Tuesday, 26 May 2020

#Booky100Keepers Day 23: "The Clarice Bean Books" by Lauren Child (Orchard Books)

Though C was obsessed with Charlie and Lola (the TV show rather than the books, strangely) she really, REALLY loves Lauren Child's other genius creation far more.

"Clarice Bean, That's Me" by Lauren is that perfect example of a book that was pretty far ahead of its time, and one that I believe Lauren herself had the devil's own job to get published. Which is strange because it does a lot of the things we still see rattling through kidlit today.

It ticks all the diversity boxes you can think of, the series of books tackle all sorts of relevant topics but more importantly for us, it shows what a 'normal' family life is like - a family life that we not only see almost as a reflection of our own (minus about half a dozen kids!) but feels like it has come from Lauren's own observations of her childhood, her relatives and friends.

So Clarice Bean herself narrates each book, introducing us to her family. Her Mum and Dad are just like anyone's mum and dad (though I would rather like the idea of sitting in a plush corner office listening to Frank Sinatra records while eating Tutti Frutti Ice Cream and telling Miss Eglantine to "Hold my calls!"). Her brother, like all little brothers, borders on being an annoying brat most of the time but Clarice knows exactly how to deal with him.

Her older brother Kurt is going through that desperate time as a teenager when all you want to do is lie in your darkened stinky room listening to droning music, claiming that the world is rubbish. Her older sister has a whole 'boy thing' going on, so best avoided entirely! Even Grandad lives at home, as dotty as a hankerchief but lovable all the same.

Clarice doesn't embark on some grand adventure, she just takes us through her day - yet this book is one that we've returned to again, and again, and again purely due to the way Lauren packs so much story in around the actual story text. her illustrations are unique, brilliant, charming and lovely - and they suit the almost semi-diary approach here wonderfully too.

Little brothers. Universally annoying, right?
In "My Uncle is a Hunkle" Clarice's Uncle Ted comes to stay, to look after the kids while Dad is on a business trip and Mum is away looking after her other brother, a New York Cop who slipped on a rogue donut.

The only problem is that Uncle Ted - despite being a "Hunkle" is actually terrible at parenting, so it doesn't take long before things go horribly wrong.

Once again Clarice narrates the tale of lost school pets and the fire brigade turning up, with absolutely brilliant details worked into the story to make you giggle and smile.

We always think of the movie "Uncle Buck" when we read this one, though Lauren's story pulls off the same neat trick of giving us a slice of childhood life that doesn't need to be fantastical to be charming and interesting.

Normal family life, just perfecto!
Lastly, in "What Planet are You From, Clarice Bean?" Lauren practically invented the 'eco message' book a good decade before we were almost drowned in them (last year).

Clarice Bean is set a class assignment with the annoying "Shouting Boy" next door, but her older brother Kurt takes more direct action to save the neighbourhood trees from being chopped down.

Clarice realises that we need to protect our planet and all living things, and the book manages to convey a superb eco message without ramming it down your throat with a wag of a finger.

I feel we have to mention Robert Granger (AKA "Shouting Boy") as he's actually C's favourite character, and one of the best supporting characters in the book. She's sort of fallen in love with him a bit, as it's clear that he just wants to be Clarice's bestie, but Clarice is having none of it - and in this book he has his finest moment as he does a rather good job of saving the day.

All three are brilliant books and though we were sent the original for review, we couldn't resist buying the others ourselves (though we've not yet looked at the middle grade books in the same series). Oddly though we never got round to reviewing the last two until now!

Original Review Links: 

Clarice Bean, that's me! by Lauren Child (Orchard Books)