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Silly Talk: Laughing It Up with Middle Grade Fiction

Posted by Sherry on 10/26/2009 in 2009, Children's Fiction, Cybil Awards, Early Chapter Books, General |

The Dunderheads by Paul Fleischman.

The Problem With the Puddles by Kate Feiffer.

Dessert First by Hallie Durand.

All three of these very silly stories were nominated for the Cybils Middle Grade Fiction Award. The Dunderheads is almost a picture book (56 pages), very silly, about a class of dunderheads whose teacher, Miss Breakbone hates kids. She also confiscates contraband, including a one-eared toy cat that Theodore aka Junkyard found in the trash and planned to give to his cat-loving mother for her birthday. Dunderheads to the rescue! The gang of multi-talented misfits finds its way to Miss Breakbone’s house to reclaim the cat and show Miss Breakbone that she can’t get away with stealing from the Dunderheads.

Fleischman says of his story, “Behind The Dunderheads lies not only Ocean’s Eleven and Mission: Impossible but also The Fool of the World and the Flying Ship, The Five Chinese Brothers, and similar folk tales from deep in our past.” I was also reminded of Harry Allard’s Miss Nelson Is Missing.

Becky on The Dunderheads: “The premise of this is fun. And most readers will probably enjoy it more than I did. What with the plotting, pranking, and spitting.”

Dessert First features a teacher, Mrs. Howdy Doody, with quite a different personality from that of Miss Breakbone. In fact, I would guess that Miss Howdy Doody’s middle name is Pollyanna, and she says things like “I am inspired!” and “My dear happy learners.” A little too much sugar in Mrs. Howdy Doody’s make-up, and it turns out that sugar is Dessert Schneider’s problem, too. She likes dessert, talks her family into serving dessert first, and finds it hard to resist any dessert available. When Dessert’s mom makes Double Decker Chocolate Bars and leaves a note instructing everyone to leave them alone, Dessert is sorely tempted. What’s an eight year old dessert lover to do when there are Double D’s in the refrigerator “sitting together neatly on Mummy’s shiny turquoise paper”?

I enjoyed this little tale about temptation, and repentance, and confession, and forgiveness, and restitution–all in a shiny, easy to read package! I may have to read this one to Z-baby who has her own issues with sugar, and dessert and resisting temptation.

Reading Zone on Dessert First: “Dessert reminded me a lot of another fun early middle grade character- Clementine. She’s spunky, spirited, happy, and even a little “fresh” at times. Even better? She’s real! She reminded me a lot of the 3rd graders I student taught a few years ago.”

The Problem with the Puddles is the silliest of the three Sillies. Norton Juster (author of one of my favorites, The Phantom Tollbooth) contributes a blurb on the back of the cover extolling the wordplay and the “lively boisterous manner” of this book, and I would agree. However, it’s just not The Phantom Tollbooth. The Puddle family leaves the country for the city and accidentally leaves their two dogs, both named Sally, behind. Hilarity and confusion ensue. The dogs set off for the city on their own; the Puddles try to get back to the country to retrieve the dogs. Chronic disagreements, complications, a messy misunderstanding, and a dog-collecting secret catcher get in the way of the ultimate reunion.

I really think some kids would love this story, and others would just think it was . . . silly. You probably know already which of the two categories fits your reading interests.

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