Frog and Toad in a New Light

June 1, 2016 § Leave a comment

At The New Yorker’s Page-Turner blog, Colin Stokes has a delightful remembrance of the Frog and Toad books by Arnold Lobel, with a revelation from Lobel’s daughter, Adrianne:

Adrianne suspects that there’s another dimension to the series’s sustained popularity. Frog and Toad are “of the same sex, and they love each other,” she told me. “It was quite ahead of its time in that respect.” In 1974, four years after the first book in the series was published, Lobel came out to his family as gay. “I think ‘Frog and Toad’ really was the beginning of him coming out,” Adrianne told me. Lobel never publicly discussed a connection between the series and his sexuality, but he did comment on the ways in which personal material made its way into his stories. In a 1977 interview with the children’s-book journal The Lion and the Unicorn, he said:

You know, if an adult has an unhappy love affair, he writes about it. He exorcises it out of himself, perhaps, by writing a novel about it. Well, if I have an unhappy love affair, I have to somehow use all that pain and suffering but turn it into a work for children.

My experience of Frog and Toad came via one of those read-along record books. I know one of the stories was “A Lost Button,” from Frog and Toad Are Friends (1970). Toad loses a button off his coat and Frog and some friends try to help him find it, but he grows frustrated with them when the buttons they turn up are not the thick, white, round four-holed button that he lost—only to find it on the floor when he returns home.

Frog and Toad felt timeless to me even then, so that even now it’s hard to believe that they were still relatively new, a 1970s creation. I believe the record was voiced entirely by Mr. Lobel himself, and he rendered the two characters distinctly, portraying Toad the more high-maintenance of the pair, irked by Frog’s inappropriate measure of chillness. There was, I sensed, the insinuation of wonderment and spiral of questioning that takes off when the other member does something perplexing, the kind of reaction that tends to gets doused in straight platonic friendships. I find it wholly believable that Lobel intended for the characters to evoke a subtle and complex intimacy, creatures of grace wading through moments of fear, pain, and longing.

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