Clementine's Letter is the third book in Sara Pennypacker's Clementine series, after Clementine (review here) and The Talented Clementine (review here). In this installment, third grader Clementine has adjusted to her new teacher's rules, and isn't spending quite so much time in the principal's office. She is thus devastated to learn that her teacher has been nominated for a contest, and will be spending the week out of school. What's worse - if he wins the contest, he'll be gone for the rest of the year. Clementine is outraged. They had plans. How can the teacher up and abandon her? Worse still, the substitute teacher and Clementine simply don't get along. In a fit of anger, Clementine writes a less than enthusiastic recommendation letter for her teacher...
Meanwhile at home, Clementine happens on an ingenious gift idea for her father. Afraid that her mother might feel left out, she embarks on a quest to buy her mother a special gift. As the reader might expect, the quest to make money leads Clementine into a spot of trouble.
I continue to love Clementine's voice, and the way that Marla Frazee's delightful sketches bring her to life. There is a picture on the last page of the book of Clementine, happily hugging herself, which is worth the price of the book alone. In fact, I challenge the prospective reader. Go to the store, find a copy of Clementine's Letter, and turn to the last page. See if you can look at that picture, and not want to read more about Clementine. Go ahead. I dare you. And then check out page 106, for a contrasting sketch of Clementine angry with her substitute teacher. Marla Frazee can convey the entire range of human emotions through expression and posture.
As for the text, I flagged passage after passage, examples that highlight the joy that is Clementine. Like:
"Whenever my teacher needs someone to run an errand to the principal's office, he sends me. This is because I am so responsible. Okay, fine, it's also because I get sent so often I could find my way with my eyes closed.
Which I tried once. You'd be amazed at how many bruises you can get from just one water fountain." (Page 2)
"When my brother wakes up, he sticks one foot up in the air and smiles really big when he sees it -- as if it's his best friend he's been missing all night. He waggles it back and forth and thinks it's waving to him. "Hi foot!" he yells. Then he does the same thing with his other foot.
I do not think anyone who says hello to his own feet is ever going to make it to third grade." (Page 39)
Clementine is resourceful, too, frequently able to suggest a solution to a problem (like her friend Margaret's phobia's, or her little brother's unwillingness to have his jacket put on). And she is honest with herself. For example:
"I turned away so I wouldn't laugh, because I know how bad it feels to be laughed at.
Okay, fine. Also because she's a little bit bigger than I am and her pocketbook has pointy edges." (Page 51)
I also like the active role that Clementine's parents, especially her father, have in her life. In this book, Clementine starts a book that she wants her father to write, and includes helpful lines to get him started. He responds in kind, and the book becomes an extra communication tool between an already close parent and child.
And, of course, I like the regular references to the Red Sox in the book. Clementine's neighbor, Mitchell, who is NOT her boyfriend (but will be one day, you'll see...) is a rabid Red Sox fan, the kind of boy who can tell you about every home run hit out of Fenway all season long. Plus Mitchell is a likable character in his own right. Here's why:
"This is a good thing about Mitchell -- he never asks why, he just does stuff for me. If I'd asked Margaret, she would have asked me a hundred questions and then told me a hundred reasons why my idea was stupid and she had a better one.
Not Mitchell. He just says Okay. If I ever have a boyfriend, which I will not, it might be him. (Page 114)
If Mitchell is a bit too good to be true - it's okay by me.
In short, this book has all of the elements that made the first two books wonderful: voice, humor, heart, and illustrations that bring the whole thing to life. But I have to admit that this isn't my favorite of the three. Clementine's antics weren't quite as over-the-top, and her struggles in this book just didn't move me in the quite the same way. I enjoyed The Talented Clementine more. But I don't think it's that the series is getting stale - I think that in any series, individual readers are going to prefer some books over others. The bottom line is that I adore Clementine, and enjoyed getting to spend more time with her. I will eagerly await book 4.
Publication Date: April 1, 2008
Source of Book: Bought it at Hicklebee's
Other Blog Reviews: emilyreads (review haiku), Kids Lit, Sarah Miller, A Year of Reading, Read, Read, Read, Book Talks, Miss Erin
Author Interviews: School Library Journal
Illustrator Interviews: Cynsations, Just One More Book
© 2009 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved.