Jun 15, 2013

A song of Praise for Frogs... and Fathers

Harper Collins, 2009

I suspect you'd be hard-pressed to find any parent, child, or teacher who is not familiar with Arnold Lobel's lovable FROG AND TOAD books. I also suspect only a  few are aware of a book of songs and poems he created nearly a decade before these iconic titles appeared. That's because the collection was not rediscovered until after his death. It's a genuine treasure to read THE FROGS AND TOADS ALL SANG, originally written and illustrated by Arnold Lobel, later found, colored, and published by his daughter, Adrianne Lobel. You can hear her discuss her coloring choices (and the original versions of the book) on this YouTube video.

When this book was newly released a few years ago I heard an interview with his daughter, Adrienne, on NPR, where it is transcribed and archived. I urge you to read the interview in total, but this part I'll report here in which she shares this touching memory of her father: 
(Portion of an interview with Melissa Block, NPR, June 8, 2009)

BLOCK: How did your father start writing about and drawing frogs and toads in the first place?
Ms. LOBEL: I have always credited myself with the person who instructed my father as to the difference between frogs and toads.
BLOCK: Oh, really?
Ms. LOBEL: And now, I realize he was just humoring me. I gave him this whole lecture when I was in Vermont one summer. We used to rent houses, and I came in with a toad in my hand, and he said, what a nice frog you have there. And I said, no, no, no, no, no. This is not a frog, this is a toad. And this is why. And then, a year later, the first Frog and Toad book came out.
But what's interesting about this book is that it serves to prove me wrong and that frogs and toads were very much already in his mind almost 10 years earlier and that he did know the difference, and I think he was just humoring me.

Henry Holt and Company (BYR), 2013
Another outstanding book featuring musically-inclined and poetic amphibians is FROG SONG, written by Brenda Z. Guiberson, illustrated by Gennady Spirin. As delighted as I was with the poems, the illustrations are spellbinding in composition, detail, color, and character. Both text and images evoke individuality in the various frogs, their habits,  and their habitats without a trace of anthropomorphism. Representing every corner of the globe and described with their onomatopoetic "songs", the frogs return in the back pages for some additional taxonomic detail and fun "quick facts". The back cover summarizes the beauty and intent of this remarkable book:
"A frog song is a celebration of clean water, plants, and insects to eat."

NorthSouth, 2011

NorthSouth, 2013
999 TADPOLES, and 999 FROGS WAKE Up are both written by Ken Kimura and illustrated by Yasunari Murakami. Equally appealing in both text and images, these will be "read it again" choices for many young ones. The ability to convey intense emotion with the placement of a dot in the eye (times 999!) is evident throughout and reminds me of Mo Willems's use of Pigeon's "eyeball" (size, placement, direction) to tell so much of a story.

Charlesbridge, 2010
HIP POCKET PAPA, written by Sandra Markle and illustrated by Alan Marks, offers a more scientifically accurate view of a tiny but noble species of frog. Both the text and the images manage to be lyrical, fascinating, and rich with detail while  faithfully depicting information about the diet, habitat, predators, and survival strategies for these diminutive creatures. In the dry December summers of Australia the males of this species are adapted in an odd twist on the furry pouched marsupials for which the continent is famous. A dozen newly hatched tadpoles wiggle up his back and climb into hidden pockets on his back where they will continue to develop using their attached yolk sacs. With his tadpoles tucked away safely for more than thirty days, the Papa frog scrounges for food, avoids predators, and seeks a moist habitat. By that time the twelve tiny froglets have developed enough to leave his pockets and make their way in the moist creek bank he has discovered.The back matter provides additional details about the predators he has encountered along the way.

Dad, with grandson Joey,
who now has a nearly identical
son of his own.

I'm offering this lively array of frog titles in part because here in the northern hemisphere summer weather and school vacation have finally arrived. This convergence of the mating/breeding phase in the life cycle of frogs and toads with the freedom cycle of children generates a chorus of happy songs from every corner of the outdoors.
It also leads up to the annual Fathers' Day celebration in which dads are treated to aftershave, ties, and recognition for the many things we take for granted throughout the year. In my case Dad was more the humoring, humorous type than the pond-exploring type, but he was there in our lives. Dependably. Reciting silly rhymes, keeping us safe from harm, reading aloud, and singing along (off-key) at Sunday services. 

For the safety of your hip-pocket protection and your awareness of 
our interests, growth, and issues, thank you, Dad. Still miss you.

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