Author: Russell Hoban
Illustrator: Garth Williams
Published: 1960, HarperCollins Children’s Books
Age range: 4-8
At the library these days, I’m the one with a stack of picture books. My kids are growing up and have moved on to middle grade and young adult books. But they’ll read anything that’s lying around the house, even picture books, and they still have their favorites. With so many beautiful, funny, sweet, and clever picture books, I couldn’t decide which one to highlight first. So I put it to my kids. Over the next several months I’ll make sure to include their favorites.
My 17-year-old is my greatest book lover. She loved all of the Frances stories, but Bedtime for Frances is her favorite.
The big hand of the clock is at 12.
The little hand is at 7.
It is seven o’clock.
It is bedtime for Frances.
Frances is a little badger who has captivated the hearts of readers since the 1960s. In this story, it is time for Frances to go to bed. She comes up with all kinds of excuses to delay bedtime. She needs a glass of milk, hugs, and her teddy bear and doll. She worries about tigers and giants, cracks in the ceiling and blowing curtains. Finally, the risk of a spanking makes Frances think twice about asking Father to see what is bumping and thumping on her window. In the end she checks herself and finds only a moth. And so Frances goes to sleep.
What makes Bedtime for Frances such a beloved classic? First, there’s the resonance. What child hasn’t found numerous ways to delay going to bed? Kids can see themselves in Frances. Parents can identify with Mother and Father. Bedtime struggles are a timeless and universal issue. Second, Frances just has a certain charm. Her little song about the alphabet is fun and so very like a child. Her imagination about what she “sees” in her room is entertaining. In addition, short simple sentences, along with straightforward repetition in some parts, give the story a pleasant rhythm. This is one of those picture books that works well for read aloud but also for beginning readers. The words are simple enough for young readers to tackle without much trouble, but with a level that is high enough to be a challenge. Finally, the illustrations are simple in a beautiful way. They show the affectionate relationship between Frances and her parents, her fears, and her delay tactics.
I’d like to add a note about the spanking that Frances risks. Some modern readers may object to this element. It’s important to remember that this book was written in 1960, when parenting norms were not the same as they are today. Kids may not even notice; I know mine did not. The mention of a spanking offers a teachable moment to explain that some parents do things differently, as well as the fact that parenting tactics have changed. Personally, I appreciate books that allow me to explain diverse or outdated perspectives. Father and Mother Badger were incredibly patient with Frances, far more so than I was with my kids. Father does not directly threaten a spanking, but Frances infers it after his explanation of how everyone has a job. This “threat” is the impetus for her to stop hedging on bedtime by putting her needless fears to rest on her own.
Many people who loved Frances as a child now read Bedtime for Frances to their children and grandchildren. I expect to read it to my own grandchildren someday. It is a charming book in so many ways, and one that I never minded reading over again.