When I was a little girl, I spent summers at my grandparents’ home in Michigan. My memories of those summers are a little like a slideshow; I only have moments, not full narratives. I remember walking along railroad tracks and gathering coal like it was treasure. I remember impossibly tall sunflowers growing outside what we called The Gingerbread House. I remember Smoky, the stray cat who was so in love with my grandfather that she climbed the beams of our screened-in porch to be near him. The porch was a full story off the ground. Smoky would straddle the beam closest to my grandfather lengthwise, so that half her body pushed against the screen, and her other half dangled. Of course, Papa had no love for Smoky at all.
And I remember catching frogs. (A friend recently told me that I was more likely catching toads, since frogs seldom stray far from water, but these are my memories, and I say I was a frog-catcher.) I remember watching them in the grass before capturing them in the dome of my hand. I remember how their hopping felt in my cupped palms, and the mixture of revulsion and excitement I felt at having caught a living, squirming thing.
(I should note here that my bucolic reverie is being interrupted by a vague recollection of a favorite older cousin catching a really large toad and putting it on the toilet just before one of my elderly uncles went into the bathroom. But I digress…)
I can’t remember whether my love of frogs was at all connected to the Frog and Toad series by Arnold Lobel, but I so loved those stories.
On my bookshelf I have a copy of Adventures of Frog and Toad, a compilation of three books: Frog and Toad Are Friends, Frog and Toad Together and Days with Frog and Toad. What I didn’t realize when I bought this book is that my favorite Frog and Toad collection has been left out: Frog and Toad All Year. And the reason I love that particular book is “Ice Cream,” the story of what happens when Toad tries to bring two huge sticky, drippy ice cream cones through the wild woods. Do you remember the illustration of the frightening mess Toad became? And how all of the creatures fled?
Even without “Ice Cream” I still love the collection of stories in Adventures of Frog and Toad. I remember most of them from my childhood, and this blog gave me the happy excuse to reread them all.
This time around I noticed that the stories contain some really lovely writing. Take for example this from “The Letter”:
Toad was sitting on his front porch.
Frog came along and said,
“What is the matter, Toad? You are looking sad.”
“Yes,” said Toad.
“This is my sad time of day.”
And this from “A List”:
Toad put the list in his pocket.
He opened the door and walked out into the morning.
Writing for children in general is a real challenge; writing beautifully for the very young even more-so. These simple but elegant phrases show how well Lobel managed both.
There’s also a lot of humor in the Frog and Toad stories that I’m sure I missed when I was younger. My favorite moment comes in “Cookies,” a story about willpower, in which Toad has made cookies so delicious he and Frog can’t stop eating them. They try all sorts of things to stop themselves: putting the cookies in a box, tying the box with string, putting the box on a high shelf. But as Toad points out, there’s really nothing to stop them from retrieving the box, untying the string and eating the cookies. Finally, they leave the box out for the birds who are very happy to have the treats.
“Now we have no more cookies to eat,” Toad said sadly.
“Not even one.”
“Yes,” said Frog, “but we have lots and lots of will power.”
“You may keep it all, Frog,” said Toad.
“I am going home now to bake a cake.”
Of course, the real beauty these stories is what they have to say about friendship. Here’s what I’ve learned about friendship from Frog and Toad:
- Sometimes it’s OK to trick your friends if it’s for their own good. And yours.
- When your friend wants to be alone, it’s so they can think about how great you are.
- True friends will love you even when you’re really, really grouchy.
- A letter from a friend can make all the difference.
- If your friend says they look funny in a bathing suit, chances are, they probably do.
Images from Adventures of Frog and Toad by Arnold Lobel © 2010. Published by Sandy Creek.