By Tao Nyeu
Tao Nyeu’s two previous picture books—Wonder Bear (2008) and Bunny Days (2010)—were very well received. I first learned of her work through Squid and Octopus: Friends for Always and it was love at first sight. She’s created a rich, underwater world full of lovable characters, including those only briefly encountered. (The book is full of little asides by a peanut gallery of sea creatures commenting on the action currently taking place.)
Her art is richly detailed and immensely appealing. She uses bold lines, white backgrounds and a limited palette of deep pastels, achieving texture with dashes and dots: these beautiful scenes are reminiscent of “paint with water” activity books.
Her text is simple and straightforward; her stories of friendship belong along side such classics as George and Martha, and Frog and Toad are Friends. And like those favorites, Squid and Octopus contains several different stories as opposed to one continuous tale.
Squid and Octopus are having trouble coming to an agreement in “The Quarrel.” Squid has knitted some lovely socks to keep his tentacles warm and he cannot wait to show Octopus. But Octopus teases Squid, “Don’t you know we wear mittens?”
The two cannot seem to agree so they ask Wise Old Turtle. He takes a different approach altogether and wears a scarf and earmuffs, prompting the two friends to compare their preferred knitwear. “A splendid exchange of socks and mittens followed.”
In “The Dream” Squid is sad when he wakes to realize that his amazing dream, of being a Super Squid with super powers, was just that—a dream.
Now he feels so ordinary. Then Octopus reminds Squid of all the amazing things he’s done, coming up with Tickle Mondays for instance, and Squid feels super once again.
Octopus mistakes a cowboy boot for a hat in “The Hat.”
His friend Carl, a wee fish, asks the mollusk why he is wearing a flowerpot on his head. Just as Octopus is correcting his supposed gaff, Margot, a lovely starfish, asks the cephalopod why he’s filling a soup bowl with flowers.
Octopus is feeling hungry so he dumps the flowers and takes his new soup bowl to Yum Yum’s soup stand. With the boot full of soup, Octopus sits down to eat and is joined by Arnold, a bowler-wearing hermit crab. Arnold questions why Octopus would be eating soup out of a doorstop. ‘“A doorstop?!” wailed Octopus. He felt completely ridiculous.”
Back at home, Octopus is trying out his new doorstop when Squid arrives, wearing the matching cowboy boot as a hat! ‘“I like your style,” said Octopus.”’
“The Fortune Cookie,” the final chapter, finds the two friends speculating on what fate the fortune may predict for them; will it be good, or bad?
The mere mention of a bad fortune causes Squid enough fear to squirt ink. Squid and Octopus decide to open the cookie together and the fortune it contains couldn’t be more appropriate, or true.
“True friends are friends for always.”
Squid and Octopus: Friends for Always is a splendid story of friendship abounding in humor and kindness. It teaches (or reminds) children that sometimes even best friends can have their difficulties but the pleasures and comforts provided by a good pal are unmatched.
Buy the book!