Sunday, May 31, 2009

A Review of The Frogs and Toads All Sang by Arnold Lobel

You know how Natalie Cole sang duets with her late father, Nat King Cole, after his passing, which almost seems macabre except that the songs are really very pretty? Well, now we have The Frogs and Toads All Sang, a book of poems and drawings by the late Arnold Lobel, with color added to the sketches by Lobel’s grown daughter, Adrianne Lobel.

There’s a nice story behind the book. We learn in Adrianne’s introduction that a children’s book expert and collector named Justin Schiller purchased a set of small handmade books at an estate auction of Crosby Bonsall (another famous children’s book writer and illustrator, e.g., of Who’s a Pest?). The little books had been created by Arnold Lobel for his friends. Mr. Schiller contacted Adrianne to let her know about his find.

Lobel’s daughter ended up working with publisher HarperCollins to make the sketches and poems into a book, adding watercolor washes. As Adrianne Lobel points out, these sketches are looser than the illustration her father had been doing at the time and seem to have contributed toward his eventual style on the famous Frog and Toad books, which they predate. (Adrianne Lobel is a Broadway set designer, and one of her projects was the musical, A Year with Frog and Toad.)

The Frogs and Toads All Sang is brief, consisting of only ten illustrated poems. But what of those poems? Some are a bit ordinary in spots, but Lobel understood the need for a clever twist in the final line or two. Here’s just one example, the title poem:

“We’re going to have a party,”
The frogs and toads all sang.
“We’ve got lemonade with ice cubes
And paper lamps to hang.”
The ladies wore long dresses,
And the gentlemen wore pants.
The orchestra was ready,
So they all began to dance.
They danced in the meadow.
They danced in the street.
They danced in the lemonade
Just to cool their feet.
Perhaps it goes without saying, but Lobel’s illustrations for the poems are delightful. They are a little less finished than his formal art for picture books, which gives them an endearing softness. The man conveys such personality and humor in a few swift lines, especially with his amphibians’ facial expressions!

The Frogs and Toads All Sang has an unselfconscious charm that makes it a nice addition to any child’s library, and it is an especially good pick for children’s book collectors. Think of it—in its earliest incarnation, the book was meant as a gift for Arnold Lobel’s friends. It may sound a little presumptuous, but I feel there are many of us who care so much about Frog and Toad, not to mention the mouse in Mouse Soup, that we now count ourselves among Lobel’s friends. I like to think this book is for us.

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