Good Picture Books: Russell Hoban’s “Frances”

I read the Frances books as a kid and was reintroduced to them visiting M’s grandparents over Thanksgiving last year. They had Bread and Jam for Frances (by Russell Hoban) which tells the story of a girl who only wants to eat bread and jam. Her amazing parents decide to only give her bread and jam to eat after that is what she chooses to eat for several meals anyway. Eventually Frances decided she would like to eat other foods and declares that it is wonderful to have so many options of foods to eat.

The other books by Hoban about Frances include: Bedtime for Frances, A Baby Sister for Frances, A Birthday for Frances, Best Friends for Frances, and A Bargain for Frances.  Two of those books I have not even read in at least 20 years since I am waiting to find them at the library. But I am pretty sure that they are as amazing as the others.

The parts that make them so good for kids and parents are that they are so relatable for both parents and kids and that Frances makes up random silly rhymes to express what she is feeling. This goes along with my ideas about nursery rhymes being really good for kids. If a kids is used to rhymes and then sees that one can use rhymes to work out one’s problems or think things over, then this child has learned a lot about language and how to use it just from simple stories and books. I think this concept has been grasped by my three year old G. Most days I hear her narrating the actions of her play: “She dashed across the room and went under the table.” Other times I hear her making up rhymes or songs that may or may not make any sense. A large part of this might have to do with her extroverted personality, but I think it also has to do with her exposure to stories and rhymes.

The topics of the books are also so everyday, but ones that many parent-child relationships experience. Bedtime, baby sisters, birthdays, friends, picky eating. We currently have Best Friends for Frances out from the library, and my favorite part is when Frances decides that sisters can be best friends and starts to realize how much fun she can have with her sister Gloria. The story also shows Frances working through a friendship with a boy who excludes her from more “boy-like” activities. The stories are so realistic about childhood, and provide clever, smart solutions to problems.

I forgot to mention that the stories take place in a world populated by badgers. The philosophical explanation of how this is possible is below:

G: Why are there only badgers in this book?

M: Because this book takes place in a possible world in which only badgers and not primates attained personhood.

What can be wrong with books that teach our children about possible worlds? Even philosophy can be learned by reading about Frances!

 ***I also want to warn that when looking for these books at the library or at the store watch out for the “I Can Read” versions which cut the significant parts of the text from the story and thus eliminate many of the best lines and rhymes. I personally do not understand why they feel the need to dumb down awesome children’s stories. Let the kids read the good stuff!