38 pages 1 hour read

The Voyage of the Frog

Fiction | Novel | Middle Grade | Published in 1989

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Summary and Study Guide

Overview

Written by Gary Paulsen in 1989, The Voyage of the Frog by Gary Paulsen depicts a young boy’s coming of age through an adventure in the wilderness. Fourteen-year-old David Alspeth sets sail out into the Pacific to fulfill his uncle’s last wishes and ends up lost and alone at sea. Paulsen was an avid outdoorsman who spent a great deal of time sailing the Pacific Ocean, and his nautical experience is evident in the details of David’s adventure.

Gary Paulsen has written over 175 books for children and young adults and is best known for Hatchet, which won the Newbery Honor and inspired several sequels. The Voyage of the Frog has also garnered several notable awards, including the ALA/YALSA Best Book for Young Adults and the AL/YALSA Quick Pick for Young Adult Readers. The novel provides a sensitive, in-depth portrayal of grief and loss, the development of independence, and the importance of survival skills—all of which are relevant themes for younger readers.

This study guide refers to the 2009 Scholastic Paperbacks reprint edition.

Plot Summary

Fourteen-year-old David Alspeth has just experienced the loss of his beloved Uncle Owen, who died of cancer. Owen and David spent most of their time together sailing off the coast of Ventura, California on Owen’s sailboat, the Frog. Upon his death, Owen leaves the Frog to David and requests that David scatter his ashes far out in the ocean, where the shore is no longer visible. David reluctantly agrees; however, he is initially unwilling to accept ownership of the Frog because he feels that doing so officially acknowledges the reality of Owen’s death. At the start of the novel, David is boarding the boat to prepare it for a voyage on the ocean. As the sun begins to set, David impulsively decides to set sail that very evening, even though he has not sufficiently planned or checked his supplies. He believes that a night sail would be exactly what Uncle Owen would want.

David’s voyage progresses smoothly at first, and he experiences the many wonders of the ocean, including dolphins and glowing, phosphorescent plankton. He sails through the night, and when dawn breaks, he decides that he has gone far enough. He scatters Owen’s ashes and bids him a tearful goodbye. As he prepares the sails for the journey back home, he notices strange waves in the distance and realizes that a strong wind is approaching, which likely means that a storm is right behind it. He hastily tries to stow the sails and his supplies in the cabin below, but the storm comes upon him too quickly. In his struggle to secure the Frog, he is knocked unconscious by the boom of the mast and falls into the cabin.

David drifts in and out of consciousness over the next day. When he finally awakens, the storm has subsided and the Frog is a mess. Thankfully, there is no significant damage, but David realizes that he has been blown completely off course. Without proper maps or navigation gear, he is completely lost. He attempts to remain calm and to take stock of his supplies. He knows that he will need to use everything at his disposal to get home. On the first night after the storm, David is awakened by something bumping and scraping against the boat. He goes on deck to investigate and realizes that a shark is throwing itself against the hull. He begins to panic again but reminds himself that the shark is acting on instinct, not malice.

The next day, David continues to put the ship back in sailing form, although he is unable to sail anywhere due to the lack of wind. Time passes, and eventually, David is nearly hit by a passing oil tanker. He attempts to get the tanker’s attention, but the crew does not notice him. This encounter causes David to feel great anger, which motivates him to work on the problem of how to return home. Eventually, the wind strengthens, and David can sail the Frog due east, back to the coast. While sailing, he is surrounded by a pod of killer whales and watches them with both fear and awe. They swim onward past the Frog, and David nearly runs aground on a nearby shore. He is dismayed to learn that he has not made it back to the Southern California coast; instead, he is just offshore on a stretch of uninhabited land. He guesses that it is probably Baja California. David sails the Frog into a natural cove and falls asleep. He is roused from his slumber by a pod of blue whales. He watches them all day as they swim and breach. After they leave, David decides to set sail again as well.

David sails Frog into another strong storm, but this time he is ready. David has gained a great deal of skill as a sailor and feels more courageous. He successfully navigates the Frog over the swells and through the storm. After it subsides, David encounters a whaling research ship. They inform him that everyone back in his hometown has been searching for him and that he has been presumed dead. The captain offers David safe passage back to Ventura but informs him that he will have to leave the Frog behind. David refuses, having developed a strong bond with his boat. He decides that he and the Frog will sail back home together. The crew of the research vessel provides him with ample supplies and wishes him well. David and the Frog set a course for the north and head home.

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