Generations have grown up on the stories of Frog and Toad, the titular duo at the heart of four beloved children’s books from writer-illustrator Arnold Lobel. But now it turns out they may have been one of the first gay couples in kid’s literature.
“[They are] of the same sex, and they love each other,” Lobel’s daughter, Adrianne told, The New Yorker. “It was quite ahead of its time in that respect.”
Her father actually came out to his family in 1974, four years after Frog and Toad are Friends was published. “I think Frog and Toad really was the beginning of him coming out,” she said.
Lobel never discussed the characters’ sexuality, or his own, publicly. But in 1977, he told the children’s-book journal The Lion and the Unicorn: “If an adult has an unhappy love affair, he writes about it. Well, if I have an unhappy love affair, I have to somehow use all that pain and suffering but turn it into a work for children.”
The popularity of the two amphibians led to a Claymation TV series and 2003 Broadway musical, and the Jim Henson Company has said its working on a feature film adaptation of their tales.
Why do the Frog and Toad stories endure? Perhaps because they tell children that friendships can endure almost anything.
“It was the only thing he wrote that involved a relationship,” [Adrienne] said. “I’ve watched children grow up, and that whole drama that’s kind of the precursor to the hell of romance later in life—who is best friends with whom and who likes who when, and this person doesn’t like me now—it’s very painful, and I think that children really like to hear that this is not abnormal, that Frog and Toad go through these dramas every day.”
Sadly, Arnold Lobel died in 1987 of an AIDS-related heart attack. “He was only fifty-four,” said Adrienne. “Think of all the stories we missed.”