A Little Happier: A Happiness Lesson from the Classic Picture Book “A Bargain for Frances.”

I love teaching stories of all kinds, and I find them in all sorts of places. For instance, picture books.

In Russell Hoban’s brilliant picture book A Bargain for Frances, Frances the badger get tricked by her friend Thelma into making a bad bargain — skullduggery involving a “real china tea set with pictures on it in blue.”

In a thrilling moment of vindication, Frances tricks Thelma right back.

When Thelma complains that she will have to be careful when she plays with Frances, Frances observes, “Being careful is not as much fun as being friends. Do you want to be careful, or do you want to be friends?

An important question for adults as well as children. Sometimes, it’s not worth being friends if we have to be careful.

My close friend experienced this — have you?

Do you remember reading the Frances books? As much as I love A Bargain for Frances, I think Bread and Jam for Frances is my favorite.

I mentioned my list of my 81 favorite works of children’s and young-adult literature. It’s here — alas, it doesn’t include picture books. I should write a separate list for those!

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Want to get in touch? I love hearing from listeners:


 Happier listening!

  • Gillian

    Oops, Gretchen – you’ve linked to the Wednesday podcast # 118 instead of the Little Happier one.

    • gretchenrubin

      Thanks so much for letting me know. Fixed!

  • Jean Marie

    I loved A Bargain for Frances but never realized there were others.

  • Stella Jervis

    I love the word skullduggery. I love the Frances books too!

  • Shira

    Loved this little nugget of wisdom and have always loved these books! I recently took out “bread and jam for Frances” from the library for my preschooler. Just love the parenting in that book.

  • Caroline Starr Rose

    My two favorite Frances stories! We still quote Bread and Jam for Frances around here, where everything all comes out even.

  • Jon7es

    As a storyteller I love to tell the story of Bread and Jam for Francis. She is such a typical preschooler! Plus I love to include the tuneless little ditty that she sings to herself as a soother. It is definitely my favorite Francis book. Children’s picture storybooks can be powerful teachers for adults as well as children.

    • gretchenrubin

      For all you fans-of-Frances, I want to mention that the audio books are AMAZING.
      Read by Glynis Johns, who has the perfect voice and ear for Frances and Frances’s songs (Johns played the mother in Mary Poppins, if you remember that movie).
      Truly delightful.


      • Shira

        Thanks for the recommendation! She was my favorite character in that movie 🙂

  • S Noda

    Hi Gretchen,
    I’m glad that even as a “low carb” person, you can still love the story of Bread and Jam! haha

  • I listen to your podcast pretty faithfully, and this quote from a chidren’s book perfectly describes some of the conflict I see among friends on Facebook. Thank you!

  • Le Genou de Claire

    Wow, Gretchen what a timely and appropriate “Little Happier”!! I’ve shared before in previous comments how I’m on the fence of breaking off a friendship with a friend whom I felt judged but yet needed because I’m lonely and don’t have a lot of friend. I realize, it is HARD to be friends when I have to be careful all the time! Thank you Frances and Gretchen for sharing this (the book is queued up for my kindergartener to read together).

  • Pamela Bowles

    Read Bargain for Frances many years ago and had a friend this reminded me of. However, I decided to choose being friends over being careful and am happy to say that after 46 years of friendship, this woman is still one of my very best friends, the one in whom I confide the most, and the one for whom I would do anything! Glad I made the right choice.