Week 2: The Dunderheads by Paul Fleischman

Book summary: Do you remember that teacher who gave all teachers a bad name? Maybe she wasn’t your teacher. Maybe she didn’t even teach at your school. Maybe you heard about her from your cousin, who heard about it from the new kid, who had that teacher at his old school. But wherever she was, that teacher who gave all teachers a bad name, you know one thing is for sure: there was one class that got her back! One class that paid back all of the mean things she said and did. One class that got the upper hand. One class that is the hero class to students everywhere. Enter: The Dunderheads! This rag-tag army of specialists (Spitball? Hollywood?), indignant over one too many slights to their class, plans and executes the ultimate heist to retrieve a confiscated gift.

Citation: Fleischman, P. (2009). The Dunderheads. Massachusetts: Candlewick Press.

My impressions: I must say, I found this book rather hilarious. It took me back to 5th grade, when we had a student teacher who never, no matter how good she might be, would live up to our favorite teacher, Ms. Bartos. And so Ms. Smith got the Dunderhead treatment. The harder she tried to crack down on us, the worse we would behave. In truth, we were a bunch of obnoxious GT kids, and I don’t know if she was trained yet to deal with that. The characters in this book are fun, and so varied that any kid is likely to recognize himself somewhere. Although I’m sure some stick-in-the-mud parents would criticize a book that glorifies mildly criminal behaviour, they’re missing the point: kids working together to overcome injustice.

Professional review:

“…As long as children must endure the whims of tyrannical teachers, there will be an appreciative audience for a book such as this. Miss Breakbone suffers no fools; she refers to her class as “fiddling, twiddling, time-squandering…dunderheads!” Her militaristic form is capped by severe red hair and a menacing mouth; the latter is wide open and shrieking insults on the first page. Her alligator purse, warden-style key ring, and electric chair offer further inklings into her psyche. She makes Viola Swamp look like Glenda the Good Witch. When she confiscates Junkyard’s latest find and makes him cry, the class reaches the tipping point. They devise elaborate plans to retrieve the treasure from the teacher’s fortresslike home. The talents of the children in this diverse group are foreshadowed by their nicknames, e.g., Spider, Spitball, Google-Eyes, and Hollywood. Together, the Dunderheads are a formidable force, and Roberts’s quirky watercolor and ink interpretations of Fleischman’s deadpan humor and impeccable pacing produce hilarious results. The compositions are a pleasing mixture of busy scenes, with funny or important details rendered via judicious touches of color, gray washes, and black line work and ample white space. The spreads are sometimes defined by “panels,” whose straight and curved lines form unexpected shapes and add another element of excitement to the dynamic diagonals and extreme perspectives. This book will raise an adult eyebrow or two, but young readers will relish each solution in this satisfying celebration of multiple intelligences, teamwork, and kid power…”

Lukehart, W. (2009, June 10). The Dunderheads by Paul Fleischman [Review of the book The Dunderheads, by P. Fleischman]. School Library Journal, retrieved from http://www.schoollibraryjournal.com/article/CA6663508.html

Library uses: Rather than emphasize the “revenge” aspect of the book, I would use this book in a story time for older kids to talk about injustice. Why does the class feel like this particular act, taking the gift, was such an egregious injustice? What is the difference between “unfair” and “unjust”? What are some other ways the class could have righted the wrong, without breaking and entering?

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