That’s how I came to read Clementine. As 8-year-old Clementine would say, that’s called Doing My Job. Within days, I’d also read The Talented Clementine and Clementine’s Letter. That’s called Having Fun.
These best-selling books are for 2nd to 4th graders, but they’re the kind of delightful children’s stories that adults can enjoy. Yes, Clementine gets into the sort of trouble that you’d expect in a book for this age group. Trying to help her friend, Margaret, who has gotten glue in her hair, Clementine ends up cutting off all of the girl’s hair, “(w)hich is not exactly easy with those plastic art scissors, let me tell you.” When Margaret suggests the chopped off hair might look better if it was red, Clementine colors it with Flaming Sunset permanent markers, complete with orange swirls on the girl’s forehead and neck.
Margaret’s mother is not pleased.
The humor in these stories works for kids, but it’s smart enough for adults. And Clementine is one of the most loveable main characters I’ve met. The characters of Clementine’s parents, a building superintendent and an artist, are almost as enjoyable as the little girl. Clementine helps her father in his ongoing battle against pigeons that poop all over the front of their building, and when she’s feeling frustrated he lets her ride up and down in the service elevator.
Since Clementine shares her name with a fruit, she addresses her 3-year-old brother with a series of vegetable names: Broccoli, Radish, Spinach, Cabbage. When Cabbage wakes from his nap, he asks his big sister, “Go for a wok?” This, it turns out, is not baby talk. Clementine pulls out the family’s wok, the little boy climbs in, and she sends him spinning and giggling around the kitchen floor. But only once, “because he throws up on the second ride and somebody has to clean it up which is N-O-T, not me. This is called Being Responsible.”
Clementine’s parents, a building maintenance supervisor and an artist, maintain their sense of humor as their quirky daughter gallops in and out of trouble. Clementine overhears her mom complaining that Margaret’s mother is treating Clementine like “a common criminal.” “Well that is insulting,” her dad replies. “There is absolutely nothing common about Clementine.”
Underneath her curly red hair and skinny legs, Clementine has the soul of a writer—always noticing things that others miss. And she wages a child’s perpetual battle to understand The Rules. (“Someone should tell you not to answer the phone in the principal’s office, if that’s a rule.”)
She feigns nonchalance when her friend Margaret bossily tells her another rule: when there are two children in a family, one child is always the “easy one” and the other, the “hard one.” Clementine knows which one she is.
She begins to worry. And worry turns to alarm when she overhears a phone conversation in which her mother orders a cake with the wording, “Good-bye and Good Riddance!” And then her mom spells out the name C-l-e-m-e-n-t-i-n-e. Clementine’s not-so-good week is heading for a big surprise.
These books make great family read-alouds. The library circulates an audio version of Clementine that made me laugh out loud. But try to check out the book at the same time, because you shouldn’t miss Marla Frazee’s wonderful illustrations.
Check the WRL catalog for Clementine.