The Frog Days of Summer
lessons learned from our happy, hoppy friends
Frogs have hopped through many aspects of my life.
We recently took my 3-year-old grandson, Harris; his 8-month-old sister, Ruth; and their father, Kirk, to hike the nature trail at Lake Wissota State Park. The approximately-one-mile-trail itself was no challenge for Harris, who virtually skipped through the pine forest/wetland loop. At one point, he said, “I like hiking with you guys,” to which his father replied, “Remember that when you’re 17.” The highlight of this walk was finding a small pond full of tadpoles and frogs. Harris and his grandfather, of course, were captivated by the dozens of black dots with tails silently swimming back and forth while their older tailless counterparts noisily splashed to get away from us.
I’m personally fond of frogs. There are a lot of aspects of nature I am squeamish about – snakes, spiders, millipedes – but not frogs. ... I never hesitated grabbing their blobby bodies and walking around with two or three of them at once. I would never do that with a snake.
I’m personally fond of frogs. There are a lot of aspects of nature I am squeamish about – snakes, spiders, millipedes – but not frogs. My father was a junior high school science teacher and we regularly went to wetlands with our nets and buckets to supply his classroom aquariums and terrariums. I never hesitated grabbing their blobby bodies and walking around with two or three of them at once. I would never do that with a snake.
When I was a children’s librarian, I shared my appreciation of frogs with kids in a variety of ways. I read picture books like Froggy Gets Dressed by Jonathan London. I sang songs with kids like “Five Little Speckled Frogs” and “The Little Green Frog (Gat-goon).” I even wrote a poem called “The Froggy Choir,” inviting kids to make a great variety of frog noises: “Croak,” “Peep,” and “Knee-deep.” And if you want to make kids laugh, tell them the story of “The Wide-Mouthed Frog.” You can find versions of it on YouTube. Try it. Guaranteed to make kids laugh.
My favorite frog story to share with kids is an Aesop fable about a frog that brags he can get as big as an ox. He puffs up so big that he blows up. The moral of this story is “self-conceit can lead to destruction.” I tell my version of “The Explodin’ Frog” with a balloon. I blow up the balloon bit by bit while telling the story. At the very end, I hold the balloon away from my face, pinch it and it gives off a loud bang as pieces fly in the air to the screaming delight of my young audience.
Way back in the 1990s, I was hired by the Darien (Wis.) Public Library to tell stories. I walked in and met the librarian. Her name was Marian. Marian, the librarian in Darien. True story. I said I was her storyteller and she pointed to the attic where the children’s books were housed. I got up there and waited for my audience. Pretty soon a boy about 9 or 10 years old sat down by my feet. Next, two young women with three little girls sat down. That turned out to be my total audience. I thought, in all my youthful wisdom, “I’ll start things off with a bang and tell my ‘Explodin’ Frog’ story.” I blew up the balloon, popped it, and the next sound I heard was crying. The two women picked up the three girls and left. I was left with the young boy. He listened quietly to another story and then left. Not my finest hour as a children’s performer.
Skip ahead a decade. I had written a book titled Something Funny Happened at the Library containing lots of hints for librarians to use humor to hook young people into books. I was doing a workshop on that topic down in Burlington, down the road from Darien. I started off telling them I was glad to be there and that I had a little story about what happened to me a few years ago in Darien. When I was finished talking about my “Explodin’ Frog” fiasco, a woman in the back yelled, “That was my son!” I was caught off guard and spluttered, “How old is he now?” She shouted back, “Twenty-one. He never went back to the library after that!”
I’m still dealing with frogs today. As I type this column, my wife and I are watching my two oldest grandsons while their parents are in Chicago. I told 7-year-old Parker and 4-year-old Wesley that we are going to visit Lake Wissota State Park. It has a nature trail, a beach, and a playground. They looked back at me with little enthusiasm ... until I mentioned the pond full of tadpoles and frogs.