An exceptional flea helps a polio-stricken girl in this tale of friendship and acceptance.
Ten-year-old Franny Katzenback, stuck in a wheelchair in her bedroom in Squirrel Hill, Pittsburgh, waits for a miracle cure. She endures painful therapy and isolation as fear of contagion keeps friends away. An avid reader, Franny falls in love with the newly published Charlotte’s Web. When a flea writes her a note, Franny, lonely and so aware of the power of even the tiniest viruses, writes back. Fleabrain has extraordinary powers. He mounts Franny on a flying horse, and together, they do nocturnal good deeds throughout the city and fly to see the Seven Wonders of the World. Fleabrain, scholarly and erudite, is pompous, too often spouting quotes followed by the name of the quoted, including birth and death dates. He’s not a particularly likable flea (no Charlotte he); his pontificating interrupts the story and seems far too sophisticated for the intended audience, as do some of the fantasy adventures, as when Fleabrain is summoned to judgment by hordes of nuclei. 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.
As a historical novel, this more than succeeds; as a fantasy, it misses the mark. (Fantasy. 10-14)