cover image Earth to Clunk

Earth to Clunk

Pam Smallcomb, illus. by Joe Berger. Dial, $16.99 (40p) ISBN 978-0-8037-3439-5

The unnamed narrator's teacher has come up with an unusual writing assignment: send a letter and "something from Earth" to an alien pen pal named Clunk. With a turn of the page, however, readers will realize that they're not dealing with a story that's entirely earthbound. The boy sends Clunk his big sister ("THAT will teach him to have a pen pal from Earth"), but Clunk refuses to take the bait, sending instead a cute, friendly, and floating puffball named Zoid who soon becomes the boy's avid companion. As the correspondence turns into a rousing game of "Can You Top This?" the narrator drops his defenses and his affection grows, culminating in an interplanetary sleepover. Smallcomb (I'm Not) and Berger (Hattie the Bad) have been better elsewhere: this story feels thrown together and skids to a halt. But they're too talented to leave readers bereft of comic pleasures. Smallcomb expertly channels a sarcastic kid who's secretly a softie, while Berger's expressive cartooning conveys the maniacal glee of a character who can't wait to one-up his frenemy. Ages 4%E2%80%938. (May)