Tuesday, May 26, 2009

PW's Starred Reviews

-- Publishers Weekly, 5/18/2009

The Dunderheads by Paul Fleischman, illus. by David Roberts. Candlewick, $16.99 (56p) ISBN 978-0-7636-2498-9

The fiendish Miss Breakbone—a teacher with her own electric chair and a subscription to Guard Dog Lovers Monthly—is no match for her students, once they put their heads together. They have no choice: Miss Breakbone has insulted them (“doodling, dozing, don’t-knowing dunderheads!”), confiscated a cat figurine that Junkyard was saving for his mother’s birthday and then dared them to retaliate. Einstein, the genius hero, marshals his classmates’ skills (hypnotism, spitballs, perfect knowledge of movie plots) and pulls off the perfect break-in. Action and zaniness animate every page of this picture book/early reader hybrid, but the story’s real virtue is Newbery winner Fleischman’s (Joyful Noise) appreciation for kids whose loser exteriors hide unexpected talent (each gets an apt nickname). “I nodded to Clips,” Einstein says about the kid whose creations help them enter Miss Breakbone’s lair. “His reading scores were low. His math scores were worse. But if they tested for paper-clip chains...” 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. Schoolchildren will adore this story of pupil revenge. Ages 6–10. (June)

Brenda Berman, Wedding Expert by Jane Breskin Zalben, illus. by Victoria Chess. Clarion, $16 (48p) ISBN 978-0-618-31321-1

Entertainingly headstrong Brenda is devastated that her favorite uncle is getting married. And her longstanding dream of wearing a gold lamé flower girl frock fizzles when she hears that the bride, Florrie, envisions her flower girls in lavender taffeta. On top of that, she’ll be walking the aisle with Florrie’s niece, Lucy, whose golden curls are a far cry from Brenda’s “strands of spaghetti” tresses. Just when she’s sure things can’t get any worse, her uncle and Florrie elope. Since they now have “robbed her of her happiness not once but twice,” Brenda announces, with characteristic melodrama, “I’m never, ever going to speak to them again for as long as I live.” Not easily defeated, Brenda and Lucy pull together a heartwarming after-the-fact celebration. Cake and punch recipes make for an appropriately festive appendix to this lively early chapter book from the creators of Baby Babka, the Gorgeous Genius. Brenda’s robust personality drives the narrative as well as the art, as Chess’s folksy watercolors capture the girl’s expressions, which vacillate wildly between outrage and exhilaration. Ages 6–9. (May)

Congratulations to these authors!

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