Have you ever had a book that you really really wanted to love…but, just didn’t? That was Clementine for me. Maybe it was that I had seen several glowing reviews and went in with too high expectations. Maybe it was that I kept seeing her compared to Ramona. I can see that, although she reminded me more of Junie B. Jones (not a favorite of mine) than Ramona.
The book tells about a week in the life of Clementine, a third grader who lives in a basement apartment in an unnamed city. She is quirky and precocious and gets into a lot of trouble, starting with the homemade haircut she gives her best friend. She has a brother who she calls various vegetable names (Spinach, Rutabega) to make up for the fact that she is named after a fruit. She helps her Dad solve a pesky pigeon problem (he is the caretaker of their building) in a unique way.
Overall, I think it’s a perfectly fine book. However, in thinking about it I realized that a few things kept it from being a great book in my opinion. Primarily, I found Clementine a bit too precocious and quirky and cute. To me, she just wasn’t believable. The whole vegetable name thing just seemed like a cute thing an adult would make up for a child character rather than something a kid would really do. She also names her cats after bathroom products (Moisturizer, Mascara). That also seemed to me too cutesy and not real. I thought at time she was portrayed as acting in ways that were much too young for a third grader. She and her best friend draw on their heads with orange and green permanent markers to cover up their bad haircuts. Her friend is supposedly a fourth grader. I just can’t imagine a 8 or 9 or 10-year-old doing that. A four-year old, sure. A six-year-old, maybe. But not a third grader. The whole time I felt like the author was shouting at me “LOOK AT HOW QUIRKY! ISN’T SHE UNIQUE AND SPECIAL!” And I just sort of thought, eh.
The other thing that bothered me about the book was that it’s written in the first person. Therefore much of the book is told in Clementine’s voice, which at times is full of grammatical errors. I think this wouldn’t have bothered me as much if I had felt like the voice I was listening to was one in which I could believe.
It is funny and a nice transitional book for kids getting used to listening to chapter books as read-alouds (or just reading longer books on their own). The wonderful drawings by Marla Frazee are worth reading it just to look at the pictures.
I did wonder if I would have enjoyed it more listening to it on audiobook. I also wondered if I would have enjoyed it more as a kid. I have to say my boys listened and were interested in the story but clearly didn’t love it. This might be because they are boys and this is a girly book. However, returning to the Ramona comparison, they both LOVE Ramona. In fact, when I was pregnant with Ruth, John suggested if it was a girl we should name the baby “Ramona Quimby”. As in Ramona Quimby (our last name). My take on it is that Ramona is more real. The Ramona books deal with some really complicated emotions and childhood problems (parent losing a job, worried about divorce, family not having enough money). The trouble Ramona gets into is also simpler but I think something kids relate to because they can see themselves doing it. Ramona isn’t “cute quirky” she’s sometimes funny and sometimes annoying and sometimes mean and sometime a pest. But she’s someone who seems real and three-dimensional and someone you can imagine as a friend. We’re listening to the Henry Huggins books now and I’m reminded of just how good Beverly Cleary was at capturing childhood on the page.
To be fair, I should say that I’m clearly in the minority here. On Amazon the review are mostly 4 and 5 stars. Here are several other reviews by those who felt quite differently about Clementine.
And for more of what moms and kids are reading together, be sure to check out Read Aloud Thursday at Hope is the Word.