There’s no shortage of picture books or beginning readers about Two Best Friends.
James Marshall’s George and Martha series, and Arnold Lobel’s Frog and Toad are but two classic examples of literary duos that will never be forgotten. And my favorite duo from recent years? Cowboy and Octopus from Jon Scieszka and Lane Smith. IF ONLY we could see more from this unlikely pair. In a 2010 7-Imp interview, Scieszka did say, “I do have a bunch more Cowboy and Octopus stories that I wrote, just because I loved those two guys and how they interact. Could be a good idea.” But I digress—and expectantly so.
Read the last Seven Impossible Things on Tara Books.
Actually, I do not digress. Author/illustrator Tao Nyeu, whose work I follow with great interest, has a new set of stories about yet another dynamic duo to add to the picture-book canon, though this one stands out, primarily for Tao’s beautiful silkscreens. And this one involves an octopus, too. That’s right. I’m sorry, but you’re going to have to skedaddle over for a moment, Cowboy. Squid and Octopus: Friends for Always will be released next month by Dial Books for Young Readers.
Here we are presented four stories—“The Quarrel,” “The Dream,” “The Hat” and “The Fortune Cookie”—all about two eight-legged friends at the bottom of the ocean. Without altogether too much schmaltz, which would have been easy for a less talented author to pull off, these two creatures navigate their way through a quarrel (do cephalopods wear mittens or socks?); remind each other of their strengths during low self-esteem moments (when Squid is feeling ordinary, Octopus reminds him that the brilliant Tickle Monday, for one, is all his doing); support each other in letting their freak flags fly (of course boots should be worn on one’s head); and…well, each one has got the other’s back. Always.
And they share. ’Cause children and grown-ups alike know that good friends listen and give and share what they’ve got.
Striking here is the detailed underwater world that Nyeu has created. The first spread reveals Squid’s comfy underwater home: He’s got coffee mugs hanging from his coral and an alarm clock, tea kettle and balls of yarn resting in the same, and he’s even got a fishbowl with a tiny fish inside. (Right? Heh. It’s these little details that children will enjoy.) It’s also remarkable how much expression she gets out of these sea mollusks with only two dots for eyes and a small line for their mouths. There’s lots of humor, warmth, and affection in these tales.
Nyeu’s pastel-colored silkscreen artwork is mesmerizing. Nyeu has been an illustrator to watch for several years now, and she seems to really be coming into her own with her handsomely designed books. With fluid lines, textured patterns and her trademark style, she tells these endearing tales with an impressive artistry.
Here’s hoping there’s truth in the book’s subtitle and that we spot these sea creatures again in future volumes from Nyeu.
Julie Danielson (Jules) has, in her own words, conducted approximately eleventy billion interviews and features of authors and illustrators at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast, a children's literature blog focused primarily on illustration and picture books.
SQUID AND OCTOPUS: FRIENDS FOR ALWAYS. Copyright © 2012 by Tao Nyeu. Published by Dial Books for Young Readers, New York. Image reproduced with permission of Tao Nyeu.