The boy in Smallcomb’s story starts as a put-upon grouchypants but slowly turns over the course of a pen-pal correspondence.
When his teacher tells him to write to his pen pal, he’s all grumps: “I don’t want a pen pal named Clunk from the planet Quazar.” He completes the assignment by sending his bratty older sister along with the letter. Clunk sends back a Zoid. The boy fires back with his dirty socks (a welder’s helmet and tongs are necessary to handle them, all part of Berger’s bright, sunny interpretations of the story’s brooding crankiness.) Clunk posts three Forps (“Forps smell like dog food”). Things escalate until the boy’s mother demands his sister’s return. Clunk takes a while to respond—the note has been sent in a box full of moldering lasagna—and the boy realizes how much he has enjoyed the skirmishing with Clunk. This tale scales no new heights of much anything, but there is no denying the pleasure of its dry, matter-of-fact delivery: “I got a package from Clunk today! Inside is a disgusting glob of something. And my big sister.” And Berger’s artwork, with its Southern California–bungalow cheeriness, has a wonderful way of turning the story’s gravity in on itself, then stirring the ingredients into broad, spirited humor.
Rarely have school letter-writing exercises been so much fun. (Picture book. 4-8)