Bedtime for Frances

Russell Hoban wrote nearly four dozen books for children over a span of more than fifty years. Though I haven’t conducted a scientific poll, I’m going to venture that the character he created for his very first is still the most popular and well known. 

Bedtime for Frances was published in 1960, and Hoban featured Frances the Badger in five subsequent books. The first was illustrated by Garth Williams. The others were illustrated by Russell’s wife, Lillian Hoban. Typical of Garth Williams, Frances is cute and fuzzy. 

The story opens at 7:00 p.m., with Mother and Father announcing that it is Frances’s bedtime. Suddenly, Frances needs a glass of milk. Then she wants to be carried piggyback to her room, with kisses from Mother and Father, her doll and teddy bear to sleep with, and another round of kisses for good measure. 

Once Frances is alone in the dark (with the door open!) falling asleep becomes the challenge. She tries to sing herself to sleep, but her imagination gets the best of her. She gets out of bed three different times to report scary things in her room to Father and Mother. 

Father and Mother are asleep the last time Frances gets out of bed, and Father has lost patience. If Frances gets up again, she will get a spanking. With the thought of a spanking, and having worn herself out with scary and exciting things, Frances finally falls asleep, and doesn’t wake up till Mother calls her for breakfast the next morning. 

This story, with its engaging illustrations, is intended as a read aloud, rather than for teaching reading. The vocabulary is relatively simple, but words have been chosen for an entertaining story, not to fit a specific reading level. Though a young reader might be able to work through the book, the number of words on some pages could be daunting. 

Mother and Father may seem a little indulgent at first, but bedtime is often a difficult time for children, and Frances is, after all, an only badger. I love that they make sure Frances’s actual needs have been met, and also some of her wants. Then Father does his best to give Frances some practical tips on coping with her fears. Ask the giant what he wants. Not all giants want to get you.

Maybe I appreciate this book because bedtime was so difficult for me when I was a child. Everyday objects look like scary things in the dark. Something could come out of the crack in the ceiling if no one is watching. And there are noises. 

In the end, Father and Mother have done all they can do for Frances, and she has to learn to pull herself together and get control of her imagination. She does. And I suppose they live happily from then until . . . a baby sister comes along.

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  1. Connie Neumann says:

    I grew up reading the Frances books just as they came out and they still remain some of my favorite “go-to” books for family read-aloud stories. Thanks for the review and memories!

  2. Diane Pendergraft says:

    You’re so welcome! I’m glad you love them and are introducing them to new generations.

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