George and Martha, Frog and Toad

As a young child, one of our daughters had an exceedingly difficult time controlling her temper and her tongue. When I had my act together, I would spin thinly veiled bedtime stories for her about a mice family dealing with the same issues as she and her siblings faced. Listening to those tales allowed her to glimpse storms and mistakes in her own world in a safe and gentle way.

Animals are a theme in many children’s books. Sometimes, as in Danny and the Dinosaur or Morris Goes to School (he’s a moose), the animals run into problems as they try to fit into a human world, but their speech and emotions are quite human. In other books, like those about the hippopotami George and Martha or the badger in Bread and Jam for Frances,  the experiences of the animals, like those in my mice story, have little to do with their animalness. Writing stories with animal protagonists lets the author introduce whimsy and allow for adorable illustrations.

Arnold Lobel’s Frog and Toad series rank high in the read-to-me charts. I actually read them to my children in English as well as in Hebrew translation. While frogs make a dramatic appearance in Exodus during the second plague, my familiarity with the Hebrew for toad comes from these books rather than the Bible. The stories, which feature strong bonds of friendship between the two amphibians, are short, humorous and sweet.

All this led to my groaning audibly when my son forwarded me an article in The New Yorker magazine triumphantly trumpeting the author’s homosexuality. Aha! All of a sudden, we are meant to see a hidden message in the close connection between Frog and Toad, even though there isn’t a hint of anything amorous or sexual in the books.

No such hints surround George, Martha, Morris, the Dinosaur, or Frances the badger either. For the record, they are missing from Beatrix Potter’s books and Aesop’s Fables as well. How quaint. Generations were able to read stories to children without feeling the need to find adult subliminal messages. Can’t we please leave it like that?

30 thoughts on “George and Martha, Frog and Toad”

  1. Your recent musings have matched my own recent thoughts, and I admit it, despair. I no longer always feel as if I really belong in this world… cannot easily visit ladies rooms out in public, the locker room at the gym, etc. I have hundreds of channels I could watch but I find myself watching, Bonanza, The Virginian and older movies so I can still find some sort of grounding in this world. G-d knows I no longer find it easy out there even in Spokane…. and my move to the Seattle area is starting to make me seriously uneasy. Thank you for your musings. I guess I am not alone.

    1. You are in good company, Les. There are good people in Seattle. You just have to find them. The ‘tear down civilization’ people have definitely gotten louder and more intrusive.

  2. This revisionist approach to literature has been a continuing topic in our book loving family. There are several aspects of society where certain circles simply attempt force in changing things into the shape they want. The sexualization of so many words has been going on for my entire life. We’ve lost so many meanings and thus we lose options in expression of word and thought. Now I hear that some statues of Southern history are being removed because those people must be seen in only one way- only one definition of their lives is allowed. And great literature? Yes, those have been under the scalpel for years, and I see a time when not only the flag you fly but the book you read will bring you under even further condemnation than we have so far experienced.

    1. I’m glad you’re discussing it in your family, Lora. We are increasingly the main resource for making sure that members of our family can think, discuss and absorb ideas.

  3. Oh no…and please let’s pray that they never rewrite “Charlotte’s Web”, setting the farm in a DNA-splicing cloning center…SPIDER-PIGS! SPIGS! PIDERS! Or whatever horrible nephilim they try to create from Charlotte and Wilbur…and then try to put in our food supply…

    Indeed, very much like the days before the Flood.

    1. I’m sure you know, Celesta, that some books, including Richard Scarry’s and Nancy Drew have been updated. It’s worth looking for the old editions. It’s not always PC. Sometimes it’s a case of dumbing down the language.

  4. Scott Struckel

    Thank you for posting this thought. Have you come across the Brick Bible or other small “Lego” illustrated Bible stories…Jonah and the Whale, Daniel and the Lions, etc? We were happy to find a author/illustrator who created these books. However, after a little research, we found out that the author is a transgender that has switched from a male to female.

    While the stories are pretty much true and very well done (no doubt the author is gifted), we were concerned with this author’s other works (Assasinations: The Brick Chronicles of Attempts) and his personal hateful rantings towards people of faith or conservative beliefs. The author has stated in a video that he tries to be objective and simply present the facts in his work. This is questionable.

    Could an author’s work have a spiritual effect on a reader or children?

    1. Scott, I haven’t heard of these Lego stories. Your closing question is a great one – and I’m afraid that I don’t have time or place to answer that now. Hmm. Perhaps a future Musing?

  5. The issues raised in this musing and comment stream brings to mind a book I read half a century ago while in college – “The Pooh Perplex” by Frederick Crews. It is a satyric collection of fictional essays analyzing “Winnie-the-Pooh” under various literary criticism styles. /though not expressed explicitly or as succinctly as in the musing, it leads to the same conclusion.

    1. Norman, I’m glad it was satiric. Unfortunately, I’m pretty sure you can find college campuses where this drivel is treated seriously.

  6. Oh how I loved Frog and Toad growing up! Excited to hear there’s a Hebrew version so I can read it to my son!
    When did two guys being friends or two girls being best friends stop meaning just that? everything “has” to be sectualized now.

    1. I guess we should be thankful that the new Anne of Green Gables on Netflix doesn’t suggest anything between Anne and Diana (though I haven’t seen the whole series.)

  7. Amen, Susan! Sounds like a case of politics as usual at the New Yorker! I gift you and your husband’s books when appropriate.

    I also gift Graeme Base’s books to family and friends because the subject matter is typically quite magical for me and I like to share it with others. I’m still reading his books and just read Enigma to my husband. I asked him to help me choose which of Graeme’s books I should give to a young cousin of ours. Graeme’s books are stories and illustrations with intense detail. My three favorites are The Eleventh Hour, The Sign of the Seahorse and Animalia.

    1. O.k. I immediately went to look Graeme Base up and realized that while I didn’t recognize the name, I do recognize the books. I’ll have to take another look at them; they weren’t really on my radar.

      1. Our eldest daughter (who’ll be 29 this August) was given The Eleventh Hour at age 4. I read it aloud to her, a lot during her childhood. I also read it to my second daughter (who’ll be 21, also in August) and son (who’s, 9 years younger than my firstborn daughter and 15 months behind my second.) Our two young adults at home continue to read aloud with us, from children’s books to the Bible, political philosophy, economics, calculus, chemistry, computer science (our son’s programming these days) and more. But we still, absolutely love to read Graeme Base. I even decided to write to him previously just to let him know that he is partly why our middle daughter wanted to become an author. We’re now editing her second book, and I think it’s challenging. My favorite part is reading her stories. 🙂

    1. Well, thank you, Heidi. I make and have made my share of mistakes, but I do try to be a ‘thoughtful’ mom – thinking through my actions and trying to grow and learn.

  8. We loved reading about Frog and Toad’s antics. Both of my children could relate to the different characters. In fact, one of my boys invited some friends of his to read the book and see if they could pinpoint just who “Frog” and who “Toad” was in our family. Their family pegged ours perfectly. Thank you for the reminder. And for the record, when I read of the magazine article, I not only groaned audibly but also had a visual eye-roll, similar to the ones I’m dealing with my now teen-aged “Toad.” : )

    1. We also went to see the children’s theatre put on a Frog and Toad play – not sure why your comment reminded me of that, but it did. Good luck with your Toad – and your Frog, Lori.

  9. Let us not forget Curious George.

    This cultural ‘obsession’ focusing all things towards a sexual theme is quite disturbing.

    My Mother & I were ‘musing’ a few days ago about the state of things today, wondering, why God has not smote us from the earth ( answer = Numbers 14 but the clock is ticking) abominable must have been Sodom & Gomorrah – I shudder to think.

    As always, appreciate your insight

  10. My granddaughter loved the Frog and Toad books and asked her grandfather and me to make up endless new stories about them — as you did, we used the stories to talk about her life and some of the conflicts she needed to deal with. There is no need to “read” into them some other ‘adult’ themes. George and Martha were also great favorites of both my children and grandchildren. Not everything needs to have an agenda, and sexuality does not have to color all our experiences in life.

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