Fran Kay Stine Had No Friends Until...
Everyone feels like a monster, someti-i-imes…
This book was given to me by the author to review. That is, they asked for this.
I can tell the author tried, at least. This person is clearly going for a series of books all about Fran Kay Stine, a child-aged, cute, female version of the Frankenstein's monster. This is a very repetitive book, almost in the same vein as "Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See," except a lot wordier and longer, if you can imagine that. It starts out by saying that Fran doesn't fit in with the other "monster kids", without saying why. So she doesn't have any friends. Then she goes around to various other groups of... Halloween creatures? What are these supposed to be, and how are they related to each other? There's witches, pirates, ghosts, goblins, vampires, werewolves, trolls, aliens, mummies, and zombies. If you leave out the pirates, you could maybe make a case for them being monster movie villains (trolls are kind of stretching it), but still they seem very cliquish-- the witches all hang out with witches, the pirates with pirates, and so on. Almost like they're different species or speak different languages. I suppose they're all just portrayed as highly xenophobic. Although I hope they're not supposed to be like actual groups of people, especially not races or cultures, because that would make the book extremely heavy on stereotypes.
At any rate, Fran goes between these various groups, all of which have a defining characteristic. Witches are "wicked". Ghosts are "haunting"; goblins are "clever"; vampires are "fancy". Pirates are, eh, "arr-tistic". Those pirates really seem shoehorned in there. They don't even get a descriptor that resonates with any kind of lore I'm familiar with. Every group rejects Fran because she doesn't fit their adjective, using a several-lines-long phrase that is repeated by every group with minor variation. "The [group members] were too [characteristic] to ever accept Fran [and her friends]. They told them [variation of "no"] and made them [variation of "go"]. Well, all but one of them... [misfit child's name] was not a [characteristic] [group member]; [He/She] wasn't like the rest. [He/She] had always been left out, until Fran walked up and said, 'Would you like to be my friend?' And off they went to find another lonely kid..." So Fran's friend group increases by exactly one non-stereotypical member each time. The repetition is a very traditional kids' book think to do, and it's extremely tricky to do in a way that doesn't annoy the living daylights out of me personally. I hated "Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See", and I'm not a huge fan of "Green Eggs and Ham" either. I realize that's a subjective thing, and I may even be in the minority on that, which is why I didn't give a terrible review to BBBBWDYS. I know a lot of adults who read to kids find it endearing and that it keeps the kids engaged.
But the art. The art in this book looks like it was drawn by a child, and not in a good way. Looking up information on it, I found that the illustrator is the author's sister. Since this is self-published, I'm going to give the illustrator the benefit of the doubt and trust that she's a good artist and that this was a stylistic choice. (I'll say here that I'm not a fan of, for example, Chris Rashka's illustrations in The Hello, Goodbye Window, though that WON a Caldecott Award.) To me, and I know it's subjective, the art appears less childlike and more flat-out inconsistent. The proportions of the characters change noticeably from image to image. Most characters are drawn with their feet either pointing straight down as if they're standing on their tiptoes, or pointing out at right angles from their legs as if their in a plie ballet pose without bending their knees. It looks like it was drawn in Microsoft Paint. Every line is the same thickness. Each shape is filled in with a solid color, with the exception of the occasional rosy cheek. If she's doing it stylistically, it doesn't come across as if the errors are intentional. And the book would look much more professional if they picked a font and stuck with it.
I guess the book is saying that if you look for friends, you'll find them. But it also comes across like it's saying that if you don't fit in, the only group of people that will ever accept you is the other misfits. I mean, that was my high school friend group: the weird, nerdy kids who didn't fit in anywhere else. We weren't the popular nerdy kids; we were the ones that had anxiety issues, or weird senses of humor, or were into weird music. The awkward kids. And I think as long as a group is large enough, it's going to have more variety than just "all of us witches are wicked" or whatever. Is Fran living in some kind of weird stereotype fantasy world where there's a rule that every group of creatures has to act alike except for exactly one misfit? It seems arbitrary and forced. And some people will say, "It's just a children's book, don't read so much into it." But that's kind of my thing. It's not a bad message, therefore it's not a bad book. The author tried (not sure about the illustrator), so it's not a poor book. It's just kind of there.
I just wanted to reach out and thank you for taking the time to read Fran Kay Stine (book 1) and to write an honest review. I read your whole review and appreciate your honesty. I also appreciate that you recognized in writing that everyone has their own outlook and likes and dislikes. I do not, in the least, disagree or regret your "meh" and 3 star review. I just appreciate that you gave it a chance. I know it's no award winner and I expect a 3 on average, I think. It is my first children's book - if you could not understand and formatting and touch a child in any way is difficult for someone like me. But I thought it was a cute idea, so we went for it and still moving forward with the others. I appreciate your time. Thank you for giving that small portion of your your life to this book. I know its a hard choice to figure out where to give of your time. Have a great new year!