Fleabrain Loves Franny
by Joanne Rocklin
published by Amulet Books
Available August 12, 2014
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.
My Two Cents
I have to say, I wasn't quite sure I would be into this book. At first, I thought it would be very serious and kind of blah...Boy, was I wrong! I ended up truly enjoying this middle grade standout! Set in the 50's, the book explores the life of Franny, who has recently been diagnosed with polio. The historical facts--as well as the creative story that fills in the gaps--is fascinating.
I learned more about polio than I ever knew...I never knew the social fear surrounding this disease in the 1950's! Children who were infected were shunned by friends, and forced not only to endure painful treatment plans, but also attend special schools because of their physical disabilities. Jonas Salk changed all that.
The book is set in a world that is still in panic at this epidemic. Franny, however, chooses to be the victor in her fight against both polio and the community's reaction to her having contracted it.
This is one of my favorite excerpts:
"I don't have to tell you what your daughter has endured. Is still enduring. I don't have to tell you how her life has changed and that she is extremely lonely. Surely you understand how an active imagination can add a little pleasure to her life'...
You were not supposed to punch a doctor in the nose. Actually, you were not supposed to punch anyone in the nose if you were brought up to be a good citizen, except maybe in certain situations. The only times Franny had seen noses punched were in cartoons and movies. But if she had the nerve, which she didn't, and if she could reach his nose from her wheelchair, which she couldn't, this was certainly a real-life nose-punching situation."
I simply love the character of Franny. She is so real, and so human, but at the same time, she will not be reduced to being an invalid. She becomes more herself than ever in spite of her illness. Franny is the kind of strong, smart, motivated girl I want my daughter to read about.
When you mix in the love for E.B. White's Charlotte's Web, and a wickedly clever flea, you have a smashing success of a middle grade novel!
Clearly, Fleabrain isn't the only one who loves Franny!
You are gonna want to read this...you are gonna want your kids to read this! Kudos to Rocklin on a job well done!