Regular readers will know that I recently reviewed Oi Frog! by Kes Gray and Jim Field, after a desperately misguided attempt to expand my daughter’s storybook collection. I had expected something light and charming, but instead discovered a dark and twisted tale of an authoritarian cat imposing his demented rhyming insanity upon a host of bewildered and traumatised animals. I still have nightmares about bees on my keys.
So it was with considerable trepidation that I picked up the sequel, Oi Dog! I would not have done so were it not for my daughter. The last book ended with a frog, the hero or perhaps victim of the story, being crushed against the ground by the leviathan backside of an unthinkingly obedient dog. Would the frog be able to escape from under its literal oppressor or would it be trapped forever? Would it even have survived the no-doubt serious damage that the dog’s weight would have inflicted upon its frail body? My daughter asked all these questions and more, and, loath as I was to risk further scarring her delicate psyche, I could not refuse her.
I curse myself for my weakness.
The story starts positively enough, with the frog’s escape from its posterior prison. The cat arrives, the timing so convenient that I suspect it was there all along, drinking in the amphibian’s anguish, and attempts once again to enforce its sick rhyming creed: that cats sit on mats, and dogs sit on frogs. But the frog is having none of it. In a moment of inspiration he proclaims that he is changing the rules, and that a log, where once the frog was expected to perch, will now be the seat of the dog. Further: the cat, once smugly comfortable upon its mat, will now have to suffer the discomfort of sitting upon gnats. The feline dictator protests but, ultimately bound by the rules of its own deviant rhyming cult, is forced to comply.
An amazingly positive twist that would have filled me with uncharacteristic joy, were it not for the fact that there were many more pages of the story to go. Sure enough, things quickly took a turn for the worse. It is often said that one should die a hero, or live long enough to see themselves become the villain. So it was with Batman, and so too it is the case for the frog. But where the Dark Knight was seen as the villain because it suited the needs of Gotham for him to be portrayed as such, the frog has no such excuse. Indeed, it does not so much fall into darkness as dive headlong into it, laughing maniacally the entire time.
He starts harmlessly enough: commanding that bears sit on stairs, and flies upon pies. But soon the true extent of his descent into insanity begins to become apparent. I witnessed a leopard perched on the shoulders of a perplexed shepherd, accompanied by an extremely nervous sheep. The stunned bemusement in the eyes of the cheetah teetering atop a pile of fajitas seared itself into my very soul. But the true horror was in the fate of the whales. As if those majestic creatures had not already suffered enough at the hands of man, now even this twisted amphibian was getting in on the act, declaring that they must sit upon nails.
And his justification for this horrific torture? “They don’t have to like it; they just have to do it.”
From abused victim to abuser, within the space of a few pages. There is truly a powerful lesson here, one that I explained in great detail to my daughter, who looked at me solemnly before urging me to read on. Clearly she wished to see if the frog was going to somehow redeem itself. Her innocence in this dark world is truly a rare light indeed. But, alas, it was not to be.
The burning question was this: what would the frog sit on, in this new order? The answer, on the very last page, shocked me deeply. A sun lounger.
It doesn’t. Even. Rhyme.
The cat may have been a diabolical authoritarian, but at least it abided by its own twisted code. The frog, it seems, lacks even that vestige of honour. Truly I shudder to think what will happen in the next book, out later this year. The lesson of this one is powerful indeed: that though the wheel of revolution turns, it is perhaps inevitable that those who replace the old order will become as bad, if not worse, than those they overthrew. The parallels with Animal Farm are striking, and surely intentional. A powerful and thought-provoking, if depressing, read.
Or, perhaps, a very fun sequel, filled with illustrations that had my daughter laughing, and saying the words along with me. A book that she enjoyed immensely and wanted read to her over and over again. If, of course, you’re determined to look at it in such a shallow way.