Many years ago I discovered Lauren Child's wonderful picture book I Will Never Not Ever Eat a Tomato, a very funny and clever book about a picky eater and her older sibling charged with feeding her dinner. Charlie and Lola, stars of this book and many others, went on to become television stars as well. Lauren Child has quite a way with kid-speak and presenting the world from a kid's perspective that translates very nicely to her Clarice Bean chapter and picture books, of which there are three of each.
I usually steer clear of chapter books with first person narrative by a character with a distinct voice, but I am slowly and happily learning that not every girl narrator is Junie B Jones. The other thing I realized as I read (with delight) Utterly Me, Clarice Bean, is that kids love characters with a unique voice. After all, the first Junie B Jones book was published in 1992 and they continue to be wildly read by boys and girls. And, as a child I was completely entranced by Kay Thompson's Eloise, the only book in the series that was in print when I was a kid, and the way she spoke of her childish activities with an adult flair, throwing in French phrases and mimicking Nanny by saying "Rawther" and repeating things three times. Reading Utterly Me, Clarice Bean took me back to my love of Kay Thompson's city child.
Child presents a fairly typical setting for her main character. Clarice is the third of four children and home life is a bit hectic and crowded at times. Her dad is "mostly in an office on the phone" and her mom teaches dance at the senior citizen's center. Her Grandpa and his dog live with the family. There is a mean girl at school, an annoying boy, a couple of bad boys and her best friend, Betty Moody. Betty's mother is an author and, while she's not an only child, she is the only child still living at home. Betty's parents say "it is essential for a child to see the world if they are to become a well-rounded individual" and they are frequently flying off somewhere at "utterly just a moment's notice." Clarice loves the world "utterly,"as the title of the book suggests.
Clarice also has a bit of teacher trouble, as Mrs Wilberton is constantly on her about one thing or another. Clarice also has a familiar relationship with Mr Pickering, the principal.
What makes Utterly Me, Clarice Bean a cut above the rest is Ruby Redfort, the super smart, child spy main character in her own series of books by Particia F Maplin Stacey. As Clarice says, "I didn't used to be so much of a reader, it just happened when Granny gave me a book called There Was a Girl Named Ruby. Mom says there and then I turned into a bookworm. Child does a fantastic job having Clarice share details about Ruby Redfort and her adventures and she also includes excerpts from chunks of the books throughout Utterly Me, Clarice Bean. What I love most is that Clarice frequently stops her own narrative to read a Ruby Redfort book. After the exciting climax to her own story which involves a book exhibit, an unwanted partner who turns out to be quite valuable, a missing trophy, a fight with Betty and a mystery solved, à la Ruby Redfort, Clarice says,
I am going to call Granny and tell her about all the goings-on just as soon as I have read the last ever page in my book, Ruby Redfort Rules. I almost don't want to finish it, but I utterly want to know how it turns out. That's the thing that sometimes happens when you read a really good book - you just want to read it all over again.
I love it! The fantastic thing about Child's Clarice Bean books is that, after much reader demand, she has written the first actual Ruby Redfort book! At a grade level (or so) higher than the Clarice Bean books, this new series is perfect for readers who are ready to move up a level! Click HERE for my review of the first Ruby Redfort book and scroll down to see all of the Clarice Bean books and some other cool stuff Lauren Child has been up to!
Lauren Child created a VERY special edition (1,000 only!) of The Secret Garden for Puffin Designer Classics. Click the link to see the other amazing special editions. For some more affordable (but beautiful) Puffin Classics, click HERE.
Started in 1875 in London by Arthur Liberty, the Liberty Department Store has a history of being known as purveyors of fashionable and eclectic designs which originated with Arthur Liberty's strong relationships with English designers. Since opening, the store has been known for its Liberty Fabrics, used for both furnishing and clothing. In 2009, Child was asked, along with other children's book illustrators, to design fabrics for the 2011 Summer collection. Child based her designs on her character of Clarice Bean, coming up with prints that she might wear. Click the link to see Child's interesting process for creating the fabrics, Liberty Fabric.