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Memories of Frances

R.I.P. Russell Hoban

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Frances the badger.(Hitchhiking to Heaven)

More than Flat Stanley, more than Babar, more than Curious George, it was a quiet little school-aged badger, name of Frances, who I considered a friend when I was a small child. She was the invention of Russell Hoban, the Pennsylvania-born son of Ukrainian Jewish immigrants (his father worked for a time at the Jewish Daily Forward), who was an illustrator and a writer of books for both children and adults. Science fiction fans will know him for the apocalyptic Riddley Walker, of which I knew nothing until yesterday, when news broke of his death at the age of 86 in London, where he lived for the past 42 years.

For me, Russell Hoban’s genius was Frances in all her captivating predicaments. They weren’t zany or far-fetched. Her life was familiar. She stalled at bedtime. She subsisted on bread and jam. She sang self-pityingly to herself. She had a little sister, Gloria (so hilariously odd, my 5-year-old self thought; who named their child Gloria?). Drawn first by Garth Williams and then by Hoban’s wife, Lillian, Frances and her world didn’t explode in color on the page, as do the worlds of so many other favorite childhood characters. The palette of Frances’ life was more modest, certainly, but it was hardly empty. I identified with this badger, with her soft-spokenness and pickiness, though I didn’t know what a badger was back then. I had trouble sleeping, I had a younger sister, and while I didn’t care for jam, I loved toast—white bread smeared with cream cheese. Nothing else. For years it’s what I ate for breakfast and dinner and it’s an honest, happy wonder these bones of mine ever grew.

Russell Hoban, ‘Frances’ Author, Dies at 86 [NYT]

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Aw, lovely reminiscence. Bread and Jam for Frances really is the most wonderful children’s book, no? I had to snort when a bunch of Hoban obituaries called him a “cult author” — uh, maybe to sci-fi fans, but not to children. To generations of kids, Hoban was a rock star.

Bravo for such a beautiful and warranted piece! Russell Hoban was a genius, who depicted with utter honesty and sensitivity all the child’s feelings of powerlessness, vivacity, curiosity, frustration, fear, and excitement.

Jane Ravid says:

Thanks Sara

Lowell Blackman says:

It is a shame that nowhere is Russell Hoban’s wonderful heroic quest coming-of-age adventure mentioned, “The Lion of Boaz-Jachin and Jachin-Boaz” which I read more than twenty years ago and which I have been lending copies to students for as many years. It is magic and touches all of us who seek to find out who our parents are or who they were and it takes place in at a time when no lions existed anymore. Ergo, the quest for the lion, one’s father, and oneself.

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Memories of Frances

R.I.P. Russell Hoban

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