Sunday, May 6, 2012

Review: The Frog and Toad Treasury

I’m fighting a nasty cold and a fever this weekend.  It’s really unfortunate; I had a busy weekend planned, including a tea party celebrating a friend’s birthday and a Sunday full of church services (I work as a staff singer in an Anglican choir).  Instead, I’ve lain around home feeling miserable, and I’ve already gone through a bottle of Dayquil and two boxes of tissues.  Mostly, I’ve drunk water and napped, and by this point, I’m pretty bored.  I’ve also been pretty headachy, which has largely deterred me from reading the long books I’m in the middle of.  What this meant, however, was that it was the perfect time to pull out a book of my husband’s.

I don’t know how I missed out on the Frog and Toad books as a kid.  My husband’s Frog and Toad Treasury, which includes all three of Arnold Lobel’s charming books (Frog and Toad Are Friends, Frog and Toad Together, and Frog and Toad All Year) has been on my TBR shelf for a while now and with its large print and simple stories, it was the perfect thing for a miserable, sick day.  Please tell me that I’m not the only person who missed out on this book in childhood!  It’s extraordinary, and if and when I have children, the Frog and Toad books will figure prominently in family reading time.

Frog and Toad are best friends.  Lobel’s delightful illustrations show them as color-opposites: Frog has green skin and wears brown while Toad has brown skin and wears green.  There have no doubt been analyses written discussing Lobel’s implicit argument against racial discrimination.  But nothing of the sort is ever said in the text.  In fact, there is no explicit moralizing, unlike Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women books, of which I’m halfway through the quartet.  There are fabulous lessons to be learned from these books, about friendship and selflessness, bravery and caretaking, but readers must winkle out these lessons for themselves, for Lobel never concludes his short vignettes by stating his morals openly.  One story especially stuck out to me: “The Surprise” in Frog and Toad All Year.  As in O. Henry’s The Gift of the Magi, the two make sacrifices for each other that turn out to be all for naught.  In this case, Frog and Toad secretly rake each other’s lawns.  “How surprised he will be!” both think.  Sadly, as both head for home, a wind picks up and blows the carefully-piled leaves back across the yards.  If Lobel had ended his tale here, readers could be left lamenting the futility of gifting a friend with an action that is later undone by circumstance.  But instead, Lobel leaves readers with a picture of Frog and Toad going to bed, determined to rake their own leaves the following day and happy that they have done something nice for a beloved friend.  In this and in all other tales of the friendship between Frog and Toad, Lobel ends his stories perfectly, without a word too many or few.

Frog and Toad have vastly different characters, and it is fascinating to watch their interactions.  Frog is much more the caretaker: he wakes Toad after their winter hibernation; he teaches Toad about willpower; he helps Toad look for a lost button; he writes Toad a letter after his friend complains that he never receives any mail.  Toad is a little bit selfish, a little bit thoughtless, a little bit proud.  He doesn’t read like he has poor character; instead I get the impression that he is younger than Frog and that these negative character traits are simply due to childishness.  I find Toad to be the much more interesting of the two, because it is in Toad that we see growth and change.  On many occasions, Toad learns something about the world or about himself through his friendship with Frog, and he becomes a better person because of it.  I get the sense that Frog acts almost as a mentor to Toad, and I wonder if my husband, who loves these books, ever picked up on this.  His career has involved working with children in the context of a larger organization, and one of his strongest beliefs is that children need relationships with people of all ages.  Our culture’s insistence that people should be grouped by age is a poor decision because it deprives children of the opportunity to learn from people who are older than they are but not their own parents, and it deprives older people the opportunity to mentor youth.

Things to consider:
Have you read these stories?  What did you think of them when you were a kid, and do you pick up on their morals better as an adult?
What is your favorite thing to read when you’re sick?

Things I’m reading:
Wives and Daughters, Elizabeth Gaskell
Musicology and Difference, Ruth A. Solie, ed.
To Serve Them All My Days, R. F. Delderfield

1 comment:

  1. I did read these books as a kid, but I remember little about the stories. I can picture the illustrations, though! I don't see many people talk about them now, so I doubt that you're alone in having missed out on them as a kid.