When you think of NFL players you don’t necessarily see them as much more than big, hulking athletes. But Trevor Pryce is looking to change that. He – like many others – are breaking out of their usual day-to-day jobs and entering the juvenile fiction market. His debut novel An Army of Frogs is the first in the brand new Kulipari series that launches on May 7th. Joining him are author Joel Naftali and illustrator Sanford Greene – the later of whom you may know from various DC and Dark Horse titles. These three creative minds come together to create a story and a world that really draws you in. Targeted toward middle grade boys, it mixes comic book quality pictures with a cute, fun, action-filled story that will keep young readers interested all the way until the very last page.
There are a lot of things I can say about this book but first I should say that it’s really an absolutely gorgeous title. The pages are bright and colorful and full of fantastic illustrations. The pictures supplement the story and don’t distract from it at all. Honestly, I kept waiting for the next one. It always helps, I think, when you’re using animal characters to have some pictures to help readers visualize things. You want to see Darel and the other characters and sometimes it can be hard to visualize what an anthropomorphic frog is doing or what it would look like.
And Darel is a great main character.
He’s a very curious and slightly mischievous little wood frog in a world where frogs and turtles are at war with scorpions and spiders. Darel dreams of being a warrior like his father – a poisonous Kulipari who died protecting the turtle king and hiding away the frog villages from the armies that would destroy them by creating the Veil. Unfortunately, he takes after his mother and is just a wood frog with no special powers or abilities. His will be a life of good, honest work in the village. Still he dreams of adventure and spends his days and nights play battling with his best friend Gee and telling his younger siblings (three tadpoles who take after their poisonous father) all kinds of epic stories about their brave father. They should be safe here beyond the Veil.
What’s the Veil? The Veil is a supernatural force that keeps the villages hidden away. But it’s not impenetrable. They may not be able to see into the Veil but they can pass through it and while off exploring the woods with Gee, Darel comes across an invading army that could easily wipe out all of the frogs. When Gee is captured all of those games of pretend suddenly become a reality and he must gather his courage to save his friend, his family, and his community.
It will take everything Darel can muster but he rises to the challenge and sets out to prove that he can be more than just a wood frog.
Now, I thought this was a very cute book.
And I acknowledge that I am reading this as a twenty-something year old law student so I’m hesitant to be too critical. The dialogue was simple and a bit bland at times, sure. It was definitely written in general at a lower reading level but, you know, it’s a book written for middle school boys so that’s understandable. I loved Darel and Gee even if they were a bit stereotypical as characters. I would have liked to have seen a bit more of Darel’s relationship with the little girl frog he’s clearly got this thing going with but I figure middle school boys aren’t too interested in that.
I also really enjoyed the world that is built around these talking animals and what not. I love the alliances that are formed by certain species and I love the communities they build. It all takes place in Australia and though each animal species has it’s own little communities they see one another and interact with one another now and again in various ways. Some of the things that the authors come up with are just perfect little additions. At first the village where the frogs all live seems pretty normal – like any human village in any sort of fantasy story with skilled artisans and shops and apprenticeships and what not. But then you’ll get all these little things that pop up. Like the tadpole ponds where all the little tadpoles live until they grow legs. They adjust for the very frog-like nature of their characters while also adapting things to fit the setting and the characters.
I think Trevor Pryce and Joe Naftali did a really great job with this one. If you’re looking for something to recommend to your younger kids, this is a great book. In particular, this would be great for fans of Inkheart, Fablehaven, the Warriors, Redwall, the Familiars, and other, similar middle grade series.