At the beginning of the year, way back when I was wandering the booths at ALA’s Midwinter convention, a few books grabbed my attention. Some of them have dropped off my list of favorites of the year, but Frog Song continues to find a spot there.
Maybe it’s that oversized strawberry poison dart frog on the cover. Just look at it: rich tempera is mixed with pencil in such detail that every shadow is noticed, even the little glint of light in his eyes.
The endpapers are just as luscious: filled with the greens of frogs and lily pads and other water plants. Each spread explains the behavior and song of a particular type of frog, from the strawberry poison dart frog of Costa Rica to the frogs of Oklahoma and Ecuador and Australia. Spirin seems to do the impossible — show the frog camouflaged in his environment while allowing it to be the star of each spread. The illustrations tell the story and extend the text in many places, too. Seeing Darwin’s frog releasing his baby froglets after three weeks in his throat is something I will not soon forget!
Rich back matter, including thumbnails of each page with further scientific explanation, a discussion of endangered frogs, a bibliography, and online resources, add to the beauty of this book.
Some things do concern me. The sounds of the frogs are written in a variety of fonts, usually in all caps, and the first words of each paragraph are italicized in red. I find these design choices a bit distracting from both the text and the illustrations. The gratuitous font changes seem out of character with the rich, serious tone of the art. Also, the Kirkus reviewer noted the lack of a map in the back matter to show where the frogs live. This might be more of a concern for the Sibert committee than for Caldecott, but it is a concern nevertheless.
I still find this book lush, inviting, and informative, and one for the budding biologist in your life.