A Review of Arnold Lobel’s Frog and Toad Are Friends
The irascible Toad and his best buddy, the ever-optimistic Frog first hopped into our lives in 1970. Fifty years later, they’re still doing it.
In “Spring,” we meet Frog, running towards Toad’s place past piles of allegedly melting snow, yelling about spring-time. Toad greets Frog’s excited knocking with the exclamation, “I am not here.” It’s possible, of course, that Toad is hallucinating (did he maybe lick one of those toads?), but probably he’s just tired and cranky. In any case, this is when the life lessons begin. The moral of “Spring” is that it’s okay to trick your friends, if you’re doing it with their best interests at heart. A few pages later Frog has ignored his friend telling him to go away and has entered the house. We finally see Toad, in what might be a cut-away drawing, asleep in bed under many covers. Frog pushes him out of bed, as you do, and into the blinding Spring light on the front porch. After pontificating about all of the cool things they will do together this year (after hibernating since November), Frog watches Toad walk back inside, return to bed, and pull the covers back over himself. Frog has a point and everyone who reads the story will know it by now- skipping through the meadows, swimming in the river, and counting stars are a lot more fun than sleeping for another month or two. So when Toad asks to be allowed to sleep until May, Frog lets him sleep for a minute and then wakes him back up with some alternative facts- it’s not April anymore, gullible Toad, it’s May! With one glance at a slightly doctored calendar, Toad is convinced and off the two friends go, past mounds of unmelted snow (Snow in April? so global warming really is a thing now…) to explore the world in Spring.
In “A Swim” Frog and Toad go down to the river and we learn that Toad is the only Toad in the world who wears a bathing suit. Or maybe that’s the sort of anthropomorphism we should expect from a children’s book and it’s freaky that Frog swims commando, I don’t even know. In any case, Toad says Frog can’t look at him in his bathing suit because he thinks “I look funny in my bathing suit.” Eventually the lizards, a turtle, the snake, some field mice, and a couple of dragonflies roll up to see the show, and though Toad tries to stay in the water until everyone leaves, they don’t and he gets cold and has to get out. At which point, dramatic reveal- we see Toad in his 1920s bathing suit, and yeah- he looks silly. This is probably supposed to teach children that if they make a big deal about something then everyone else is going to think it’s a big deal too. In the end, Toad just admits he looks ridiculous and walks away, so it’s all good- no Toads were harmed in the making of this story.
There’s lots of other madness in this book, in stories about a lost button, a letter (a what?), and a story (in a story entitled, magnificently, “The Story”) that kids and parents will both enjoy. If somebody is just learning to read, there’s lots of small words but Lobel manages to pull this off without sounding stilted. You’ve probably already read this book and all of the other Frog and Toad books at some point in the last fifty years, but if you haven’t, you should.