Clarice Bean Spells Trouble by Lauren Child, paperback novel, 189 pages, published by Orchard Books in 2005.
Clarice Bean Tuesday and her friends Betty Moody and Karl Wrenbury are all in the same class at school. Their teacher, Mrs Wilberton, always thinks that Clarice Bean and Karl are getting up to trouble even when they are trying to be good. With the school spelling bee and the school play coming up, Clarice Bean finds life becoming complicated. She is trying to learn the dictionary for the spelling bee, but it’s not really helping her poor spelling much at all, and then Karl says she’s not his friend anymore, and her plans for the play don’t exactly work out. Clarice Bean is discovering that life often has more questions than answers.
Clarice Bean and Betty are big fans of the books and TV series about a girl-spy called Ruby Redfort, so there are many references to her throughout the story. Now Hollywood is making a Ruby Redfort movie, this is often all that Betty and Clarice Bean can talk about. Ruby Redfort is quite an important aspect of Clarice Bean’s life.
I had a little trouble warming to this story at first. It just didn’t grab me within the first couple of chapters, but I persisted, and overall I think it was worth it. I liked Clarice Bean, she was definitely unique and interesting as a character, but I thought that the other characters were a little typical of this type of children’s novel. There is the best friend, the dis-likeable teacher, and the uppity goody-two shoes teacher’s pet. Having said that, the characters and their interactions are still well written and move the story along nicely. Maybe I’ve just read a few too many books with a similar setting lately. I think what really threw me about this story was the obsession with Ruby Redfort. Ruby was on Clarice Bean’s mind all the time, and she often related Ruby’s adventures to her own life, or used phrases and advice from the show. It was a very important part of describing Clarice Bean, but it just felt like much too much for me. However, the character of Clarice Bean was still interesting and different enough to keep me reading, and I will probably try other books in this series.