Wednesday 19 June 2013

The Dunderheads - Behind Bars by Paul Fleischman and David Roberts (Walker Books)

"dunderhead [Duhn-dur-hed]


a stupid or slow-witted person; dunce Also called dunderpate
[probably from Dutch donder thunder + head; compare blockhead]
dunderheaded adj
dunderheadedness n"

Oh that's harsh. If you've previously met "The Dunderheads" in the first book by Paul Fleischman and David Roberts, you'll know that they really aren't stupid, definitely aren't slow witted and are by no means a bunch of dunces. This plucky gang of kids return for a second run, this time they're kicking their heels during the long school summer holiday, so our review is timely indeed!

Einstein (the brains of the outfit) finds out that teen star Ashley Throbb-Hart is in town to film a new movie, and auditions are being held in town. Grabbing his friend Hollywood along the way, and the rest of the Dunderhead crew (Spider, Wheels, Nails, Spitball, Google-Eyes, Clips and Junkyard), the children narrowly avoid a run-in with the fearsome Miss Breakbone (think Miss Trunchbull but meatier, if that's even possible!) and her disturbingly identical (but male) twin Inspector Breakbone. 

The kids are successful in their bid for stardom, but frustratingly still don't get to hob-nob with the stars. 

When there's a local break in and jewellery is stolen, somehow Spider ends up implicated and is soon on the wrong side of a rather nasty set of bars, with a would-be cannibal as a cell-mate. EEK!

Behind this crazy knockabout story that's told at a rip-roaring pace, I thought there was a rather poignant symbolic tale of unfair incarceration and the struggle for justice and freedom tucked neatly behind, like a shy teen. Certain cues in David Roberts' sublime visuals (like the orange suit Spider has to wear in prison - which looks eerily like...

Camp X-Ray, Guantanamo Bay
I won't ruin the end of the story but it's one of those moments (if you read the story as I did) where you realise just how powerful children's books have become as a voice to reflect the best and also sometimes the very worst things that happen in the world. For Charlotte, the story was enjoyable and she liked the great mix of characters and the hectic pace. For me it felt like a book that had something more important to whisper to grown ups and the way we treat others (and also the way we're far too prone to jumping to conclusions about things). 

Charlotte's best bit: Hollywood's utterly awesome film collection. I think we need shelves like that at home. She also loved Ashley Throbb-Hart's amazing taste in fashion. 

Daddy's favourite bit: Subtle, clever, whispering in multi-tones. A book that is definitely no dunderhead. 

(Very kindly sent to us for review by those utterly brilliant folk at The Letterbox Library)