Sometimes I will do a cold reading to a class of kids when I want to get a group opinion on a picture book. Occasionally, I will love a picture book that I read in the silence of my own home and it falls flat when I read it out loud to a group of kids. And vice versa. More than once I have not been moved by a picture book only to have the audience go crazy for it. I read Also an Octopus or A Little Bit of Nothing by Maggie Tokuda-Hall, illustrated by the marvelous Benji Davies (author and illustrator of Grandad's Island), out loud without even cracking the spine first, to two classes of kindergarteners and it was a hit - for all of us. Also an Octopus turned out to be a special treat for me because it is a book about story telling and how to tell a story, something dear to my heart. This is especially so since I became the librarian in a school where more than two-thirds of the student body are English language learners, less than two-thirds are reading at grade level and very few have the stamina to read a whole book (that is not a graphic novel). I am constantly talking to my students about story structure, the problem and solving the problem and Also an Octopus perfectly packs this lesson into a brilliantly and brightly illustrated picture book that is so fun to read.
I was especially excited to learn that debut author Maggie Tokuda-Hall, a former children's bookseller and event coordinator at a well loved, independent San Francisco bookstore, was inspired to write Also an Octopus after repeated readings (out loud, for work) of Jon Klassen's I Want My Hat Back. When she asked herself, "Why is this book so good?" the answer she realized that it is the "perfect basic story, stripped down to the bare parts: Bear, quite simply, wants his hat back." This led Tokuda-Hall to begin writing a story about an octopus who wants to travel to far away galaxies but first, she realized, "Every story starts the same way . . . with nothing."
Moving on from nothing, every story needs a character. How about an octopus who plays the ukulele? But, Tokua-Hall tells readers, "in order for it to be a story, and not just an octopus, that octopus needs to want something." Thus, the problem is identified and the main character can spend the rest of the story solving the problem! As you can see from Davies's wonderfully bright illustrations that pop with purples, yellows and oranges, there are many ways to solve this problem. Tokuda-Hall, who said she felt like she "won the illustrator lottery" when she was paired with Davies, felt that Davies not only shared her vision for this story but "made it so much better and cooler" with the strong sense of story that his illustrations embody. I couldn't agree more! The words and pictures are perfectly paired in Also an Octopus, with Davies's artwork bringing the crazy world embodied in the text to life.
Whether you are looking for a spectacularly illustrated picture book that is a delight to read out loud (or to yourself) or a tool to teach story structure and story telling to kids (or adults), Also an Octopus or A Little Bit of Nothing is a MUST.
Source: Review Copy