The Power of
Picture Books for K– 12
If you have an older student . . . , you might think it would be a waste of
time to analyze Frances as literature. But you would be wrong.
If you are already thinking about he reading list you will assign to your students next fall, congratula- tions—you are way ahead of Missy
and me! Let me offer one piece of advice
as you assemble your curriculum: Assign children’s picture storybooks to all
of your students in the first few weeks of
the school year.
You heard me right: Even if your students are in high school and you plan
to assign Great Expectations or Shakespeare’s Hamlet this year, be sure to
start with a book like Russell Hoban’s A
Bargain for Frances first. It will help you
review the basics of good reading and
analysis with your students, knock the
summer rust out of their heads, and keep
them interested all the while.
A Bargain for Frances
Hoban’s story opens on young Frances planning a tea party with her friend
Thelma. Frances’s mother warns her to
be careful when she plays with Thelma,
because the latter has a history of taking advantage of Frances’s naiveté. Sure
enough, the tea party becomes the latest
episode in this unfortunate history.
Frances lets drop that she has been
saving her money for a blue china tea set.
As the result of some deft manipulation
on Thelma’s part, Frances ends up buying
Thelma’s old red plastic tea set instead.
Thelma then sneaks off to the candy store
to plunk the money down on the blue
When Frances finds out about Thelma’s double-cross, she hatches a plan to
get even. Using some of Thelma’s own
techniques of manipulation, Frances persuades Thelma to give her the blue china
tea set and take back her old red one. In
the process, she confronts Thelma about
the way the two have related to each other in the past, and they reestablish their
friendship along healthier lines. “Being
careful isn’t nice,” says Frances as the story closes. “Being friends is better.”
I know what you must be thinking: By
the time my student reaches high school,
shouldn’t he be reading more difficult
A Bargain for Frances is a simple
story; there is no doubt about that.
Indeed, it is an “I Can Read” Level 2
book, designed for kids in kindergarten through second grade who still
need help reading on their own. In the
entire story, only two words: alligators
and allowances—have more than three
syllables. If you have an older student
who really needs to make progress
through a high school reading list, you
might think it would be a waste of time
to analyze Frances as literature.
But you would be wrong.
Frances is a time-honored classic of
American literature for good reason. The
fact that it was written for first-graders
should not blind you to its quality. Indeed, this fact actually makes it a better
choice for your high school student than
Hamlet or Great Expectations, especially
if you are interested in teaching the principles of sound literary analysis.
First, Frances contains all of the structural elements common to English fiction. It
boasts well-drawn characters. There is a
clear setting that is integral to the story’s
plot and emphasizes its themes. Various