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Dhaka Tribune


Update : 16 Apr 2013, 09:42 AM



To speak of an insanely gorgeous book about frogs would seem to pose a contradiction in terms. To note two such books just seems silly.

Yet here they are: “Frog Song,” the latest from Brenda Z. Guiberson and Gennady Spirin (“Life in the Boreal Forest”), and “999 Frogs Wake Up,” a sequel of sorts to 2011’s “999 Tadpoles,” by the Japanese team of Ken Kimura and Yasunari Murakami. Both are about frogs, and both are spectacularly illustrated. There the similarities end.

A sweet animal story for young readers, “999 Frogs Wake Up” is cartoonish and carefree and age-appropriately anthropomorphic. It’s springtime, and Mother Frog is the first to awaken. “Pop!” goes each of her 999 sons and daughters as they poke their heads from the ground. Last is Big Brother, the first in a parade of “sleepyheads” whom the rest decide to awaken in turn. First a turtle and then a lizard and then a crowd of ladybugs lounging under a rock.

As with its predecessor, which told the story of 999 baby frogs threatened by assorted predators as they tried to find a suitable abode for the whole family, the strong point of this book is its eye-popping design. Once again, a teeming multitude of primitive yet curiously expressive frogs are scattered on a stark white background to very pleasing effect. The text is simple, and includes many lines of unadorned dialogue:

The ladybugs began to wiggle and wake up.

“Spring is here!”

“I’m hungry!”

“Have the flowers blossomed yet?”

The last dozing, snoring sleepyhead is the hardest to stir. In a nod to “999 Tadpoles,” the little frogs rouse the slumbering reptile out of its bedtime cave with a “Heave-Ho!” until they realize the dormant tail belongs to a predatory snake. Yet – nothing scary here! – even this startling development is swiftly resolved before the frogs settle back into domestic bliss.

In “Frog Song,” by contrast, the swampy creatures are described in their intricate, full-color realistic glory – warts and all. Gennady Spirin has four times been the recipient of a New York Times Best Illustrated Children’s Books award, and his latest masterpiece of illustration is nothing less than a springtime reverie. Bursting with detail, especially in the opulent end pages, Spirin’s tableaus of blooming lily pads, laden with flowers and frogs, resemble 17-century Dutch still lifes in their awed contemplation of the natural world. Textures snap to life – glistening, sticky eggs on a midwife toad; the loamy banks of a river; the terrifying fuzziness of a frog-eating tarantula.

“Frogs have a song for trees, bogs, burrows and logs,” the text begins, introducing frogs and their varied voices. As in the call-and-response sequence from “The Old Mill,” a Disney Silly Symphony short from 1937, frogs are shown to be social, communicative creatures who beckon to one another across bogs and streams with calls and bellows far more wide-ranging than the old “croak” and “ribbit.”

“Frog Song” all but vibrates with the sounds of their voices. The strawberry poison dart frog of Costa Rica “trills a tiny tune in a pile of wet leaves. Pssst-pssst.” Meanwhile, in Borneo, “a four-lined tree frog whistles a song. Swee-Swee!” Tadpoles plop into water. An Australian desert frog sings mwaa-mwaa-mwaa as it breaks out of its underground cocoon to the plink-plunk-plink of rain. Each unique sound emerges from a frog convincingly unique in shape, coloration and habitat. The impression that emerges is one of extraordinary biodiversity begging to be appreciated and protected

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