Frog and Toad Are Friends
By Arnold Lobel
Current & Digital Publisher: HarperCollins
Reading Level: Ages 4 & Up
Q&A and illustrations by Steve Sheinkin and Anna Sheinkin:
On a recent Sunday afternoon, it was my great pleasure to sit down with the noted children’s book critic Anna (my daughter, age 6). We discussed Arnold Lobel’s remarkable Frog and Toad Are Friends, Finalist for the National Book Award in 1971.
Steve Sheinkin: Anna, how would you describe this book?
Anna Sheinkin: Sort of a picture/chapter book.
SS: I think that’s right. It contains five short stories, each about 500 words or less, with wonderful ink and watercolor images on every spread. What did you think of the book overall?
AS: I think it was good.
SS: At its heart, this is a book about friendship—specifically between a frog and a toad. And though it’s a very slim volume, to me this is one of the most convincing and emotionally satisfying portrayals of friendship in literature.
SS: The book opens as Frog runs up to Toad’s house on a day in early spring. Toad has been hibernating for months. Frog is lonely, and tries to wake his friend, tempting Toad with walks in the meadow, swims in the river, to which Toad responds with perhaps his most quoted line.
SS: Yes, and instantly, from that single syllable, we feel we know him. Toad does eventually get out of bed, but this becomes a theme, doesn’t it—Frog’s struggle to pull his friend out from under these clouds of lethargy and sadness.
SS: And Toad gives back generously, in his own way. As in “A Lost Button,” in which Toad bemoans his lost button and Frog spends all day looking for it. Frog finds many buttons, but not Toad’s missing button.
AS: And Toad’s button was just right by his door all the time.
SS: Yes, and Toad feels badly about that. He knows how hard his friend works to make him happy.
AS: So Toad got all the buttons Frog found, and he sewed them onto his own jacket, and he gave it to Frog.
SS: A beautiful gesture. Did you have a particular favorite among the stories?
AS: I liked “The Swim.”
SS: What made that one your favorite?
AS: When Toad came out and all the animals laughed at him in his bathing suit.
SS: Toad is well aware his bathing suit looks ridiculous, and asks Frog and the other animals not to look at him while he swims. But as Toad steps dripping from the river, they just can’t look away, and even Frog—keenly attuned as he is to Toad’s sensitivity—bursts into laughter.
AS: I think Frog did it because he did think that Toad did look funny in his bathing suit.
SS: Yes, it’s a moment that illustrates the complexity of their relationship. Frog knows his friend will be hurt, but he laughs anyway.
SS: A very honest moment.
AS: Something I like is that even if they disagree they’re still friends and they still like each other.
SS: So true. And then the last story, “The Letter,” I think is the most moving of all, dealing again with Toad’s dark moods and Frog’s creative responses. Here, Toad sits on his front porch, deeply depressed because he never receives any letters. Seeing this, Frog rushes home, takes out a piece of paper, and writes: “Dear Toad, I am glad that you are my best friend. Your best friend, Frog.”
AS: Yeah, and he gives it to a snail.
SS: Asking the snail to deliver it to Toad. But it takes the snail days to get there, and Frog just can’t wait any longer, so he goes to Toad’s house.
AS: Yeah, they were sitting there, and Frog told Toad that he wrote him a letter and then he told him what it said.
SS: I love that, that Frog told Toad what the letter said. And yet it didn’t make the actual letter any less meaningful. In fact, they wind up sitting together for four days waiting for it to arrive.
AS: Yeah, just waiting for a letter. They could have gone to bed, or something. And wouldn’t they get hungry?
A former history textbook writer, Steve Sheinkin is now making amends by writing nonfiction books young readers will actually want to read. His 2012 book, Bomb, about the race to make the first atomic weapon, was a National Book Award Finalist, as well as a Newbery Honor book and New York Times bestseller. Other recent titles include The Notorious Benedict Arnold and Lincoln’s Grave Robbers. He lives with his wife and two children in Saratoga Springs, New York.
Children’s Books Finalists That Year:
- Vera and Bill Cleaver for Grover
- Paula Fox for Blowfish Live in the Sea
- Arnold Lobel for Frog and Toad Are Friends
- E.B. White for The Trumpet of the Swan
Children’s Books Winner That Year: Lloyd Alexander for The Marvelous Misadventures of Sebastian
Judges That Year: B.J. Chute, Helen Jones, Lillian Gerhardt
The Year in Literature: The Summer of the Swans by Betsy Byars won the Newbery Medal.
- Lobel was also a Finalist in 1980 for the paperback edition of Frog and Toad Are Friends and in 1982 for On Market Street, which his wife, Anita Lobel, illustrated.
- In his relatively short career, Lobel wrote and illustrated over 100 books for children that were translated into over a dozen languages. He won the Caldecott Medal in 1981 for his book Fables.
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