One night Alan and Leah wake up to discover their beds have been transported to the deep forest. While Leah, the older sibling, is skeptical that what they are experiencing is real, Alan, the younger sibling, is entranced. They immediately encounter a stone frog who advises them, “If you seek your way home, Just ask the frogs made of stone,” and also to, “Stay on the path.” Of course, the children disregard this last advice almost immediately. Along the way they encounter a gardener who keeps bees almost as large as Alan, they snack on cherries as large as their heads, and get a ride on giant rabbits.
Nytra’s flights of fancy in this story make me think of a parent trying to answer their child’s question, “And then what happened?” And Nytra answering, “Then they found a subway station under the forest and took a ride.” Because how else would you think of that?
One of the reasons this book is so captivating is the art work. All the illustrations are black and white line drawings, but done with incredible clarity and detail. Each leaf in the forest is represented, all the bark is finished, each scale on a fish, etc. The drawings pull you into the world and make it come alive. While there are some clear references to other works that influenced Nytra’s art, such as the overly large-headed people similar to Miyazaki’s in the film Spirited Away, Nytra’s work is all his own.
He is particularly good at conveying the characteristics of the children without words. When Alan tries to jump over a puddle and misses, he gets his foot muddy. When he jumps back over the puddle, the same thing happens. “Did you get your foot muddy again?” asks Leah. “With the other foot this time!” Alan says proudly and confidently, thrusting his chest and foot out and balancing perfectly. It’s all conveyed in the body language.
While this book is written for younger children, it is complex enough that older children will enjoy it just as much.
The Secret of the Stone Frog
by David Nytra
Toon Books, 2012
Publisher Age Rating: Age 8 and up