Children’s book author and illustrator Arnold Lobel was reportedly inspired by childhood summers in Vermont in the creation of his famous Frog and Toad children's book characters. A recent article in The New Yorker discusses the possible romantic relationship between these two fictional amphibians, coupled with insight into Lobel's own personal life.
The Frog and Toad books were published between 1970 and 1979, and Lobel came out as gay to his family in 1974. Colin Stokes, a member of the editorial staff at The New Yorker, wrote about the possible connection between Lobel’s sexuality and that of his characters in a piece titled "Frog and Toad": An Amphibious Celebration of Same-Sex Love.
Stokes joined Vermont Edition to talk in more detail about his article.
Stokes’ impression of Lobel
"From my conversations with his daughter, he sounds like [an] extremely sweet and intelligent man," Stokes says, recalling an anecdote shared by Lobel’s daughter Adrianne Lobel that appears in Stokes' article. It describes a car trip where her father stopped his young children from bickering by reciting, in verse, a story he had just made up in his head.
"Another wonderful story that she told me was about how he would draw in the day, and in the evening he would write. And she still has his notebooks from when he was writing. And looking through them, there's almost no edits or no corrections to the original way in which he wrote things out. So these stories often just came almost fully formed, which is really quite something."
How Stokes drew a connection between Lobel's sexuality and his characters
"It seems [Frog and Toad] do have a very close relationship. They're two amphibians of the same sex. Also, I mean really it was my conversation with Adrianne that sort of highlighted the connection. She said that she thinks [the series Frog and Toad] was really the beginning of him coming out ... There are other places I think in which he's sort of talked about how Frog and Toad was the first time he felt like he was writing about himself and that he would sort of draw from his own personal experience and put his personal experiences into books, into his children's books. So, I think it's not [an] unreasonable conclusion to arrive at."
On why the possibility of a gay relationship between Frog and Toad matters
"I think that it's very important to be able to be open to readings like that. I think that often people will reject those readings because they're uncomfortable with the notion of homosexuality, and I think that is distressing, obviously ... Also I think that the fact that there is this biographical detail for Lobel makes it more convincing. [The books] were written around the time when he was sort of coming to terms with his sexuality."
On why the Frog and Toad characters endure
"Well, I think there's a number of reasons. For me, personally, I just remember the humor of the books to be completely hilarious ... I think that the humor is very, very strong and sweet and simple, and I think also a main part is that they have a really touching and loving relationship."
On the response to his article
"I've been getting a lot of really wonderful responses on Twitter and emails from friends. I think one of the threads that I've come across is that people [have been] saying, 'Now it makes sense how much I liked these books, because it sort of was an early relationship that I could understand, that I actually would want later down the line.’ I think that's very important for children to have that as a normal thing, to see that same-sex relationships are very normal."