The Dunderheads is a is a school story that brings us a group of friends with nicknames that suit their individual talents -Pencil, Spider, Hollywood, Wheels, Clips, Junkyard, Google-Eyes, Nails, Einstein and Spitball - who go up against a teacher worthy of any Roald Dahl baddie, Miss Breakbone. This is the newest book from the versatile master of the miniature, Paul Fleischman, author of Seedfolks and the Newbery winning Joyful Noises: Poems for Two Voices as well as one of my all-time favorite picture books, Weslandia, illstrated by the superb Kevin Hawkes. From a bookseller's perspective, this book is hard to classify. Is The Dunderheads a long picture book, an oversized graphic novel or a really fantastic chapter book for emerging readers? Either way, however you read it, The Dunderheads is completely entertaining and perfectly packaged. British children's illustrator David Roberts c(illustrator of Andrea Beaty's superb rhyming picture book, Iggy Peck, Architect) combines characteristics of Edward Gorey's wonderfully weird pen and ink illustrations and Gustav Klimt's dream-like style of painting that often incorporated geometric designs with portriats to create his own style in this visually detailed book that personifies Fleischman's characters to a tee. And, no matter how suspenseful the story or how menacing Miss Breakbone, the colors and expressions of the kids remain bright and inviting. Robert's playful style is summed up by his quote on the jacket flap where he says, "Oh, what a joy Breakbone was to illustrate - a real villain. I would love to see more of her party frocks."
The Dunderheads begins with the class being roundly abused by their new teacher, Miss Breakbone. As our narrator, the problem solving Einstein tells us, that was her first mistake. Her next mistake? "No eye for talent. An easy mistake to make in our case." Her third mistake is confiscating the ceramic cat that Junkyard found before school and was planning on giving his mom who is "a maniac for cat stuff." Her fourth mistake is telling Junkyard not to even think about getting it back. The class takes this threat as a dare. Einstein and company step in and show Miss Breakbone what a few dunderheads can do! What follows is a wacky scheme that utilizes the unique talents of each of the ten students as they plot to sneak into Breakbone's house during a party and steal back the ceramic cat with the sparkly green eyes.