I started this post with the intention of picking ONE of these two books as the best. But, I can’t do it. It’s like choosing one of my girls as a favorite: I love them all equally, but differently. Just like I love both Clementine and Moxy.
Admittedly, this was my first dip into Clementine’s world. I bought C a copy of the first Clementine, on a recommendation from Pam (probably, though it could have been someone else; so many people loved the book). She adored it. So much that when she saw The Talented Clementine at a school book fair last year, she bought it with her own money. When this one appeared on our doorstep, she was ecstatic. She nabbed it, went to her room, and came out blissful.
I can’t blame her. Clementine is charming, precocious, lovable, endearing and just plain cute. In this book, she’s just getting the hang of third grade, when her teacher is suddenly pulled away because the principal nominated him for a Teacher’s Only award that would take him away to Egypt for the rest of the year. Clementine is stuck with a substitute for the week, and can’t seem to stop getting in trouble. The only way out is to make sure her teacher does NOT get that award, so when the class is asked to write letters to the judges about their teacher, her’s is about how awful and terrible he is.
The thing I liked most about Clementine’s Letters was Clementine herself. I liked how she was always giving her younger brother vegetable names (makes sense). I liked how she’d try and try and it still wasn’t just quite right, because she’s the sort of girl who colors outside the lines. I liked her family and her friends. They’re quite an awesome bunch. But I think what I liked most of all was the warm fuzzy feeling the book gave me. It’s just so cute and happy I want to wrap it up and put it in my pocket.
(Is that a bad thing for a book to be? I think not, especially when it’s sincerely cute, and not at all saccharine-y and does not talk down to the reader. It’s good, honest cuteness, which is always the best kind.)
Moxy on the other hand, is not cute. (Well, she’s not trying to be anyway.) She’s precocious and endearing though. And funny. I laughed more while reading Moxy Maxwell than I did during Clementine, because Moxy is outright funny. I think it’s part Moxy’s voice — always sighing, always trying to get out of what she’s supposed to be doing (and being very inventive about it), and part of is is the way Peggy Gifford writes. As an example I give you:
In which Mark Says No
That’s it. The entire chapter. Which totally cracks me up.
I should back up again and explain the story. Moxy’s had a wonderful Christmas, and she’s looking forward to spending a week in Hollywood with her dad and twin brother, Mark. However, before she goes, she MUST (and there will be “consequences” if she doesn’t) write the thank you notes for her Christmas presents. The whole book is Moxy trying to procrastinate that using various means (including copiers and spray paint). It’s a small premise with grand implications. (At one point, I was laughing so hard, but at the same time thinking that if it was my kid, I would SO TOTALLY kill her. If you read the book, you’ll know which part!)
I like that Gifford isn’t heavy handed in her lessons. We’ve got Moxy dealing with a dad who’s not exactly been the model father (they haven’t seen him in three years!), and a mother who’s giving (in Moxy’s opinion, anyway) unreasonable expectations, and a Christmas vacation that was supposed to be the Best Ever. But… Gifford makes us laugh, makes everything so over-the-top that you can’t help but love Moxy’s ideas and while we’re off looking at the hulabaloo, she sneaks in a quiet message about love and family. That’s talent for you.
And a marvelous book.
(Just for the record: because these are Cybils nominees, I’ve been asked to make sure y’all know this is my opinion only, and not that of the panel.)