Title: Irma's Big Lie (originally The Bad Times of Irma Baumlein)
Length: 134 pages
Illustrations: drawings by Trina Schart Hyman
Quote: "She took so long to answer that Judy said, 'Don't you have anything?' Then Irma said (and she was surprised to hear herself say it), 'Yes, I have the Biggest Doll in the World. She's as tall as I am.'"
(Topic credit for this one goes to +Kimberly Dalessandro , who mentioned Irma's Big Lie as a childhood favorite in a comment on another novel about middle school children. I hadn't had a copy for sale, but I did remember having read and liked this one in grade four.)
Irma isn't even much of a doll collector; she's more interested in living people and animals. But she's new at this school, and since Judy has so many siblings and pets, Irma feels a need to claim to have something, in her home, besides a great-aunt, great-uncle, a live-in couple who seem almost as old as her elders, and a father who's busy trying to revive the great-uncle's store. Even Irma's mother thinks the great-uncle's home is boring.
At first the lie seems to work. Judy accepts Irma as an interesting person; they become friends. There's only one problem. Irma, having fended off inquiries with a description of a fabulous doll like nothing she's ever seen, has to find such a doll (and show it off at school) before her new school friends realize what a whopper she's told...and she has only fourteen dollars to spend.
Irma could, of course, get creative and make the doll she's described--from rags, or cardboard--but she doesn't know how, and her big lie just keeps growing as the other girls want more details about this doll. And then Irma sees the doll she's described. The fictions writers imagine are often suggested by things we've half-noticed when we saw or heard them somewhere. Nothing like the doll Irma has described is in her great-uncle's department store for sale as a doll, but there is such an object in the store...
In the end, what Irma's done is not unlike what an Internet Portal does. Blogjob blogs market all kinds of things that the bloggers may or may not actually have to sell. To write this review, I went over to the part of the local library that's still a library, or half of one, and looked at a vintage hardcover copy of The Bad Times of Irma Baumlein, showing all the signs of having been enjoyed by middle school readers for forty years. (I remember it as a new book; some of the pencil marks here and there were mine.) What I can sell you ($5 per book, $5 per package, $1 per online payment) won't be the copy at which I'm looking now; nor, if I were to sell this book in real life, would it be the copy in my home, which belongs to The Nephews now. I'm actually fantasizing, as Irma did, about being able to give you something I don't have. The difference is that I know the thing, the book (by whatever title or binding), does exist and I can get it for you.