Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Wayback Wednesday - Bread and Jam for Frances (1964)

It seems fitting to me that I start off my ongoing series of Wayback Wednesday posts with one of my all-time favorite picture book characters, Russell Hoban's Frances. Though in his later years Hoban became the author of a number of highly praised adult novels, he struck out into the publishing world in kidlit, and in a big way: Frances appeared almost at the outset of his literary career, with her first appearance in 1960's Bedtime for Frances, the only one of the Frances novels not illustrated by Hoban's wife Lillian. And it is saying something when you consider that while many of his other kidlit titles have almost vanished from memory, Frances lives on and is as beloved today as she was 50 years ago.

While at this point in my life I can relate most to Frances's parents (particularly in Bedtime, where her exhausted folks deal with their not-ever-sleepy-enough tot), Frances herself strikes a chord with me. She's Everykid, really. You can hardly ever fail to see the wheels turning in her mind, as she considers the world before her and how to turn circumstances to her advantage. She's got the dogged determination of a young child and the energy to match, and though her parents generally can maneuver her into their desired outcome, you just know Frances has got more tricks up her sleeves. I especially love her somewhat thinly-veiled disdain for her little sister Gloria, with whom Frances has quite the sibling rivalry (evidence the scene from A Birthday for Frances when Frances buys her sister a gift - and then somehow nearly manages to make off with all of it herself).

So: Bread and Jam for Frances. This book had been around for a good long while before I was even born, shockingly enough. I can't remember who introduced me to this specific Frances escapade, but I do know that this was the first title I ever read -- or heard, as I think I was pretty darn young. This is probably why it has stuck with me ever since, that and the sheer relatability of the plot. Frances is enamored of one food combination to the point of exclusivity. Breakfast, lunch and dinner, all Frances wants to eat is bread and jam. Hmmm, sound familiar, you parents of young kiddos? Her parents try to convince her of the worthiness of other foods (though I have to say their examples don't thrill me particularly - soft-boiled eggs, anyone?) but to no avail. Her mother even reasons, "You try new things in your school lunches. . . . Today I gave you a chicken-salad sandwich." to which Frances coyly responds, "I traded it to Albert. . . . (for) Bread and jam." Ah Frances, you sly devil.

Undaunted, Mother and Father decide to mix it up. If Frances wants only bread and jam, then bread and jam it shall be. At breakfast it's a treat. At lunch it's still delicious. By snacktime it's wearing a bit thin, and by dinner -- by dinner our darling girl is reduced to tears. In her exasperation she utters one of the best lines in kidlit, by my reckoning: "What I am / Is tired of jam." And finally Frances breaks down and decides that variety just might be the spice of life after all. Especially when it entails devouring one very complicated lunch menu.

It's safe to say that I was pretty excited to share this with Sprout, being that he's in somewhat of a picky eater phase himself at the moment. (While he takes great delight in helping me prepare different types of food, actually passing these foreign morsels through his lips is another story.) And he listened intently to Bread and Jam, though it's a bit long for a three-year-old's attention span, with the detailed descriptions of lunches and all that. He thinks Frances is "silly", and finds her jump-rope rhymes on the various merits of jam to be particularly amusing. All in all, his take on Frances is favorable, so much so that he was excited to find A Birthday for Frances on the shelf at the library last time. "Her eats bread and jam, Mama," he told me seriously. Yes, my dear, she does.

Russell Hoban passed away not long ago, leaving a legacy of fantastic storytelling for future generations. Though she was created more than a half-century ago, I think Frances has a long and happy life ahead, as she charms even more young children with her straightforward approach to life, one jammy bread-slice at a time.

Wayback Wednesday Verdict? Holds up nicely

Bread and Jam for Frances by Russell Hoban, published by HarperCollins (formerly Harper & Row)
Source: Library
Ages 3-7
Sample: " 'Well,' said Frances, 'there are many different things to eat, and they taste many different ways. But when I have bread and jam I always know what I am getting, and I am always pleased.' "

Bonus: Fuse #8 interview with Russell Hoban, from the Pageturn

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