The Secret of the Stone Frog, by David Nytra (Toon Books, September 11, 2012, 79 pages), is the first Toon graphic novel. The premise of Toon, for those who aren't familiar with this great line of easy readers, is to combine comic book/graphic novel style illustrations with easy to read stories. It's a wonderful idea, that resulted in some truly child-friendly books with appeal to reluctant readers and more confident ones alike.
With The Secret of the Stone Frog, Toon is moving up in age. This is a more sophisticated story than the earlier books (both word-wise and picture-wise), and it's in black and white. It's also a little scary. It tells the story of two children, Leah and Alan, who wake one night to find themselves in an enchanted forest, their beds nestled among the roots of an enormous tree. But the stone frog they meet reassure them that there is, in fact, a path home...but they must stay on it. Being children in a fantasy world, it's only to be expected that they don't. And soon they are in danger from a sinister women and her flock of enormous bees...(Ack! The woman's head is horribly, disproportionately large!)
But all is not lost. There are more stone frogs (or perhaps the same one, reappearing), and not all inhabitants of this strange land are hostile. For instance, giant rabbits give rides to the children for part of their journey, which is fun! However, the peaceful rabbit leaping doesn't last long, and the last two adventures--a train ride with passengers who look like deep sea creatures/monsters, and a turn of the century-like city of nightmarishness--were too much for my easily alarmed young mind.
So this is one that will appeal most to readers able to appreciate the somewhat dark surreal, and so I'd hesitate to give this to a younger child. The seven, eight or nine year old, though, who is busy drawing his or her own surreal pictures of dark imaginings (my own is fixated on zombie teddy bears engaged in brutal conflicts right now) might well appreciate it, especially if they are the sort to enjoy patiently exploring detailed illustrations (the flip side of which is that those who look at it and immediately want color won't make it through the book). It's not book candy for the reluctant, easily distracted reader (it's more like, perhaps, sushi for the young book gourmand), but I think that there will be child readers who will be utterly fascinated. And it has lots of cross-over, grown-up appeal too (especially for grown ups who don't want to run and hide from disproportionately large heads and scary cities).
Though the lack of color might off-put some readers. The drawings, with their intricate, fine-lined detail, are things of beauty. Anyone looking for inspiration on how to draw with pencils should study this book.
Waking Brain Cells, Fuse #8, and books4yourkids
Disclaimer: review copy received from the publisher