Spotlight on Funny: Clementine

When I wanted to do a series of posts on writing funny, Clementine by Sara Pennypacker immediately popped into my head. Even though I read it a couple years ago, I remember laughing and I remember crying.

It’s easy to pick out a funny premise.
It’s easy to pick out funny when it’s a juxtaposition of two opposite ideas.
It’s easy to pick out funny when it’s a hyperbolized story.
It’s easy to pick out funny when it’s slapstick or physical comedy.

But Clementine wasn’t any of those things. I had to really look at it and read again to see where I smiled and then why I smiled.

Clementine’s interpretation of what was going on was usually wrong but believable. That’s what made this story funny.

  • For example she often got in trouble for not paying attention. One time, she claimed she was paying attention – to the lunch lady and the janitor kissing outside.
  • Clementine wanted to help her friend, Margaret, when she got glue in her hair. Clementine ended up cutting off all her friend’s hair to make it even.
  • And at the end, she overhears and misunderstands her parents, and thinks they want to get rid of her. This time her misinterpretation wasn’t funny, but very moving.

So, in all these examples, the reader understands what is going on but the scene is layered with Clementine’s humorous interpretation. And the key is that Clementine doesn’t think it’s funny. To her, it is very serious. Which makes it all the more funny. And moving.

And, Marla Frazee’s illustrations of two girls with no hair cracked me up every time.

Humor take away: Show your character’s wrong interpretation of situations and the resulting consequences.

Are there any other books, middle grade or YA or early readers that do this?

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17 Responses to Spotlight on Funny: Clementine

  1. kris October 8, 2010 at 11:07 am #

    I love Clementine. We’re reading Ramona right now, a predecessor of Clementine. Sadly, Ramona is annoying me a little. My 7-year-old likes her though. The Judy Moody books do funny well, I think. Again, similar. Funny and relatable. I don’t read much humor that isn’t for pre-tween girls. 🙂

  2. Laura Pauling October 8, 2010 at 11:26 am #

    Once you hit early YA and YA, I think it’s much harder to do funny! I can think of a couple. Maybe because the humor needs to be a lot more sophisticated.

  3. Jen October 8, 2010 at 12:04 pm #

    I can’t say I’ve read Clementine but now I’m curious as to see the novels and see what everyone is talking about. I’m not sure of any novels that do this but I think if it’s done very well it’d be very enjoyable!

    Great post Laura! Have a fab weekend!

  4. John Rea-Hedrick October 8, 2010 at 12:48 pm #

    My family loved Clementine! We discovered her on audio book during a road trip in August. We’d been enjoying listening to the Ramona books and had for a change of pace tried out Sheila the Great. Unfortunately, we found Sheila disappointing. All the kids seemed very bratty and we agreed not to finished it.

    Clementine was a breath of fresh air! What a voice! The way she sees the world always makes me smile. We listened to the first two Clementine books on that trip. Your post reminds me it’s about time to pick up a few more.

    Thanks Laura!

  5. Laura Marcella October 8, 2010 at 1:54 pm #

    Ramona Quimby! Love her!

    I haven’t read the Clementine books. I’ll have to get them from the library. Great examples here, Laura!

    • Laura October 8, 2010 at 2:01 pm #

      John, Laura and Jen – The great thing is that for an adult, Clementine is a really fast read. And as an adult, I totally got engrossed in the character and story!

  6. Tina Lee October 8, 2010 at 2:27 pm #

    It makes me think of Mockingbird, which I just finished and LOOVED and although I didn’t think that was a funny book the skill of the story was all in the perception of the narrator (Caitlin is an the Asberger’s spectrum). So much can be done with what a narrator doesn’t understand. I haven’t read Clementine but now I am compelled to.

  7. Karen Strong October 8, 2010 at 2:47 pm #

    I loved Clementine. I think you’re right, the character was just being herself — which was funny without trying to be.

    I think sometimes trying to be funny can work but it’s hard to do.

    This is a good example of just letting the character be and getting the funny out organically.

  8. Carole Anne Carr October 8, 2010 at 2:50 pm #

    Well worth remembering, must try this.

  9. angela October 8, 2010 at 4:40 pm #

    Amelia Bedlia comes to mind–she takes everything literally. Her sponge cakes contain actual sponge. She rigs a hoist so her bread will rise…stuff like that.

    I would love to write a character like Clementine–I recently read the whole series and it’s a great one. 🙂

    Angela @ The Bookshelf Muse

    • Laura October 8, 2010 at 5:04 pm #

      Tina, I haven’t read that book. But yes, funny doesn’t always mean laugh out loud.

      karen – Yes, funny must happen organically with the character and the plot.

      Carole – Trying to do this is the hard part!! 🙂

      Angela – Yes, Amelia Bedelia is def. similar with her perception and the word puns.

  10. Susan R. Mills October 8, 2010 at 5:24 pm #

    Great example of writing funny.

  11. Stina Lindenblatt October 9, 2010 at 12:02 am #

    I know it happens all the time in YA (especially younger YA), but I can’t think of any examples.

    Thanks for telling me that I won the contest (still shocked about that one). I found out about because several people left the same comment on my post. I hadn’t seen Renae’s blog at that point. 😀

  12. Anna October 9, 2010 at 12:18 pm #

    I’m another Clementine fan. I love how she just has her own way of seeing the world! I’ve heard people say that for comedy to work, the characters need to feel as though they’re in a tragedy, and I think that’s very true of Clementine. As you said, to her everything is very serious and important.

  13. Dayana Stockdale October 9, 2010 at 8:31 pm #

    That’s a great way to think about it! Wrong but believable = funny. I can totally dig. I usually think things are funny when someone says the opposite of what I’m expecting. Like they set me up to think they’re going to say something serious and entertaining and then what comes out is goofy and I didn’t see it coming. I tend to not be a very funny writer, but in person, I’m a total class clown.

  14. Jemi Fraser October 10, 2010 at 1:38 am #

    Humour is tough! I can’t write it very well – my stories will have moments (I hope!) but the overall tone will never be humourous. Not in my skill set 🙂

  15. Holly Bowne October 11, 2010 at 12:44 am #

    I must agree with your commenter, Angela, Amelia Bedelia is who immediately came to my mind as well. I am not familar with the Clementine books either, but I love your humor take-away tips!

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