Tadpoles Teach Us in Kern’s ‘Real Sugar’

Stories for those who feel ‘fragile about frogs’

Tucker Lieberman
2 min readAug 1, 2022

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A dozen large tadpoles swim over sand
Tadpoles by Marjan from Pixabay

Today is the long-awaited release of Real Sugar is Hard to Find, a story collection by Sim Kern. It’s set in a time, or times, of ecological collapse—speculative futures, but also, in a sense, the now. The stories stride at “the intersections of climate change, reproductive justice, queer identities, and family trauma,” as the book description explains it. “Reluctant witches, sugar smugglers, and soil thieves”: This is for you.

One of the stories is a three-page gem called “Tadpoles.” Frogs are sensitive to climate change. “Their skin is porous,” as the story notes. In our world, frogs are very real. They need water, without road salt. They are dying out. A tadpole is a baby frog-to-be, a fragile aquatic being, and if we are thinking about tadpoles, we might say, as Kern’s narrator opens the story: “I was feeling fragile about frogs to begin with.”

What is the thing, as the narrator puts it, “I’d needed the tadpoles to tell me”? There is an answer. One good, short verb could express it. It’s simple, yet the more I reflect on it, the more layers I see.

If we don’t see it for tadpoles, we don’t see it for ourselves. If we don’t see it for ourselves, we don’t see it for tadpoles.

It’s about independence and interdependence. Possibility and necessity. Needing to be in this world and needing to be in another.

We can grieve “all the frogs that aren’t.” Some of our stories going forward, though, have to be about the frogs that are. Which will those be?

The ones we learn to save. The ones we learn not to destroy.

Android Press has this timely story collection in ebook and paperback.

Book cover: REAL SUGAR IS HARD TO FIND by Sim Kern

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Tucker Lieberman

Editor for Prism & Pen. Author of the novel "Most Famous Short Film of All Time." https://tuckerlieberman.com/