Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Fiction Wednesday - A review of Utterly Me, Clarice Bean

Many of the fiction titles that I read when I was between the ages of 8 and 12 were wonderful, but very few of them were what I would call amusing. In the last ten years or so, a number of mid-grade novels written using a diary/journal format have been published. I am a huge fan of these titles because the format allows the authors to really get  inside their characters, and to write in their voices, complete with spelling mistakes. Often the resulting narrative is both interesting and funny. Today's fiction title is a great example of this kind of book. 

Utterly Me, Clarice Bean
Lauren Child
For ages 8 to 10
Candlewick Press, 2002, 076362788-7
   Clarice Bean has a problem. Actually, she has several problems. At home, she has to share her bedroom with her five-year-old brother, which is very trying indeed. At school, she has to deal with her teacher, Mrs. Wilberton, who thinks that Clarice is “utterly lacking in the concentration department.” Clarice does her best, but she cannot help it when her thoughts wonder away when Mrs. Wilberton is speaking.
   One day, Clarice’s thoughts are drifting away, as per usual, when she is brought firmly into the present by an announcement about the forthcoming parent’s night competition. This year the students are going to have to do a presentation that is based on a book that they have read “and learned something from.” How dreary. Try as they might, Clarice and her best friend (and project partner) Betty Moody cannot come up with any ideas.
   One day soon after this announcement is made, on a day when Betty is absent from school, Clarice is forced to come up with a project idea all by herself. Not knowing what else to say, Clarice tells her teacher that she and Betty are going to do an exhibit on Ruby Redfort, a book character who is a secret agent. Clarice and Betty love the Ruby Redfort books, but Mrs. Wilberton thinks that they are “drivel.” Clarice has been paired up with Karl Wrenbury (the class hooligan) because Betty is still absent, and she cannot imagine that they are going to be able to produce much of anything, let alone a competition winning exhibit.
   At first, Karl is reluctant to have anything to do with Ruby Redfort and her splendid adventures, but then he sees the errors of his ways and he comes up with some splendid ideas. Maybe Clarice and Karl will be able to create an exhibit that is not altogether terrible. If nothing else goes wrong. Which is sure to happen because it always does.
   Written in Clarice Bean’s own singular voice, this wonderfully funny title perfectly captures Clarice Bean’s quirky and highly imaginative personality. We follow her everyday adventures closely as she tries to survive problems she encounters at home and at school. Will Clarice be back soon? Hopefully she will. 

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