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Winding Oak's Bookology Magazine

Tag Archives | Frog and Toad

Spend the Day with Arnold Lobel

Arnold Lobel

Arnold Lobel

Phyllis: February is the month of valentines and lovers, and we spent a day (through his books) with someone we love: Arnold Lobel.

He wrote easy reader stories that help children crack the code of reading, give them fun stories with characters who remind us of people we know and that give readers of all ages plenty to think about. In his fifty-four years, he illustrated almost a hundred children’s stories and wrote many of them.

An editor once, when asked if Arnold Lobel was more like Frog or Toad, responded, after thinking about it, that he is more like Owl.

Owl at HomeJackie: Sometimes I read Owl at Home just to myself. What do we love about owl? Owl is always on the edge of sadness. He has a young child’s partial understanding of the world. Kids can see themselves in Owl—and sometimes they can see that they even know more than owl. Part of the joy of the story “Strange Bumps” is that kids know what the bumps are. When the two strange bumps at the foot of Owl’s bed obsess him, Owl looks under covers. No bumps. He pulls the covers back up and there are the bumps. He jumps up and down yelling, “Bumps. Bumps. Bumps, I will never sleep tonight.” And when the bed collapses, he leaves it to the bumps and goes downstairs to sleep in a chair. He never identifies the bumps. But readers do.

Phyllis: “Tearwater Tea” is another story that always satisfies. One afternoon Owl decides to brew a pot of tearwater tea. He thinks of things that are sad– chairs with broken legs, songs that cannot be sung because the words are forgotten, books that cannot be read because some of the pages have been torn out. After a while he has accumulated sufficient tears. He puts his tea kettle on and makes the tea. That cheers him up because, even though it tastes salty, “Tearwater tea is always very good.”

In the last story, the moon seems to follow Owl home despite his protestations that he has nothing to give the moon for supper and has a very small house. When the moon disappears behind a cloud, he says, “It is always a little sad to say good-bye to a friend.” But the moon reappears at his window and Owl says, “Moon you have followed me home, what a good round friend you are.” Owl doesn’t feel sad at all In these brief chapters. So, Owl goes through sadness to the other side. A progression.

Frog and Toad Are FriendsJackie: When we read the Frog and Toad stories to our children we read them with joy and the pleasure of sharing with our kids and didn’t necessarily look deeper into them. The Frog and Toad books are a primer on the ups and downs of friendship—including the foibles and quibbles of being a good friend. In “Spring” (Frog and Toad are Friends) Frog tricks Toad into waking up early from his winter nap because Frog is lonely without Toad. Frog is not above laughing at his friend. In “A Swim” (Frog and Toad are Friends) Toad refuses to come out of the water because, he says, “I do not want [anyone] to see me in my bathing suit.” He is worried they will laugh. Eventually the turtle, lizard, snake, dragonflies, and a field mouse sit on the riverbank waiting to see if toad looks funny. Eventually Toad has to come out of the water. He is catching cold. As Toad predicted, everyone laughs, including Frog, who says “You do look funny in your bathing suit.” “’Of course I do,’ said Toad, and he picked up his clothes and went home.”

They don’t always see eye to amphibian eye. In “Cookies” (Frog and Toad Are Friends) Frog, in pursuit of willpower so as not to eat all the cookies Toad has baked, ends up giving them to the birds. “Toad goes into the house to bake a cake.”

Phyllis: And who doesn’t recognize themselves in “The List,” where, when the list blows away, Toad claims he can’t run after it because “Running after my list is not one of the things I wrote on my list of things to do?”

In “The Story” (Frog and Toad Are Friends) Frog is sick (“looking quite green”) and he asks Toad for a story. Writers will recognize what Toad does when he cannot think of a story. He walks up and down, he stands on his head, he pours a glass of water over his head, but he still cannot think of a story. He bangs his head against the wall. By then Frog feels better, Toad feels worse and asks Frog for a story. Frog tells Toad the story of the Toad who could not think of a story. We can’t help but think this delightful tale is perhaps based on a day when Lobel could not think of a story.

Frog and Toad TogetherIn “The Dream (Frog and Toad Together),” Toad has a dream where he cannot fail. He plays the piano, he dances, he walks on the high wire while a voice proclaims that he is “The Greatest Toad in the World.” Each time he asks Frog if he, too, could do these wonderful things. Each time Frog says no and shrinks a bit until Toad says, ”Frog, can you be as wonderful as this?” There is no answer. Frog has shrunk so small that he cannot be seen or heard. Toad shouts at the voice proclaiming his greatness to shut up and says, “Come back Frog. I will be lonely.” He is desperate. Then Toad wakes from his dream to see Frog, who says, “I am right here, Toad.” “I am so glad you came over,” says Toad. “I always do,” said Frog.

Forty years later their friendship is still comforting to readers of all ages.

Uncle ElephantJackie: We can’t leave this appreciation without a mention of Uncle Elephant, in which a wise Uncle Elephant comforts his lonely elephant nephew when his father and mother do not come back from sea. On the train to Uncle Elephant’s, they eat peanuts, count houses and telephone poles, and finally peanut shells, which are much easier to count. Uncle Elephant introduces his nephew to the flowers in his garden, his favorite place in the world. They make crowns of flowers and trumpet the dawn together. Uncle Elephant tells him a story about a king with many wrinkles and a prince who was young and smart. When they meet a lion, they trumpet so loudly every one of the lion’s teeth pop out. When little elephant gets sad, Uncle Elephant puts on all his clothes at once to make the little elephant smile. They end up laughing so hard at the “pile of clothes with two ears” that they forget to feel sad. They sing a song together, and they dance for joy when little elephant’s mother and father are found and return home. On the train Uncle Elephant counts the wonderful days that they had spent together, and they promise to see each other often. Uncle Elephant is the calmest, best-listening uncle ever there was. He hears what the little elephant can’t even say about fear and sadness.

Charlie & MousePhyllis: He offers small comforts in the face of great of loss. We hope you all get to spend a day with Arnold Lobel and Frog and Toad and Grasshopper and Owl and Mouse and Uncle Elephant—soon—for silliness and comfort and friendship.

Sidebar: We just want to mention stories written in the same spirit as Arnold Lobel’s stories, Charlie and Mouse, easy readers by Laurel Snyder, which was just named winner of the Geisel Medal, the ALA prize for Best Easy Reader of 2017.


Frog and Toad

This spring, Minneapolis’ Children’s Theater Company will put on A Year With Frog & Toad, which has stood as one of my top three theater experiences for the last dozen years or so.

We had three tickets the first time we saw it. Darling Daughter was still young enough for a “lap pass” at the time. Our household had been hit with The Plague and for days/weeks/month/going on years (it seemed, anyway) and we’d been sickly and unfit to leave our home. But I was loathe to miss the performance. We decided if we napped, medicated, and then bathed and dressed up, we could enter society. All but Dad—he was still down for the count. So I took the kids. We piled our coats on the third seat and Darling Daughter sat atop them, so thrilled to have her own seat, so thrilled to be out of the house, that she bounced through most of the performance, clapping wildly at each of Frog and Toad’s antics.

Ten minutes in I was weepy and so sorry we hadn’t drugged Dad up enough to bring him. It was fantastic! Of course the Children’s Theater Company does most excellent work—one expects to love the experience. But this was, I think, particularly well done, and I’m willing to think that it might be the source material that really gave it that extra something. Well, that and it’s a musical—could there be anything better?

I love Frog and Toad with a passion similar to my love for Pooh and his friends in the Hundred Acre Wood. I love their friendship, their quotidian adventures, their goofiness, and their oh-so-distinct personalities. We have the whole collection at our house—in both English and Spanish (Sapo y Sepo inseparables, etc.)—and they bear the marks of having been repeatedly read and loved.

These are “I CAN READ Books,” but what I remember is reading them with my kids. I’d do one page, they the next. Except for Shivers, which is in Days With Frog and Toad. I was the only reader on that one—it was too shivery for anyone to work on sounding out the words. Both kids learned to read with inflection using these books. Many books—especially “I CAN READ Books,” and especially Arnold Lobel books—lend themselves to dramatic reading, but for some reason, Frog and Toad’s conversations and adventures taught them to look for the exclamation point, the question mark, and the meaning of the words as they worked so hard to get through the sentence.

Truth be told, the three of us probably could’ve recited many of the Frog and Toad stories featured in the musical that night. Certainly, even the too-young-to-be-able-to-hold-a-theater-seat-down child could’ve told you about their sledding and swimming adventures, their trip to the ice cream store, and about when Toad tried to fly a kite. We bought the CD, naturally, so it was only a few more days before we could sing the stories.

My kiddos are much older now…but I think I might try for four tickets this spring. Everyone can hold their seat down now, and if we stay well we can finally take Dad. I’ve no doubt we’ll enjoy it just as much as the last time.




Bookstorm™: Bulldozer’s Big Day


written by Candace Fleming  illustrated by Eric Rohmann  Atheneum, 2015

written by Candace Fleming 
illustrated by Eric Rohmann 
Atheneum, 2015

It’s Bulldozer’s big day—his birthday! But around the construction site, it seems like everyone is too busy to remember. Bulldozer wheels around asking his truck friends if they know what day it is, but they each only say it’s a work day. They go on scooping, sifting, stirring, filling, and lifting, and little Bulldozer grows more and more glum. But when the whistle blows at the end of the busy day, Bulldozer discovers a construction site surprise, especially for him!

An ideal book for a read-aloud to that child sitting by you or to a classroom full of children or to a storytime group gathered together, Bulldozer’s Big Day is fun to read because of all the onomatopoeia and the wonderful surprise ending.

In each Bookstorm™, we offer a bibliography of books that have close ties to the the featured book. For Bulldozer’s Big Day, you’ll find books for a variety of tastes and interests. The book will be comfortably read to ages 3 through 7. We’ve included picture books, nonfiction, videos, websites, and destinations that complement the book, all encouraging early literacy.

Building Projects. There have been many fine books published about designing and constructing houses, cities, and dreams. We share a few books to encourage and inspire your young dreamers.

Construction Equipment. Who can resist listening to and watching the large variety of vehicles used on a construction project? You’ll find both books and links to videos.

Birthday Parties. This is the other large theme in Bulldozer’s Big Day and we suggest books such as Xander’s Panda Party that offer other approaches to talking about birthdays.

Dirt, Soil, Earth. STEM discussions can be a part of early literacy, too. Get ready to dish the dirt! 

Loneliness. Much like Bulldozer, children (and adults) can feel let down, ignored, left out … and books are a good way to start the discussion about resiliency and coping with these feelings.

Surprises. If you work with children, or have children of your own, you know how tricky surprises and expectations can be. We’ve included books such as Waiting by Kevin Henkes and Handa’s Surprise by Eileen Browne.

Friendship. An ever-popular theme in children’s books, we’ve selected a few of the very best, including A Sick Day for Amos McGee, by the Steads.

Let us know how you are making use of this Bookstorm™. Share your ideas and any other books you’d add to this Bookstorm™.



In Which the Boy Cleans His Room …

by Melanie Heuiser Hill

We’re at the one-month mark before #1 Son leaves for his first year of college. This is big for our family. (I realize it’s a big thing for every family, but it’s feeling particularly personal for us right now—indulge me.) It’s entirely right, he’s absolutely ready, and he’s going to a place that’s a good fit for him. But my heart squeezes to think of it. (I’m trying positive visualization for the good-bye.)

ph_RRB_bedroomThis week, he’s cleaning his room—a parental mandate. His room will remain his room when he goes, but long overdue is this cleaning out of the science projects from elementary school, the soccer medals from the same era, the dusty certificates and papers and binders, the mess and detritus of a boy’s life well lived and now outgrown. He’s doing the closet today—he won’t finish. It’s like an archaeological dig with its layers. He says he’s saving his bookshelf for last. “It’s not so bad,” he says.

bk_Frog_and_toad_coverLast week, I sat on his bed and looked at that bookshelf. It’s one of the first my husband built. Floor to ceiling, nearly as wide as the boy’s wingspan. Or his wingspan a few years ago, anyway. It’s stuffed and it exhibits a peculiar combination of cluttered and organized storage. It’s obvious he once alphabetized his fiction by author. This astounds me—among all of his awards, there is nary a one commending his organizational skills. But he likes to find the book he’s looking for quickly, and so at some point he gave it a go, I guess.

Many of the picture books have moved on. A few favorites remain: Caps for Sale, an anthology of Thomas The Tank Engine stories, Clever Ali, The Velveteen Rabbit, The Quiltmaker’s Gift, Frog and Toad, several books about inventors, scientists, and explorers, Winnie-the-Pooh 

And then there are the glorious chapter books that consumed weeks and months and years of his life. Some we read together, but many he devoured on his own. The well-worn Harry Potter books in English and Spanish both, all of the Swallows and Amazons series, most anything Gary Schmidt has written…. There’s a section or two of math books—cool math, not textbook math—and there’s everything from stories of dragons and wizards to the biography of Mark Twain.

bk_SwallowsThe boy has always read widely. History is mixed in with science, which is mixed in with his banned books collection and various works of Shakespeare. Contemporary novelists sit piled under ancient classics. He has the entire collection of Calvin and Hobbes sitting next to The Atlas of Indian Nations, and various graphic novels are shelved in the midst of an extensive collection of Peter Pan prequels and sequels. I see both books he was required to read and books he could not put down.

I’m almost as proud of this bookshelf as I am the boy—it steadies me to look at it. With just a few weeks left until he heads out, I catch myself with panicked thoughts: Will he wash his sheets? Does he know the details of our family medical history? Is the salad bar in the dining service nice enough to tempt him to eat his vegetables? Does he know the signs of a concussion? Frostbite? Will he call home before he makes Big Life Decisions? WILL HE READ? 

That last one pops up a lot for this English major Mama. He wants to be an engineer. That curriculum does not feature much in the way of literature courses; though I’m impressed they have an all-campus-read that plays a significant part in orientation. Will our boy read for fun, or be so consumed with engineering and math that he won’t have time for stories? If he decides to have a beer, will he pick up a new novel or an old favorite to enjoy with it? (A mom can dream.) Will he find a banned book to read in September during Banned Books Week, like we’ve always done? Will he lose himself in the stacks of that fancy campus library and maybe carry a pile of books back to his dorm room? If he stays up much too late, will it be—please let it be—because he’s fallen into a story and can’t get out?

And then he shuffles into my office, laughing at another artifact he’s uncovered in the deep dark recesses of his closet. We agree it can be “passed on.”

“Hey Mom?” he says. “What do you do with your books when you go to college?”

I tell him there’s not much room in the typical dorm room to house books outside of those you need for your studies.

“Maybe I can just take a few favorites?” he says.

I ask which few those would be.

“I’ll have to think about it,” he says. “I’ve got a lot of favorites.”

Oh, I’m going to miss that boy.



Discussing the Books We’ve Loved: Déjà Vu

As I ready this article for publication, I am sitting in the coffee shop where I first met Heather Vogel Frederick, now a much-admired author of some of my favorite books. I still enjoy getting caught up in a series, accepting the likeable and not-so-likeable characters as my new-found circle of friends, anticipating the treat […]