The Day Joanie Frankenhauser Became a Boy by Francess Lantz – Review by Stacy Dillon
This is a book that came to my attention pretty much accidentally. I am lucky enough to work in a school with four librarians, and way back in 2005 our high school librarian got a box that contained The Day Joanie Frankenhauser Became a Boy by Francess Lantz. She gave me a call to come on over and give it a look, since it was too young for her high school audience.
At my school we talk about gender norms quite a bit. We find bias in books and movies and toys and talk about fluidity. Joanie’s experience speaks to many students, and I have even used it as a read aloud with my fourth graders and it garnered plenty of discussion.
Joanie’s mother wishes Joanie would act more feminine. Joanie, however, is the type of kid who loves sports – including football, basketball and skateboarding, and creating stories about her own superhero, Superkid. She just doesn’t get those girly girls at school. Joanie is also tired of her mother constantly trying to change her. She isn’t interested in the sparkly butterfly barrettes and pink sweaters her mother keeps pushing onto her. Why can’t she just wear a t-shirt and jeans and play football like her brother?
When her family makes a move from Boston to Yardville, PA, Joannie finds herself getting the chance of a lifetime. On the first day of fifth grade, Joannie’s new teacher is taking attendance and calls out the name “John Frankenhauser”. “John is new to our school…he just moved here from Massachusetts.” Joanie makes a split second decision not to correct the teacher, and rolls with it. After all, she’s always wondered what it would be like to be a boy. The way Joanie sees it, boys have it easy.
Before long, Joanie is hanging out with Casey and Zane, and is frantically trying to change her mannerisms to be more boy-like. Certain aspects of hanging out with the guys are pretty easy. After all she knows the rules of football, and her ability to burp on demand has proved an asset as well. But Zane always seems to want to do crazy stuff, like whipping firecrackers at old man Corrolla’s place, and hanging upside down from a tree over a ravine. Also, Joanie is more than just a bit uncomfortable with how some of the boys are talking about the girls at school. It’s true that she never felt comfortable with all of the girly things her mom wanted for her, but she’s not feeling at home in this role as a boy either. Will Joanie find a way to come clean…or will she have to keep being a boy?
Francess Lantz has written a story that is timeless in theme and could easily have hit the shelves with more fanfare today. This is a book that I booktalk to the fourth graders, and it stays off the shelves for months at a time as the kids pass it from hand to hand. It defies those “girls read” “guys read” lists and is equally loved by all of our students. Exploring the themes of gender, family, friendship this dose of realistic fiction fills a hole in the middle grade scene.