Tuesday, November 17, 2009


Written by: Sara Pennypacker
Illustrated by: Marla Frazee
Recommended Ages: 5-9

I've written before that one of the things I like most about writing The Book Nosher is discovering all the new children's books that have come out since my kids were at the read-aloud stage (they are teenagers now). Yesterday I discovered and devoured Clementine by Sara Pennypacker. She's a great companion for the emerging reader.

Clementine is in the third grade and has a penchant for getting into trouble. She doesn't mean to misbehave; in fact in most instances it's quite the opposite. She tries to be helpful and kind, but somehow her actions always backfire on her. For instance, she finds her friend Margaret in the school bathroom with a pair of scissors trying to cut some glue out of her hair. The only thing is, she is doing a horrible job. So naturally Clementine offers to help and ends up cutting off all of her hair. She then tries to make things better by coloring red curls all over Margaret's head (in Flaming Sunset permanent markers). You can see that she has good intentions, but somehow they manage to go awry.

Clementine lives with her very understanding parents and little brother in an apartment building. Her dad manages the building, and her mom is an artist who dresses in overalls, instead of dresses like the other mothers. Her parents understand and accept her for who she is, despite the fact that she always seems to be doing the wrong thing. We never find out what her little brother's name is, for she calls him Spinach, Pea Pod or Rutabaga to get back at the fact that he wasn't named for a fruit (like she was).

I think that one of the most endearing parts of the book is the way that Pennypacker shows us the world through Clementine's eyes. It is told in the first person, and through skillful writing, we get a sense of who Clementine is, and what makes her tick. For instance, she is constantly being told to pay attention and to sit still. Here's an exchange between Clementine and Mrs. Rice on one of her many visits to the principal's office:

"I'm allergic to sitting still."
"Nobody is allergic to sitting still, Clementine," she said.
"I am," I said. "My brother is allergic to peanuts. If he eats one he gets all itchy and swelled up and he can't breathe right. If I try to sit still I get all itchy and swelled up and I can't breathe right. So that means I'm allergic to sitting still." . . . "Plus," I explained, "if my brother eats even one tiny peanut he might have to go to the hospital with the ambulance and sirens and everything! So if I sit still for even one minute...Uh oh." I gave my body an extra little jiggle just to stay safe.
"Phew!" I said. "That was close!"

You see what an original little girl Clementine is. Her voice is loud and clear. Your child will be enthralled with the various scrapes she gets herself into, and the humor with which she handles everything that comes her way. The illustrations by Marlee Frazee add the perfect touch to an already pretty perfect story. I highly recommend Clementine to the first through third grade crowd. And when they are done with it, they'll be happy to hear that there are two sequels: Talented Clementine and Clementine's Letter.

BookNosher Tidbit: Clementine was a 2007 Boston Globe/Horn Book Honor Book;
Winner of the 2007 Bank Street/Josette Frank Award
A Child Magazine Best Book of the Year


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Jen Robinson said...

I adore Clementine, too. And I think that your review really hits at the heart of her appeal. You'll be happy to know that books 2 and 3 are just as good.

DianeRChen said...

I love Clementine. One of my very favorite characters for elementary. I enjoyed your review.