The Dunderheads by Paul Fleischman, illustrated by David Roberts, 56 pp, RL 2

The Dunderheads is now in paperback!
And Book 2, The Dunderheads Behind Bars is out now.

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 story itself is brisk, inviting Roberts to do as much storytelling, if not more, with his artwork as the author does with his words. In spite of this, or perhaps because of it, upon reaching the last page I felt like I had just read a much longer book - the characters and pictures are so rich.

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.

This book is a great read out loud, but, more than that, it fills that gaping hole of books for readers transitioning from beginning-to-read books who are still overwhelmed by longer chapter books. Also, for those visual learners, the multi-paneled illustrations will keep them hooked from start to finish. After reading and re-reading The Dunderheads, all I can say is I hope that there are more stories from this wily gang of misfits in the future!

Don't miss the newest book from Fleischman and Roberts,
The Dunderheads Behind Bars!

Readers who enjoy this book should check out:
The Shrinking of Treehorn by Florence Parry Heide, pictures by Edward Gorey
The Max Disaster Series by Marissa Moss
The Fog Mound Trilogy by Susan Schade and Jon Buller
The Stink Series by Megan McDonald

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