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The Dunderheads Behind Bars by Paul Fleischman, illustrated by David Roberts, 48 pp, RL 2

I am so thrilled to see The Dunderheads Behind Bars, the sequel to the superlative The Dunderheads, both by Paul Fleischman with incredible artwork by David Roberts who also illustrated the wonderful picture book, Iggy Peck, Architect, by Andrea Beaty. Both books are just short enough (and filled with great full page illustrations) to be read out loud as picture books but long enough to give emerging readers a taste of success - and great literature - when read alone. Despite their name, the Dunderheads of the title are anything but blundering. What they are  is a diverse group of kids (with individual talents) who are disliked by some power wielding adults, particularly their teacher, Miss Breakbone, cousin to Roald Dahl's most despicable character ever (and that's saying a lot, that man was a misanthropist for sure) Miss Agatha Trunchbull. While Miss Breakbone doesn't have a chokey, she does have a brother, Chief of Police Breakbone who seems to dislike kids, or the Dunderheads anyway, just as much as she does.

From The Dunderheads

School is out but Miss Breakbone finds a way to make life miserable for the Dunderheads even so. On July 12th, when our narrator Einstein sees an ad in the paper - Extras Sought for "Boy Story," the new movie from Ashley Throbb- Hart. The gang heads out to the auditions and, waiting in a huge line, Spider, the Champion Climber, scales the back of a large woman in a Marilyn Monroe dress (the white one from "Seven Year Itch") with a dove-of-peace tattoo on her upper arm. Although an ideal lookout, this large woman happens to be Miss Breakbone, hoping to snag a part and just as cranky as ever. 

The kids all get parts in the playground scene but Miss Breakbone has issues with the hurricane scene (a very funny illustration.) A few days later, news of a serial cat burglar breaks and Miss Breakbone and her brother show up at Spider's house to haul him in saying, "The kid's a climber, I don't need more proof." Heartbroken and worried for their friend, Einstein comes up with a plan, naturally.

Roberts really outdoes himself with The Dunderheads Behind Bars, the details seeming more plentiful, minute and articulate than before. Einstein's room is a messy geek's dream, and don't even get me started on Clips and the super-cool hanging chair he made himself, not to mention the hundreds of colorful paperclips he drew. Or his poor pet geckos. Of course, the Dunderheads prevail, Spider is freed and the real thief is nabbed, wrapping up yet another fantastic book from this dynamic duo, Fleischman and Roberts. I hope to hear more from the Dunderheads in the future!


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