Lauren Child, . . Candlewick, $15.99 (190pp) ISBN 978-0-7636-2186-5

Fans of Child's (Clarice Bean, That's Me; I Will Never Not Ever Eat a Tomato) irrepressible, impulsive picture-book heroine—as well as kids who have not yet had the pleasure of making her acquaintance—will devour her first chapter-book adventure. Liberally illustrated with collage art and told in a breezy, spontaneous first-person narrative that often weaves and winds around the pages, this makes an excellent first book for newly independent readers. Clarice Bean generously sprinkles her narrative with the word "utterly" as she relays the goings-on at school (she is entertainingly acerbic when dissing her intolerant teacher: and her nemesis Grace Grapello, who is "too utterly horrible") and at home (where her grandfather is taking in canine lodgers and her older brother finally pays attention to his personal hygiene when he begins courting their sister's friend). But Clarice Bean is primarily preoccupied with the book she is reading, starring Ruby Redfort, an 11-year-old "secret agent, undercover detective, and mystery solver," excerpts from which appear throughout the story. Inspired by Ruby, Clarice eagerly dives into the role of sleuth when the trophy that she hopes to win in a school competition goes missing. A spirited cast of supporting players gives the tale additional buoyancy. Once again, Clarice Bean is utterly a charmer. Ages 8-11. (Sept.)