Well, I’m afraid I can’t tell you much about all the exciting things Tony promised I’d have to chat about this week. I’ve been occupied with final exams, among other things. (Have I mentioned to you all that I’m working on my librarian credentials?) But I can tell you lots about one of my favorite books that I mentioned briefly in my November 20th post.
Arnold Lobel’s Frog and Toad Are Friends, published in 1970, is the first in a series of four books about these two famous friends — all of which are enduring classics, in my view.
Lobel’s illustrations have that fairy-tale timelessness about them. Frog and Toad’s cottages emanate a blend of Victorian and Edwardian coziness. Their windows are latticed, the wallpaper is flocked, the furniture is sturdy and the lamps and tea things are filigreed. Throw in the striped trousers and 1960s sport coats the two of them wear, and you have the suggestion that the Frog and Toad adventures could take place anywhere and in any era.
I like Frog and Toad’s neatly complimentary personalities, too. Frog, whom I always think of as the elder in the relationship, is practical, patient, and frequently philosophical. Frog’s also a masterful storyteller (see “Shivers” in Days With Frog and Toad and “The Corner” in Frog and Toad All Year). A stand-in for his creator, perhaps?
Toad, on the other hand, is impetuous, impatient and frequently insecure about his relationship with Frog. Lobel’s clever in that he’s careful to show that Toad’s insecurity is always unjustified. But by letting Toad be insecure, he’s all the more likeable for any reader who’s ever felt that way. And who hasn’t?
Toad also provides a lot of the comic irony in these stories. His stubbornness often lands Toad in ridiculous situations. Like when he decides to plant a garden and spends his afternoons shouting at the seeds with the hope of making them grow. Or when he decides to buy a treat for Frog — two enormous icecream cones that melt en route, turning Toad into a devil-horned chocolate blob monster. Lobel’s artwork for this scene is classic.
I like to think these stories contain gentle morals always presented in a nonconfrontational way. Which make them easy for children to digest. And their subtleties allow the stories to be read on more than one level.
Take the story “Cookies,” from Frog and Toad Together (1971):
‘Toad baked some cookies.
‘These cookies smell very good,’ said Toad.
He ate one.
‘And they taste even better,’ he said.
Toad ran to Frog’s house.
‘Frog, Frog,’ cried Toad, ‘taste these cookies that I have made.’
Frog ate one of the cookies.
‘These are the best cookies I have ever eaten!’ said Frog.
Frog and Toad ate many cookies, one after another.
You know, Toad,’ said Frog, with his mouth full, ‘I think we should stop eating. We will soon be sick.’
‘You are right,’ said Toad. ‘Let us eat one last cookie, and then we will stop.”
Of course, it’s never as easy as that.
But “Cookies” is not just about eating too many cookies. It’s about anything in life that tastes or feels good in the moment but that might cause regret later. “Cookies” describes in the most graceful way possible the perils of living only for the here and now. Brilliant.
The Frog and Toad series are all “I Can Read Books,” written expressly for children, ages 4-8, who are just beginning to read. But I’d argue, with the “Cookies” story in mind, that these books hold appeal for all ages, adults included.
All four Frog and Toad books: Frog and Toad Are Friends; Frog and Toad Together; Frog and Toad All Year; and Days With Frog and Toad. They make an excellent gift.
Happy Reading and Happy Holidays until next time,
Elizabeth Frengel, 2006