Read Fleabrain Loves Franny Online

Authors: Joanne Rocklin

Fleabrain Loves Franny

To my dear friend Arlene Moscovitch, kindred spirit and book sharer since third grade

PUBLISHER'S NOTE: This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are either the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Rocklin, Joanne.
Fleabrain loves Franny / by Joanne Rocklin.
pages cm
Summary: “This middle-grade novel takes place in Pittsburgh in 1952–53. The protagonist is Franny, a young girl of imagination, curiosity, and stubbornness. While recovering from polio, she begins a correspondence with a flea named Fleabrain”—Provided by publisher.
Includes bibliographical references.
ISBN 978-1-4197-1068-1 (hardback)
[1. Poliomyelitis—Fiction. 2. People with disabilities—Fiction. 3. Family life—Pennsylvania—Fiction. 4. Fleas—Fiction. 5. Friendship—Fiction. 6. Jews—United States—Fiction. 7. Pittsburgh (Pa.)—History—20th century—Fiction.] I. Title.
PZ7.R59Fle 2014
[Fic]—dc23
2014006380

Text copyright © 2014 Joanne Rocklin
Book design by Kate Fitch

Published in 2014 by Amulet Books, an imprint of ABRAMS. All rights reserved. No portion of this book may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, mechanical, electronic, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without written permission from the publisher.

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CONTENTS

I SUMMER 1952: QUESTIONS

What Franny Knew

II AUTUMN 1952: CORRESPONDENCE

The Note from Nowhere

What Fleabrain Knew

Franny's Answer

Waiting

Other Things Fleabrain Knew

Believing

By the Light of the Moon

The Bookcase

The Vista from Alf's Left Ear

Revenge, Then Disaster

Last Words

Nothing, Then Something

Sparky's Finest

“Nee-cheh”

III WINTER 1952–53: ADVENTURES

The Bath

The Meeting

A Ride in the Night

FB Saliva #1

What the Professor Knew

Blisters

Holiday Headlines

Truths of the Universe

How Did Our Cars Travel Without Us?

FB Saliva #2

Miniaturized

Poster Child

Proud Pittsburgh

Dr. Engel, Who Thought He Knew Everything

Horsey! Horsey!

Happy Birthday to Franny

FB Saliva #1-X

A Wondrous Travel Journal

What Lightning Knew

Who Is the Gateway Angel?

IV SPRING 1953: HOPE

What the World Knew, Finally

FB Saliva #2-X

The Good News and the Bad

Reading

Professor Doctor Gutman and the Pack

Rereading

Rereading

The Buckeye Amendments

Happy for Her

What Fleabrain Knew but Wished He Didn't

An Envelope Like Many Others

No Wheelchair

Three Little Words

Zadie's TOTU

A Statement

Author's Note

Bibliography

Other Resources

Songs

Acknowledgments

I
SUMMER 1952: QUESTIONS

What Franny Knew

O
ne thing Franny knew. Angels did not exist in real life.

But there they were, floating all around her. Some leaned close, almost touching Franny's nose. Others waved at her from an impossible distance, whizzing about a cathedral ceiling. Their long white robes rustled. Their tiaras sparkled. They hummed and smiled and moved their lips without saying anything, or sometimes they murmured words Franny didn't understand, such as “pachay” and “fee-lee-ah.”

Then, one day—

“WOOF!”

—one of the angels barked, sounding remarkably like Franny's dog, Alf.

And Franny awoke from her feverish dreams. She'd only imagined Alf. Pets weren't allowed to visit patients at Children's Hospital, and that's where Franny was, wearing a plastic wristband with
FRANCINE
KATZENBACK
printed on it. She'd imagined those angels, too, who were actually nurses in white uniforms and peaked caps.

Franny's parents had also been angels in the dreams. They'd stood in the doorway of her hospital room, wearing white masks and worried looks. They couldn't come near her bed because Franny was infectious.

She had polio, everyone told her.

Franny already knew about polio because of her wide and fast reading habits, wider and faster than those of most ten-year-olds. She knew that
polio
was short for
poliomyelitis
. She knew that even though “po-lee-oh” sounded jolly, like “roly-poly,” it wasn't.

Franny knew that polio was a disease from a tiny, invisible virus that entered your mouth, stowed away in your intestines, then sometimes burrowed into the nervous system, chomping on nerves so that your limbs became paralyzed. And she knew that the poliovirus could attack your lungs so they couldn't work on their own. When that happened, you needed to lie inside a big, wheezy, green iron tube called an iron lung. The iron lung squeezed your lungs to help you breathe.

But even if Franny hadn't been a wide reader and a fast reader, even if she read only superhero comics like her friend Walter Walter, she'd still know about polio. In her Pittsburgh neighborhood of Squirrel Hill, that summer of 1952, the poliovirus had been practically the only topic of conversation. Polio spread faster during the hot summers. That's what their neighbor Professor Doctor Gutman had told her parents. He was a university professor as well as a researcher, with a long string of letters after his name on the business
card he gave Franny's parents. He worked in a lab with the famous polio researcher Dr. Jonas Salk. Everyone knew that Salk and his family also lived in Squirrel Hill, but no one was exactly sure where.

With all that wonderful brainpower in her neighborhood, Franny had felt safe, as if superheroes were ready to protect her from terrible things. How babyish she'd been! Now she knew that nobody, nobody, nobody, not even the brainiest people in the world, knew how to prevent and cure polio. Or why some people got it and the rest didn't.

Lying in her big iron lung, she had a lot of time to think.

Did she get polio by watching
The Story of Robin Hood and His Merrie Men
three whole times at the Manor Theater? Franny and her friends loved that movie. They'd even taken to spelling “merry” the old-fashioned way and threatening to give each other “drubbings” as they swashbuckled around Frick Park. Many people said the evil virus often lurked in crowded movie theaters, but none of the kids believed that.

Or maybe she got it from eating that cherry Popsicle at Sol's Ye Olde Candy Shoppe. Popsicles were absolutely forbidden by all parents because there was a possibility they could be made from contaminated water. So how come other kids in her neighborhood didn't get polio? Teresa Goodly ate more Popsicles than anyone, but she always confessed about it to the priest at her grandmother's church. Maybe that had helped. Jewish kids like Franny didn't go to confession, although Franny was sure it could have been arranged.

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