The New Repertoire of Arnold Lobel

By the time Arnold Lobel was 49, he had quite a paper trail.

The mustachioed author from Los Angeles had written or illustrated about 80 children’s books. And his inspiration came from near and far.

He described Frog and Toad, two of his most famous creations, as coming from two aspects of himself. While he admired Beatrix Potter, he also appreciated Rembrandt. And A Zoo for Mr. Muster emerged out of his trips to the Prospect Park Zoo.

For 23 years, Mr. Lobel put his inspirations on the page, quietly and often alone, in his New York home. But on the eve of his 50th birthday, Mr. Lobel needed to shake things up. He tried jogging. But that didn’t work.

So, Mr. Lobel, winner of literary’s prestigious Caldecott Medal, decided to wade into musical theater.

He took singing lessons and practiced his new repertoire (including early 20th century hits, “A Little Secondhand Store” and “The Sphinx”) on the F Train.

“There’s nothing more gripping than seeing a performer alone on stage,” Mr. Lobel told reporter Jennifer Dunning. “He’s exposed. The entire soul is revealed, particularly in the case of someone who’s spent his life hiding behind frogs, toads, grasshoppers and owls.”

And on February 25, 1983, almost three months to the day before his 50th birthday, Mr. Lobel got out from behind the animals and took to the stage of the West Bank Cabaret to reveal his entire soul. And perform 14 songs.

Paper trails, after all, don’t write future paths.

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