of the Center for Children's Books:
Gone But Not Forgotten
|Each month we offer a focus on a particular author
or artist. Sometimes we use this space to discuss a rising new talent or
an established star, but we also like to celebrate those who now live on
only in the rich legacy of their books.. See the archive
for focus pieces from previous months.
permission of HarperCollins.
Frog and Toad Are Friends of Mine
My deep and lasting attachment to the work of author-illustrator Arnold Lobel began when, as a child, I discovered his Frog and Toad books. I did not experience these easy readers by reading them myself, but by listening to my mother read them aloud at bedtime. Not only did they work marvelously as read-alouds, they also managed to cross age barriers, entertaining everyone from my reading-averse younger brother (a beginning reader), to me (an older, chapter book reader), to my middle-aged mother (the reader-aloud). The characters of Frog and Toad have stayed with all three of us for over twenty years. We are not the only ones who have been so affected by Frog and Toad; nearly thirty years after their publication the books continue to be reprinted, used in classrooms, and loved by each successive generation of children. So what is it about Lobel's Frog and Toad books that makes them so memorable and endearing, not only as easy readers, but as classic children's literature?
First of all, these "easy readers" meet and surpass the standards set for such elemental books. Lobel's language is simple and clear and his sentences short, yet his texts are never watered down and don't feel restricted in vocabulary or expression. Rather, they are humorous, emotion-packed, and full of exuberant dialogue: "He jumped up and down and screamed, 'The whole world is covered with buttons, and not one of them is mine!'" (Frog and Toad Are Friends); "'Frog,' cried the thing. 'Where are you?' 'Good heavens!' said Frog. 'That thing is Toad!'" (Frog and Toad All Year). Furthermore, Lobel judiciously uses pattern and repetition to build tension, resulting in particularly dramatic or humorous moments. Young readers can gleefully predict what will happen next as they eagerly await the climaxes of various situations (such as Toad's search for his missing button or the duo's attempts to develop willpower in the face of a plateful of delicious cookies) without the yawning boredom that sometimes accompanies predictable texts. Then there are the characters of Frog and Toad themselves. Between Lobel's brief but distinctive textual characterizations and his droll, green-and-and-brown-toned illustrations, Frog and Toad emerge throughout the four books as unique, lovable, and remarkably human-like individuals. Frog is clearly the calmer of the two and the one more eager to get outdoors and do things. Toad is more temperamental and impatient, a consummate worrier (often with good reason), but he is also frequently repentant and always loyal to his more rational counterpart. Toad regularly screams (jumping up and down with anger), shouts (wild-eyed with fright), or grumbles (pulling the covers over his head), while Frog quietly and thoughtfully goes about helping his friend get over his upsets.
Though Frog and Toad's popularity extends beyond childhood, their stories are very child-centered. Plots involve situations that children can easily relate to, such as growing plants from seed, going for a walk, and testing one's bravery. The same can be said for the books' themes. Loss, fear, the natural world, storytelling, and friendship--all are concepts that are close to the hearts of primary-graders. Frog and Toad's environment is also a wondrous, kid-pleasing blend of the fantastical (creatures can talk and wear clothing) and the realistic (Toad's house is delightfully cozy in its interior furnishings and details). Furthermore, Lobel understood the value of the ridiculous and always worked a generous amount of slapstick into every Frog and Toad book.
Finally, Lobel's Frog and Toad books create secure and gratifying reading experiences through the use of balance. Frog and Toad balance each other's personalities, their setting straddles the line between the possible and the imaginary, rioutous humor is tempered with quieter moments ("Frog and Toad stayed on the island all afternoon . . . They were two close friends sitting alone together"--Days with Frog and Toad), and the stories themselves are balanced in their structure of gentle rises and falls and the way they circle around to a satisfying, friendship-filled close. Thank you, Arnold Lobel, for giving us such good friends.
--Jeannette Hulick, Reviewer and Editorial Assistant
The "Frog and Toad" Books:
About Arnold Lobel: