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The Secret of the Stone Frog: A TOON Graphic (The Leah and Alan Adventures) Hardcover – September 11, 2012
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From School Library Journal
Gr 2-4-Leah and her younger brother, Alan, awake to find their beds relocated to the middle of a lush forest. They soon come across a stone frog that guides them toward their home. It's not easy. Their long, strange trip is full of bees, fanciful lions, and a subway ride with dressed-up sea life-all presented in out-of-whack proportions. After they make a narrow escape when an entire town-buildings, streets, and all-comes alive, the story ends with our hero and heroine back in their beds as a new day begins. The Alice in Wonderland comparisons are clear, as the children encounter unusual characters and bizarre situations in their travels. It's a world long on enchantment but rather short on plot. The black-and-white pen-and-ink illustrations are astounding in their intricacy. Tiny pen strokes amass to create rich landscapes and characters. The plot may come second, but the journey here is the whole point. A surprising, and visually stunning, trip.-Travis Jonker, Wayland Union Schools, MIα(c) Copyright 2011. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
The intricate flowerings and soulfully etched forest backgrounds of the art make the black-and-white pages sing as though they were drawn in a rainbow of colors...To stick the landing, Nytra’s serene ending manages to be worthy of its glorious beginning. His cavalcade of dreamscapes is a rich and beguiling experience that deserves multiple immersions.
—Publishers Weekly (starred review)
Winsor McKay was a comics pioneer whose early experimentation with the form nearly predated the form itself. McKay’s spirit, along with his dream-inspired imagery, lives on through Nytra, whose remarkable debut taps into the same unearthly environment with a similarly enchanting effect. . . .The extraordinarily delicate and fine-lined art incorporates touches of manga aesthetic so that, like the story itself, it merges timeless narrative elements to craft something wonderfully innovative. TOON took a chance on a brand-new talent to create the first of their ever-so-slightly more mature graphic novel line and it’s paid off with a smashing success.
—Booklist (starred review)
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Top Customer Reviews
THE SECRET OF THE STONE FROG is written in a whimsical style that is strongly reminiscent of Lewis Carroll's ALICE IN WONDERLAND and THROUGH THE LOOKING GLASS. For instance, the female beekeeper bares and uncanny resemblance to the Queen of Hearts (just look at that giant head). The story is interesting enough and the beautifully rendered illustrations are sure to keep children entertained.
However, there are two major flaws with THE SECRET OF THE STONE FROG. The first is that it is so derivative of other children's stories, there is very little originality in the story itself. The situations and characters are different, yet they evoke memories of other stories you read as a child once upon a time. Derivation isn't a bad thing, but the excess amount of it in the story spoils what originality is found here.
The second major flaw is that neither Leah or Alan learn anything on their journey. For instance, in ALICE IN WONDERLAND, Alice came into her own and was able to stand against the Queen of Hearts and her soldiers. Nothing of the sort happens to Leah and Alan. In fact, just before the end of the siblings journey they find themselves running away from chaos they are partially responsible by not having listened to the instructions given them at the beginning of their journey. By the time the siblings come to the end of their journey, other than the apparent experiences they have shared, they are no different than when they began.
Overall, THE SECRET OF THE STONE FROG is a gorgeously illustrated children's graphic novel. The book will entertain young readers, but the extreme derivation smothers the original elements of the tale and the lack of any moral or character development prevents the book from being highly recommended.
In the dark of a gentle forest Leah and Alan wake to find themselves in their beds but very far from home. They immediately make the acquaintance of a helpful, if somewhat maniacal looking, stone frog who points them on the path home. Yet paths are meant to be strayed from and along their travels the kids meet everyone from well-to-do lions to giant rabbits to fish men to a bee woman. Getting home requires finding the frogs, but it also requires one to be smart and resourceful. Fortunately for Alan and Leah, they are precisely that.
TOON Books typically create easy reading graphic novels for the very young set. With Stone Frog they're branching a bit out of their comfort zone to draw in a slightly older set of readers. This is a book tapered towards the 2nd and 3rd graders of the world. You might not realize it at first, but it's a soft storyline. The threats posed by the stone frog's world are no more dangerous than Wonderland was to Alice (sans the Red Queen's penchant for dismemberment). Leah and Alan must face oversized fuzzy bees, angry architecture, and maybe the odd pickpocket (emphasis on the "odd"). Yet Nytra takes care to show that this is a pastoral world full of beauty. We often linger on a view of a wren on a branch or birds in the trees, and the general sense to the reader is that this is a fantasy world that they themselves might want to visit. Or, at the very least, nap in.
The words in the book are very simple and to the point, but here they have a distinct advantage over Little Nemo. If you've never read McCay's classic comic series, the newspaper comic concerned itself with the nightly dreams of a little boy in a nightshirt going on elaborate adventures until he woke up (either willingly or unwillingly). Visually the series had no equal, but when it came to wordplay McCay wasn't exactly the world's foremost linguist. Nytra, in contrast, is capable of giving Leah and Alan distinct and interesting personalities using just the sheerest minimum of words.
Speaking of personalities, can I indulge in a sentence or two concerning the dandy lions? I assume they are lions and not teddy bears as some reviewers have speculated, if only because the phrase "dandy lion" suits them far better than "dandy teddy bear". At one point Alan and Leah fall asleep in a cherry orchard after having eaten some of its fruits. They are discovered by George, James, and Charles, an elaborately costumed pride (the Library of Congress summary calls them "foppish") that are undoubtedly a reference to something specific that I am not quite getting (kings of England perhaps . . . but then why is Charles muffled in a scarf and mumbles all his words?). They are fairly adorable, even if one has the distinct feeling after meeting them that there is a LOT Nytra is packing in here that we're missing. For example, when the children mention that they've met the stone frog, George and Charles exchange this significant look that means something. But what? Basically all I would like at this point is for Mr. Nytra to write a sequel to this book that is all about the lions. Nothing else will appease me.
The age of the book's readers poses an interesting question in and of itself. You may have heard the general publishing wisdom that by and large the 21st century child reader will eschew any and all black and white comics in favor of their colored equivalents. Though this statement does not apply to all kids everywhere, I have noticed that significant swaths of them do prefer color. That's why you've been seeing clever publishers employ a strategic one-color strategy on books like Fangbone, Babymouse, and Lunch Lady. What I would like to know is when precisely this preference kicks in. My thinking is that enjoying color is a learned response and that if you get kids young enough then you'll be able to appeal to their sense of whimsy over their need for a color spectrum. The only danger in this case is that kids might see the sophisticated cover on this book (a cover that is the very definition of class) and think it's too old for them. It may take a bit of parental/teacher/librarian intervention to convince them otherwise.
Do they even make pen nibs as small as Nytra must require them to be? Or does he draw his subjects on enormous sheets of parchment paper then shrink them down to size in post? I don't know and the book isn't saying. However he does it, the results are magnificent. Alan and Leah in their nightclothes make for two perfectly white spaces on the otherwise crowded pages. In the final scene they run helter-skelter through a world where the very paving stones are in the process of turning into something reptilian. Yet with their clear-cut clothing and smart speech bubbles (making a good speech bubble is an art in and of itself) you never are in doubt as to their location. Then there are the details that fill the scenes. Look close enough at Nytra's subjects and you come to believe that this world of his has been built on the back of some other fallen civilization. Alan and Leah pick their way over crumbled stuccos and rotted columns of cities long since gone. Kid readers won't care (just as Alan and Leah don't) but for adult readers it's just another layer in an endlessly fascinating visual experience.
As I mentioned before, for all its fun and beauty, the trick to this book will be getting kids to start reading it in the first place. For the true graphic novel diehards this shouldn't be a challenge, and for emerging readers a simple nudge might be enough. It's those color-centric kids that will prove the hardest to engage. The ones who eschew The Arrival and even Raina Telgemeier's Baby-Sitters Club series for brighter fare. Get them interested and you'll have them proclaiming the greatness of the book to their friends free of charge. And honestly, this is truly a book worth discovering. Beautiful to the core.
For ages 7-12.