Classic children’s books featuring “Frog and Toad” are now finding new life on stage and in the East County wilderness.
Stories first written in the 1970s by Arnold Kobel taught many children how to read. Today, the beloved characters continue their learning legacy by providing entertainment and education.
Escondido’s Patio Playhouse Theater opens the musical production “A Year with Frog and Toad” Friday night at the Kit Carson Amphitheater.
The original production opened on Broadway in 2003 and received three Tony Award nominations. It has since been produced many times in schools and community theaters across the country.
“This show is just a show full of joy and it’s delightful,” said Brenda Townsend, producer of the current Patio Playhouse production.
The musical picks up the adventures from Kobel’s books and includes many of the main characters’ animal friends.
“The Frog and the Toad teach us the importance of friendship in our lives. What are we without our friends? It’s a lonely world and they remind us how important friendship is,” Townsend said. .
The easy-to-read collection is used by teachers to help students achieve social-emotional goals. The literature is particularly relevant in the aftermath of COVID-19 and its lingering consequences.
“I can relive all my childhood memories of eating cookies and laughing at them raking the leaves and the leaves are all blown,” said Christopher Moore, 20, a music student playing Toad for previews in North County.
Several young cast performers entertained families at the San Diego Children’s Museum in Escondido before the show opened.
“I hope it brings a lot more kids to the theater, so we can share this amazing experience with them,” Moore said.
Chapters from the book series are also read at the Crestridge Ecological Reserve nestled between the outskirts of El Cajon and Alpine.
The Earth Discovery Institute (EDI) has partnered with the Patio Playhouse production and launched a storytelling trek through the 28,000 acre wilderness park. EDI is a non-profit organization focused on educating children from marginalized communities about nature, science and conservation.
Simon Breen is the organization’s Director of Education.
“The story ‘Dragons and Giants’ is about Frog and Toad stepping into the wild and overcoming their fears and the challenges they face with snakes, avalanches and all sorts of misadventures,” Breen said.
Children and their families can walk from station to station reading and reacting as they go. The hiking trail is located in one of the orchards of the reserve and provides lessons in environmental appreciation.
“For a lot of the kids we bring here on trips to Crestridge, it’s the first time they’ve seen this kind of nature. Maybe they went to a city park, but nothing like that,” Breen said.
The Crestridge Reserve is open to families and other hikers from sunrise to sunset. The frog and toad stories will be published until the end of December. There is also a reminder of the reality of climate change.
“It’s really essential that the public understand what these threats are and the importance of nature and join us in protecting it,” said Sarah Maisonneuve, executive director of the Earth Discovery Institute.
EDI staff hope to provide more nature education programs and resources to children who need the experiences the most. They will be hosting the first ever community fundraising event later this month.
Meanwhile, the musical “A Year with Frog and Toad” runs until September 3.