My love for this book may be bound up with when I read it, but I think even stripping out the situational affection, it's a lovely story. I just spend a week up in the woods, in a family cabin. We drove into town early in the week and blinkered the local library into giving us a library card, because, look, we are so wholesome, and aren't my kids adorable?? It turns out our neighbor, the one who dropped by mid-week to inquire whether we had seen their runaway horse, is a children's librarian! So The Bog Baby
came home with us.
Sisters lie to their folks, and in a wonderful act of childhood transgression, head to the pond. They find the titular bog baby, a froggish sort of fellow, who has that ugly/cute quality of all reptiles. The girls keep him in a terrarium, the kind I would set up for the hapless creatures I found in youth - here, won't you like a leaf, and a stick, and to be left in the window to heat up to boiling? Their bog baby is happy until he isn't, and they are afraid to tell mama about his sickening because of the transgression bound up in his discovery. Mama finds out anyway, and in a sweet, wonderful act of compassion, she takes them and the bog baby back to the pond, where he is set freeeee.
This book ends with an entreaty to find more bog babies, to catalog them in child-drawn pictures. I took my kids to the edge of the family land, where there is an intermittent bog that rises and falls with the seasons, wet now this year, but years before dry and caked, the cattails gone to yellow dust. Frogs jumped in the grass, and grasshoppers. I caught a grasshopper in my hands to show to them, and he obliged me several long moments where I could feel his body tensing this way and that through his gripping feet, until he sprung off and my children ooohhhed at his winged flight. The boy caught a frog, and I could see his body shake with the wonder of it, the way his hands opened slowly, with offering, and the small, slick body of the arboreal frog inside, and then out! And we caught the frog again and laid him on the grass where he had been discovered. At the pond, water skaters - or is it water striders? - sensed our movements and skittered in chaotic circles. We cut cattails, which later morphed to swords, banging softly, like cat paws playing under a door.
My grandparents, in my youth, lived on the edge of the wild, and I would go down the the crick, the unnamed ribbon of water that backed their property, and find what I could in the lazy water: frogs, crawdads, and minnows minnows, if lucky; if not, leaches and the larvae of a thousand blood-sucking things. The beautiful thing about The Bog Baby
is this understanding of childhood passed down through generations. I'm too old to lie on my belly in the mud and reeds and watch this all unfold, but I was once, and they are now. Sit still and watch, and they do with the careless intensity of youth. In time, the bog babies, the frogs and minnows, will dance in memory. It is a dance when the grasshopper jumps from my hand.