Meanwhile, The Dunderheads is really growing on me. When the discussion started, I was relying on month’s-old memory of having read the dummy at ALA. My library’s copy just made it through processing, and I have to say that I couldn’t agree more with Jonathan’s assertion of "superb characterization." He goes on to say that the "characters remain little more than types"…but the whole point is that they are types. The tone of the narrator lends significance and thus superpowers to types that every kid can recognize and relate to. (Appropriatness of style, excellence of presentation for a child audience…) That is doing something "distinguished" with an otherwise "simple" short adventure story (which also reveals remarkable sense of rhythm, pacing, language….). The predictability is similarly instrinsic to the the story’s melodrama: it’s a recognizable and structurally sound base from which all sorts of mayhem can safely and imaginiatively ensue.
And the one-eared cat (of previous comments). Is it alive or not? Yes, it is true that here is the one place where you really do need the illustration to understand what’s happening. And yet, the illustrations do not "make the book less effective," so we don’t have to worry about that. It’s just that there in that one place in the text, the text is not fully effective on its own. I think even with that tiny flaw (and it is tiny: the issue is resolved in the following line), the book merits discussion with other Newbery contenders. It accomplishes what it sets out to do with finesse. For what it is–a picture book–it is "marked by excellence" and "individually distinct." For what it has to work with, the plotting and characterization are comparable even to some of the longer books that we’ve been looking at…say, A Season of Gifts. (Don’t you think Grandma Dowdel was a Dunderhead, once upon a time?)