Monday, May 9, 2011

Clarice Bean: Guess Who's Babysitting by Lauren Child

Clairce Bean Guess Who's Babysitting was written for children in grades 1 - 4 (Candlewick Press, 2001).  I read this book to students in the 6th grade.  I thought the subject of the book, the creative way in which the author arranged the words over the pages (in circles, in ladder format , in a variety of fonts), the dialogue between the characters, and the illustrations that combined sketchy drawings with collages of pictures were all effective and appropriate for 6th grade students (ages 9 - 11).     
This book definitely appeals to children.  The fun pictures, the silly little conversations set in the background between Clarice and her little brother as her older sister Marcie chats on the phone to her friends (her conversations depict that of a true teenager) is something that children relate to and find amusing.  This story definitely falls under the category of “Guidelines for Selecting Children’s Literature” (Johnson, 2009, p. 7) “The target audience should be able to identify with the protagonist, who may share similar characteristics such as age.” (Johnson, 2009, p. 7) “Books for younger children include engaging pictures, fast-paced action that is presented in a straight forward manner, a single setting, and a satisfying ending.” (Johnson, 2009, p. 7)  This book incorporates all of these characteristics.  The more I read this book the more I enjoyed it.  Each time I read it I found something new (a picture, an amusing quote from Clarice Bean, or a subtle picture the author/illustrator placed on the page to enhance the meaning of the story.  This book was written for children, but adults can enjoy it as well.
The story takes place in Clarice Bean’s house, at the emergency room (her brother was knocked out by a soccer ball), and in the back yard of her home (as they looked for Albert, the guinea pig).  The story opens with Clarice Bean’s mom talking on the telephone.  She is in her pajama’s and slippers.  The next page is a full-bleed page filled with Clarice’s family sitting at the dining table during breakfast.   A coffee cup is on the table, toast and orange juice were placed on the table for someone to eat, and Clarice’s dad is dressed for work.  The setting moves to the emergency room and the author adds a picture of Clarice’s brother, Minal, stretched out on a gurney as a nurse takes notes on his status.  And then, the story moves to Clarice’s backyard as the Clarice, Minal, and Uncle Ted search for Albert.  The author/illustrator provides a great visual of Minal getting his head caught in the fence and of the entire fire department in the backyard as her mother tries to relax.
The characters are well developed.  Clarice’s brother, Minal, was described by the author on the inside cover as being “pesky.” (Child, 2000)  The author immediately brings this to light by showing him standing on a chair at the breakfast table trying to join the conversation.  Clarice is often bothered by her brother as the author shows how she lassoed her brother (and how Clarice’s imagines that she really lassoed him to a cactus).  Another depiction of Minal’s character illustrates him getting knocked out by a soccer ball and getting his head caught in the fence. 
Clarice’s older sister is a typical teenage girl who is constantly on the telephone chatting with her friends.  The author/illustrator defines this character on the first couple of pages as Clarice’s mother lays down Rule Number 5 to Uncle Ted, “Don’t let Marcie take the phone into her bedroom.” (Child, 2000, p. 10)  The picture that the author provides to the reader is Marcie lying on her bed talking on the phone, with the words “Chat, Chat, Chat, Chat,….” (Child, 2000, p. 13) written many times, and again when Uncle Ted looks for the telephone so that he can call the fire station, but he can’t find the phone.  A great illustration shows Marcie sitting on her bed continuing her conversation on the telephone.  In addition, the author builds the character of the older sister, who most definitely is bothered by her younger sister and brother, Clarice, as she exclaims, “I would rather look after newts from Neptune than be left with Clarice Bean and Minal Cricket.”  (Child, 2000, p. 6) And this was written in bold letters. 
The author/illustrator creates Kurt, Clarice’s brother, a teenage boy who prefers to be by himself instead around others.  For instance, as Clarice’s mom attempts to find a babysitter Kurt remarks, “Don’t look at me, I’m going to my room and probably won’t be down for supper.” (Child, 2000, p. 6)  Once again, as Clarice’s mom goes over the rules for Uncle Ted, she says, “Make sure Kurt sees daylight a least once every 24 hours (Rule Number 4).” (Child, p. 6) Kurt says the sunlight is too bright.
Grandfather is depicted in illustration as an older gentleman who may not be thinking clearly in his old age.  As he is sitting at the breakfast table with his family he comments outloud in response to the information about Clarice’s Uncle Ernie’s unfortunate accident with a donut, “I haven’t had a doughnut since I was a boy.” (Child, 2000, p. 6)  The illustration shows him with a bird sitting on his head (maybe this means “bird brain”).  His eyes glasses are crooked, he appears to be a little scruffy, and it also seems as if no one in his family is paying much attention to him.  In fact, mom’s Rule Number 6 is “Keep an eye on granddad.  He tends to wander off.” (Child, 2000, p. 11) Futhermore, granddad comes up missing and ends up being found in a neighbor’s house (Mrs. Stampney’s house – Rule Number 3 – Don’t drive Mrs. Stampney at Number 9 wacko), comfortably watching television.  Granddad’s only comment was, “All houses look the same when you get to my age.” (Child, p. 11)
Clarice’s mom’s character was developed just as the reader opened the first page.  She was the one on the phone with the nurse finding out what had happened to her brother, Ernie.  She was the one to find a babysitter.  She was the one who sits Uncle Ted down to go over all of the house rules.  And as the story develops, you see how in-tune she is with her family’s needs and shortcomings.  Some of the looks that she gives to Uncle Ted (because she knows he’s a carefree spirit that can’t truly be trusted 100% with her children) are priceless.  And finally, the last page illustrating her sitting in her backyard while chaos is all around her, she just looks at her brother, Uncle Ted, as if to say….”This is par for the course.”
Clarice’s character is also developed over the course of the story.  She is just a young girl who adores her Uncle Ted, and although the reason behind him babysitting was a serious matter, she only cares that her strong, fun-loving, and adventurous Uncle is coming to have take care of her.  She is illustrated as a free spirit, too…much like Uncle Ted.  She likes the westerns on television and she has a great imagination (as she lassoes her brother and pictures him lassoed to a cactus).  She is aware of her family’s craziness as she appreciates how well things went for the first two days under the care of her Uncle Ted.  She has spunk and can take care of herself, as she addresses the neighbor friend, Robert Granger, when Robert found Clarice’s guinea pig and tries to pull it off as his own, “That’s not your guinea pig.  You better give him back.  That’s school property and you will be in big trouble with the police.” (Child, 2000, p. 21) Robert lets it go.  Clarice is also shown on the last page looking up at a firefighter with a smile on her face.  With all that had happened, she had a wonderful time.
Race and gender was avoided in this story, but stereotypes were not avoided.  The family stereotypical attributes were related throughout the story.  The older teenage sister on the telephone all the time, a pesky younger brother, and a grumpy neighbor (most people can relate to).  I believe the author purposively created such characters for children to immediately relate to instead of coming up with out-of-the-ordinary characters and circumstances.
The quality of the language is evident in the author’s choice of words and meaning throughout the book.  The use of personification is used frequently providing the reader with a number of ways to learn about language development.  For instance, Clarice’s father says (when he is talking on the phone), “I’ll be with you in two shakes.” (Childs, 2000, p. 7)  example is when the nurse asks if Clarice’s mom could “get out to New York City on the double.” (Childs, 2000, p. 5)  Or when Uncle Ted is listening to Clarice’s mom, the author states, “Uncle Ted looked sheepish.” (Childs, 2000, p. 9) Another example is when Clarice says, “I am beside myself.” (Childs, 2000)  What better way to teach children the beauty of writing and reading than through this visual style of writing.
The theme is developed beginning on the first page with an accident (Uncle Ernie slipped on a donut) and Clarice’s mom receives a phone call from the nurse stating that she needed to fly to New York City in order to help.  The mother is faced with who will take care of the family in her absence.  This problem is similar to problems that many families (and children) have faced from time to time.   From rules being broken (of the six that Clarice’s mom had left for the babysitter, Uncle Ted, to follow), to the ends in and outs of getting along with your siblings, to the everyday happenings of a family, children can relate and be entertained all at the same time.  Since “Blame” is such a large word in a child’s vocabulary it makes sense that this word be one of the themes of the book.  In fact, every time the word is used it is in bold type font.  When mom couldn’t initially find a babysitter, dad says, “Who can BLAME them?” (Childs, 2000, p. 7) and when Uncle Ted says to Clarice’s mom, “Don’t Blame me,” as the entire fire department shows up in her backyard are two examples of this common word we all hate to have placed on us when trouble arises. (Child, 2000, p. 27)
The illustrations captured the movement of the story.  The full page illustrations, the colors used (pastel yellows, blues, greens, and orange), the saturation of these colors were bright reflecting the mood of happy, light, and fun.  Not only are there words placed on the page vertically, but they are also horizontal, in circles (around donuts), zigzags (as if in a thought process (when mom is receiving the information about her hurt brother and probably trying to think about what to do about her family), and words written in pretty cursive (used when mom is speaking) probably to depict the persons beauty.  It seems that every picture and every word has been thoughtfully placed on each page to develop and enhance the story.
As stated above, the illustrations help to create the meaning of the text in so many ways.  Clarice’s Uncle Ted is the apple in her eye.  He is bigger than life and very cool, and the author/illustrator portrays this “superman” by illustrating him on a page as a very tall strong man.  He has two children (Clarice and Minal) draped over him like they weigh next to nothing.  The author also shows Uncle Ted beside these large skyscrapers (which are on fire and slanting to the right), but again the mere size that the illustrator portrays Uncle Ted shows that it is no job for him to easily put these fires out.  The illustrations also represent Clarice’s mother as a serious individual juggling many balls (her children, her brothers, her household, her aging father, and the everyday happenings of each day).  She has a serious look on her face, her arms are crossed, and she stands very straight as if to possess strength.  The author/illustrator, Lauren Child, arranges random pictures, photography, and cartoon-like characters throughout the entire story.  Lauren Child uses this illustration style in many of her stories, “I get inspiration for my artwork from all kinds of things – fabrics, architecture, photography.  I began to work in collage partly because I found it difficult to plan my illustrations.” () This is true for this picture book, too. Clarice is here and she’s there and she’s running and she’s watching television and she’s lassoing her little brother and she is searching for her guinea pig, and she is questioning authority.  The illustrations help create this energy.  There is the suggestion of movement on every single page. The pages are either full-bleed or the pages go from one scene to the next (always intersecting with words or the next thought).  For instance, the breakfast table stretches across the two pages showing how large the family is and how many things are going on at one time.  This full-bleed affect takes one’s eyes across the entirety of the two pages. Another example is of another full-bleed picture of Clarice sitting on a couch beside her Uncle Ted watching television (westerns) eating eggs and beans.  The backdrop is of the desert, maybe a canyon, and your eye takes you to the right where Minal is lassoed to a cactus.  Such a great effect because you can actually see into Clarice’s imagination.  Out of the fifteen pages that make up this story eight of them are full-bleed. 
The pictures are an integral part of the story because half of the story is told through the characters eyes.  Clarice’s mom always has a serious squint and her mouth is perched.  You can tell, without words, that she is in charge and constantly thinking about each situation.  Clarice’s mood and thoughts are evident in her face.  She becomes wide-eyed when she looks up to her Uncle in pure awe (he is her idol).  Clarice’s dad is dressed in a business suit with his hand in the air (as he talks on the phone) as if to say, “Shhhhhh. I’m having a business call.”  (Child, 2000, p. 7) Without the illustration, you wouldn’t be able to tell that he is “all business” and no play.  The pictures bring life to the story and the action associated with the story.  The illustrations help you become Clarice for the moment.  You understand when she talks about how her family was for the first two days her parents were gone, “One of those families on television who always say things like please and thank you and sorry….” (Child, 2000, p. 12)  The full-bleed page is of a television with her family playing the part of the characters.  Everything about the illustrations is bigger than life.  Sometimes you only see arms (you know they are her Uncle Ted’s), and sometimes you only see a foot after it kicked the soccer ball and it hit Minal in the head (again, it’s her Uncle Ted’s).  Uncle Ted is the “beloved” babysitter, but he is not the main character so he is usually shown only part way.  I believe the author used this to show his on-going presence but the attention is still on the kids.
The illustrations extend the text by adding more meaning to the actual words.  For instance, Clarice is at the emergency room looking up at the nurse.  She mentions that her brother should have stitches.  She mentions that “unfortunately the nurse doesn’t agree.” The nurse is looking down at Clarice, crossly.  The illustration adds to the text that the nurse not only doesn’t agree, but that she is also becoming bothered by Clarice’s attempts to assist.  Other examples of this include Clarice’s teenage sister’s obsession with the telephone.  Without the author showing Clarice’s sister in many scenes chatting nonstop the reader would forget about her character all together.  And another example is when Clarice’s mom provides Uncle Ted with six rules he needed to see didn’t get broken.  Illustrations of each rule was provide (#1 No breakages – a picture of a broken lamp is given; #2 No lassoing – a picture of a lassoe;), and these pictures provide clues to the action of the story by foreshadowing the upcoming events.  It gives the reader something to anticipate as the action begins.  The reader begins to wonder, “Is something going to be broken?, Will Clarice lassoe her brother again? Who is going to bother Mrs. Stampney?”
Medium and Style of Illustrations
The author has chosen to use both Painterly Media and Graphic Media in this picture book.  The use of montage was used on all of the pages by cutting out pieces of paper that have been water-colored to create a translucent image and outlined with ink to create the actual shape before cutting. The author also included photography throughout the book to provide another variable to the illustrations. The author seems to use this style in many of her books, “I began to work in collage partly because I found it difficult to plan my illustrations.  Cutting things out means I can move things around and change my mind.  It also means I could incorporate different textures, photographs and fabric.” (web ) “Lauren Child’s humorous illustrations contain many different mediums including magazine cuttings, collage, material and photography as well as traditional watercolors.” (O’Reilly, 2007)
Lauren Child has used straight lines that are dark and rough.  She also uses vertical lines and curves.  The lines that separate scenes are vertical.  In most of those scenes the chaos has stopped and the calm has begun.  For example, mom returns home and the scenes on the page showed mom returning and what did to fix a few matters at home (getting Minal’s head out of the fence and sitting in the backyard with a cup of tea).  In this book she uses bright colors (blues, greens, oranges, and yellows) to capture the high spirit and fun this book brings to the reader.  The whole book is full of fun, light-hearted shapes.  From the size and shape of the television that extends through two pages (showing the family resembling a sweet television family), to the shapes that encapsulate the rules that the mother provided to Uncle Ted (even these strict rules made you laugh because they are so typical of a mother’s request). 
The style of the illustrations is fun and energy-provoking, and they have a strong comic element.  The textures of the illustrations are that of a layering effect.  I keep trying to feel the seams because they look like they are really protruding off the page.  The style is perfect for the story because it captures the intended audience (children).
Lauren Child uses this style of illustration in many of her stories.  Clarice Bean, Charlie and Lola, Hubert Horatio, Who Wants to Be a Poodle, I Don’t, and many more are illustrated in her zany comic fun-loving, texturous depictions of characters that come alive on the pages.  “The endearing quality of the illustrations is enhanced by Child’s perceptive detail, particularly with regard to facial expressions. The result – a juxtaposition of traditional children’s illustrations and contemporary artistic styles.” (O’Reilly, 2007).
To create the rhythm and movement of the illustrations, Lauren Child uses a lot of scratchy pen and translucent watercolors.  The material used for the cutouts isn’t done to perfection giving the reader a sense of flow.  Because the author/illustrator uses so many forms of art in her illustrations the reader is constantly looking at the pages searching for more meaning (Why are the socks on the ground? Why is there a photograph of a real guinea pig? Why is there a cartoon picture of grandpa watching a real photograph of a horse race?).  This coupled with the text enables the reader to read this book many times over and get something new out of it each time.
Lauren Child has created balance in composition by staying true to the color scheme, ensuring that backgrounds (using the full-bleed effect) are throughout the book and not just on one page, and the character’s size always stays true to one another from page to page (no one is bigger than life).  The book stays constant from the time you open to the first page to the time you finish the story.
Overall Evaluation
The author has created many books that are similar in style and mediums (as mentioned above).  All of Lauren Child’s books have that fun loving, mix media flare (varying collages, watercolor, pen/ink, and material).  Even her Charlie and Lola book series, that is a children’s television show, is televised in this style.
 Reviewers love this book. 
“Lauren Child’s wacky, wonderful book is full of boisterous color and scattered text.” (Amazon.Com) 
“Bright and braxy, this youngster will win over readers in a split second and will leave them hopin for more of her trials and tribulations.” (Publishers Weekly)
“Readers won’t forget Lauren Child’s unusual and tremendously appealing cut-paper and photographic collages.  Her text wends its way around the illustrations, spiraling if need be, and growing or shrinking as appropriate.” (
“The crazy antics throughout the book will keep the children entertained.  This is simply a hilarious book.” (Plach, para.4)
“The illustrations are a unique combination of cartoons and real photographs, adding more quirkiness to complement Clarice Bean’s character.” (Belanger, 2010, para.1)

I definitely agree with the reviews.  I had fun reading this book to myself and then again to students.  I knew it was a hit when they asked if I’d pass it around so they could see the pages.

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