Bertha and the Frog Choir

A recent book brought to us by our BLG reader Deborah was Bertha and the Frog Choir written by Luc Foccroulle and illustrated by Annick Masson. 

I admit I have a thing for fictional frogs. They have a certain charm and vulnerability that I find myself drawn to. I even blogged about it: Five Fantastic Fictional (Mostly) Frogs So when Deborah brought this book in to class, I was pretty excited! And it had us from the beginning – oh the poor frogs, described as flabby and slimy, not beautiful as so many other animals are. But. . . they redeem themselves with their chorus, their beautiful frog song! So what happens when you are a frog like Bertha who doesn’t exactly produce lovely sounds when she opens her mouth? Or a tiny frog like Lucy who isn’t even allowed to audition for the frog choir because she is so small? Well . . .

Bertha and Lucy sit at the edge of the pond, both sad and rejected. But then they start to get creative. Bertha could cook up a delicious meal to help Lucy grow and Lucy could give singing lessons to Bertha. Unfortunately, the plan does not seem to work. So the two clever frogs come up with a new plan. One that involves a trick. A trick that works perfectly. Perfectly, until both frogs get tired of pretending and decide that their true talents need to be recognized.

A story that reminds us that good friends are as important as being true to yourself.

There is a song at the back if reading this book puts you in the mood to sing. Twice,  Deborah asked if we wanted to sing along. Each time the students exclaimed “No!” But each time they sang and the second time even louder and sweeter!

Few words on five wordless books

Because the creators of wordless books can say so much with no words at all, I decided to use sparse words to express my awe for each of these titles and let their gorgeous covers invite you in.

#1 Sea of Dreams by Dennis Nolan

Adventure over and under the sea . . .

#2 The Conductor by Laetitia Devarney

Swirl, whirl, leaves take flight . . .

#3 Where’s Walrus by Stephen Savage

Where is that wacky walrus?

#4 Tuesday by David Wiesner

And what if frogs floated by?

#5 Beaver is Lost by Elisha Cooper

Beaver travels to a bustling city and back.

Thanks to Adopt a School Funds which purchased #1 and #2 for our classroom wordless (or nearly) collection. Wordless books allow us to practice using picture clues and background knowledge to infer meaning. They are also lovely to share together or to ponder over alone.

The Prince of the Pond

We started out first (novel) read aloud today. I am so excited to introduce this class to one of my all time favourite books to read aloud – The Prince of the Pond written by Donna Jo Napoli and illustrated by Judith Byron Schachner.

I explained that Napoli is wonderful at taking well known tales and giving them a unique twist. Some students were able to figure out from the cover and the title that this story would be based on the story about the prince who gets turned into a frog by a witch and must be kissed by a princess to regain his human form.

Today we met the curious frog who can’t seem to hop very well or communicate in any way that makes much sense. We met the horrid hag who transformed the Prince into a very confused frog. Do we think we know where this story is going? Maybe. . .

I happen to know we are well on our way to being entertained by a master story teller and to learning all kinds of amazing facts about frogs. I also know that my students are in store for a lot of laughing and many surprises. Let our story begin . . .

We’re on a Barbara O’Connor roll

I just finished reading another Barbara O’Connor novel to my children. We were quickly hooked. The Fantastic Secret of Owen Jester is an ideal summer read – all about having time on your hands and deep woods, mucky ponds and fantastic secrets to explore.

We worried about Tooley the big green bullfrog who just seemed too sad. We were delightfully irritated by Viola and her know it all ways (and also impressed by what she did actually know!) And we rooted for Owen and his plans for the very special and mysterious item he heard tumble (tumble, tumble, tumble) off the train. Small town Carter Georgia. Big days of summer. Life lessons to learn. We love the endearing characters and simple days described in Barbara O’Connor’s novels.


Frog Girl

When our librarian, Ms. Sheperd-Dynes, found out how much our reading group liked Storm Boy she brought us Frog Girl, also by Paul Owen Lewis. This is another title that represents the rich oral traditions of the Native people of the Northwest Coast of North America.

This story is an adventure that introduces us to Volcano Woman (also known as Frog Woman). She has the power to destroy villages if the people do not show proper respect for living creatures. (Lewis provides a detailed author’s note in the back of the book that provides very interesting information about how this story has Northwest Coast motifs of Separation, Initiation and Return. He explains that like other world mythologies, this tale has elements of what renowned scholar Joseph Campbell described as rites of passage (referring to separation, initiation and return) in the Adventure of the Hero)

In this story, the Chief’s daughter spies on two boys capturing frogs at the lakeshore. She finds one lone frog in the grass who leads her to a mysterious village under the lake. Here she meets Grandmother who is crying over her missing children. Her sadness seems to power rumblings and shaking in this underwater world. The chief’s daughter returns to the forest and her own village to find it empty but threatened by an erupting volcano. She finds a basket of frogs and races them to the lakeshore – home to Grandmother. Then the rains come and her people return. The girl tells her story as the frogs sing in the background.

Guided by Lewis’ notes in the back, I asked the students to be listening for some key elements in the story:

  • disrespectful/cruel behaviour
  • encountering animals who speak
  • performing a heroic deed
  • encountering mythological beings

Students listened incredibly attentively, pulled into the story’s powerful text and detailed visual images.

The chief’s daughter races through the burning forest to return the stolen frogs to the lake

In their written responses, some students retold favourite parts, some responded to the elements I asked them to listen for and some asked questions. Some excerpts:

Jenny: The two boys left and the girl heard a voice. She went to that voice and it was a frog that said follow me. The shore opened up and the girl went inside. Then the frog turned to like a person and the girl saw a beautiful village.

Jeremiah: My favourite part of the story was when the girl saved the frogs. The two boys were being disrespectful of the frogs.

Kevin: Frog Girl and Storm Boy are quite similar because they both have a secret village.

Catriona: I’m still wondering . . . Why did the frog transform into a frog on land but transform into a woman in the water? Why did the two boys capture all the frogs?

Eddy: How can the frogs talk and transform into a human but green? How could the girl run to the lake in time to save the frogs when the volcano almost destroyed the whole forest?

Truman: Two boys were capturing frogs. This is cruel behaviour. There was a frog that spoke. That is encountering animals who speak. There was a girl who saved the frogs. That is called performing a heroic deed. There are frog people. They are called encountering mythological beings. I liked it when the girl went to another world. I am still wondering how the frog turn into people and how the people turn into frogs.

Such inspired writing! Pretty amazing for Grades 1, 2 and 3!

Five Fantastic Fictional (mostly) Frogs

Lately I’ve had quite the thing for fictional frogs – not the frogs who turn into princes or have just been princes, although those guys are pretty great too.  But no, a thing for the hoppy, happy, stretchy, leapy unpredictable green frogs that make the books they jump into particularly delightful.

My top 5: Books about frogs

1. Stick by Steve Breen

I just found this book at my local library. Stick is Steve Breen’s first picture book (but his talent for words and visual images has not been missed – he won the Pulitzer Prize for his editorial cartoons twice!) How far can one little frog travel? And how? Find out what happens when little Stick happens to get his long tongue stuck to a dragonfly. Up, up and away . . . Silly, delightfully preposterous and gorgeous bird’s (in this case frog!) eye view of town, city and swamp.

2. City Dog, Country Frog written by Mo Willems and illustrated by Jon J Muth

I kept eyeing this book at the library, noticing names Mo Willems and John J Muth and thinking to myself, “I have got to read this book.” Something about the cover picture spoke dog to me and I kept missing the frog, even when I eyed the title I saw dog instead of frog. Finally, I looked a little closer and spotted the frog so perfectly plopped on the dog’s head and I pulled the book off the shelf.  How could I have missed this? I was missing so much! Inside illustrations are mellow, gentle and ahh, what greens. Together with Willems’ simple text, pictures and words tell the tender story of  friendship, the passage of time, young curiousity and calm wisdom. To make up for the months I haven’t been reading this book, I need to read it over and over and over again.

3. Growing Frogs written by Vivian French and illustrated by Alison Bartlett

Such an amazing book to teach about how frogs grow from tadpoles and how exciting this change can be to watch. I call a book like this an “information storybook” – a definite fictional story yet so much factual information it bridges into the non-fiction category. A little girl and her Mom collect frog spawn from the pond and carefully tend to the tadpoles, then frogs who grow. This book took me right back to my eight year old self and my ice cream bucket full of pond water and tadpoles. How I loved it and how sad I was to return my little frogs to their pond again. I love that French points out how carefully you must care for your growing frogs – always using pond water, changing it regularly etc. Allowing children to have important nature experiences respectfully.

4. A Frog Thing written by Eric Drachman and illustrated by James Muscarello

frog thingI have a real soft spot for Frankie the frog in this story. Told by his parents that he can do anything, he sets his mind to flying. Ahem, darling, “that’s a bird thing” explain his parents. He does try very hard to soar through the air but to no avail. One day he sees a baby bird fall helplessly into the pond and swims to its rescue. The grateful mother demands – “How can I repay you?” Well . . . We soon see Freddy flying through the air clutching a twig held by two birds. Finally flying! Exciting, yes. But Freddy realizes that doing the frog thing will suffice for him after all. Beautifully illustrated. A wonderful read aloud to share.

5. Fine As We Are by Algy Craig Hall

Wow, is it great to be a little frog. Having Mama frog all to yourself. Sigh. . . happiness. So what are all of these black spotted blogs in the water? Why do they have tails? Now legs? Oh my! Little frogs. All belonging to Mama. Life with many new siblings is quite the adjustment for our little frog. Annoying at first – how much leaping and tumbling about can these little frogs do? But then, oddly “just right.” The perfect book to explore how life changes when a new sibling (or siblings) arrives.

Jealousy is just a stage, right?

Hop through some frog books this Spring!

Kiss me! (I’m a Prince!)

Maria, our BLG reader this week, read us a very different kind of fairytale. Kiss me! (I’m a Prince!) written by Heather McLeod and illustrated by Brooke Kerrigan,provided many surprises. Not your typical frog turns into prince and all live happily ever after by any means!

kiss me I'm a prince

So okay, first of all, you have got to know if you say the word kiss to a bunch of 7 and 8 year olds, it is going to get some giggles. Have that word repeated often in the story – “Kiss me! Why won’t you kiss me? Hey, hey, hey!” and you have everyone’s attention!

Our poor frog in this story is truly a prince and to get turned back – yep you guessed it- he needs to be kissed! He finds Ella and begs, “Kiss me. If you kiss me, I’ll turn into a prince.” He’s pretty persistent. Ella, though, is not so sure. “You’ll turn into a prince, but then what?” When the princely and promised princess life is described, she is definitely not impressed. Studying? Horsemanship? Suits and gowns? This life seems pretty devoid of play. She would rather have a talking frog.

So the frog gives up on getting kissed.

Maybe he’ll take a hug? suggested Miami.

Then Ella shows him the wonderful world of play time and he actually forgets about being a prince until a royal courtier arrives and takes him back to the castle.  When he returns to visit Ella, he is still a frog. He needs the true kiss of a friend to be transformed back. Ella wonders if this is what he really wants? He assures her that he has convinced his parents that a prince needs some down time in his day and they have agreed. “So yes, Ella, I want you to kiss me. Please?”

How does the story end? Well . . . they played happily ever after.

Our student reviewers report:

Josiah: I thought the book was very funny. The frog kept saying it over and over – Kiss me, I’m a Prince!

Ricky: Maria, that was a really great book you read! It was funny when the girl imagined that she was going to kiss the frog but she didn’t.

Jena: At the end, I thought it was very interesting because when she told the frog about having fun and playing hopscotch and swimming and Simon Says, the frog and Ella (the girl) turned out to be really good friends.

A great choice Maria!

Tales, Tails and Tadpoles

We read an interesting information story book called Tale of a Tadpole by Barbara Ann Porte. Illustrations by Annie Cannon.

Before we read, we peeked at some of the pictures and wrote some questions about tadpoles in our Wonder web:

Kevin wondered:

What do they eat? How fast can they swim? What are their predators? Do they have parasites?

Emily also had some questions:

Why is their tail so long? Why are they brown? How do they swim? Why are they so small?

Some other great questions from Jena:

How come they transform? Do they have gills? How do they get out of their eggs? Do they eat fish?

As we read, we asked more questions and read on to see if we could find out the answers. At the end of the story, we found out that we had learned a lot and everyone chose one of the key questions to answer in more detail. One surprise for everybody was that the tadpole in this story turned into a toad, not a frog. The grandfather in the story explained the differences between frogs and toads and we were all eager to discover what these were.

Many people explained some of the differences between frogs and toads in their writing. Jeremiah wrote: “Toads have bumps on their back but frogs don’t. Frogs have smooth skin.” Eddy explained, “Toads live in the woods and frogs live in ponds.”

Another topic that many people chose to write about was why the tadpole’s tail got smaller. Hajhare writes, “Frogs get energy from their tails.” Jenifer gave us a few more details: “All the nutrients from the tail go into the body, this makes the tail small.”

Information storybooks such as a Tale of a Tadpole are a great way to learn a lot of new information while enjoying a great story. We find that when we ask lots of questions before we read, we are even more eager to read and see what new information we can find out.