So I'm sitting in the kiss & ride line with my kindergartner, waiting for her older sister to come out of school, and we are reading a bunch of new books that I checked out of the library. She looks through the stack and chooses one called Tadpole's Promise. It looks cute - and she is delighted by the way the book opens vertically, instead of horizontally, like a wall calendar.
The story is about a tadpole and a caterpillar who fall in love. Cute, right? The caterpillar has colorful stripes, and the tadpole calls her his beautiful rainbow. The tadpole is shiny, black and round, and the caterpillar calls him her sniny black pearl. She asks the tadpole to promise never to change, and he foolishly promises not to, only to anger her as each of his legs appear, and his tail disappears. She goes off in a huff and turn into a chrysalis, and when she emerges, everything has changed. So she decides to forgive the tadpole, but she can't find him. She flies down to ask a frog (aka her beloved tadpole) on a lily pad if he's seen the tadpole, and GULP! He eats her. Then he sits there wondering what happened to his beautiful rainbow - and he'll never know.
Yes, to an adult reader, that is pretty funny. I went over to Amazon to see the reviews, and on the whole people loved it - all the adults, that is. It's a great book to give someone who's getting over a break-up, people write. I'm sure it is.
When I turned the page to the quite graphic illustration of the frog swallowing the butterfly, her wings sticking out of his closed mouth, I quickly closed the book as my daughter began to wail. Her face crumpled up, and she cried, "Mommy! I don't like this book! This is a terrible story!" I felt awful that I hadn't flipped through it before reading it to her, but it seemed so cute and innocuous. The book itself proclaims it is for readers 4 - 8. Honestly, I would love to send that author on a promotional tour of preschools where she could do readings and take the fallout.
Not that all books for children need to have happy endings. We read a lot of books together, and I don't screen them for happy endings or anything like that. But this one? What is the point of that? Don't date outside your social circle, race, culture? It seems pointlessly cruel, and unlike other books with unhappy endings or elements, there wasn't anything I could hold onto to try to explain it to her, to help her make sense of it in any meaningful way.
This happened on Thursday, three days ago, and she is still upset about it. I don't understand the need for a story like that. Not for such young children, at any rate. Hmph.
Tadpole's Promise by Jeanne Willis, illustrated by Tony Ross (Atheneum, 2005)