Mouse wants to tell a simple, gentle story, but Frog bounces in and stirs it up.
With metafiction crowding picture-book shelves these days, each new piece needs to earn its place, and this one does. On the opening endpapers, Mouse stands on a ladder painting the page’s off-white, textured drawing paper a smooth, glossy white. “Once upon a time,” Mouse begins, sketching in pencil, “Mouse woke up early and set the table…”—“For F-r-r-o-o-g-g!” yells Frog in large type, leaping jubilantly onto the page from above. The conflict’s set: Mouse wants to tell—and draw—a calm, domestic story about tea, while Frog wants a king, a dragon and “elevendy-seven” flavors of ice cream. He bundles these elements and more into a breathless stream-of-consciousness plot with tumbling highlights from nursery rhymes, children’s literature (stinky cheese, chicken soup, a bus-driving request) and breakfast cereal (or perhaps Elvis: “frankooberry mush”). Mouse screams “STOP!” amid an explosion of narrative images. Freedman renders Mouse, Frog, bits from their stories and most of the ensuing mess in watercolor, gouache, pencil and pastel; the stories under construction are largely dark gray pencil. The conflict’s crescendo is a visual whirlwind, the penciled king and dragon crashing and splashing down into watery paint alongside Frog and Mouse. Luckily, Frog finds the pencil’s eraser, and the pals find a sunny compromise.
An elegant, exuberant portrayal of stylistic differences and child-writer passion. (Picture book. 4-8)