Cybils nominations are open! And there are so, so many good titles waiting to be nominated! I am putting together a list of books I hope will be nominated, but in the meantime, please take a look at this list from Charlotte of Charlotte’s Library for Middle Grade Speculative Fiction suggestions and this padlet from the Reading Tub for crowd-sourced ideas in all categories. And here is a book that I recently read that is also hoping to be nominated.
Daring Darleen, Queen of the Screen by Anne Nesbet. Candlewick, 2020 ISBN 978-1536206197. Read from library copy.
It’s 1914, and Darleen Darling is tied up, dangling from a cliff. “Safe as houses” her uncle said before lowering her down and starting the cameras rolling. Darleen is a little skeptical of this – after all, the cliff and the river at the bottom are very real – but since she’s grown too old to be charming in films of her making messes while wearing ruffled dresses, she’s played the starring role in the weekly adventure serials her family’s film company puts on. But despite their best efforts, the film company is still losing money, so they come up with a publicity stunt – staging a fake kidnapping at a real public event.
Then things go horribly wrong, and Darleen finds herself mixed up in the real kidnapping of twelve-year-old heiress Miss Victorine Berryman. Darleen tries to reassure Victorine that she just plays a heroine in the movies – but she’s going to have to become one for real if the girls are going to escape.
This is first and foremost an adventure story, retelling that serial style of old for a modern audience. But Darleen is also figuring out who she is as a person, relishing the thrills of her new freedom even as she tries to keep her father’s advice to “keep her feet on the ground” in mind. And she and Victorine, though from very different backgrounds, have never really had friends their own age before and are thrown into a position where friendship will save them. Yes, the villains are cartoonish, but this bothers me not at all. All the characters appear to be white, which feels a little unnatural to me – but it’s also true that it would probably have been challenging to add them into a story where our two main characters would most definitely have been white. I was also charmed by the book design, with the spine looking like old-fashioned film title credits, and the chapter titles made to look like the caption screens from the silent movies. This is a very fun take on a little-discussed period of history – Bluffton by Matt Phelan is the only other middle grade book about silent movies that comes to mind.