Book Reviews, Short Stories, YA

Russell Hoban’s OOP treasures: Nothing to Do (1964) and the Story of Hester Mouse Who Became a Writer (1965)

Nothing to Do

Nothing to Do (1964) is essentially a forgotten volume of Hoban’s famous Frances Badger series. The only differences are that the hero is a possum instead of a badger, and then-spouse Lilian Hoban’s artwork never got the same color treatment here as with the Frances series.

Walter Possum is bored out of his mind, and typical of kids, he’s taking that boredom out on everyone around him in benign, annoying ways. His pops passes on a method to combat boredom whenever it rears its ugly head in Walter’s life. Walter gets a something-to-do stone to keep in his pocket, always. Whenever he finds himself with nothing to do, all he needs to do is rub the smoothed stone he carries, and ~something to do~ will soon come to him from his environment.

Of course, it’s successful, or this book would never have been published. Walter soon finds himself annoyed by a bored sister, and successfully passes on this method with a something-to-do stick.

Playing with the something-to-do stick and the sole appearance of possum behavior.

I’m surprised Nothing to Do has remained out of print for so long — it’s just as good as any Frances outing. The possum-badger separation is a little weird, since Frances and Walter (and their respective families) look identical, with only one scene taking advantage of Walter’s being a possum. Walter’s method for combating childhood boredom is also quite clever.

Easily recommended for Frances fans, although it certainly needs a new edition, preferably with updated artwork.


The Story of Hester Mouse Who Became a Writer

hoban_tsofmwbaw_covHester Mouse needs a reprint. This is a cute, timeless precursor to Russell Hoban’s existential juggernaut of kidlit, the Mouse and His Child (1967), and, in many ways, just as enjoyable.

It’s dark, at times, and our heroes — all of them — are crushed by their lack of control over their lives, by the burden of their very natures. A mouse is a mouse, an owl an owl, and the nature of one is to feed on the other. Their places are well understood (and the loftier positions even brings about lofty self-evaluations!), but Hester Mouse and her kin don’t have to like their destinies.

This is the story of Hester Mouse, and how she came to escape her fate by tumbling into another just as uncontrollable. She’s not a writer herself — for a mouse will never write — but the accidental inspiration to a writer unable to write. Mostly by accident, he plucks her from the owl’s intent and gives her a wheel to explore. The owl wants his story told, and Hester wants to tell it — the writer just wants to write whatever inspiration brings.

It’s cute, and surprisingly complex under the thin layers of children’s literature. (Though it certainly feels like a warm-up to his aforementioned 1967 masterpiece.) If you can find it, snatch it up, if you can’t, politely clamor for a new treatment, please.


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