Monday, May 21, 2012

Happy Birthday Arnold Lobel - May 22

Happy Birthday Arnold Lobel - May 22
May 22, 1933 - December 4, 1987

I have been looking forward to celebrating Arnold Lobel's birthday with my children for quite some time.  The stack of used books that I have been collecting, including Mouse Tales and Whiskers and Rhymes, was ready to be read. The Frog and Toad series was checked out from the library.  I expected it to be an exciting week of reading all of Arnold Lobel's classic stories for the first time to my children.  What I didn't expect was for my family to actually meet the real Frog and Toad.

And our experience with Frog and Toad...well, let's say it was... thrilling...dangerous...and it was like no other author birthday celebration.

My son was pedaling his bike on a path around a lake near our house.  I had fallen off his pace while pushing my other two children in the stroller.  The next thing I know, my son was running toward me. "Dad, there is a snake!"  I raced ahead.  We got a quick look at it on the path. Then, in my rush to get my camera out of my pocket to take a picture, I scared it away.  I was upset that I wasn't more delicate with my actions. I didn't get a photo and I wasn't able to identify the species.
My son turned around and right near the path, just a few feet from where we saw the snake, he saw Toad --frozen in fear. We knew it was Toad right away because we had just read Frog and Toad Are Friends the night before.
Toad even let me get really close for a few photos.  What a handsome fellow! 
As my youngest son was introducing himself to Toad, I realized that I might have saved the life of this famous children's book character.  The snake I scared away was big and certainly capable of eating our famous amphibian.  
Toad eventually loosened up and let my son chase him around the path.
Before parting ways Toad and I hugged.  He thanked me for saving his life and I thanked him for his great books.
When we got home, my son wanted to tell Frog all about what happened.  We knew he lived in the pond in our backyard. 
Frog is very friendly and approachable in the books however we knew that we would have to catch him to get a chance to talk to him.
I was patient and after a few failed attempts I caught Frog. I told him all about the snake and saving Toad's life. He thanked me and asked me politely to let him go back to the pond.
I asked him if it would be okay to place him in a milk container until my daughter got home from her friend's house.  He was a good sport and said, "I'd love to meet her." (Full disclosure: He was placed in a milk container.  The top of the container was partially cut to create a hinge.  No lids were used. I would never intentionally harm Frog.)
I closed up the top of the milk container and placed Frog on our deck (which sits about 12 feet off the ground).   I was cooking dinner on the grill and I realized that the container was EMPTY! I looked around on the deck -- no Frog! I nervously looked down below the deck -- no Frog! I double checked the container -- no Frog! I felt awful.  I thought, "Today, I saved the life of one famous children's book character yet I managed to end a life too!"
We ate dinner outside and then while I was cleaning up the dishes I looked over and saw Frog.  He was contemplating a jump that would probably be his last.  I knew if we went near him or said anything, like "HEY, Frog, Don't Jump," he would get scared and jump.  I made a quick decision and realized that jumping actually was the best option for Frog. 
My daughter and I ran downstairs to get an old painting sheet.  We positioned ourselves where we thought would be the best place -- but we really didn't know how far Frog could jump.
I was thinking, "Frog, I am really sorry for putting you in this position." Then, on the count of three my wife scared Frog into plunging off the ledge.
Frog made a safe landing in the middle of the sheet. He jumped off, waved goodbye and went into the backyard.  I was relieved! Two lives saved in one day! Frog and Toad will continue to live on and on.  

Arnold Lobel won the 1981 Caldecott Medal for Fables.  He won Caldecott Honor for On Market Street by Anita Lobel (1982), Hildilid's Night by Cheli Duran Ryan (1972), and Frog and Toad Are Friends (1971). 

1. Arnold Lobel Biography - Greenville Public Library, Scholastic,
2. Arnold Lobel's Obituary - NY Times
3. Excerpt of an Interview with Arnold Lobel - Project Muse
4. Fables Extension Activities - Scholastic

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