Perfect Picture Book Fridays are the creation of the lovely children’s book author Susanna Leonard Hill. Check in each week on Fridays for new book reviews. Susanna also has a complete list (alphabetically and by theme) of all the book reviews. It’s a wonderful resource if you’re looking for activities for a book, or books focused on a particular theme.
Author/Illustrator: Pam Smallcomb/Joe Berger
Publisher: Dial Books for Young Readers
Genre: Fiction picture book
Themes: Making friends; differences; siblings
Today Mr. Zookian said I have to write to my pen pal. His name is Clunk.
“He lives on the planet Quazar,” said Mr. Zookian.
“Write him a letter and sent him something from Earth.”
I don’t want a pen pal named Clunk from the planet Quazar. I’m not writing a letter.
Synopsis: (from publisher’s website) What do you send your alien pen pal Clunk to make it clear you do not want an alien pen pal? You send him your big sister. That’ll teach Clunk to have a pen pal from Earth-or so our intrepid narrator thinks. But then Clunk sends him a Zoid, an exasperating Zoid that follows him everywhere. After swapping dirty socks, three Forps, some old lasagna, a weird glob, and a string of Christmas lights, our hero seems to be having…could it be…fun? But then: Clunk stops sending stuff. Oh no! Earth to Clunk . . . ? Is he too busy being bossed around by our hero’s big sister? Will her ever send another package again? Maybe-or maybe not. More hilarious surprises await!
Deadpan comedy, vibrant artwork (a bit Calvin & Hobbes, a bit Eloise), a warm friendship theme, and an extraordinary surprise ending will have kids laughing all the way back to the first page of this sweet-in-spite-of-itself story.
What makes it great: The quite unique alien pen-pal premise is fun, and the voice of the main character is deadpan wonderful. It’s refreshing once in a while to find a main character with what can only be described as a bad attitude. This kid reminds me a bit of Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day.
What readers notice: My 7-year-old absolutely loves this book. We’ve checked it out from the library 3 or 4 times now (I know – we should just go ahead and buy the thing) and he keeps asking for it. He thinks it’s very funny. He also likes the fact that the main character sends his sister off to another planet. I can’t imagine why that’s appealing…
What a writer notices: While the premise is sort of whacky, the author brings us into the world by mentioning planet Quazar right on page one. She keeps the world realistic – it’s basically just like our world today, but with aliens. So it’s easy to accept this altered reality. Also, she does a great job of letting kids play out a fantasy (getting rid of a sibling for a while) and since it is within the whackiness of the story we know it’s not “real.” I also appreciated how she carefully layered in the change in the main character’s attitude. For example, the main character at first hates the lovable Zoid that Clunk sends him, but a bit later in the story ends up sleeping with it, as a stuffed animal, signaling the beginning of the shift in his attitude.
I also noticed that of the four books I’ve reviewed so far for PPBF, three of them are published by Dial BFYR. Coincidence? Maybe…
Links to Resources: I did not find any specific resources for this book, but it would be wonderful to use as an introduction to a pen pal project in school.
Here’s a great interview with Pam Smallcomb