Cowboy & Octopus

Cover

Written by Jon Scieszka, Illustrated by Lane Smith

Viking, 2007

Cowboy is confused. “This dang thing is always broke.”

The plot in a nutshell: A cowboy and an octopus meet, become friends and have other adventures in seven (often very) short and funny stories.

This very unusual book is certain to be a hit with anyone who likes their stories a little on the odd side. Cowboy and Octopus are featured in seven stories, in which they meet, become friends and manage to negotiate a relationship based on almost zero mutual interests. The stories are short, no more than a few pages of minimal text, but really humorous. In my favorite of the stories, Octopus attempts to tell Cowboy a knock-knock joke with absolutely hilarious results.

Let's build a boat together!

Let’s build a boat together!

The real key to this book can be found on its title page. A pair of childrens’ safety scissors is sitting beside a comic book page, with an octopus clearly cut out, and a Western Heroes paper doll book, with a cowboy clearly cut out. From these clues, it’s easy to imagine that a child has taken the two cutout figures and crafted these stories from them. In the book’s artwork, the two characters are only ever shown in their original poses and are positioned against backgrounds of colored paper, collages, toys, newsprint, photographs and even fabrics.  I love the tremendous originality and creativity on display here.

The author & illustrator team of Jon Scieszka and Lane Smith have collaborated on such well-known books as The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Fairy Tales, Squids will be Squids and The True Story of the Three Little Pigs. Their books have shown, time and time again, that humor doesn’t have to be dumbed down for kids. This book’s humor is quirky and offbeat and will likely be appreciated differently by parents and kids, but the book’s unlikely friendship is equally enjoyable for all ages.

And what did we learn? What I take away from this book is that you don’t have to connect on every level to be someone’s friend. Just deciding you want to be friends is all it really takes.

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