Fans of Mo Willems’ best-selling, laugh-out-loud Pigeon and Knuffle Bunny books may be surprised by the quiet tone of his new picture book, City Dog, Country Frog, in which a dog and a frog befriend one another. Their relationship is sweet and heartfelt, much like that of Arnold Lobel’s beloved Frog and Toad series, without any of Frog and Toad’s misunderstandings.

The duo meets in spring, on City Dog’s “first day in the country.” They romp and explore exuberantly, basking in each other’s company. When summer arrives, City Dog teaches Frog some of his favorite games, which include “sniffing and fetching and barking.” By fall, however, Frog is too tired to play, and come winter, he is gone, leaving City Dog lonely and bereft over the loss of his friend. The next spring, City Dog finds a new companion (Country Chipmunk), but he never forgets dear Frog.

In a beautifully understated way, City Dog, Country Frog tackles the essential issues of friendship, change, loss and death. It’s also the sort of book that can be absorbed at many levels. Some children will simply enjoy the surface-level story, while others might be ready for more profound discussions suggested by the tale.

While Willems’ text is appropriately spare, Jon J Muth’s watercolor illustrations are gorgeous, showing the changing soft palette of each successive season—from the brilliant greens of spring and summer to the soft purple, blue and yellow tones of a beautiful winter day. Muth’s renditions of Dog and Frog are cute but never trite, and he paints these animals with a wide range of heartfelt expressions.

Writing and illustrating such a lovely, simple, yet meaningful book is no easy feat, and Muth and Willems have once again proven themselves masters.

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