CM . . .
. Volume XV Number 5. . . .October 24, 2008
So begins the story included in Peter Simon's Once Upon a Pond. It's a 45 sentence story telling of the human destruction and subsequent renewal of the pond in which Frog lived with her friends Butterfly, Turtle, Fish and Dragonfly.
Simon's story reminds me of Bill Peet's Farewell to Shady Glade, published by Houghton Mifflin Company in 1966. In both cases, it is the encroachment of humans on a wetland habitat that causes the animal inhabitants to flee. In Peet's story, the 16 animals that lived in Shady Glade travel on top of a passenger train to a distant location "almost exactly like Shady Glade" where they resettle. Simon, in contrast, has the newly arrived homeowners adjacent to a pond replace the diverse plant life with green lawns, an action which causes Frog and friends "to leave and look for another pond." On page 19, we are shown Monarch butterflies, frogs, turtles, and dragonflies crossing a paved highway that separates a woodland from a suburban-like development with row upon row of nearly identical houses. Frog's friend Fish is nowhere to be seen. The story continues without these characters and focuses upon the geese and ducks that the homeowners feed and feed and feed. It's not until these birds fail to migrate and grow in numbers so large the lawns become muddied and the pond water is murky and dirty green that the homeowners realize what they have done. They decide to no longer feed bread to the geese and ducks and to put back the native wetland plants. In the final illustration, we again see Frog's pond in all of its beauty and all of Frogs friends, including Fish.
This story is printed in a royal blue ink and is most often placed in the upper portion of the left-facing pages of the book. On the right facing pages, one commonly finds Simon's margin-to-margin paintings that portray in two-dimensions what the story describes in words. In all cases, the plant life is portrayed in such detail that identification is possible. Frog and Frog's friends, however, have been painted with faces that suggest human emotions such as awe, joy, fright, and worry, while humans in the illustrations are, on the whole, faceless. These more cartoon-like illustrations of the friends of Frog often have the appearance of being pasted onto the thoughtfully composed wetland illustrations. This is particularly true of those on pages 14, 15, 19 and 31.
Juxtaposed with the story, Simon includes factual information intended for readers more mature and skilled than the readers for whom the story in Once Upon a Pond was written and illustrated. This information is normally found on a page with the printed story and could be confusing for some readers even though it is placed on the lower half of the page and is separated from the story by a painted water lily blossom and further set apart by the colour, size, and type of font. This gives the impression, however, that Simon wasn't content to write a picture book. One has the feeling that he would have preferred to write a non-fiction book for Middle Years students that focused on the importance of conserving Canadian wetlands and the diverse populations of plants and animals, including Northern leopard frogs and Canada geese, that inhabit them. If, however, Simon intended this as information useful to parents, teachers, and librarians reading the story to children, it would have been best to have placed it at the end of the story as has been done in books such as those in the "Primary Physical Science" series by Adrienne Mason (see CM, Vol.12, No. 7, Nov. 25, 2005 and Vol. 13, No. 4, Oct. 13, 2006).
Recommended with reservations.
Barbara McMillan is a teacher educator and professor of science education in the Faculty of Education, the University of Manitoba, Winnipeg, MB.
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