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Tadpole's Promise

By Jeanne Willis & Tony Ross

Story: A tadpole and a caterpillar meet at the surface of the water and fall in love. They promise each other that they will never change.

This goes very, very badly...

Age: 4-6 years. The ending might be lost on younger children or possibly disturb them. Older children will be put off by thinking the book looks like it's for toddlers. (Eight-year-olds might actually get the most from it, though. Try to have them loitering around while you read to a younger sibling).

Length: Under five minutes.

Comments: There are far too many children's books involving fluffy animals, predictable outcomes and happy endings. There simply aren't enough black comedies. Tadpole's Promise goes some way to redressing the balance.

Sproglette picked this off a shelf in the library and I read it to her, expecting a twee and tiresome story about friendship, all dressed up with cute creatures. As we progressed, it became quickly apparent we were going somewhere darker. Nevertheless, I found the ending shocking, funny and true.

This book strikes me as exceptional in the same way as The Gruffalo, Mister Magnolia and The Father who had 10 Children. Unlike those, it's not going to appeal to everyone, however. Tadpole's Promise is entertaining and clever but also sad and brutal. It's not a pleasant, feel-good story. Hunt it out in your local library but don't buy it as a gift for the next random birthday party your child gets invited to. They might not get invited back next year...

Conclusion: A tragedy about the life-cycle of frogs and butterflies, the ugliness of nature and the importance of not making promises you can't keep. More educational and thought-provoking than entire shelves of books about happy bunnies.

Rating: 4/5.

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