The Secret of the Stone Frog
Author: David Nytra
Publisher: TOON Books
This fey little “toon graphic novel” (80 pages) is reminiscent of Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and McCay’s Little Nemo in Slumberland, but it has its own dreamlike-nightmarish charm. Leah and her little brother Alan, in Victorian/Edwardian nightgowns, wake up at the foot of a giant tree in a strange, vast forest. A statue of a stone frog advises them, “If it’s a way home you’re looking for, It’s right behind me. Look no more.” The children are warned to stay on the path, but of course they are lured off by marvels that are more frightening than they at first seem.
A formal garden whose large flowers are abuzz with giant honeybees is watched over by a woman with a huge head, who invites Leah and Alan home for tea and cookies. But “her pretties”, the bees, try to steal the childrens’ word balloons. The children escape into another garden where three foppish lions dressed as Georgian dandies (one with an early 1790s collar and cravat so high that his speech is reduced to mumbles), give them horse-sized rabbits to ride to continue their journey. The rabbits take them to the entrance of a forest cavern that leads down to a subway train whose passengers are deep-sea fish dressed as Victorian-era businessmen. Leah and Alan emerge into the midst of a mid-19th-century city that becomes more and more nightmarish until the children, fleeing, encounter a stone frog fountain who shows them the way home.
The Secret of the Stone Frog is for all ages by its surrealistic dreamlike subject matter, but its physical format is a delightful 6” x 9” thin hardcover book for young readers. It is in comic-book format throughout, with elaborate backgrounds in fine-lined crowquill pen work in India ink on artboard. TOON Books is an imprint of Candlewick Press, which specializes in books for children. This is a highly imaginative story in the graphic novel format.