Schenectady would do well to honor its native creations, Frog and Toad.
The “Frog and Toad” books, published in the 1970s, were a gift to the world.
The stories about two amphibian friends celebrate kindness, altruism and love. The books are timeless, warm and, as I know from experience, endlessly fun to read to children. We need more Frog and Toad in our lives. We need more Frog and Toad in our politics. A Frog and Toad 2020 presidential ticket would have my full support.
Happily, the books have a local connection. Arnold Lobel, their author, is a Schenectady native. Born in 1933, he grew up on Baker Avenue, made a name in local theater and was graduated in 1951 from the old Nott Terrace High School.
Lobel left Schenectady soon after and never again lived in the city. But his daughter, Adrianne, told me her father’s Schenectady childhood remained an inspiration for his work. Before his 1987 death,
Lobel himself told interviewers he began drawing and creating characters to entertain his Schenectady classmates.
Though his books sold more than 14 million copies and have been celebrated worldwide — and turned into a Broadway play — neither Lobel nor Frog and Toad have been publicly lauded in Schenectady. That’s a shame, but it’s also an opportunity.
It just so happens that Schenectady is debating the future of the renovated Gateway Plaza downtown along State Street.
The land was the longtime home of an 8-foot-tall reproduction of the Statue of Liberty, but she’s been
mothballed (not without controversy) as the city moves forward with a temporary sculpture that will honor the progress of gay rights.
What comes after? That hasn’t been decided.
So I’m going to f loat an idea: Why not honor Lobel and his amphibian creations there?
There’s no reason a Frog and Toad statue or two couldn’t coexist with Lady Liberty or a gay rights display.
But the famous amphibians would turn the park into a special attraction — one that’s unique to Schenectady. They’ve been so honored nowhere else.
Celebrating Lobel could also be a way of continuing to honor the LGBTQ community. Lobel himself was gay, and The New Yorker even declared that
Frog and Toad, as two male characters who care for each other, “are an amphibious celebration of same-sex love.”
Maybe. Maybe not. We can tackle that once we decide what Sesame Street’s Bert and Ernie were up to.
In the books, Frog is the optimistic, enthusiastic friend who often persuades the pessimistic Toad into adventures he’d rather avoid. Frog encourages his friend to grow a garden, celebrate spring or head outside on a cold day when Toad would rather burrow under his covers.
“Winter is beautiful,” said Frog. “Come out and have fun.”
“Blah,” said Toad, who is nevertheless convinced to go sledding. After the sled crashes, Toad concludes that “winter may be beautiful, but bed is much
Many of us can sympathize.
Chad Putnam of Schenectady Pride, the group behind the planned Gateway Plaza project, was intrigued by honoring Lobel and Frog and Toad when I mentioned the idea to him.
So was Mary Moore Wallinger, the designer of the remade Gateway Park and chairwoman of the city Planning Commission. Like me, she’s biased toward Frog and Toad, given that she so frequently reads their adventures to her children, ages six and three.
Wallinger said her goal for Gateway Park was to make it a Schenectadyspecific gathering place that would add to the city’s sense of itself. Statues of Frog and Toad, she added,
are the type of monuments that can become iconic for cities and make them fun —akintowhatnipperhas become for Albany.
“Those are the things that people come to love and that are funky and unexpected,” Wallinger said. “The thing that cities have going for them is the experience, so having things that are fun are a critical piece of the puzzle.”
My friend Duncan Crary, a Union College graduate who lives in
Troy, has a Frog and Toad concept that’s especially ambitious. In addition to a citywide festival honoring the books, he imagines Frog and Toad sculptures around Schenectady that would reference scenes from the stories and encourage families to tour the city.
In one story, Frog and
Toad go swimming but Toad refuses to leave the water because he looks funny in his bathing suit — a scene that could be depicted at the Central Park pool. The story in which Frog sends Toad a letter by snail — snail mail! — which could be depicted outside the downtown post office.
However it happened, honoring Frog and
Toad could show that Schenectady is a city that embraces whimsy, makes room for children and has a strong sense of self. By embracing such kind and loving characters, Schenectady could signal what it hopes the world can be.
Vote Frog and Toad in 2020!
[email protected]sunion. com 518-454-5442 @ chris_churchill
Kathleen Kemp holds Frog and Toad dolls at the Open Door Bookstore onJay Street in Schenectady. The pair of beloved characters may offer a way for Schenectady to honor its unique history at Gateway