FROG AND TOAD SERIES
1970-79 | WRITTEN AND ILLUSTRATED BY ARNOLD LOBEL
One of my fondest memories is sitting in a cool, musty smelling mud room in summer, reading the Frog and Toad series. The sun would shine in through the ground level window, and I’d be at the Formica table, lost in the stories, laughing, and laughing.
I was a solitary kid. We lived on 48 acres of trees and garden. Our closest neighbours were a long walk up the dirt lane way that we’d brave on schooldays, and when we’d want to go down to the ditch to look for minnows, or the mailbox, which would get uprooted on a regular basis. I didn’t have many friends, not for lack of trying, but because we were a pretty far drive from anywhere. My closest connection was the book shelf, starting really young with Dr. Seuss, and when I was in grade 4, graduating to Reader’s Digest Abridged books that I would devour as quickly as my mom received her monthly subscription.
When I was pregnant with my daughter, and on my way home from my day job, I ran into BMV bookstore in the Annex neighbourhood of Toronto. We were low on books at that moment, and I wanted to fill the yawning gap on the baby’s shelf. I trudged, like a small elephant, to the top floor where the kids’ books are lovingly organized. I ran my finger along the shelf, and stopped cold when I saw a familiar title.
Frog and Toad All Year.
I remember snatching the book and holding it. It was like greeting an old friend, one who you’d unremembered, upon meeting again, not quite understanding how you’d forgotten them. I sat down on the floor, and opened it, looking eagerly for Ice Cream, a story in which one of the main characters, Toad, goes to procure chocolate ice cream for himself, and his best friend Frog. It’s a long walk, and a hot day, and on the way back, it melts all over him. He gets covered with sticks, and mud, ends up looking like a monster, and scaring all of the animals, including Frog. Poor Toad is such a ridiculous sight, with cones on his head like horns, so transfigured by dirt, that my 29 year old self roared until tears came to my eyes. And it was just magic –magic!– for me. Transported me back to the old house, to those endless summers of getting lost in the books, rescued from boredom by my amphibian knights. I reached up and grabbed the other two they had, Frog and Toad are Friends, and Days with Frog and Toad, and read each one from cover to cover. By the time I flagged down a staff to peel me from the floor, I wanted to find every Arnold Lobel book I could. This is what I wanted my kid reading, because, you see, Arnold Lobel understood how to write for kids.
When I started reading them to L was when I began to comprehend why I was so drawn to the series, and the characters. All parents know, when you start reading to your child, things can get old fast. The constant repetition, the daily routine. The funny thing is, I never tire of these ones. (Nor William Steig, although, that’s a whole other blog post.) Lobel speaks to a universal audience, so the jokes hit the mark, and the situations are relatable on an adult level.
Frog and Toad share a special bond, and are wonderful foils for each other. Frog is confident, friendly, and open, while Toad is bumbling, shy, and awkward. Despite tantrums, and the hum drum of daily annoyances, Frog tries to protect and foster Toad, and Toad tries to encourage Frog. The lessons are true, but realistic, illustrating imperfection, and normalcy, perfectly anthropomorphized.
Lobel treats kids as equals, too, using a rich vocabulary to encourage their curiosity –“What does that mean, mummy?”– while at the same time couching words in sentences that they can understand.
And, oh, the pictures! Lobel was a master with his pen. He captures love, fear, embarrassment, courage, and fun, with minimal adornment. L could look at them all day. I used to find her in her room, pointing to the pages, making up her own dialogue, as Frog and Toad ambled through the stories. She can read now, but I sometimes find her at bedtime, leafing through, just enjoying the scenery. It makes me feel good, because I recall doing the same thing.
I remember most how Frog and Toad gave me hope that one day, I would have a best friend too, one who would love me no matter what. Lobel gave me more than an escape from my loneliness, he gave me a template on which to base a friendship. Of course, I didn’t care so much about the author then, but I took away the message, and it has been one that has served me well over the years.
Lobel died in 1987. Today, I wish I could drop him a line to say thank you.
Frog and Toad are Friends (1970): INDIEBOUND | AMAZON | GOODREADS
Frog and Toad Together (1972): INDIEBOUND | AMAZON | GOODREADS
Frog and Toad All Year (1976): INDIEBOUND | AMAZON | GOODREADS
Days with Frog and Toad (1979): INDIEBOUND | AMAZON | GOODREADS