Category Archives: characters with disabilities

Fleabrain Loves Franny by Joanne Rocklin

hi_res_FLF_COVER_2-330 The first time I heard Charlotte’s Web was while sitting on the carpet of my 4th grade classroom in 1975 when Mrs. Smith read the book aloud to us. I was captivated. At the time, I had no idea that the book was already more than 20 years old. Fleabrain Loves Franny opens in the early 1950s, just after E.B. White published Charlotte’s Web, and main character Franny is just as smitten with Charlotte as I was. We meet Franny not long after she’s recovered from polio and is grappling with life in a wheelchair. She’s still considered contagious by her friends and their parents, and she wishes for a friend like Charlotte. Fleabrain is no Charlotte, but his imperfect love for Franny sets her off on a journey–both fantastical and internal–that provides both a needed escape from reality as well as a solid plan for her new normal. Franny is a sympathetic character who doesn’t evoke pity, but respect. One of my favorite lines is when Franny’s former gang of friends parades by her house yet again, waving and saying how much they miss her. She thinks: “Which Franny do you miss? Because, actually, I’ve been here all along. In the flesh.” She doesn’t want or need to be treated with kid gloves, and the resolved friendships in the end are both satisfying and realistic.

Teachers and students often ask if we have any new historical fiction titles on the shelves, and I’m looking forward to recommending this one in the fall.

Publisher’s description:  This gem of a novel takes place in Pittsburgh in 1952. Franny Katzenback, while recovering from polio, reads and falls in love with the brand-new book Charlotte’s Web. Bored and lonely and yearning for a Charlotte of her own, Franny starts up a correspondence with an eloquent flea named Fleabrain who lives on her dog’s tail. While Franny struggles with physical therapy and feeling left out of her formerly active neighborhood life, Fleabrain is there to take her on adventures based on his extensive reading. It’s a touching, funny story set in the recent past, told with Rocklin’s signature wit and thoughtfulness

Hand this book to the kid who:

* enjoys historical fiction

* is interested in science (especially microbiology and germs/bacteria/viruses/medicine)

* loves a light touch of fantasy

* is struggling with feeling different from his or her peers

* would like to vicariously visit the Seven Wonders of the World

* is a fan of  E.B. White’s Charlotte’s Web and Katie Speck’s Maybelle series.

Charlotte_Maybelle

Use this book to discuss:

* Differences–So often we highlight ways in which we are different from other people, instead of celebrating the many ways that we are alike. Having a peek into Franny’s point of view, we realize that the kernel of who she is has not changed; it’s her community who has changed the way they see her through a lens of fear

* The science behind vaccines –As I looked through our library’s online catalog, I realized that we have quite a few non-fiction titles about epidemics and the role/effects of disease throughout history. Jonas Salk, the man who discovered the polio vaccine, is mentioned several times in the book.

* Points of View–While most of the story is told from Franny’s point of view, we do see snippets of Fleabrain’s point of view, as well. Especially in the end, when Fleabrain can’t communicate with Franny, students can discuss misunderstanding, intentions, and forgiveness all within the context of friendship.

For schools with Internet filters that block YouTube, click here for the trailer on School Tube.

Visit author Joanne Rocklin’s website here and my interview with her here in 2012.

Many thanks to the publisher who provided this e-galley via Netgalley.

The Nitty Gritty~

Publisher: Amulet/Abrams Books

Publication Date: August 2014

ISBN-13: 978-1-4197-1068-1

Number of Pages: 288

For ages 9-12

Six Months Later by Natalie D. Richards

When I received the e-galley of Six Months Later from NetGalley, I was in the middle of reading another book–a print book. Now, I’m not the kind of reader who juggles more than one story at a time–once I enter one fictitious world, I prefer to stay in that world right through to the last page. But when I found myself waiting in a long line at the bank one day, I pulled my Kindle from my bag and opened the Six Months Later e-galley. And that was that. I didn’t go back to the print book until I’d finished my e-galley of Six Months Later. I was swept up into Chloe’s world and had to find out how it ended. As the mom of a teen girl, I knew that kids would be drawn to the mystery and intrigue of the plot. As a teacher-librarian, I was practically giddy at the possibilities for discussion that this book lends.

Publisher’s description:  She Has Everything She Ever Wanted. But Not Her Memory…

When Chloe fell asleep in study hall, it was the middle of May. When she wakes up, snow is on the ground and she can’t remember the last six months of her life.

Before, she’d been a mediocre student. Now, she’s on track for valedictorian and being recruited by Ivy League schools. Before, she never had a chance with super jock Blake. Now he’s her boyfriend. Before, she and Maggie were inseparable. Now her best friend won’t speak to her.

What happened to her? Remembering the truth could be more dangerous than she knows…

I’m happy to welcome author Natalie D. Richards to Biblio Links to talk about how Six Months Later fits into classrooms, libraries, and book clubs.

Biblio Links: A student walks into my library and I think: That kid needs a copy of Six Months Later. Who is this kid?

Natalie: This is a reader who likes puzzles, a teen who likes to unravel things and enjoys stories that keep them guessing. It might be a kid who struggles to get into “slow start” books, or maybe a kid who’s more bright and promising than she realizes. My main character struggles with her personal definition of success throughout the book, so I think it’s also a good book for readers who are thinkers and challengers, teens who are forge their own path through education.

Biblio Links: If we were to peek into a classroom where a teacher is using Six Months Later in a lesson, or a librarian is discussing your book in a book club, what might we see?

Natalie: If we are in a literature classroom, she might be talking about how a writer can build different layers of suspense throughout a manuscript. In a guidance counselor’s office or a college prep class, you’d probably hear a conversation about the pressures of late high school life, and strategies for handling those pressures without losing yourself in them.

Biblio Links: What writing advice do you have for teens?

Natalie: READ READ READ. Oh, and read. Then read a little more. No joke, reading is key. And writing is a darn close second. There are also loads of amazing organizations depending on the genre you’re interested in writing. I’m always happy to recommend SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators) for anyone interested in writing for children or teens.

Biblio Links: Where can teachers, librarians and students learn more about you and your book?

Natalie: I love visiting schools and speaking with libraries. By all means, email me at natdrichards@gmail.com or check out my website at http://www.nataliedrichards.com

Thanks, Natalie!

Hand this book to the kid who:

* might be a reluctant reader and needs a page-turner of a mystery (I would not be surprised if this book ends up on the ALA Quick Picks for Young Adult Readers)

* dreams of being accepted by the “in crowd” and needs some reminding that he or she can shine without the glitter of popularity

* could use a positive role model of a character with a disability. Chloe’s best friend, Maggie, stutters. While Chloe obviously realizes this, it is not a big deal at all. I love that. There’s a brief reference to one of the popular crowd who teases Maggie, but it’s not a focus of who Maggie is, and it’s not An Issue at all.

Use this to teach:

Plot Structure–The opening of the book begins with Chloe waking up in study hall and having no idea what’s happened to her in the past six months. There are flashbacks, foreshadowing, and red herrings, oh my! Teens will enjoy piecing this plot together.

* Character Development--Chloe learns both who she was and who she is becoming, as well as the value of true friendship.

*Ethics–The Chloe who wakes up in study hall seems to have it all–top grades, dating the most popular boy in school, etc. After reading the book, discuss with kids the ethics behind drugs, procedures, etc. that are designed to bring us closer and closer to perfect. Pair this book with Scott Westerfield’s Uglies series.

Click here for the author’s website and reviews.

The Nitty Gritty~

Publisher: Sourcebooks

Publication Date: October 1, 2013

ISBN-13: 9781402285516

Number of Pages: 336

Thanks to Sheila at Book Journeys for starting this meme, and Jen (Teach Mentor Texts) and Kellee (Unleashing Readers) for turning it into a kid-lit meme! Click here for more Monday reviews.

Thanks to Sheila at Book Journeys for starting this meme, and Jen (Teach Mentor Texts) and Kellee (Unleashing Readers) for turning it into a kid-lit meme! Click here for more Monday reviews.