Review of the 48-Hour Book Challenge: Clementine
I have a bad habit when I read a book. If I’m reading a children’s book (which, 19 out of 20 times is usually the case) and I hit on a passage that I think is especially amusing, I’ll dog-ear the page. I know, I know. I’m a children’s librarian. If ANYONE knows not to dog-ear pages it should be me. So to stop myself from this habit I’ve only been dog-earing the Advanced Readers Copies of books I review. Usually this isn’t a problem. Then I read, “Clementine”. I blame Sara Pennypacker personally for the fact that what was once a lovely little ARC is now a dog-eared-to-death series of bound pages. Sorry, Sara, but how could I help it? We’re dealing with a book where if the infant brother of the main character says, “Go for a wok?” to her, he’s referring to a game in which she puts him in the family’s wok and spins him around real fast. I mean, how am I supposed to resist that? What we have here is one of the most amusing characters to grace the pages of children’s literature in years. Engaging, mischevious, never ever dull, and topped off by illustrations by Marla Frazee, Pennypacker’s early chapter book, “Clementine”, is everything you could hope for in a story for kids. Finally, a character that can challenge Ramona Quimby for her throne.
Clementine can tell you right from the start when her week started going poorly. It all began when her best friend Margaret let Clementine cut her hair in the school bathroom. Margaret’s always been jealous of her friend’s bouncy red curls, so it makes perfect sense to Clementine to take the strongest red marker she has and color some curls onto Margaret's nearly bald head. That’s the kind of kid Clementine is. She’s always willing to go the extra mile. For example, she cuts all her own hair off in sympathy with Margaret and gets her own head painted green. Not that these were the only bad things that happened to our heroine this week. Her father, who takes care of the apartment building they live in, is fighting The Great Pigeon War against, what he labels, pigeon splat. And her parents have been planning something in secret that is making Clementine very nervous indeed. It’s not easy being the creative one in the family, but this is one gal who’s willing to be that person.
Author Sarah Pennypacker (who alongside Mary Quattlebaum is fighting for the prize of Best Name For An Author of Kids Books - 2006) won me over early on in this book. But the moment that had me poking my husband on the subway and showing the page to him was when Clementine mentions that when she’s a grown-up she plans to smoke cigars. “And I do not plan to get married. Cigars, yes; husband, no”. Aw, man. That’s awesome. No no, I’m not advocating that your children suddenly all fall into the mode of thinking that cigar smoking is cool (though it would be hee-larious if they did). I’m saying that Pennypacker knows exactly how to make Clementine an original. A one-of-a-kind gal. This is the kid who examines her face in the mirror because she hopes against hope that she’ll soon be able to grow a beard. How could any sane and rational human being resist that? Honestly? And here’s the kicker. When I got near the end of the story and Clementine mistakenly believes that her family wants to give her away because she’s not an easy kid, I actually started to tear up. Now, I do not cry over children’s books, or sad movies, or cute little puppies, or anything. And I found myself trying as hard as I could not to cry near the end of “Clementine”. Is this a good thing? Haven’t a clue. Just thought I’d let you know about it.
By and large the book is almost perfect. There’s just the occasional slip-up here and there. For the most part the author almost completely avoids a style of writing that drives me nuts. The simple fact is that Pennypacker only descends into the world of adorable-child-mispronouncing-a-word-adorably once (historical = hysterical) means that her track record is pretty darn clean. And for the most part the book is wholly original. It’s just that the whole cutting off of all your hair and drawing on the right color using magic marker sounded awfully familiar. Anyone remember that old Calvin and Hobbes where Calvin has Hobbes cut his hair and, when that doesn’t work, then gets his friend to color his head yellow? Déjà vu time, peoples.
So we’ve covered the book itself and we’ve determined that it is goodness incarnate. Now let’s talk a little Marla Frazee action here. You know her. You may not think you know her, but you know her. First of all, kudos to Frazee for her dedication which reads, “To my big brother, Mark Frazee, who thinks I’m an idiot”. I’ve never seen THAT dedication in a children’s book before! Frazee’s the genius who managed to tap into the Dr. Seuss “Oh, the Places You’ll Go”, goldmine of graduation presents when she wrote the baby-learning-how-to-walk picture book manual, “Walk On: A Guide For Babies of All Ages”. Smart woman, that. She’s also penned a couple rather extraordinary titles like, “Roller Coaster” (perhaps the most amusing/least appreciated picture book of the last fifteen years) and “Santa Claus the World’s Number One Toy Expert”. Clementine would not be Clementine, I dare say, without Frazee's images of what our heroine might look like. Without her the book would be merely good rather than fantastic. I loved the messy rooms and the pictures of the two girls with their hair almost completely gone. I loved the visions of The Great Pigeon War and the cynical Principal with her misleading, “Hi, I’m Your Princi-PAL!” sign sitting on her desk. Gush gush gush.
Alongside books like the “Ruby Lu” series, Pennypacker (god, I love to write that name) has set herself up for what might well be the MOST amusing early chapter book series to hit shelves in a long long time. I’m a fan. I’m hooked. I’ll be hawking this title out to parents of every stripe and children of every age. You cannot resist the charm of, “Clementine”, no matter how hard you try. A Pennypacker original and a wonderful book.
On bookstore shelves September 1st.