Category Archives: pets

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.


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


Bogart and Vinnie: A Completely Made-up Story of True Friendship by Audrey Vernick, illustrated by Henry Cole

Did you know that in 2011, the United Nations designated July 30 as International Friendship Day?  If not, no worries–you can celebrate friendship any day of the year with Audrey Vernick’s newly-released picture book Bogart and Vinnie: A Completely Made-Up Story of True Friendship.

9780802728227Publisher’s Description:    When Vinnie, a crazy-happy dog, gets lost while visiting a nature preserve with his family, he finds comfort in the company of Bogart, a big, lazy rhinoceros. Vinnie loves his new friend, but Bogart would rather just take a nap. A friendship soon blossoms–even if Vinnie’s definition of “friendship” is very different from Bogart’s–and when word of their unique situation spreads, Bogart and Vinnie are a worldwide sensation! But as soon as their fifteen seconds of fame ends, what’s left is a bond even Bogart can’t ignore.

Pairing picture-book veteran, Henry Cole, with up-and-coming author, Audrey Vernick, this clever spoof of the unendingly popular interspecies animal-friendship story is full of heart and humor.


As an elementary school librarian, books on friendship are in high demand, not only from kids, but from teachers and guidance counselors, as well. Far from being didactic, Bogart and Vinnie is funny and poignant and entertaining–exactly what we’ve come to expect from Audrey Vernick. Illustrator Henry Cole has also done an amazing job. His work is so diverse, from the serious…


to the silly:


Take a look at the expressions of the faces of Bogart and Vinnie on the book’s cover, and you’ll have a good idea of how both Cole’s art and Vernick’s words make a pitch-perfect match.

obj469geo247pg8p25I asked Audrey how readers  connect with Bogart and Vinnie.

Biblio Links: A student walks into my library and I think: That kid needs a copy of  Bogart and Vinnie: A Completely Made-Up Story of True Friendship. Who is this kid?

Audrey Vernick: It’s actually a few different kids.

First, it’s a kid who likes to laugh. I recently read it with a child entering second grade and we both had so much fun. While she needed help with some words, her delight in discovering the humor herself was infectious. I think she was accustomed to being read to, especially her first time through a book. But the way she both decoded text and then understood, about a second later, that what she was reading was funny was absolutely delicious to watch. In terms of humor, I think a child who pays special attention to illustrations will have a lot of fun with this book–Henry Cole brought a tractorload of hilarious details.

I also think Bogart himself will be appreciated by the kind of reader I was–one who, even at a young age, had a respect and need for solitude. I still remember sitting with a book in the rocking chair in my bedroom, by myself, by choice, at a very young age. Though Bogart the rhinoceros would not fit in a rocking chair, the idea of time to himself is as appealing as it is impossible, once Vinnie enters his life.

Biblio Links: 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?

Audrey Vernick: I think the teacher might have recently read Owen and Mzee, FC9780439829731or one of the many, many, many interspecies friendship picture books. And the teacher might be asking about the difference between those nonfiction tales and this completely made-up story of true friendship. He or she might also wonder, as I did, how the authors of those books defined friendship–does interaction always imply friendship? Does being photographed next to each other mean animals are best friends? The teacher might also ask the students in that small group to focus on the illustrations to see if sometimes what’s being shown in the pictures doesn’t exactly line up with what the text says–for example, are the animals really playing follow the leader, or is Bogart trying to lose Vinnie?

 Biblio LinksWhere can teachers, librarians and students learn more about you and your book?
Audrey Vernick: My,
facebook (as well as pages for my books), and
twitter: @yourbuffalo

Biblio Links: Thanks for stopping by, Audrey!

Check out Audrey’s middle grade novel, Water Balloon (Biblio Links interview hereand picture books, Bark and Tim,  Is Your Buffalo Ready for Kindergarten? (Biblio Links interview here) and Teach Your Buffalo To Play The Drums, So You Want to Be a Rock Star? (Biblio Links interview here) and picture book biographies She Loved Baseball: The Effa Manley Story and Brothers At Bat Biblio Links interview here).

The Nitty Gritty~

Publisher: Walker Children’s

Publication Date: June 2013

ISBN-10: 0802728227

ISBN-13: 978-0802728227

Interest Level: Ages 4 and up

Number of Pages: 40

Monkey Ono, written and illustrated by J.C. Phillipps

Today Biblio Links welcomes back the funny and talented author/illustrator J.C. Phillips

Photograph by Phyllis Meredith Photography
Photograph by Phyllis Meredith Photography

 I interviewed J.C. last year about her Wink the Ninja picture books, both favorites in my school library.

Her latest book, Monkey Ono,  came out this summer, just in time for beach day, and it’s officially my 7-year-old son’s favorite book. His first grade class had a Beach Day at their school, and he slipped Monkey Ono into his backpack. His teacher read it to an enthusiastic audience of newly-minted Monkey Ono fans.

Here’s the summary from J.C. Phillipps’ website:

Monkey Ono is not exactly a real monkey, but he really, really wants to go to the beach! So when Beach Day arrives, and the children who own him forget the bag he’s in, Monkey Ono does not take this lying down, like most stuffed animals would. Oh no, he’s got a plan. In fact he’s got many, many plans. From riding the family dog to ricocheting through the sky to diving down the water pipes. All end with hilarious results, but not exactly according to plan. Will Monkey Ono ever get to the beach?? Only if the beach comes to him…

Monkey Ono

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

J.C. Phillipps: The ideal Monkey Ono reader is a child who is determined, tenacious, and thinks out of the box.  He or she loves to laugh and thinks toilets and underwear are hilarious.  A love of silly stuffed monkeys and catch-phrases is a bonus.
Biblio Links: 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 or hear?
J.C. Phillipps: Monkey Ono is a great story for teaching students how to write simple plot-lines.  The character Monkey Ono is introduced along with a clear goal: Monkey Ono wants a beach day.  Monkey Ono makes a choice to reach his goal and meets an obstacle.  Monkey Ono makes another choice and meets another obstacle.   This keeps going until Monkey Ono achieves his goal.  He is always focused on a singular goal – so it’s very stream-lined.   It’s a  straight-forward, linear story with a clear external character objective.
Biblio Links: I’ll also add that Monkey Ono uses both pictures and words to make his plans; a perfect springboard for pre-writers to draw up their own sequenced plans for fun.  
Where can teachers, librarians and students learn more about you and your book?  
J.C. Phillipps: Oh my goodness.  There are sooo many social media outlets now.  I think the best places to find out more about me and my books are my website ( and my blog (

Biblio Links: Thanks for joining us, Julie!

Teachers and librarians, go to this link for a virtual tour  of J.C.’s studio, here for extra activities for your students, and here to check out J.C.’s art on Teacher Pay Teachers.

The Nitty Gritty~

Publisher: Viking Juvenile

Publication Date: March 2013

ISBN-13: 978-0670785056

Interest Level: 3-8 years

Number of Pages: 40

Lowji Discovers America by Candace Fleming

Hard Cover


This is the next book up in my series of reviews of middle grade books that reflect the immigrant experience.

When Lowji and his parents move to America from India one summer, Lowji finds himself without friends and with nothing to do. He’s always dreamed of having a pet, but the no-nonsense landlady, Mrs. Crisp, does not allow pets in her building. But Lowji doesn’t give up, and finally convinces the hard-working Mrs. Crisp that she needs a mouse-catching cat, a friendly guard dog, and a lawn-trimming goat. In the end, Lowji befriends a girl in his neighborhood who helps him take care of Mrs. Crisp’s newly-acquired menagerie.

While many immigrant families struggle economically after settling in the US, this story offers a refreshing reminder that not all newly arrived families struggle financially. Lowji’s mother has a high-tech job, and his father does the cooking at home.

With its sparse text and humor, Lowji Discovers America makes a good read-aloud and is recommended for kids who are moving into chapter books.

Hand this book to the kid:

* Who recently emigrated to the US

* Who is beginning to read chapter books

* Who loves animals

* Who is going through culture shock

* Who is learning English

* Who needs to know that there’s a “silver lining” to some obstacles in life

* Who has immigrated to the U.S. and into your heart

Use this to teach:

Empathy–Immigrant children will certainly identify with Lowji, and for children who have never been the “new kid” at school, readers will empathize with Lowji’s bewilderment as he’s introduced to American culture and slang.

* Letter Writing--Lowji’s letters to his best friend back in India are sprinkled throughout the text.

*Voice and Humor–Although Lowji learned English in school back in India, his voice is distinct and reflects the cadence and grammatical patterns of a second language learner. His voice would also make a good study in humor for student writers.

Curriculum Guide here.

The Nitty Gritty~

Click here for reviews.

Publisher: Aladdin

Publication Date: 2005 (paperback version 2008)

ISBN: 978-1-416-95832-1 (paperback) 978-0-689-862991 (hard cover)

Number of Pages: 160

Reading Level: 3.1

Interest Level:  ages 7-10