By Maureen Tai, 17 April 2020
“Winter may be beautiful, but bed is much better.” – Toad
Anna was barely six months old when we were gifted a hard copy of The Frog and Toad Treasury by a dear friend. I confess to not having grown up with these delightful early-reader stories, written in the 70s by the award winning children’s illustrator and author, Arnold Lobel. But I had the incomparable pleasure of reading them aloud to Anna many years ago, listening to her reading them to herself and then, to her younger brother, and today in a sunny spot in the living room, reading them again and having a good chuckle. The tales are as timeless as the friendship between the two anthropomorphic amphibians, and as enjoyable as my first reading over a decade ago.
Frog and Toad are the best of friends despite their contrasting personalities. Frog is tall and lanky, an optimist and perennially cheerful even in the most bleak of seasons or dire of situations. Amiable and level-headed, Frog is the perfect foil for Toad, who is the more squat, charmingly oafish and nervously anxious of the pair. Prone to spells of pessimistic depression brought on by say, a lost button, uncooperative seeds, a runaway to-do list or melting chocolate ice-creams, Toad is the sort of creature who would prefer to stay in bed all winter if he could. Frog and Toad live apart in separate homes, but yet the two are inseparable, bound together by acceptance, understanding, kindness and love for the other. If only all relationships were like theirs!
The treasury is a compilation of three Frog and Toad books, Frog and Toad are Friends, Frog and Toad Together and Frog and Toad All Year. The text is in a large font size, and the writing deceptively simple and contraction-less, making it an ideal early reader for younger children. The stories themselves are refreshingly uncomplicated, good natured and funny but the minimalist style belies the mastery and depth of Lobel’s storytelling. Take for instance a story entitled “The Corner” which begins with the two friends getting caught in the rain and Frog consoling Toad by telling him a story from his childhood. It is a dark day in winter, but Frog’s father tells his son that spring “is just around the corner.” Frog takes the meaning of the words literally and looks around many different corners to check if spring is on the other side but meets with disappointment, until he arrives at the corner of his own home. He turns and sees his parents in the flower garden with the sun warm on their backs. Spring has arrived after all, and without so many words, Lobel manages to convey hope in the innocent longing for spring and poignancy in the nostalgia of a past childhood. At the end of the day, it is still a funny story that a young child will enjoy, but the tale’s subtle wistfulness will not be lost on a more mature reader.
For ages 4 and up.