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Pop CultureChildren & Youth

Frog and Toad and the World of Arnold Lobel

Nov 21, 2013–Mar 23, 2014

This exhibition celebrates the art of Arnold Lobel (1933–1987), author and illustrator of some of the most beloved children’s books produced since the late 1960s. Included among these are his Frog and Toad series (1971–79), Mouse Soup (1977), and Fables (1980), which was awarded the prestigious Caldecott Medal. Creating a magical world animated by a talking frog, a toad, an owl, mice, kangaroos, and other colorful creatures, Lobel subtly reflects upon human foibles in his charmingly rendered stories and illustrations. The exhibition features over one hundred original illustrations and works on paper highlighting Lobel’s detailed illustration technique and warm, funny tales of love and friendship, mostly among animal friends. Organized by The Contemporary Jewish Museum, San Francisco, in collaboration with The Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art, Amherst, Massachusetts.

image gallery
about arnoLd lobel

Raised by his German-Jewish grandparents in Schenectady, New York, Arnold Lobel was an awkward and sensitive child, often bullied at school. Throughout his self-described unhappy childhood, he sought refuge in his local library. For Lobel, picture books were “capable of suggesting everything that is good about feeling well and having positive thoughts about being alive.” His passion for books spawned a talent for storytelling and drawing, and he soon won the respect of his classmates by enthralling them with the stories he invented.

Lobel graduated from Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, New York in 1955 with a degree in fine arts. He married Anita Kempler, another art student at Pratt, that same year. They settled in Brooklyn across from the Prospect Park Zoo, where they went often with their children, inspiring one of his earliest books, A Zoo for Mister Muster (1962). It was in 1970, when an editor convinced Lobel to create an early reader (a new genre of books ushered in by Dr. Seuss and designed to motivate emerging readers), that he achieved real success.

Guided by the belief that the secret to creating great books for children is in writing for oneself about oneself, Lobel drew on fond memories of summers spent in Vermont where his family adopted myriad frogs and toads as pets. His strong affection for these amphibians resulted in the development of his most memorable characters, Frog and Toad.

Frog and Toad was just the beginning of a long list of early readers Lobel wrote and illustrated including Mouse Tales (1972), Mouse Soup (1977), and Uncle Elephant (1981). Lobel also illustrated stories by other authors; in his twenty-six year career, Lobel illustrated nearly one hundred titles and wrote the stories of many of them as well. His beautifully crafted books received numerous awards, including a Caldecott Medal, two Caldecott Honors, and a Newbery Honor.

Lobel varied his media, method, and mood with each new book. From the crisp precision of his Rembrandt-like pen-and-ink drawings for The Microscope (1984) to the smoky, smudgy, foggily atmospheric scene of London Bridge in Whiskers & Rhymes (1985), Lobel deftly demonstrated his wide-ranging repertory of styles and techniques. He sought inspiration in unexpected sources, turning, for example, to Chinese landscapes in his gentle parable Ming Lo Moves the Mountain (1982).


Frog and Toad and the World of Arnold Lobel is organized by The Contemporary Jewish Museum, San Francisco, in collaboration with The Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art, Amherst, Massachusetts.

Patron Sponsorship for this exhibition is provided by an anonymous donor.

Image Credit

Arnold Lobel, “The Story,” final illustration for Frog and Toad are Friends (detail), 1970. Graphite, ink, and wash on paper with pasted text, 15 7/8 x 19 15/16 in. (matted). Courtesy of The Estate of Arnold Lobel. Copyright © The Estate of Arnold Lobel.