Night of the Spadefoot Toads


“A riot of sound rises and falls all around them. They’re surrounded by this crazy orchestra – the wind in the trees, the thunder in the sky, the rain pattering on the pool and their jackets, the spring peepers chirping in the distance.

And these little spadefoot toads right before them are leading the symphony.”

Harley’s appealing story shows readers that adults and children can connect in meaningful friendships and reminds them that conservation can begin in their own backyards.

About this Story

This satisfying story explores the powerful impact of our actions on the world around us.

When his father takes a new job in Massachusetts, Ben Moroney must leave behind his best friend Tony, a western banded gecko named Lenny, and worst of all, the desert home he has loved and explored.

Ben’s adjustment to his new environment is not going well until he unexpectedly finds a kindred spirit in his eccentric fifth-grade science teacher, Mrs. Tibbets. Together they explore the varied habitats on her rural property, and she introduces him to the elusive and endangered Eastern spadefoot toads that make their home there.

When Ben discovers that Mrs. Tibbets’s relatives plan to sell the land to developers, he knows he must try to stop them. As Ben’s obsession with saving the spadefoot toads’ habitat grows, his schoolwork suffers and his relationships with his family and new friends are strained. One foolish, impulsive act threatens to destroy his friendship with Mrs. Tibbets—and maybe even her career. But just when it seems things can’t get any worse, Ben finds a way to meet his responsibilities to the people around him and learns what it means to feel “at home.”

Spadefoot Toad Arches National Park

Publisher: Peachtree Publishers, 2008  |  ISBN-13: 978-1-56145-459-4  |  Ages: 8-12 
Hardcover: 224 pages;  Paperback: 192  pages  |  Also available: ebook

Aligned with the CCSS through the Pearson Social Sciences curriculum adopted by New York, Night of the Spadefoot Toads
will be read by every 5th grader in the system in support of their work with Ecosystems.


  • Green Earth Book Award – Newton Marasco Foundation 2009
  • KIND Children’s Honorable Mention – Humane Society Youth 2009-10
  • Society of School Librarians International Book Awards (honor book, Language Arts K-6 novels) 2009
  • Kansas State Reading Circle Recommended Reading List – Kansas National Education Association 2009
  • Keystone to Reading Book Award (nominee) – Keystone State Reading Association 2009-10
  • Volunteer State Book Awards (nominee) – Tennessee Association of School Librarians 2010-11
  • Prairie Pasque Children’s Book Award (nominee) – South Dakota Library Association 2010-11
  • Golden Sower Award (nominee) – Nebraska Library Association 2011-12



Harley's appealing story shows readers that adults and children can connect in meaningful friendships, and reminds them that conservation can begin in their own backyards.

... I found myself pulled into this intriguing novel right from the start. The characters are well-drawn and realistic ... This is a sure winner for middle-grade readers who like to read about kids like themselves or have an interest in animals and the environment.

... the main character is a well-developed, realistic “child hero.”

Hi, I am a fifth-grade teacher in the South Bronx teaching Night of the Spadefoot Toads and my fifth graders are having an absolute blast reading this book. It is relatable to them in so many ways (even though you would think inner city kids can’t relate at all). The book is so powerful! I am so glad that they found this book and are having us read it. Kudos to Mr. Harley. If he is ever in NYC-The South Bronx, we’d love to meet him!


Saving the rain forests is important, but don’t forget about your own neighborhood. Vernal pools don’t look like much, but they harbor species like the spadefoot toad that are an important part of the web of life. They need our protections, too, and they’re right around the corner, if we take the time to look. Many students around the United States have worked to save vernal pools in their areas. You can, too!    

To learn more about vernal pools, check out these resources.


The Frog Book, by Mary Dickerson (Dover). An old but accurate and beautifully written book about all the species of frogs found in the U.S. It’s a classic.    

Frog Heaven: Ecology of a Vernal Pool, by Doug Wechsler (Boyds). A great book, especially for students.    

Last Child in the Woods, by Richard Louv (Algonquin Books). A book about the importance of nature in children’s lives.    

Vernal Pools: Natural History and Conservation, by Betsy Colburn (MacDonald and Woodward). Everything you ever wondered about when it comes to vernal pools.



A search for “vernal pools” or “spadefoot toads” will turn up a wealth of information. And don’t forget to look on YouTube and other video sites for some great videos of kids and adults working to save vernal pools.

The Vernal Pool Association offers resources for students and community people who want to identify and preserve vernal pools.
Information about the vernal pools of Mather Field

Info from the Environmental Protection Agency

URI students study vernal pools to help protect amphibians
This will tell you more about the vernal pools that Ben discovered in the book.

Good news for spadefoot toads!
There may be more of them than we thought


The New Mexico Spadefoot Toad
(Spea multiplicata) is the official state amphibian.

The Savannah River Ecological Laboratory, University of Georgia
You can find out what the Eastern Spadefoot Toad (Scaphiopus holbrookii) sounds like.

Animal Life Resource Encyclopedia
A few more details, plus a few specifics about the Plains Spadefoot Toad

A-Z Animals
A quick overview of spadefoot toads


You can also contact your local nature center or state department of natural resources for more information about vernal pools, amphibians, and other critters in the wild—and in your back yard!

Find your local Audubon center and chapter.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
Here are links by state for Natural Resources and Environmental Conservation


We’d love to hear from you! Let us know the most interesting thing you discovered about spadefoot toads and/or vernal pools. Or if you found a resource that we didn’t list that you think others should know about. Or if there is an endangered animal in your area that you have tried to save. Email us at

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