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Contemporary Realistic Fiction, Friendship, Middle Grade Readers, Read-Aloud Suggestions

OPERATION FROG EFFECT by Sarah Scheerger

Operation Frog Effect was a delightful surprise for me.  I picked it up after having read about it on Goodreads and seeing the title come up in our Mock Newbery Group. I was put off by the juvenile nature of the cover, which conflicted with reviews I had read regarding its content.  I am extremely glad I started reading it despite my initial impression.

Operation Frog Effect is told through the journal entries of eight 5th Grade students.  Each is keeping a daily journal as part of their classroom assignment. Through their combined entries we follow them as they learn from their extraordinary teacher, Ms. Graham.  A couple of things make this story special:  (1) Ms. Graham is that remarkable sort of teacher who teaches her students to think critically and creatively and to behave with compassion and empathy–as opposed to simply rote memorization of facts; and (2) the author clearly worked hard to make each of the eight voices distinct from the others–and, for the most part, succeeds. The journal entries are also in different forms; most are the traditional diary-like entries but there is one in free verse, one written as a movie/TV script and one that is done completely with illustrations.

The title comes from the opening scenes in the book when one student brings an injured frog into the classroom on the first day and Ms. Graham unexpectedly allows them to keep it as a classroom mascot. They name the frog Kermit and at various points in the story different students will bring Kermit to their work space to provide inspiration or courage alongside a specific project.

Ms. Graham introduces collaborative learning with a number of assignments that require students to work together in specific groups. The response–as you might expect–is varied, but all students are definitely engaged.  When Ms. Graham introduces a social issues project the students begin to grapple with real-world concerns.  They begin (in different ways) to explore and consider the lives of other students in the classroom, as well as people outside of their local and cultural circles.  This project leads one group to generate an idea that is, at the very least, ill-advised, and at its extreme, very dangerous.  The implementation of this idea leads the entire classroom into a new understanding of how our actions–despite our intentions–can have serious consequences not just for ourselves, but for those around us as well.

Operation Frog Effect creates very tangible characters and a storyline which beautifully illustrates the ‘ripples in the pond’ theory from both positive and negative angles.  The actions we take can affect others and likewise, any action we take–no matter how small–can make an important difference in conditions or situations where we are trying to effect change.  This is a great independent or read-aloud for 4th or 5th Graders.  (It could be a good read-aloud choice for a 3rd Grade classroom later in the year as well.) The plot is tightly organized and definitely has its own momentum so everything that happens feels like it occurs organically from the characters, situation and setting. The journal entry style and the author’s success in creating distinctly different voices keeps the story moving at a brisk pace and provides a perfect springboard for discussions about the application of differing perspectives/viewpoints in life, as well as in literary works.

Operation Frog Effect is a much deeper story than it first appears and is well worth the read for middle grade students and adults.

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