If you aren’t familiar with them, Frog and Toad are the main characters in Arnold Lobel’s Frog and Toad children’s book series. The stories revolve around Frog and Toad’s incredibly close friendship and the adventures they experience together.
These books were published throughout the 70’s yet still remain known and beloved by many, even a Zillennial like myself (my own word for someone born in a year that’s considered Gen Z just as often as it’s considered millennial).
A few short years after Frog and Toad are Friends was published in 1970, Lobel revealed this to his family.
While I’m not sure when Lobel’s sexuality was first made known to the public, Colin Stokes wrote an article for The New Yorker called “‘Frog and Toad’: An Amphibious Celebration of Same-Sex Love” in 2016.
For the article, Stokes spoke with Lobel’s daughter, Adrianne Lobel, who mentioned her father was gay.
This prompted me to do some research, which is when I came across the article by Stokes. It presents information that strongly suggests Frog and Toad were, in fact, intended to be gay.
Adrianne says this about her father:
“I think ‘Frog and Toad’ really was the beginning of him coming out.”
In an interview from 1977, Lobel himself talks about how he inserts his own painful life experiences into his writing:
“You know, if an adult has an unhappy love affair, he writes about it. He exorcises it out of himself, perhaps, by writing a novel 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.”
If Lobel often incorporated the painful aspects of his life into children’s stories as he said, there’s little doubt he’d leave out the uniquely painful experience of living a closeted life. To write is to express, and if Lobel couldn’t express his true self in his own life, there’s a good chance he was expressing it through Frog and Toad.
Of course, Stokes’s article received adverse reactions from people stating Frog and Toad can’t possibly be gay for various reasons.
I mean, for heaven’s sake — how can there be gay characters in a children’s book? What an atrocity!
Where’s the proof?
One article argues that Lobel’s comment about incorporating the painful aspects of his life into his writing isn’t concrete enough proof that Frog and Toad are gay.
First of all, this argument likely isn’t taking into account the time period during which Lobel wrote the book — the 1970’s. Lobel couldn’t just announce in the book, “Frog and Toad are gay,” or the book never would’ve made it to publication let alone the level of success it has today.
Sure, it isn’t concrete proof, but it’s not that hard to believe a gay writer would want to create characters representative of his own sexuality — even if it had to be coded as a platonic friendship.
As a queer person, I can speak from experience. We want to be represented, but there’s such a lack of queer characters in the media, even today. There’s no doubt it was much worse in the 70’s.
As a queer writer, it’s natural for me to write about queer characters and topics. And if I don’t feel safe writing openly about it, then I’ll still end up queer-coding it. Is it so hard to believe Lobel would do the same?
Sexualizing children’s book characters
Another response article accuses Stokes and modern readers of “giving sexual meanings to activities that have simpler and purer explanations. Like: they’re close friends because they’re close friends.”
Unfortunately, this viewpoint is commonly expressed any time queer characters appear in children’s media. Because queerness is so overly sexualized, people see only the sexual component of a queer relationship.
This is child and hypocritical, as they don’t apply the same standard to straight couples who appear in children’s media. If Frog was a girl and Toad was a boy, no one would have an issue suggesting they’re a couple.
Queer characters in children’s book are not inherently sexual. Frog and Toad being gay does not suddenly make them sexually promiscuous and unfit for children’s eyes. They embody a romantic love that doesn’t give “sexual meanings” to any activities just because they’re in a same-sex relationship.
The only people giving sexual meaning to Frog and Toad’s activities are the ones suggesting there’s something inherently sexual about them if they’re gay.
Same-sex love is just as appropriate for children as straight love, and that’s that.