The Art of Collaboration: The Children’s Books of Russell and Lillian Hoban

February 19, 2018

By Nancy Kuhl

+ The Art of Collaboration: The Children’s Books of Russell and Lillian Hoban, 1961-1972

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