Member of the Family (by Zach Franzen)


[Salutations, rabbitpersons. This is S.D. Smith, presenting another post from your allies at Story Warren. Some of you met Justin Gerard at Hutchmoot, or heard about him here. I didn’t actually experience my first contact with Justin through the Rabbit Room, but did meet him in person first at Hutchmoot 2011. Anyway, when Story Warren started, I invited Justin to join the squad. He declined, citing a supposed lack of qualification. Almost at once, he said, “But man, Zach Franzen would be perfect for what you’re doing. Zach is always talking about exactly what you’re saying. And he’s a thousand times smarter than me. He’s definitely your guy.” Almost a year later I can affirm, with gratitude, Justin’s claims. Zach Franzen is a wonderful illustrator and an even better thinker. I often tell people that talking to Zach is like going to college. A college where the professor draws awesome stuff. –Sam]


Some months ago, my wife and I were reading Eleanor Estes’ charming book Rufus M. We were amazed at one story where Rufus (the youngest of the Moffats and the title character) found some money frozen in the ice. While the rest of his family were busy trying to manage a frozen pipe under the house, Rufus managed to chisel two quarters, three dimes, and a couple nickels out of the ice. He used this money (quite a bit it seems for the time) to pay for a plumber to fix the troublesome pipe, then he went to the store and “. . . laid all his money on the counter. He bought two packages of kindling wood . . . He bought a small sackful of good, hard nut coal . . . He bought some apples, some oranges, some eggs, and some potatoes, and he went home feeling like Santa Claus.”

Rufus sensed his place in the family unit and desired to contribute. After reading this, my wife and I felt so proud for Rufus and had such pleasure at our feelings of admiration that we wondered, “Why aren’t there a million stories like this?”

I don’t know the answer. Perhaps it has something to do with the rockstar status of the misfit/outcast archetype in children’s literature. There is a strong trend in fiction for young people that consists of jettisoning of one’s God-given family and cobbling together a new one on a road trip. Also, there’s no better way for an author to make friends with their reader than to say, “Parents are dumb because they don’t understand you.”

Anyway, there ought to be a million stories like Rufus’s but I can’t seem to find them. However, I did find a poem where a kid takes delight in providing the food for a meal. I found it pleasing. Perhaps you will too.

I-caught-a-fish-ZACH FRANZEN


  1. Jennifer

    Wow, I’d never thought about that. There aren’t many “hero-at-home” stories in current books.

    And thanks for sharing your lovely little poem and the illustration (this is by Zach Franzen?)

  2. Donna S

    So very true. Thanks for sharing the sweet poem and your winsome illustration. I took a peek at the link to your work – Gorgeous stuff!

  3. Haley

    When I was expecting my second child and scoured the library for books about becoming a big sister, I ran into a similar (and similarly distressing) problem. That is, there seem to be very few books where sibling relationships are described in a positive light. My favorite exception to this rule is The Maggie B, which is an all around fantastic book. I wish there were many more like it and Rufus M!

  4. Bethany

    This immediately brought to mind the chapter Papa’s Birthday, from the All-of-a-Kind Family. It melts my heart every time.

  5. Julie Silander

    I love this. We just read “The Singing Tree” by Kate Seredy. It’s one of the most beautiful books we’ve read aloud, partially due to the depiction of the importance of family. Some stories sugar-coat relationships between family members to such an extent that they’re not believable. I’m always grateful to find a book that realistically depicts healthy, loving (but real) relationships between parents and children and between siblings. “Benjamin West and His Cat Grimalkin” comes to mind as well as “Understood Betsy” by Dorothy Canfield Fisher. Thanks for this great reminder.

    @Bethany – My daughter regularly references All-of-a-Kind of Family. So great.

  6. Zach Franzen

    Jennifer and Donna, thank you for the kind words. Haley, I share your frustration. Augustine has a remark in his work On Free Choice of the Will that captures some of the delight of books like Rufus M. and the book you mention. He writes about the perception of beauty deriving from parts fitting into a unity. “Examine the beauty of bodily form, and you will find that everything is in its place by number. Examine the beauty of bodily motion and you will find everything in its due time by number.” In the words of Monroe C. Beardsely, “The judgement of beauty, then, involves a grasp of order.” My point (there is a point) is that we derive large amounts of pleasure observing a family functioning as a unit–that the parts (brothers, sisters, moms, dads) are ordered into a whole (family). Modern literature for young people is not insensitive to this feeling–they often want their characters to have a sense of belonging, but there seems almost to exist a rule that forbids the sense of belonging to occur inside one’s own family.

    Julie and Bethany, thank you for listing some titles that have a good handle on this.

  7. applehillcottage

    A librarian at a Christian K-12 school speaks:

    The books you all mention above are beautiful and lovely. And the kids won’t read ’em.
    They want the fantasy-journey outcast-flippant hero — the rock star category mentioned above. If it looks old-fashioned, or quiet, or familial, they quietly put it back and go get Percy Jackson. Sigh. I’m going to see if I can find a nice new copy of Rufus M. Maybe with a shiny silvery-blue cover?

If you have a Rabbit Room account, log in here to comment.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.