Frog and Toad and the Writer Behind the Play


Facsimile image of a Lobel sketch. The original is housed in the Kerlan Collection.

UMD's Jean Stevenson Researches

the Life and Work of Arnold Lobel

Jean Stevenson digs for treasure in the specially designed underground caverns of the Elmer L. Anderson Library. Stevenson conducts research for the Anderson Library's Kerlan Collection at the University of Minnesota. It is one of the world's great children's literature research collections and it includes books, original manuscripts, original illustrations, and related materials.

This summer, in celebration of the UMD play, A Year with Frog and Toad, directed by Chancellor Kathryn A. Martin, Stevenson did some research on the children’s book author, Arnold Lobel.

“I was sitting alone in the Kerlan, with all my stuff around me,” said Stevenson. “I pulled out a folder, and inside was a manuscript written by Arnold Lobel." This is what she read:

One day in summer
Frog was not feeling well.
Toad said, “Frog,
you are looking quite green.”
“But I always look green,”
said Frog. “I am a frog.”
“Today you look very green
even for a frog,” said Toad.

“I burst out laughing,” said Stevenson. “It is such wonderful writing — so simple and childlike. In a way, I felt like I was sitting next to Arnold Lobel as he was writing it. You can hear that he wrote in breath spaces, so it sounds right when it is read aloud.”

The manuscript was only one of the incredible treasures of Lobel’s in the Kerlan Collection. Stevenson brought copies back to UMD and they can be viewed in a display case in the hall near the UMD Library. Stevenson found a facsimile of a black and white Lobel drawing that depicts Toad in his bathing suit and animals laughing at him. It’s from the chapter, “A Swim” in the book Frog and Toad are Friends. "You can see that the publishers added color and made two illustrations out of one," Stevenson said.

She also found a holograph, which is the handwritten text of the manuscript. The holograph is from the chapter “Spring,” the first chapter of the same book. “It was like I could see Lobel writing and revising the work,” said Stevenson. "He wrote with a sure hand. They are hardly any corrections.We know that Lobel wrote and drew every day and it is evident in the holograph."

Another of Stevenson’s finds was a corrected typescript of the same chapter. This one had corrections in another person’s handwriting, possibly the publisher’s.

Research of this kind is familiar territory for Stevenson. She prepares portfolios, which are resources for teachers, to bring to grade-school classrooms. The portfolios contain facsimile copies of original manuscripts and illustrations by well-known children’s book authors. "I show kids what came first,” said Stevenson. “I often have a manuscript. Then I show them what came second. Most often that is materials from the publisher. Then I show them the published books.” When Stevenson can show the students an illustration, it makes the session a special event.


Jean Stevenson with a Lobel sketch and one of his books

Stevenson said the portfolios tell a lot about the process of writing. “After the kids have read the books, I go in and talk to them about the writer,” she said. “They can see how he wrote, why he wrote and where the characters came from. The process is open to them. It’s like a spirit of the writer comes into the classroom and takes them by the hand.”

Stevenson’s life work is the study of children’s literature. Her doctoral dissertation, “The Writing Processes of Theodore Taylor and Jane Yolen,” is influencing her current projects. She is preparing a Kerlan portfolio on Theodore Taylor, author of The Cay. She is also preparing a Kerlan portfolio on Myra Cohn Livingston, children's poet, anthologist, and author of many books including I Like You If You Like Me and Celebration.

This spring, Stevenson was asked to make the presentation as the renowned artist and children’s book illustrator Louis Slobodkin was posthumously awarded The Kerlan Award in Children's Literature.

Stevenson teaches Language and Literacy and Children's Literature & Integrating Arts in the Education Department at UMD. She is an assistant professor and the elementary education program coordinator. This spring, she received an Outstanding Faculty Adviser Award.

"I teach the college students to bring reading and writing into the classroom," she said. Stevenson tells her UMD students about one experience she had in a third grade classroom. The third graders wrote every morning as part of a daily writing workshop. "The kids would come in, grab their folders and and write. They had actually started writing as they walked to school or as they rode the bus," she said. "You learn to write by reading. You learn cadence and how to convey ideas. There is a connection."

Stevenson teaches the UMD students something else through her example. She teaches them to be passionionate about reading, writing, and literature.

______________

The children’s play, A Year with Frog and Toad is directed by UMD Chancellor Kathryn A. Martin, with music direction by Ryan Frane and is presented June 27, 29 and July 6 at 7:30 p.m., June 28, 30 and July 5 and 7 at 10:30 a.m., June 29 and July 6 at 1 p.m., and July 1 and 8 at 2 p.m. in Marshall Performing Arts Center. It’s a show for children of all ages with music by Robert Reale, lyrics by Willie Reale; and is based on the books by Arnold Lobel. It is sponsored by SMDC Foundation. For more information see www.umdartsfest.com. For tickets, call 726-8561.

— written by Cheryl Reitan

UMD Homepage 2007

UMD home page editor, Cheryl Reitan, creitan@d.umn.edu
NEW RELEASES, UMD media contact, Susan Latto, slatto@d.umn.edu, 218-726-8830

 

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