The Letter F (A-to-Z Challenge)

Frog and Toad series by Arnold Lobel

  • Days With Frog and Toad
  • Frog and Toad are Friends
  • Frog and Toad Together
  • Frog and Toad All Year

When it comes to children’s ‘literature’ there is so much crap out there.  I’m sorry, I don’t usually say ‘crap,’ but I’m afraid it applies here and I must just say it.

Go to the ‘early reader’ section of any bookstore and take a look at some of the books available which are meant to entice children to make the effort to learn to read. The fact that I find so many of these books to be irritating and stupid* is totally beside the point; the point is that I’ve never known any children to find them appealing either.  I can’t tell you how much money I spent on a certain book collection whose title purports to encourage children by telling them that they can read.**  I guess it was my fault they didn’t like them.  I had been snobbishly cramming good books down their throats – books like Charlotte’s Web, the Narnia books, the Little House books, Heidi, Caddie Woodlawn, The Secret Garden, Little Lord Fauntleroy – and apparently this did the children the disservice of turning them into little critics who thought they were too good for a storyline that included a second grader who by dint of believing in himself was able to transform into a flying superhero with special abilities which enabled him to tame the dinosaur that was stealing everybody’s lunches.  Sorry, but I’m afraid I’m not sorry.

And then we discovered Frog and Toad.

The miracle of Arnold Lobel’s Frog and Toad books is that they are actually literature.

Using only understated, simple language, Mr. Lobel created tiny, elegant gems of stories told in words of one or two syllables.***  In these stories the short, fat Toad and the tall, thin Frog play together and work together and make plans which do or do not work out.  Toad is shortsighted and impetuous and a little bit lazy and largely ruled by his emotions, while his best friend, Frog, is sensible and kind and patient and helpful.  In some stories, Toad, who does not always think things through, does something a little thoughtless and then the kindly Frog demonstrates entirely by his own actions a more reasonable way to act.****  No calamity befalls Toad, he simply gets it and Frog tactfully pretends not to notice.  How kind.  But in most of the stories they just have fun together.

I am a fan of the occasional use of biggish words in books for small children as long as the words are used simply and naturally**** and not in a condescending, instructive sort of way.  In Frog and Toad, however, the fact that the words are all tiny and simple is a big part of the attraction.  It creates an appealing rhythm and style that is a work of art.  We didn’t use these books as reading primers.  We read them because we loved them and we read them again and again and again and they never stopped being funny and profound.  That is the miracle of Frog and Toad.

If you can read the ice cream story***** aloud without whooping and shrieking and gasping and without tears and snot running down your temples into your ears (assuming you are lying down reading aloud to a child) then you are a stronger person than I.

If you can read the dream story****** without choking up, you are cold-hearted and unfeeling.

If you have any children in your life, you must immediately go and buy them the Frog and Toad series as a gift, and be sure to claim the read-aloud privileges for yourself.

See you tomorrow for Letter G,


*I am not going to name any titles, but they include books about child superheroes, books whose only raison d’etre is a trendy politically correct theme or character, books based on tv shows, cartoons or movies, books about monsters (I don’t think children actually worry about monsters until they are told they do by adults), books where they use the word ‘wacky’ or stupid made up words like ‘fudgelicious’ and books full of daringly outrageous potty humour because the author thinks that children think that bodily function jokes are really hilarious.  Children may may think so, when they’re the ones making the jokes, but when adults do it children are perceptive enough to realize that it’s both inappropriate and pandering.

**I can read, yes, but if this is all that’s available why would I bother to?

***In all of the four books I don’t believe there is even one word that a child would need to sound out more than once or have to ask the meaning of.  In one story of fewer than four hundred words I looked at this morning, there is only one word (“remember”) which is longer than two syllables.  I would give you a more accurate word count but I kept getting caught up in the story as I was counting.

****But gently!  And Frog never lets on that he notices.  And there’s no adult figure hovering and waiting to break in and stop all the fun and preachily reiterate the lesson.

*****Beatrix Potter’s use of the words ‘soporific’ and ‘alighted’ comes to mind.

*****”Ice Cream,” from Frog and Toad All Year.

******”The Dream,” from Frog and Toad Together.


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2 Responses to “The Letter F (A-to-Z Challenge)”

  1. Martine Frampton Says:

    I have read **a lot** of children books but confess I have never read these, I feel ashamed now:-)

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