As a country kid at heart, I identify with city-living Frances and her itch to DO THINGS!
The problem is
City walls aren’t for climbing
and city cats aren’t for catching.
(Don’t you just love that alliteration and assonance?)
City rooms aren’t for running
and city steps aren’t for sliding down.
City shops are crowded and city parks are, too.
Poor Frances. I know exactly how she feels.
She’s itching to climb and race and shout, although she tries to be good. But how can you be good when you have to follow so many rules and are constantly being told to
“come back right this minute!”
Poor Frances. Luckily for Frances, she can escape to the country to visit her counsins, where she gets to do all those things she’s been wanting to do.
(Back at home, her mother and sisters are missing Frances.)
In a stroke of genius, the text for what’s happening at home while Frances is gone is placed inside parentheses, making it easy to see that we’re switching to this parallel story in time.
In the country, the faces and bodies of the characters are energetic and joyful. In the city, the faces and body language of the characters are infused with sadness and loneliness. They miss that little ball-of-fire named Frances.
When it’s time for Frances to go home, she’s sad until she realizes that 1) she can go back! and 2) her cousins can come visit her in the city!
At that point, the good things about the city leak into the story. City cats croon, alleys echo, streets beep…
“city lights climb and run and dance and zoom—a little like Frances!”
Frances is welcomed home with open arms by her sisters, to the city that’s got more going for it than she had realized before. And when her mother says,
“Come here, right this minute!”
Frances does. Because those are words of love.
Filled with playful, lyrical language (with plenty of internal rhyme) and onomatopoeia, this is both a fun read aloud and a touching family story that recognizes the beauty in wildly disparate places. And how Frances can appreciate both.
The illustrations by Sean Qualls, rendered in acrylic paint, collage, and pencil, are expressive and provide a rich sense of texture and place for both the rural and city settings. I especially love how he shows the crowded city park by having all those swinging kids crowded in together. You can feel the sense of claustrophobia, of not being able to move without hitting someone else. (or as they say in the country, “Not enough room to swing a dead cat.”)
Highly recommended! (the book, not swinging a dead cat)
Go back through the text and identify all of the onomatopoeia. Use those sound words in a poem for the city, and then write a different poem for the country using those same sound words.
Make a collage of a city scene, and a different collage for the country. How are they different? Did you use different colors? Different textures? Different shapes?
Make an origami jumping cat. (Turn off the sound to avoid the annoying music.)
Make an origami chicken.
Title: Frances in the Country
Author: Liz Garton Scanlon
Illustrator: Sean Qualls
Publisher: Neal Porter Books, 2022
Themes: city vs. country, movement, family
Ages: pre-K thru elementary school
For more perfect picture book recommendations, please visit Susanna Hill’s website.