Written and Illustrated by Martin McKenna
Scholastic Press, 2013
Edgar wanted a dog.
The plot in a nutshell: A boy tries to teach his octopus to be a dog.
Instead of a dog, Edgar gets Jarvis, an octopus. He’s disappointed that Jarvis can’t do typical dog things, but he sees that Jarvis is clever, so he tries to teach him some tricks. When he tells him to lie down, Jarvis tucks himself into bed. When Edgar tells him to play dead, Jarvis wraps himself in toilet paper and pretends to be a resurrected mummy. But finally, when asked to sit, Jarvis sits. Edgar enters him in a dog show and Jarvis embarrasses him by doing a ton of tricks, like juggling fire, playing piano and dancing ballet all at the same time. Edgar is frustrated and Jarvis flushes himself down the toilet, leaving a note of apology for being a disappointment. Edgar realizes that Jarvis may not have been the best dog, but he was definitely the best octopuppy. He looks everywhere for him and finally passes on an apology of his own, which reaches Jarvis and brings him home, where the two friends are reunited.
This is the US picture book debut of author/illustrator Martin McKenna and it’s good silly fun with a nice message to be found under the goofiness. The concept of someone giving a kid an octopus as a substitute for a dog is pretty funny on its own. Having Jarvis be a wildly creative character makes the story even funnier, but then having Edgar not appreciate that creativity introduces some pathos into the plot. Jarvis is clearly trying hard to please and amuse his new friend, but Edgar is so focused on what he’s NOT that he can’t see what he IS and gosh, I can think of bunches of real world scenarios where that happens all the time.
The digital artwork is fully loaded with absolutely tons of visual humor, even on the book’s endpapers, where we see Jarvis dressed up as tons of different characters and playing lots of different roles. After the dog show, there’s an absolutely gorgeous double page spread that just shows Edgar and Jarvis walking home, silhouetted against the evening sky. The simplicity of this picture, compared to the chaotic silliness of most of the other illustrations, speaks volumes about these characters in this moment. This was one that grew on me more and more every time I read it.
And what did we learn? What I take away from this book is that you should love your friends for who they are, not who you want them to be.