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Christine May
Between Tads and Toads

Adult; Poetry; (Market)

Between Tads and Toads is an illustrated story in verse for adults about pretty frog Frederic who struggles to fit in with the pondling society of educated toads, dandy frogs and innocent tadpoles. Set by a pond in the idyllic British countryside, life is an endless parade of picnics, swimming races and all things nice, except for Frederic.  

May’s whimsical illustrated poem is a parable for adults about the emotional price of focusing too much on appearance, told through the experience of Frederic, an anthropomorphic frog who lives in a community that surrounds a pond. As alternating pages of quatrains and illustrations explain, “pondling” society is made up of two groups: Frogs—who are beautiful, elegant, and perfectly proportioned—focus on being charming “living Art,” so they take ballet classes to develop their grace and abstain from treats to keep their figures trim. Toads, on the other hand, are highly educated, eschew too much physical activity, and love good booze, fancy vittles, and custom-tailored tweed suits. The pondlings go on fancy picnics, compete in swimming races, and carouse at nightclubs; Frederic participates, but inside he feels more and more empty, desperate, and self-critical.

May’s verse tends to be more musical than sensical, and includes some forced rhymes: “incomplex” to rhyme with “Sussex,” “aspire” used to mean “aspiration” for a slant rhyme with “bow tie.” (*At a few points, it’s difficult to understand the intended meaning: a swimming race is described with the sentence, “In three lanes, amphibs defile.”) But despite the occasional linguistic idiosyncrasy, the story is charming, and so is the amphibian society depicted: toads in tailcoats and frogs in ascots eating ice cream on park benches, being measured for bespoke ensembles, and skiing. The pen-and-ink illustrations are a highlight, as whimsical and elegant as the characters they portray. Frederic gazing at his reflection in a pond hearkens back to the myth of Narcissus, and the amphibians’ automobiles and swimming costumes evoke the early 20th century. A graceful frog waiter serving wine in arabesque position, Frederic dancing with a handsome toad, and tadpoles in earmuffs warming up after sledding are particular highlights.

The ending is more an implication than a fully realized denouement. Frederic ditches a ski outing and lies down in the snow to die. A pretty girl frog finds and revives him; he confesses misery, she counsels him that being beautiful isn’t enough to make one happy, and he realizes he needs to change his life. The reader doesn’t get to see how that happens, but the last image is of Frederic crossing a bridge with a little smile on his face, suggesting he’s headed for better things. This idiosyncratic will charm and intrigue readers.

Takeaway: This whimsical verse story for adults about a depressed amphibian playboy will charm and intrigue readers.

Great for fans of: Kenneth’s Grahame’s The Wind in the Willows, T.S. Eliot’s Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats.

Production grades
Cover: A+
Design and typography: A
Illustrations: A+
Editing: B--
Marketing copy: C