Score: 95/100 (9.5 out of 10)
Frankinschool is a fun, enjoyable, and exciting children's chapter book by Caryn Rivadeneira. It explores themes and topics like friendship, bullying, setting aside differences, and—perhaps mostly importantly—the power of the human imagination. The book refers to this last theme as the “power of pretend.” The Power of Pretend certainly plays an enormous role in the events of this short yet compelling book.
Frankinschool follows Fred, an imaginative yet seemingly depressed school-aged loner. Despite his love and talent for crafting stories and writing poems, Fred's self-esteem is very low. He is especially hurt by a particular schoolmate, Luisa, who constantly calls him “dumb.” This is where the topic of bullying subtly comes into this book. We see the emotional toll that Luisa's hurtful name-calling has on Fred. Yet, at the same time, we also get the perspective of Luisa, which is nothing like we expected. To Luisa, she isn't trying to hurt Fred, she is “teasing” him, intending to be friendly and social with him.
Luisa is the deuteragonist of this book. She is far and away our favorite character. There's something about a redeemed character that's instantly appealing. She has so many great moments with Fred, first as her self (Luisa) and then as her alter-ego, Princesa Maria Luisa Octavia (often just called “Princess”). She's a very human, real-seeming character. Subtle things humanize her like when she drools while sleeping, especially after just bragging and pretending to be high and mighty. You get the sense that she is actually quite insecure, not much different than Fred.
Fred has an alter-ego too, the titular Frankinschool! He imagines himself to be a Frankenstein-ish monster with bolts in his neck and stitches in his forehead. His whole “Frankinschool” idea comes up when he receives a book that was supposedly left by a famous author who had visited. It is addressed to someone named “Frank.” Fred, whose self-esteem and self-worth are very low, comes up with the idea of recreating himself and being someone else while he is at school versus when he is at home. He comes up with the idea of being Frank while in school and Fred while elsewhere. This might seem a little complicated, especially for kids, but we got it. Kids might get it. Kids love to pretend to be other people or what they see in media. They pretend to be superheroes, for example.
Well, it turns out that his imagination has an impact on reality, causing everyone in class to fall asleep and for a dream-like sequence to begin. In this dream-like sequence, which spans most of the book, Fred becomes like Frankenstein's monster, albeit a much friendlier and less homicidal version than Mary Shelly's. Meanwhile, Luisa becomes Princess, a high-horse-riding, uptight princess who gradually befriends Fred. The two explore a great mystery, particularly involving the ghost of the actual Frank, a mysterious custodian who'd cleaned the school for 40 years only to find his spirit trapped there.
Frank is also a compelling character, serving as the tritagonist of the book. Like Fred and Luisa, there's something very sweet and endearing about him despite him being a ghost. You can't help but want to see him get what he wants, even if it might mean Fred losing what he has.
What's incredible is that, despite this being a relatively simple children's book, the author is still able to establish motivations for all of the major characters, something which authors of adult books sometimes neglect to do.
Another thing that we really, really loved about this book was the chemistry and relationship between Fred and Luisa. It is very sweet and innocent, yet there's a sort of romantic tension between them—a sort of puppy love. However, we're pretty sure that the author just intended them to be friends, not much more than that. Still, our head canon had us going on dates in four years and getting married in eight. Even if you're just accepting their budding friendship (and not a romantic one), there's still a sweetness and endearing quality to their relationship. Them coming to a common understanding after all the misunderstandings and all the tension in earlier sections is incredible.
Another thing that awesome about this book are the illustrations by Dani Jones. Even lacking color, these illustrations are incredible! What's even more incredible is how the illustrations seamlessly fit into the look, feel, and flow of the book rather than distracting or detracting from them. We were very impressed!
So, this book stands out for promoting imagination (“Power of Pretend”), its compelling characters, and its solid illustrations.
Check it out on Amazon!