Quote of the Month

When love and skill work together, expect a miracle. John Ruskin

Monday, January 27, 2014

An Equinox, Food Names, Bus Seven and a Visit to Plimoth

In my way of thinking it's all about perspective.  When my chocolate Labrador had a close encounter with a white-tailed deer, after a moment of stunned silence, she was ready for the chase.  Earnest barking begins if she gets a whiff of one in the neighborhood.  A younger child would probably be awestruck before the squeals of wonder began.  I freely admit a part of me feels the same as the child, even after seeing hundreds of deer, up close or from afar, in my lifetime.  Another part of me, the gardener, thinks about all the tulips I never see bloom after the deer come through munching on all the buds.

For an author to give a reader the perspective of one or all of the characters in their story, to see the world through their eyes, is golden.  Author Sara Pennypacker (with spirited, hilarious illustrations by Caldecott Honor Medalist Marla Frazee) further endears readers to a favorite third grade student in Clementine and the Spring Trip (Disney Hyperion Books, March 2013).  There is never, ever a dull moment in the life of this mostly optimistic, daring and effervescent gal.

Spring is a really big deal here in Boston, let me tell you.  After all that snow and ice, the whole city goes a little crazy when the first warm weather shows up.

Spring for Clementine's best friend, Margaret, means cleaning, cleaning and more cleaning.  The story opens with her scrubbing the duck statues in the Public Gardens at the Make Way for Ducklings sculpture.  For Margaret's brother, Mitchell, it equals baseball and the Red Sox.  It translates into walking through the park for Clementine's pregnant mom, her dad and little brother (who she gives various vegetable names throughout the story).  For Clementine it means remembering the apple seeds she planted last fall near their building.

Excitement for the field trips spring brings hits the students at Clementine's school and in her classroom.  You have an increasingly lively four days during a special week when you add to this mix her teacher's impending fatherhood, fourth grade quiet eating rules, a new student named Olive, the shenanigans of a former student Baxter and the odoriferous Bus Seven.  On the day before the visit to Plimoth Plantation, a teacher request causes creative thinking on Clementine's part along with unease due to unwanted challenges.

On the home front Clementine's mom teeters between her cheery self and crunchy moments.  Outspoken for all the right reasons, her passion is never quiet.  A secret Pentagon project with her dad spiced with his stories of how and when he fell in love with her mom provides balance for our spunky protagonist.

As fate would decree, Clementine's group is assigned to the infamous bus, home of The Cloud. Conversations and actions by this inventive third grader during the field trip will have readers alternately laughing, cheering and admiring her.  Spring may make people a little crazy but Clementine addresses it all with surety, success and by heeding words of wisdom from her dad.

Clearly evident in this title is Sara Pennypacker's ability to create characters readers will want to visit over and over again.  We want to know what they will say and do.  Their perfection as people is that they are not perfect!  What Clementine, her mom, her dad, little brother, Margaret, Mitchell, Olive and the rest of the crew represent are good people being the best they can, when they can.

Even if this is the first title in the series read, you will immediately become part of the story, an enthusiastic participant, due to Pennypacker's style of writing. Her assessment of any given situation through Clementine's dialog or thoughts (or conversations with other characters) will have you gleefully chuckling.  Every single word is carefully chosen, linked to another and to another, until there are a series of sentences creating this memorable book.  Here are a few of many examples I marked with sticky notes. (Upon completion of my reading this title, it definitely had the porcupine look.)

Some workmen were jackhammering up a curbstone, which made my brother so excited he looked like he was being electrocuted.  

My dad came in then, with my brother in his arms.  "There is a rule about eating sounds?" he asked.
"Of course," I said.  And then I explained to my parents everything Margaret had warned me about.
When I was finished, my dad looked up from stirring yogurt into my brother's cereal. "Who made this rule?" he asked.
"Dad.  I already said.  The fourth graders.  First the mean ones, and now all of them."
"Yes, but who are these people? The sound police?"

And that is when I saw something I had never seen in my entire life:  Mrs. Rice was not wearing her principal shoes!  Instead, her feet were strapped into some navy blue puffy things.  I climbed over the back of Olive's seat and hung down to get a better look.  I think the things on her feet were supposed to be sandals, but what they looked like was...car seats!

If the corners of your mouth don't curl up in a smile when looking at the four drawings of Clementine Marla Frazee has on the title, verso and dedication pages, you might want to check for a pulse.  The black and white drawings in various sizes, some full page, illuminate every delightful scenario.  They are placed opposite and among the narrative to generate a seamless flow, a complete whole.  I can't look at the pages of the students' reactions to the discussion of The Cloud or Clementine's plea to her principal prior to the field trip without laughing.

If you are searching for one hundred fifty pages of pure bliss, Clementine and the Spring Trip written by Sara Pennypacker with illustrations by Marla Frazee is the book for you.  I would not hesitate to recommend this for a group read aloud or to an individual reader looking for upbeat realistic fiction.  If they haven't read any of the other titles in the series, I can guarantee this will make them want to do so as quickly as possible.

Please follow the links embedded in the author and illustrator names above to access their websites to read more about them and their work.  There is a study guide for the series at Sara Pennypacker's website.  This link will take you to the publisher's website where you can read the first chapter.

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