A Birthday for Francis – Russell Hoban

More in the Series – Frances
“More in the Series” scores the other books in a series where one (or more) of the books have made it into the 1001 Books list. Mostly because I’m a bit of a completionist. 

POINTS: 6 out of 10.

Bechdel: 1 point
Variety of characters: 1 point
Good story: 2 points
Discretionary ideological points: 2 points

I am sure by now none of you are surprised that I love the Frances books. On a scale of Frances books, this one isn’t really at the top of my list, but I still think there’s a lot happening here that is awesome.

First of all, Bechdel pass! Woo! Female protagonist who isn’t a stereotype! Double-woo! But apart from these nice little tickboxes, there is a lot going on in this book which is just great.

I love Frances’ parents. Seriously. Fictional parents get a bad rap a lot of the time. They’re neglectful or evil or stupid in a truly astonishing number of kids’ books. Mostly because that’s what the story needs to push it forward, it has to be said, but it still always makes me happy when kids’ books show parents being awesome. (Neil Gaiman is, in my opinion, remarkably good at writing very real, loving, fallible parents, for the record, but we will no doubt get to him at some stage later in this process.)

Frances’ parents manage to successfully navigate their rather willful daughter with humour and affection and effectiveness. They don’t let her get away with hijacking Gloria’s birthday, while at the same time addressing her feelings of envy about it.

This book is very much about getting over your own negative feelings about something for the sake of someone else that you love (in that special kind of love-hate way only siblings really get 😉 ). This is no small feat for anyone, let alone a small person, and it’s neat to see a book handle it so well. At no point does it suggest that Frances is wrong for how she feels – but at the same time the story nudges her towards a better way.

I think the thing these books do so well – and it’s particularly clear in this one – is that they totally nail the emotional complexity of being a small person trying to navigate big feelings. The book addresses this with gentle humour and compassion, which of course is the best way to handle it in kids too.

C and I had a really cool conversation about how sometimes it’s hard when you give someone a really good present you’d like for yourself and you have to remember that it’s about the other person. He said he thought Frances was naughty for eating the bubblegum she bought for Gloria, but at least she was nice in the end. Then he told me he wants a baby sister, and that’s a whole new kettle of worms. 😉

Still, we both enjoyed the book, and I think there’s a lot of great ideology going on here. The next Frances book is my all time favourite, so I’ll stop there. 😉

What do you think? What books do you know of that help kids deal with the complexity of navigating their big feelings?



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