ALSO AN OCTOPUS
Written by Maggie Tokuda-Hall
Illustrated by Benji Davies
(Candlewick Press; $16.99, Ages 3-7)
- is reviewed today by Cathy Ballou Mealey.
Looking for a terrific tale about waffle spaceships and eight-legged ukulele players? Well Also An Octopus is definitely the book for you! Wondering how writers come up with ideas for books about waffle spaceships? Then this is STILL the book for you! Debut author Maggie Tokuda-Hall has crafted a funny, clever story about following the spark of an idea through wild gallops of imagination until it takes shape as a book. But this can happen if and only if one follows the basic rules of the road, which are explained with flair and humor.
The tale begins with a blank page. An unseen narrator gently reminds us that all stories do begin this way, on an empty page, screen or canvas, until a character appears. Perhaps it is a little girl, or an adorable bunny, or a ukulele-playing octopus. But that grinning octopus, surrounded by bloopie bubbles and wearing a pom-pom topped knit cap, has to want something. What the character wants, explains the narrator, will make the story become interesting. And if the octopus wants an awesome purple spaceship, it has to be difficult to get. If he can simply get one from the drugstore the story will be too silly, short and dull. So perhaps the octopus will have to make the spaceship himself, out of odds and ends like soda cans, glue, string, umbrellas, glitter and waffles.
Have you fastened your seatbelt yet? Because this story is just about to take off! Or is it? “I’m not really qualified to build a spaceship ….” remarks the octopus, a tentacle rubbing his puzzled head. Nope, that spaceship doesn’t fly, so now our hero has an even bigger problem to solve. He has to find a rocket scientist!
Tokuda-Hall subtly teaches the constructs of story-telling within the boundaries of this absurdly whimsical tale. Step-by-step, the hapless octopus is tossed and turned through the imaginary gyrations of the narrative, experiencing the emotional highs and lows of a plot-driven concept. As illustrated by Benji Davies, the engaging and expressive characters will appeal to readers young and old. The seemingly retro color palette ranges from mustard yellow to blue, orange, and luscious deep eggplant, displayed in large, bright spreads nicely balanced and evenly spaced. Davies tucks amusing random details into the scenes, like a curly-tongue armadillo and motorboat-driving hamster. Those details, in turn, will inspire young listeners to create new stories of their own.
Create new stories? Yes, because everyone has a bit of nothing, a virtual “blank page” on which to begin. And thus Also An Octopus comes full circle after a rollicking adventure that is as awesome as a purple spaceship dotted with waffles. Remember those bloopie bubbles that swirl around our eight-limbed hero? They burst into sparkly stars once he reaches outer space, a twinkling celebration of this delightful adventure into the world of story-making.
- Reviewed by Cathy Ballou Mealey
Where Obtained: I reviewed a copy of Also An Octopus from the publisher and received no other compensation. The opinions expressed here are my own.
BEST VALENTINE’S DAY BOOKS FOR CHILDREN
Happy Valentine’s Day!! We all know that love comes in all shapes and sizes. There’s the love of a child, a parent, a sibling or a spouse. There’s also the love of a pet, and the love of a best friend. Then of course there’s the love of one’s country or birthplace, and a love of Mother Nature’s gifts on Earth. There’s even the love of a film, a TV show or a book, although I’ve never sent a Valentine’s Day card to a book. In this Valentine’s Day Books Roundup we’re celebrating the myriad things we love and the ways we express our love on Valentine’s Day and every day.
I LOVE YOU ALREADY!
Written by Jory Jon and illustrated by Benji Davies
(Harper; $17.99, Ages 4-8)
Sure to be a hit with youngsters, this follow up to Goodnight Already! has everything you’d want in a good read aloud or bedtime story. There’s a duck and his next door neighbor, a bear. There’s humor and great artwork. But best of all, there’s an undeniably adorable premise – duck won’t let Bear have a day of rest because he just does not feel confident he is loved, or even liked by Bear. Duck, in true duck form, insists that two go out together. “You don’t look busy! Besides, we’re going for a walk, friend. No arguments., Chop-chop!” Hard as he tries, Duck eventually learns that he doesn’t really have to do much because by the end of this entertaining tale, it’s obvious that Duck is loved very much by Bear. I got such a kick out of these two totally opposite characters who share the bond of friendship in such a special way.
LOVE IS MY FAVORITE THING
Written and illustrated by Emma Chichester Clark
(Nancy Paulsen Books; $16.99, Ages 3-5)
Fans of Emma Chichester Clark and dog lovers everywhere will not be disappointed with her latest picture book, Love is My Favorite Thing, based on her own dog and celebrating “unconditional love.” We’re treated to plucky Plum’s (aka Plummie) point of view right from the get go and what we learn endears her to us instantly. Brimming with genuine affection, Plummie professes love for everyone and everything, from the sun to sticks, from little Sam and Gracie, the next door neighbors’ kids to owners Emma and Rupert. Very British sounding names, right, but that just adds to the charm. In fact, when we first moved to London, my daughter had a classmate whose parents called her Plummie and she wasn’t even a pooch!!
Here’s my favorite sentence: “I love it when Emma says, ‘Good girl, Plummie!’ when I do a poo, as if it’s so, so clever.” The repetition of Plum saying “LOVE is my favorite thing” is really one of the clever thing going on in this story. As are Chichester Clark’s illustrations which give readers a real sense of what Plum’s all about. Even if she sometimes gets up to no good, her intentions are never bad. That is until she ran off with a child’s bag that had an ice cream cone dropped in it. Then Plummie just could not resist. Poor Plummie! Would her owners still love her after her big mistake? Plum ponders this question that children also often wonder, “Does being naughty make people stop loving you?” And the answer is a resounding no, they absolutely still love you as long as you’ve taken some time to think about what you’ve done. That’s why, Plum reminds us, and I am certain, too, that “LOVE IS MY FAVORITE THING!”
WORM LOVES WORM
Written by J.J. Austrian
Illustrated by Mike Curato
(Balzer & Bray; $17.99, Ages 4-8)
Here’s a super new story that turns the idea of what invertebrate marriage is right on its head, if worms had heads! And so begins this gender bending tale of two worms who want to tie the knot, only their friends expect them to go the traditional route. With same-sex marriage now the law of the land, it’s an ideal time to gently and thoughtfully introduce this subject and Worm Loves Worm does it beautifully with humor and tenderness.
When the pair of worms express their love for each other, the next step feels right. “Let’s be married,” says Worm to Worm. With Cricket performing the ceremony, Beetle on hand to be best beetle and the Bees eager to be the bride’s bees, the worms wonder, “Now can we be married?” Of course the answer isn’t so simple as they’re told they need to have rings, ( despite having NO fingers), a band and all the other accoutrements of a wedding. When ultimately asked who is the bride and who is the groom, the worms explain that they are both, clearly a break from the norm in the eyes of the worms’ friends. “Wait,” says Cricket. “That isn’t how it’s been done.” The reply is powerful and appropriate. “Then we’ll just change how it’s done,” says Worm because, in the end, what does tradition have to do with it? It’s love that matters.
CHICK ‘N’ PUG: THE LOVE PUG
Written and illustrated by Jennifer Sattler
(Bloomsbury Children’s Books; $16.99, Ages 0-5)
Chick ‘n’ Pug are certain to garner new fans from this latest installment, the fourth in Sattler’s popular series. BFFs Chick ‘n’ Pug are introduced to Daisy who falls hard and fast for Pug and attempts to win his love. The catch is Pug would prefer to continue napping. Much like in the friendship of Duck and Bear, Chick’s the energetic one, eager to help show Daisy that her wooing of his pal is worthwhile. Daisy tries and tries to use her feminine wiles to get Pug’s attention by hinting how she adores flowers, can’t find her favorite bow or is being chased by a bully. It’s not until a bee, first observed when Daisy wished for flowers, begins buzzing around sleepy Pug that the pooch is stirred annoyingly awake. Daisy and Chick get into the act as the three ward off the intolerable insect. Soon, it’s not just Chick ‘n’ Pug who are exhausted and in need of nap. Love can sure tire you out in the best possible way.
Other Valentine’s Day Books We Recommend:
Here Comes Valentine Cat
Written by Deborah Underwood
Illustrated by Claudia Rueda
(Dial BYR; $16.99, Ages 3-5)
Ollie’s Valentine (A Gossie & Friends Book)
Written and illustrated by Oliver Dunrea
(HMH; $6.99, Board Book)
Plant a Kiss
Written by Amy Krouse Rosenthal
Illustrated by Peter H. Reynolds
(Harper; $7.99, Board Book)
LETS LOOK AT VEHICLES
Bizzy Bear: Let’s Get to Work! by Benji Davies ($6.99, Nosy Crow, ages 1-3) and Tons of Trucks written by Sue Fliess and illustrated Betsy Snyder ($13.99, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing, ages 1-4) are reviewed by Rita Zobayan.
The world of a toddler is filled with fascination and discovery. Almost everything is viewed with new eyes. This is true for large vehicles, such as trucks and scoopers —they’re big, loud, and powerful –and a source of wonder for toddlers. The two books featured in this review provide fun, hands-on reading for toddlers to learn more about large vehicles.
Bizzy Bear: Let’s Get to Work! written by Benji Davies (Nosy Crow, 2012; $6.99) is a cute introduction to the goings-on of a construction site. We see Bizzy Bear start his work day by picking up his hard hat and then follow him as he performs different job duties. He operates a number of construction vehicles and uses hand tools, too. This 9-page board book has a kinesthetic activity on every other page that engages young readers (ideal for ages 1-3). Little fingers can help Bizzy scoop a hole and then tip out sand. Presented in a simple rhyme scheme, the text has a sing-song feel that toddlers enjoy hearing over and over again: Bizzy Bear, Bizzy Bear, lending a hand. Bizzy Bear, Bizzy Bear, push that sand! The illustrations are simple and charming with just enough details to keep a toddler’s attention without overwhelming the young one. Of course, a cast of animal characters adds to the fun. And, lest a parent be concerned that a girl won’t want to read about construction sites and large vehicles, rest assured that my three-year-old daughter enjoys this book immensely.
Have you ever noticed just how many different types of trucks there are? I never had, but Sue Fliess and Betsy Snyder sure have! Their book Tons of Trucks (written by Fliess and illustrated Snyder) explores the variety of trucks and the specific jobs those trucks perform. This fun read provides plenty of hands-on opportunities for young readers to lift, open, fold-out, move and turn flaps to reveal aspects of trucks. See what an army crew truck transports, help a sweep truck clean the streets, and look out for the sticky tar truck! The muted colors and whimsical representations of the trucks and their animal operators are pleasing to the eye. The text is simple and straight to the point. The opening line–Tons of trucks before our eyes, in every color, shape and size—is followed by a naming of the trucks: Milk trucks, fruit trucks, on-the-move trucks! Each page is a discovery into the world of trucks and ends with the trucks and their operators drifting off to sleep, which is an ideal angle to read this book as a bedtime story, too.