In Clementine by Sara Pennypacker, we experience life through the viewpoint of a feisty, firecracker of a third-grade girl, who is having a really bumpy week. It starts off on a Monday when Clementine tries to help a friend who has glue in her hair by cutting off all of her hair! Everything goes wrong, and the week goes downhill from there.
“And then Margaret went all historical, and the art teacher went all historical, and nobody could think of anything to do except the regular thing, which is: send me to the principal’s office.”
The principal’s office is familiar place for Clementine who has lots of trouble sitting still. But it’s not her fault. As she explains, she is “allergic to sitting still.”
“My brother is allergic to peanuts. If he eats one he gets all itchy and swelled up and he can’t breathe right. If I try to sit still I get all itchy and swelled up and I can’t breathe right. So that means I’m allergic to sitting still.”
Clementine navigates challenges at home and school. Students will easily identify with her being unfairly accused, having to help out parents with projects, and being asked to make all sorts of amends. Most of the time, she tries to do the right thing and ends up doing the wrong thing. But she does manage to help her father free their apartment’s front steps from an army of pigeons’ poop, devising a nifty solution the Great Pigeon War.
This sweet, funny story is elevated by Sara Pennypacker’s whimsical wordplay. Clementine refers to her brother with a series of vegetable names – Broccoli, Pea Pod, Spinach, Radish, Rutabaga, Turnip – each of which will make readers smile. Every time she says, “Okay fine” or “I was all done being there,” you will fall a little harder for her. Clementine is there for every kid who has been told to “Pay attention” or who has ever been completely misunderstood – which is pretty much every kid. Students and families will giggle, sigh, and ultimately cheer when Clementine names her new kitten Moisturizer. (“Because all the best names can be found in the bathroom.”)
At 136 pages with delightful Marla Frazee illustrations, Clementine is a great choice for schools who want a shorter novel to engage families. After a whimsical romp with Clementine, families will be ready to explore longer, more complex novels.