Clementine’s Letter: A Chick Lit Wednesday review

Clementine's Letter by Sarah Pennypacker, illustrated by Marla FrazeeSince her introduction, Clementine has colored both her and best friend Margaret’s heads with permanent markers, saved her school talent show from catastrophe, and been sent to the principal’s office so many times that she knows the way pretty much by heart. In Clementine’s Letter (2008) by Sara Pennypacker (with the ever-lovely illustrations by Marla Frazee), Clementine is actually hoping for some catastrophe.

Find it on Bookshop.

Clementine is finally getting the hang of third grade with the help of her teacher Mr. D’Matz. But when her class finds out that Mr. D’Matz might be leaving in the middle of the year to go on a research trip to Egypt, Clementine knows she’ll never be able to make it through the rest of the year–especially when she can’t seem to do anything right for her new substitute.

After thinking things through, Clementine decides that Mr. D’Matz needs to keep his promise to teach her and her class for the rest of the year. And he probably doesn’t really want to go to Egypt anyway. So Clementine starts making her own plans to make sure Mr. D’Matz won’t leave. After all, it isn’t really sabotage if he doesn’t want to go, right?

Clemetine’s Letter is all about decisions and thinking things through. What starts as an ill-thought out letter to keep her teacher away from Egypt turns into a lesson that, sometimes, if you really care about someone you have to let them leave.

This story references events from the first two books (Clementine from 2006 and The Talented Clementine from 2007) but stands on its own quite easily. Clementine is as entertaining as ever with her own unique brand of humor, although I still worry about the emphasis on her getting into trouble at school so much (some reviewers posit that Clementine has ADD, I posit that she is a creative type in a school that doesn’t really get her). Margaret’s own ticks about germs and dirt also seemed to be much more prevalent than in the first books.

The story isn’t quite as funny as the first, perhaps because Clementine’s distress over her teacher seems more real and pressing than her issues in the first two books. The ending also felt somewhat more abrupt. Regardless, Clementine remains an effervescent, awesome character good for kids of all ages (even reluctant readers thanks to the brevity of the text and the excellent illustrations).

The Talented Clementine: Another young-ish Chick Lit Wednesday Review

The Talented Clementine by Sarah Pennypacker, illustrated by Marla FrazeeWriter Sarah Pennypacker and illustrator Marla Frazee join forces once again to continue exploring the adventures of Clementine, a very unique third grader with a very big problem in The Talented Clementine (2007) (the second book in the Clementine series).

Find it on Bookshop.

In order to raise money for the school, Clementine’s class is going to have a talent show where every student is expected to take part. That’s all well and good if you have a talent, but Clementine doesn’t seem to have any. Every other kid (literally) in the class is doing cartwheels. Her best friend, lovably-snooty Margaret the fourth grader, is going to explain how to dress fashionably. Everyone seems to have a great act. Except for Clementine.

In her search for a talent, Clementine discovers a lot of things she can do like math in her head better than her own father or Margaret’s brother (who is not, Clementine is quick to point out, her boyfriend). But you can’t do math in a talent show. Margaret tries to pass one of her numerous, and alphabetized, talents to Clementine. But after an ill-advised encounter with beer bottle caps, glue, and a pair of sneakers that seems like maybe not the best idea.

Just as Clementine is at the end of the rope, sure she has nothing to offer to the show–her school’s principal realizes something Clementine had missed bringing everyone’s new favorite third grader out on top.

I really loved the first installment in this series (Clementine) and was thrilled to find that The Talented Clementine is just as good. Pennypacker keeps all of the good things from the first book while expanding the characters here. This book spends more time at Clementine’s school and with Clementine’s very cool, very likable mom and dad.

I also like that the book has some real drama as Clementine struggles to find a talent without getting too sad. By the end of the story everything is okay and, more importantly perhaps, Clementine and readers realize that everyone does have a talent (even if it’s not always something you can perform on stage).

Frazee’s illustrations continue to add to the prose making Clementine and her world even more vibrant than the text already does. The continuity is also admirable. It is clear from the illustrations of Margaret that her hair is growing out. Which, believe it or not, brings me to the next point: While the stories do work together, this book can stand alone. It would, of course, be better to read the series in order but not vital.

I dare say “The Talented Clementine” is as good as its predecessor Clementine and am anxiously awaiting the third installment in the series (Clementine’s Letter is scheduled to release this April). I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again: Clementine is a vivid, independent character who has the capacity to make reading fun for readers of all ages.

“Can we be done now?” (A CLW review of “Clementine”)

Clementine by Sarah Pennypacker, illustrated by Marla FrazeeIt might seem odd to call Clementine (2006) by Sara Pennypacker (with illustrations by Marla Frazee) a chick lit book. Chick lit does not conventionally refer to children’s literature, it barely makes it into the young adult genre. But, when I say chick lit I don’t mean a romantic comedy book. Instead I am referring to a novel written by a woman with an empowered female protagonist. Using this modern definition of chick lit, Clementine definitely fits the bill.

Find it on Bookshop.

When the book starts, third-grader Clementine is having a not-so-good day at school. Okay, fine. It’s more like a not-so-good week. Really, it might be a downright bad week. (Incidentally, the story style here might remind readers of “Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day” a picture book, written by Judith Viorst and illustrated by Ray Cruz, in which a boy slightly younger than Clementine works his way through a lousy day of his own.) It starts when Clementine has to miss out on recess to catch up on writing in her journal (she hates her journal) and only gets worse when she tries to help her best-friend Margaret, a girly fourth-grader, get gum out of her hair.

Clementine is used to getting in trouble and spending time with the principal of her school though so she tries to make the best of the situation, which in the fine tradition of children’s literature eventually brings Clementine out on top. The whole “trouble” aspect of the book is the only thing that bothers me about this series. Other reviewers often refer to Clementine as a child with Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) or similar problems, which I find irritating because it is not accurate and is, frankly, merely the problem-du-jour that drug companies are using as excuse to medicate children. The anarchist in me also rankles at the idea of a child as young as Clementine being sent to the principal for asking questions and being otherwise engaged with her surroundings. (I noticed that this aspect of plot was already mellowed in the second book in the series The Talented Clementine which leads me to believe I am not alone in my criticism).

Here’s what Clementine is really like: an exuberant, imaginative, creative child. Clementine’s teachers often accuse her of not paying attention, but as Clementine points out she notices lots of things that no on else even thinks to watch for. That’s on top of her great ideas that just pop into her head.

If you aren’t in love with this little girl yet, you will be once you start the book. The story is what I would consider a lower-level chapter book. The chapters are a few pages, but the print is large and broken up by Frazee’s wonderful illustrations that really bring Clementine and her family to life making this book ideal for a child to try to read themselves or to work through with a grown up.

Pennypacker does a great job here of capturing a real authenticity in Clementine’s narration. Her prose is child-like with a keen sense of perception and, even better, empathy and humor (readers never learn the name of Clementine’s baby brother because she insists on calling him names like “Rutabega” because it’s the only thing worse than being named after a fruit). Comparisons have been made between Clementine and Beverly Cleary’s Ramona. I am inclined to agree with the comparison and hope that Clementine will have the same staying power that Ramona has been lucky enough to enjoy.