Saturday, August 11, 2007

Bread and Jam For Frances by Russell Hoban

From the favourer: "It's all about food, and so am I."

Did you go through a phase as a kid where you refused to eat anything except one food? When one of my cousins was little he would only eat vegemite sandwiches. Even at Christmas lunch where everyone else was chowing down on cold meats, seafood and all manner of Christmassy goodness, we had to make him vegemite sandwiches to stem the tears. I don't know if I had a single-food phase exactly, but I was a fussy little bugger. Between the ages of about 2 and 10 (possibly longer, but then it starts to get embarrassing) I would only eat pasta if it had butter and absolutely nothing else on it. When I ordered this gourmet delicacy at the very accommodating Paragon Cafe and my meal came with a garnish of parsley, I would cry.

Frances the badger loves bread and jam. She loves bread and jam so much that she doesn't want to try eating anything else, because, as she informs her parents:

"there are many different things to eat,
and they taste many different ways.
But when I have bread and jam
I always know what I am getting, and I am always pleased."

But Frances' mother, tiring of cooking meals that don't get eaten, decides that if bread and jam is what Frances wants, bread and jam is what Frances will have. As Frances' committment to bread and jam begins to waver, she sings:

"Jam for snacks and jam for meals,
I know how a jam jar feel -

Bread And Jam For Frances is one in a series of Hoban's Frances picture books that has also been translated into Spanish (Nicely titled Pan y mermelada para Francisca), and illustrated by his wife Lillian Hoban. The two-tone illustrations are soft and charming, but seemed a bit samey to me at first glance and I wondered if they actually added anything to the story. Most of them have a character placed centre-stage with only their very immediate surroundings detailed.

Then I remembered to read the book as if I couldn't read yet.

After this I found ways in which the illustrations complement this gentle story. Kids can see Frances' expression gradually change from cheerful to sad as she tires of her one-track meals, and point to the different components of her school friend Albert's excellently varied lunch. That lunch is guaranteed to make you hungry, even if like me you're scoffing the pictured pan y mermelada as you read the book. The way Albert eats his cream-cheese-cucumber-and-tomato-on-rye plus its accompaniments to finish everthing at the same time is lovingly methodical (and might even be worth a go to get fussy eaters to eat a bit of everything they're given):

"He took a bite of the sandwich, a bite of pickle,
a bite of hard-boiled egg, and a drink of milk.
Then he sprinkled more salt on the egg and went round again.
Albert made the sandwich, the pickle,
the egg, and the milk come out even.
He ate his bunch of grapes and his tangerine.
Then he cleared away the crumpled-up waxed paper,
the eggshell, and the tangerine peel.
He set the cup custard in the middle of the napkin on his desk.
He took up his spoon and at up all the custard.
Then Albert folded up his napkins and put them away.
He put away his cardboard saltshaker and his spoon.
He screwed the cup on top of his thermos bottle.
He shut his lunch box,
put it back inside his desk, and sighed.
'I like to have a good lunch,' said Albert."

While Hoban is writing for very young children in this book, his trademark humour is probably what has kept this book in print for over 43 years. My favourite moment is where Frances, on her umpteenth slice of bread and jam, attempts to offhandedly relieve Albert of his lunch:

"...'And I had bread and jam for dinner last night and for breakfast this morning.'
'You certainly are lucky,' said Albert.
'Yes', said Frances. 'I am a very lucky girl.
But I'll swop if you want to.' "

Very generous. But how can Frances go back on her committment to bread and jam now? Perhaps some conveniently selective memory is required...

But now, if you'll excuse me, I'm feeling a little peckish.

The joys of Daylesford (a bookish aside)

Just as I realised that this reading project is a really good excuse to buy books (whether I can bring myself to release them into the wild after I've read them is another matter), Paul and I conveniently went to Daylesford, home of the Lake Daylesford Book Barn and the Avant Garden bookstore. I took a list of your favourites, and decided I was going to buy any of them that were under $10. I've come home with 19 books. Eep.

The Book Barn, which I've been visiting since I was about the size of my profile picture, was up for sale the last time we visited. Sob! No more pot belly stove in the middle of the store, no more old dog warming his bones in front of it, no more Kerry recognising me each time I visited over the years (each time I was generally taller, but with the same haircut). But on this visit, I discovered that the store has been rescued! It's been bought by a chap who is continuing to run it as a secondhand book store - only with coffee! Hurrah! This works especially well when the person you're in the store with gets sick of browsing while you're still going, because then they can have a coffee and not just hover around asking if you're ready to go yet. Long may the Book Barn endure. But the favourite part of my visit was discovering a new section in the store. So you've got your 'Australian Literature' section, your 'Military History' section, your 'Music' section, etc...and then you've got your:

section. I had a quick scan of the books that have been classified under this label (expecting, I don't know, maybe some Wodehouse?), but I'm still not sure what the criteria is...

One more sight to share with you - outside the restaurant Frangos & Frangos are its principal patrons at their permanently reserved table, with cushions:

They were there every day, all day. Anyone for puppacino?