The Franny K. Stein, Mad Scientist books
by Jim Benton
Children's books review by P.J. Rooks
If you're the girl with the doll that bites the heads off the other girls' dolls, chances are, you're not going to be running a waiting list for new friends. What you will be running, though, is a set-up for the sort of ongoing childhood rejection that eventually leads to life-wrecking labels like "psychotic," "deviant," or, at a kinder minimum, "eccentric."
But not for Franny K. Stein, Mad Scientist -- and, unfortunately, the new kid in the class. Franny may not fit in very well, but she's got a few ideas rattling around in her deviant and eccentric brain about how to fix it.
She knows that science can solve anything, so, with a little nudge from her beloved teacher, Miss Shelly, she approaches the problem in data collection mode.
Hmmm… what do the human children do at school? How do they interact? What do they eat, wear, and play? Let's see...
Well for starters, when the kids at school want to jump rope, they find a rope -- not a snake. When they want to play baseball, they throw a ball, not a skull. They do not bring bats to school. They do not skewer and grill their own meat at lunchtime but rather settle for a squashy sandwich. (Crab ravioli in pumpkin sauce will definitely not do -- into the trash it goes.) And their (utterly boring) dolls do not bite or spurt slime, so Chompolina and Oozette, Franny's inventions designed specifically to win friends and influence people, are returned without debut to the backpack and the unwilling company of a worried bat.
Finally, after trying and failing many times, lonely desperation seizes our child prodigy one night and she chugs a fateful potion that will turn her into just the kind of girl that the other kids expect. Poof! Ah -- and what a lovely transformation. Her parents are bug-eyed when a mild-mannered, cute, and flowery Franny appears for breakfast the next morning. At school, Franny makes rapid strides toward her goal of making new friends with a freshly modified Chompolina that squirts glitter and perfume. Everything is going blissfully according to plan. On the inside, though, Franny is ready to explode!
But Franny's not the only one. The classroom trash can is moving on its own! No -- uh -- it's fine. Really. What could possibly be wrong? There are only a couple of stinky old shoes, a piece of chewed gum, and Franny's pumpkin-crab ravioli in there.
As long as no one has thrown away anything like unstable industrial waste, everything will be just fine. WHAT?! Someone has thrown away unstable industrial waste?! Oh no!
And rising from the trash can is a terrifyingly evil, gum chewing, shoe-slopping, toxic-waste-dripping, pumpkin-headed crab monster.
And it's making off with Miss Shelly!
Only a mad scientist can save the day now! But is Franny K. Stein willing to forsake her new identity as a "nice" girl? Will she sacrifice her hard-won friendships for Miss Shelly's freedom? And if she does, will she ever have another friend in her life?
Low on science and high on humor, each of Jim Benton's Franny K. Stein books teach kids an important social lesson. For example, in The Invisible Fran, Franny learns to value the seemingly useless and mundane hobbies of her (in Franny's opinion) vapid classmates. A great lesson for any scientist-type who might be cantering down that lonely road of self-aggrandizement where all the world's non-scientists are classified as "stupid" and the value of diversity or less obvious skills are either trampled or ignored. (And these are our top minds? I think not.)
Likewise, in The Fran that Time Forgot, Franny has a terrifying glimpse into the future of her own neuroticism and learns, for the sake of the entire planet, how to laugh at herself.
Just one of many titles in this fantastic series by writer and cartoonist Jim Benton, Lunch Walks Among Us was the third Franny K. Stein book that we've devoured. To get a quick start, check out Franny K. Stein's Crate of Danger, which includes Lunch Walks Among Us, Attack of the 50-Foot Cupid, The Invisible Fran and The Fran that Time Forgot.
That is the end of the review. Please feel free to stop reading.
I just wanted to give a quick explanation of why I am reading these books, geared for ages seven to ten, to my four-year-old.
So I will say, in a nutshell, that I am guilty of taking total advantage of the fact that she likes to hear me talk right now. (Plus, the Franny K. Stein series has a picture on every page, so it's an easy sell for little kids.)
It won't be long before every time I open my mouth, my daughter will cover her tortured ears and wish that her bombastic, pedantic mom would just shut the heck up. In the meantime, however, I’m trying to load her up with vocabulary (so she can explain her world), knowledge (so she can find fascination in it), and a love of books (so she’ll know where to go to learn more about it).
To that end, I’m still refusing to bog her down with the boring task of learning to read. To me, here and now, especially when her mind is at such a ripe stage, there's an opportunity cost between curiosity and skills and frankly, they can teach her the skills at school. I want her to learn to love books (and so far, it's working). We're also reading the wonderful Magic Treehouse series, which I'll review next.
Read more of P.J.'s reviews.
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