Few writers have captured the give and take of friendship quite as tenderly as Arnold Lobel.
The popular author and illustrator is best known for his “Frog and Toad” books. Although the first title was published more than 40 years ago, the four-book series remains a staple in elementary school libraries today.
“Frog and Toad and the World of Arnold Lobel,” on display at the Contemporary Jewish Museum in San Francisco through March 23, features more than 100 Lobel illustrations and works on paper, from sketches on lined notebook paper to finished pieces.
Lobel was born in 1933 and raised by his German-Jewish grandparents in Schenectady, N.Y. Bullied at school, he took refuge at the library. At an early age, he discovered his talent for storytelling and drawing.
For Lobel, drawing was “the dessert after the spinach of writing.”
During his 26-year career, Lobel illustrated nearly 100 titles and wrote many of the stories as well. His big success came in 1970, when an editor persuaded him to try his hand at an early reader, a new genre of books made popular by Dr. Seuss.
“The little stories just poured out of me and … somehow in writing ‘Frog and Toad,’ I was, for the first time, writing about myself,” he once said.
Toad, he joked, was “just your normal everyday neurotic.”
After the “Frog and Toad” books, Lobel wrote and illustrated several other early readers, including “Mouse Tales,” “Mouse Soup” and “Uncle Elephant.”
A highlight of the exhibition is a wall containing several illustrations from “Fables,” which won the Caldecott Medal in 1984. From a crocodile enamored with his bedroom wallpaper to a sly fox chatting with two duck sisters, Lobel gives his animal creatures characteristics that readers can relate to. The illustrations are exquisite and stories are full of funny and engaging dialogue.
The exhibition also showcases Lobel’s ability to work in a variety of media, from pen and ink to watercolors. Viewers can see art from his lesser known books, such as “Prince Bertram The Bad.”
As in most museums, the artwork is hung at eye-level for adults — not children. Young visitors who tire of trying to get a good look at Lobel’s detailed illustrations will enjoy stopping at the family area located within the exhibition. There are tables and chairs where children can draw a postcard for a friend, write a limerick or make a self-portrait — giving parents a little more time to savor Lobel’s art.
IF YOU GO
Frog and Toad and the World of Arnold Lobel
Where: Contemporary Jewish Museum, 736 Mission St., S.F.
When: 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily, except closed Wednesdays and 1 to 8 p.m. Thursdays; show runs through March 23
Tickets: $5 to $12