You’ve gotta hand it to Mo Willems for knowing how to bring his readers the unexpected. Although he’s arguably best known for his Pigeon books and Elephant and Piggie series, Willems departs from those familiar characters for a charming new story about frogs and baguettes, of all things.
This is the story of Nanette, a frog who is sent on an errand to retrieve a baguette from the bakery, complete with a narrator who speaks directly to her. She finds the baguette so warm and wonderful that she doesn’t succeed in bringing it home. Instead, she devours it on the way and is left guilt-ridden. The story is in rhyme, but those who fear stale, singsong couplets need not worry. Willems rhymes the “ette” sound all throughout (Nanette, baguette, fret, upset) in a pleasing way. His meter is spot-on, and never once does he force words in the name of rhyming. (He even manages to make clarinet fit seamlessly.)
The humor here is deliciously over-the-top; cue the delighted laughs of children as they watch Nanette devour the bread, knowing full well she shouldn’t. Willems renders the illustrations of the crime itself with lots of drama—loud, comic-style cartoons, replete with jagged, sharp lines, as well as onomatopoeia. (“KRACK!” goes the baguette as she chomps on it.) But there are also laugh-out-loud moments of dry humor, including the one where he manages to rhyme “Tibet.” (Nanette figures she’ll be in so much trouble that she should perhaps leave the country.) And the fact that Nanette loves bread and not Mr. Barnett’s pet fly is a moment of absurdity that could only come from the likes of Mo.
Willems created a cardboard community for Nanette’s setting—evidently, toilet paper rolls were the name of the game—which he then photographed. The title page spread shows Nanette’s neighborhood in all its paper glory. The story wraps up with a twist, one that eases Nanette’s shame.
Breaking bread with a frog (words I never expected to string together) is wildly funny when it comes from Mo.
Julie Danielson features authors and illustrators at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast, a children’s literature blog.