Monday, October 29, 2012

Hidden Power of Frances

Look who made the papers: The Badgers! They are calm. They live simply. The handicrafts. I think they might be hipsters!

My childhood is framed by the Frances books by Russell and Lillian Hoban. Oh, Frances. Her songs. Her angst. Her picky-eating. Her feelings. The closeness of her family. Her ability to notice everything. I was thrilled when my own children also enjoyed these stories.

Frances...Jam is the thing that she likes most!

A Frances book is a commitment for a bedtime story. There are a lot of words- and you will need to sing. Also, your child will probably have plenty of comments about what is fair, what is right, and whether or not they agree with Frances (which they almost always will), and comments about Francis’s feelings.

These books are like time travel: time spent with grandparents. The talk is not rushed, there is no smart-alecky tone, no materialism or branding, no texting or social media- just talk, long talk- like grandparents do. Reading Bread and Jam for Francis to my children brings my grandparents alive- their love of food and its varieties (and ability to describe any meal they ever ate in great detail), their kindness, their common sense, their joy in interacting with children.

My kids have loved hearing the Frances books as much as I have loved reading them to them. Francis (the boy in the TRWH) started sleeping with his “alligator doll” and asking us to bring his sled in his room after reading Bedtime for Frances* when he was  about 3 or 4. When we welcomed Baby Claudia, we read A Baby Sister for Frances so many times that (our) Francis suggested we name the baby Gloria. When he was older, he watched his sister Claudia love A Birthday for Frances so completely when she was waiting for her 4th birthday to happen, that he gave her a Chompo bar for her present. (It was really a Snickers, but she couldn’t read yet.) We gave her a paint set and good friends gave her a plush pig that she named Potato Chip. She already had a fancy china tea set from Nana. Unwrapping all those things in her green dress, she declared it all "too perfect."

These old-time books are a reminder to slow down and listen to feelings, but still expect good manners. Sometimes I wonder if my kids love the Frances books because I love them, because they just love them, or because we all love them.  I was a Frances growing up- and perhaps reading something I love so much aloud makes it impossible for my listeners not to love it, too.

These books have shaped me as a reader, as a teacher, and as a parent. 
And I love that.

* The spanking thing was never a big problem for us in Bedtime for Frances. We just explained it that “A long time ago, people sometimes got spankings for breaking the rules- but parents don’t do that anymore.” And, to me, the spanking also seemed quite out of character for her parents- who were always just right and far more patient with her than I ever could have been. I would have gone from appropriate to Joan Crawford in about two minutes with the picky eating and interrupted sleep. Frances is never spanked- the Badgers are clearly a family that handle their problems with talking. 


  1. I am going to go dig these books out and rediscover them again :) Lovely, heart-warming, and impactful post, Mary.

  2. I am glad you had the time to read it, Denise! Best wishes as you embark to start living like a Badger!