the dunderheads

Browsing the Library Juvenile Fiction w/ N and this was face out. Attractive cover and title, the daughter and I looked at each other, smiled, and borrowed it.

The Dunderheads by Paul Fleischman, Illustrated by David Roberts

Candlewick Press, 2009. Juvenile Picture Book: Ages 6-10.

Miss Breakbone hates kids. Especially the “time-squandering, mind-wandering, doodling, dozing dunderheads” in her class. But when she confiscates Junkyards crucial find, she finally goes too far. Enter Wheels (and his souped-up bike with forty-eight extra gears), Pencil (who can draw anything from memory), Spider (look up and you’ll find him), and their fellow misfits in a spectacular display of teamwork aimed at teaching Miss Breakbone a lesson she wont soon forget. From the incomparable Paul Fleischman comes a winning cast of underdogs; and one of the most terrifying teachers you’ll ever meet; brought to vivid life in David Robertss quirky, hilarious illustrations.~Publisher’s comments.

Reading Comics shouldn’t be seen as an act of rebellion and reading Picture Books post second grade shouldn’t be a source of embarrassment. Especially with the works of Shaun Tan residing so comfortably on grown-up shelves. Course, it doesn’t  hurt when the book isn’t formatted for two laps and is more popularly categorized as a “graphic novel.” The daughter (newly 11) and I huddled over the pages of Paul Fleischman authored and David Roberts illustrated The Dunderheads—a wonderful hybrid read for those of us who still love picture books after we’ve become proficient readers and avid fans of the comic form.

The Dunderheads is narrated by the boy who sits at his desk with a chess set, Einstein. It is obvious he is familiar with strategy, understanding how to make the diverse pieces at hand work to his advantage. Each of the “dunderheads” has a unique talent and they each have a role to play in recovering Theodore’s (aka Junkyard) present for his mother, confiscated by Miss Breakbone who likes to hock such items to fund her evil lifestyle.

Will you ever see a classroom with this range in talent? Yes. And you just never know when that long-distance spitter will come in handy, or when someone’s obsession may prove crucial in a heist–or in response to a hostile learning environment.

Miss Breakbone brings to mind Madame Medusa from The Rescuers (1977) and Ms. Trunchbull from Matilda (1996). Her exaggerated bosom in theme with the rest of the presumptions the read interrogates; Miss Breakbone is hardly maternal.

Roberts’s (The Dumpster Diver) drawings, with their delicate lines and sly cultural references (Miss Breakbone looks like a cold war — era prison guard), convey just the right note of dastardly charm. ~Publisher’s Weekly

The Dunderheads proves and exceptional balance of great storytelling in the text and image. Both Fleischman and Roberts allow for the right amount of wit and daring in this combined effort to subvert an establishment: both in story form and social implication. Each revel in their own intelligence and obsession; creating a book that demands its own attention (neither conforming to strict panel or open image/text formats); telling a story that validates and encourages individuality and cooperation. I see The Dunderheads as being a fantastic classroom read.


The pop cultural references are begging for an audience older than ten, wouldn’t you say? Sean and I were both charmed by the illustrations Roberts provides. Natalya and I both highly recommend this read.

Published by L

I read, and I write. and until recently, I sold books.

One thought on “the dunderheads

  1. I think from now on when you post these reviews for children’s picture books you just need to go in and automatically add a comment from me that says,

    “Sounds great. I’ve ordered it from the library.”

    Because that is what inevitably happens. I got Blackout in yesterday and have it and Little Red Riding Hood to read (hopefully this weekend).

    You are a bad (read: good) influence.

thoughts? would love to hear them...

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