Publishers Weekly - Publishers Weekly
The Franny K. Stein, Mad Scientist series gets off to a silly start with this copiously and cartoonishly illustrated novel, which bears at least a passing visual resemblance to Dav Pilkey's Captain Underpants capers. The young heroine is clearly not an average child: she fills her room with bats, snakes and a flying piranha-plus test tubes, beakers and "a whole bunch of crackling electrical gizmos that [she] had made all by herself." Not surprisingly, the other kids at school keep their distance when they see Franny using a snake for a jump rope (never mind that her favorite doll, Chompolina, sports steel teeth that can bite off the heads of other dolls). Franny's sympathetic teacher (whom Benton drolly names "Miss Shelly") suggests Franny conduct an "experiment" to discover how to make friends with her classmates, whereupon the budding mad scientist concocts a potion that transforms her into a sweet-looking girl in a frilly dress and adopts new eating and playing habits to fit in with her peers. But when items the students have thrown into the trash turn out to be the formula for a "Giant Monstrous Fiend," Franny reverts to her mad-scientist ways to create a "Lunch-Meat Creature" that does in the evil monster. Black-and-white drawings (including a section where readers cut pages horizontally to turn them into a create-a-monster game) echo the narrative's hyperbolic humor. Ages 7-10. (Sept.) Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
An anything-but-subtle tale about learning to get along with others, infused with bathroom humor and featuring a pint-sized Morticia Addams as main character. Whether it's her mad-scientist glare, her preference for gourmet lunches, or her love of bats, Franny has trouble making friends, until her teacher suggests that she approach it as another science experiment. After taking systematic notes on peer behavior, Franny boils up an effective sweetness-and-light potion in her home lab-but then has to take the antidote when a Giant Monstrous Fiend rises from the garbage can and climbs the school's flagpole with the teacher under one claw. Franny uses cold cuts from her classmates' sandwiches to create a Frankenstein-ish ally, and thus becomes a hero by Being Herself. Large cartoons take up more space than the text, and Benton adds a mix-'n'-match feature that requires cutting several pages into flaps that can be flipped back and forth. This isn't anything like a blatant grab for Captain Underpants fans, oh no. (Fiction. 7-9)
Read an ExcerptChapter Five: The Experiment Begins
The next day Franny came to school prepared to start her experiment. Before class she observed some of the girls playing with dolls. Franny was delighted. She knew about dolls.
She loved dolls. In fact she loved them so much that she had even made some special modifications to the ones she had at home.
She was just about to tell the girls how Chompolina could bite the heads off their dolls when she noticed something. Their dolls were all kind of...sweet, and pretty. They all had long hair and flowery dresses. Not a single one of them oozed uck. They didn't ooze anything.
Franny made a note to herself: Pretty, non-head-biting dolls, it said. And less oozing.
At lunchtime Franny sat down at a table with a bunch of kids. She was getting ready to take out her exquisitely delicious crab ravioli in pumpkin sauce when she made another observation.
Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches on her left, lunch-meat sandwiches on her right. As far as Franny's eyes could see was a carpet of soft, white, squishy sandwiches.
No casseroles, no stews, no shish kebabs; just sandwiches.
"Is this all they ever eat?" she whispered to herself. And she made another note: Squashy sandwiches, it said. Franny stuffed her lunch into the trash.
During recess the kids decided to play softball. "I have the ball," one of them said.
"But we need a bat," another one said.
A bat! Franny thought. Finally. Something I understand! She reached into her backpack to get one.
Just then a little boy ran past her with a baseball bat. "Batter up!" he shouted.
"Hmmm," said Franny. "There's more thanone kind of bat."
As her classmates started playing, she took out her notebook and made another note: A bat can also be a big stick you use to hit things, she wrote.
Copyright © 2003 by James Benton