I recently decided it was necessary to expand my daughter’s bedtime storybook collection, as much for the sake of my own fragile sanity as for her continuing development. After all, there are only so many times that you can pull back a piece of cardboard and exclaim that, yes indeed, that IS a snappy, feathery dinosaur, before head-butting a sizeable dent in the wall begins to take on a certain appeal.

With that in mind I picked up Oi Frog! by Kes Gray and Jim Field from my local Waterstones, described as “a hilarious rhyming tale” on the back cover. “What could go wrong?” I thought, once again confirming that, as cynical as I am in this hellish dystopia we call the 21st century, it just isn’t cynical enough. For to my horror and dismay what I found within that malevolent tome was far from the charming tale I had been deceived into expecting.

Major spoilers follow, but for the sake of impressionable young minds everywhere I could not allow myself to remain silent.

The book begins with a frog being rather rudely ordered to sit on a log. The order is given by a cat who throughout the book wears expressions that are a mixture of condescending and supercilious: picture the habitual expression of a particularly racist member of the House of Lords holding forth on the current issues surrounding refugees, perhaps; or Donald Trump while doing, well, anything. The frog protests, rather reasonably raising the issue that logs are uncomfortable and that splinters in the buttocks are a nuisance. The dark nature of the book becomes immediately apparent when the cat responds: “I don’t care. You’re a frog, so you must sit on a log.”

What follows is an ever-expanding nightmare of division and segregation, whereupon species after species of increasingly bemused and anguished-looking creatures find themselves sat upon wildly impractical objects. Just what pacts with fell powers beyond the veil of our reality gave the cat the power to enforce its dictatorial rhyming whims are left to the reader’s imagination, but I feel certain that any soul it may have once possessed must surely have been bartered away in payment.

To its credit, the frog attempts to stand up for its fellow creatures, wisely and accurately pointing out that lions may not be comfortable sitting on irons, nor parrots with perching upon carrots. It is here that the true nature of the cat’s twisted reasoning becomes horrifically apparent.

“It’s not about being comfortable,” said the cat. “It’s about doing the RIGHT THING.”

This overt preaching of an undoubtedly quasi-religious totalitarian ideology of unspeakable horror had me fearing for my daughter’s mental well-being, but to my great relief she appeared more concerned with the next picture of dozens of alarmed and obviously coerced foxes squatting on a variety of flimsy boxes.

I wish I could say that the book did not continue its descent into darkness, but alas, a reviewer’s job is to be honest. There followed animal after animal posed on ever more implausible objects. Until you have looked into the screaming eyes of a gibbon suspended from ribbons, or seen the confused despair in the expression of a puma perched oh-so-precariously upon a satsuma, you cannot realise the true extent of horrors that are possible in this dark universe of ours. If hell is real, then surely these poor creatures are already living within it.

In the end the frog’s continuing defiance is brutally punished by the Machiavellian monstrosity that is the cat, in the form of a dog’s backside descending inescapably upon our brave amphibian hero. And there the book ends, on a cliff-hanger of such heart-rending emotional impact that I fear the frog’s anguished face will haunt my dreams forever. I cannot say whether my sanity will survive reading the sequel, Oi Dog!, but I feel as though I must brave it regardless. For in the end that frog could have been any one of us, and if we do not stand together then surely we will all be sat upon by backsides of some description, metaphorical or otherwise.

By the greatest good fortune my sweet daughter does not appear to have been unduly scarred by the ordeal I inadvertently subjected her to: a testament to her innocence and undoubtedly genetically inherited mental fortitude. Indeed I had to read the story twice more before she went to bed, and twice the following morning while we ate our breakfast. Undoubtedly she merely wished to fully understand the lessons that this book imparts: that tyranny can be found in the most unexpected of creatures; that just because something rhymes with your name does not mean you should be forced to sit upon it; and finally the serious hygiene issues raised by apes sitting on grapes.

Excellent illustrations and a very fun read; I highly recommend it!

Oi Frog! by Kes Gray and Jim Field. Published by Hodder Children's Books.
Jonathan Ward photo.

About Jonathan Ward

Jonathan Ward is a science-fiction, horror and fantasy author from Bedford, who has been writing since the age of eight. He’s had a number of short stories published with more to come in 2021 along with two novels. He is sarcastic on Twitter @WrittenWard