Clementine, Friend of the Week by Sara Pennypacker, pictures by Marla Frazee
Disney Hyperion Books
Release Date: July 27, 2010
Funny, realistic chapter book
Recommended for ages 7 to 9
Sara Pennypacker’s latest in the Clementine series is so chock full of spectacularfulness that I literally spit soda out of my nose on the train while reading it. Okay, fine. Soda didn’t actually come out of my nose, but I did chuckle so much that the man sitting on my right gave me sting-ray eyes four times before my stop.
When the fourth Clementine begins, our intrepid heroine has been named Friend of the Week in her third grade class. Not only does she get to tell the class her life story, be the line leader, and collect the milk money, but every person in her class has to write something special about Clementine in her Friend of the Week booklet. Clementine is excited but nervous about what her friends might say. Taking her best friend Margaret’s advice, she begins a serious campaign of complementing every single classmate in the hopes of inspiring them to write wonderful things about her. What seems like a simple enough plan quickly turns complicated. As the result of some miscommunication Clementine finds herself on the outs with Margaret and her plans to impress her school friends with flattery and free hand-drawn tattoos (with washable markers, this time) falls flat. To make matters worse, Moisturizer, the smartest kitten in the history of life, goes missing.
Clementine, Friend of the Week is just as hilarious, playful, and fresh as the previous three books in the series. What separates Clementine from the pack of other lower-middle-grade-fiction-featuring-female-protagonists is Pennypacker’s ability to imbue her characters with such realness. The voices of Clementine, her parents, and even minor supporting characters like Principal Rice, are each well-developed, relatable, and spot-on. I have never read a Clementine book and thought, Yeah, that’s funny, but what third-grader actually thinks like that? Clementine is clever, mischievous, and awfully creative. Thankfully, though, her voice never veers into pretentiousness or precociousness. She is, through and through, a third-grader.
Part of Pennypacker’s success may be due to her knack for getting right into the head of her characters. Clementine’s unique way of describing her world not only lends the narrative authenticity, but they are hands-down some of the funniest moments in the story. Take, for example, Clementine’s description of Mitchell teasing his little sister:
Mitchell made an innocent face and clapped his hands to his chest, like he was heart-crushed that she could accuse him of doing something like that. But I could see him telling his mouth not to laugh, and I could see his mouth fighting back.
Genius! Not only does the reader immediately receive a clear image of Mitchell’s facial expression and body language, but the language Clementine uses also helps us understand her character as well.
It’s clear that Pennypacker has a deep respect for children. She is able to deliver the funny by sharing with us this love and respect for her characters. It can be tempting for adult authors writing for children to create stories that, while truly hilarious, are more tongue-in-cheek, ironic commentary on the trials of childhood (think Diary of a Wimpy Kid) . I certainly love these types of funny books and so, too, do hordes of kids. But there is something so sincere about the Clementine series that, for me, elevates it above the average funny book. It’s celebration of childhood. Clementine herself is a celebration of kidness and that remarkable wisdom and insight that children possess.
I will leave you with this sage advice from Clementine on how the art of looking holy:
…. fold your hands like a steeple. Then roll your eyes up as far as they will go, cross them slightly, and let your lids flutter a bit. Finally, imagine yourself doing something extra kind, like giving away your ice-cream cone to a really skinny dog even though nobody is watching.
Well, I’m off to practice.