Reviewed July 18, 2010.
Hyperion Books for Children, New York, 2006. 136 pages.
Sonderbooks Stand-out 2010: #2 Children's Fiction
How did I miss this book so long? I suppose it has something to do with the fact that I don't have daughters. However, as a children's librarian, I feel remiss at not having read this book sooner.
This book came to my attention by way of Betsy Bird's Fuse #8 blog. After her poll of the Top 100 Children's Novels, she did a post about the other titles that got votes, but were not in the top 100. Clementine was mentioned as a 21st Century Ramona the Pest.
When I read Clementine I was completely enchanted. When I checked it out, I was looking for something to read at the "Mother's Day Mugs" library program. The program was for ages 6 and up to paint their own mugs, so none of the Mother's Day picture books at the library seemed entirely appropriate -- They are mostly geared for younger kids. I found a happy solution in Chapter Three of Clementine. It's funny, kept their interest, and has a nice section with her mother when she realizes that it's okay that her mother isn't the sort who would ever appear in a magazine picture of a mother.
The book is narrated by Clementine. She's in third grade and definitely means well. So why does she keep on getting in trouble?
The first page gives you a nice taste of what's to come:
I have had not so good of a week.
Well, Monday was a pretty good day, if you don't count Hamburger Surprise at lunch and Margaret's mother coming to get her. Or the stuff that happened in the principal's office when I got sent there to explain that Margaret's hair was not my fault and besides she looks okay without it, but I couldn't because Principal Rice was gone, trying to calm down Margaret's mother.
Someone should tell you not to answer the phone in the principal's office, if that's a rule.
Okay, fine, Monday was not so good of a day.
The illustrations by Marla Frazee are absolutely brilliant, showing another perspective on things. One of my favorites is where Clementine says this:
I knew Friday was going to be a bad day right from the beginning, because there were clear parts in my eggs.
"I can't eat eggs if they have clear parts," I reminded my mother.
"Eat around them," she said. "Just eat the yellow parts and the white parts."
But I couldn't because the clear parts had touched the yellow parts and the white parts. So all I had was toast.
The picture on the page facing this picture has Clementine at the table, dramatically holding her throat and making a choking face. Her mother is holding a frying pan and does not look amused. On the floor is an untidy backpack with books and papers coming out.
I love this passage that shows how Clementine's perspective is quite different from the adults around her. It's from when the principal gets back to her office:
Principal Rice rolled her eyes to the ceiling then, like she was looking for something up there. Ceiling snakes maybe, just waiting to drip on you. That's what I used to be afraid of when I was little, anyway. Now I am not afraid of anything.
Okay, fine, I am afraid of pointy things. But that is all. And boomerangs.
"Clementine, you need to pay attention," said Principal Rice. "We need to discuss Margaret's hair. What are you doing on the floor?"
"Helping you look for ceiling snakes," I reminded her.
"Ceiling snakes? What ceiling snakes?" she asked.
See what I mean? Me -- paying attention; everyone else -- not. I am amazed they let someone with this problem be the boss of a school.
I enjoyed Clementine so much, I ended up accosting a patron at the library on my last day working there. You see, for the two years I worked at Herndon Fortnightly Library, I had this thoughtful grandmother of two girls asking me for book recommendations. She likes to give her granddaughters well-chosen books. I think two years ago, the girls were two and four, so now they must be four and six. A recent big hit with the youngest was Olivia, by Ian Falconer, and the whole time I was reading Clementine, I thought that this book is the perfect follow-up, for just a little bit older girl. I definitely wanted to mention it to this grandma, so when I saw her on my very last day at the library, I had to bring her over to the Clementine books, whether she was looking for books for her granddaughters that day or not.
I got this book read after reading Half-Minute Horrors showed me that reading a children's chapter book with short chapters was the perfect activity for waiting at northern Virginia traffic lights. I've already seen, from the Mother's Day Mugs program, that it's great fun for reading aloud to a wide age range.
Any child who's been in school will appreciate Clementine's perspective. With plenty of pictures, and not too many words on a page, it's also a perfect selection for a child ready for chapter books. Definitely a winner in every way! And I agree that she carries on the legacy of Ramona the Pest. I'm going to snap up the other books about Clementine.