Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library
The art of collaboration: the children’s books of russell and lillian hoban.
February 19, 2018
By Nancy Kuhl
Russell and Lillian Hoban began their decade-long collaboration on children’s books with Herman the Loser (1961). Russell Hoban wrote the text, and Lillian Hoban produced the illustrations. Their greatest success is a series of books about a strong-willed badger named Frances. Although Garth Williams illustrated the first Frances book, Bedtime for Frances (1960), it is Lillian Hoban’s artwork for Bread and Jam for Frances (1964), that won a devoted readership. Both Russell and Lillian were trained as artists, but Russell gave up illustration in the early 1960s. The husband-and-wife team settled in to their respective roles as writer and illustrator, and worked in easy partnership. The Hobans produced more than 26 children’s books during their married life, including The Little Brute Family (1966); The Mouse and His Child (1967); and Emmet Otter’s Jug-Band Christmas (1971).
The Hobans divorced in 1975, but Lillian Hoban continued illustrating her own children’s books, including the successful Arthur series, and collaborating with other writers until her death in 1998. For Russell Hoban, the mid-1970s marked a turn away from children’s books. He longed to write books for adults, and began to do so with the publication of The Lion of Boaz-Jachin and Jachin-Boaz (1973). He went on to publish several novels, including the cult classic Riddley Walker (1981). Russell Hoban died in 2011. (EF)
See also: + The Art of Collaboration: Studies in Creativity
& + The Art of Collaboration: Richard Wright’s Native Son on Stage and Screen
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First Day Back Poem (Summer Goes Poem)
Age range: 11-14
Resource type: Lesson (complete)
30 August 2021
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This lesson is perfect for an English class on their first day back at school for KS3.
The studied poem is ‘Summer Goes’ by Russell Hoban. The lesson primarily focuses on how the students in your class can relate to the speaker in the poem after summer ends.
The resource has a PowerPoint and a copy of the poem included.
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About the Author
RUSSELL HOBAN (1925–2011) was an American novelist and children’s writer. He achieved recognition for his popular Frances the Badger children’s book series in the 1960s, which he created with his wife, illustrator Lillian Hoban, who illustrated many of his early books. In 1980 he published Riddley Walker, the highly acclaimed, award-winning novel for which he was most renowned.
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The author of the beloved Frances books for children as well as the science-fiction classic Riddley Walker (1980), Hoban was born in Lansdale in 1925.
Russell Hoban, born in Landsdale in 1925, was a children's fantasy/science-fiction author renowned both in the United Kingdom and the United States. Several of his books were made into plays or motion pictures, most notably Riddley Walker (1980), The Mouse and His Child (1967), and Turtle Diary (1975). On occasion, Hoban described his books as intended for everyone‚ not strictly children‚ as they at times explore deep themes that only older audiences might appreciate.
Russell Conwell Hoban was born on February 4, 1925, in Lansdale, Pennsylvania, the youngest and only boy of three. His parents, Abram T. Hoban and Jeanette Dimmerman, were Jewish-Ukrainian immigrants. They named Hoban after Russell Conwell, the founder and first president of Temple University—a legendary figure in Philadelphia history. Hoban was exposed early to writing and the arts: His father was the advertising manager of the Jewish Daily Forward newspaper and the director of a Philadelphia drama guild. He died when Hoban was only 11, however, forcing Hoban's mother to go to work as a store owner.
Hoban began to draw from the age of five. He also began writing stories and poems, many of which won awards. His sister Tana , who later became a world-renowned illustrator and photographer, influenced Hoban in his work. Hoban continued to write through his youth, but writing as a livelihood would have to wait until his 20s—Hoban enlisted in the Army at age 18, serving as a radio operator in the Philippines and Italy during World War II. His service in the Army lasted through one year of his marriage, and his bravery in the Italian campaign later earned him a Bronze Star.
Hoban obtained formal training in the arts from the Philadelphia Museum School of Industrial Art (now the College of Art and Design at the University of the Arts) from 1941 to 1943. He had attended Temple University for five weeks only to drop out. Hoban had also enrolled in the tuition-free Graphic Sketch Club (now the Samuel S. Fleisher Art Memorial) of Philadelphia, where he met his wife, Lillian Aberman. The two seemed ideal for each other: Lillian had wanted to illustrate children's books since her youth.
In 1944, the 19-year-olds married and moved to New York City. Lillian gave up illustration to become a dance instructor, though in the early 1960s she would again illustrate for her husband. Hoban worked at everything from magazine illustration to advertising copywriting. Not until 1967, and with the Frances series of children's books written, did Hoban fully immerse himself in a full-time writing career that is still healthy today. The Frances series was illustrated entirely by Lillian Hoban and chronicled the adventures of a badger, Frances, as he learned simple lessons like giving or trying new foods.
The Hobans had four children: Phoebe, Abrom, Esmé, and Julia. The family set out for London in 1969, intending to stay two years. Plans went awry, however, when Lillian divorced and returned to the United States with the children—while Hoban never left. Lillian had illustrated half of Hoban's fifty children's books. Together they had won high honors, including a 1964 Library of Congress Children's Book selection for Bread and Jam for Frances (1964), and the Lewis Carroll Shelf Award and Christopher Award, both in 1972, for Emmet Otter's Jug-band Christmas (1971). The divorce, naturally, marked the end of their collaboration. Lillian still continued to write and illustrate children's books on her own.
Hoban's divorce changed him: He began to write more books for adults. In 1970, Hoban met a bookseller named Gundula Ahl. They married in 1975 and had three children: Jachin (Jake), Ben, and Wieland. Hoban often subtly referenced his children (from both marriages) in his works.
Hoban went on to win several more awards. A Near Thing for Captain Najork (1975) was selected by the New York Times as one of the Best Illustrated Children's Books of 1976. How Tom Beat Captain Najork and His Hired Sportsmen (1974) won the Whitbread Literary Award in 1974 and made the International Board on Books for Young People Honor List in 1976. In the humorous Najork books, the main character, a boy named Tom, won't quit playing around. To punish him, his mean aunt sends for Captain Najork and his hired sportsmen to teach Tom a lesson. Tom turns the tables, however, beating Najork and his sportsmen at their own games: womble, muck and sneedball. In A Near Thing , Najork returns only to be beaten again. Riddley Walker (1980), the story of a young boy in a post-apocalyptic future where a degraded form of English is spoken, won numerous awards and favor from critics.
Hoban published with Bloomsbury until the end of his life. In addition to his lastworks, Bloomsbury released new trade paperback editions of Hoban's older novels. His last novels, My Tango with Barbara Strozzi (2007) and Angelica Lost and Found (2010) , were published in 2007 and 2010, respectively. Hoban's books are more readily available in the United Kingdom than in the United States. His following is also larger "across the pond," and includes fan sites, fan clubs, and conventions. In a 2002 interview with The Guardian , Hoban noted, " I think death will be a good career move for me, he laughs. People will say, 'yes, Hoban, he seems an interesting writer, let's look at him again'. Hoban resided in London with his wife until his death on December 13, 2011 at the age of 86.
- What Does It Do and How Does It Work?: Power Shovel, Dump Truck, and Other Heavy Machines . (self-illustrated) New York: Harper, 1959.
- Bedtime for Frances . New York: Harper, 1960.
- The Story of Hester Mouse Who Became a Writer and Saved Most of Her Sisters and Brothers and Some of Her Aunts and Uncles from the Owl . (illustrated by Lillian Hoban) New York: Norton, 1965.
- The Mouse and His Child . (illustrated by Lillian Hoban) New York: Harper, 1967.
- Goodnight . (illustrated by Lillian Hoban) New York: Norton, 1966.
- The Lion of Boaz-Jachin and Jachin-Boaz . New York: Stein & Day, 1973.
- Kleinzeit . New York: Viking, 1974.
- Turtle Diary . London: J. Cape, 1975.
- Riddley Walker . London: J. Cape, 1980.
- Pilgermann . New York: Summit Books, 1983.
- The Medusa Frequency . New York: Atlantic Monthly, 1987.
- Her Name Was Lola . New York: Arcade, 2003.
- My Tango with Barbara Strozzi. London, Bloomsbury UK, 2007.
- Angelica Lost and Found. London: Bloomsbury UK, 2010.
- "The Head of Orpheus: A Russell Hoban Reference Page." David Awl. 9 Jan. 2006. 21 June 2007. < http://www.ocelotfactory.com/hoban/index.html >.
- "Russell (Conwell) Hoban." The Gale Literary Database: Contemporary Authors Online . 15 June 2005. 21 June 2007. < http://www.galenet.com >.
- "Russell and Lillian Hoban Papers." De Grummond Collection . The University of Southern Mississippi. June 2001. 26 June 2007 < http://www.lib.usm.edu/~degrum/html/research/findaids/hobanrus.htm >. Page content replaced.
- Wroe, Nicholas. "Secrets of the yellow pages." The guardian 22 Nov. 2002. Web. 14 Dec. 2011. < http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2002/nov/23/fiction >.
Photo Credit: Lisa Greenstein. " Photograph of Russell Hoban. " 2005. Photograph. Licensed under CC BY 3.0 . Cropped to 4x3. Source: Wikimedia.
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Poetry friday: two about homework.
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WHAT DOES IT DO AND HOW DOES IT WORK?
by Russell Hoban ‧ RELEASE DATE: Aug. 5, 1959
Power machines—the bulldozer, dump truck, tractor—are sources of fascination to every sidewalk superintendent who has ever strained over a fence, absorbed by the energy of the mechanical goliaths. Written in a compellingly rhythmic prose and illustrated by the author in bold pictures reminiscent of Rouault's paintings, this book dramatizes for the younger reader the force of the heavy machine and explains its function and mechanism. A strong book on a subject of optimal interest.
Pub Date: Aug. 5, 1959
Page Count: -
Review Posted Online: April 28, 2012
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 1959
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LITTLE BLUE TRUCK'S VALENTINE
by Alice Schertle ; illustrated by John Joseph ‧ RELEASE DATE: Dec. 8, 2020
Little Blue Truck keeps on truckin’—but not without some backfires.
Little Blue Truck feels, well, blue when he delivers valentine after valentine but receives nary a one.
His bed overflowing with cards, Blue sets out to deliver a yellow card with purple polka dots and a shiny purple heart to Hen, one with a shiny fuchsia heart to Pig, a big, shiny, red heart-shaped card to Horse, and so on. With each delivery there is an exchange of Beep s from Blue and the appropriate animal sounds from his friends, Blue’s Beep s always set in blue and the animal’s vocalization in a color that matches the card it receives. But as Blue heads home, his deliveries complete, his headlight eyes are sad and his front bumper droops ever so slightly. Blue is therefore surprised (but readers may not be) when he pulls into his garage to be greeted by all his friends with a shiny blue valentine just for him. In this, Blue’s seventh outing, it’s not just the sturdy protagonist that seems to be wilting. Schertle’s verse, usually reliable, stumbles more than once; stanzas such as “But Valentine’s Day / didn’t seem much fun / when he didn’t get cards / from anyone” will cause hitches during read-alouds. The illustrations, done by Joseph in the style of original series collaborator Jill McElmurry, are pleasant enough, but his compositions often feel stiff and forced.
Pub Date: Dec. 8, 2020
Page Count: 20
Publisher: HMH Books
Review Posted Online: Jan. 18, 2021
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2021
CHILDREN'S HOLIDAYS & CELEBRATIONS | CHILDREN'S TRANSPORTATION | CHILDREN'S SOCIAL THEMES
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From the diary of a wimpy kid series , vol. 14.
by Jeff Kinney ; illustrated by Jeff Kinney ‧ RELEASE DATE: Nov. 5, 2019
Readers can still rely on this series to bring laughs.
The Heffley family’s house undergoes a disastrous attempt at home improvement.
When Great Aunt Reba dies, she leaves some money to the family. Greg’s mom calls a family meeting to determine what to do with their share, proposing home improvements and then overruling the family’s cartoonish wish lists and instead pushing for an addition to the kitchen. Before bringing in the construction crew, the Heffleys attempt to do minor maintenance and repairs themselves—during which Greg fails at the work in various slapstick scenes. Once the professionals are brought in, the problems keep getting worse: angry neighbors, terrifying problems in walls, and—most serious—civil permitting issues that put the kibosh on what work’s been done. Left with only enough inheritance to patch and repair the exterior of the house—and with the school’s dismal standardized test scores as a final straw—Greg’s mom steers the family toward moving, opening up house-hunting and house-selling storylines (and devastating loyal Rowley, who doesn’t want to lose his best friend). While Greg’s positive about the move, he’s not completely uncaring about Rowley’s action. (And of course, Greg himself is not as unaffected as he wishes.) The gags include effectively placed callbacks to seemingly incidental events (the “stress lizard” brought in on testing day is particularly funny) and a lampoon of after-school-special–style problem books. Just when it seems that the Heffleys really will move, a new sequence of chaotic trouble and property destruction heralds a return to the status quo. Whew.
Pub Date: Nov. 5, 2019
Page Count: 224
Review Posted Online: Nov. 18, 2019
GENERAL GRAPHIC NOVELS & COMICS | CHILDREN'S FAMILY
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Russell Hoban: Turtle Diary; Mr Rinyo-Clacton’s Offer; The Medusa Frequency – worth rejoicing in
The American writer’s first eight novels for adults have been reissued as Penguin Modern Classics, offering a banquet of whimsical delights
T here are two types of people: those who rejoice that Russell Hoban’s first eight novels for adults have just been reissued as Penguin Modern Classics ; and those who will rejoice once they’ve read them for the first time.
The Pennsylvania-born Hoban lived and worked in England, publishing his first novel in 1973, aged 48. He died in 2011 . Best known at first as writer of children’s fiction, then for his post-apocalyptic novel Riddley Walker (1980), he once referred to his fans as a “bunch of charming weirdos”, which is a fitting description of his books too. Artworks by Eduardo Paolozzi used for the covers of these editions capture Hoban’s colourful eccentricity.
Each book is surprising – featuring spacemen, map-makers, castrated Jews – but you also know what you’re getting, which is curiosity, wonder and a world-encompassing empathy; books that “might get you to those places in your head that you can’t get to on your own”. His stories don’t take themselves seriously, but have big ideas and such a wide range of reference – artworks as the home of the human soul always feature – that they benefit from being read with a search tab open.
Hoban’s third novel, Turtle Diary (1975), is about two lonely middle-aged Londoners, Neaera and William, who narrate in alternating chapters, unconnected except by a mutual desire to free the turtles from London Zoo. Whether they free them or not isn’t the point; there’s a love story too, but not the expected one. The story is really about connecting people, and finding a place in the world for yourself, particularly if you agree with Neaera that “more and more I think that madness is the world’s natural state and to expect anything else is madness compounded”.
But making positive gestures – releasing turtles, finding out, carrying on – even in the face of that madness – is the point. Little wonder that one cover review calls Turtle Diary “life-saving”, or that Max Porter said that it “has medicinal qualities. I only need to think about it and I’m in a better mood.”
Mr Rinyo-Clacton’s Offer (1998) adopts a similar refusal to fit . (“Crazy? The word is meaningless, read the papers and tell me we live in a sane world”), but to both darker and funnier ends. Here are two men: one knows why he’s unhappy and the other doesn’t. The second, the sinister Mr Rinyo-Clacton, offers to “buy the death” of the first man, Jonathan Fitch: he’ll give him £1m and let him live for a year; then it’s lights out. “Mmmmmm, yes! Dark pleasure! Secret joy!”
Mr Rinyo-Clacton is someone who alters the world to make it fit him. Jonathan believes he has nothing to live for since his partner, Serafina, left, so accepts the offer, finding of course that life is more valuable when it’s running out. Hoban’s wide-eyed vision helps, suffused with a love of London only possible for an immigrant still beguiled by his adopted home, from tube journeys (“through the London clay beneath the surface of things”) to railway stations: “Charing Cross, all agleam with its swaggering arches, urged action. Live! it said. Go! Do!”
But it’s The Medusa Frequency (1987) that Hoban said held the key to his writing. You can see why, as it contains elements familiar from many of his books: a narrator who’s a writer; names that sound vaguely punny (Herman Orff, Istvan Fallok); a culturally omnivorous interest in art (here, Vermeer’s Girl With a Pearl Earring ); and, always, empathy for “the general straggler and struggler, the person for whom the whole sweep of consciousness is often too much”.
This is Hoban’s loosest, most anarchic novel, broadly about making a film of Orpheus and Eurydice, but where a line such as “The head of Orpheus turned up as half a grapefruit and in an absent-minded moment I ate it” can seem quite normal. This whimsy forms a template for Hoban’s later books – he wrote eight more, not reissued in this series – which mingled many of the elements in these early titles (esoterica, technology, love at first sight) to likable but diminishing effect. The Medusa Frequency is a vision of the future: soon all of Russell Hoban novels would be like this.
Turtle Diary by Russell Hoban is published by Penguin Modern Classics (£9.99). To order a copy go to guardianbookshop.com . Delivery charges may apply
Mr Rinyo-Clacton’s Offer by Russell Hoban is published by Penguin Modern Classics (£9.99). To order a copy go to guardianbookshop.com . Delivery charges may apply
The Medusa Frequency by Russell Hoban is published by Penguin Modern Classics (£9.99). To order a copy go to guardianbookshop.com . Delivery charges may apply
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