I'm a big fan of the Clementine series (see here and here). I consider all of the books must-read titles for early elementary school kids (say, first to third grade). When Clementine: Friend of the Week showed up on my doorstep, I figured "it's never too early to introduce Baby Bookworm to Clementine." So I read it aloud to her over the past few weeks. Reading aloud in small doses (babies will fall asleep when you read to them) is a different experience than swallowing a book in one sitting. But equally satisfying.
Clementine: Friend of the Week finds our heroine on top of the world, happy to have been named "Friend of the Week" in her third grade classroom. That person "gets to be the leader of everything and tell all about themselves. And everybody has to say why it's so great to have that person around." At the end of the week, they write down good things about the person for a take-home booklet.
Although Margaret convinces Clementine that she's going to have to ingratiate herself with her classmates, to encourage them to write nice things about her in the booklet, Clementine fans won't be worried about that. They will worry, however, when Clementine's beloved cat, Moisturizer, goes missing.
The second part of the book, in which Clementine searches for her lost cat, is both emotional and nerve-wracking. A friend warned me on Facebook (I don't recall who it was now) that for older kids, this book probably needs to be read in one sitting. Not a problem when reading to a 10-month-old, but good advice for teachers and librarians reading the book aloud.
And you should read Clementine: Friend of the Week aloud. Because the true beauty of this series is Clementine's voice. She is funny and witty and has the biggest heart in the world. She still calls her brother by vegetable names (which is only fair, since she has to have a fruit name), and considers him to be a bit of a disappointment. She sounds like a real third-grader (though perhaps a bit more creative than most).
Here's my favorite passage:
"I could feel my inside face melting into a big secret smile, and I forgot all about the compliment-thinking-up." (Page 37)
I didn't flag any other passages as I was reading aloud, because I figured that I could always go back, flip through the book at random, and find something worth quoting on any page. Let's try (opening book at random):
"Mrs. Rice sighed. "How about this. How about, the next time you decide to share your artistic talents with your friends, you do it on paper?" (after Clementine draws tattoos on her classmates)
I didn't want to embarrass Mrs. Rice by pointing out that tattoos don't work very well on paper, so I just said, "Sure, next time I will. Thanks for the great idea." Then I told the great idea I'd had." (Page 73-74)
And one more (again choosing a page at random):
"Anyone who expects to eat something in our house should expect to help make it. I always make a face about doing dinner chores, but the truth is I like being in the steaming, clattery jumble of dinner-making with everybody else." (Page 25)
Doesn't Clementine have great parents? They're a nice combination of fun and strict. I especially enjoy her relationship with her dad, who obviously "gets" her, in a way that all kids deserve to be understood.
There's a bit of humor in this book for adults, too. Clementine's habit of naming pets after products found in the medicine cabinet leads to a funny outcome, one likely to go over the heads of your average 7-year-old (though my daughter, as the child of a Urologist, might appreciate it earlier than most).
I also love Marla Frazee's illustrations. They remind me of the work of Joe and Beth Krush (illustrators of my beloved Gone-Away Lake books), albeit with a more modern, streamlined feel. The real point is that she brings Clementine to life, from her unruly curly hair to the way she kicks her feet when sitting in a chair, because she has too much energy to sit still (see page 74).
Clementine is a girl that any right-minded kid would want to be friends with. She has a little brother who, well, will probably develop other interests beside banging on pots as he gets a bit older. She has a friendship with her neighbor, Margaret, that is complex and not-dull. She has a different kind of friendship with Margaret's brother, Mitchell, who is N-O-T, not her boyfriend (but might be someday?). She has a range of classmates and family friends that offers something for everyone.
The Clementine books are destined to be classics, read by future generations of kids. They have a timeless feel to them, one that I expect will hold up well (though they don't feel old-fashioned at all - it's a fine line). These days, I recommend the Clementine books to all of the elementary school kids I run across, boys or girls. It's not essential to read the series in order, but why would you want to deprive yourself of the chance to read all four books? And by reading the books aloud, parents can enjoy them, too. Clementine: Friend of the Week has my highest recommendation. Don't miss it!
© 2011 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. All Amazon links in this post are affiliate links, and may result in my receiving a small commission on purchases (with no additional cost to you).