Resident writes children’s book ‘Willie the Jumping Frog’
By Stephanie Choate
With Williston’s Fourth of July festivities just a couple of weeks away, local children may have begun strategizing for one of the celebration’s most popular and unique events—the annual frog jumping contest.
Now, they have a new source for tips and frog facts, plus a loveable mascot, in a new children’s book written by the tradition’s creator.
After decades officiating the annual Fourth of July frog jumping contest, resident Bill Skiff is set to release the children’s book “Willie the Jumping Frog.”
“I wrote it for the kids,” Skiff said. “The book was really inspired by my many years as a frogmaster.”
The book follows Willie, a frog living in a pond behind the school who wants to participate in the jumping contest.
He must get the children to notice him, overcome the challenges of training for the contest and work up his courage to jump alongside larger frogs. Does he have what it takes to win the contest? Skiff isn’t about to give away the ending.
“To find out how the story ends, come to the Fourth of July activities and visit the book release,” he said.
Bob Shepard, a former Richmond resident now living in Oregon, brought Willie to life in illustrations.
“I wanted to create Willie as a whimsical, loveable frog and not a caricature or anatomically correct frog,” Skiff said. “Bob, in my opinion, captured Willie’s personality and I owe him a great deal of gratitude for his ability to see what I wanted to do and produce it on paper.”
Shepard, whose career in geology took him and his family around the world, comes from a family of artists, he said, and has always drawn cartoons as a hobby.
When Skiff, a longtime friend, reached out to him, he “just sat down and drew,” he said.
“I was thinking about the kiddies,” Shepard said. “I wanted a frog face that would be happy for the children, that was the main thing. To make him even more attractive, I put a little bow tie on him.”
Several pages at the end of the book are taken up with what Skiff terms “Frogology”—facts about the growth, life cycle, habitat and care of frogs. Put together with the help of Williston resident Steve Shepard, it also includes science projects and exploration ideas that teachers or parents can do with their kids.
Skiff started the frog jumping contest 25 years ago.
“I wanted to have children in the area have the opportunity to see how you can have fun with very little,” he said. “Every year, I see more and more happy children’s faces, and their pride in their frog and how it jumped.”
The contest is now a Skiff family endeavor. Skiff’s son, Bill, stands in as frogmaster, with the assistance of other family members, and, as Skiff puts it, “a number of grandfrogs.”
“I think it caught on because it’s very simple and it’s something that the children can do from start to finish,” he said. “They have to find the frog, they have to care for the frog and then they have to go through the anxiety and the nervousness of jumping their frog. Everybody gets a ribbon, so everyone feels they did well.”
Shepard said the book captures the heart of a community tradition unique to Williston.
“It’s like a precious bit of Americana,” he said. “Where in the world would you go they have this sort of thing every year? It’s like a part of history. It’s just marvelous.”
The book, published by Red Barn Books in Shelburne, is set to be released June 23 for $9.95. Skiff will be on hand to sign copies at the Fourth of July festivities on the Williston Town Green. For more information or to purchase the book, email firstname.lastname@example.org.