Read Aloud Thursday–Russell Hoban’s Frances stories

 I haven’t highlighted an author or illustrator properly in a long time, and I’ve been wanting to pull Russell Hoban’s Frances books out and take a better look at them.  These two desires, then, are converging in today’s Read Aloud Thursday.  I am anything but a Russell Hoban expert; in fact, I first met him and his most beloved creation, Frances, when I was in graduate school to become a school media specialist.  I’ve recounted before how my beloved children’s literature professor read Frances to perfection.  I’ll never forget Dr. Atkinson reading one of Frances’ sad little songs in a lilting, sing-song voice.  I could hear Frances in her tones and timbre.  At the age of twenty-seven, I was hooked. 

Some ten-plus years and three children later, I appreciate Frances even more.  Life with little children can be difficult, no doubt about it. 
They have an agenda, and sometimes we don’t even have an inkling what it is.  Other times we do have an idea, but their desires and goals don’t always mesh with ours.  Like Frances, they want bread and jam when what we offer is a hardboiled egg.  Actually,though, for me the real stars of the stories are Frances’ parents.  I admire them so for their calm, their wit, and their patient forbearance: Frances gets out of bed a total of six times before finally settling down to sleep in Bedtime for Frances.  Father finally does issue an ultimatum, but that’s after he and the longsuffering Mrs. Badger (do they have a last name?) have

  • given Frances a glass of milk
  • carried Frances piggyback-style to bed (Father)
  • kissed Frances three times
  • given Frances her teddy bear (Father) and doll (Mother)
  • opened Frances’ door
  • reassured Frances that the tiger in her room is a friendly tiger
  • denied Frances the privilege of watching TV
  • given Frances a piece of cake
  • advised Frances how to deal with the giant in her room
  • checked on a crack in the ceiling in Frances’ bedroom whiles she brushes her teeth (this, after having been sent to bed with apparently dirty teeth three times)
  • advised Frances how to deal with the crack in her room, the possible home of many scary creatures
  • been awakened from a dead sleep by Frances staring at him (Father)
  •  advised Frances why the curtains in her room are blowing
  • sent Frances back to her bedroom four times.

While there’s no denying that Frances is anything but obedient, there’s also no denying that this scenario is entirely realistic.  I can see it happening at our house, though to be honest neither Steady Eddie nor I am as longsuffering as Frances’ parents.  Still, it’s a such a pithy, true vignette that I love reading it.  It tickles me.  

Russell Hoban wrote five Frances stories, with a sixth, Egg Thoughts and Frances Songs, being a collection of previously unrecorded songs (save the one delightful egg song) that Frances composed about her life.  Apparently this one is out of print, and I’d give a stack of Boxcar Childrens to own a copy.  Russell Hoban‘s first wife (whom he eventually divorced), Lillian Hoban, was the illustrator responsible for the very expressive badgers in five of the six books; Garth Williams (yes, the same one you’re thinking of) illustrated Bedtime for Frances.  Another notable thing about Russell Hoban is that he is the brother of the author/illustrator Tana Hoban. (I wrote about a few of her books here.) 

I love reading aloud to my children.  I love sharing books I personally enjoy with them.  When the two converge–perfection! 

Which author’s books do you particularly enjoy reading aloud to your children?

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11 thoughts on “Read Aloud Thursday–Russell Hoban’s Frances stories”

  1. I second your admiration of Frances’s parents. Part of me wonders if they are Russell Hoban’s “Here’s what I should have done” written into fiction. 🙂 Even so, I doubt that my own after-the-fact “should have done” would be as wise or patient.

    Frances was part of my imaginative landscape as a child, and I longed to take a cardboard salt shaker and a doily to school in my lunchbox. I am still not good at making everything on my plate come out even.

    I had a friend like Thelma in ‘A Bargain for Frances.’ I scratch my head a bit at the story as an adult, but it affirmed an aspect of life for me as a child.

  2. Oddly, I only first read Frances as a grown up to my children. And, boy did I miss the fun of it as a child. I so enjoy reading the Francis books to my children now. I particularly like the Bread and Jam one – you know the food wars with children are just about notorious and I love that Francis gets just what she wants and then she realizes hey, something else might taste just as good 🙂 They are fabulous books!

  3. Oh, how I love Frances! I especially loved Bread and Jam for Frances, although as a very picky eater I’m not sure I really embraced the message. 🙂 But every time I pack a picnic with a “tiny shaker of salt” I think of Frances.

    My oldest was never a huge Frances fan, although he liked them well enough. I think I may need to revisit these with my 5 year old. Thanks for the reminder.

  4. When the children are really pushing my buttons, or forgetting to obey, I like to quote from Bedtime for Francis – “Wack and smack! Wack and smack made Francis think of a spanking. All of a sudden she was tired.” They always get my point 🙂

  5. Do you know that we’ve never read a Frances book!? I almost feel un-American somehow. I’ve picked them up before, but haven’t read through them and I didn’t know anything about them. It was kind of fun to have you post about them so I could become a little more familiar. Good to note about obedience and levels of long-suffering parents. ;D

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