Frog is Sad

4th February 2005 at 00:00
Frog is Sad, in the 12th picture book about the amphibian in the stripy shorts. And so are we, as the death of Frog's creator, Max Velthuijs, at 81 means there will be no more Frog - wise, dignified, compassionate, vulnerable, scared and impulsive by turns - to act out the dramas of small children's lives with his friends Duck, Pig, Rat and Hare.

In my past decade of footslogging around the Bologna Book Fair, a recurring high point has been a sneak preview of the next Frog book at the Andersen Press stand, and some years the chance to meet Velthuijs, too. The Dutch former graphic designer had a significant following for his picture books in Europe (he received a Hans Christian Andersen award for lifetime achievement in illustration), but was barely known to UK readers until Andersen Press published Frog in Love in 1989.

Now Frog is nearly 15, and as familiar as Elmer and Little Bear. The small community of creatures confront all life's challenges: death (Frog and the Birdsong), accepting difference (Frog and the Stranger), getting lost (Frog in Winter) and, in the final book, being overcome by sadness.

As TES reviewer Jane Doonan wrote in 1998 on Frog and the Wide World: "Each picture is a beautifully simple model of communication; the sequence is a simply beautiful small work of art." And, read in sequence, the books are also a beautiful larger work of art: in Frog and the Wide World, it's Rat, the "stranger" of the earlier book, who is brave and resourceful enough to lead Frog on an adventure. The adventure is over for Velthuijs but still in waiting for his next generation of readers.

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