I knew from the reviews at A Year of Reading and MotherReader that I would enjoy Sara Pennypacker's Clementine. And I was not disappointed. Clementine (the book) is an instant classic. Clementine (the character) is a delight. She's like a cross between your pesky younger sister, a young Anne Shirley, and Pippi Longstocking. (I think it's no coincidence that Clementine is a redhead.) But she's unique and memorable in her own right, too.
Clementine is eight, struggling with third grade. She lives with her parents and three-year-old brother in the basement of an apartment building (apparently somewhere in Boston - but really, that didn't influence my review at all. Honest). Her father is the building manager. Her mother is a painter. Her brother sleeps a lot. Her best friend Margaret lives upstairs.
As the story begins, Clementine is in trouble at school for an incident involving the cutting off of Margaret's hair. (It happens.) Throughout the rest of the book, Clementine and the principal spend quite a bit of time together. Clementine is alert and inquisitive, has trouble paying attention to her lessons, and finds herself in scrape after scrape, despite the best of intentions. She calls her brother by vegetable names (Squash, Pea Pod, Rutabaga, etc.), because it's not fair that she has a fruit name, while he has a regular name. She saddles her kittens with monikers straight out of the medicine cabinet (Mascara, for example). She struggles with friendship woes, dive-bombing pigeons, the loss of her cat, and insecurity about her place in her family (though the astute reader won't doubt for a moment that her parents love her).
Marla Frazee's illustrations add considerably to the readability of this book. They're black and white sketches, fairly detailed, and a bit old-fashioned, in a classic sort of way. I can imagine Frazee illustrating the Elizabeth Enright books, for example. With just a few deft lines, she's able to capture Clementine's facial expressions, and Clementine's very demeanor (plucky when confronting an adversary on page 35, sneaky on page 90, and everything in between). There are full-page illustrations, and small sketches inline with text. The pictures should make the book highly accessible to early elementary school readers.
But it's Clementine's voice that makes the book. She just sounds like an eight-year-old, and one with finely honed senses of both humor and justice. I started flagging passages on the first page, and didn't stop all the way through. Here are just a few of many wonderful examples:
"And then Margaret went all historical, and the art teacher went all historical, and nobody could think of anything to do except the regular thing, which is: send me to the principal's office." (Page 9)
"And then he said "I'm sorry" seven times, which, which is two more times than he said it after he told my mother he thought her overalls were getting a little snug." (Page 25)
"I waited and I waited and I waited, which is the hardest thing in the world." (Page 55)
"Thursday morning I woke up with a spectacularful idea. I am lucky that way -- spectacularful ideas are always sproinging up in my brain. The secret thing I know about ideas is that once they sproing into your head you have to grab them fast, or else they get bored and bounce away." (Page 65)
Do you see? Do you understand now why this book is a must-read? Then there's the way Clementine says "Okay, fine" when she's admitting to some indiscretion. Or the way she "accidentally" climbs up to places she's not supposed to be. She feels real. Incorrigible and restless and insecure by degrees, but real all along the way.
Clementine is a pitch-perfect read, absolutely not to be missed for second to fifth graders, boys or girls. I couldn't recommend it more highly. I look forward to reading the sequel: The Talented Clementine (March 2007). The third book in the series, Clementine's Letter, is due out in March of 2008. I predict that others will follow. In fact, I think that Clementine has what it takes to become a future classic children's book character, right up there with her ancestors: Pippi, Anne, Ramona, and the rest. The book isn't particularly tied to the present, either, with a minimum of pop cultural references. I think that it will stand the test of time.
Publication Date: September 2006
Source of Book: Bought it
Other Blog Reviews: A Year of Reading (see also about about how students like it), MotherReader, Read, Read, Read (and doubtless lots more)
Interviews: Cynsations interviews Marla Frazee
© 2009 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved.