Top 100 Picture Books #67: Bedtime for Frances by Russell Hoban, illustrated by Garth Williams
It doesn’t get better than this. Great pictures, good story, good “moral” (but not preachy). – Laurie Zaepfel
For every parent who has tried to get a child to sleep, and for every child who has tried to go to sleep. – DaNae Leu
Though some may forget, this turns out to be the very first Frances book Hoban and Williams collaborated on. I’m also a little ashamed to say that I’ve never read it. How have I missed it all these years? No idea but expect me to make good soon.
The original description from Kirkus reads: “Frances is a lively, imaginative and appealing small badger. And bedtime for her is just as unappealing as it would be for any little girl. Tucked into her snug bed, with her toy companions, the wideawake Frances conjures up successive dangers, all of which are scotched by her matter-of-fact parents. Finally, of course, Frances succumbs to the sandman.”
If we dip once more into Dear Genius: The Letters of Ursula Nordstrom (who was the editor of this particular book) we learn one or two interesting tidbits. For example, the original working title of this book was Whose Afraid? Blech! Good change for the better that. The next thing we learn is that this was hardly an easy book to whittle into shape. In her letter to Russell Hoban, Ms. Nordstom writes, “I do think it is better but I’m afraid it is going to need a lot more work, Russ. You simply didn’t take any time to set the stage, get any characters, think about the situation . . . I know you can do it better but for heaven’s sake take a little time and care . . . I will say this: that I think your first ‘chapter’ can’t be called ‘The Tiger,’ and you can’t just say in two lines that this Frances was in bed and she couldn’t sleep and then bang go right into the act.” It goes on and for authors who have dealt with picture book notes it’s somewhat satisfying to hear. Most interesting of all is the moment she says, “I think it is sort of a good idea not to make her a human little girl but why a vole? I sort of wish any other creature but a vole which looks like a mouse. I think it is terribly difficult to draw ATTRACTIVE mice and I am speaking as the editor who tried eight artists for Stuart Little before Garth Williams finally came through for gold old Harper.” No surprise that when he switched Frances into her current badger form, Ms. Nordstrom lost no time hiring Williams once again. If the man could do cute mice just imagine what he could do with badgers!
Kirkus gave it a star also saying (somewhat oddly), “Garth Williams, popular illustrator, has a flair for conveying human qualities while still sustaining the animal nature of his characters, and Russell Hoban’s text is gently comical-while wholly recognizable in mood and situation. Steiff toys in Europe include badgers along with Teddy and kaola bears, and perhaps this will create a demand for them here. In any case, here’s a book that will be surely popular.”
And Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books called it, “An enchanting picture book with winsome illustrations and a text in which there is humor and a real sympathy for the maneuvering of the reluctantly retiring young.”
- You’ve just gotta love this play-by-play reading of the book.
- You can also browse inside the book here.
And the less said about the DVD the better.
About Betsy Bird
Betsy Bird is currently the Collection Development Manager of the Evanston Public Library system and a former Materials Specialist for New York Public Library. She has served on Newbery, written for Horn Book, and has done other lovely little things that she'd love to tell you about but that she's sure you'd find more interesting to hear of in person. Her opinions are her own and do not reflect those of EPL, SLJ, or any of the other acronyms you might be able to name. Follow her on Twitter: @fuseeight.
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