I can probably be forgiven for confusing Ellen Stoll Walsh with fellow children's author/illustrator Denise Fleming. Both artists use remarkably original cut-outish designs to present stories of highly creative animals. Both have also used mice in a great many of their books. I was under the impression however that I'd never read a Walsh story, until I remembered her delightful "Mouse Paint" from a couple years ago. In that story, Walsh used otherwise unemotional rodentia to tell a clever tale of camouflage and colors. "Hop Jump" is not particularly dissimilar from "Mouse Paint" at first glance. The characters never show much in the way of emotion. Just the same, Walsh has a way of positioning her characters bodies and phrasing their thoughts so as to make you think that their otherwise blank faces express a wide range of intentions and meanings. The result is a delightful little tale of frogs, dancing, and diversity.
Betsy is bored to death with her compatriots. No matter where they go, the other frogs go "Hop jump, hop jump". They never change their style. When she watches the pattern of falling leaves she attempts to imitate their movements. Betsy cannot float gently to the ground, but she can leap, turn, twist, and dance. Of course, the other frogs crowd her and inform her that there is no room for dancing. When she goes off to find her own dancing ground, her fellows are intrigued and eventually join her. The moment of truth comes when one other frog wants to hop and jump in the newly formed dancing circle. The others try to tell him that there is no room for hopping. Betsy contradicts them, however, and says, "Oh yes, there's room. For dancing and for hopping".
Walsh creates a variety of frogs that look similar at first but carry distinguishing characteristics. Some have yellow spotted green bodies with green spotted yellow arms. Others have purple spotted green bodies with yellow spotted green arms. Betsy, so that the reader can tell her apart from the others, is the sole blue frog amongst them. They all have benign expressions and wide orange eyes, though. Using a minimal amount of arms and legs and bodies, Walsh coaxes a great deal of expressive movements out of these otherwise limited figures. The message the story contains is a simple one and the pictures are just as easy to understand. The words are also particularly short and good for those kids attempting to read their first picture book on their own.
Cut-out picture books normally conjure images of Eric Carle. I wish, rather, that images of Ellen Stoll Walsh were conjured instead. "Hop Jump" is just one more well-written beautifully illustrated book of hers that tells a story with simplicity and aplomb. An excellent companion to Leo Lionni's, "Fish Is Fish".