Best Friends for Frances – Russel 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: 5 out of 10.

Bechdel: 1 points
Variety of characters: 0 points
Good story:  2 points.
Discretionary ideological points: 2 point.

This is the only Frances book we actually own, but it has been read to death, and I love it on so many levels. This one is a story about friendship and about gender and is handled with Hoban’s characteristic deft and humour.

It passes the Bechdel swimmingly since a big chunk of it is about the conversation and budding sister-friendship between Gloria and Frances. There’s a very clear message in the story about not being stupid about boys only games. When Frances made her “No Boys” retaliation sign for her and Gloria’s picnic, my kid got quite indignant. “I know he was bad cos he didn’t let her play with them, but no boys is still bad, Mommy!” We had quite a long conversation about consequences of being mean, and how if you exclude people it’s a bit cheeky to get upset if they exclude you back, but how he was right cos it’s not really a good response, albeit understandable. Honestly, I am not sure how much of it he got, but I think these are important conversations, and the book gets massive points for opening them up for us.

I also love the fact that after everyone makes peace, Albert assumes that he’s now Frances’ boyfriend’, and Frances’ response is that she’s not sure she’s going to let him be. There is something subtle here happening to do with assumptions about male-female friendship, and the fact that there’s no reason people can’t be platonic friends. It’s a touch heteronormative, but hey, we can’t have everything, and since much of this book is challenging standard assumptions about gender,. it’s not that surprising.

And on top of all this, despite the fact that there is some quite intense stuff going on in this tale it’s still totally entertaining. Frances and the people in her world have remarkably well thought out personalities for characters in a children’s book. It’s utterly delightful.

By far my favourite Frances book (though I think there’s one more to go with which I am unfamiliar), and highly recommended.

 

 

Advertisements

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?

 

 

Bread and Jam for Frances – 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: 1 point

It is no secret by now that I love the Frances books. Frances is an awesome little heroine, and her parents are surprisingly humorous and competent for a kids’ book. (It is constantly astonishing to me how many parents in children’s books have to be totally useless to let the story progress! But that’s a discussion for a different time.)

This book is no exception. Frances becomes very attached to eating bread and jam to the exclusion of all else. Her parents try to convince her that trying new things is good, to no avail. Her friend Albert, who loves food, is cheerfully supportive of her bread and jam devotion.

But then her rather smart parents pull a classic reverse psychology trick and start giving her only bread and jam, removing all choice. While her baby sister gets to have a poached egg for breakfast, like their parents, Frances gets bread and jam. She gets bread and jam in her lunchbox. She gets bread and jam for her afternoon snack. Then at dinner everyone else gets spaghetti and meatballs, and Frances gets bread and jam, and it all gets too much for her and she gives in and declares that maybe she should try things to find out if she likes them after all.

Getting kids to try new things is a pretty well-known parental quest, and this book handles it with aplomb and humour. As the parent of a fussy eater, it was a great pleasure to me when C’s response was, “She has to try it, doesn’t she, Mommy?”. Yes, my darling, and I’ll remind you of that at dinner time. 😉

Frances’ family is pretty quintessentially British, but having a young female protagonist with Frances’ humour and intelligence and creativity is a pleasure. Again, this is not a ‘book for girls’ it is simply a book with a girl in it, if you see my distinction. It’s pretty great that the series continues to live up to the promise of the early books.

Good stuff.

What do you think? Fan of Frances? Do you know of other books that deal with the problems of fussy eaters well?

A Baby Sister for Frances – 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: 5 out of 10.

Bechdel: 1 point
Variety of characters: 0 points
Good story: 2 points.
Discretionary ideological points: 2 points.

I was fairly lukewarm about the first Frances book I reviewed on here, but, while this one scores only slightly higher, I enjoyed it a lot more than the first one. Where in the first one, Frances’ parents’ style of parenting felt far too indulgent to me, in this book it feels more like gentle reverse psychology than giving in to demands. And I have to love Frances’ spirit and fire.

It passes the Bechdel significantly more emphatically than the first book – Frances has a couple of much more in depth conversations with her mother. And it addresses the complicated feelings an older child may have about a new baby sibling with compassion and warmth. Frances is obviously a bit put out by her parents’ divided attention, but at the same time is pretty proud of her new role as big sister.

When she “runs away” (to under the dining room table), her parents have a really lovely conversation about her as if she wasn’t there about her important role in their new and changing family, and about how much they love the songs she makes up. I love how their appreciation and love for her is entirely connected with who she is and not just a simple lip-service to the parent-child bond.

There’s a lot going on in this book, given its audience. Hoban has a knack for addressing the complexities of the emotions going on, without making it too dense or even too saccharine. He doesn’t go for the simple answers, really, and retains a real sense of Frances as a character – no easy feat in a children’s book. Bedtime for Frances lacked, in my opinion, this nuance, but in this one, he has definitely hit his stride, and captured the complexity and warmth of real familial affection.

Good stuff.

 

What do you think? Do you agree that this is better than the first one? What’s your favourite Frances book? Do you know of other children’ books that manage to hit this kind of nuance?

Bedtime for Francis – Russell Hoban

POINTS: 4 out of 10.

Bechdel: 1 point
Variety of characters: 0 points
Good story: 2 points. One from each of us.
Discretionary ideological points: 1 point

Bedtime for Frances is a fairly standard, charming little bedtime book. It’s the first book to clearly pass the Bechdel, as it has Frances and her mother talking to each other, and, in an interesting twist, her mother actually does very little of the active parenting in the book. The parent who repeatedly deals to Frances’ many (and imaginative) reasons for not going to bed is her father. Which I kind of dig. Yay for subverting gender norms!

No points for variety of character though. And ideologically, while it’s not terrible by any stretch of the imagination, I found myself a bit peeved by how Frances’ parents respond to her quite demanding demands by simply giving in. No way in hell would my kid get a piece of cake after bedtime when he’s meant to be in bed, especially if he couldn’t even manage to say ‘please’!

Still, Frances is a delightful character, and the things she imagines in her room walk the line between being scary and being quite obvious ploys so she doesn’t have to sleep. C’s comment at the end was, “She’s very cheeky, isn’t she?!”

We both enjoyed it though. It’s a charming little book, Frances’ lack of manners notwithstanding. It probably deserves better than its 4 out of 10, but I couldn’t really justify much more than that.

What do you think? Have you encountered Frances before? What’s your favourite bedtime story?