Category Archives: STEM

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


Bone by Bone: Comparing Animal Skeletons by Sara Levine, illustrated by T.S. Spookytooth


Publisher’s description: What animal would you be if your finger bones grew so long that they reached your feet? Or what if you had no leg bones but kept your arm bones? This picture book will keep you guessing as you read about how human skeletons are like—and unlike—those of other animals.

My thoughts: As soon as I read the e-galley of Bone by Bone, I ordered a copy for our school library. It’s rare to find a book on life science that’s so appealing for very young children, yet has lots to offer for upper elementary kids, as well.

The various fonts are visually appealing without feeling too busy, and delightful illustrations  help readers to imagine what they might look like if they had, say, extra vertebrae (a tail) or finger bones that reached the ground (like a bat’s webbed fingers). The information is delivered in a clear, straightforward manner with a Q&A format that will get kids predicting before each page-turn.

The back matter–sections titled More About Bones and More About Vertebrates, and recommended books and websites for further reading–can all be used for differentiating instruction for kids who want to go more in depth with the information in the book. Struggling readers or English Language Learners can use the illustrations to grasp the book’s main idea.

Although this is an any-time-of-year book, it would be fun to include Bone by Bone in a Halloween display. Highly recommended.

P.S.: Scroll down this post’s comments section for some great ideas suggested by the author herself, Sara Levine.

Hand this book to the kid who:

* is curious about how things work

* loves animals (Bone by Bone‘s author, Sara Levine, is a veterinarian)

* claims to be a budding scientist

* Enjoys “guessing” books with a Q&A format

Use this to teach:

Animal Units–All students in the U.S. study animals and habitats at some point during their elementary school years. Most non-fiction animal books for young children cover the basics: habitat, diet, life cycle, protection, etc.. But if you’re teaching kids to use more than one print resource in a research project, this would give them additional facts not usually found elsewhere.

*Comparing–One of the things I like best about this book is that every skeletal feature that the reader learns about an animal is compared to what that same feature would look like in a human. Older kids can use math to calculate comparisons by percentage. For example, the book tells us that a giraffe vertebrae is 10 inches long. Let kids research how long the average human vertebrae is and calculate the giraffe-to-kid ratio.

*Health–With all of the math, language arts, science and social studies standards that we have to cover in a year, health is that subject on the report card that often gets the short shrift. Using Bone by Bone in the classroom covers language arts, science, math and, that report card step child known as health.

* Non-Fiction Text Features–Introduce young readers to these non-fiction text features from the book: labels, key words in color (vertebrates and non-vertibrates), and glossary

The Nitty Gritty~

Classroom resources and author interview here.

Publisher: Lerner Publishing Group/Millbrook Press

Publication Date: August 1, 2013

ISBN-10: 0-7613-8464-2

ISBN-13: 978-0-7613-8464-9

Number of Pages: 32

Interest Level: K-4

Thanks to Anatastia Suen for creating Non-Fiction Mondays, and to Sally's Bookshelf for hosting today!

Thanks to Anatastia Suen for creating Non-Fiction Mondays, and to Sally’s Bookshelf for hosting today!


Click here for more children’s book recommendations that highlight science, technology, engineering and math!