Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Battle Hymn of the Badger Mother

by Lisa Emig

Mothers have appeared in children's literature since Sophocles was in diapers. They've come in many shapes and sizes, and have brought with them their various neuroses and strengths. My favorite fictional mother has been and always will be the mother of Frances the Badger (unfortunately she has no name, so we will refer to her as "Frances' mother”). Physically, she embodies what every mother from her era aspires to (ignore the fact that she is covered in fur, she is after all a badger). Possessing something of an athletic build, she is always dressed appropriately. No thongs, nor low rise jeans for this badger. Instead she can be found in her neat little kitchen, sporting colorful sun dresses - possibly purchased at Lily Pulitzer. She is not only stylish, but thrifty as well, taking care of her Lily by always sporting a feminine apron as she cooks and cleans. As the books were written in the 1960’s, Frances's mother like many of her peers, remained at home raising her badger children, although I suspect that had the books been written today, she would have a PhD in psychology, specializing in family therapy.

I've always admired Frances' mother, and often wished that I could have her calm and level-headed approach to raising children. Frances, her oldest, experiences many traumas and triumphs during her appearances in the six books, written and illustrated by the husband and wife team, Russell and Lillian Hoban.

In Bread and Jam for Frances, Frances' mother exudes compassion, strength and confidence, as Frances battles that most heinous form of childhood addiction – bread and jam. Frances’ mother does not sit her down and force her to eat a string bean; nor does she tell her that if she doesn’t introduce an alternate food group into her system, she’ll begin to start to grow vines from her ears. On the contrary, she chooses instead to let the addiction run its course by supplying Frances with bread and jam at every opportunity.

In A Bargain for Frances, Frances finds herself under the influence of an unsuitable friend (a fast-talking elementary schooler who swindles Frances out of her porcelain tea set). How many of us have suffered the pain of watching our children taken advantage of by their savvier, morally corrupt friends? Frances' mother does not pick up the phone and call Thelma's mother to complain about her child's behavior. Instead, she calmly warns Frances to be careful during their play date. She teaches Frances to be wary, allowing Frances to maneuver her own way through tough relationships, and ultimately triumph over those unscrupulous acquaintances who would try to take advantage of her.

In A Baby Sister for Frances, Frances rebels as a result of the changes in her household, after the birth of her younger sister Gloria. One evening after dinner, Frances announces that she is going to run away. Completely unfazed by this news, Frances’ mother says “that’s fine, but we’ll miss you.” And so off Frances goes (she seeks refuge under the dining room table, with a sleeve of cookies). Little Frances packs a lot of living into her elementary school years, and fortunately, her mother is there, gently allowing Frances to come to her own conclusions about her nutritional needs, friends, and the importance of family.

I will always admire Frances' mother for these qualities and as a mother myself, I can only marvel at her ability to welcome her wayward badger daughter with a big slice of chocolate cake.

Lisa Emig is a writer and reviewer for The Best Damn Creative Writing Blog.  You can find her over on her blog "If You Were Born in 1962" and on twitter. She is currently editing, writing, deleting, re-writing and replacing her first novel.

Upcoming posts:
Santosha Kuykendall, Mrs. Heffley Regrets....
reflections on Diary of a Wimpy Kid

Shivanee Ramlochan (of Novelniche, a Place for Books)
considering The Golden Compass' Mrs. Coulter


  1. "A Bargain for Frances" is in our weekly rotation. I love everything about this post. :)

  2. She might be the sweetest wisest literary mother of all time. Just reading about her makes me want a chompo bar!

  3. The Francis books were a staple at our house while the kids were growing up! Love this little badger girl!!!

  4. The title of this post made me laugh out loud. I'm not a parent (yet), but I'm looking for book recs for my neice. Will this be a good book for a 3 year old?

    Thanks from your newest follower- Miss GOP

  5. Kathy, aren't they fun? Thanks so much for your comment!

    Miss GOP, they are longer picture books, so may depend on your reader, but we started them at 3 or so - they grow into them quickly, and our almost-7 yr old still loves them. Thanks so much for the follow, coming right over to visit!

  6. When I was 5 or 6, I refused to eat anything but peanut butter sandwiches for a couple of weeks, and my dad read me Bread and Jam for Frances again and again. I've always read Russell Hoban- The Mouse and His Child, then his adult works such as Ridley Walker. I was lucky enough to visit his house on his 86th birthday (he lives in Fulham, West London) and he was such a lovely man- he signed my books and chatted with me for an hour. Bread and Jam for Frances was one of the books I took.

    Mrs Badger is a lovely mum- she reminds me a little of Moominmamma.


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