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Maria Salvadore

Reading Rockets' children's literature expert, Maria Salvadore, brings you into her world as she explores the best ways to use kids' books both inside — and outside — of the classroom.

Mission Impossible meets Viola Swamp

August 12, 2009

What happens when a perfectly dreadful adult is forced to deal with a talented albeit unusual group of children? A very funny, offbeat book by Newbery Medalist Paul Fleischman called The Dunderheads (Candlewick).

As a teacher, Miss Breakbone makes Viola Swamp from Miss Nelson Is Missing fame (Houghton) look positively sensitive. She so revels in her meanness that she gives herself a gold star every time she makes a student cry. Plus Miss Breakbone is the master of confiscating kids' possessions.

Sounds awful, huh? But this is a very funny tall tale just in time for the start of school.

I can imagine a teacher (or even a parent) reading this book aloud to a child who has some familiarity with school — and even with older kids. Not only should it relieve jitters (no real teacher could be this bad!) but the book suggests that unusual skills have a place.

Each student who Miss Breakbone has dubbed a group of altogether "…mind-wandering, doodling, dozing, don't-knowing dunderheads" has a special talent. Used cooperatively, these talents foil the dastardly teacher for a happy and very satisfying ending.

I haven't had a chance to share this book with kids yet, but can't wait to. The illustrations are contemporary and just as wacky as the story.

If anyone does get a child's response, please let me know what it is. It might be an interesting way to start the school year!

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"There is more treasure in books than in all the pirate's loot on Treasure Island." — Walt Disney