Days With Frog and Toad is an understated and humorous collection of stories about love that’s perfect for all ages.
My kid lit read today is a deep cut — the deceivingly simple Days With Frog and Toad. The book is notorious for its subtext of Frog and Toad being a same-sex couple. Arnold Lobel, the author and illustrator, was himself a queer man. In an interview with The New Yorker, his daughter Adrianne said that Frog and Toad are “of the same sex, and they love each other. It was quite ahead of its time in that respect.” Lobel never directly spoke of the connection between the Frog and Toad books and his sexuality. But you can feel how love is parsed out in the book through its beautifully clean and straightforward sentences. Reading the collection as an adult, I picked up themes of anxiety, depression, and self-consciousness. The book can occasionally have quite a dark underlying current. But mostly, it’s quite touching, radical, even.
Days of Frog and Toad is a collection of very short stories (with clear-cut plots, mind you) revolving around the adventures of two dapperly dressed best friends conveniently named Frog and Toad. I’d characterize Toad as the more curmudgeonly and neurotic of the two, and Frog as the more grounded and mischievous one. The book starts with “Tomorrow,” a story that may ring familiar if you’ve ever found yourself emotionally struggling to get through each day. Toad is reluctant to leave bed thinking about all of the things that he has to do. It’s such a heartfelt parable about taking your days one step at a time. I quite loved the ending, in which Toad finally learns to cut himself a break!
“”Tomorrow,’ said Toad, ‘I can just take life easy.’
Toad went back to bed.
He pulled the covers over his head and fell asleep.”
Another favorite of mine is “Alone.” Toad finds that Frog has gone off to be alone. Worried that Frog hates him (relatable), Toad goes out of his way to make Frog a picnic basket. He finds Frog sitting alone on a rocky island. The sweet twist of the story is that Frog wanted to be alone to think about how wonderful everything is in his life.
“I am happy. I am very happy. This morning when I woke up I felt good because the sun was shining. I felt good because I was a frog. And I felt good because I have you for a friend. I wanted to be alone. I wanted to think about how fine everything is.”
Lobel also guides us through the narrative with subtly dark and very playful humor. Take, for example, “Shivers,” in which Frog tells Toad a ghost story. Toad continually interrupts the story and asks Toad if what he said was true. To which Frog repeatedly replies (in some form or another), “Maybe it was and maybe it wasn’t.”
The illustrations are certainly vehicles for the humor. They’re very simple, mostly muted browns and greens. But Lobel plays around with perspective as well as fashion and decor to keep the drawings delightfully quaint — I mean, have you ever seen a frog in a tweed suit? (I’m assuming it’s tweed, anyway.) My favorite illustration in “Shivers” is that of the Old Dark Frog. We see him towering over Frog with ominous, bulgy eyes while swaddled in a blanket-like robe. It’s a funny picture that softens any fear of the unknown and scary.
The definitive passage in the book, in my opinion, also pops up in “Shivers”:
“Frog and Toad sat close by the fire. They were scared. The teacups shook in their hands. They were having the shivers. It was a good, warm feeling.”
To me, this snippet embodies the coziness and comfort and hope found in Lobel’s stories in Days With Frog and Toad. This book is clearly written for children, but I’d argue that adult readers will get the most out of it. While Lobel sweetly tells slice-of-life stories about love, he’ll never make them maudlin or cutesy to the point where older readers find it infantilizing. Days With Frog and Toad really is a weighted blanket in the form of an early reader, perfect for any age.