Cheery: The True Adventures of a Chiricahua Leopard Frog, by Elizabeth W. Davidson, Five Star Publications, Inc. (www.fivestarpublications.net), 2011, 24 pages, $15.95
The Chiricahua leopard frog (Rana chiricahuensis) – a species known for its distinctive bedtime *snore* call – is in danger of extinction like so many amphibian species today. With a range limited to parts of Arizona and Mexico, its populations have dwindled over the years (vanishing from more than 80% of their former range) due to amphibian decline’s usual suspects: invasive predators (bullfrogs and crayfish), the Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis chytrid fungus, habitat loss, and drought.
Despite this doom and gloom, scientist-turned-children’s author Elizabeth Davidson introduces hope with Cheery, a tadpole on the rise to frogdom. From her inauspicious beginnings as one of hundreds of eggs to her curious bucket-abduction trip to the zoo, Cheery emerges as an amphibious ambassador for both the Chiricahua leopard frog and the recovery efforts currently underway to protect the species spearheaded by Arizona Game and Fish, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the U.S. Department of the Interior.
Throughout the adventures of Cheery, Davidson infuses the narrative with subtle science, teaching children about the food chain [“…tiny green plants called algae (al-jee) grow soft and slimy on the rocks…”] and hibernation [“It’s getting colder… I crawl out of the pond and find a safe place to hide under a big log…”], and introduces young readers to a frog’s-eye view of the captive breeding recovery effort under way at the Phoenix Zoo. Meanwhile, artist Michael Hagelberg unravels Cheery’s pond-hopping exploits through a palette of blues and greens draped in simmering sunsets and smokey shadows, using angles that transport you onto the pond bottom, furrowing into the leaf litter, and ultimately into the life of Cheery the Chiricahua leopard frog. With this winning combination of engaging story, playful art, and a hopeful outlook on the species’ future, from cover to cover Cheery is good to the last hop.