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Leap, Frog; by Jane Cutler; illus. by Tracey Campbell Pearson
Farrar, 2002 198p
ISBN 0-374-34362-4 $16.00
It’s always good to see old friends again, so it’s a fine thing to herald the return of the amiable Fraser brothers, third-grader Edward and sixth-grader Jason (from 'Gator Aid, BCCB 6/99, etc.). As usual, they encounter some slightly larger-than-life but believable everyday-life trials and tribulations, and as usual they are accompanied by their friends and neighbors (Fraser brothers adventures often end up being group and neighborhood adventures).
Neighbors are particularly important in this outing, as there’s a new one: first-grader Charley, who’s an obstreperous little personage who latches onto Edward with a vengeance. When Elaine and Andrew (the brothers’ seventh-grade friends) turn to Edward for help in personalizing their egg babies, Charley gallops off with one of the ovoid infants; when the Conroy sisters (twins Marilyn and Marlene and their older sister, Janice) concoct a jumping-frog contest (and profitable frog-rental business in connection), Charley convinces Edward to join him in entering a secret froggy weapon; when the Frasers plan a trip to the theater to treat a star-struck Edward and reassure a reluctant Jason, an unwilling thespian stuck in an acting class, Charley manages to infiltrate the outing (and to kick one of the Bremen Town Musicians in the shin).
Neither Edward nor Charley can claim sole focus here, however, and the all-embracing sympathy for characters from first-grader Charley to sixth-grader Jason, his and Edward’s seventh-grade friends, and even a few adults (Mrs. Fraser is struggling with clown lessons) means that readers of all ages will find someone to whom to relate (and the title’s episodic nature will make it a splendid readaloud). Like Ann Cameron, whose respectful perception she shares, Cutler manages to create an engaging and believable kid milieu, where friends of different ages hang out together and bounce in and out of each other’s houses, connecting to each other in different combinations as the need arises. She’s managed to catch in Charley a particular kind of youthful live wire who may well achieve something great but will also drive people nuts along the way, and both Edward’s generally patient forbearance and Charley’s indifference when it wears thin are credibly drawn. On the other end, there’s the more restrained Jason, horrified at his theatrical dilemma; when his imaginative family (plus Charley, of course) decides to act out “The Bremen Town Musicians” before going to see the stage production, here’s how parts are assigned, starting with Mrs. Fraser, the promoter of the idea:
“I’ll be the donkey.”
“I’ll be the cat!” cried Charley.
“I’ll be the dog!” Edward joined in.
“I guess I’ll be the rooster,” said Mr. Fraser.
“I’ll be downstairs,” said Jason.
That kind of rueful humor permeates the book, evinced particularly in the boys’ interactions with their parents and in Edward’s relationship with Charley (“It was bad enough for Edward to be seen after school with a weird first-grader. But to be seen with one leaping like a frog was unacceptable”). Though a quieter wit than Hilary McKay’s, it has some of her domestic shrewdness, and it’s one of the components that makes this a very useful book in a rather undercrowded field: the high-end chapter book, last stop before (or break from) those longer, less episodic novels with smaller print, harder words, and no pictures whatsoever (in Leap, Frog, illustrator Pearson offers one high-spirited black-and-white illustration per chapter, just enough to hearten nervous readers). That’s a bigger jump for kids than is often credited, and Cutler deftly and carefully cushions the leap for her little reading frogs, who’ll appreciate this as a solid and attractive literary lily pad, where they can rest before diving off into the book world’s deeper waters.
Deborah Stevenson, Editor
Cover illustration from Leap, Frog ©2002, by Tracey Campbell
Pearson. Reproduced by permission of Farrar, Straus and Giroux..
This page was last updated on December 1, 2002.