Wednesday, July 07, 2010

Clementine, Friend of the Week

Clementine, Friend of the Week
by Sara Pennypacker
illustrated by Marla Frazee
Disney*Hyperion Books, on shelves July 27
review copy read in ARC received at ALA

Don't worry. There won't be a single plot spoiler here. Instead, let's consider the craft of a writer who can keep the fourth book in an "ages 7-10" series just as fresh and delightful as the other three.

1. She assumes you know the characters, so she digs deeper into what makes each character tick. She continues to make her characters more and more three-dimensional, not just "the younger sister who takes risks and the older brother who carries his backpack and research books everywhere." (Sorry Jack and Annie, but it's true. Except Jack left his backpack at home in the latest book, so that's a start!) Clementine and Margaret are complicated, quirky characters who make surprising and heart-rendering choices. Even Mitchell, Margaret's brother who is N-O-T not Clementine's boyfriend, comes into clearer focus in this book. (Margaret...Mitchell. I just noticed that. A quiet little homage by Ms. Pennypacker, or just two alliterative names?)

2. The plot structure of ALVIN HO seems to me to be "random and vaguely related stuff happens." (If I'm wrong, please enlighten me.) On the other hand, Sara Pennypacker has used plot and subplot in as sophisticated a way as Stieg Larsson. Pennypacker uses ONE plot (friend of the week) and ONE subplot (Moisturizer the kitten), rather than six or seven of each, but she makes plot and subplot mirror and resonate and foreshadow and dovetail.

3. She tackles big, serious issues in a way that makes it fun and unthreatening to think about. In this case, Friendship: what does it look like, sound like, act like? what is it? what is it not? how do you grow it?

(On a side note -- over the course of writing this post, I am hatching an idea for a beginning-of-the-year fourth grade unit of study on series books. If we can talk about plot and subplot, character development, and theme with Clementine (or Cleo, or Jack and Annie, or Alvin Ho, or Ting and Ling, or Sassy...), aren't children more likely to notice these things themselves when they read longer, more complicated chapter books? The catch-words "scaffolding" and "differentiation" are ringing in my ears...)

5 comments:

  1. I adore Clementine and found it to be a perfect read aloud for my third graders (Gooney Bird, too). It seemed a natural step up from Junie B. and closer to the charm I remember feeling with the Ramona books. Can't wait to pick this one up!!

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  2. The best ideas come while writing, don't they? I like Clementine, too -- she reads aloud so nicely! That's something Jack and Annie don't do so well either, but I think the predictability of the characters works for younger, newly independent readers.
    Wait, who's Sassy??

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  3. I am excited that there will be another Clementine book out. Many of my middle school students enjoy these books. I have them in Spanish for my dual immersion classroom, so sometimes they are appealing to students who are very high level readers in English who aren't quite to that level in Spanish yet.

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  4. Yay! Finally! I have been anxiously awaiting the release of book four. Clementine is a great read aloud and I love, love, love the idea of a study of series books to start off 4th grade. Keep me posted on your thinking with that one! Excellent review as usual. Can't wait for my copy to arrive!

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  5. I'm thinking of the impact this could have on their writing as well! I guess I'm behind as I haven't read Clementine since her first book.

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