"I am lucky to be a frog"

Max Velthuijs, painter, writer and draughtsman, died on January 25th 2005 at the age of 81. After traning to be a graphic designer and a career as an office clerk and salesman in a hat shop, he started drawing political illustrations, made posters and designed all kinds of printed matter. He illustrated children's books and made his debut as a writer with a collection of nursery rhymes in 1962: "Rhymes We Will Never Forget". This work was immediately appreciated and rewarded as one of the "Fifty Smartest Books" of the year. 


After this he created a great number of picture books, for which he also wrote the texts himself. This proved to be a great combination of his two talents as a writer and an illustrator. In picture books such as The Boy and the Fish, The Poor Lumberjack and the Dove, The Painter and the Bird, The Amiable Monster and The Boy and the Kite, the contact between humans and animals plays a major role. In his later books the characters are usually animals with very human qualities, for instance in the animal fables and the Frog books. Many of his works won awards; in 2004 he received the most important international prize: the Hans Christian Andersen Award (also known as the "Little Nobel Prize").


The animals fables The Duck and the Fox (1985), The Bear and the little Pig (1986) and The Elephant and the Crocodile (1987) are beautifully illustrated wise lessons with lots of humour. "If you're not strong you have to be clever": this goes for the Duck who succeeds in outwitting the Fox. And the Bear who has been lazing around in the sun all summer and has forgotten to build up a winter stock, is helped by Little Pig, but decides to use a different approach the year after. The Elephant and the Crocodile learn that swapping things isn't always the best strategy.


In Little Man has No House, which came out in 1983, we meet with a frog who later on develops into the character which so many people have grown to love. Many people were convinced that Max Velthuijs himself was a lot like Frog, the most important character in his books.

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In the Frog books large and difficult issues are illustrated and told in a sublimely simple manner. The text and drawings totally fit in with one another, when reading the text out oud it becomes clear that there is not one word too many. It is remarkable that - being a children's book - Frog books are often given to adults as a present, especially Frog and the Little Bird and Frog is In Love. In Frog and the Little Bird the friends bury a bird. They are silent and subdued, but in the end they can laugh again: "There was a bird in the tree near the hill. He sang a beautiful song, as always."   In Frog is In Love there is doubt as to whether love between very different characters is possible. But in the end it turns out: "A frog and a duck - green and white. Love has no limits."   In Frog and The Stranger the theme is prejudice. Rat appears in the woods and at first is not accepted, but slowly they will appreciate him more and more. In Frog is Afraid the subject is fear. And just like in Frog is a Hero all the friends are available to help one another. Identity; who you are, and that this is ok to be you, is experienced in Frog is Frog. The protagonist draws the following conclusion: I am lucky to be a frog! I would never want to be anything else!"

(acknowledgements: the Royal Library, The Hague)

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