Tad (2019) is a picture book written and illustrated by Benji Davies. This is an especially good mentor text for illustrators because I’ve never seen a better example of a fairly muted colour scheme that suddenly pops after the page turn at the end. I literally said, “Wow!”
SETTING OF TAD
- PERIOD — atemporal
- DURATION — From a tadpole’s birth until her ‘puberty’ as a frog
- LOCATION — under water
- ARENA — feels like a pond, with various nooks and crannies
- MANMADE SPACES — none
- NATURAL SETTINGS — the pond, with a marshy, boggy bottom
- WEATHER — Weather doesn’t affect underwater stories, does it? (Well, depends if you’re talking about Spongebob Squarepants.)
- TECHNOLOGY CRUCIAL TO THIS PARTICULAR STORY — No technology.
- LEVEL OF CONFLICT — This is a little big fish eats little fish story.
- THE EMOTIONAL LANDSCAPE — Tad is wrong that being the smallest is to her disadvantage. It turns out to be the very thing that saves her.
If you enjoy the beautiful illustrations by Benji Davies check out the 20th century animal illustrations by Charley Harper.
You may also like Ilonka Karasz.
Also check out Dahlov Ipcar, for instance The Cat At Night.
The illustration below by Meg Hunt reminds me very much of those in Tad.
STORY STRUCTURE OF TAD
The smallest tadpole of the group faces her biggest fear in this heartwarming picture book about courage and growth from the bestselling illustrator of Jory John’s Goodnight Already! series, Benji Davies.
Tad was small.
Smaller than her tadsisters.
Smaller than her tadbrothers.
Tad was the smallest almost-a-frog in the whole, wide pond.
Soon, all her tadsiblings outgrow the nest and swim to other parts of the pond, leaving poor Tad by her lonesome. That’s until … Big Blub shows up!
Goodnight Already! artist Benji Davies creates a beautiful story about a small tadpole who must grow her hind legs, breathe through her gills, and learn how to face things that are sometimes scary. Tad will leave young readers rooting her on as she discovers that sometimes the mightiest creature comes in the smallest package.MARKETING COPY
Why are kids so eager to grow up? I don’t think all kids are. I wasn’t. My kid isn’t. And I think most kids sometimes want to grow up and other times don’t. But in picture books — in children’s literature in general — the assumption is that child characters want to grow up. Therefore, it doesn’t need to be said in so many words. Simply by telling us that Tad is the smallest, the child reader understands that it is no good to be the smallest.
Big Blub is a masterfully onomatopoeic name. He lives in the mud at the bottom of the pond, which is perfect. He is a minotaur opponent, whereas Tad’s siblings are peer opponents. As in many picture books, the peers are opponents simply for being different en masse, and contributing to the main character’s sense of difference (and inadequacy).
There is no strong plan in this one. The tadpoles curl up inside a leaf, but fat lot of good that does them.
THE BIG STRUGGLE
Refer to Jon Klassen’s This Is Not My Hat for another example of off-the-page death (again involving fish). Each night, we deduce, Big Blub is picking off some of the larger tadpoles and eating them.
Tad doesn’t get too upset about all her dead brothers and sisters. Generally, when it comes to fish and amphibians in children’s stories, the reader is not encouraged to empathise to the same extent as with puppies and kittens. I mean, imagine if this were a story about puppies being plucked off one by one, nightly? Wouldn’t be published, I don’t think.
Turn the page and the colour ‘springs’ to life. It really does! This is the most exciting page-turn colour pop I’ve ever experienced in a picture book. The experience of turning the page is a metaphor for springing with one’s brand spanking new back legs.
Well, Tad doesn’t need to worry about being eaten by Big Blub. I wonder if she changes her name to Frog? She hasn’t yet worked out that she needs to worry about birds now.
Books about growing up and finding your place in the world, taking your time are evergreen in children’s book world.
FOR FURTHER INVESTIGATION
If you enjoyed the illustrations in this picture book and the way the colours popped, I recommend checking out the paintings of Bristol contemporary artist Bex Glover.