I revisited a bit of family lore the other day, regarding my oldest daughter’s first encounter with Russell Hoban’s Frances series. I was reading Bread and Jam for Frances aloud, when her violet eyes grew wide with forbidden pleasure as she said in a scandalized voice, “Frances is naughty!”
Yes, she absolutely is. Frances may be a badger, but she is us. When I was recalling all this to my husband, he pointed out to me that though I will always recommend the Frances books to children, the recommendation goes double for parents. Much of what you need to know about being a parent can be gleaned from the equanimity, gentleness and insight of Frances’ parents.
Through the course of the books, we witness Frances’ friendship troubles, bedtime troubles and mealtime troubles. At one point, Frances gets a little sister and boy, is she a pill about it. Hoban’s first wife, Lillian, illustrated all but the first Frances book. I only wish their marriage and creative collaboration had lasted long enough to cover Frances’ teen years: A Driver’s License for Frances…A Rakishly Handsome but Caddish Boyfriend for Frances – oh the possibilities!
Beverly Cleary was working at the reference desk of a Portland library when a boy asked her, “Where are all the books about kids like us?” This comment inspired one of the great writing careers, including her still unmatched series of books about Ramona and Beezus. Russell Hoban’s Frances books, which he wrote in the 1960’s, are geared toward younger children than Cleary’s books, but also have that rare quality of being about “kids like us,” with all our selfish impulses and redemptive moments. As with Cleary’s books, no one – neither characters nor authors – is ever preachy.
There is no shortage of parenting books and parents clawing their weary, bewildered way toward them. I bet you know someone in a parenting book group – poor soul. Do them a favor: steer them toward these classics. They are funny, sweet, clever and furthermore, contain the most remarkable lunch menus. Badgers are, after all, omnivorous.
The Frances series includes: Bedtime for Frances, Bread and Jam for Frances, A Baby Sister for Frances, A Birthday for Frances, A Bargain for Frances and Best Friends for Frances.
Special thanks to Jessie Baird, the Fairy Godmother who wisely gave us this book. Though I do not always possess Frances’ mother’s cool head, like her, I can safely promise that “there will always be plenty of cake.”