Sunday, August 10, 2008

Negotiation for nice girls

A Bargain for Frances
By Russell Hoban
Pictures by Lillian Hoban

1970, HarperCollins

In my own childhood, this book ranked among the treasured few that escaped exchange at the local used bookstore, remaining available instead for repeat perusal on rainy afternoons or waaaaay after bedtime, when I would push pages up to the orangey glow of my Humpty Dumpty night light, struggling to make out words.

Clearly, the drawings were not what held my attention. Even after reading the book tonight, it took a Google search to find out the Frances is, in fact, supposed to be a badger. (My guess had been chipmunk.)

What sets this story apart is Frances herself, a kind and caring heroine who still has enough cunning to escape a bad business deal. Girls are heavily socialized in the importance of being "nice," with wide-ranging consequences in everything from our adult relationships to the price we pay for a used car. Despite her inherent sweetness, Frances has chutzpah.

I can't help wondering: how might the world change, if we carefully champion such cleverness and self-assurance in all our little girls?

"A Bargain for Frances" does go on -- the story spans 64 pages, albeit in a commanding font. Still, tonight's rendition mostly held my overtired 2-year-old's attention (perhaps because of her passion for her own new tea set).

"Well," said Frances, "this time I do not have to be careful. We are not playing with boomerangs. We are not skating. We are having a tea party, and we are making a mud cake."

"Be careful anyhow," said Mother.

"All right," said Frances...


Allison said...

I especially love Francis's songs. My mother used to make up delightful tunes for them on the spur of the moment, and I've continued that practice with my daughter (though the delight factor may be lower). I think I had all the Francis books when I was little, and now my almost-3-year-old has seen most of them. My favorite story is probably when she packs her things and runs away under the dinner table. And I frequently think about how everyone has a "job" like Francis going to sleep or the moth going "thump and bump" on her window.

Sara Steffens said...

It's funny that you mention the songs -- I was trying to figure out how to make them sound good. The best I managed was sing-song chanting, but I knew there must be a better way. Maybe pick a tune, any tune?

Sara said...

I had this book on record when I was little, so I didn't have to (get to) make up the tunes. I'm not sure if it was read by the author or someone else who was making up a tune - not sure if it would be the 'official' song. :) I wonder if seeing the words would make the melody come back. I'm positive that I would fondly recognize it in a second if I heard it again.

Nikki said...

We love Bedtime for Frances in our house. It took a while to enjoy it (perhaps Mom and Dad's fears of the ever rising child who won't go to bed?), but it proves very useful in calming a frightened irrational child...