Millennials are so frequently hyped as the first digital generation that people tend to forget that we were raised first and foremost with books. TV and the Internet may have shaped our identities, but so did old-fashioned, printed stories. And looking back now, it’s hard to think of a children’s author who better prepared young readers for growing up than Arnold Lobel.
Lobel’s Frog and Toad series, published in four volumes containing five stories each during the 1970s, remains his most popular and enduring work. Frog and Toad, two very different characters, make something of an odd couple. Their friendship demonstrates the many ups and downs of human attachment, touching on deep truths about life, philosophy, and human nature in the process. But it isn’t all about relationships with others: In the series, and in his lesser-known 1975 book Owl at Home, Lobel offers a conception of the self that still resonates decades later. Throughout his books, he reminds readers that they are individuals, and that they shouldn’t be afraid of being themselves.
Although Frog and Toad’s world is perhaps more pastoral than that of their average reader, most can recognize and relate to the situations the duo find themselves in. Their various struggles might involve deciding whether to stay in or go out, the difficulty of restraint when it comes to cookies, and the challenge of adhering to a daily to-do-list. Frog represents the practical and sensible part of the self, while Toad is emotional and tempestuous. But they’re both deeply realized characters who sometimes defy expectations. In the marvelous story “Shivers,” Frog reveals himself to be a horror fan, and tells Toad about a childhood encounter with the terrifying “Old Dark Frog” that may or may not be true. In “A Swim,” Toad decides to respond to mocking comments about his bathing suit by calmly and defiantly walking past the laughing crowd.