Great Illustrated Books

The Dunderheads

By Paul Fleischman, Illustrated by David Roberts

Candlewick, 2009
Pages : 56
Suggested Ages: 7-10
ISBN: 9780763624989

"'Never,' shrieked Miss Breakbone, 'have I been asked to teach such a scraping-together of such fiddling, twiddling, time-squandering, mind-wandering, doodling, dozing, don't know dunderheads!'" If the Trunchbull (the terrifying headmistress from Roald Dahl's Matilda ) ever had a younger redheaded sister, Miss Breakbone would be the one. She stands across two pages looking like a vastly-bosomed prison matron, her eyes glaring, her red-lipped mouth open to show her teeth and caustic tongue, her nose as sharp as a needle. You wouldn't want to mess with her. On the next page sits her class of 14 children, next to what appears to be an electric chair. According to the narrator, a brainy, dark-haired, chess-loving boy they call Einstein, the insult is his teacher's first mistake. The second? "No eye for talent. An easy mistake to make, in our case." Miss Breakbone hates kids. When she makes them cry, she gives herself a gold star. Confiscating children's possessions is her specialty, but when she takes Theodore's (AKA Junkyard) magnifying glass and the one-eared china cat that he found in the trash and was planning to give his mother for her birthday, she crosses the line. "And don't even think about getting them back!" she snaps. That's Mistake Number 4: the dare.

Sure, this group of kids is not the best at regular academics, but Einstein and his multi-talented, resourceful Dunderheads-with monikers like Wheels, Pencil, Spider, Clips, and Google-Eyes-demonstrate just what they can accomplish when they plan a heist worthy of James Bond to rescue that china cat. Fully illustrated in offbeat pen and ink and watercolors, this don't-get-mad, get-even short story can be shared with all ages when you're talking about talents, multi-intelligences, or revenge. There are so many stories about nice, kind, helpful, and loving teachers out there, it's refreshing to meet the worst teacher in the world for a change, a kindred spirit to Miss Viola Swamp (from James Marshall's classic picture book, Miss Nelson Is Missing ). You can read it in one sitting with older kids to introduce other tales of nefarious grownups, like Swindle, a similarly-themed heist novel by Gordon Korman, or The Witches by Roald Dahl.

Reviewed by : JF.


If you love this book, then try:

Allard, Harry. Miss Nelson Is Missing. Houghton Mifflin, 1977.

Dahl, Roald. Matilda. Viking, 1988.

Dahl, Roald. The Witches. Farrar, 1983.

Evans, Douglas. Apple Island or, The Truth About Teachers. Front Street, 1998.

Fleischman, Paul. The Half-a-Moon Inn. HarperCollins, 1980.

Fleischman, Paul. Joyful Noise: Poems for Two Voices. HarperCollins, 1988.

Fleischman, Paul. Weslandia. Candlewick, 1999.

Gutman, Dan. The Get Rich Quick Club. HarperCollins, 2004.

Gutman, Dan. The Homework Machine. Simon & Schuster, 2006.

Gutman, Dan. Mrs. Roopy Is Loopy! HarperCollins, 2004. (And others in the My Weird School series.)

Korman, Gordon. Swindle. Scholastic, 2008.

Shearer, Alex. Canned. Scholastic, 2008.

Stewart, Trent Lee. The Mysterious Benedict Society. Little, Brown, 2007.

Critics have said

With action galore, a villain foiled by clever kids, a laugh a minute, a profusion of illustrations with broad age appeal, and an easily read text, this is a winner.
Horn Book
Roberts' illustrations match Fleischman's quirky tale tone-for-tone, drafting each kid in a signature style and breaking up page compositions to bring some pizazz to the caper. A fun, stick-it-to-teacher romp with no redeeming message, but cleverness in spades.