cover image Jennifer Murdley's Toad

Jennifer Murdley's Toad

Bruce Coville. Harcourt Children's Books, $16.95 (176pp) ISBN 978-0-15-200745-4

This fanciful story questions the value of beauty yet spins out of control after a promising start. Jennifer, a fifth-grader, agonizes over her appearance--``I'm just a kid in the plain brown wrapper''--and her schoolmates' taunts are doubly painful. After purchasing a toad from a mysterious shopkeeper Jennifer is amazed to discover that not only can Bufo talk, he can mimic voices unerringly. At school the canny amphibian inflicts vengeance on Sharra, a nasty classmate. When a gorgeous witch kidnaps Jennifer's youngest sibling, her evil intentions are thwarted by teamwork--and by Jennifer's sacrifices that reveal qualities surpassing mere beauty. Coville's ( Jeremy Thatcher, Dragon Hatcher ) comical classroom scenes lapse into a convoluted web involving Bufo's long-lost sweetheart and the belabored idea that pulchritude denotes cruelty; unattractiveness, humanity. The book's laudable message, however, is clearly delineated, and as kind, loyal Jennifer endures a poor self-image, one hopes readers will see the light. Ages 8-12. (Apr.)