Sunday, June 17, 2012

Frog and Toad Together by Arnold Lobel

So I recently found out that Arnold Lobel's Frog and Toad is going to be made into a film by the Jim Hensen film company. What a great time to spotlight these gorgeous, classic characters and their adventures.

The Frog and Toad stories are first chapter books, intended for young children just starting to read on their own. The language is simple with lots of 'vocabulary list' type words, short sentences, and large writing. Half and quarter page illustrations accompany the text, depicting Frog and Toad in a lovely soft green/grey colour palette. I love the illustrations. They are a fantastic accompaniment to the text, and also very revealing of Frog and Toad's characters.

Of the two, Frog is the smarter one - outgoing and forward-thinking - while Toad is slightly more neurotic and grumpy, and quite reliant on his friend. But their friendship is gorgeous. I have a battered old copy of Frog and Toad Together, and I have always found Lobel so accomplished in depicting a multitude of feelings with so simple a vocabulary. The Frog and Toad books not only encourage kids to read on their own, but also introduces them to subtle messages and themes.

The main theme is, of course, friendship. But the short stories are packed full of virtues like patience, bravery, resourcefulness and appreciation. But Frog and Toad are not perfect. The stories also gently demonstrate how they suffer from folly, arrogance and greed - but never in an overbearing way, always with a lovely whimsical inclination. I love that a 'first reader' book can show characters with bad qualities and imperfections. And while the books don't excuse these traits, they do show that they are a part of human (amphibian!?) nature, and perhaps how to move past them with more positive attributes.

But of course, what is really so lovely about these simple little stories is the depth of Frog and Toad's friendship. I can always see them, together in the countryside, keeping each other company and going on adventures and it always makes me feel kinds warm and fuzzy and a little nostalgic. My favourite Frog and Toad moment is in the story 'The Dream'. Toad is dreaming he is a great performer on stage, and Frog is watching him. With each act of Toad's spotlight-hogging brilliance, Frog gets smaller and smaller until he disappears, and Toad realises what is really important is not that he is the greatest or best, or even better than Frog, but just that Frog will always be there for him:

"Come back, Frog," he shouted. "I will be lonely!"
"I am right here," said Frog.
Frog was standing near Toad's bed. "Wake up, Toad," he said.
"Frog, is that really you?" said Toad.
"Of course it is me," said Frog.
"And are you your own right size?" asked Toad.
"Yes, I think so," said Frog.
Toad looked at the sunshine coming through the window. "Frog," he said, "I am so glad that you came over."
"I always do," said Frog.

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