Is “A Bargain for Frances” the best book ever written about childhood friendships?

Oonagh brought this book home as part of her home-reading program last week and it isn’t that I had forgotten how good it is, it’s just that we don’t own a copy so I’m not constantly reminded how good it is. The only Frances book we own is A Baby Sister for Frances and it’s also hilarious. In fact all of the Frances books by Russell and Lillian Hoban are brilliant but A Bargain for Frances is my favourite.

Frances, in case you don’t know, is a Badger who deals with a lot of life’s problems by making up pithy songs about them. The dialogue in the books is brilliant and the Hobans had four children (Russell Hoban went on to have three more after their divorce) which means they were probably surrounded by hilarious toddler/child-speak for many years – I know I was. (Still am.)

A Bargain for Frances is special in the sense that it is about dealing with a friend who isn’t really a friend. These days we would call Thelma a frenemy. Or: a manipulative little b***h, who Frances keeps playing with anyway because this is who she has to play with in the neighbourhood.

This was written in the 60’s so there isn’t any parental hand-holding in the book. When Frances tells her mom that she is going to play with Thelma her mom reminds her of all the crap things Thelma has done to her the last couple times they have played together. It is obvious that playing with Thelma isn’t a good idea but the mom doesn’t keep her home or arrange a “playdate” (I’m starting to really hate that term) with someone else. She just gives Frances a warning. And when the inevitable happens Frances has to use her creativity to get back at Thelma.

When Frances gets Thelma back for manipulating her out of her money (and once again Frances little sister Gloria points out things succinctly) Thelma realizes that she has to be careful around Frances now. But being careful is more work than being friends which, of course, is how the story ends – and with Frances making up a song about it. There is no parental interference about how you have to be nice to everyone – just creative problem solving which is essentially the backbone of all the Frances books.

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