Category Archives: Historical Fiction

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

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Katerina’s Wish by Jeannie Mobley

Up next in my series on middle grade books that reflect the immigrant experience in the US is a middle grade historical fiction debut from author Jeannie Mobley. I read the advanced reader’s copy this summer and adored Katerina (“Trina” to her friends and family). The book has just been released in stores,  and has already received two starred reviews from Kirkus and Publisher’s Weekly.

Today I’m thrilled to have author Jeannie Mobley here to talk about ways that Katerina’s Wish can be used in classrooms and libraries to connect with students and the curriculum.

From the author’s website: Katerina’s Wish tells the story of a Bohemian family who comes to America in 1900, hoping to work a year in the coal mines of southern Colorado and then buy a farm. After a year, they discover they have no more money than they came with, and much less hope. Then young Trina sees a strange fish and remembers the folk story of a carp that grants wishes. When her sisters make wishes that come true, Trina makes the biggest wish she can, for a farm in America. But is a wish enough to fill a dream so big?

Biblio Links:  Welcome, Jeannie, and congratulations on the release of Katerina’s Wish!

A student walks into my library and I think, That kid needs a copy of Katerina’s Wish. Who is this child?

Jeannie MobleyIt’s funny, but I never really thought of my book as one that a kid
would “need.” I don’t think of my book as one that will help a child cope with their current problems or understand their own confusing life circumstances. But I do think there are many kids who will enjoy my book, and who will find in it food for thought about what really makes
dreams come true.

I would wish my book into the hands of kids who love historical fiction and daydream about living in the past.  In weaving fairy-tale elements into my book, I created a tone that I hope appeals to kids who are still holding onto the idealism of their childhood, even as they approach the pressures of contemporary teenage life, and I want them to feel comfortable and safe in holding on to that optimism of youth. I hope also that my book will encourage kids to feel empowered–to know that by holding on to their dreams and working toward them, they can make their own lives better. I think that’s true of all kids, whether they have
advantages in life or not. But I think my book will appeal most to the quiet kids who have big dreams, but maybe fly beneath the radar of the peer pressure-driven measures of success that so often fill kids’ lives in their formative years. Then again, maybe I think that because that is the kind of kid I was, and I would have liked this book. 🙂

Biblio Links: The Middle Grade me would have loved this book, too! 

If we were to peek into a classroom where a teacher is using your book in a lesson or with a small group, what might we see?

Jeannie MobleyI think you might see many things. Historical fiction has the potential to teach many different lessons in the classroom. For one thing, we, as
a society, keep coming back to many of the same issues repeatedly in our history–things like immigration, racism, labor movements, stereotypes of other ethnicity or nationalities. Sometimes, it is easier to talk about these issues by viewing them in a different, less politically or socially charged context. KATERINA’S WISH is set in 1901, but deals with many of these issues that contemporary people deal with, and I hope could start some of these conversations that have relevance both in understanding our history and understanding the situations we face today. I think the book could also be used as a tie in to history lessons, math (there is a lot of discussion of prices for goods throughout the story), and in creating an interest for students in their own family histories. After all, we here in America, are largely a nation of immigrants.

Whatever the lesson, I would hope you would see students excited to learn about the past and inspired to talk about the social issues that are so ingrained in the American experience.

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

Jeannie MobelyMy website (www.jeanniemobley.com) would be a great place to start. I’ve got an FAQ there that tells a little about the book and why I wrote it, but I always welcome other questions from teachers and readers through the email contact there. I also have some ideas to inspire writing, and a detailed teachers’ guide to KATERINA’S WISH that includes discussion questions and activities across the curriculum. But of course, the best way to learn more about my book, is to read it for yourself!

Biblio Links: Thanks for stopping by, Jeannie!

The Nitty Gritty~

Click here for reviews.

Publisher: Margaret K. McElderry Books, A Division of Simon and Schuster

Publication Date: August 28, 2012

ISBN:  978-1442433434

Number of Pages: 256

Interest Level:  Ages 8 and up

Thanks to Teach Mentor Texts for hosting today’s What Are You Reading?

Thanks to Shannon Messenger for hosting Marvelous Middle Grade Monday!