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I will begin this review with the warning that it does contain spoilers. While the humour of this book will appeal to some children, it will be sure to leave others in tears. My sons are ages 4 and 7 and have started to find stories like this funny, but I think if I had bought this a year ago it might have really have upset my youngest. The Amazon description gives away the ending as well - I do think parents should be aware of how this ends before reading it to a child.
Tadpole's promise is written by Jeanne Willis. We have enjoyed many of her books including: Who's in the Loo, That's Not Funny, The Really Rude Rhino and Bottoms Up. Most of the books we have by her tend to be funny, but at first glance this looks very sugary sweet. It begins with a tadpole and a caterpillar who meet and fall in love. The caterpillar has coloured stripes down her side and the tadpole calls her his beautiful rainbow. The Tadpole is shiny and black and caterpillar calls him her shiny black pearl. She declares her love for him, and makes him promise never to change.
But change is part of a caterpillars nature, and soon he grows legs. The caterpillar is angry because he has broken his promise and the poor besotted tadpole begs her forgiveness. The next time he has front legs and the caterpillar is even more upset saying she will forgive him this time - but it is his last chance. Of course he continues to change and the butterfly refuses to forgive him the third time. She doesn't think he is beautiful anymore and refuses to forgive him for changing. the poor frog is heartbroken - he would happily give up his legs for her - but as much as he wants to, he can not change what he is. The caterpillar builds a cocoon and falls asleep. When she wakes up she decides to forgive the caterpillar after all. She doesn't even think of asking him for forgiveness. She flutters down to ask a frog if he has seen her friend, but before she can finish her sentence the frog has shot into the air and gobbled her up. Then he sat back down to think of his beautiful caterpillar and wonder where she could have gone.
My oldest son doesn't care as much for picture books anymore, but he will still listen to one the first time. He found this very amusing and we feel it would make a perfect stop motion project with a bit of plasticine. My youngest is only 4 and just starting to get to the age where he can laugh at awful things - as long as it is fiction. He did seem drawn in a bit by this story, feeling very sorry for the poor tadpole. He took an instant dislike to the shallow caterpillar, who could only love the tadpole as long as she found him beautiful and thought the ending was especially funny. I don't know if he would have liked this at all a year ago though, and might well have ended up feeling very sorry for the butterfly at the end. I would only recommend this book for children who do clearly understand that story books are not real. I can very clearly remember my youngest crying his eyes out at the ending of The Very Hungry Caterpillar two years ago - simply because he didn't want the caterpillar to change into a butterfly. I certainly would not have considered this book for a very long time after that.
This is a nice colourful book, illustrated by Tony Ross, who has often worked with Willis in the past. It also does teach children something about how things change over time, and the life cycle of frogs and butterflies. We did do unit studies on both when my oldest was first starting school - and this is a common theme in early education. I think this book would be very good paired with DK's Watch Me Grow series, especially the butterfly and caterpillar version.
This book also shows children that they should love a person - or a tadpole - for who they are - not for their outward appearance. This is sadly a lesson many children and adults never learn. But just as importantly - you should find someone who loves you as you are - not who they want you to be. I always say true love is when you find someone who loves you exactly as you are - warts and all. I felt the butterfly was vain, shallow and even very cruel, but I have known humans who could be much the same. My son was delighted to see the butterfly eaten so apparently he felt much the same about the character. This book does give the parent a chance to discuss the fact that we should be kind to everyone - and what a person or a creature looks like should not matter. We should always think of how we might feel in the other person's place. I also think it's a good time to point out that some people are as vain and heartless as the butterfly - while we can't quite gobble them up like the frog - we can ignore them and refuse to be hurt by petty creatures. Let's hope he remembers that when he starts dating :) Had my son been a bit younger when we bought this - I do think it would have ended in tears - but not for the frog - not the butterfly. The butterfly has ended up a beautiful villain as far as my son was concerned, and I can't help but agree with him.
I realise of course others will see this differently. To others it might be an overly sweet love story with a very wicked ending and I'm sure as many children will empathise with the butterfly ( meaning young ones may be very upset at her demise) as the frog. As for us - we are firmly in the frog's camp. Some children will really have a good laugh, but others will be in tears so I do not recommend this as a gift for someone else's child. This is the type of book that parents really have to decide if it is suitable as parents will know best how a child might react. I can not set an age at which all children will be able to enjoy the humour without being upset, but with my own sons, I feel age 4 would have been a minimum age for both to enjoy this book rather than to end up crying at bedtime.
Tadpole's promise is one of those books with a twist which the adult will see way before the child, and the child will find quite enchanting. To me, as a parent of a young child, it was lovely to see the character of tadpole who was growing and evolving, just like the child.
The plot is that the tadpole and the caterpillar fall in love. They promise each other that they will never ever change, but of course the tadpole cannot keep this promise as he changes by growing arms and legs and eventually becoming a frog. The caterpillar is left broken hearted, as is the frog, but when they are eventually re-united they fail to recognise each other and have the happy ending they both want, because the frog was not expecting the caterpillar to have changed at all.
My children are very familiar with the life cycle of the caterpillar as it is covered in a few books like The Hungry Caterpillar. As we were reading this, I was talking to them a lot about feelings that the caterpillar and tadpole might be having, and getting them to try and predict what would come next.
They found it fascinating as this was the first time they had seen the life cycle of the frog. It was also novel as this is the first book we have ever read which has been printed fully in landscape format rather than portrait, and each double page has lovely pages which stretched across the spread and gave us plenty to talk about.
And while it seemed to be a bit lovey dovey and not meaty enough to entertain boys, there was a shock ending that none of us expected, and this was enough to get them wanting the story again.
Gentler than we are used to, I did enjoy talking to my children about relationships and life cycles. It was certainly a good book for stimulating a conversation with, and also developing a true understanding of relationships and change.