Gennady Spirin – Frog Song

The ditches that ran beside, and bisected the fields behind my childhood house were absolutely full of frogs, and I don’t think there is a more wonderful sound than hearing the first chorus of frog song of the spring. It’s one of the things I miss most, now that I live in the city.

One of my favourite memories is of my dad taking me out ‘frog hunting’ on warm, late spring nights when I was about 4 or 5. Outfitted in rubber boots and armed with a flashlight and my handmade net, we’d walk to the very back of our field, and then out into the overgrown fairgrounds beyond, lured by the chorus of frogs. We’d sneak up to a ditch or pond, trying to escape the frogs’ notice – and if they did hear us and go silent, we’d wait, and wait, not moving, hardly breathing until the first, brave tentative ‘ribbit’ set off the chorus again. Then we’d shine the flashlight into the water and try to catch a glimpse of them before they disappeared under water. I never caught anything, but that really wasn’t the point. Those were exciting, magical evenings for a little girl, out in the dark, way past her bedtime, in a landscape breathing with new life, and surrounded by the heralds of spring.

Gennady Spirin
is one of my favourite illustrators. I love, love, love the detail and colour, and minerally paint texture in his washes, and the lovely over-drawing. His artwork makes me want to simultaneously give up, and keep trying harder. His newest book is called Frog Song, so I have two really great reasons to go out and purchase a copy – two copies, actually. One for me, and one for a little girl I know who loves animals and science and is now about the same age I was when my dad used to take me out searching for frogs.


How gorgeous is this detail?


I found out about this book through an article on Seven Impossible Things, which is accompanied by some beautiful page spreads (click them for gorgeous, large versions).

Much has changed since my childhood. The frog-full abandoned fairgrounds, once a place of overgrown thickets of wild roses; the hunting grounds of coyotes, fox, barn owls, and red-tail hawks, crisscrossed with duck-weed-green, clay-bottomed ditches; the home of frogs, sticklebacks and water skaters, has been bulldozed, levelled, drained and turned into sports fields.

tales from last weekend


I went to the illustrator breakfast hosted by the Vancouver Children’s Literature Roundtable this past weekend. This year’s special guest was Shaun Tan (he was also doing a number of Writer’s Festival events). I’ve been a fan of his books and painting for a long time (I’m in love with the suburban sidewalk painting as well as the pelican one), so I just had to go.

His presentation was funny, informative, inspiring, informal and entertaining. I think everyone could have listened to him for the rest of the day.

I had brought 3 of his earlier books from home and bought his two most recent ones at the event (The Arrival and tales from outer suburbia) with the idea that I would get them signed. The signing lineup was HUGE with most people clinging to multiple books so I had a brief thought that perhaps I could forgo a signature and just duck out. But I’m sure glad I didn’t. I was also determined that when it was finally my turn, I wasn’t going to get chatty with him and hold up the line. But it was impossible not to talk to him – he engaged every signee in conversation. So we talked briefly about book design (tales from outer suburbia and The Arrival are especially beautifully designed – there is an absolute marriage of text and illustration which is so sadly rare in children’s books for some reason) while he signed each of my books with versions of either an embellished inked-fingerprint or a specially designed stamp with hand drawn elements.

So I’m left feeling absolutely inadequate in the autograph-signing department (I’ve never had nice handwriting or been able to squiggle off a lovely little title page flourish) and humbled by Shaun Tan’s sheer talent and drawing endurance (The Arrival took 4 years to complete). But at the same time I’ve been inspired to spend more time with my hand wrapped around a pencil.