As many of you know, I’ve been struggling to find books that my can-see-her-eighth-birthday-from-here second grader will read for her weekly 100 minutes. And I do mean read, not flip through in ten minutes and declare it done.
I’ve thrown myself on the mercy of my co-workers, and two weeks ago, Amber came up with a winner: Clementine by Sara Pennypacker. All of Amber’s friends loved it, so I had high hopes it would be mommy friendly, too, in case I ended up alternating pages with Jane or listening to her read aloud. It also has a great cover (and illustrations) by Marla Frazee, with this red-headed kid caught in the middle of what looks like a handstand experiment, shoes untied, tongue stuck out to one side.
So I brought it home.
Two days later, I was sent forth to get The Talented Clementine.** A few days after that, Janie started on Clementine’s Letter, read it in two hours— and wanted me to read it out loud so we could share the funniest bits.
Clementine is a seven-year old who doesn’t quite understand why everyone keeps telling her to pay attention—she does, to things that are important and also not b-o-r-i-n-g , boring. Like ways to keep the pigeons from messing up the front of the apartment building her father supers, how to make her little brother laugh (but not throw up), and how much she misses her cat, Polka Dottie, who died. She might know her way to the principal’s office with her eyes shut (except for that one water fountain) but she’s a caring, helpful girl.
So when she finds Margaret crying in the bathroom because she cut a hunk out of her own hair, Clementine knows just what to do to help—even it up. A lot. And then maybe color the stubble with her mother’s very permanent markers. And then . . . well, more stuff happens and everyone gets mad.
When Margaret tells her that every family has an easy kid and a difficult kid, Clementine worries that her family might not want her around any more unless she shapes up. But being an easy kid isn’t so easy . . .
If I tried to mention all the things I love about these series, I’d essentially be typing all the books out in their entirety. Margaret’s rules and regulations, Mitchell who is n-o-t not Clementine’s boyfriend, the lady eating lentils with a toothbrush˜ . . .
But my very favorite (non-spoiler) element is the running gag about Clementine’s little brother’s name. He didn’t get stuck with a fruit name, so to even the score, she calls him Spinach and Radish and Pea Pod (and many, many, etceteras) in the most natural way possible—and never the same one twice, as far as Jane and I can tell.
After finishing the third book, it struck me that though her parents routinely object—“First of all, your brother’s name is not bok choy.”—no one ever mentions what his name actually is.
This tickles me.^
I’d also like to mention that while the adults in this book are frequently stopped shot by Clementine’s antics—especially her principal, Mrs. Rice, who deserves a raise—with one or two exceptions, all of them accept her for the special person she is and work around, or with, her quirks. As the parent of a couple of alternative thinkers—and being one myself—I truly appreciate this.
Clementine, Friend of the Week is on the Santa list, because our library has a waiting list and I—I mean, Janie— can’t wait.
I’m sure Ms. Pennypacker doesn’t need me to tell her that this series is brilliant, but I’m saying it anyway.
And now I’m off to buy toothbrushes and a bag of lentils. And a maybe a bigger wok.^^
*I should add here that Jane can and does read for extended periods of time, but not the kinds of things her teacher thinks are appropriate for this assignment. And I have nothing against the assignment—I just have a Very Independent Reader on my hands.
**Whoever had the idea of putting sequel previews at the end of kids’ books is a marketing genius.
˜Janie and I want to try this, except she’s pretty sure she’ll hate them.
^I’m a habitual nicknamer, as is my mother. Janie takes this philosophically, but Sunny hates it. “I’m not a peanut, I’m a kid.”
^^Don’t ask—read the book.