Bedtime for Frances


Written by Russell Hoban, Illustrated by Garth Williams

HarperCollins, 1960

The big hand of the clock is at 12.

The little hand is at 7.

The plot in a nutshell: Frances puts off going to sleep.

Frances has a glass of milk and her father carries her to bed. Her parents kiss her and give her a teddy bear and doll to sleep with. Frances makes up an alphabet song but when she gets to T and comes up with tiger, she starts to wonder if there’s a tiger in her room. She tells her parents and they gently send her back to bed. She sees something big in the darkness and goes back to her parents, telling them there’s a giant in her room. They advise her to ask what it wants, but when she attempts to do that, she realizes it’s just her bathrobe draped over a chair. After a couple more incidents involving a crack in the ceiling and window curtains, Frances manages to get to sleep.

This was the first of six books from author Russell Hoban about Frances the badger and it’s the only one illustrated by the wonderful Garth Williams. Reading this again for the first time in more than 20 years, I was filled with mixed emotions. My heart was brimming with warm nostalgic memories of reading this book as a little girl and sharing it years later with a little girl I babysat for when I was a teenager. But my brain was wincing at all the ways I knew contemporary readers would be tearing it to shreds on Goodreads (Her father smokes! And threatens to spank her! And her vivid imagination will give OUR kids ideas!)and that made me really sad. Personally, I love this story and feel that it represents those of us (yes, I’m including myself) whose imaginations work overtime to sometimes keep sleep at arm’s length. My husband will chime in and tell you that I haven’t entirely outgrown this, especially when our old house creaks and groans during the night.

Goodnight kisses

We should all get a bedtime hug from a badger in a dress.

The current version of this book features full color renditions of Mr. Williams’ beautiful illustrations, which were originally published in just shades of green and black. The older version is what I’m used to, but I do think they did a good job with the full color. Honestly, it would be almost impossible to do anything to diminish the artwork, as long as Mr. Williams’ distinctive style still shines through. I’ve read that Mr. Hoban originally wanted Frances to be a vole instead of a badger and his editor (the legendary Ursula Nordstrom) felt that it would be difficult to draw a likeable vole. Ms. Nordstrom suggested Mr. Williams as the artist for this book, having just worked with him on the first edition of Stuart Little. It’s no wonder that Lillian Hoban, who took over the illustrations, worked to maintain the same artistic style in future Frances books. I’m happy to admit that I’m a Frances fan.

And what did we learn? What I take away from this book is that it’s hard to go to sleep when you focus on every little thing.  It’s best to just let go.


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