Just what are the pros and cons of being a frog? They’re not what I thought – having just written a book about a boy who wants to be a sea otter – I thought I’d stumbled on another book about animal adaptations. However, The pros and pons of being a frog by Sue deGennaro (A Paula Wiseman Book, Simon &Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2016) is not about animal adaptations at all. It’s about negotiating a new friendship. Everything about this book charmed me: the art, the quirky characters and the message. I’ve already reread it three times.
The cover shows the backs of the (only) characters looking into the book cover, which immediately drew me in. What do they see? By opening the cover, we jump right into their lives with a simple opening line: “Camille and I are quite different.” Sue deGennaro doesn’t need to set the scene to keep us interested; we’re already hooked. What follows is a delightful portrayal of two quirky (and lovable) kids, each a bit shy, developing a friendship, and what they do when an event escalates into a conflict. There’s magic in how the art fills the page and the characters take main stage all the time. I could easily recall being a young child with my own quirks, with my own hopes of finding a friend who’d accept me as I was.
We are coached as picture book authors to leave space for the illustrator as we choose our words. As both author and illustrator, deGennaro creates a beautiful dance between text and illustrations that tell a story for all ages. However, she does even more. I recall a notion not yet articulated to me while studying picture book craft and expressed by Harold Underdown in a workshop I attended in Syracuse, NY last year. He said, “While leaving room for the illustrator, we must also leave room for the reader.” As a teacher, I know that each reader comes to the text with his or her own prior knowledge and therefore gets something different out of it. Harold’s statement shows the role of the writer (and illustrator) in developing a story that allows for reader experience beyond mere interpretation of the text. The pros and cons of being a frog is a beautiful manifestation of these three contributors to a story – writer, illustrator and reader – coming together. I’m off to read it again!