Sixth-grade magician Thomas Fallgrout has a troubled start in his new school, where unusual talents are the norm.
At the Pennybaker Hill Academy for the Uniquely Gifted, a bronze bust of a much-admired former teacher stands in the front hall, venerated by students and staff alike. Thomas calls the statue the “Heirmauser head of horror”—a sacrilege that makes him the likely suspect when it disappears from its shrine in the vestibule. Billed as the first of a series of books about middle schoolers whose talents range from talking to hedgehogs to playing the digeridoo, this is nonstop middle-grade humor—spitball wars, food fights, a skateboarding grandmother, and all. Thomas’ first-person narrative is full of imagined horrible punishments for Louis XIV, inventor of the necktie he has to wear as part of his school uniform, and other flights of his imagination. Occasionally the voice is more adult than sixth-grade, but the absurdity remains. Beyond the mystery of the stolen bust, there are familiar new-in-school and friendship themes. Thomas thinks his new neighbor Chip Mason is “capital-‘W’ weird,” but, over time, Chip becomes the friend Thomas sorely needs. Kissi’s black-and-white illustrations show Thomas as white and Chip as black; final art not seen.
Humor that works its own magic trick: disappearing from middle school shelves. (Fiction. 9-12)