The Celebrated Jumping Frog


I’m so scared of the coronavirus. I’m honestly so scared I really can’t think about other stuff when it’s got me like this, and even my teachers are scared about it.



I know exactly what you should do to feel better. This might sound crazy, but listen carefully because I will only say this once:

You should eat a live frog.

I am totally serious. This is no joke. I will explain myself, but before I do I want to tell you that you’re lucky to live in Connecticut. My favorite writer lived there. His house still stands in Hartford, they’ve turned it into a cool museum and I’d give almost anything to see it.

I fell in love with this particular writer in the fourth grade when I first read a story called “The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County.” And it made me laugh.

You probably wouldn’t care about this story, it’s about a frog-jumping contest. Also, it’s a little tough to read since it was written in 1865, and in those days people used funky words like “betwixt,” “inasmuch,” and “whence.”

As it happens, 1865 was a crazy year in America. Women were wearing Victorian fashions. The West was still wild. The pioneers were traveling great distances with their families, enduring hardships, roaming in covered wagons through untamed wilderness in search of free WiFi.

You’re probably thinking: “Big deal. What’s your point?”

Patience, Grasshopper. I’m getting there.

First, I want you to get this historic setting: Abraham Lincoln has just been sworn in for a second term. Half the country wants the other half killed. The Civil War is in full swing. About 620,000 men are dead. The newspapers are reporting on nothing but bloodbaths.

‘65 is a dark year, and it only gets darker. Officially, the war is over in April, but battles keep raging. Then six days after the war’s end, Lincoln gets shot. Terror reigns.

In this era, people along the Mississippi River are dying of cholera right and left. 4,500 dead in Saint Louis. 3,000 in New Orleans. And just when it can’t get any worse, Lewis Caroll writes one of the weirdest freaking children’s books ever published, entitled “Alice Must be Trippin’, Dude.”

Stay with me here. What I’m saying is that 1865 is scary, deadly, depressing, horrific, and the bestselling children’s book might as well have been written by Jimi Hendrix.

Then, one chilly morning, you toss open your newspaper and see a humorous story about a frog-jumping contest. Up until today it’s been death tolls, explosions, battlefields, Cheshire cats, etc. But this frog story. It makes you laugh. It even warms you up.

I’ll pause here because you’re probably saying aloud: “Jeez, if I wanted a history lesson, Sean, I would’ve repeatedly slammed my head in a textbook until I required major reconstructive facial surgery.”

I’m telling you all this for two reasons:

1. No matter how bad this world seems, this isn’t 1865.

2. I’m not a Lewis Caroll fan.

Also, because when I was a kid, my family fell apart. My life sucked ditch water. I’ve written about it a lot so there’s no need to rehash it. But during this period I did a lot of reading. Not because I was smart, cuz bleeve me, i ain’t. I was reading because life scared me, and I wanted to escape it.

My mother was very concerned about me, always hiding in my room, reading. I mostly read my favorite books by my favorite author—the same one who wrote the frog story. His books made everything seem brighter, the same way they’d been doing for a century.

So I’ll never forget when early one morning my mother burst into my bedroom announcing at the top of her voice, “Pack your bags! We’re going on a trip!”

This woman had lost her mind. I wasn’t even awake and she already had our car running. She offered no explanations, she simply shoved me into the front seat, butt first, and we drove for what felt like ten days until we arrived in a tiny town called Florida, Missouri.

Florida is a sleepy rural village. There isn’t much going on. My mother shut off the car and said, “Do you know where we are?”

“Egypt?” I said.

“Guess again.”

“Wherever we are, it sure ain’t Vegas.”

“Why don’t we get out and look around?”

I whined.

We got out of the car to see a stone pillar bearing a bronze plaque with engraved words upon it that I will never forget:

“Birthplace of Mark Twain, he cheered and comforted a tired world.”

All I could do was touch that plaque. I was standing on the same soil where he’d been born. I was overwhelmed. My mother loved me enough to take me to Florida, and Hannibal, Mark Twain’s old stomping grounds.

I learned something important that day: Even though life terrifies you, even though it can make you sick with worry, simply knowing that somebody loves you makes everything less scary.

So I’m running out of room, but I’ll finish by offering you a serious suggestion. Visit Hartford, Connecticut. You’re only an hour away. Tour the Mark Twain House and Museum. If for no other reason, do it to make me insanely jealous. Do it because America’s coolest author once wrote:

“Eat a live frog first thing in the morning, and nothing worse will happen to you the rest of the day.”

Don’t be afraid of anything, sweetheart. I love you.


  1. Sharon Lawson - March 3, 2020 8:38 am

    Excellent column! You really have a big heart and Thats Why I read your columns!!!!

  2. Martha Black - March 3, 2020 8:39 am

    Well I might manage a few fried frog legs but that’s about as much as I can promise, but I am already feeling comforted just by thinking about that.

    God love you Sean, we love you too.

    I don’t know what we’d do if we didn’t have you to keep prodding us along.

  3. Martha Black - March 3, 2020 8:43 am

    Well I might eat a couple of fried frog legs (ribbit) but that’s about all I’ll commit to. I’m feeling comforted just thinking about it though.

    God love you Sean, we all love you too

    I don’t know what we’d do if we didn’t have you to prod us along.

  4. thelifeoflylabeth - March 3, 2020 9:59 am

    As usual, Sean, you hit a home run with this one. Thanks!

  5. Paula Beard - March 3, 2020 10:12 am

    Thank you for cheering and comforting a tired world.

  6. Elizabeth - March 3, 2020 11:21 am

    Omg, one of your best! Perspective! Love it! Saying thank you just isn’t sufficient for the pleasure you bring each day!

  7. Phil S. - March 3, 2020 12:02 pm

    Sean, my man, this has to go down in history as one of your best. Boy, could we evermore use a Mark Twain today! But, shucks, we got you, next best thing, so brighten up, world! Now I think I will ease down to the pond and try to grab my breakfast.

  8. Greyn - March 3, 2020 12:37 pm

    What a fine idea the early day frog feast turns out to be. Two things I learned this very day: rinse your frog off first, and most importantly, pick a small one. Larger mission accomplished. No longer worried over rest of this day. How long will they survive in there? This worse than butterflies.

  9. Kay Britton - March 3, 2020 1:27 pm

    Sean, thank you. I told my granddaughter to read this before school. She lives in Lincoln, Nebraska, and is having to make the decisions about college, where to live, how to pay for it, and how to find a car, etc. Too many things on her little heart to focus. I’m here in Tuscaloosa, trying to come up with profound advise, and I think you nailed it. Wish I could hug your neck!

  10. Betty F. - March 3, 2020 1:34 pm

    This needs to be front page newspaper material nationwide, but they prefer to keep us riled up about everything. I’m passing it on to everyone in my corner of the world, however. If you need a place to stay in the Hartford area, I’ve got lots of family up there. Thanks again for spreading the love. Continued healing, Sean, from all of us on the journey with you.

  11. Tammy S. - March 3, 2020 2:17 pm


  12. Gary - March 3, 2020 2:34 pm

    I’m in Nashville where we woke up in the night to find out a tornado had devastated our city, our 97 year old mom fell and broke her hip a few days ago, and while Rome burns around me, I’m going to go read a little of of my favorite author (sorry Sean) also. My youngest granddaughter went to Hannibal with her school and brought me a bag of rocks from the cave, keep them on my desk. Thanks Sean again for perspective.

  13. Charles Mathers - March 3, 2020 3:06 pm

    Eat a small one. They taste just as bad but they go down easier.

  14. Beverly Wynn Bua - March 3, 2020 3:38 pm

    Sean, I’m saving that one…… one of your best!! Ribbit… ribbit…….. 🙃

  15. Nancy M - March 3, 2020 4:44 pm

    Now I’m going to have to reread Tom Sawyer. I’m not ashamed to reread childhood classics, I reread Heidi last week. Alice in Wonderland was strange but I enjoyed it. Through the Looking Glass, too.
    No live frogs though!

  16. Bernadette Wyckoff - March 3, 2020 4:44 pm

    One word ….love….its all we ever need….or maybe a live frog for breakfast once in awhile…hugs are good too🙏💙🙏

  17. Dell Corley - March 3, 2020 4:55 pm

    i use that saying a lot, and Yes, I absolutely love Mark Twain.

  18. Cindy Castle - March 3, 2020 5:33 pm

    You never disappoint! And I was fortunate enough to hear a version of this story in person last night! ❤️

  19. Glenda Hinkle - March 3, 2020 5:36 pm

    Sean, I will soon be 74 years old. I am in my twilight years, as they say. Funny, I still feel 35 but the diabetes and neuropathy in my feet really do slow me down. When I read your articles, I feel 35 again. You are so full of appreciation for life, acknowledging the good AND bad life gives us, but you stay focused on the good. I wish you were my kid!!! Loved this article. I hope you don’t mind, but I share most all of your columns on facebook with my friends. I hope they get as much out of them as I do.

  20. Linda Moon - March 3, 2020 5:39 pm

    I was just thinking the other day that you remind me of Samuel L. Clemens! Your illustration of him on the jumping frog is outstanding….. I see some resemblance between you and him. I’m currently reading Carl Sandburg’s ABRAHAM LINCOLN that I was supposed to read in elementary school. All that reading you did as a child comforted you, Sean, When I read your words, Sandburg’s, and Twain’s I am comforted. Your mother loves you, and so do lots of your readers!

  21. Ala Red Clay Girl - March 3, 2020 6:04 pm

    Don’t know about eating that live frog, but I do enjoy Mark Twain’s work. I discovered Tom Sawyer & Huckleberry Finn as a 6th grader and they still sit on my bookshelf after all these years. I may have to pull them down and read them again after I finish reading all the books of another author I enjoy – Sean Dietrich!

  22. JoAnn Stallings - March 3, 2020 6:41 pm

    Dear Sean, I love you. I am 85 years young and have nothing else to do everyday except read., which is one of my passions. Last year I had three major surgeries, I had both my knees replaced so I can walk now and I had an hysterectomy. Every morning before I get out of bed I read your column or blog, whatever you call it. I laughed, I cried, I felt like I had a friend. You see my husband passed away in 2013 after being married 53 and a half years. Neither of us had any siblings, so being raised alone we wanted nothing more than a family, a house and a good job. We got all of it. We had two boys, two girls and now have twelve grandchildren and six great grands. To say I miss him every day would be an understatement. I was raised on a small farm in North Alabama. He was raised in Panama(the country). We had nothing in common except being only children and love and wanting a family.
    I love the way you write, the way you never back away from the bad things that have happened in your life. You are an inspiration to lots and lots of people. You show them life is not always pleasant but good can come from bad. Now days parents want to sugar coat life or never believe their kids can do any wrong. Reality and good hard work never hurt need to start working somewhere as soon as possible. I got my first paycheck at age seven, picked peaches one summer along with my parents. Started going to the field to work when I was five. Growing up on a farm you learn a lot about life and death. Bad weather can ruin a crop and almost send a family to the poor house. You learn to tighten your belt, pull together and survive. Plant a bigger garden so you can feed your family and take left over vegetables from your neighbors, you can repay from your garden when they need it. People now days don’t know how to survive.
    I didn’t mean to go on and on, I just meant to say Thank You and I think you and your writing are special and I will continue to read you everyday, and some days I will laugh and some days I will cry but I will always thank you for being there.

  23. cajuntiger74 - March 3, 2020 6:45 pm

    Sean, this is one of your best stories ever. I so enjoyed reading it. You were blessed to have a Mother who loved you as she did. Thank you for putting life into perspective.

  24. Michael Bishop - March 3, 2020 6:55 pm

    I like you, I like Mark Twain aka Samuel L. Clemens, and, whilst doing no drugs much more mind- (and/or bladder-) blowing than acetaminophen and Flomax, I also like the very funny as well as very sly Lewis Carroll aka Charles Dodgson. Keep it up. You’re there for us every morning and we’re there for you.

  25. catladymac - March 3, 2020 9:03 pm

    Just an addendum: the ONLY reason to read ANYTHING by James Fenimore Cooper is so you can better enjoy Twain;s “Fenimore Cooper’s Further Literary Offenses” !

  26. turtlekid - March 3, 2020 11:01 pm

    Your mom is most extraordinary and I would love to know more about her! Didn’t you write a book about her? The tragedy she endured, the eccentric son she tried to comfort, and how she managed to hold on to her sanity make me wonder where she got the grit. Thank you from a Senior Citizen who appreciates another females gumption! And you, for giving her credit. ❤️❤️❤️❤️😀

  27. Sara Howland - March 4, 2020 12:31 am

    What a sweet, cool story! I can always count on something sweet, silly, poignant, or some combination thereof in my inbox. Thank you, and I love you.

  28. Jo - March 4, 2020 1:45 am

    Sean, I loved reading this so much. I can relate to almost everything you talked about.
    I am a retired English teacher who loves Twain’s stories, and yes, my students read the Celebrated Jumping Frog story, as well as Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer.
    I have been to Florida, MO and to Hannibal as well as Hartford. His steamboat styled house will blow you away.
    My grandchildren know all about Tom and Huck. I have taken them to two separate theater venues to see the great musical, Big River.
    I’m so glad you wrote about this today.

  29. Steve Winfield - March 4, 2020 8:12 am

    Bottom line here. Your momma loved you. More than you could know. She’d a drove you to Peru to help you get better. To the North Pole even. And you know it.
    So I see where Panama City is making them tear down Alvin’s Island. The one with the gunite coating. I guess there will be some live alligators up for adoption. 2 for 1 sale on hermit crabs.
    Love, Steve

  30. Judy - March 8, 2020 5:53 am

    Sean – The past year has been full of “opportunities” which have resulted in numerous days (and nights) which seem unending. I have no one to share these times with but you. You see often when sleep won’t come in the middle of the night I pick up my cell phone to check my email and there is your column. You will never know how many lives you have and will continue to touch. God bless.


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