cover image Dumbstruck


Sara Pennypacker. Holiday House, $14.95 (149pp) ISBN 978-0-8234-1123-8

Pennypacker makes a winning debut with this witty, quixotic novel that opens with a portentous prologue. Just before he is killed by a bus, a scientist discovers ``a layer of pure knowledge--a sort of smart soup,'' above the clouds atop Mount Everest. He also learns that this layer was thickest ``in the middle of moonless nights.'' Years later, at midnight on such a night, 10-year-old Ivy Greene (whose features have a ``slightly off-centered placement'' that ``suggested that whoever had been in charge of arranging her face may have been new at the job'') hears her mother and father babbling in the garden below her window; in the morning they are nowhere to be found. On her madcap quest for her lost parents, Ivy meets up with a handful of fanciful characters, including Pearletta Swicegood, a dotty neighbor who watches game shows each morning and spends the afternoon shopping for the prizes she has ``won''; Armilda Clott and her ``lumpy and grayish'' husband, Borage, the wicked owners of an orphanage; and the resourceful, pumpkin-shaped Aunt Zilpa, who lives with her 300-pound pet ostrich in the small town of Cheese Bend. Auch's ( Bird Dogs Can't Fly ) caricature-like drawings deepen the humor of Pennypacker's uproarious tale. Ages 9-12. (Apr.)