Confession: I didn’t have a J book that immediately jumped out at me for the Bookbag. I was considering going with Jurassic Park, but the idea of reviewing a story that everyone knows (either via the book or movie) didn’t seem like that much fun.
So I searched the library at the elementary school where I work, and I found a J book that worked out nicely.
Jennifer Murdley’s Toad by Bruce Coville is a middle-grade urban fantasy about a fifth-grade girl who finds herself quite unattractive. I decided to finish this book after I read the first sentence.
If Jennifer Murdley hadn’t been forced to wear her brother’s underpants to school, the whole thing might never have happened.
Misadventures caused by underpants? You bet! See, word that she’s wearing her brother’s underpants (because of a laundry day snafu) gets out, and the other kids, who already see Jennifer as an easy target, tease her mercilessly. She runs away, finding herself on an unfamiliar street and entering an unfamiliar magic shop, where the owner sells her a toad named Bufo for seventy-five cents.
Of course, it’s not an ordinary toad. It talks, sometimes imitating his favorite actors. But Jennifer doesn’t know that until she’s left the shop and the toad answers a question.
Jennifer blinked and stared at the box. Obviously the voice couldn’t have come from there. But when she looked around, there was no other person in sight.
“Who said that?” she asked timidly.
“I did,” came the voice from the box.
Jennifer closed her eyes and tried to count to ten. Before she could finish, the voice bellowed, “Hello out there! Did you hear me?”
“I heard you!” shouted Jennifer. “Where are you?”
“Right here! In the box!”
She freaks out and drops the box, having to talk herself into returning to it.
“Were you speaking to me?” she whispered.
“Yes, I was,” said the toad. “And I must say, I don’t think much of the way you ran off. It’s a good way to kill a conversation. As for dropping me–well, you’d better hope word of that bit of foolishness doesn’t get back to you-know-who!”
She doesn’t know why she has a toad that can talk, and when she tries to find the shop again, she can’t. It seems the owner likes to move it around. The magic continues when Sharra, one of Jennifer’s bullies, is inspecting the toad. In a moment he thought would only be humorous, Bufo jumps from his box and kisses Sharra on the lips, turning her into a toad as well.
And thus begins a series of misadventures that are sometimes a bit scary and sometimes downright adorable. Jennifer learns a lot from the old toad – the very old toad, as it turns out–including what her purpose might be in her magical new world.
What J titles are in your Bookbag?