Hot-Off-the-Press Pick for August’s Birthday Parties

August 14, 2012 § 2 Comments

I’m a bit late with my pick for August birthday parties, but this gift will work equally well heading into the school year, because it’s a book about friendship! In Squid and Octopus: Friends for Always (Ages 4-8), Tao Nyeu is following a great literary legacy of Dynamic Duos (Frog and Toad, George and Martha, to name two favorites from my own childhood). Like her predecessors, Nyeu has packed her stories (there are four, organized as “mini-chapters” in the one picture book) with that winning combination of humor and heart. Squid and Octopus bear a particular resemblance to my son JP and his best buddy Willem: like all great friends, they argue about who is right, they make up by deciding they’re both right, they make each other laugh with silliness no parent can hope to understand, and they give each other lung-compressing squeezes that are supposed to resemble hugs.

What makes Nyeu’s book sing are her fantastical illustrations: pattern-studded silk screens made from water-based ink and colored pencils set against a simple white background. For a book about two cephalopods, living in an underwater universe complete with flower gardens, soup stands, and swing sets, one would expect backgrounds in dizzying shades of blue; but by setting her drawings on white, Nyeu focuses children’s attention on the irresistible quirkiness of the characters themselves. (I won’t say that I’m not totally attracted to the Jonathan Adler-esque color scheme of turquoise and orange as well.) As I was getting ready to write this post, I asked JP what his favorite thing about the book was. Instead of one, I got five enthusiastic points:

1.    “Octopus was swimming about when he came across a very droopy Squid.” Yes, JP randomly (and accurately!) quoted a line from the middle of the book. When asked why, he collapsed his shoulders and hung his head and looked exactly like Nyeu’s drawing of Squid as Octopus finds him. Gotta love art that really gets under kids’ skin.

2.    JP finds instances of Mistaken Identities hysterical, so he digs the chapter where Octopus comes across a floating cowboy boot and thinks it’s a hat. A bunch of aquatic know-it-alls convince him it’s actually a flowerpot (or a doorstop)—until Squid assures him, nope, it’s definitely a hat.

3.    In “The Dream,” Squid fancies himself with x-ray vision. Nyeu showcases this talent by drawing a submarine cruise ship, whose full-page exterior actually LIFTS OPEN to reveal land animals engaged in different activities, like dancing and playing “Go Fish” (ha).

4.    Surrounding the main action of each page are peripheral sea creatures with speech-bubbles (as in, two lobsters conversing over soup with “So I heard Lucy molted the other day” and “You don’t say!”). Let’s face it, JP loves any reason to delay my turning the page.

5.    Last but not least: Octopus’s safety goggles. While Squid always dons the same fisherman cap (knitted by his own tentacles), Octopus changes his attire to go along with various artistic endeavors, like sporting a pair of safety goggles while chiseling a crustacean-inspired sculpture. Oh wait, those safety goggles look a lot like the ones JP has at home. Now I get it.

The fourth and final chapter, titled “The Fortune Cookie” (note the safety goggles on Octopus!)

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