Sonderbooks Book Review of

Once Upon a Toad

by Heather Vogel Frederick

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Once Upon a Toad

by Heather Vogel Frederick

Reviewed November 1, 2012.
Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2012. 263 pages.

I always like fairy tale take-offs, and this book takes elements from the classic fairy tale "Toads and Diamonds" and puts them in a modern context, with two stepsisters living in Portland.

What would you do if you suddenly started spouting toads any time you made a vocal noise? And what if your mean stepsister, at the same time, started spouting flowers and diamonds?

This isn't intended to be an exact copy of the fairy tale, set in modern times. No, the idea for the spell in this story was taken from the classic fairy tale. Only it got a bit muddled, and the stepsister we would have called the good one (since she is, after all, the narrator) is the one who got the toads.

Cat Starr has to live with her father's new family while her mother is in outer space (really!) on the International Space Station. That wouldn't be so bad -- Cat loves her Dad and her little brother and gets along great with her stepmother -- if it weren't that she had to share a room with her stepsister and go to middle school classes with her. They have nothing in common, it seems, and Olivia can be just plain mean.

But when Cat talks it over with Great-Aunt Abyssinia, she's not at all prepared for what happens next.

This is a fun take-off on the fairy tale. There are plenty of implausibilities. There are bumbling crooks, sinister government figures, and some mysterious magic happening a bit randomly. But, hey, when were fairy tales ever plausible?