Cover image for Francie
English, Karen.
Personal Author:
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Farrar Straus Giroux, 1999.
Physical Description:
199 pages ; 22 cm
When the sixteen-year-old boy whom she tutors in reading is accused of attempting to murder a white man, Francie gets herself in serious trouble for her efforts at friendship.
Reading Level:
660 Lexile.
Program Information:
Accelerated Reader AR MG 4.2 6.0 2121.

Reading Counts RC 6-8 5.6 11 Quiz: 20690 Guided reading level: NR.
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
X Young Adult Fiction Central Closed Stacks
X Young Adult Fiction Young Adult

On Order



A distinctive new voice in children's fiction

Francie lives with her mother and younger brother, Prez, in rural Alabama, where all three work and wait. Francie's father is trying to get settled in Chicago so he can move his family up North.

Unfortunately, he's made promises he hasn't kept, and Francie painfully learns that her dreams of starting junior high school in an integrated urban classroom will go unfulfilled. Amid the day-to-day grind of working odd jobs for wealthy white folks on the other side of town, Francie becomes involved in helping a framed young black man to escape arrest -- a brave gesture, but one that puts the entire black community in danger. In this vivid portrait of a girl in the pre--Civil Rights era South, first-time novelist Karen English completes Francie's world using lively vernacular and a wide array of flesh-and-blood characters.

Francie is a 2000 Coretta Scott King Author Honor Book.

Author Notes

Karen English has written several picture books and Strawberry Moon , her second novel. She lives in Richmond, California.

Reviews 4

Booklist Review

Gr. 7^-10. Reminiscent of Mildred Taylor's novels, this story is told in the voice of a poor young girl in segregated Alabama, who suffers bigotry and abuse and who dreams of escape to the cities of the North. Twelve-year-old Francie's dad has been in Chicago a long time, but he still hasn't sent for his family to join him. Francie is the star pupil in the one-room schoolhouse for black children, and her kind teacher encourages her love of reading. Francie also has to work long hours helping her mother clean, cook, and do laundry for white people. Exhausted by her backbreaking work, Mama is sometimes rough with the daughter she loves, especially when Francie can't hold her seething anger at the racism in daily life. The scenes of prejudice are disturbing: in one painful episode, Francie is falsely accused of shoplifting; in another, she has to wait on arrogant white kids at a party. But English shows Francie maintaining her sense of self because she's smart and strong. There's an undeveloped subplot about a teenage boy whom Francie hides from white violence, but the central drama is about Francie and her mother, who are drawn with aching realism. --Hazel Rochman

Publisher's Weekly Review

A keenly perceptive and gutsy heroine narrates this debut novel set in segregated 1940s Alabama. Francie, her mama and brother, Prez (named for FDR), patiently await word from her father, who has been gone for more than a year, to join him in Chicago where he works as a Pullman porter. Francie and her mother continue to make ends meet while bravely fending off the intimations from town gossips that their dream of reuniting their family may not come true. English (Just Right Stew) carefully and subtly plants the seeds for several dramatic scenes in the novel. For instance, Francie notices Holly, from a rich white family whom she and Mama work for, stealing a tube of lipstick; in a later chapter, when the shopkeeper accuses Francie of stealing a book she brought into the store with her, Holly stacks the evidence against Francie. The author effectively builds the rebellious streak in the heroine until Francie cleverly and humorously exacts revenge on the haughty Holly. English thus sets the stage for the moment when Francie comes to the aid of an older boy whom she tutored in reading and who is falsely accused of assaulting his white employer. These winning characters credibly surmount obstacles as a matter of course. In a triumphant and surprising ending, English pointedly leaves a few loose ends, but readers will come away knowing that Francie's spirit and intelligence will get her family through. Ages 10-up. (Oct.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

Gr 5-8-Waiting for the day her Pullman porter father will send for the family, Francie bides her time in her small-minded Alabama town. An absorbing picture of the past, populated with courageous characters pursuing a dream. (Sept.) (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

School Library Journal Review

Gr 5-8-The best student in her small, all-black school in preintegration Alabama, 12-year-old Francie hopes for a better life. While she and her strict mother wait for her Pullman porter father to move them up North, they work very hard just to survive. Cleaning, cooking, and waiting tea for the white people in town, Francie wonders just what it would be like to have nothing to do other than enjoy the day, but each of her father's letters brings only promises and disappointment. When Jessie, an older school friend who is without family, is forced on the run by a racist employer, Francie leaves her mother's labeled canned food for him in the woods. Only when the sheriff begins searching their woods, and her younger brother and cousin are abducted, does she realize the depth of the danger she may have brought to her family. Francie's smooth-flowing, well-paced narration is gently assisted by just the right touch of the vernacular. Characterization is evenhanded and believable, while place and time envelop readers. The message that one must rise out of oppression and actively seek a better life is a good one. Excellent companion books might be Carolyn Meyer's White Lilacs (Gulliver, 1993) and Patricia McKissack's Run Away Home (Scholastic, 1997).-Cindy Darling Codell, Clark Middle School, Winchester, KY (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



  Francie Treasure I did something to that cat, I admit it. But that cat did something to me first. All year we've been washing clothes every weekend at Miss Beach's Boarding House for Colored-Mama and I. All year that cat's had something against me. Saturday morning, we went there to wash the linens. I could see Miss Beach sitting on her porch glider as we came up the hill toward her large white three-story house. She had that cat on her lap. Treasure. He'd scratched me four times already There he sat with his fat orange caterpillar tail swishing slowly back and forth as if he was fanning flies, his mouth stretching in a wide yawn so that I could see all the way down his pink little throat, past that pink spade tongue and mouth full of tiny razor teeth. Miss Beach nodded at us, then rose and let him spill from her lap. "Hurry and round up the linens, Francie," she said, squinting at the sky. "I feel a storm coming up." Mama and I headed out back, Mama to get the tubs ready and me to take the back stairs up to the rooms. I started with Mr. Ivory's room, gathered his sheets, sniffed some of his colognes and hair ointments, and then made my way to my teacher Miss Lafayette's room. I liked her. Sometimes she left books on her bed for me to borrow and then discuss with her later. Sometimes she left a cologne packet from her beauty order. She'd had to go down to Louisiana Friday night for two weeks to take care of some mysterious business, so I knew I wouldn't be seeing her that day--or Monday neither. I frowned, thinking of having Miss Lattimore, the principal, who always substituted for Miss Lafayette. I studied myself in the bureau mirror. I was waiting to look like I was of some age, but I still seemed nearly as young as my brother, Prez, and he was ten. Prez's real name was Franklin, after our last President. Mama always said I had nice eyes. Now I looked at them closely. She said God had blessed me with my daddy's thick eyebrows and long lashes. I supposed that she was right. I checked Miss Lafayette's gallery of porcelain-framed photos on the bureau--all of them light-skinned folks like her--and ran her silver-handled brush through my hair. Then I carefully plucked out my wiry strands from her silky ones. As I was turning to go, having had my fill of fiddling with other people's belongings, I heard a noise. There was Treasure coming out from under the bed, doing that little wiggle cats do when they're getting ready to pounce. I wondered how he'd gotten to the room without me seeing him. "Fool," I said, liking the feel of the forbidden word in my mouth. But before I could get it out good, before I could sashay on out of there, that cat ran at me and swiped my leg, drawing a line of blood. It was just through pure reflex that I was able to grab hold of him before he could get away. He twisted and turned in my clutch and tried to reach back and nip at my hand. He pawed at the air with his bared claws, making me even madder. I marched him into Miss Beach's room at the end of the hall, shoved him into the bottom of the wardrobe, and slammed the door shut. I stood there a moment, breathing hard but feeling triumphant. I wanted to laugh. I wanted to shout. Then I pushed my deed to the back of my mind and finished gathering the linens from the other rooms. I made my way down the back stairs and said nothing about my stinging leg, though I wanted to show it to Mama--just for any sympathy I might wring out of her. But I bit my tongue on my pain and just dumped my load near where Miss Beach stood in the middle of the kitchen sorting the piles with the tip of her shoe and telling Mama which laundry needed bleach and bluing, which collars and cuffs needed extra attention, and on and on and on and on, like the drone of a pesky fly. She paused long enough to glance over at me and say, "I hope you weren't up there meddling." "No, ma'am," I mumbled. She stepped away from the piles of laundry and nodded at me to take over. I squatted down to finish the sorting, kind of puffed-up and satisfied and smiling to myself. Miss Beach was of a suspicious nature. She didn't even believe we were moving to Chicago in a few months when Daddy sent for us. He'd gone up there a little over a year ago to work on a passenger train as a Pullman porter. It was hard work, he'd told us on a visit, serving white folks, even polishing their shoes and ironing their clothes, but if that's what it took to get his family up to Chicago, it was worth it. Once I heard Miss Beach warning Mama not to get her hopes up. Maybe we wouldn't be going to Chicago, after all. She'd heard of menfolk all the time promising their families they were going to send for them and never doing it. And Pullman porters had some of the worst reputations. Some even kept two families, one down South and one up North. Her words made me have a bad dream about Daddy getting another family up in Chicago and giving them the life he was supposed to give us. Miss Beach had told Mama that Beulah Tally never left to go nowhere, and after her husband had promised. "Don't count on going to Chicago, Lil. It might not happen." Mama didn't say a word. Now, when Miss Beach turned her back to reach for the bowl of sugar on the sideboard to sweeten her tea, I stuck my tongue out at her.   By noon Mama and I had gotten the first load of laundry ready to be wrung out and hung on the lines. The sky was clear and blue. Miss Beach's "feeling" about a storm had only meant to hurry us up. We sat down on Miss Beach's back steps to eat the lunch we'd brought: cold yams and lemonade. Miss Beach crossed in front of us, her hand shielding her eyes against the bright sun, and I knew the consequences of my deed were soon to be met. She went back and forth across the lawn, then disappeared around the corner of the house. I raked my front teeth along the inside of the yam skin to get every last bit. We worked the rest of the afternoon getting everything washed, rinsed, and wrung out for the line. In the late afternoon Mama sent me home to get dinner ready for Prez. I passed Miss Beach stepping out onto the veranda, fanning a face full of woe. "You seen Treasure?" she called out. "No'm," I called back. It was true. I hadn't seen him--lately. Mama came home fuming. I was sitting on the porch with a letter from Daddy balanced on my knees, the afternoon's events neatly tucked away in a far-off, hazy place in my mind, when I saw her shadowy form moving down Three Notch Road toward our house almost in a trot. I stopped petting Juniper, our dog, and he raised his head, his ears perking up as if he sensed danger barreling toward him as well. "Mama looks mad," Prez said from behind me. I hadn't noticed him come out to the porch. "Why you think, Francie?" "How'm I to know?" I said, my mouth suddenly dry. Mama marched up to the porch steps, and stood with her feet splayed in the dirt. Her nostrils flared in the dying light as she said breathlessly, "Go get me a switch." My eyes welled up. Prez sucked in air loud enough for me to hear. I could picture his eyes wide with fear that he was the one who was going to get it. "Move it!" she growled. I moved it to the sweet-gum tree on the side of the house, and barely able to see through my tears, I searched the lower branches for a switch that would please Mama. I didn't dare bring her one that wouldn't. She was in the house, pouring water in the basin, when I came in with a knotty branch dangling from my hand. It felt like a whip. I set it on the table. Mama splashed some water on her face. "Go on in the other room," she said over her shoulder after patting her face dry with a towel. My lower lip began to tremble at the calmness she'd taken on. I walked toward the bedroom as if I was walking to my death. I had barely crossed the threshold when I felt the first burning lash cut across the back of my calves. My fresh cat scratch caught fire. I jumped and yelped at the same time. "Mama ..." I cried, bending to grab my leg. Whop! That next blow caught my hand. The pain shot up my arm to the shoulder. "Have you lost your ever-lovin' mind?" she said, her voice tight through clenched teeth. Whop! "You trying to make me lose one of my jobs?" Whop! Whop! "I'll beat you till you can't sit down!" Wham! The switch came across my behind to help her make her point. She hit me until I guess her arms got tired. Then she said, "Francie Weaver, why you want to hide that woman's cat?" It was hard to speak around my fit of hiccups. "I don't know." It was true. I didn't know why'd I do something that was bound to get me in trouble. "She might not let you come around no more," Mama said. "You sit on that bed and think about what you did." She went out of the room. I hobbled over to the bed I shared with Mama, the letter now balled in my hand. I hadn't had a chance to give it to Mama. I slipped it in my dress pocket, bitterly deciding to keep it to myself. I sat and sat, inhaling the scent of the greens and corn bread I'd cooked for me and Prez. I would have to sit there until Mama felt I'd seen the error of my ways. At one point, she passed the door and said, "You better pray to God for your soul." I knew she was right. Every once in a while I did some hateful things and I just didn't know why. Copyright (c) 1999 by Karen English Excerpted from Francie by Karen English All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.