A Third Grader Extraordinaire: A Review of ‘Clementine’

“When the light turns green, you go.  When the light turns red, you stop.  But what do you do when the light turns blue and orange with lavender spots?”  Shel Silverstein, A Light in the Attic

Reading Level

Grades 2-3

 Review and Thoughts

“There is absolutely nothing common about Clementine.”   This is a testimony given by Clementine’s parents, and the reader will surely agree with them after reading about one week in her life. Clementine is an extraordinary girl, although some may say she is a bit peculiar. She has a lot of ideas and impressions about things bouncing around in her head, and the reader is allowed to observe them as they develop.  They provide a good idea of who this young whirlwind of a girl is.  She says, “Spectacular ideas are always sproinging up in my brain.”  I have to “grab them fast or else they get bored and bounce away.” These notions often lead to dilemmas that become more and more complicated, and the consequences of her actions are not what Clementine thinks about until she meets them face to face.

One of Clementine’s observations is that people are always telling her to pay attention, but she feels she is paying attention very well and it is the adult who is not attentive.  During a conversation Clementine frequently notices very interesting things around her and then her mind begins a journey.  The conversation concludes and Clementine and the other person are in completely different places.  Clementine also wants others to clearly understand her logic.  When she explains why things have happened she rationalizes an organized list with reason A) and reason B).  She may have gotten this defense from her parents who also give reasons when talking to her by saying, “First of all…..and second of all.”

Honesty is a genuine quality of Clementine’s.  She helps the reader understand her story when she signals that she is about to tell the truth.  She says, “Okay fine,” and then confesses. That happens quite often throughout her story and it is refreshing to stumble upon these moments of virtue.

This story is about Clementine recalling the events of her pretty tough week as only she can report it.  It all starts on Monday.  Her best friend, Margaret, who is a fourth grader, cuts some glue out of her own hair.  Clementine helps her even out her hair a bit to make it look more balanced, but after much effort Margaret eventually asks her to cut it all off.  Later that day the girls decide coloring Margaret’s “head” red would make it look even better so they use a permanent marker (Flaming Sunset) and complete the look.  Clementine feels empathy for Margaret so the next day she cuts her own hair off and colors her head green so Margaret will not be alone in her misery. As you can imagine, this is the major storyline for her week.

Because of the hair cutting incident and several other things, Clementine has to make a few visits to the principal’s office during the week. The first visit is on Monday after cutting Margaret’s hair.  She also learns an interesting fact about the principal. “There is a look they teach a person to make in principal school that is not very nice.” Then, later in the week she is sent for a little chit chat because she cannot sit still in class.  She tries to explain to the principal that she’s allergic to sitting still just like her brother is allergic to peanuts. She isn’t sure she made her case however. Finally, the bus driver sends her to the office for yet another visit with the principal after she tries to help Margaret by gluing her hair back onto Margaret’s head.  These visits and ensuing conversations leave the principal frazzled and Clementine wondering why the principal does not pay attention.

Clementine lives with her mother, who is an artist, and her father, who is the manager of the apartment building where they live.  She has a habit of listening in on her parents’ conversations, but unfortunately she does not always get the whole story, which leads to more confusion for her and others. For the most part, her parents are tolerant of her escapades.  Her father patiently answers her questions and lets her express her feelings while he calmly listens. She makes an intriguing observation about her family life. She is convinced that she is “the hard one” in the family while her little brother is “the easy one.” She also feels that since she is named after a fruit, her brother should have a food name so she calls him a different vegetable name every time she talks about him: Radish, Rutabaga, Turnip, Zucchini, Lima Bean, Pea Pod, Celery, and Radish.

Her father takes care of all the maintenance issues in the apartment building and sometimes Clementine helps him.  The biggest issue he faces is the mess pigeons make as they roost on the front of the building.  He attempts several schemes to get rid of them but nothing seems to work so he just tries to keep ahead of the debris.  He and Clementine call this problem “The Great Pigeon War.”  Eventually, Clementine solves the problem and saves the day.

Clementine’s week of trials ends happily but not without the usual turmoil first.  While listening in on her parents again, Clementine overhears her mom ordering a cake with the words “good-bye and good riddance” and she spelled out Clementine’s name!  She decides it must be a going away party for her because it is not her birthday, it has been a very tough week, and after all she “is the hard one” in the family. There are tears and promises by Clementine, and that is when her parents realize she has the wrong idea and explain what is really going on.  Clementine feels relief and real happiness now that all the confusion is cleared up and “all is perfect with her life.”

This book is recommended for second and third graders.  Any child of this age group will enjoy Clementine’s and Margaret’s hair escapade, but a third grader or even a fourth grader might appreciate the quirkiness and humor of Clementine a bit more. The chapters are longer than most second grade books (an average of 13 pages) which may seem daunting to some children who are just beginning to read chapter books.   For a younger reader, this would be a good read aloud book or one a parent and younger child could read together.  It is an opportunity to discuss some of the behavior, decision making, and problem solving that Clementine could have attempted.  The story is fun to read but truthfully I was exhausted after spending a week with Clementine!

[Note:  Parents might want to keep scissors away from an impressionable child for a time after reading this book. They might also want to keep dolls with long hair in a secure environment!]

Awards and Honors:

  • A New York Public Library book for Reading and Sharing
  • A National Parenting Publication Gold Award Winner

Possible Issues

  • Margaret’s mother has a “special friend, which is the grown-up word for boyfriend.”
  • Margaret says, “Good bye and good riddance,” when talking about her older brother going to baseball camp

Further Discussion

  • Make a timeline of the events in Clementine’s week. This will organize the action, cause and effect, and help with comprehension.
    • Write the days of the week evenly spaced along a horizontal line.
    • Write a simple title about each major event (Example: Cutting Margaret’s Hair, First Visit to the Principal, Solving the Pigeon Problem).
    • Draw a simple picture to go with each label. (Example: scissors, a pigeon, cake]

 Catholic Resources

  • “Actions speak louder than words; let your words teach and your actions speak.” Saint Anthony of Padua
  • Nighttime prayer is an excellent time to make a short examination of conscience. Ask your child to think about his or her actions throughout the day that were kind and helpful, such as playing with a brother or sister or finishing a chore without complaining.  Then think about actions during the day that may have been hurtful to someone else or an act of disobedience.  Say The Act of Contrition.