The award-winning books, aimed at beginning readers, were written and illustrated by Lobel between 1970 and 1979. They use simple illustrations, pared-down prose and dry humor to tell the story of the friendship between the seemingly mismatched duo: Frog is Oscar to Toad’s Felix, Ernie to Toad’s Bert. But through mishaps and misunderstandings, their friendship endures.
Now, 53 years after their debut on the printed page, the duo is appearing on the small screen in “Frog and Toad,” an animated series that premiered in April on Apple TV Plus. The series is executive-produced by Arnold Lobel’s children, Adrianne and Adam Lobel — the writer and illustrator died in 1987 due to complications from AIDS.
Adrianne and Adam recently spoke with The Washington Post about their father’s legacy, the long-standing popularity of “Frog and Toad” and why they decided now was the right time to bring the characters to television.
(This interview has been edited for length and clarity.)
Q: How have the “Frog and Toad” stories evolved for each of you throughout your lives?
Adrianne: Can I tell my frog and toad story, Adam?
Adam: I don’t know which one this is.
Adrianne: The one about me bringing a toad into the house?
Adam: So you were the spark that created it all?
Adrianne: Well, there’s a theory. When we were kids, our parents used to pile us into the car every summer and go up to Vermont to a house on a lake. I loved toads and I would collect them. One day I brought a toad in from the woods. And my father looked at the toad in my hand and said, “Oh, what a nice frog you have there.” And I got really irritated because I hated that people would get toads and frogs mixed up. I said, “This is not a frog, this is a toad and these are the differences.” And he said, “Oh, okay.” Then about six months later, he wrote the first “Frog and Toad” book. So I’ve always thought I might have sparked the idea to begin with.
Adam: I was not in the right demographic when the first one came out, I was 10 or 11. I liked my father’s books and he would read them to us and bounce them off us. But it was just his job, really. … When my friends started having kids and then when I had my own kids, I really realized how great they were. I’d have friends say to me, “Thank God for your father because I have to read the same goddamn book to my kids six times a night. They just want the same book over and over and over again. And most of the stuff makes my teeth want to rot. And your father’s books are great.” I had the same experience with my own kids.
Q: Why do you think your father’s stories have continued to appeal to audiences decades after they were released?
Adrianne: He just hit a chord that resonates with both adults and children. They’re like a really good song from the [Great] American Songbook. We still sing Gershwin and Irving Berlin, and they’re kind of like that.
Adam: He chose his words very carefully. Writing was an effort [for] him. Illustrating was easy and writing was the hard work. There was there’s no fluff there, there’s no wasted anything.
Q: What drew you to this project and why do you think that it’s important to tell these stories in this format now?
Adrianne: A lot of people have approached us over the years, and we had one experience with a company that was trying to do a feature film, and it really wasn’t a happy experience. We realized that you can’t take these little stories and these characters and turn it into a giant epic adventure.
Adam: Although that took a little while to come around to. I think originally we did want a feature. Thinking that was sort of, you know, a more spectacular, splashy thing. … It just didn’t translate, to write a 90-minute script there has to be volcanoes and disasters and flying squirrels. It just didn’t work. It wasn’t what “Frog and Toad” was.
Q: Your father’s stories have created so many cherished memories for families, do you have any stories about him that you’d like to share?
Adrianne: I remember a car trip we were taking and [Adam and I] were back seat having a squabble. I was probably sticking gum in his hair or something. And my father, who had been very quiet for a couple of hours, said, “Would you like to hear a story?” And of course, we both settled down instantly and said. “Yes.” He recited from beginning to end, in verse, a story he had just written in his head called “Martha the Movie Mouse,” which is one of my favorite books of his. … It was all in rhyme, and he just made it up in his head.
Q: What about you, Adam? Is there anything you would like to share?
Adam: There was lots of nice, antique furniture in our living room. But, then there was this sort of ratty, more modern, almost like rocking [chair]. It was this ugly chair — looked completely out of place. It was his writing chair and he would sit in there [with] his little copy of Strunk and White’s “The Elements of Style,” which he carried around with him like the Bible.
Adrianne: And also the thesaurus for when he was doing verses. He was a very good actor, actually. He read books not only his own, but he also read other people’s books. So you’d hear him in the afternoon reading very expressively from the living room, because he knew that’s how the stories would be experienced, for the most part.
Adrianne: He used to do the dishes and sing Barbra Streisand songs.
Q: Is there anything in the series that you’re particularly excited about sharing with audiences?
Adam: We’re often asked ‘I’d like to buy a full-color “Frog and Toad” illustration.” They don’t [exist], there is no full color. They were done with color separations. The finished artwork for “Frog and Toad” doesn’t exist except in the final printing process because they were plates. … So this is really the first instance of “Frog and Toad” in color.
Q: Is there anything we didn’t touch on today that you think would like to tell Frog and Toad readers?
Adrianne: I still get fan mail from kids who don’t know that my father is gone. I just got one the other day. It was so sweet and so many people have learned how to read from those books. It’s very touching.