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Bread and Jam for Frances: An Appreciation

FrancesApologies for the long gap between posts – I have been writing offline, and this winter is making me want to just…blergh. There are no words.

Yesterday, in Entertainment Weekly, I read an appreciation of the great Harriet the Spy as it marks its fiftieth anniversary. I loved that book as a kid, and it will be one I will be sure to read with my boys, not only because it’s amazing, but because it also provides them with a great example of a heroine, as I want to encourage them to read books about the other sex as well.

The article also pointed out that Bread and Jam for Frances, by Russell Hoban and illustrated by Lillian Hoban, another story with another smart, crotchety heroine, is also turning fifty this year. And I just wanted to take a moment and profess my love for Frances.

I loved this book as a child, mostly because of the description of the elaborate lunches Albert and Frances (after she gets over her thing about bread and jam) have. They made me pine for a doily under my bologna sandwich, and wish I liked hard-boiled eggs so I could eat a lunch that came with it’s own miniature salt shaker —

“What do you have today?” said Frances.

“I have a cream-cheese-cucumber-and-tomato sandwich on rye bread,” said Albert. “And a pickle to go with it. And a hard-boiled egg and a little cardboard shaker of salt to go with that. And a thermos bottle of milk.

And a bunch of grapes and a tangerine.

And a cup custard and a spoon to eat it with.

What do you have?”

The whole book is so elegant and funny, with Frances’ silly, proto-sarcastic made-up songs that she uses to express her displeasure, and baby sister Gloria who “liked to practice on a green bean when she could.” It captures the essence of childhood, when you are figuring out how the world won’t always bend to your super-sized will and expectations. And it handles a parenting quandary so cleverly, without preaching: if Frances will only eat bread and jam, then that’s what she shall have…until she can’t take it one moment longer. I wish I could be so cool as these cartoon parent badgers.

What I am

Is tired of jam.

Even if I find myself in the middle of a hurry-up bedtime at the end of a very long day, and just want to whip through some board books instead of tackling some of the more wordy, ponderous books in our collection (because sometimes, like this New York Times writer, I’m Tired of Reading Out Loud to My Son, OK?), I will always stop for Frances. She’s always fun to read. And Russell Hoban seems to be the predecessor of another great writer of complicated, endearing young females, Kevin Henkes (Chrysanthemum, Lilly’s Purple Plastic Purse, Julius, the Baby of the World). Hoban and Henkes, both men, write as though they must have had little daughters they love and understand well. And my boys love these books as much as I do, and face many of the same travails.

So to celebrate fifty years of Frances, I’m going to have a special lunch. Maybe my cracker-loving sons will take a note and join me:

“I have a thermos bottle with cream of tomato soup,” she said.

“And a lobster-salad sandwich on thin slices of white bread.

I have celery, carrot sticks, and black olives,

and a little cardboard shaker of salt for the celery.

And two plums and a tiny basket of cherries.

And vanilla pudding with chocolate sprinkles

and a spoon to eat it with.”

Girl, you deserve it! Happy birthday, Frances!

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