Fox News broadcast meteorologist, Janice Dean, has done it again. Her fourth title in the picture book series about Freddy the Frogcaster contains all the winning elements of her earlier entries. Aside from my having a couple of minor complaints, Freddy the Frogcaster and the Huge Hurricane is an engaging and educational story. The colorful and cartoonlike illustrations also have high appeal.
Summer vacation has just started for Freddy and his friends. A trip to the shore in the upcoming week is planned. Light wind, low humidity, and clear blue skies seem to indicate perfect weather conditions. Except what’s that big swirl of clouds on the satellite images? Oh no! The first tropical storm of the season has started. What’s even worse, it’s headed straight towards Lilypad!
Hmm, if this plot setup seems familiar, that’s because storms were also headed towards Lilypad in the first two titles. In this third title, Freddy’s family and friends no longer even need his help. Instead the town has gotten good at preparing for bad weather, having previously encountered thunderstorms and then a blizzard.
But wait! There’s a twist. Someone needs to report updates on the weather and it can’t be regular broadcaster Polly Woggins who has braved the elements long enough. Who will take her place? Will it be Freddy? The mere thought makes his voice shake. “Weather watching was one thing. But talking in front of a camera? That was a different story.”
In my opening paragraph, I mentioned that I had a couple of complaints. Dean successfully overcomes a formulaic plot with her twist, but this leaves me with an issue about her style. After initially keeping her dialog tags simple, Dean falls into the error of bloating them. Characters notice, call, explain, ask, bellow, wink, yell, report, suggest, shout, cheer, and exclaim.
On the positive side, right along with relating to Freddy’s fears, readers will get educated about weather. As Sally reports the news, readers will discover the difference between tropical storms and hurricanes. When Freddy hurries home to his family, readers will learn the basics of how to prepare for natural disasters. As the hurricane descends upon Lilypad, readers will also figure out the signs for when the eye of a storm is near. When clean-up begins the next day, readers will also grasp what types of damage storms can create.
None of these details weigh down the story. Instead Dean wisely saves more detailed explanations for back pages, where Freddy talks at length about the origins of hurricanes, defines storm surges, and provides information about how hurricanes are names and what hurricane hunters are. Dean clearly knows weather!
Finally, there is the artwork. With the onset of summer, backgrounds start out bright blue and yellow. Then as the storm brews, backgrounds become a stark contrast of bold purples and even black. The characters are larger-than life in size, as well as dramatic in their vivid greens. Award-winning illustrator Russ Cox has also provided each frog with his or her own expressive face and personality. Everything works with the artwork.
As part of a research paper last year, some of my students studied storms. Freddy the Frogcaster and the Huge Hurricane would have made an entertaining reference for them. As for me, I’m happily collecting Dean’s whole series of weather picture books.