Saturday, August 23, 2014


I picked up the chapter book Clementine on a whim. I was standing in the bookstore when my eye fell on this bright orange book. It's not my normal type of book but I opened the cover, read the first page, and bought it on the spot. I was in love with this character from page one. I've read the whole series but I'll be talking about the first book here.

Clementine, written by Sara Pennypacker and illustrated by Marla Frazee, follows a little girl named (appropriately) Clementine as she tries to navigate third grade, her parent's apartment building, and staying out of trouble. One of these is a bit of a challenge for her. Clementine is a high spirited kid. In some circles I'm sure she'd be considered ADD but mostly she's just curious, and not always sure about the rules. In this first book in the series, Clementine gets in trouble for cutting her friend's hair off, cutting her own hair off (to even the score), trying to glue her own hair to her friend's head, and then painting both their heads with permanent marker to try to cover over the bald spot. When she overhears a conversation that makes her think that her parents are going to get rid of her, because she's "the bad kid", Clementine tries to clean up her act...and her room.

The summary I've just listed of this book doesn't do this character justice. Clementine is one of the best written characters I've ever read. She's so high spirited but so lovable. She's a good kid that's just a little confused. She calls her brother all sorts of vegetable names (rutabaga, turnip, lettuce...) because she shouldn't be the only one stuck with a food name. I still haven't found out his real name. She makes frequent visits to the principals office, where the interactions are so funny, I have to wipe away tears. Here's an example:

"All right now, Clementine," Principal Rice said in her I'm-trying-to-be-patient-but-it's-getting-harder voice. "Why did you cut off Margaret's hair?"
"I was helping,"
And then I told Prinicipal Rice about how I'd helped her too. "I answered the phone while you were gone. I ordered some new school pets, and I told the gym teacher we are never going to play dodgeball again, and I made two appointments for you. The phone kept going dead so I guess it's busted. But at least I helped you a little."
That's what I thought.
There is a look they teach a person to make in principal school that is not very nice. 
 And Clementine is only one of the characters I love in this series. Her parents are written with such heart and with such great voices. Both are unique and show their love for Clementine in different ways. I loved these parents as much or more than I loved the father in the Penderwick series, and I thought he was an amazing character. Margaret, Clementine's (now hairless) friend up on the 5th floor of the apartment building, is a classic Type A, rule-setting, germophobic foil to Clementine's high-spiritedness. While I never know what is going to come out of Clementine's mouth, "remember the rules" is more than likely to come out of Margaret's. Add in Margaret's older brother (who is not Clementine's boyfriend, as she insists), Principal Rice, Kumquat/Radish/Pea, and Clementine's kitten Moisturizer and you have a great cast.

Marla Frazee's ink illustrations help to bring the story to live. Clementine is almost always presented in action, or sporting an unusual posture. This is a kid who is always in motion, always questioning and Frazee lets us in on the action. My favorite illustration from the first book might be Clementine standing on the toilet while her father looks at her chocolate frosting beard. Or of course it could be Clementine with her head covered by her parent's blanket to hide the cut off hair. Each illustration is a delight. Each thought or line from Clementine makes me laugh, and then feel. I love this character. I don't remember the last time I was this charmed. A fantastic series.

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