When a frog asks Princess Imogene for a kiss in order to return to his human form, Imogene obliges. Unfortunately, the spell cast upon him can never be broken—instead, it passes on to the kisser. Now a frog, Imogene tries to get the spell reversed, but instead is kidnapped by a troupe of travelling actors to star in their show. No matter how much she dislikes her captors, however, can Imogene really trick one of them into becoming a frog in her place?
Vivian Vande Velde gives the classic fairy tale “The Frog Prince” a new spin by transforming the rescuer princess into the froggy victim. The plot sounds a lot like Disney’s The Princess and the Frog, but while Tiana has to outwit both natural predators and a villain with supernatural powers, Princess Imogene must face an even scarier enemy—humans eager for profit. Without ever sounding like a morality tale, Frogged manages to say a lot about human nature and human needs.
Frogged reads a lot like the average middle grade princess book. Princess Imogene is neither very beautiful nor very good—nor does she want to be. Her mother does not understand her, forcing her to read some dull book about the art of being a princess. Princesses are kind, helpful, fearless, loyal, assertive, blah, blah, blah. Actually, it sounds like a pretty useful princess book. Princesses are open to new experiences, keep their word, and watch out for others? They don’t just sit around and look pretty? But Imogene does not care. She would rather play in the mud by the pond.
So, like most princesses these days, Imogene is spunky, casual, uninterested in learning, and often rude. Plus her hair tends to get messy. But, perhaps unlike the average princess in our contemporary media, Imogene is about to learn a lesson. Maybe one does not have to beautiful to be royal, but one should be kind and thoughtful—even if not a princess. Her froggy transformation is actually the start of something much bigger as she begins to learn about people, about what they want, what they need, and what they ought to say and do in order to be good.
Thus, though Imogene’s frognapping is horrible in a plotty sort of way (how will she ever get home?), it is far more interesting in terms of why it happens at all. Her original captor wants to impress a girl and his boss. Her later captor recognizes that Imogene is truly a princess, but thinks he can earn more money with her in his show. These people are not necessarily evil—that is, not the terrible witch readers might assume would be preventing Imogene’s return—but they are terribly frightening in their humanity. Imogene can never escape because she is trapped by the desires of the average person.
Also perhaps unique in this fairy tale retelling is the presence of Luella, the farm girl who runs away with one of the actors. Like many girls, her heart is destined to be broken, but she remains a staunch friend to Imogene the frog throughout it all. Seeing a female friendship was highly refreshing, and the parts with Luella remain some of my favorites, better even than the comedic bits or the promise of later romance.
The execution of the plot struck me as somewhat less impressive than some of the subtle themes woven throughout, but overall Frogged remains an enjoyable afternoon’s read. Fans of frogs, fairy tales, and princesses should all find something to please.