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The Big Picture, a regular Bulletin feature both on-line and off, is an in-depth look at selected new titles and trends. See the archive for selections from previous months.

Gleitzman, Morris. Toad Rage.
Random House, 2004 [176p]
Library ed. ISBN 0-375-92762-X $16.99
Trade ed. ISBN 0-375-82762-X $14.95
Reviewed from galleys
Gr. 4-6

Reviewers of children's literature encounter animal points of view with great regularity; it seems certain critters, most notably of the domestic variety, frequently have the opportunity to share their perspective on the world. Just two months previously, the Big Picture showcased a yellow Lab's take on neighborhood life (I, Jack, BCCB 4/04), and countless cat books appear every season, offering a feline-focused worldview. In the latest comic entry from Australian author Morris Gleitzman (author of Puppy Fat, BCCB 7/96, Worry Warts, 4/93, among others), readers have the opportunity to hear from the most unlikely of creatures-the dreaded cane toad. Our protagonist, a young cane toad called Limpy, sets out into the world in search of an answer to that all-important question-why do humans hate cane toads? While the explanation may be obvious to the reader (it may be their offputting appearance, that venomous secretion directed at potential threats, the fact that they're a damaging invader species, or a combination of all three), poor Limpy is determined to understand and reverse this age-old revulsion if only given an opportunity to represent all that is good about his kind.

Limpy's quest is prompted by the fact that his relatives are getting killed left and right; flying insects (necessary for a balanced cane-toad diet) tend to hang out around highway lights, and speeding vehicles flatten cane toads every day ("'Oh no, Limpy,' said Mum in exasperation. 'You haven't brought home another dead relative'"). Limpy, who fears especially for his slow-moving younger sister "who'd stayed small because of pollution," appoints himself to leave rural Queensland and figure out why humans seem to target his species. After a brief run-in with some vacationers at a gas station (where Limpy attempts to disguise himself as a tropical butterfly with a pair of pilfered underpants), Limpy hitches a ride to the Olympic Games in Sydney. His plan? To join the ranks of the platypus, echidna, and kookaburra and become a Games mascot, thereby earning the affection of humans and saving his species from pending destruction.

The challenge of winning over the humans proves an enormous task-as explained by a rather blunt mosquito, humans find cane toads "even uglier and more revolting . . . than hairy spiders and smelly dung beetles and those slugs that sleep in their own snot." Unable to understand English, Limpy is constantly speculating, occasionally to grievous but snicker-worthy error, on human conversations that he overhears without comprehending. In an intriguing play on perspective, the reader, who can understand these dialogues, is often a step ahead of Limpy, making the toad take all the funnier. The real charm lies in the curious juxtaposition of Limpy's tragic plight and Gleitzman's hysterically funny narration; Limpy's seriousness and sense of duty perfectly contrast with the helplessly humorous tone of his chronicle. Limpy's lucky escapes from countless dangers--he's attacked by rats, teenagers, and a toddler, to name just a few--are at the same time riveting and funny, and the clever dialogue places the reader firmly in the skin of an endangered cane toad out to change the world. The pace of the adventure keeps readers along for the ride, and the many details strewn throughout the story come together to great effect in the conclusion, where a stroke of symbiotic luck results in Limpy's clearing the name of a beloved national athlete accused of steroid use and thereby winning a fair dose of human appreciation.

This highly accessible comedy would make a laugh-out-loud readaloud as well as an enticing read for the reluctant set; this little cane toad is an oddly lovable protagonist, and the lessons in courage and bravery woven throughout the story make this both an amusing and empowering tale for young people. Readers or listeners alike are certain to cheer for our hero's success in helping humans see that beauty is only as deep as one's skin--whether warty or not.

Hope Morrison, Reviewer

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Cover illustration by Rod Clement from Toad Rage ©2004. Used by permission of Random House Children's Books.

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This page was last updated on June 1, 2004.