Manifest all summer long, and they make up stories and hunt for The Rattler with impunity and without much adult interference. The adults are available, but not over-involved. I think my kids could use some of that kind of independence and free-range experience.

As Abilene grows up over the course of the summer, she also learns more about her father and about his history, his character, and his flaws. Twelve is about the right time for a daughter to begin to see her father as a real person with a past and with hurts that need to be healed. In Moon Over Manifest, Gideon is a good father who “deserts” his daughter for good reasons, unlike the mother in another lauded book of 2010, One Crazy Summer. In facter the two books could be compared in several ways—feisty young heroine, absent parent, a summer of growth and discovery, people who are not who they seem to be–and I think Moon Over Manifest would come out the winner in a head-to-head competition between the two books.

So, Moon Over Manifest is a fine novel; it will probably appeal most to mature readers with good to excellent reading skills. The chronological jumps are well marked and easy to follow, but some of the psychological insights into family history and relationships are going to go over the head of young readers no matter how well they can follow the plot. Still, Ms. Vanderpool’s book is a good addition to the historical fiction of the Great Depression and a worthy Newbery Medalist.

Awards Time: Newbery and Such

Newbery Award: Moon over Manifest by Clare Vanderpool. This book was on the list of nominees for the Cybils Middle Grade Fiction, but I couldn’t find it anywhere. About a week ago I finally got it from the library, and it’s in my library basket waiting for me to get around to it. I guess today would be a good day for that.
Honors:
Turtle in Paradise, by Jennifer L. Holm. I loved this one, tried to talk the panel into shortlisting it for the Cybils. Semicolon review here.
Heart of a Samurai by Margi Preus. I liked this one, too. Semicolon review here.
Dark Emperor and Other Poems of the Night by Joyce Sidman.
One Crazy Summer by Rita Williams-Garcia. I was the hold-out on this novel because although it told a good story, I thought it had issues. Semicolon review here.

Printz Award for YA literature: Ship Breaker by Paolo Bacigalupi. I have this one on order from the library. Shortlisted for the YA Cybils.
Honors:
Stolen by Lucy Christopher. I also have this novel requested at the library, and it was shortlisted for the Cybils in the YA Fiction category.
Please Ignore Vera Dietz by A.S. King.
Revolver by Marcus Segdwick.
Nothing by Janne Teller.

Alex Awards: The Alex Awards are given to ten books written for adults that have special appeal to young adults, ages 12 through 18. I haven’t read a single one of these ten, and the only one that’s already on my TBR list is Room. Judging just from the titles, several of them sound interesting. Can you recommend any of the ten Alex Award winners?

The Boy Who Couldn’t Sleep and Never Had To by DC Pierson.
Breaking Night: A Memoir of Forgiveness, Survival, and My Journey from Homeless to Harvard by Liz Murray,.
Girl in Translation by Jean Kwok.
The House of Tomorrow by Peter Bognanni.
The Lock Artist by Steve Hamilton.
The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake: A Novel by Aimee Bender.
The Radleys by Matt Haig.
The Reapers Are the Angels: A Novel by Alden Bell.
Room: A Novel by Emma Donoghue.
The Vanishing of Katharina Linden: A Novel by Helen Grant.

A couple of other award winners that have been reviewed here at Semicolon:
Hush by Eishes Chayill. Finalist for the William C. Morris YA Debut Award. Semicolon review here.
Tomie DePaola won the Laura Ingalls Wilder Award for his entire body of work. The award honors an author or illustrator whose books, published in the United States, have made, over a period of years, a substantial and lasting contribution to literature for children. His work has been featured here at Semicolon several times, including:
Charlie Needs a Cloak.
Francis the Poor Man of Assisi.
The Cloud Book.
The Christmas Pageant.
The Friendly Beasts.
And many more.

The Many Faces of Homeschooling in Cybils Middle Grade Fiction

The Ignorant Abusive Religious Zealot Homeschoolers: Mary Mae and the Gospel Truth by Sandra Dutton. The “Christian” mother in the story threatens to homeschool Mary Mae if Mary doesn’t forget about fossils and quit asking so many questions about the Bible. Then Mama slaps Mary Mae for being sassy. That was the last straw for me. Homeschooling is not a threat or a penalty, folks.

The Negligent Irresponsible Homeschoolers: I, Emma Freke by Elizabeth Atkinson. Semicolon review here. Donatella decides that Emma isn’t fitting at school, and she needs help in the bead shop. So mom gives her an old math book and puts Emma behind the counter to mind the shop. Not my favorite image of homeschooling and not fair.

The Overprotective Smothering Homeschoolers: How To Survive Middle School by Donna Gephart.
A secondary character in the book is David’s new friend, Sophie, whose mom has serious smother mother issues. Sophie has been homeschooled before the beginning of the story, and now she’s “escaped.” Her mother just needs to find something to occupy her time other than Sophie’s life and education.

The Happy Nomad Homeschoolers: Travels With Gannon and Wyatt by Patti Wheeler and Keith Hemstreet.

“A home, most of us think, is where we have our stuff–our bed and clothes and books and games–but I don’t really agree. My home is wherever I happen to go to bed that night, be it a hotel in Hong Kong or a sailboat off the coast of Fiji.
My brother and I have been home schooled most of our lives. Lucky for us, my mother is an amazing teacher. So is my dad, for that matter.”

The Simple Life Homeschoolers: Nuts by Kacy Cook.

“I wasn’t always homeschooled. When I was in first grade, we lived in a big city and I went to a big school. But Mom and Dad wanted to ‘simplify’ our lives, so we moved to this small town, Meadowlake, Ohio. Mom began working from home and learned about homeschooling. I haven’t gone to regular school since. My brothers have never been.
There is a lot I like about being homeschooled–especially that we get to travel and I can spend more time playing the piano, reading, or poking around on the computer–but at that moment I loved being homeschooled. There wouldn’t be any way to raise a baby squirrel if I went to regular school all day.”

Of course, I prefer the impression that the last title on the list gives of homeschooling. The adventure scenario isn’t too bad either, although most of us don’t get to go to Africa on safari.

I must say that the other three are stereotypes that I really don’t see too often, if at all. I’ve never met a homeschool mom as ignorant as Mary Mae’s mother in Mary Mae and the Gospel Truth. I don’t know any homeschooled families who use their kids as free child laborers and throw them outdated textbooks as a pretense of educating them the way Emma Freke’s mother does. And if some of the homeschool parents I know are a little over-protective by my standards, so are many of the moms and dads who have their children in public and private schools. I’m sort of a free-range kids advocate myself with a lot of spiritual (Christian) training thrown into the mix.

Have you noticed homeschooling becoming more mainstream in children’s and YA fiction? If so, is it being depicted faithfully or stereotypically? I did notice that the only Christian (so-called) homeschooler in this bunch was Mary Mae’s mom, and of course she’s the one who slaps her daughter for being sassy. Whereas most of the homeschoolers I know are approaching education from a Christian perspective, no slapping involved, and only a healthy minority are non-religious.

Semicolon’s Twelve Best Young Adult Fiction Books Read in 2010

Honestly, the best books I read in 2010 were mostly young adult fiction books. These novels, marketed to young people ages 14-21, are the work of some of the best writers working today. Because of the age group, the authors are required to keep it simple, not simplistic, but too many fancy tricks or philosophical meanderings and you lose your target readers. I guess I just have a young mind.

Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins. Semicolon thoughts here.

Forge by Laurie Halse Anderson. Semicolon review here.

Somebody Everybody Listens To by Suzanne Supplee. Semicolon review here

Hush by Eishes Chayil. Semicolon review here.

Cross My Heart and Hope to Spy by Ally Carter. Great book in the Gallagher Girls series.

Heist Society also by Ally Carter. I just finished this one tow days before 2011, and it was really good. I can’t wait to see the movie.

Bamboo People by Mitali Perkins. Semicolon review here.

Exposure by Mal Peet. Soccer and celebrity in South America. Semicolon review here.

For the Win by Cory Doctorow. Computer games and organized labor? Semicolon review here.

This Gorgeous Game by Donna Freitas. Nominated for the first annual INSPY awards in the YA fiction category, this book tells the story of a young protege victimized by an older mentor. Nothing graphic or overtly sexual or violent makes the story even more creepy and disturbing.

The Cardturner by Louis Sachar. Semicolon review here. A story about bridge? Really? Yes, but it’s a good story about bridge, and you can skip the technical parts if you want.

Once Was Lost by Sara Zarr. A preacher’s kid in a struggling family faces questions about her faith until a community tragedy eclipses personal concerns. Winner of the first annual INSPY award for YA fiction that “grapples with expressions of the Christian faith.”

I’m making this list before the announcement of the Cybils shortlists, and I hope that several of the above will make the YA fiction shortlist. We’ll see.

Lying Liars and the Lies They Tell

Several of the Cybils Middle Grade Fiction nominees deal with kids who get themselves into a heap of trouble by lying.

In I, Nicky Flynn, Finally Get a Life (and a Dog), the title character finds himself enmeshed in a web of lies when he tries to investigate the history of his new dog, Reggie. Some old guys at the park assume that Nicky is the grandson of Reggie’s previous owner, a blind man named Alf, and Nicky goes along so that he can find out more about Alf and why Reggie, a former guide dog, was retired and sent to the pound. Then, Nicky starts telling more and more lies to sustain his investigation until eventually the lies get out of hand, Reggie gets hurt, and Nicky becomes a fugitive from his mom, maybe even from the law.

Ratfink by Marcia Thornton Jones is about Logan, who’s starting fifth grade determined to stay out of trouble. However, trouble seems to follow him, especially when the new girl in school becomes his arch-enemy, and Logan’s best friend, Malik, decides Logan can’t be trusted, and Logan’s grandfather starts doing embarrassing stuff. The solution for Grandfather’s memory problems in the book is a little unbelievable, but it does mesh well with Logan’s “memory problem” of telling exaggerated stories when he should stick to the truth and nothing but the truth. Logan learns to save the stories for written fiction.

The girls also have their issues with making up stories and lies to impress others.

The Reinvention of Moxie Roosevelt has Moxie reinventing herself when she goes away to boarding school and realizes that she can be anyone she wants in this new place where nobody know her. Will she be the Mysterious Earth Goddess (MEG), the Hale and Hearty Sports Enthusiast (HHSE), or the Detached, Unique, Coolly Knowing Individual (DUCKI)? And can she possibly remember which persona she tried out on which new friend without her trusty notebook? I liked the fact that Moxie was just trying out different attitudes when things got totally out of hand. I can see that sort of thing happening to an imaginative thirteen year old. And I liked the idea that when it came time for confessions, Moxie kept some friends and lost others because that’s the way it really works. Lies have consequences, but sometimes you get forgiveness, too.

In My Fake Boyfriend Is Better Than Yours by Kristina Springer, Tori thinks her old, but now wealthy, friend, Sierra, is making up the boyfriend she says she acquired in Florida while on vacation at the beach. So Tori invents her own fake boyfriend, and the competition becomes fast, furious and time-consuming. Cute and sweet and twisty-turny. You’ll keep reading to figure out who’s telling the truth, who’s going to confess, and whose boyfriend really is a fake.

Nutsby Kacy Cook features 11 year old Nell, a homeschooler, who lies to her mentor, Libby, over the internet about her age and other details of her life so that she can take care of two baby squirrels she finds in her yard instead of taking them to a licensed wildlife rehabilitator. It turns out to be a really bad idea, with some devastating consequences for at least one of the squirrels.

In Happy Birthday, Sophie Hartley by Stephanie Greene, almost ten year old Sophie tells everyone at school that she’s getting a baby gorilla for her birthday. Even though Sophie knows deep down that her parents never really promised her a real baby gorilla, she almost convinces herself that her birthday wish will come true. Thereby demonstrating one danger of lying: you might even fool yourself.

I would recommend all of the above, but my favorite was Moxie Roosevelt. Have any of these books or others made you think about lies, exaggerations, and the consequences thereof? I think it would be great book club theme to read several of these books with a group of kids and discuss how easily untruths can spin out of control and cause a world of hurt.

The shortlists for the 2010 Cybils will be announced on New Year’s Day. And that’s no lie.

Semicolon’s Twelve Best Middle Grade Fiction Books of 2010

When Molly Was a Harvey Girl by Frances M. Wood. Semicolon review here. Thirteen year old Molly pretend to be eighteen so that she and her old sister Colleen can get jobs together as Harvey girls at the famous restaurant chain in Raton, New Mexico. I liked the vivid portrayal of what it was like to work in the Harvey House restaurant and of the characters in a 1880’s town on the frontier of civilization.

Wishing for Tomorrow: The Sequel to A Little Princess by Hilary McKay. Semicolon review here. Whatever happened to Sara Crewe and all her friends at Miss Minchin’s Select Seminary for Young Ladies? Find out in this lovely story by the author of the Casson family books.

Turtle in Paradise by Jennifer L. Holm. Semicolon review here. Eleven year old Turtle joins the Diaper Gang when she goes to live with her extended family in Key West, Florida.

The Fences Between Us by Kirby Larson. Semicolon review here. I couldn’t resist this Dear America story about the daughter of a Baptist pastor who ministers to Japanese Americans during World War II.

Clementine, Friend of the Week by Sara Pennypacker. Semicolon review here. The best Clementine book so far. Fine.

Belly Up! by Stuart Gibbs. Semicolon review here. A cantankerous hippo who is the main attraction at FunJungle dies mysteriously, and Teddy is convinced that Henry the Hippo is the victim of cold-blooded murder. But can he prove it? And will Summer McCracken, the rich daughter of FunJungle’s owner, J.J. McCracken, be a help or a hindrance in the investigation?

Betti on the High Wire by Lisa Railsback. Semicolon review here. Babo lives in an abandoned circus with other abandoned children in a country torn by war and civil unrest. Then, Babo is adopted by Melons (Americans), and she becomes Betti, and the confusion begins. An excellent story about adoption and family and culture shock.

Crunch by Leslie Connor. Semicolon review here.A fuel shortage strands the Marriss parents up north while the kids take care of the Marriss Bike Barn. And bicycles become a hot commodity.

The Reinvention of Moxie Roosevelt by Elizabeth Cody Kimmel. When Moxie goes away to boarding school, she realizes that she can reinvent herself as anyone she wants to be. But can she remember who she’s decided to become?

Wildfire Run by Dee Garretson. Son the president of the United States, Luke and his friends, Callie and Theo, must escape a forest fire and security systems to save their lives when they are accidentally stranded at Camp David.

Boys Without Names by Kashmira Sheth. Eager to find work after his hungry family arrives in Mumbai, 11-year-old Gopal ends up locked in a one-room “factory” making beaded frames with five other boys so beaten down they don’t even talk to one another. The boys have no names because their boss manipulates them to distrust one another in the interest of keeping them in slavery. Heart-rending, but never preachy, and ultimately hopeful.

The Death (and Further Adventures) of Silas Winterbottom: The Body Thief by Stephen M. Giles. Melodrama at its best, in the tradition of Lemony Snicket. Three young people from quite dysfunctional families gather at the home of their evil and dying uncle, Silas Winterbottom, to find out who his heir will be. Will it be Adele, whose mother has threatened to send her to a horrible school if she doesn’t bring home the bacon? Or will Isabella, the beautiful con artist and thief, be able to fool Uncle Silas into choosing her? Or will Silas choose Milo, who’s only there for revenge? Daring, dastardly, and devious.

And that’s my sort of short list. The short list for the Cybils Middle Grade Fiction category will be announced on January 1, 2011. All I can say is that some of the books on my list may be on the official short list, and others will not. There’s some seriously good fiction out there, folks.