Arnold Lobel is a gem of a children’s author and illustrator, most prolific in the ’60s and ’70s yet still incredibly relevant today. Lobel is one of those authors even grownups, maybe even especially grownups, should read.
Frog and Toad Together was published in 1971 by Harper Collins and is a Newbery Honor Book.
Like most of his books, Frog and Toad Together is an amalgamation of several stories, this time about two friends: Frog and Toad. This is second of four books in the Frog and Toad series but there is no need to read them sequentially. The other three are titled: Frog and Toad are Friends, Frog and Toad all Year Round, and Days with Frog and Toad. All of these books are I Can Read Books, appropriate for early readers.
Frog and Toad Together is the grimmest of the series. While always ending on a lighter note, these stories deal with the anxiety and frustration of daily experiences with the brilliantly underplayed humour characteristic in all of Lobel’s books. The first story, “A List” has Toad – the decidedly grumpier and more demanding of the pair – write out a to-do list for his day. Slowly he begins to go through his list; Toad wakes up, eats breakfast, gets dressed, goes to Frog’s house, and goes out for a walk with Frog. Unfortunately, on their walk a big gust of wind blows Frog’s list out of his hands. Once the list is gone, Frog refuses to do absolutely anything:
The list blew high up into the air.
“Help!” cried Toad. “My list is blowing away. What will I do without my list?”
“Hurry!” said Frog. “We will run and catch it.”
“No!” shouted Toad. “I cannot do that”
“Why not?” asked Frog. “Because,” wailed Toad, “running after my list was not one of things that I wrote on my list of things to do!”
“I cannot remember any of the things that were on my list of things to do. I will just have to sit here and do nothing,” said Toad.
Toad sat and did nothing. Frog sat with him.
In “The Garden” Frog has a lovely garden and Toad wishes out loud that he had one too. Toad gives Frog some seeds to plant but warns him gardening is a lot of work. The next day Toad is upset, his seeds are not growing. At first Toad coddles and coaxes the seeds with his words but he soon resorts to shouting. Frog comes along and gives Toad some advice: “You are shouting too much,” said Frog. “These poor seeds are afraid to grow.” Frog tells Toad to let the rain rain and the sun shine and soon the seeds will start to grow. But Toad has latched on to the idea that the seeds are scared. Maybe they’re scared of the dark? Frog brings the seeds a candle then proceeds to entertain them with stories and songs.
“Cookies” opens with Toad taking a freshly baked batch of cookies out of the oven. The cookies are so good he brings them over to Frog’s house to share. They both agree they are the best cookies they have ever eaten but now they have a problem, they can’t stop eating the cookies.
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.”
Frog and Toad ate one last cookie. There were many cookies left in the bowl.
“Frog,” said Toad, “let us eat one very last cookie, and then we will stop.”
Frog and Toad ate one very last cookie.
“We must stop eating!” cried Toad as he ate another.
“Yes,” said Frog, reaching for a cookie…
Frog suggests they exercise some will power but it seems will power is a little lacking around the scrumptious cookies so the two problem solve a solution to their delicious dilemma.
“Dragons and Giants” has the two friends going on an adventure to test their bravery while “The Dream” grapples with jealousy and boastfulness in Toad’s surreal, troubling, and scary dream.
The illustrations are small in size and the physical books are too. There are no full page pictures or large scenes, only the small snippets of life that the book chooses to portray. The pictures are perfect, not overwhelming in stature, but leave much to the reader’s active imagination. We get glimpses of the landscape in which Frog and Toad inhabit while any reader can fill in the blanks with their favourite sunny park or pleasant lake that a Frog and a Toad might stroll beside. Though there is seemingly little character development, once you begin to read the personalities of the two quirky creatures shines through the text; personally, I favour Frog – the easier going of the two – and the next time you see a Frog availing itself of a lily pad Lobel’s characters will float into your mind’s eye.
Other must reads by Arnold Lobel: Owl at Home – for sad days – and Mouse Tales – for a laugh.