The worst worry

"One thing I do know is, the more you worry, the more worries there are, and just when you get used to things, they change."

N recently made a delightful literary discovery by accident. She and her dad went to the library, and she picked Clarice Bean: Don’t Look Now because of the cover. Clarice, with her wispy hair and sideways glance and little squiggle of a nose, looks startlingly like another of English author Lauren Child’s creations, Lola, of the Charlie & Lola series (great picture books and also a very sweet TV show about a big brother caring for his wildly imaginative little sister). N didn’t realize this was a different book altogether.

Don’t Look Now is actually the third in a series of novels, after Utterly Me and Spells Trouble, and we loved it so much that we bought the set. To N’s delight, the books come in a little box. (She often loves the packaging as much as the stuff it contains.) There are few illustrations, but the ones that are there made me miss my old Spirograph.

Night after night, we’ve stayed up late reading these books. As Clarice might say, each one is an utterly and exceptionordinarily good read. The main character, Clarice Bean Tuesday, is a bright spark of a girl with a brimming imagination and a best friend named Betty Moody.

Both Betty and Clarice are obsessed with a series of books about a brilliant girl detective named Ruby Redfort. (N kept asking if the Ruby Redfort books were real, and I kept telling her no, they’re a story within a story, but apparently Child has indeed been commissioned to write a Ruby series.)

Betty is great in school and never gets in trouble, but Clarice’s mind wanders. And her teacher, Mrs. Wilberton, is mean — not a good combination.

More than any other children’s books I’ve read, these ones took me back to the complexities of the child’s perspective — how kids work so hard to put what they learn into context, and thereby grasp the meanings of everything from ordinary to terrifying occurrences. And how there are so many things that aren’t pindownable. For instance, Clarice wonders Why isn’t why spelled y? And why isn’t you spelled u? And she’s alarmed by the notion of infinity.

But it isn’t her worst worry.

Clarice is devastated to discover that “the worst worry in the world, the worry you never even thought to worry about,” is much worse than moving house, or the fact that you can see into the kitchen from a hole in the bathroom floor. In fact her worst worry is so bad, she can’t even bring herself to write it down in her list of worries, because seeing it in writing somehow makes it more real.

These books are funny, surprising, and also touching. Each one has a steady plot that kept us rushing through, but also so many threads running this way and that, that we never lost interest. In the final book, the best of the three, the scene in which Clarice learns Betty is moving away almost brought me to tears, and N, beside me, was riveted. Kudos to Lauren Child for creating a character who stands tall beside the likes of Pippi Longstocking and Anne of Green Gables.

“How does she draw flowers like that, Mom? I wish I could.”


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14 responses to “The worst worry

  1. elizabethannewrites

    I suppose, since our city’s library system has only two Clarice Bean books, at different branches, the logical thing for me to do would be to request them, and wait for them to arrive at my usual branch, rather than driving across the city to the two branches because I MUST READ THEM TODAY! (Guess which is more likely to happen?)

  2. elizabethannewrites

    Sigh. The two Clarice Bean books available in our library system are chapter books, not the intriguingly “different” picture books that I glanced at in the bookstore the other day. I’m going to request that the library buy the picture books, and see what happens.

    • kristendenhartog

      Hi again,
      The chapter books are indeed the ones we’ve read. But I’ve seen the picture books online too, and am also intrigued. They came first, as far as I understand. I wonder what prompted her to use the same character in longer stories.

      • elizabethannewrites

        Perhaps she got intrigued by the character, and wanted to explore her in more depth — I can certainly understand that, since I have trouble keeping to the brevity necessary in a picture book while saying all I want to say.

  3. Lenny

    Hmm – As to the question about drawing flowers…I used my Spirograph. Circa 1966. Do they still make Spirograph? Do you remember it? I spent hours using mine.

    I know a few years ago we tried to find one for Evan but they had moved away from the push pin method – over reaction to child safety I guess- and sadly created an inferior product.


  4. kristendenhartog

    Oh yes, I do remember! I loved our Spirograph and have snooped around a bit online for one for N but haven’t found. Wonder if my mom still has ours! Guess it would be an antique by now.

  5. I just discovered your blog here and find it delightful.

    My daughter loves these books. She got the whole set for Christmas and was so excited. Though my favorite Lauren Child books will always be The Princess and the Pea and Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Book.

    • kristendenhartog

      Thank you, and welcome! I hadn’t heard of Who’s Afraid…, but will have a look for it. N loved Princess and the Pea. The illustrations are fabulous.

  6. Pingback: No longer required but impossible to give away | Blog of Green Gables

  7. I’ve heard that Lauren spent an extremely long time fiddling with tiny bits of wood and fabric for the making of The Princess and The Pea. I am absolutely obsessed with Lauren child and I am hoping to get all of her books by the time I am an adult. There is also a great website by Lauren child: -or something like that… it’s really good though : )

    • kristendenhartog

      Good for you! What other books are you collecting? I’ve seen Lauren Child’s website, and it’s really good, and of course the books are terrific. I’m sure she has a lot of fun making the images. Thanks for writing!

      • I have just received an early christmas present! it’s Clarice Bean Don’t Look Now and I have read some of it, and so far it’s sad but really interesting and good : ) -I am also really excited because I had written a letter to Lauren a while back now, and I am trying to find where I put it but I will send it one day soon!

  8. kristendenhartog

    I’m sure you will really enjoy it. Let me know what you think when you’re done!

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