Wednesday, November 18, 2009

I Utterly Love Clarice Bean

In my quest to find age-appropriate books for my 8 year old, I have read my share of disappointing books. Allie Finkle, for example, didn't really float my boat. Utterly Me, Clarice Bean, on the other hand, hit the mark just right.

What I love about Clarice is that she acts, talks and thinks like a kid, not like a teenager masquerading as a kid, or like a quippy, smarty-pants, sitcom kid, or like adults think kids talk. She seems very authentic. She's part of a large, messy noisy family which seems very authentic as well. She's the third of four kids and like most kids has a love-hate relationship with her siblings.

The story revolves around a book project which Clarice and her best friend Betty must complete for school. Naturally, they choose one of their favorite books from the (fictional) Ruby Redfort series. First, though, they have to justify their choice with their awful teacher, Mrs. Wilburton, who doesn't feel that a book about a girl secret agent is "suitable material for little girls."

Just like a Ruby Redfort novel, Clarice find herself in the middle of a mystery -- Betty has disappeared! -- and she finds herself reassigned to a new partner, the most awful boy in class. As if that weren't bad enough, the book project trophy is stolen and Clarice's new partner is blamed. Clarice has to set things right before the night of the project presentations.

I liked Clarice Bean -- she was engaging, a little overly dramatic (as little girls sometimes are), enthralled by her book heroine, coping with her goofy family. The book is peppered with Lauren Child's drawings, which add to the quirky feel of Clarice's world. Unlike Allie Finkle, Clarice is willing to give her new partner Karl a chance and discovers he has talents she'd never recognized before. There's a nice sense of camaraderie between Clarice and Karl as they realize it's them against the truly awful Mrs. Wilburton. Clarice's problems are small, but important to her and that rang true to me as well. Not every kid is going through a giant crisis; most of their issues are small and personal.

Clarice also passed the 8 year old girl test: my daughter loved this book and wanted to know if there were really any Ruby Redfort books and could she check them out? (there aren't: I checked).

This one is highly recommended for 2nd, 3rd and 4th graders.

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