Books by Russell Hoban

JIM'S LION by Russell Hoban
Released: Nov. 11, 2014

"Of possible interest to caregivers seeking books with bibliotherapeutic potential, this difficult and inventive work is most likely to be appreciated for its artistic vision. (Graphic/fiction hybrid. 7-10)"
Illustrator Deacon offers a dramatic, disturbing interpretation of an already-unsettling story of childhood illness. Read full book review >
ROSIE'S MAGIC HORSE by Russell Hoban
Released: Feb. 12, 2013

"It's an exuberant reminder to dream big, although, sadly, Hoban's text has been Americanized, losing some of its flavor. (Picture book. 4-8)"
A little girl finds a discarded ice-pop stick, triggering a surprising adventure in this rib-tickling fantasy. Read full book review >
SOONCHILD by Russell Hoban
Released: Aug. 14, 2012

"A lyrically beautiful existential fable, unfortunately based on paternalistic and romanticized notions about Native peoples. (author's note) (Fantasy. 10 & up)"
Beloved for such classics as Bedtime for Frances and The Mouse and His Child, the late master leaves a mystical tale about life, death and expiation of mistakes wrapped up as a romanticized Inuit fable. Read full book review >
HER NAME WAS LOLA by Russell Hoban
Released: July 1, 2004

"Sophisticated pleasures and a grown-up love story from the estimable Hoban."
A quick, droll, pleasantly amusing love story set in London around about now. Read full book review >
JIM’S LION by Russell Hoban
Released: Nov. 1, 2001

Jim is in the hospital, seriously ill and facing surgery; he knows he might die. He's too frail for surgery and he's afraid. Nurse Bami is "from Africa; she had tribal scars on her cheeks. She had seen lions, elephants, crocodiles." And she is able to facilitate Jim's ability to find the strength to fight for his life. She tells him to go to a good place in his mind where his "finder" can come to him and bring him back. In a series of dreams, Jim visits a lonely place by the sea and discovers that his finder is a lion. Ultimately, his lion is the source of the strength and courage he needs to be able to recover sufficiently to come home for Christmas. Jim's story is beautifully told in a measured progression of conversations between Nurse Bami and Jim and a series of Jim's dreams. Though the text is lengthy and the subject matter serious and complex, the pencil-and-pastel illustrations perfectly match the gentle, soft tone and enhance the dreamlike qualities. The muted quality of the light, the translucence of the lion, and the slightly out-of-focus figures are all a perfect match for the ethereal tone of the narrative. The oversized trim and borderless double spreads beckon the reader into the good place where the finders can come for them too. Hoban has taken a difficult subject and created an artful story, avoiding both preachiness and sappiness. The ending offers great hope but no miraculous cures. Effective for one-on-one reading with a child who's facing any type of difficulty for which inner strength is needed. Beautiful and comforting. (Picture book. 6-10)Read full book review >
ANGELICA’S GROTTO by Russell Hoban
Released: June 1, 2001

"Superb fiction, and a powerful argument for making the complete oeuvre of this remarkable expatriate available in this country."
An elderly art historian's improbable sexual adventures elucidate the perils and pleasures of "madness," in a brilliantly funny novel from the fantasist (and author of children's books) who has produced such memorable fictions as Riddley Walker (1980) and Turtle Diary (1975). Read full book review >
Released: Nov. 1, 1996

A murky, discordant variation on the theme of an adolescent exploring an alternate reality to get a handle on his own. Nursing a head injury after losing yet another fight to older schoolmate Harry Buncher, Nick meets melancholy street musician Moe Nagic, who displays a painting of a bridge (Moe calls it a "brudge"), warns Nick to be careful in the "little would" (wood) and hopes he'll achieve the "troke" (stroke) that will get him to "Trokeville." Timely advice: Nick falls into the painting and finds himself wandering through the littered, unlovely wood. Hoban (Hedgehog Jim's Supernatural Christmas, 1992, etc.) presents random encounters with familiar figures, plus sudden shifts in scene and pacing, making it all seem to be a dream- -but Nick wakes up in a hospital, three days later, to find that everyone he met dreamed simultaneously of him. Readers willing to sally past the Briticisms ("we didn't have a class reader then because we were spending most of our time swotting for Common Entrance") are likely to bog down in all the unexplained situations, disconnected episodes, and ambiguous, allusive conversations; they may also falter at the "troke," in which Nick faces Harry down and exchanges a friend's older sister, Cynthia, for Harry's more compatible sister, Felicity—no startling epiphany. (Fiction. 12-15)Read full book review >
Released: Sept. 21, 1992

Plump little Jim, who debuted in Jim Hedgehog and the Lonesome Tower (p. 256), has another cautionary adventure with popular culture. This time, his habit of ingesting huge quantities of food while watching TV ends after the title character of his favorite film, The Revolting Blob, bursts from the screen to trade places with him. Trapped in the TV, in a sewer where he has retreated from pursuers, Jim can't get out until he slims down enough to make it through a narrow passage, a task accomplished by literally battling legions of food. Home at last, he's ready to give up snacking—and TV, too—for jogging. With broader humor and a less convoluted story than its predecessor, an entertaining yarn that should have wide appeal. Lewin's illustrations, skillfully drawn and attractively colored, make a charmingly imaginative complement. (Fiction. 6-10)Read full book review >
Released: March 23, 1992

Plump little Jim "liked his music loud and he liked it heavy," but he doesn't know how to read music—an inconvenient fact discovered by his mother after Mr. Strange (a stoat) sells them a recorder cheap. Mom gives Jim a succinct lesson in "do re mi" and the staff's lines and spaces ("Fat Alligators Cautiously Eat Grapefruit") despite Jim's punning parries; then the recorder leads Jim to an inn where he gets word of a noisy music-maker in a nearby tower, a fearsome place where he finds "Itsa Thing," a blond singer hung about with chains, lamenting a lost song she didn't know how to write down—a skill Jim can now share. All this is a curious descendant of Hoban's cozily endearing Frances stories. The little badger's songs were surprisingly similar to the lyrics recorded here; and where Frances embodied everyday friendly conflicts, Jim's fixation on heavy metal sometimes seems almost as universal. The story is less earthshaking than the music described, but Hoban is still a master of satirical legerdemain; his wordplay and cleverly interwoven innuendos make a magical music of their own. Lewin's winsome, freely limned hedgehogs are as comical—and nearly as deft—as the drawings of Hoban's sometime British illustrator, Quentin Blake. Far-out, but funny, truly original, and sure to appeal to the right audience. (Fiction. 7-10)Read full book review >
MONSTERS by Russell Hoban
Released: Sept. 1, 1991

John likes to draw violent monsters—rendered by Blake in an inspired imitation of a youthful style. But when John embarks on a leviathan extended over several large sheets, his concerned parents take lure to Dr. Plunger, who encourages him to complete the drawing. As John emerges from Plunger's office, smiling for the first time, the voracious beast is glimpsed: it has come to life. Fortunately, John doesn't seem to need a doctor anymore. Hoban's quietly witty examination of John's monomania and various adults' carefully orchestrated responses to it have the ingenuous logic of his books about Frances. The conclusion is not so much violent as metaphorical: having completed his creative act in his own way, John is so little in need of a shrink that the doctor is actually obliterated. Monsters are a popular topic; kids should be amused by John's determination to follow his to their own startling, but thoroughly individual, resolution. Read full book review >
Released: Oct. 23, 1987

Spinning off from the Orpheus myth, Hoban (Pilgermann, 1983; Riddley Walker, 1982; Turtle Diary, 1976) offers a weird modern fable of a London writer's struggles with the quest for inspiration and for a constant, faithful, Eurydice. style love. The narrator is twice-published yet virtually unread novelist Hermann Orff, now working for Classic Comics while lamenting the loss of old flame Luise and vainly waiting for inspiration at the word processor. Desperate, Orff goes to the "Hermes Sound-ways" studio for electro-zap brain stimulation—with immediate results: over the next few days Orff receives periodic visits (hallucinations?) from the "eyeless and bloated" head of Orpheus ("covered with green slime and heavy with barnacles"), which retells the old myth in quirky, digressive detail. Meanwhile, despite the head's warnings that all love leads to "loss," Orff pursues a new paramour, Melanie Falsepercy. He also hops over to Holland, in search of the Vermeer portrait that's his vision of perfect womanhood. Eventually, after a small angina attack, a dear-John letter from Melanie, and increasingly opaque dialogues with "the Kraken" (a terror-symbol), Orff winds up inspired—writing a cartoon series for the backs of cereal boxes and open to a new "frequency" in women. Thanks to tidbits of literary-world satire and Alice in Wonderland silliness (the Orpheus head turns into a cabbage, a grapefruit—and gets eaten), an intrepid reader may feel encouraged to press on through this difficult, allusive mesh of myths, symbols, fantasies, and themes. But, to a greater extent than in previous Hoban obstacle courses, here the imagery and illumination finally don't seem quite worth the effort. Read full book review >
THE MARZIPAN PIG by Russell Hoban
Released: May 20, 1987

Long ago, Hoban wrote several quintessentially sensible picture books about Frances, a badger. Of late, he writes novels, which may be as experimental and critically acclaimed as Riddley Walker, and slapstick, satirical picture books. Here, he returns to the gently philosophical mode of A Mouse and His Child, in a whimsical fantasy whose primary appeal is the comic surprise of incongruity, enriched by other levels of meaning. The marzipan pig, still sweet within but dusty, crusty, and forgotten, mourns beneath a sofa till a mouse consumes it and is in turn consumed by love—for a clock, which can respond only with the time. The mouse, giving up on the clock (which then expires in despair), is eaten by an owl, causing it to fall in love with a taxi meter—and when this love is requited, after a fashion, a bee picks up a bit of the magic, which is then transferred to a flower and thence to another mouse that eats another marzipan pig—and survives. Each new turn is the occasion for some entertaining repartee as well as implicit ruminations on love between two beings that may not share a language or seem to communicate. This is all more accessible and fun than it may sound in summary. Hoban's deft, poetic style is perfect for sharing aloud; Blake's many humorous illustrations (black-and-white and thus more subdued than usual) enliven the attractive format. A good choice for young readers who enjoy fantasy. Read full book review >
PILGERMANN by Russell Hoban
Released: April 30, 1983

It's a curious fact that Russell Hoban and Norman Mailer are very nearly the same age (born 1925 and 1923 respectively)—because, like Mailer's Ancient Evenings (p. 203), Hoban's new novel is a quasi-mystical blend of theology, ghosts, magic, death-songs, and dark sexual visions. But, while Mailer's book surrounds those preoccupations with a longwinded, episodic narrative, Hoban presents them in a dreamlike meditation-cumpilgrimage—dense, poetic, difficult. The pilgrim/narrator is Pilgermann, a Jew in 1096 Europe, who indulges his lust for the local tax-collector's wife Sophia. . . and, after leaving her, is promptly castrated by the townsfolk, but not killed—thanks to, of all people, the tax-collector. And then Pilgermann has a vision of Christ, followed by a voice telling him—"Thou pilgrim Jew!"—to go to Jerusalem. Why? "To keep Jesus from going away," as God has gone away. So Pilgermann sets off for the Holy Land on foot. His acquaintances along the way include: a dying, John Irvingesque bear, symbolizing Christ ("What a wonderful bear that was! How I wished that I could have him for a friend"); a company of children raped by skeleton-creatures symbolizing Lust; a lascivious talking (and constantly fornicating) pig; assorted ghosts; and Pilgermann's own death, a visible entity but "not yet ripened to term." As he travels pilgermann ponders war, Hieronymus Bosch (the narrator is actually Pilgermann's eternal, clairvoyant soul), epiphany ("the strange brilliance of total Now"), and the Naumburg stone story: "The Jesusness of Jesus cannot live without the Judasness of Judas, the Caiaphasness of Caiphas, the Pilateness of Pilate. Ponderous wheel!" Then, in the novel's second half, Pilgermann becomes a slave to a simpatico Turk in Antioch—where he and his master consider "potentiality and actuality," the "motion of the Unseen": Pilgermann creates a mystical geometrical design for a tiled marketplace—a pattern symbolizing both the pro and con of religion. And when the crusading Franks arrive to massacre, Pilgermann curses God, achieves a purple-blue state of "indescribable luminosity". . . and faces his own extinction. At its best: a harrowing yet elegant blend of shapely parable and anguished imagery. At its worst: a cross between a comparative theology lecture and Castaneda-style blather. Of limited appeal, then, without the epic allure of Riddley Walker—but often a rich, bizarre challenge for the theologically-minded. Read full book review >
THEY CAME FROM AARGH! by Russell Hoban
Released: Oct. 16, 1982

They came from Aargh! They came from Ugh! They came from beyond the galaxy. All of them were alien, all of them were strange. Their ship was strange and alien, it had twelve legs. Their battle cry was, 'Three chairs for Aargh! Three chairs for Ugh!'" So three little boys, one just a baby, pretend to be aliens from space, with flowerpot, funnel, and colander for headgear and three kitchen chairs for their ship. Their mother goes along with the game as she gives them lunch of omelets ("then you can have your chocolate cake") and sees them off again to Aargh and Ugh. This could be the outline of another fiat, faithful account of everyday play, but Hoban projects it from inside the fantasy and brightens it up with lots of nonsensical space-science word play. Searching for chocolate cake on alien earth, "they had their bimblers ready, they had their globsters on as well, they had their cake beam going." Later seeing the cat, "Blub" radios to base: "Asymmetrical shock horror, fond of milk, purrs." Not every picture-book audience will take "asymmetrical" in stride or keep up with the brisk patter, but this is lively enough to carry kids who've been exposed to space games in any media.a Read full book review >
Released: Oct. 1, 1982

Hoban tosses off a droll adventure that derives its fun from a few modestly absurd conceits. "ACE DRAGON LTD." is written on a round iron plate, like a manhole cover, that John finds on the sidewalk. Soon he's talking through the plate to a dragon who explains that LTD. means limited because "I can't do everything. I can only do some things." One of the things the dragon can do is spin gold into straw—an unpromising talent that proves useful when he runs out of petrol giving John a ride through the sky. They land on a gold moon, would jump to earth if they had something soft to cushion their fall, and there it is—straw. A pleasing trifle, with Hoban's offhand, offbeat aplomb handily comple-mented by BlaKe's casually energetic sketches. Read full book review >
FLAT CAT by Russell Hoban
Released: Dec. 12, 1981

A uniformly garish, frequently baffling comic book, with a mock-easy-reader text ("Flat rat sat"), in which: a batman cat chases a giant rat; the two blow up a cow balloon and meet up with a long fiat snake; the trio pursues and overtakes some outer-space mice come to take their "nice cake" and "nice ice." A manic, phantasmagoric notion that might have been rather fun if it had been executed—like Sal Murdocca's The Hero of Hamblett (p. 141, J-37)—with a better understanding of comic-book technique, and therefore with sufficient clarity, crispness, and variation to make the point of each sequence plain. As it is, one confusion leads to another. Read full book review >
Released: Feb. 15, 1981

The title story, plus two that are also about the transmutation of toys, plus a fourth that ties the other three together—presented, however, in a picture-book format (with full-color pictures) that makes the book look too young for the out-of-the-way, and somewhat subtle, stories. In the title story, a tin frog enamored of the lady in the picture on the inside of a La Corona cigar-box lid, finds out (via tips from a magnifying glass, a tape measure, and a seashell) how to get between the dots in the picture and join her. In the second, somewhat similar tale, a tin horseman is united with a "yellow-haired princess" in a "weather castle. . . printed on a card." (The eerie difference has to do with a glass-topped box with little silver halls to be shaken into a monkey's eyes—a terrifying prospect to the tin horseman, who therefore smashes the glass.) The third and most remote involves a night watchman, made of wood, whose "real job was burning incense," and a tin crocodile on wheels. The night watchman is "burning to say something," the crocodile fancies himself literary; and one midnight when the tin watchman does say something properly cryptic ("NOW IS THE ONLY TIME THERE IS!"), the crocodile composes a poem from it—which the spinster mouse, who edits "a literary quarterly," will publish. The last is reverberant—and would make a fine capstone for the group were each more accessible. Quite simply, the clock has noticed that the magic always occurs in "that crucial moment. . . just after his hands touched midnight and just before he sounded his twelve strokes." So, wanting to do something himself in that "in-between moment," he slips out of his case—and La Corona ceases to be "only a picture" and joins the frog in the room, the tin horseman and his princess also materialize together, the incense-burning night watchman finds he can speak the others' language; and as they follow the "clock's escapement" out the window, "whoever lived in the red-and-yellow glass-topped box that had been the monkey game of skill," joins them. "'They'll want me too,' he said. 'Everyone can't be nice.'" More appropriately presented, the quartet might bc worthwhile for children who take to this very particular kind of English magic As it is, though, the book is unlikely to find its few rightful readers. Read full book review >
Released: Feb. 15, 1981

An out-of-the-way allegory—very out of the way—about a Rajah who goes out hunting tigers with "a telephone and a bar and a new stereo tape cassette player" in his howdah; the "very primitive" tigers who have a repertoire of intricate, meaningful dances; the Rajah's advent, now, playing "light classics"; and the elder tiger's decision that "this is. . . simply too much" ("My whole world picture has suddenly changed")—the tigers will "dance [the Rajah] to death"! And, by gum, they do. The full-color pictures are naturalistic, quite accomplished, very dramatic; the story is arch-to-arcane, adult, and not especially impressive at that. Read full book review >
ARTHUR'S NEW POWER by Russell Hoban
Released: Sept. 6, 1978

It's always disconcerting when a character created by one illustrator returns in the style of another, but Barton's offhand absurdity well suits this not-too-serious fable of electronic over-consumption. And Hoban does more than you'd expect with a story that begins when father Crocodile arrives home to find the fuses blown again and goes about unplugging "the electric toothbrushes and his reducing machine and his quadraphonic hi-fi. He unplugged the bedroom TV and the kitchen TV and the living-room TV. He unplugged the blender and the biofeedback and the Slimmo. He unplugged Emma's and Arthur's stereos, and he unplugged the Dracula"—this last being the Hi-Vamp for Arthur's electric guitar and the presumed chief cause of all the blow-outs. Mother and Emma manage okay in their unplugged headsets (life just feels more natural with them on) and Arthur, of all things, passes his time reading mysterious large library books; it's father, missing the news and driven crazy by the crickets, who plugs in at last. Later Arthur, explaining all the research, unveils his water wheel generator—but when the family eventually blows that too, it is Arthur who has learned to be content with playing his own quiet composition on his non-acoustic guitar. Though without the wicked twist that made Dinner at Alberta's a treat, it's a good sneaky generational joke, pulled off with cool. Read full book review >
Released: March 10, 1978

This seductive exercise in runaway absurdity starts out with a wobbly table that is wearing the man out: when he bought it 50 years ago he was young and handsome, and now he's old and ugly. So the man at last makes a new table, strong enough for elephants to dance on—well, one elephant anyway. But "I could make more tables for that matter." And with 18 tables, why not make 72 chairs and have a restaurant? He phones in an ad: "Elephants wanted for table work. Must be agile. Dancing, cooking, and bookkeeping experience helpful." Still the restaurant must be built, and with all 72 chairs filled with people watching him work, he orders a sign: "MR. BUILDO THE ONE-MAN CIRCUS! Admission $1.00. Enjoy a hot dog cooked and served by dancing elephants." But when the restaurant itself becomes wobbly, it's time to move on; and so it goes from there on in: "Sometimes it's a one-man circus, and sometimes it's a 20-elephant restaurant. And that's life. Still, it's not a bad life." McCully, alas, never seems to catch on; but that won't matter when you read the story aloud—if you can, without breaking up. Read full book review >
Released: May 16, 1977

Like the same pair's counting book, Ten What? (1975), this story in pictures packs more distraction into the parts than sense into the whole. The main plotline (?) deals with a Pierrot who takes a napping crocodile's doll (baby?) from a park bench. As soon as you catch on to what's happening, which isn't that obvious with all the other people, objects and transactions scattered about the pages, you can follow the crocodile as it follows the culprit through the park, along a street, over a bridge, etc., etc.—until at last, with Pierrot busy toasting the bride at an outdoor wedding feast that appears with the turn of a page, the crocodile retrieves the doll. (The falling action has them deciding to share the baby, and going off lovingly together.) Other figures (masked bandits, sailors) recur in the various scenes, but nothing comes of that; nor is there any rhyme or reason to Hoban's selection of objects (umbrella, guitar player, pigeons) to affix with the picture dictionary-type labels which constitute the only words in the book. As before, Selig's mod, deco revival, '60s-style cartoons are clever—on the novelty level. Read full book review >
Released: April 16, 1976

Only Hoban could carry off a chase between Tom and Aunt Bundlejoy Cosysweet in a jam-powered frog and Captain Najork and his hired sportsmen in their pedal-powered snake. Farce becomes slapstick (or is it the other way around?) when a jealous Aunt Fidget Wonkham-Strong Najork and a smitten Headmistress get into the act, arm-wrestling best out of three for the Captain. Spiffy fun—but we have to warn that this has neither the ear-catching, mock-stiff British accent nor the sound anti-grindstone underpinnings of How Tom Beat Captain Najork and His Hired Sportsmen (1974). Runner-up. Read full book review >
DINNER AT ALBERTA'S by Russell Hoban
Released: Aug. 15, 1975

Here's an author/illustrator match that might have been made in heaven. What Marshall's lovably lumpish, light-headed characters have needed all along is a dose of the kind of home-truth psychology that underlies Hoban's sense of humor. Here poor Arthur Crocodile, a spade-snouted, snaggle-toothed teenager, is always picked on at dinner for his poor table manners—"Little bits of ravioli are landing on your sister. . . Arthur is diddling with his spoon. . . now he is feeling the saltshaker. . . ." All it takes is one glance from the heavy-lidded, come-hither eyes of Alberta Saurian to change him. Alberta thinks Arthur is "really adorable" and if he's to get a chance to play the song he wrote for her on his electric guitar hell have to cram in enough manners to fake his way through dinner with the Saurians. Arthur's nervousness ("Howmanydays wegot?") is contagious, and—after he takes bratty Sydney Saurian out to the treehouse for a lesson—you'll agree that "the nicest part of manners is teaching them to other people." Sly and scampish. Read full book review >
Released: May 29, 1975

A kicky counting book-cum-mystery, with mod watercolor cartoons showing One Urgent Message (it says "GET TEN," and is handed by a tiger in a manhole to someone beaked and trench-coated), Two Secret Agents. . . who search through Five Garbage Cans, Seven Houses, etc . . . . and at last, Ten Lollipops which are delivered to ten tiger paws reaching from the manhole. On each page the featured number is echoed in each set of items; for example, when "Six Elephants" are "called in to assist" in the mysterious search, the scene is decorated with six flowers, six teepees, six mice dressed as Indians, etc. You can't beat Hoban as Hoban, but Raskin is better at this sort of caper. There's no rhyme or reason to the incongruous combination of objects which are scattered about in a style that we'd just as soon leave to TV animation. But—who knows?—it might lure tube addicts who could use the arithmetic lesson. Read full book review >
TURTLE DIARY by Russell Hoban
Released: Feb. 26, 1975

"Funny," says George Fairbairn, keeper of the giant turtles in a London aquarium, to William G., "you're the second this week that's asked me about turtle transport." That other is children's author Neaera H., also, like William G., middle-aged and miserable, and also unhappily aware that she is going to find a way to return the imprisoned creatures to the sea. In their alternating diary entries—playful, sardonic, sauced with self-pity—the two strangers contemplate their quest, inevitably joint once they meet. "There is no place for me to find," writes Neaera gloomily, "there is a drive in them to find something." William moves on the same track: "A turtle doesn't have to decide every morning whether to keep on bothering, it just carries on." So two lonely people transport the turtles, with George's help, off to the sea in a van—a gigantic bother but with a joyful moment or two as the mission is accomplished. Then the morning-after letdown and the realization that "You can't do it with turtles." But there is a happy ending as Neaera welcomes George into her life and her bed, and William, who literally fights his way into the friendship of an untidy fellow boarding-house tenant, inadvertently discovers he doesn't really mind being alive. Festooned with swags of farce and wit, this is nonetheless a fairly convincing topographical survey of the despondent slough of the middle years and the games of touch and go which can lead one to happy vistas or the open sea. Immensely entertaining. Read full book review >
Released: Oct. 17, 1974

Tom liked to fool around. . . . He did low and muddy fooling around and he did high and wobbly fooling around." But "It looks very like playing to me," says his maiden Aunt Fidget Wonkham-Strong who wears an iron hat and takes no nonsense from anyone, and so she sends for Captain Najork and his hired sportsmen ("They play hard games and they play them jolly hard") to teach Tom a lesson. But even though it's Tom alone against everyone else, he just mucks and fools around and puts them all to shame. And so in the end Captain Najork gets Aunt Fidget Wonkham-Strong and Tom gets the captain's boat and a new aunt, Bundlejoy Cosysweet, and everyone's happy — including, inevitably, the reader (or better still listener), who might not realize the wisdom but is sure to enjoy the games, their outcome, and Hoban's cadenced, light-as-air sportscasting. Read full book review >
KLEINZEIT by Russell Hoban
Released: Sept. 10, 1974

A light little novel in the '60's boom style that established paranoid schizophrenia as the writer's Disneyland and a pleasantly sharable social ground. This is generically perfect point by point: Kleinzeit, a sacked London ad writer, also newly divorced and stricken with pain in the hypotenuse, is drawn to Hospital (which coos telepathically through his dreams) and there takes up with Sister, his two-ply whore/madonna night nurse who talks detachedly with God. He also, by mysterious means, gets involved with a hippy/derelict who haunts the Underground (which also talks to Kleinzeit) scattering blank sheets of yellow paper. . . . This yellow paper is to Kleinzeit what WASTE was to whomever it was in Lot 49; Kleinzeit's wardmates, with names like Flashpoint, have had equally unique and peculiar experiences that all have fallen in the way of doom, and whatever is now going on (involving Kleinzeit who is now busking with a glockenspiel in the tubes, sister, and the Dirty Chimpanzee Death) has precedents as far back as Orpheus. Most aspects of this point to other precedents of the last decade, and the driftiness and damned inherent sweetness seem to be vaguely parodying them all. Hard to tell. Read full book review >
Released: Aug. 20, 1973

"A map is the dead body of where you've been. A map is the unborn baby of where you're going" — and a lion, well a map might lead to a lion in some distant, primal part of the world for even if lions are extinct they are very much alive in the imaginations of Boaz-Jachin and his father Jachin-Boaz, a mapmaker who has lost his bearings somewhere in the middle of middle age. Mr. Hoban who has been charming a younger audience for many years has now written a teasing, perhaps even disturbing, fantasia about father and son, any father and son, and maps and lions — particularly lions as emblematic of the chimera, the challenge, the absolute. One of those special, hopefully not too special, books which pads softly through the dark underbrush of much that we feel and hope and sense and magnifies experience on several levels, simultaneously. Read full book review >
Released: April 2, 1973

The rabbits in Birch Hollow have their own myth about the coming of spring and their own ritual for celebrating and facilitating its arrival. Unfortunately the whole conception is not only too flimsy to compete with real traditions but far less resonant than other Hoban fantasies. Here the season is personified in fair-haired and shimmering Miss Green who cuts out leaf and flower designs in her studio and sings old Mr. Brumus, the winter artist, to sleep each year; she is aided this time by little Letitia Rabbit who not only plays Miss Green in the annual festival but actually finds the spring songs for her by following a ball of magic string. Mary Chalmers' lovely spring lady, a pointillist vision in green and gold against a frozen wintery backdrop, is true to the tone of the story — but we expect more than shimmery loveliness from Hoban. Read full book review >
THE SEA-THING CHILD by Russell Hoban
Released: Oct. 25, 1972

"The wind was howling, the sea was wild, and the night was black when the storm flung the sea-thing child up on the beach." And though the creature is never identified or described or pictured, you learn all that matters from his deliberate construction of a sea-stone igloo beside "seaweed-bearded rocks" and from his delightfully grave and childlike conversations with his friend the fiddler crab (who enters "yelling in a thin and whispery voice, 'Oh, if only I had a bow, what music I could play!' ") and with a passing eel and albatross — distinctly realized and differentiated in impressively little space. The eel on his departure ("clear the runway, I'm taking off") advises, "Mind what l say, and get off the beach before you go barmy and start building stone igloos," and at last, though he had feared "the deepness and the darkness and the farness of the sea. . .and the ocean being so big and me so small," the sea-thing child "soar(s) up into the night and away into the storm over the ocean he was born in." This tiny book (with fewer than 27 5" by 7" pages of text and a few small black and white sketches that merely echo the mood and suggest the setting) is probably what the word exquisite should have been saved for, and only Hoban could bring it off. Read full book review >
Released: April 1, 1972

Besides the favorite "Soft-Boiled" from Bread and Jam for Frances (1964), 21 new poems with the same fresh but familiar appeal of the Frances stories. Who won't get a shock of recognition from "Homework sits on top of Sunday, squashing Sunday flat"? or sympathize with Frances' troubles with her little sister: "No one ever thinks she's tricky./ She spilled honey on the floor — / Mother found me very sticky./ Gloria was out the door./ When I caught her no one hit her./ I got spanked because I bit her/ Ear, that little Gloria sister./ Still, I guess I would have missed her."? As is evident above (and elsewhere — "I know kids who do not kick/ Stones down roads or even pick/ Sea-glass up on beaches"), Frances likes to end her rhymed lines in mid-sentence, which gives them a comfortably bumpy feel that nicely maintains her amateur status. Frances' songs will make new friends for the little badger, and keep some old ones who are outgrowing the picture books. Read full book review >
Released: Oct. 1, 1971

With characteristically uncloying gentleness and a conscious use of familiar devices that is neither burlesque nor banality, the Hobans depict an affectionate otter family (just Emmet and his widowed mother) in a softly glowing old-fashioned setting. Outdoing O. Henry's Magi, both Emmet and his mother secretly enter the pre-Christmas amateur contest, each hoping to win the $50.00 prize and buy the other a Christmas present. To enter, Emmet makes a hole in his mother's washtub, her means of livelihood, so he can play it in the Frogtown Hollow Jug Band; his mother in turn pawns Emmet's tools, with which he does odd jobs for the neighbors, for a dress in which to perform as a singer. Both contestants lose, of course, for into this fondly pictured scene comes The Nightmare, a woodchuck group complete with light man, who perform the Riverbottom Rock and Swampland Stone in silvery, spangled costumes. "Well, we took a chance and we lost. That's how it goes," agree the losers, and walking home on the river Ma Otter and the Frogtown Hollow Boys sing so pleasantly that old Doc Bullfrog, digging their "real down-home sound," offers them a steady gig at his Riverside Rest home. Wherever your home, it's a real down-home Christmas story. Read full book review >
Released: Sept. 1, 1970

Trustful badger Frances triumphs in her I Can Read debut, to the chagrin of out-maneuvered Thelma and the accompaniment of some of her best songs: "Careful once, careful twice,/ Being careful isn't nice./ Being friends is better." Her mother had warned her that "when you play with Thelma you always get the worst of it," but Frances' resolve to save for a real china tea set yields to Thelma's dire tale of "another girl who saved up for that tea set. . . So maybe you won't get one." So maybe she'd better buy Thelma's plastic one with her two dollars and seventeen cents. . . and "No backsies." But little sister Gloria's friend got the very set Frances wanted at the candy store yesterday, and showed it to Thelma—who is next seen, by a crushed Frances, purchasing one with Frances' savings. "Now that plastic's what I've got/ Backsies are what there is not./ Mother told me to be careful,/ But Thelma better bewareful." Of one of the oldest tricks in any book, the decoy coin. A contretemps that bespeaks an older Frances as befits the older audience and will keep any audience in stitches—it's that funny line after line. Read full book review >
UGLY BIRD by Russell Hoban
Released: Aug. 18, 1969

Any youngster who's ever nurtured a secret invulnerable self will take wing with Ugly Bird. Reassured by Mama that his detractors "don't know who you are and what you are," he proceeds on his first flight to find out. . . When the other birds taunt him, he puts on his stone suit and becomes a sling shot projectile hitting them; when he falls, he is Handsome Stone for Frog's game of leapstone and skipfrog; when he sinks to the bottom of the pond, he sheds his stone suit and becomes Shiny Fish swallowing a worm who asks him the time ("Lunchtime"); when he is hooked with the worm, he strips to his understone and becomes Little Pebble dropping on a sleeping snapping turtle ("Good aftersnap"). . . and so on through twists of fate and turns of phrase until, reversing the process, he returns home to dinner and bed. "I know who I am and what I am. Some of who is handsome and some is shiny and some is little and some is buzzing." "Did you say some of who is handsome?" says his mama. "I knew it all along." Probably the best redress since Max put on his wolf suit. . . Read full book review >
HARVEY'S HIDEOUT by Russell Hoban
Released: April 15, 1969

Harvey Muskrat and feuding sister Mildred have more than a furface resemblance to Frances badgered by little sister Gloria. Their first quarrel (over where Harvey may hammer on his raft) is cooled by a wise father: "Mildred, it's true that Harvey is selfish and inconsiderate, but he is not stupid and no-good"; "Mildred is loudmouthed and bossy, but she is not mean and rotten." Punishment over, the two resume fighting—in the very same words—about who started the trouble, and part, Mildred to go to a party where "little brothers are not invited," Harvey to go to a secret club where "big sisters are not allowed to be members." On the second day of stubborn seclusiveness, Harvey, lonesomely cooking bacon in his underground den, decides to enlarge it and discovers Mildred, lonesomely serving her doll in a den next to his. They trade accusations, then team up to picnic and party together. The illustrations amount to Frances in full color (i.e. without the emotive power of the recent, reverberant Wolf of My Own [p. 175, J-61]), but the Hobans, as usual, know what makes kids kick. Lots of them will find Harvey's Hideout. Read full book review >
Released: April 29, 1968

For children, for adults, for smiling over silently, for reading aloud, for reciting on a program, even—an eminently likeable collection, concrete, supple, allusive but not abstruse. Like "School Buses" in summer, "hunting on the roads of August. . . smirking with their mirrors in the sun—/ But summer isn't done! Not yet!" Or the "Friendly Cinnamon Bun" that, once eaten, leaves "his friendliness inside." Or the haunting "Empty House" where shadows move to "the silent striking of the no-cloak in the hall." Or the title poem, of the pedaling man on the roof who could "only take just so much north wind, even if he's iron." Or. . . or. . . The rhythms are varied and natural; rhyme is or isn't but isn't obtrusive. Another surprise from the author of The Mouse and His Child. Read full book review >
Released: Feb. 5, 1968

At the end of The Little Brute Family, the Brutes change their name—and nature—to Nice; bringing 'em back bad poses problems that don't apply to most repeats. . . Sister Brute, wanting something to love, adopts a stone—she draws it a face. dresses it, and atones it Alice Brute Stone; she is adopted by an ugly dog wearing hob-nailed boots who wants someone to love him. But the doll is hard and heavy and the dog keeps kicking and Sister Brute has only tiredness and braises for her love, Mama Brute, confronted with the problem, is stymied until she looks at Alice Brute Stone's face; it is just like hers. "You could love me." she says, "and I will give you soft hugs and sing you lullabies." Each of the family, Sister Brute learns, has a special offering; she will love them all and Alice Brute Stone and the ugly kicking dog too. . . In the perfunctory introduction to the family. Mama and Papa seem typical impatient, preoccupied parents, funny-looking but not loutish enough to be funny to the child who's meeting them for the first time. On the other hand, the youngster who remembers their reform will wonder how come they're so nice before becoming Nice. It's a questionable parallel of the original with some undeniably touching images—Sister Brute fondling Alice Brute Stone; the buck-toothed yellow dog, really a rejected toy, claiming her affection because she pays attention to him; and Mama Brute seeing her own face in the stone. Read full book review >
Released: Oct. 1, 1967

"Be naked" our departing predecessor pinned to the bulletin board, and we have never felt so vuluerable as in anticipating the response to Russell Hoban's arresting departure from juvenile precedent. "I want to find the elephant... to be my mama," says the mouse child, remembering the toy shop, to the other windups. "and I want the seal to be my sister, and I want us all to live in the beautiful house." Mouse & Child's frustrating, harrowing, sometimes funny quest is also a flight—from Manny Rat, the ultimate underworldling who is both Lucifer and Luciano. Through trashcan and dump, past murder and robbery and war, into the obscurities of the Caws of Art (two crows on a bare stage), Muskrat's Much-in-Little ("Why times How equals What"), and the contemplation of infinity (by the turtle author of "The last Visible Dog") they pace their little circles, searching for a way to become self-winding, the child to clinging his faith in a future. At last, beyond the last visible dog (on the disintegrating label of a can) the child finds the answer—"nothing but us." Irony, satire, parody—and an implicit, unrestricted compassion (except for fools). The two windups survive shattering and reassembling, finally reform Manny Rat and establish family and fellowship in their own territory. "Be happy," the tramp blesses them in what could be a blessing for the book—and we will "be asked" and say that man and child will recognize themselves in Mouse & Child. A rich disturbing, very touching book. Read full book review >
SAVE MY PLACE by Russell Hoban
Released: June 26, 1967

One by one the animals—Rabbit, Mouse, Possum, Chipmunk, etc.—reserve a seat at the edge of the pond for the evening performance—firefly fireworks and a concert featuring "all the frogs and toads in the pond and all the crickets and katydids and peepers on the shore." The program? "Gronk, Donk, Ronk, Bonk..." The scenery—Monet and Turner turned on-completes the debacle. Closing on Saturday night. Read full book review >
Released: Sept. 1, 1966

There hasn't been anything in ages that concentrates on etiquette and inter-family courtesy. Of course, the Hobans can be relied on never to attack the subject in sobersided formation; as they did in their Frances books, they tease their way to the point. Mrs. Hoban's Brutes are arresting and in full color — blob-nosed, bristle-haired, snaggle-toothed, they combine the worst features of Wallace Beery and W.C. Fields. The result is paradoxically appealing. The Brutes never say "Please" or "Thank you" and at the table they are especially...well, brutish. There, they howl between spoonfuls, kick each other, make faces and snarl. "Then one day Baby Brute found a little wandering lost good feeling in a field of daisies." He brought it home, shared it with his family and their transformation is so astonishing that they change their name to Nice. Very nice. Read full book review >
GOOD-NIGHT by Russell Hoban
Released: Feb. 25, 1966

A rather obvious curative effort about night fears in a chant that first has all familiar objects turning into something fearsome... "Maybe this, maybe that,/ Maybe Puss is not a cat./ Maybe she's a witch."/ After suggesting the horror potential in shadows, everything gets straightened out and oversweetened with a second look that animates a mouse family, removes the plush rabbit from its monster status and unwitchifies Puss. The illustrations veer with the text from the overheated imaginings of awfulness to idealized goodness. Not as good a choice as Kaufman's What's That Noise? Read full book review >
Released: Sept. 27, 1965

Hester a well-dressed mouse, is handsomely illustrated as an appealing mouse housekeeper. She lived in a cage in a writer's office and had convinced herself that her running on the treadmill activated her writer's typing. An egomanaical owl, who had been dining off Hester's equally well-dressed relatives, kidnapped her, cage and all, and dictated his autobiography to her. Rescued by her writer, Hester pretends to read the owl a flattering account of himself from the writer's typed pages. Gratified, the owl promises to take her nearest and dearest off his diet. Later, for her relatives, Hester reads what her writer really wrote: "This is the story of Hester Mouse, who became a writer and saved most of her sisters and brothers and some of her aunts and uncles and cousins from the owl." Terribly contrived, isn't it? And, since the quoted line appears as the sub-title on the jacket and as the first line of the text, the story is really given away before it ever happens. Read full book review >
Released: April 7, 1965

"Look," said Tom. "Kenny gave me a bloody nose." It's an irresistible opener and the story behind the injury will provide strong reader identification for boys beginning to read. Tom and Kenny are good friends and Tom would like to keep the friendship going, but he is losing consistently at the sort of roughhouse play small boys engage in. He has to learn to use his head as well as his hands and Tom's father provides him with some mild boxing advice and a strong aphorism: "A problem is like a jug with two handles." Tom's choice is to make up or get even and Tom manages to try out both handles before this short and satisfying story is through. Read full book review >
Released: Sept. 9, 1964

Frances the badger always faces life with an original song on her lips. She composes with calculation, as in Bedtime for Frances and A Baby Sister for Frances, leaving her alert parents to get the musical message. This time Mother and Father Badger guide her through one of the most maddening stages of childhood. It all starts when Frances croons to her breakfast egg that "I do not like the way you slide,/ I do not like your soft inside..." and makes inroads on the bread and jam. Frances passes up some mouthwatering menus that day and sticks to her self imposed diet with perfect juvenile logic: she won't try anything new because "... when I have bread and jam, I always know what I am getting and I am always pleased." From that point on, Frances gets nothing but bread and jam and her eating problem is completely cured by the saturation method. The lunch she carries to school becomes really chi-chi-gourmet. The Hobans have done it again: a sly text attacking a real juvenile problem and attractive illustrations. Read full book review >
NOTHING TO DO by Lillian Hoban
Released: Aug. 26, 1964

.. is the complaint of Walter Possum starting at 6 o'clock in the morning when he drags his father out of bed. After making a few futile suggestions such as playing with toys and raking leaves, Father Possum gives his son a special something-to-do stone. Immediately Walter comes up with some hot ideas, and even though the stone is quickly mislaid he is still thinking up nice, wholesome projects, including presenting his bothersome younger sister with a play-right-here stick. This is a simple but pleasantly told activity story with delightful pencil drawings of the Possum family. Read full book review >
Released: April 8, 1964

The comical kids, typified in other Hoban books (e.g. Some Snow Said Hello, 1963, p. 312, J-106), go through one day on a mad rampage and face judgment when father walks in after a "sorely trying day" at work. The buck is passed quickly from Dora to Frank and on down the line until it settles on the cat, who tries to blame the mouse. The cat finally accepts the blame and apologizes to the dog... thus the reaction works in reverse. The tale is slight, but Mr. Hoban's clever use of words coupled with Mrs. Hoban's pencil drawings of the stubby Victorian looking family forms a highly amusing book which will also appeal to adults. Read full book review >
Released: May 22, 1963

The authors of The Song in My Drum (1962, p. 55, J 21) and other artistic books, here gently poke fun at two small girls and their brother who are complaining about their nothing-to-do situation; the snow is wet, and there is nothing to do but argue (You kicked me— You hit me— You made her cry). The authors understand the delightful wrong-reasoning of children, as shown in the questions they ask each other—the answers they give (Can't a cake be cut into quarters or dollars? Does a hot dog have to be named Frank?). Even contemporaries of these three may catch the satirical overtones in the brief, pointed conversation. A gloomy day becomes nice when the children pull on large boots and heavy clothing to go outside and play— to sled and build a snowman. The illustrations, like the carefully written text, seem perfect, capturing both the wondrous and comical aspects of the children's world. A spontaneous, alive picture of sibling fumbles, stumbles,—and close comradeship, which both adults and children will appreciate. Read full book review >
Released: Sept. 12, 1962

Another secretive romp with the Hoban "children" (The Song in My Drum -p. 55 J 21), this time to London "forty miles or far away" during the wee hours of the morning. The journey requires preparation. Passports (recipes), a "London man hat," a balloon and a gun ("there may be whales") are collected. Baby sister comes along too, as Lady Rose Mary Rose. The mode of travel is an airplane (the bathtub) that takes them to the distant land (the kitchen) where the only sounds to be heard are "the birds and the tomatoes". When the clock in the great tower strikes, the two children depart (for school) and baby sister for some satisfying explanation in mommy's lap. The Hobans have done it again except for a few digressions in the name of sweetness. The first book, more consistent in perspective, is still the winner- though Hoban fans will find this irresistible too. Read full book review >
THE SONG IN MY DRUM by Russell Hoban
Released: Feb. 14, 1962

With a few tiny pictures and an equally sparse text, the Hobans have once again demonstrated their startling ability to penetrate the secret world of children and to reflect it in perfect likeness. The event they portray is a simple one — sister and brother at play with no adult in sight. Firmly entrenched in Daddy's shoes, the little boy becomes a giant who can gobble people, tear paper with his feet and evoke unusual powers from Maxie "the Mysterious Protein Dog". Adults who find children's nonsense sayings and wild imagery pointless and silly will respond in kind to this book. No, this is strictly for kids both the toddler and overgrown varieties who, like the Hobans, can really get with it. Read full book review >
HERMAN THE LOSER by Russell Hoban
Released: Sept. 13, 1961

Herman loses everything, boots, sweaters, mittens, toys, even the watch father gave him. But as Herman, his father and sister Sophie retrace their footsteps, Herman is distracted by countless objects on the road, one of which leads him to the missing watch. Despite his son's failing, father is quite proud of him. "Herman is a finder" — and father lists all the things Herman picked up on their walk. Other little losers will identify with Herman's troubles though they may find their attention wandering on the long hike toward the missing watch. Read full book review >
Released: Aug. 31, 1960

This is the story of our most potent naval weapon, the highly complex atomic submarine. In an informative text, the author states the advantages it has over other types of submarine craft, describes its construction, its capabilities, its crews, and its practice maneuvers. Read full book review >
Released: May 11, 1960

Frances is a lively, imaginative and appealing small badger. And bedtime for her is just as unappealing as it would be for any little girl. Tucked into her snug bed, with her toy companions, the wideawake Frances conjures up successive dangers, all of which are scotched by her matter-of-fact parents. Finally, of course, Frances succumbs to the sandman. Here is the coziest, most beguiling bedtime story in many a day. Garth Williams, popular illustrator, has a flair for conveying human qualities while still sustaining the animal nature of his characters, and Russell Hoban's text is gently comical-while wholly recognizable in mood and situation. Steiff toys in Europe include badgers along with Teddy and kaola bears, and perhaps this will create a demand for them here. In any case, here's a book that will be surely popular. Read full book review >
Released: 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. Read full book review >