Written by Mo Willems, Illustrated by Jon J Muth
Hyperion Books for Children, 2010
Spring. City Dog didn’t stop on that first day in the country; he ran as far and as fast as he could and all without a leash!
The plot in a nutshell: A dog and a frog share a friendship that spans several seasons.
This is a beautiful story. It starts for these unlikely friends in spring, when City Dog meets Country Frog sitting by a river. They become friends and play frog games. In summer, they are reunited and this time, they play dog games. When they meet up in autumn, Country Frog admits to being very tired, so they play remembering games and think about the fun they’ve had together. In winter, City Dog looks for Country Frog, but he’s no longer there. When spring rolls around, City Dog goes to their spot and meets Country Chipmunk and the story ends as it begins all over again for a new set of friends.
I was more familiar with Mo Willems’ whimsical books, so I was unprepared for the poignancy of this lovely story. As always, he has a remarkable economy with words, using just the ones he needs. This is particularly so in winter, which features just a few sentences and lets the stunning pictures convey the emotion and sense of loss that Country Dog is feeling without his friend. Over-explaining during this scene could have very easily tipped the scale from touching to maudlin. Instead, it works brilliantly.
Although Mr. Willems usually illustrates his own work, the artwork for City Dog, Country Frog was done by John J Muth. Mr. Muth’s pictures here are gorgeous, incorporating the colors of each season into the background and giving these characters so much personality and expression. The autumn pictures stand out, as these friends reminisce in front of a background of rich fall colors.
This is a story about how relationships change over time. It explores what we give to and take from the friendships we have and how to handle the loss of them. I found it sweet and moving, with a perfect ending that brought the story full circle in a warm and emotional way.
And what did we learn? What I take away from this book is that the best way to honor a good friendship is to take what you’ve learned from it into the other friendships in your life.