Jennifer Murdley, a homely fifth-grader who would give anything to be beautiful, accidentally stumbles into a magic shop and purchases a very ugly toad. The toad, it turns out, can talk and ends up getting Jennifer into the worst trouble of her life. This madcap, head-spinning adventure is also a thought-provoking story about the nature of true beauty.
This fanciful story questions the value of beauty yet spins out of control after a promising start. Jennifer, a fifth-grader, agonizes over her appearance--``I'm just a kid in the plain brown wrapper''--and her schoolmates' taunts are doubly painful. After purchasing a toad from a mysterious shopkeeper Jennifer is amazed to discover that not only can Bufo talk, he can mimic voices unerringly. At school the canny amphibian inflicts vengeance on Sharra, a nasty classmate. When a gorgeous witch kidnaps Jennifer's youngest sibling, her evil intentions are thwarted by teamwork--and by Jennifer's sacrifices that reveal qualities surpassing mere beauty. Coville's ( Jeremy Thatcher, Dragon Hatcher ) comical classroom scenes lapse into a convoluted web involving Bufo's long-lost sweetheart and the belabored idea that pulchritude denotes cruelty; unattractiveness, humanity. The book's laudable message, however, is clearly delineated, and as kind, loyal Jennifer endures a poor self-image, one hopes readers will see the light. Ages 8-12.