Saturday 31 January 2009

Book Review

Brad sat on a stump, and he pondered and pondered. He strained his frog brain, but his mind kind of wandered.Quill & Quire
Canada's magazine of book news and reviews
January 2009 issue

Bradley McGogg, the Very Fine Frog
by Tim Beiser; Rachel Berman, illus.

Browse the kids’ section at your local bookstore and you might conclude that picture books are entirely populated by animals. Human children do occasionally appear, but the bestselling ones tend to feature mice, squirrels, and turtles standing in for kids. There are a couple of good reasons for this. Any child, regardless of age and race, can slot himself into the character of a coyote or a hedgehog. Animals have yet to find a way to object to type-casting, so an animal hero also lets us play around with emblematic characters (e.g., the hard-working beaver and the thuggish rat).

Furthermore, the animal protagonist gives us an escape route from our age of parental anxiety. We’re nervous about portraying preschoolers taking any risks, but animals can roam the world on their own and play unsupervised. Animals can be naughty and get into trouble. Animals can live the life that human kids long for.

Picky eaters, for example, will have their refined tastes affirmed – nay, celebrated – in Bradley McGogg, the Very Fine Frog. Brad wakes up one morning to find his larder bare, so he visits various neighbours to cadge a meal. Miss Mouse, Herr Bear, Herr Hare, and Miss Moo are all generous and willing to share. But Brad doesn’t fancy their offerings and returns home to a delicious meal of bugs. The rhyming verse is so fresh and the illustrations so full of personality and emotion that we quickly forget the slight premise and simply enjoy Brad’s neighbourhood kitchen crawl.

A text in rhymed couplets is the easiest thing to get wrong in a picture book. Many a good story idea has been shipwrecked on the rocky shores of contorted syntax, predictable rhymes, and imperfect rhythms. But Tim Beiser does a bang-up job, using all the tricks of the trade, such as enjambment, sound echoes, and internal rhyme:

Bradley McGogg was
a very fine frog
who happily napped in
a hollowed-out log.
This log in a bog, where our
frog spent his days,
was a pad Brad had had since
his pollywog phase.

With his tiny green fingers he stifled a gasp, in fright at the sight of the cheese in her grasp.Even more original are the illustrations. Rachel Berman locates this moveable feast in a gentle setting, rural and mildly Edwardian. Paying homage to illustrators of the past, she pictures a Miss Mouse who would fit right into Beatrix Potter’s Lake District and a white hare who, sitting down to tea in his frock coat, echoes the March Hare from Alice. Our hero Bradley, dressed in striped overalls, Birkenstock sandals and bow tie, looks like a hippie version of Lester B. Pearson. In her portrayal of facial expression and gesture Berman creates a frog who is diffident, courteous, tactful, and charming – everyone’s first choice as the eligible bachelor houseguest. The illustration of Brad’s dinner table, a toadstool romantically lit by candelabra, plays coyly against the content of the meal – “flies, squirmy worms, crunchy roaches, and fleas.” The slight contrast between words and pictures creates a delicious tension and a welcoming world for all diners and sojourners.

Reviewed by Sarah Ellis (from the January 2009 issue)

Wednesday 14 January 2009

Book Review

The Manitoba Library Association
Vol XV Number 7
November 21, 2008

Bradley McGogg, the Very Fine Frog.
Tim Beiser. Illustrated by Rachel Berman.Toronto, ON: Tundra Books, 2009.24 pp., hardcover, $19.99.ISBN 978-0-88776-864-4.

Review by Myra Junyk.
**** /4

Bradley McGogg, the bog frog, has a dilemma. He has run out of food. What will he do? He decides to ask his neighbours to share what they eat. He visits various inhabitants of the bog — Miss Mouse, Herr Bear, Herr Hare, and Miss Moo the cow. Even though all of his neighbours offer to share their food, Bradley discovers that he doesn't like any of it! So Bradley sadly returns to his log where he is thrilled to find that it has become infested with bugs — just his kind of food!

At a spot near their grotto, the bear and the bunny presented Brad carrots all covered in honey.This "very fine frog" has made some important discoveries. His neighbours are very welcoming and do not hesitate to help him with his dilemma. However, he also discovers that they eat some "pretty strange things." His isolation in the log has ended, and he has become part of a larger community. Even though he doesn't share their food, Bradley has learned some valuable lessons about community, friendship, sharing, individual differences, politeness and diversity.

Tim Beiser's story begins by describing Bradley's home environment but then moves on into the wider world of the bog where the "fine frog" goes to meet his neighbours and share their food. The story is told in a lyrical style which will definitely appeal to young children. The rhythm, rhyme, and vivid descriptions make the story come to life. Although this is Tim Beiser's first book for children, he is an experienced playwright, science fiction short story writer and journalist. After studying at Ryerson University, he worked for publications such as National Post Business, Toronto Life, Elm Street, Reader's Digest and Saturday Night. His book is dedicated to his niece Katie McGuire who, when she was in first grade, asked him to write her a story about a frog!

Bradley McGogg, the Very Fine Frog would be particularly useful for teachers as a read aloud. Students could also participate in a shared reading experience or could dramatize the story by taking on the roles of various characters in the story. The story could provide the basis for very lively discussion with parents, caregivers or teachers about topics such as: food, friendship, sharing, courtesy, homes, bogs, individual differences, community, animals, and eating habits!

And finally, Rachel Berman, the British Columbia illustrator, uses magical images to illuminate the text and to engage readers in the story in wonderful ways! The very first illustration shows readers a great deal about Bradley McGogg and his home. The painting portrays Bradley's home as a dark and isolated environment. The colours are predominantly dark brown with strange mysterious shapes. However, Bradley's personality is in sharp contrast to his environment. He is a lively fellow with striped red overalls and a polka dot tie! In later paintings, readers find out that Bradley is a reader because he is surrounded by cookbooks with titles such as Green Cuisine, A La Mode for a Toad and Hop and Wok. As Bradley travels to his various neighbours, children will appreciate the details of the various locations — the mouse hole, the bee hives, and the cow pasture. The paintings provide readers with a feast for the eyes and the imagination!

Highly Recommended.

Myra Junyk is the former Program Co-ordinator of Language Arts and Library Services at the Toronto Catholic District School Board. Currently, she is working as a literacy advocate and author.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to
Copyright © the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.