While browsing my local library a while back, I noticed an odd title in the children’s section. Sequestered away from the dinosaur section amid random storybooks, I found a book about a prehistoric frog called Tadpole Rex. Had I merely seen the title, I might have dismissed it, but upon leafing through it, I found it rather charming.
Written and illustrated by Kurt Cyrus, Tadpole Rex was inspired by a pet tadpole the author once had. One day, after its hind legs had developed but its tail still remained, Kurt noticed it floating at the surface in a manner that reminded him strongly of the king of the dinosaurs itself, Tyrannosaurus rex. Upon receiving this vision from his unorthodox muse, a children’s book soon followed.
The story itself follows the life of a frog, in a “day in the life” format similar to Joschua Knüppe’s Europasaurus graphic novel, though with rhyming prose like Dinosaur Feathers. Hatched from an egg laid in a puddle formed from a T. rex’s footprint. Surviving the perils of his tadpole stage in his unprotected home, he grows into an adult frog with the spirit of “an inner tyrannosaur”. Bellowing and hopping about, he startles his dinosaur neighbors with his unexpected tenacity, before settling in to a cozier new puddle to rule over, satisfied with his perceived dominance.
While not exactly a scientifically inclined book, and one that occasionally stretches the “Rex” analogy to a somewhat torturous degree, it captured the attention of both me and my boys, who have often requested it as a bedtime story. The rhyming narrative is a delight to read out loud, and certainly entertaining for my young listeners as well. The fact that the final page includes an assortment of modern frogs descended from our story’s hero does help drive home the idea of these amphibians’ deep history, who did indeed originate in the Mesozoic alongside the dinosaurs. I would have personally enjoyed it more if the author had explicitly identified our protagonist as a specific species of prehistoric frog, just to ground it a bit more, but it ultimately doesn’t really detract from the story.
I like the illustrations, which feel neither cartoony nor exacting, but simply feel easy to the eyes and make the book that much more enjoyable to read. The dinosaurs themselves generally look decent enough. While I’m sure a certain scaly predator that menaces our hero at one point is meant to be some sort of generic “raptor”, it could just as easily be something else, since all we see is the head, so I suppose we can brush aside the lack of feathers in this case.
If you’re looking for a somewhat different dinosaur themed book to read to your kids, I can definitely recommend Tadpole Rex. Prehistoric amphibians definitely deserve more love, making this a welcome addition to the children’s paleo literature scene. While I might have personally enjoyed it if the book had been slightly more specific about its subject and setting, I don’t think it detracts at all from the target audience’s enjoyment of it. (Cyrus’s other prehistory themed books, The Voyage of Turtle Rex and Mammoths on the Move, more than satisfy this desire however. Watch this space for my review of those two in the future!) While it seems to be out of print currently, Kurt Cyrus seems to be a popular author, so you probably won’t have too much trouble finding a used copy.