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.
Families are unique and have different expectations for the books they choose to read. The following is a list of concepts included in this book that some parents may wish to seek out or avoid.
Note that this list is not exhaustive and there may be concepts in this book that are not included or have been insufficiently or incorrectly detailed here.
Franny’s biggest desire is to walk again, and she works really hard to make that happen. What have you worked really hard at?
Many words in Fleabrain Loves Franny have more than one meaning. For example, the word ‘great’ can mean powerful or wonderful, and the word ‘pedestrian’ can mean a person who walks or it can be used to describe something that lacks inspiration or excitement. What are other words that have more than one meaning?
Franny and Fleabrain perform all kinds of good deeds around the neighborhood when they’re out riding Lightning the horse together. What kinds of good deeds could you do in your neighborhood?
What is Fleabrain Loves Franny about?
[It is] a story about a special girl, an inspiring book, and a brilliant (though unintentionally funny) flea.
Was your dog, Zoe, an inspiration for any of the characters in Fleabrain Loves Franny?
Yes! My new middle grade children’s novel takes place in the 1950’s in Pittsburgh, during the worst polio epidemics of that era. Franny, my main character contracts the disease and can no longer walk. During her hospital stay she is introduced to the recently published Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White, and falls in love with the book, and, especially, the spider, Charlotte. She longs for a Charlotte of her own. Her wish is granted in the form of the brilliant and hilarious Fleabrain, her dog Alf’s flea. Alf, the patient and generous “host” of Fleabrain, is modeled after my good-natured and friendly Zoe.
“Rocklin’s . . . rich depiction of 1950s Pittsburgh turns into a touching, imaginative whimsy . . .”
“Comedic and philosophical, readers will find multiple levels to enjoy . . . Rocklin includes an author’s note reflecting on polio and the disability issues, as well as offering a helpful bibliography and discussion guide, which will lend this title to social studies curricula. Useful and fun.”
“Joanne Rocklin has brought into being perhaps the tiniest and most accomplished hero yet: a dashing, erudite, multilingual flea . . . moving and witty.”
“Fleabrain, scholarly and erudite, is pompous . . . and seems far too sophisticated for the intended audience. On the other hand, Rocklin perfectly captures the era of 1952 and creates a sympathetic, realistic character in Franny, who begins to accept her condition, rejoin her friends and even protest her school’s inaccessibility.”