Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Franny K. - the little mad scientist

Franny lives in a pretty pink house with purple shutters on Daffodil street, a bright and cheery house - all except for the upstairs bedroom with the tiny round window. That room would be Franny's room, and she likes to keep it dark and spooky, despite the best efforts of her mother, who keeps redecorating with daisies, lilacs, and pictures of beautiful horses. Yuck, thinks Franny. And in no time it is back to its wonderful, spooky, dungeon-like self, complete with bats and giant spiders. Just the way she likes it. Why, wonders Franny, would anyone want daisies and lilacs when they can have poison ivy and Venus flytraps?

Franny and her family have just moved to Daffodil Street, and Franny is excited to start her first day at school. She loves to learn, and she loves Miss Shelly (get it?), her new teacher. And she's excited about meeting the other kids and making new friends. But there's a little problem when it comes to making friends - the other kids (for some reason) think she's bizarre. They have no idea what to make of her. In fact, she is so very different from them that they are actually afraid of her. Luckily, Miss Shelly is an astute teacher, and she notices what is going on.

She and Franny have a little talk, and she tells Franny that she is so smart, she's sure to figure out how to make friends. Franny isn't so sure...until Miss Shelly says the magic words: "Think of it as an experiment."

Franny attacks her "experiment" with zeal and enthusiasm. She observes the other children, records what they play with (they don't use snakes for jumping rope, for example) and what they have for lunch (they don't eat crab ravioli in pumpkin sauce - they eat something strange called sandwiches). And Franny sets to changing things so they will no longer be afraid of her - so she will be just like them.

But...there are certain advantages to being friends with a mad scientist. And when a threat arises that is so awful no one - not even the wonderful Miss Shelly - knows what to do, what will happen if that terribly talented mad scientist has turned into nothing more than a normal little girl?

This is a funny, sweet book about individuality - and sure, it's a bit predictable as far as the theme goes, but the story unfolds in a funny, surprising way. This book is great for children who are moving from longer picture books and easy readers into chapter books, because there are pictures on every single page (funny, entertaining pictures) and no long, intimidating blocks of unbroken text. This is the first book in a very fun series. Fans of Captain Underpants will be sure to enjoy it (even though it lacks the potty humor).

I love Jim Benton's website (he offers insight into how the books are made, including what he uses for the artwork, showing how sketches become full-blown illustrations and how the cover art changes as different decisions are made. And what better recommendation for Franny could there possibly be than that she was among The National Enquirer's Top Ten Hotties of the Year?

Lunch Walks Among Us (Franny K. Stein, Mad Scientist, #1) by Jim Benton (Aladdin Paperbacks, 2003)

2 comments:

  1. I love these books!! I bought the first one for my son when it first came out. He liked it well enough, but I think my daughters will like them even better when they get a little older!

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  2. They are fun, aren't they?! We just reread #1 for the third time - I read it to my girls when it first came out. Then the older one read it to us, when she got to that point in her reading. And now my 1st grader is reading it to us. Very fun. And thank heavens the books are so good they hold up to a third reading!

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