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Jonathan (Paul) London (1947-) - Sidelights

review froggy books children

Jonathan London is a poet-turned-children's book writer whose picture books reproduce the natural world for young readers. In books such as Gray Fox, The Eyes of Grey Wolf, Condor's Egg, Master Elk and the Mountain Lion, Crocodile: Disappearing Dragon, and many others, London tells fictionalized but unsentimental stories of animals in their natural habitats, tales of survival and the interconnection of all nature. In other picture books, especially the "Froggy" series, London's animals take on anthropomorphic and humorous traits. Humans figure in London's storybooks as well, with warm family stories such as The Sugaring-off Party, tales of adventure such as Old Salt, Young Salt and Hurricane!, and rhyming, playful, everyday enjoyments such as Like Butter on Pancakes, Puddles, and I See the Moon and the Moon Sees Me. London's love of jazzy rhyming schemes and his sense of humor have also led to books that feature the cadences of hip-hop and jazz, such as Hip Cat and The Candystore Man.Since embarking on his career as a children's writer in 1989, London has proven himself to be a prolific author, turning out several titles each year. In his first decade as a published writer he penned roughly fifty picture books as well as a juvenile novel, Where's Home?, and he has shown no signs of slowing. Critics have often praised his poet's eye and ear, lauding London's "spare, lyrical text," as Marianne Saccardi did in a School Library Journal review of The Owl Who Became the Moon. London's infectious humor has also been noted by many reviewers, particularly in his "Froggy" books, all illustrated by Frank Remkiewicz. The reader "will surely laugh out loud," commented a critic for Publishers Weekly in a review of Froggy Gets Dressed. A versatile and engaging writer for children, London blends bouncy, alliterative verse rhythms and clear, understated prose to create books for young children that make a difference.


Born in Brooklyn, New York, in 1947, London graduated from California's San Jose State University with an M.A. in 1970. His studies were in the social sciences, but it was poetry that captured his imagination. After graduation, London spent several years traveling around the world, encountering other cultures and ways of living. He began writing poetry, meanwhile earning a living in a variety of ways, from a day laborer to dancer and child counselor. With the birth of two sons after his second marriage, London returned to college to earn a teaching certificate, but soon he felt the draw of another creative impulse. Telling stories to his own young sons, London began to wonder if writing children's books might not be a viable option and a way to put his poetic voice to use.


The first children's book London wrote, The Owl Who Became the Moon, was actually his fourth book to be published, and was inspired by a bedtime fantasy he told his son Sean at age two. This tale about a young boy riding on a train at night who watches and listens to the animals in their wilderness homes was told in verse and announced an abiding interest in nature that many of London's books portray in one way or another. "With spare elegance, London celebrates both the beauty of nighttime—and the power of the train," noted a reviewer for Publishers Weekly.

The "Froggy" stories had their inspiration in the demand of London's other son, Aaron, for a tale. "The image of a frog dressing in winter clothes so he can play in the snow struck my funny bone," the author once told Something about the Author (SATA), "and my kids' funny bones, too!" In Froggy Gets Dressed, Froggy wakes up one morning to discover a snow-filled world. Jumping out of bed to go frolic, he is summoned back by his mother to put on some warm clothes. London uses sound effects such as "zoop," "zup," and "zip" for the action of putting on various articles of clothing. Ultimately the poor frog is embarrassed in front of his playmates when his mother yells to tell him he has forgotten his underwear. A reviewer for the Horn Book Guide noted that the text "has many wonderful sound effects" as well as "plenty of repetition to enhance the silliness of the story."


London serves up more Froggy action in his further adventures of the rambunctious amphibian. Froggy and his father go for a bike trip in Let's Go, Froggy!, in which "humor, delightful sound effects, and bright, enthusiastic illustrations make the book appealing," according to a Horn Book contributor. The frog takes to water in Froggy Learns to Swim and overcomes nervousness to finally enjoy his first day of school in Froggy Goes to School. Booklist's Hazel Rochman concluded that "children will laugh at [Froggy's] innocence and sympathize with his jitters," in this schooldays tale. Froggy becomes the Frog Prince in Froggy's Halloween, only to be chased by Princess Frogolina, who wants to plant a kiss on his cheek. Then, in Froggy's First Kiss, Valentine's Day provides Froggy and Frogolina the perfect venue for amphibious amours. Froggy has some trouble preparing for his doctor's visit in Froggy Goes to the Doctor; he forgets to put on underwear and to brush his teeth—much to the doctor's displeasure when she looks in his mouth and gets a whiff of his breath. And that's not the end of poor Dr. Mugwort's torments with Froggy: he also shouts into her stethoscope and kicks her in the face when she tests his reflexes. London has even had his frog take to the football field in Froggy Plays Soccer, another hilarious romp with Froggy and friends.


More animals with seeming human traits appear in Liplap's Wish, What Newt Could Do for Turtle, Hip Cat, and Count the Ways, Little Brown Bear. The first title is a "wonderful, sensitive story about children's feelings of sadness and loss after the death of a loved one," according to Martha Gordon in School Library Journal. London employs a young rabbit named Liplap who has lost his grandmother and finds little solace in busying himself in building a snowman. "This sympathetic book will help comfort generations of grieving children," Gordon concluded. Friendship and sharing are explored in What Newt Could Do for Turtle, a "delightful" story, according to a critic in Kirkus Reviews. A cat of very different stripes is presented in the be-bopping Hip Cat, about the ultimately cool feline Oobie-do John who goes to San Francisco to become a famous sax-playing jazzcat. "Playful and optimistic, this story of dreams—and persistence rewarded—is the cool cat's meow," according to a Publishers Weekly reviewer.

Count the Ways, Little Brown Bear features a mama and baby bear spending a lazy day together, playing games, reading books, and picking apples. Through it all, the baby bear demands to know how much his mother loves him. She replies with reference to things around them, such as "I love you more than you love two green apples plus two red apples." However, until the end of the book, when she declares that she loves him "more than all the stars in the sky," the little brown bear always declares that it is "not enough." The "text is sweet and succinct," commented a Publishers Weekly contributor, but it also helps young children to learn about counting, addition, and subtraction.

Animals in their natural habitats are depicted in a bevy of books by London detailing life in the wild. Booklist's Emily Melton, in a review of Gray Fox, noted that the "beauty and the cruelty of nature, the dangers posed to wild animals by humans, the invincibility of the animal spirit, and the reassuring cycle of life and death are all part of this book about Gray Fox." A similar title, The Eyes of Gray Wolf, brought praise from the reviewer for Publishers Weekly who noted that "words pour out, as fierce as the arctic cold or as luminous as the yellow moon" in this tale of the leader of a wolf pack who has lost his mate.

In Voices of the Wild, a dozen different animals describe—in first person—their wariness of a lone kayaker breaching their northern habitat. Kirkus Reviews called this a "quietly lyrical book that effectively evokes the experience of observing these wilderness creatures with respect, and without disturbing them." In Condor's Egg, London "gives eloquent testament to the first pair of California condors to return to the wild since 1987," according to Publishers Weekly. Susan Dove Lempke, reviewing Condor's Egg in Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, observed that London "does not romanticize the birds, which are after all vultures, but they are individuated and majestic-looking in flight. . . . The text is spare but poetically evokes the lives of the condors in the wild."

London looks at the life cycle of an elk in Master Elk and the Mountain Lion, in which a young calf grows to become a strong bull and defeats the leader or master of the herd, then defends the herd against an old enemy, the mountain lion. Janice Del Negro noted in a Booklist review that the elk's life was "effectively narrated and evocatively described." The life of a grizzly bear is narrated in Honey Paw and Lightfoot, a "combination of fun and learning" that makes an "eloquent" if "implicit plea for wilderness preservation," according to Booklist's Mary Harris Veeder. Another such plea for preservation comes in Red Wolf Country, a "spare and lyrical story" according to Susan S. Verner in Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, which takes the reader through a year in the life of a pair of this endangered species, native to the southeastern United States. Mustang Canyon follows a newborn mustang colt, whom London calls "Little Pinto," as he and his herd of wild horses attempt to survive such challenges as strange stallions, low-flying planes, and river rapids. "The words are spare, immediate, and informative," Gillian Engberg wrote in Booklist, and the book is "a must for cowboy wannabes." Plus, commented a Kirkus Reviews contributor, "Young readers should not miss the sense of community and family these 'wild' horses must have to survive in their harsh but beautiful land."

A change of pace for London is the 1995 juvenile novel Where's Home, the story of a Detroit teenager and his father who go to San Francisco and there become homeless. Abandoned by a mentally ill mother, young Aaron is left to sort things out when his father takes to the bottle and loses his job. The pair hitchhike their way west only to be arrested on charges of vagrancy in San Francisco. Out of jail and in a shelter, Aaron and his father begin to learn lessons from the other people gathered there. Reviewing the novel in School Library Journal, Cindy Darling Codell called the work "lyrical, yet also spare," and noted that it "threads together incidents of love and loss, fire and friendship, and symbolism."

Turning his attention and his lyrical voice to human subjects, London has created a batch of heartwarming and humorous tales for young children that speak of everything from family relations to ethnic differences in tales that teach without being didactic. In The Sugaring-off Party, London presents nothing less than the history of a French-Canadian family as condensed in the vital moment of sugaring-off in the maple syrup process. "London's evocative text perfectly re-creates the thrill and excitement of this coming-of-spring ritual," observed Ann W. Moore in School Library Journal. I See the Moon and the Moon Sees Me is a "charmingly adapted nursery favorite," according to Kirkus Reviews, while Like Butter on Pancakes and Puddles both celebrate the simple things in life for a little boy, using onomatopoeic phrasing to tickle little funny bones. "London catalogues a glorious array of the delights of muddy weather," commented School Library Journal's Marcia Hupp in reviewing Puddles. More singing rhymes fill the pages of The Candystore Man, a be-bop picture book reminiscent of London's Hip Cat. In this tale, the man behind the soda fountain serves up "ice cream and candy with flair," according to Adele Greenlee in School Library Journal.

Narrative tales are recounted in such books as Ali, Child of the Desert, Hurricane!, At the Edge of the Forest, Moshi Moshi, What the Animals Were Waiting For, and The Waterfall. Saharan cultures are examined in the first title, in which young Ali experiences a rite of passage when a sandstorm separates him from his father on their way to a market. "The theme of a young boy proving himself to his father and achieving manhood is a universal one," noted Janice Del Negro in the Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, "and this strongly plotted title communicates that theme quite successfully." Another storm figures in Hurricane!, which recounts an incident from the author's childhood, while At the Edge of the Forest tells the story of a sheep farmer's son and a battle with coyotes. "London knows just how to kindle the audience's concern and stoke his drama," commented a reviewer for Publishers Weekly on this title. "Author and artist soften a harsh reality without blunting it."

London returns to Africa for What the Animals Were Waiting For. A Masai boy named Tepi is waiting, too, although he does not know for what. As he herds his family's livestock, he watches the local wildlife, including giraffes, elephants, and zebras. They all seem to be waiting for something, but every time he asks his grandmother what that something might be, she tells him that he will see eventually. Then a storm comes, ending the dry season—also called the Months of Hunger—and Tepi sees, as the animals all stampede off into the rain and his neighbors go out and dance in celebration as well. This "poetic telling of how nature's cycle affects animals and humans is well structured and emotionally resonant," Margaret Bush wrote in School Library Journal. Booklist's Carolyn Phelan also commented on London's poetic voice: "Rhythmic with repeated phrases and studded with sensory details, London's telling is simple yet vivid," she declared.

In Moshi Moshi, an "exuberant picture book," according to Grace Anne A. DeCandido in Booklist, an American boy reluctantly joins his older brother on a visit to Japan. By the end of the summer, reluctance has changed to enthusiasm. Brothers again figure in The Waterfall, when siblings and their parents set off on a camping trip up a creek. Eventually they navigate a tricky bit of terrain up the side of a steep waterfall. A contributor to Kirkus Reviews called this book a "poetic appreciation of the beauty of nature and respect for its awesome forces."


Sun Dance Water Dance and When the Fireflies Come particularly showcase London's background as a poet. Both books celebrate old-fashioned children's summers, the former with a poem about a trip to go swimming in a river on a hot summer day, the latter with a prose tale about ice cream, baseball, and of course fireflies. But even When the Fireflies Come has more than a hint of poetry in it. A Kirkus Reviews contributor described London's prose in that book as "image-rich [and] impressionistic," while a Publishers Weekly critic noted that it "appeals to all five senses."


In all of his books, London blends his poetic voice with concerns about nature and how we are connected with it. In his career this children's author has created a body of work that entertains as it teaches. But for London, such an achievement is as natural as a walk in the woods. As he once explained to SATA: "This act of writing, for me, is a part of my celebration of life, a way to give back a little for all that I have been given."

Biographical and Critical Sources

BOOKS

London, Jonathan, Count the Ways, Little Brown Bear, Dutton (New York, NY), 2002.

London, Jonathan, Froggy Gets Dressed, Viking (New York, NY), 1992.

London, Jonathan, Tell Me a Story (autobiography), photographs by Sherry Shahan, Richard C. Owens (New York, NY), 1998.


PERIODICALS

Booklist, March 1, 1992, Karen Hutt, review of Thirteen Moons on Turtle's Back: A Native American Year of Moons, p. 1281; January 15, 1993, Kay Weisman, review of The Owl Who Became the Moon, p. 922, Emily Melton, review of Gray Fox, p. 922; January 15, 1993, Emily Melton, review of Gray Fox, p. 922; November 1, 1993, Janice Del Negro, review of Voices of the Wild, p. 523; March 15, 1995, Mary Harris Veeder, review of Honey Paw and Lightfoot, p. 1335; April 1, 1995, Janice Del Negro, review of Like Butter on Pancakes, p. 1428; December 15, 1995, Janice Del Negro, review of Master Elk and the Mountain Lion, p. 709; January 1, 1996, Hazel Rochman, review of Red Wolf Country, p. 847; June 1, 1996, Hazel Rochman, review of Froggy Goes to School, p. 1735; July, 1996, Kay Weisman, review of Jackrabbit, p. 1830; November 1, 1998, GraceAnne A. DeCandido, review of Moshi Moshi; April 15, 2000, Stephanie Zvirin, review of Shawn and Keeper Show-and-Tell, p. 1555; January 1, 2001, Ellen Mandel, review of Panther: Shadow of the Swamp, p. 963, Carolyn Phelan, review of Gone Again Ptarmigan, p. 963; June 1, 2001, Gillian Engberg, reviews of White Water and Froggy Eats Out, p. 1892; December 1, 2001, Carolyn Phelan, review of Crocodile: Disappearing Dragon, p. 646; May 15, 2002, Carolyn Phelan, review of What the Animals Were Waiting For, p. 1602; August 1, 2002, review of Mustang Canyon, p. 1136; December 1, 2002, Gillian Engberg, review of Mustang Canyon, p. 675; January 1, 2003, Catherine Andronik, review of Froggy Goes to the Doctor, p. 908.

Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, February, 1993, review of The Owl Who Became the Moon, p. 183; October, 1994, Susan Dove Lempke, review of Condor's Egg, p. 55; June, 1996, Susan S. Verner, review of Red Wolf Country, p. 344; February, 1997, review of What Newt Could Do for Turtle, p. 213; June, 1997, Janice Del Negro, review of Ali, Child of the Desert, p. 365.

Five Owls, January-February, 1993, review of Froggy Gets Dressed, p. 59; September-October, 1994, review of Liplap's Wish, p. 10.

Horn Book, spring, 1993, review of Froggy Gets Dressed, p. 37; fall, 1994, review of Let's Go, Froggy!, p. 280.

Kirkus Reviews, January 15, 1992; April 1, 1993, p. 460; October 1, 1993, review of Voices of the Wild, p. 1276; December 1, 1995, review of I See the Moon and the Moon Sees Me, p. 1704; June 15, 1995, pp. 858-59; November 15, 1996, review of What Newt Could Do for Turtle, p. 1671; April 15, 1997, p. 643; April 1, 1998, p. 497; February 1, 1999, review of The Waterfall; November 15, 2001, review of Count the Ways, Little Brown Bear, p. 1613; August 1, 2002, review of Froggy Goes to the Doctor, p. 1135; May 1, 2003, review of When the Fireflies Come, p. 679.

Publishers Weekly, August 3, 1992, review of Froggy Gets Dressed, p. 70; December 28, 1992, review of The Owl Who Became the Moon; August 16, 1993, review of The Eyes of Gray Wolf, p. 102; October 3, 1994, review of Condor's Egg, p. 68; August 16, 1993, review of Hip Cat, p. 102; July 20, 1998, review of The Candystore Man, p. 219; August 17, 1998, review of At the Edge of the Forest, p. 72; November 19, 2001, review of Count the Ways, Little Brown Bear, p. 66; June 11, 2001, reviews of Sun Dance Water Dance and White Water, p. 85; June 24, 2002, review of Froggy Goes to the Doctor, p. 59; April 28, 2003, review of When the Fireflies Come, p. 69; November 10, 2003, review of "Eat!" Cried Little Pig, p. 60; January 5, 2004, review of Giving Thanks, p. 60.

Quill and Quire, March, 1995, review of The Sugaring-off Party, p. 78; June, 1998, review of Dream Weaver, p. 58.

School Library Journal, February, 1993, Marianne Saccardi, review of The Owl Who Became the Moon, p. 76; August, 1993, Carolyn Polese, review of Fire Race: A Karuk Coyote Tale, p. 159; November, 1994, Martha Gordon, review of Liplap's Wish, p. 84; January, 1995, Ann W. Moore, review of The Sugaring-off Party, p. 89; August, 1995, Cindy Darling Codell, review of Where's Home, pp. 154-155; March, 1996, Joy Fleishhacker, review of Red Wolf Country, p. 178; June, 1996, Judith Constantinides, review of Fireflies, Fireflies Light My Way, p. 104; May, 1997, Marcia Hupp, review of Puddles, p. 104; July, 1998, Margaret Bush, review of Dream Weaver, pp. 78-79; October, 1998, Adele Greenlee, review of The Candystore Man, p. 107; June, 1999, Gale W. Sherman, review of Wiggle, Waggle, p. 100; May, 2000, Susan M. Moore, review of Snuggle Wuggle, p. 148; June, 2000, Elizabeth O'Brien, review of Froggy Goes to Bed, p. 119; September, 2000, Maura Bresnahan, review of Shawn and Keeper Show-and-Tell, p. 204; October, 2000, review of Froggy's Best Christmas, p. 61; December, 2000, Susan Hepler, review of What Do You Love?, p. 114; January, 2001, Arwen Marshall, review of Panther, p. 119; April, 2001, Meghan R. Malone, review of Crunch Munch, p. 117; May, 2001, Robin L. Gibson, review of Park Beat: Rhymin' through the Seasons, and Sue Sherif, review of Gone Again Ptarmigan, p. 128; June, 2001, Diane Olivo-Posner, review of White Water, p. 125; July, 2001, Lisa Dennis, review of Sun Dance Water Dance, p. 85; November, 2001, Cathie E. Bashaw, review of Crocodile, p. 129; April, 2002, Gay Lynn Van Vleck, review of Count the Ways, Little Brown Blair, p. 116; May, 2002, Margaret Bush, review of What the Animals Were Waiting For, p. 121; September, 2002, Shawn Brommer, review of Loon Lake, pp. 199-200; August, 2003, Ruth Semrau, review of Mustang Canyon, p. 138; December, 2003, Linda M. Kenton, review of "Eat!" Cried Little Pig, p. 119, Andrea Tarr, review of Froggy's Baby Sister, p. 119; January, 2004, Maryann H. Owen, review of Giving Thanks, p. 100; June, 2004, Holly T. Sneeringer, review of Froggy's Day with Dad, p. 114.

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Jonathan (Paul) London (1947-) - Sidelights