First-grader Frannie dreams of getting a paper shredder rather than a doll for Christmas and keeps her resume updated in case the perfect job pops up. This aspiring career gal made her debut last month in Grosset & Dunlap’s Frankly, Frannie and Frankly, Frannie: Doggy Day Care, in which her stints as a radio DJ and a veterinarian go humorously awry. Author AJ Stern—who as Amanda Stern has written an adult novel, The Long Haul for Soft Skull Press, and as Fiona Rosenbloom penned middle-grade novels You Are SO Not Invited to My Bat Mitzvah! and We Are SO Crashing Your Bar Mitzvah! for Hyperion—didn’t have to search far to find the inspiration for her determined heroine.

The series sprang from a phone call Stern received from Judy Goldschmidt, senior editor at Grosset, who had worked with the author on her middle-grade novels when she was an editor at Alloy Entertainment, which produced those books. In search of an author to pen a chapter-book series, Goldschmidt rang up Stern. “I know that Amanda sometimes writes in verse, and there is obviously an economy of language in early chapter books,” the editor says. “Given that, and knowing that she is very funny, I had a sense that she’d be perfect writing a series for this age group. As it turns out, I was 100 percent right.”

It took Stern a minute—but not much longer—to come up with a suitable character to anchor a series. “When Judy called, I told her I didn’t have any ideas for a series at the moment, but I said I’d think about it and call her back,” she recalls. “And as I was hanging up the phone, I suddenly got an idea for a character—basically based on a combination of my niece and myself as a child.”

First the autobiographical streak in Frannie: Stern, too, longed for a grown-up job as a child. “I used to go into my stepfather’s office and pretend I worked there,” she explains. “I’d sit behind his big desk and type randomly on the typewriter—OK, I’m dating myself here. My stepfather gladly played into this. He’d give me stacks of paper and ask that I deliver them to him in five minutes. And I would.”

Her niece’s role in shaping Frannie dates back several years, when Stern broke her foot and Lili, now 10, was preoccupied with her crutches and cast. “She sat down with a notepad and pen and started interviewing me about all my medical equipment and where it came from,” Stern says. “She was desperate to have these markings of adulthood, and even asked for medical tape for Christmas that year. It really reminded me of myself as a kid. And in some ways—though this may sound strange—Frannie is also the child I think I will have someday. In a way I feel as though I, Lili, Frannie, and my own future kid are all conflated somehow.”

Not surprisingly considering these connections, Frannie’s voice came quite easily to Stern. “Her voice was immediate, and came out so fast I had no idea what my hands were doing—they were moving so quickly!” she recalls. “I was almost worried at how easily I connected to that first-grade voice.”

Goldschmidt immediately took to Frannie—and also heard a bit of herself in the character. “First and foremost, the novels’ appeal is Frannie’s delightful voice, which is so easy to relate to,” she says. “As a kid, nothing made me happier than walking up and down my father’s office with a clipboard in my hand. There are Frannies everywhere. One of our sales people said that Frannie reminded her of her daughter, who asked for a gift certificate, not to the Gap, but to Office Depot. We had Amanda come in to our offices to read to kids on Take Your Child to Work Day, and one second grader said, in all sincerity, that she too has a resume.”

To promote the series’ launch, Penguin Young Readers Group has created tote bags, note pads and pencils, a poster, stickers, and business cards for Frannie, which lists a phone number featuring a message from Frannie. The character also stars in a book trailer found on

The third title in the projected six-book series, Frankly, Frannie: Check, Please! is due in September, with Frankly, Frannie: Funny Business slated for January 2011. When she isn’t busy getting Frannie in and out of career trouble, Stern is writing her second adult novel and running the Happy Ending Music and Reading Series at Joe’s Pub in Manhattan.

Stern concedes that switching gears in her writing life is sometimes tricky. “When I’m working on my adult novel, sometimes I’ll find myself slipping in some Frannie-isms and I’ll have to remind myself that I’m not writing Frannie. I’m so driven by her voice that at times it’s hard for me to shake it. My adult fiction is dark and very internal, but writing this series is sort of like recess for me—it’s like taking my brain out to the playground.”

The author, who is currently writing the fifth Frankly, Frannie installment, is pleased to have gotten a thumbs-up from her harshest critic: her niece. “Lili is very happy with the books, especially since she knows they’re based on her,” says Stern. “She really took Frannie to heart—she edited the manuscript of the first novel in hot pink—and was an intense editor. And I have to give Lili credit for the plot of the second book—she was the one who said Frannie should want to be a vet.”

Stern leaves open the possibility of penning additional Frankly, Frannie novels beyond the sixth.” I am having a blast with these books and would be happy to continue to write Frannie,” she says. “I don’t know what lies ahead, but I know I’ll stick with Frannie until she’s done with me.”

Frankly, Frannie and Frankly, Frannie: Doggy Day Care by AJ Stern, illus. by Doreen Mulryan Marts. Grosset & Dunlap, $12.99 each May ISBN 978-0-448-45348-4; -45350-7