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
* 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.
Many thanks to the publisher who provided this e-galley via Netgalley.
The Nitty Gritty~
Publisher: Amulet/Abrams Books
Publication Date: August 2014
Number of Pages: 288
For ages 9-12