Tuesday, May 19, 2009

From Frances to Mole

I revisited an old friend for breakfast today. I can still remember pulling Russell Hoban's Frances books off the shelves of the library as a little girl in Wisconsin, and so I decided to use her to answer the C.O.R.A. Diversity Roll Call question. For nostalgia's sake, here's the first Frances book I remember, Bread and Jam for Frances:

I loved Frances because she was subtly snotty and got away with making comments that I never would have dared. I loved her parents because they clearly adored her and they gave the appearance of putting up with her guff, but in the end they got the best of her because she was just a little girl and they knew better. I must have identified with that. It never occurred to me to wonder what race she was. She was badger.

Which leads me to think of another Badger, and another favorite: The Wind in the Willows, by Kenneth Grahame. I first read this one as an adult, it made a great read-aloud and was one of Ben's very favorite books ever. He used to pretend to be Ratty and assign me the part of Mole and his dad the part of Badger. I think Evan was Otter's son. None of us wanted to be Toad.

Again, like in many children's books, the characters are talking animals. It never occurred to me that this literary device took race out of the picture, but I think it does. On the other hand, all the major characters of The Wind in the Willows are not only different species from each other, they also come from vastly different backgrounds. There is prejudice (those nasty weasels and stoats!) but also the illumination of experiencing another culture (as Mole discovers life with the animals of the river) and the disillusionment of returning home to one's beloved mole hole, changed forever by time away.

That's what I want for my own children--first, to use books to achieve a greater understanding of the world outside their own dear mole hole. And then, one day I want them to emerge squinting into the bright light as Mole does, come face to face with some of the many different people who make the world more than one neighborhood, and make friends (weasels, stoats, and all) to last a lifetime.


  1. Great post! That's exactly why I wanted my son to read and it's part of the reason I love to read. I love to experience life from other viewpoints and cultures.

  2. very fun! You just have to be an awesome mom.

  3. BermudaOnion, Yes! That's exactly why I like to read a variety of books by different types of authors. (Though that said, it's ironic that the two books I highlighted for this post are both written by white guys from the U.K.).

    Doret, thanks!

    Care, So sweet of you to say! I guess like all moms, I have moments of awesomeness and moments of non-awesomeness, LOL.

  4. I really enjoyed this post!

    For some reason, I was thinking of Bread and Jam for Frances this week - I hadn't recalled the depth of details though. Thank you for that!

    These are lovely books - so wonderful to hear of them again.

  5. I always think of 'The Wind in the Willows' as being about class (certain animals always seem to be associated with certain classes in British kids books). But I guess in some ways assumptions about class get tied into assumptions about race (for example mole is very much the happy, hardworking working class and one historical, racial stereotype of black people is that of the hardworking, cheerfully annoyed worker).

  6. Jodie, You're right about the class thing--it's so present in British literature (especially older books)-- but much of the time it still goes right over my head.

  7. Gaby, funny that we both happened to think of Bread and Jam for Frances this week! I hadn't thought of it in years.

  8. Excellent post! I recently read Feeling like a Kid by Jerry Griswold and some of what he says about The Wind in the Willows is similar to what you say here.