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'Frog and Toad': From the page to the stage entertaining and educating

The classic children’s books featuring Frog and Toad” are now finding new life on stage and in the wilderness of East County.

The stories first written in the 1970s by Arnold Kobel taught many children how to read. Today, the beloved characters continue their legacy of learning providing entertainment and education.

Patio Playhouse Theatre in Escondido opens the musical production “A Year with Frog and Toad” Friday night at the Kit Carson Amphitheater.

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Courtesy of Brenda Townsend
Damian Sagastume plays the adult Toad distraught that the seeds he planted have not grown in the garden. "A Year with Frog and Toad" presented by Patio Playhouse is now playing at the Kit Carson Amphitheater through Sept. 3. Escondido, Calif., Aug. 17, 2022.

The original production opened on Broadway in 2003 and received three Tony Award nominations. It has since been produced many times at 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 takes adventures from Kobel’s books and includes many of the animals who are friends of the main characters.

“Frog and Toad teach us the importance of friendship in our lives. What are we without our friends? It's a lonely world out there and they remind us how important friendship is,” Townsend said.

The easy-reader collection is used by teachers to help students meet social-emotional goals. The literature is especially relevant in the aftermath of COVID-19 and its continuing consequences.

“I get to relive all my childhood memories of eating cookies and laugh at them raking leaves and the leaves all getting blown away,” said Christopher Moore, 20, a college music major performing the role of Toad for preview performances around North County.

Several young performers from the cast entertained families at the San Diego Children’s Museum in Escondido prior to the show’s opening.

“I hope it gets a lot more kids into theater. So we can share this amazing experience with them,” Moore said.

Chapters of the book series are also being read in the Crestridge Ecological Reserve nestled between the outskirts of El Cajon and Alpine.

M.G. Perez
Simon Breen is education director for Earth Discovery Institute. He points out an education station on the storybook hike, El Cajon, Calif., on Aug. 11, 2022.

The Earth Discovery Institute (EDI) has partnered with the Patio Playhouse production and started a storybook hike in the 28,000-acre wilderness park. EDI is a nonprofit focused on educating children from marginalized communities about nature, science, and conservation.

Simon Breen is the organization’s Education Director.

“The story 'Dragons and Giants' is about Frog and Toad getting into nature and overcoming their fears and challenges they encounter with snakes, avalanches, and all kinds of misadventures,” Breen said.

Children and their families can hike from one station to another reading and reacting as they go. The hike path is located in one of the reserve's orchards and provides lessons in appreciating the environment.

“For a lot of the kids that we bring out here on field trips to Crestridge, it’s their first time ever to this kind of nature. Maybe they’ve been to a city park, but nothing like this,” Breen said.

The Crestridge reserve is open to families and other hikers from sunrise to sunset. The stories of Frog and Toad will be posted through the end of December. There is also a reminder of the reality of climate change.

M.G. Perez
Pages from "Dragons and Giants" by Arnold Lobel are featured on the Frog and Toad storybook hike in the Crestridge Ecological Reserve. The hiking trail is open from sunrise to sunset through the end of December, El Cajon, Calif., Aug. 11, 2022.

“It’s really essential that the public understand what those threats are and the importance of nature and join us in protecting it,” said Sarah Maisonneuve, executive director of Earth Discovery Institute.

EDI's staff hopes to offer more nature education programs and resources to children most in need of the experiences. They will host the first ever community fundraising event later this month.

Meanwhile, the musical “A Year with Frog and Toad” runs through Sept. 3.

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