Monday, April 16, 2012

Counting Down to Earth Day: Day 7

The Hop
By Sharelle Byars Moranville
Illustrated by Niki Daly
Disney-Hyperion, 2012
$16.99, ages 8 and up, 288 pages

A monster with teeth on its feet is rolling into Toadville-by-Tumbledown and unless a young hopper is brave and bold, the village and every toad in it will buried under a strip mall.

In this enchanting environmental novel, Tad (a toad with second-sight) and Taylor (a girl who loves nature) find themselves on a fairy tale quest to save a meadow from development.

Though Tad doesn't yet know it, Taylor is a kindred spirit. Her grandmother lives at the edge of the meadow he calls Toadville -- near a tumbledown shed -- and Taylor's been heartsick about losing the area.

The monster is poised by the grasslands and a pond nearby -- Taylor's swimming hole since she was little, her "kingdom," as she calls it, -- and though her grandmother is like-minded, she isn't well enough to help Taylor fight the project.

As the story begins, all of Toadville has emerged from the mud of winter's sleep and gathered for "First Night," a celebration of renewal. Usually the event is life-affirming. Toads snack on night-smacky-goo (slugs stuffed with creamed honeysuckle) and dance on their diggers.

But this year, Toadville's blind prophet, old Seer, has frightening news. He's dreamed that the monster, Rumbler, will soon rip up their home and cover it with sludgy, gray stuff (concrete), and the cycle of life for toads will end: Mother Earth will be turned under and Father Pond will be buried.

Bleak, it seems, but not if Seer can help it. He's just learned that Tad has had prophetic dreams too -- about the monster and a queen of something called, "The Hop." Tad, he realizes, is the chosen one -- his successor -- and as such, it is Tad who will have to deliver Toadville from Rumbler.

But to do that, Tad will have to kiss a human, the queen he dreamed about, on the mouth -- no matter how gross that sounds to him.

If only Tad felt more heroic -- and was quick on his feet. Why would Mother Earth and Father Pond select him of all young hoppers to be a seer -- he, who lingered as a tadpole longer than any other hopper? Can a slow poke like him really be up for such a quest?

Whether or not Tad is up to the task, he has try. And so, with his close toady friend Buurk at his side, Tad sets off at first light to find the queen of The Hop. He's told that preying mantises will help point the way to her and a shining word, "Reno."

But it doesn't take long for trouble to find Tad and Buurk. As they pass into a new land, Toadville-by-Birdbath, an evil snow rains down and tragedy strikes. Now Tad must take his boldest step yet and leap into a roaring stinky thing headed for the desert.

Will he ever find his queen so far from Toadville? Perhaps, but first he's going to have to do things no toad as done before: take a ride in a dinner salad and lock hands with a dancer named, "Peggy Sue."

This charming twist on the Grimm classic, "The Frog Prince," gently promotes conservation, and an empathy for wild creatures and how they are affected by the choices we make.

Moranville endears with quaint details, vivid descriptions and a toady reverence for all life. The toads honor not only toads who've been eaten, but the creatures toads have eaten and the creatures who've eaten the toads.

She humanizes these toads, and with such humor and sensitivity (imagining both their joys and fears) that readers may never look at toads the same again -- or humans.

To these toads, warts as things of beauty and humans are the ones who are odd-looking. And their vehicles? Stinky, noisy things and earth-eating monsters that destroy things.

I love how Moranville turns the tables and shows that being human isn't necessarily the most extraordinary thing to be.

At one point, Tad transforms into a human after kissing his princess (a premise that could easily have felt cliche but here it's sweet and magical). Yet he only longs to be a toad again -- to zot moths and feel mud under his belly.

This is a book that fills the spirit, and makes readers want to head out the door and show the world that even the smallest lives are worth protecting.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you so much for taking the time to read and write about THE HOP!