cover image Once Upon a Toad

Once Upon a Toad

Heather Vogel Frederick. Simon & Schuster, $17.99 (272p) ISBN 978-1-4169-8478-8

In this humorous, quick-moving story, Frederick (the Mother-Daughter Book Club series) delivers a contemporary update of Perrault’s classic fairy tale Toads and Diamonds. In contrast to the original, this version has kind and self-reliant 12-year-old Cat Starr stuck spewing toads from her mouth while her unpleasant stepsister, Olivia, emits showers of flowers and precious gems every time she talks. After Cat’s astronaut mother gets sent to the International Space Station, Cat goes to live with her remarried father and his family, which ignites sisterly rivalry. When the girls start spitting toads and diamonds, Cat discovers that it’s the work of her eccentric Great-Aunt Abyssinia, who is actually an “occupationally challenged fairy godmother.” The girls’ talents attract media attention, through which Frederick offers gentle commentary on the dark side of celebrity, leading to the kidnapping of Cat’s half-brother. The slapstick nature of the story translates well to modern-day middle school; kidnapping aside, Frederick plays up the physical comedy and focuses on the fun, as well as the gradually defrosting relationship between Cat and Olivia. Ages 8–12. Agent: Barry Goldblatt, Barry Goldblatt Literary. (Apr.)