A new parodic take on the classic "Frog and Toad" children's books is illustrated by Ellie Hajdu.
A new parodic take on the classic "Frog and Toad" children's books is illustrated by Ellie Hajdu.

With ‘Frog and Toad’ parody, Oakland puppet designer is ‘Doing Her Best’

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Much of Ellie Hajdu’s artistic career has been devoted to designing puppets. Now she’s trying her hand at book illustration, and her first work is a “Frog and Toad” parody that was published Oct. 5.

Hajdu (pronounced HAY-doo) lives in Oakland and has two children, ages 7 and 10. She is married to Jonathan Hajdu, who owns and operates kosher winery Hajdu Wines in Berkeley.

Ellie Hajdu
Ellie Hajdu

Though Ellie has been drawing since her youth and has designed labels for some of Jonathan’s wines, it was the Covid-19 lockdown that got her into illustrating in earnest, she said.

“I started to draw more, and people liked my drawing,” said Hajdu, 40. “My friend Laura [Mazer] is a literary agent and she said, ‘Why don’t you do some art, possibly illustrate a book?’ This is all thanks to her.”

The book is “Frog and Toad are Doing Their Best (A Parody): Bedtime Stories for Trying Times” by Jennie Egerdie, and it’s “beautifully illustrated,” in the words of the New York Post.

Mazer said she saw some of Hajdu’s doodles and drawings “and adored them.” She used terms such as “creative” and “fanciful sensibility” to describe Hajdu’s work, adding that “she’s so clever and funny, and her vision is so unique.”

Still, Hajdu was hesitant to undertake the project, as she considered drawing to be more of a hobby than a career.

But she said she felt a kinship with Egerdie’s parody because of her own familiarity with the classic “Frog and Toad” easy-reader children’s books, which were written and illustrated by Arnold Lobel in the 1970s. (Lobel had German Jewish ancestry, and the Contemporary Jewish Museum in San Francisco hosted an exhibit of his illustrations in 2014.)

“I love the humor of the original books and the comforting feeling you get while reading them,” she said. “I read Jennie’s parody pieces [online] and I loved how she was able to bring the warm feelings of the original books into her hilarious parody. I loved the idea of making my drawings act out these scenarios.”

Hajdu spent three months on her illustrations. “I just set it out for myself, did a couple every day, and before you knew it, we were done,” she said.

One of Hajdu's drawings in "Frog and Toad Are Doing Their Best (A Parody): Bedtime Stories for Trying Times." (Photo/Courtesy of Running Press)
One of Hajdu’s drawings in “Frog and Toad Are Doing Their Best (A Parody): Bedtime Stories for Trying Times.” (Photo/Courtesy of Running Press)

A native of Michigan, Hajdu moved with her family to Israel as a teen. “I have to say, it was tough for a 15-year-old,” she said. “But I realize I got a lot of experiences I didn’t get in Detroit. I learned how to speak Hebrew.”

She went on to study at the Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design in Jerusalem, and after that moved to New York City “to take advantage of the art scene.” There she got the chance to intern for Puppet Heap, a New Jersey–based production company that specializes in live-action puppetry for TV, films and Broadway, and has been maintaining, rebuilding and creating new characters for the Muppets Studio since 2006. She described the experience as a “dream.” “From the age of 12, I loved the Muppets,” she said.

Today, she works for Folkmanis Puppets in Emeryville, designing “plush, furry, realistic animal puppets.”

The new “Frog and Toad” parody book, which is targeted toward adults, amusingly reimagines Lobel’s beloved nursery tale characters in a present-day world — dealing with working from home, spotty WiFi, online purchases and getting in their Fitbit steps.

In addition to working on the book during the Covid era, Hajdu said she “got serious about drawing and posting” her artwork on Instagram. The drawings run the gamut from Big Bird as an ear of corn to a faux Barbra Streisand album cover titled “On a Clear Day You Can See the Shape of my Head” to Larry David in a parody of the classic “see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil” monkey poses.

It all took off, she said, when her children began attending their classes virtually over Zoom.

“Sitting at the table with them, doing nothing while they were listening to the teacher all day, that’s when I started to daydream,” Hajdu said. “And that’s when I started to do more drawing.”

“Frog and Toad are Doing Their Best (A Parody): Bedtime Stories for Trying Times” by Jennie Egerdie, illustrated by Ellie Hajdu (Running Press Adult, 96 pages)

John Ferrannini

John Ferrannini is an assistant news editor with the Bay Area Reporter and also writes for the Potrero View. He lives in San Francisco.