Frogs and Toads in Art and Storytelling

rederick Stuart Church (1842–1924) ~ Frogs and Mosquitos summer concert ~ Harpers

In stories, mice are to rats as frogs are to toads. Unlike hares and rabbits, toads and frogs are actually the same category of animal, but one has garnered a better reputation. I’ve heard ‘toad’ used as an insult, but I’ve only ever heard ‘froggy’ to describe the shape of someone’s mouth. Neither is especially complimentary, but frogs seem cuter.

The Real Difference Between Frogs And Toads

Wheras the categories of ‘mice’ and ‘rats’ encompass many different small mammals who may or may not be closely related to each other, toads are a subcategory of frog.

Generally speaking, whether we call an amphibian a frog or a toad will depend on a few visible markers:

MORE FROGGYMORE TOADLY
SKINmoist and slimydry and bumpy
BODYlong and leanshort and squat
EGGSin a massin a chain
HABITATwetterdrier
MOVEMENTleapycrawly

So how is this distinction useful for storytellers making use of anthropomorphised amphibians?

European Fire-Bellied Toad and Yellow-Bellied Toad from Brehms Tierleben Vol 1, illustrator Joseph Fleischmann, Leipzig, Vienna Bibliographisches Institut 1920
Shadowland magazine frog illustration by A. M. Hopfmüller 1921
ゆかいなかえる Happy Frogs 2002
ゆかいなかえる Happy Frogs 2002
Poor Cecco by Marjery William Bianco illustrated by Arthur Rackham Murrum and Toad the Night-watchman

I’m thinking slime. I think flies, quick movements combined with general sloth. I think of The Frog Princess, literally and metaphorically ‘slimy’, imposing himself on a young woman knowing full well she doesn’t want him anywhere near her.

Ida Rentoul Outhwaite (1888-1960) Australian illustrator
Olga Kondakova - Korolevich
Olga Kondakova – Korolevich
Virginia Frances Sterrett (1900-1931 USA)
New German fairytale treasure 7. Special issue of the WEEK Storybook Publisher- August Scherl G.m.b.H. (Berlin Germany; 1905)
New German fairytale treasure 7. Special issue of the WEEK Storybook Publisher- August Scherl G.m.b.H. (Berlin Germany; 1905)
William the Curious by Charles Santore
Gourmet The Magazine of Good Living April 1943 – Lily Pad Romeo
A Maxfield Parrish cover for William Randolph Hearst’s magazine for July 1912
The Princess Frog. 1956. Artist Nika Goltz. The frog in this fairy tale is a bit of a trickster. But then, he’s not really a frog but a prince. These stories must exist to coax daughters into marrying whoever is chosen for them, regardless of physical attraction. I suspect a lot of these men chosen for girls were much older, to boot.
Edward Frederick Brewtnall – The Princess and the Frog Prince

The Quack Frog

By-Arthur-Rackham-The-Quack-Frog-Aesops-Fables-VS-Vernon-Jones-1912
By Arthur Rackham “The Quack Frog”, Aesop’s Fables VS Vernon Jones 1912

Toads As Mark Of Healthy Boyhood

Especially in nineteenth and twentieth century children’s books, boys and frogs are linked. The painting by Dirk Sargeant below is an excellent visual depiction of what I’m talking about:

Dirk Sargent
RAGGEDY ANN & ANDY ON THE FARM ~Children’s Tell-A-Tale Book endpaper

The boy takes a natural and mischievous delight in these disgusting creatures, usually while a disapproving girl or woman looks on. In Charlotte’s Web, E. B. White wrote a brother (Avery) who is the stereotypically perfect representation of rural boyhood — part of that requires a fascination with frogs.

Though the famous nursery rhyme below doesn’t mention frogs and toads exactly, they fit into the same category as snails:

What are little boys made of?
What are little boys made of?
  Snips and snails
  And puppy-dogs’ tails
That’s what little boys are made of

What are little girls made of?
What are little girls made of?
  Sugar and spice
  And everything nice [or “all things nice”]
That’s what little girls are made of

Toads are basically gross-out material, related to Bakhtin’s ideas about bodily discomfort.

George William Willis - Leap Frog
George William Willis – Leap Frog
Frank Beard (American, 1842-1905) Illustrator and cartoonist. “What may happen when little boys play leap-frog too much.”

The Posh Dandy Toad

I believe the underlying idea in this archetype is that the ugly middle-aged man tries to improve himself by dressing in a way his gentlemanly salary allows. The juxtaposition is the joke, and another take on ‘making a silk purse out of a sow’s ear’ or ‘lipstick on a pig’. The best-known example of this kind of toad is probably Toad from The Wind In The Willows, published 1908. The illustration below is also from around that time.

A well dressed toad. Drawing by G. Hope Tait, c1900
Jim Smith from Frog Band Fanfare published in 1977. “He was too old to go off across the sea on a treasure hunt, and besides, his foot hurt. So, he realised he would have to enlist the help of that eminent detective, Alphonse le Flic.”
David Hall’s conceptual art for Disney’s Alice in Wonderland, 1939
A Frog he would a Wooing Go, by American illustrator Henry Louis Stephens 1824 -1882
Harrison Cady (1877-1970, American) rabbit frog

Beatrix Potter’s The Tale of Jeremy Fisher was published in 1893, and it may have been Potter who ushered in the age of the well-dressed toad in children’s stories. Her publishers weren’t confident a slimy amphibian could be empathetic, so Potter was required to compensate for Jeremy’s ugliness by painting unusually beautiful backgrounds. It was Potter’s book which proved even a toady type thing can be sympathetic.

The Adventures of Jerry Muskrat published 1914 then 1942
The Adventures of Jerry Muskrat published 1914 then 1942
L. Leslie Brooke (1862–1940) illustration from A Roundabout Turn by Robert H. Charles, Frederick Warne & Company, Ltd., 1930
L. Leslie Brooke (1862–1940) illustration from A Roundabout Turn by Robert H. Charles, Frederick Warne & Company, Ltd., 1930

FROGS AS MULTITUDES

Like cats and rats, frogs are sometimes depicted in great numbers. When frogs and toads have a bumper breeding season, they really have a bumper breeding season.

The Concert of Frogs from the poem Liliana 1907 written and illustrated by Apel Les Mestres, Catalan poet and illustrator

WHAT DID AESOP HAVE TO SAY ABOUT FROGS AND TOADS?

Aesop’s Fables London Adam & Charles Black 1912 Artist - Charles Folkard - The Proud Frog
Aesop’s Fables London Adam & Charles Black 1912 Artist – Charles Folkard – The Proud Frog

Cute Frogs

Make any slimy thing cuter by giving them clothes. Extend cuteness further by depicting them in mid-action, putting on those clothes, behaving like humans. The cutest thing you can do with a frog is to make it behave like a child human.

Fritz Baumgarten (1883 – 1966) German illustrator
Racey Help (1913-1970) for a book by Angus Clifford
Frog by a Dandelion with Flies (1877–1938) by Jan van Oort
The Frog In The Well written by Alvin Tresselt Illustrated by Roger Duvoisin 1958
The story of the little turtle and the gold finches by Alex Wedding, illustrated by Eberhard Binder, 1963 frogs
The Wasp Sting by Heinrich Schlitt

Frog’s Outing — a Japanese picture book depicting a quirky, likeable frog character. Likeable frogs tend to have human eyeballs. Amphibian eyes are inherently off-putting to humans, as they look like the eyes of snakes.
Leo Visler 1917
Richard Scarry (1919-1994) Illustration for “The rooster struts” 1963
Childcraft The How and Why Library (Volume 1) – Poems and Rhymes 1979 Illustration by Charley Harper
L. Leslie Brooke, an English artist who worked primarily as a children’s book illustrator
The Princess and the Frog, Arthur Rackham, 1909 (illustration for The Frog Prince by Brothers Grimm)
The Princess and the Frog, Arthur Rackham, 1909 (illustration for The Frog Prince by Brothers Grimm)
Anne Bachelier frog climbing ladder
Anne Bachelier frog climbing ladder
I’m A Frog by Mo Willems
“Les enfants et les bêtes” (1936) livre de lecture illustré par Armand Rapeno
The Adventures of Mr Toad
Concept art by John Hench
Christmas Party with a wealthy Family of Toads 1886 Pepe A Christmas Story by Theodor Kittelsen
Christmas Party with a wealthy Family of Toads 1886 Pepe A Christmas Story by Theodor Kittelsen
Abe Birnbaum New Yorker cover FROG
Abe Birnbaum New Yorker cover
an old Larkin Advertising Card for 'Handkerchief Soap' 1882
an old Larkin Advertising Card for ‘Handkerchief Soap’ 1882
The Duck Tale by Virginia Bennett. Illustrated by E. Stewart. London – Ernest Nister New York – E. P. Dutton & Co. c.1908.
Paul Lothar Müller (1869-1956), ' Frog Concert ' (Frog Concert), ' The Watchbox ', 1909
Paul Lothar Müller (1869-1956), ‘ Frog Concert ‘ (Frog Concert), ‘ The Watchbox ‘, 1909

Aunt Friendly’s Picture Book – 1870’s THE FROG WHO WOULD A WOOING GO Illustrator- Joseph Kronheim
Aunt Friendly’s Picture Book – 1870’s THE FROG WHO WOULD A WOOING GO Illustrator- Joseph Kronheim
Aunt Friendly’s Picture Book – 1870’s THE FROG WHO WOULD A WOOING GO Illustrator- Joseph Kronheim
Art by Lou Mayer for a cover of Puck Magazine. The caption reads ‘Treasure Island’.

Jerome, 1967, Jerome Snyder
Jerome, 1967, Jerome Snyder
Janusz Stanny – The Tales of Hans Christian Andersen
DIE GESCHICHTE VON DER KLEINEN SCHILDKRÖTE UND DEN GOLDFINKEN (1963) Eberhard Binder frogs
DIE GESCHICHTE VON DER KLEINEN SCHILDKRÖTE UND DEN GOLDFINKEN (1963) Eberhard Binder

FROGS AS AGILE ACROBATIC CARNIVALESQUE CHARACTERS

Racey Helps (1913-1970), postcard The Astonished Angler
Racey Helps (1913-1970), postcard The Astonished Angler
My Head-to-Toe Book by Jean Tymns, illustrated by Tibor Gergely (1974) frog
My Head-to-Toe Book by Jean Tymns, illustrated by Tibor Gergely (1974)
Lemon girl young adult novella

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Header illustration: Frederick Stuart Church (1842–1924) ~ Frogs and Mosquitos summer concert ~ Harpers