CM . . .
. Volume XXIII Number 11. . . .November 18, 2016
Ever wondered what it would be like to be transported into a fairytale? With three knocks on a mirror and help from a fairy name Maryrose, Abby and her little brother Jonah, and sometimes their dog Prince, too, can do just that. No matter how hard they try to keep the story true to the original, Abby and Jonah always slip up and do something that changes the story, but they still always have the ‘happily-ever-after’ ending expected in traditional fairy tales. However, in Once Upon a Frog, the eighth book in Sarah Mlynowski’s “Whatever After” series, ‘happily-ever-after’ may depend on them ensuring a non-traditional ending to the tale.
Since their last trip through the mirror, Jonah has started having strange memories that belong to the fairy Maryrose. With another person’s memories bombarding him, he can’t concentrate, and the only solution seems to be to see if they can talk to Maryrose without going into a fairy tale. Despite their promise to not go through their mirror tonight, they have no choice thanks to Prince who knocks the mirror with his tail, his action counting as a third knock. Abby lands in a deep well with Jonah and Prince nowhere to be seen. Luckily, they respond to her shouts, but when they head off to look for help, she hears another voice next to her. When Abby works out the tiny frog in brown shorts who’s obsessed with push-ups is talking to her, she knows immediately that she’s in one of her favourite fairy tales – the frog prince. If it stays true to the story, the princess who will turn the frog back into a prince will come along soon, dropping her gold ball into the well, and will rescue Abby along with the frog prince. Jonah promises not to catch the ball no matter what. Unfortunately, another prince messes up the story before anyone can stop him.
Just as Princess Casandra’s ball is about to fall into the well, following the fairytale’s traditional story, Abby and Jonah’s dog Prince snatched the ball, saving it from the well. Abby’s torn between thinking how cute her dog is and panicking because, once again, they may have screwed up the story. When the princess starts screaming about how disgusting Prince is and how he’s ruined her ball, it’s Abby who really puts them in the doghouse. Before she can stop herself, Abby tells the princess she shouldn’t be so snobby and that Prince is the most perfect dog she’ll ever meet. Abby only gets angrier when the princess rants about how much she hates Prince, and the princess decides being at the bottom of the slimy well suits Abby and leaves Abby, Jonah, a dog, and a frog to sort out how to rescue Abby and the frog prince from the well.
Once Abby, with the frog prince on her shoulder escapes from the well, Jonah, Abby, Prince and the frog prince consider what can be done to turn him back into a human prince. Abby lists the options she’s read in variations of the story, some more appealing than others: being kissed by a princess, sleeping on a princess’s pillow, being thrown against a wall, and cutting its head off have turned frogs into princes. Jonah tried throwing the Frog Prince against a wall without success, and the frog prince isn’t desperate enough to try having his head cut off to restore him to his human princely state. Abby’s reluctant to ask the princess for help as the princess is so mean there’s no chance she’ll help them.
After a long hike and a rough canoe ride to get to Princess Cassandra’s castle, they easily trick the guards into letting them past the gates, and, when they find out the princess is out, it’s almost as easy to talk the guards into letting them wait for the princess to return. Once the prince frog is settled on the princess’s pillow for a nap, he’s much too eager to find out if he’ll turn back into human Prince Fredric to fall asleep. Abby and Jonah take a look around the room for anything that might help poor Prince Fredric. Princess Casandra’s room is odd: it’s almost 100% Pepto-Bismol pink with heaps of stuffed toys, making it much more fitting for a child than a teenager. Abby and Jonah try to ignore the colour and the toys and resume looking for anything else that might help transform the frog prince. Jonah, who loves to read, comes across a stack of books. As he reads them out loud for clues, it occurs to Abby that those books shouldn’t be read by anyone but the princes as they’re her diaries! They stop reading immediately, but not before finding out the princess’s mother died when the princess was very young, and the princess’ father is very sick. Once Abby knows what the princess is dealing with, she can understand why the princess might be in a bad mood.
When Princess Cassandra’s friend Reginald shows up, Abby and Jonah, who had told the guards they were friends with the princess, are worried their covers are blown. Luckily, Reginald promises not to tell the guards. When the princess returns, she’s not happy about a frog sleeping on her pillow, and it gets much worse when she finds out Jonah and Abby have read her diary, even if by accident and that they stopped when they realized what they were reading. In the kerfuffle that ensues, the frog prince is accidently thrown against a wall by the princess, and this time it works! Prince Frederic is human again, but the celebration is short-lived: Jonah has one of Maryrose’s memories, and it’s not good. Maryrose is the one who turned Prince Frederic into a frog because he was mean to everyone he met. It becomes obvious this was a fairytale they were supposed to mess up: Maryrose gave Jonah her memories so he would know they needed to keep Prince Fredric as a frog. Before they can throw him into the princess’s dungeons, he runs away, but Princess Cassandra has a plan: she has trained herself to be a soldier, and, with help from Jonah, Abby and Reginald, she quickly captures Prince Fredric and locks him up. Abby and Jonah are amazed by Princess Casandra’s strength and abilities, and the princess’ talking to them helps her realize how strong she really is: she’s more than capable of ruling her kingdom, and Reginald is ready to help and support her. It’s not the happily-ever-after of the original fairytale, but it’s definitely the ending that gives everyone what they deserve: Princess Cassandra, with Reginald as her right-hand man, will rule her kingdom full of people who love and admire her, and the cruel and selfish Price Frederic, although no longer a frog, will never have the chance to rule a kingdom, a fate Maryrose felt he deserved so much that she gave her Jonah her memories in order to stop the prince.
Sarah Mlynowski has the wonderful ability to take problems kids may be facing and working them into fairytales. Abby is being picked on at school by a boy named Brandon who has taken to calling her ‘Crabby Abby’ and any other name that bothers her. She can’t figure out why he’s being mean, but, after meeting Princess Cassandra, she realizes there may be reasons why someone is being mean or rude: Princess Cassandra was trying to take care of her sick father while ruling their kingdom, something the children wouldn’t have learned without reading her diary. When Abby goes back to school, she asks Brandon if something is bothering him, and after some prodding, she finds out Brandon’s mother had been offered a new job and he’ll have to move away from his friends to a place where he doesn’t know anyone. Abby’s quick to point out that she had moved to their school not very long ago, and, while it was hard at first, she made good friends and likes where she lives now. Being asked if something is bothering him, and being shown everything will be ok, makes a big difference to Brandon. He promises not to call her ‘Crabby Abby’ anymore, and together they agree to the nickname ‘Gabby Abby’. Mlynowski’s “Whatever After” series offers great storylines, new and improved endings to traditional fairy tales, and lessons readers can take away. Readers will fall in love with Abby and Princess Cassandra who are strong, relatable female characters that are inspiring. Once Upon a Frog will delight readers while sneaking in real-life lessons.
A MEd (Literacy) and MLIS graduate, Crystal Sutherland is a librarian living in Halifax, NS.
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Copyright © the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.