Bread and Jam for Frances is one of a series of picture books in which Frances the badger is the star, written by Russell Hoban and illustrated by Lillian Hoban.
One morning, at breakfast, everyone is eating eggs. Mother, Father, baby sister Gloria, but not Frances. Frances is eating bread and jam and singing a funny song about eggs. Later, at dinner, the veal cutlet is also snubbed by the picky, jam loving Frances. Frances sings her disgust under her breath in one of many little songs that pepper the picture book:
“What do cutlets wear before they’re breaded?
Flannel nightgowns? Cowboy boots?
Furry jackets? Sailor suits?”
Frances would prefer to have bread and jam… again.
Father and Mother begin to get frustrated and soon they stop making a plate for Frances and let her have bread and jam for every meal. However, Frances’ own frustration as she is served bread and jam for every meal and snacks while watching her friends and family eat lovely, satisfying foods.
“Albert took two napkins from his lunch box. He tucked one napkin under his chin. He spread the other one in his desk like a tablecloth. He arranged his lunch neatly on the napkin. With his spoon he cracked the shell of the hard-boiled egg. He peeled away the shell and bit off the end of the egg. He sprinkled salt on the yolk and set the egg down again. He unscrewed his thermos-bottle cup and filled it with milk. Then he was ready to eat his lunch.”
Frances’ funny little songs begin to rhythmically deteriorate as her food of choice begins to lose its appeal…
“Jam in the morning, jam at noon,
Bread and jam by the light of the moon.
Jam… is… very… nice. “
There is an eloquent simplicity in the fabricated imagery of comforting rituals of food that makes me crave hard boiled eggs and pickles each time I read and reread the pages. Bread and Jam for Frances keeps it short and sweet with simple language and concrete ideas, a good choice for a new reader.Frances’ inadvertently comic protagonist role combined with the lip-smacking descriptions of food and plain but widely encompassing illustrations create a very well rounded and well loved read.
Lillian Hoban’s illustrations are, like the text, simple and straightforward. Solid lines and two dimensional planes of colour are the features. An aqua green and a pale pink are the only two colours used and highlight everything that is not drawn in black and white. The black and white badgers contrast with their colourful, vague background in a solid way. Like a significant fraction of children’s literature, animals charmingly stand in for people.
Not having kids myself, I can only imagine how often parents relate to this book. A child refusing to try new things just because. I don’t think this book will ever teach a child not to be stubborn but that’s not the point. The book embraces the inevitable fact that children will learn at their own pace in their own way. No amount of convincing will teach a child like experience… the first hand experience of the torturously boring sameness of a “favourite” meal.