Tao Nyeu presents four short stories in her latest picture book about two BFFs, or make that FFAs (Friends for Always). The first story starts with a spat, as the two friends disagree on a chilly day whether socks or mittens should be worn on tentacles. Not a problem for most readers, but then we're not cephalopods.
The second story offers a surprise. When Squids dreams he has X-ray vision, readers get to lift the flap to see what's going on inside a giant submarine cruise ship. Story number three, "The Hat," is the strongest of the bunch. Octopus finds a cowboy boot and decides it's a hat. His confidence in his choice wilts as other sea creatures see the boot as a vase, flowerpot, and doorstop. Luckily Squid shares his friend's vision. In the final story, the pair imagine what the fortune in their cookie holds for them.
Nyeu creates a whimsical world for the friends to inhabit. Her silkscreen illustrations, in subdued pastel hues, are intricate and full of surprises. Beginning readers will pour over the witty details and asides, such as a pair of lobsters gossiping over bowls of soup. ("So I heard Lucy molted the other day." "You don't say!")
Squid and Octopus is a charming addition in the long tradition of fictional duos.
Squid and Octopus: Friends for Always
by Tao Nyeu
Dial, 40 pages
Published: June 2012
Nursery Rhyme Comics
Edited by Chris Duffy
Introduction by Leonard S. Marcus
On shelves October 11, 2011
Nursery rhymes. What’s up with that? (I feel like a stand up comedian when I put it that way). They’re ubiquitous but nonsensical. Culturally relevant but often of unknown origins. Children’s literary scholar Leonard Marcus ponders the amazing shelf life of nursery rhymes himself and comes up with some answers. Why is it that they last as long as they do in the public consciousness? Marcus speculates that “the old-chestnut rhymes that beguile in part by sounding so emphatically clear about themselves while in fact leaving almost everything to our imagination” leave themselves open to interpretation. And who better to do a little interpreting than cartoonists? Including as many variegated styles as could be conceivably collected in a single 128-page book, editor Chris Duffy plucks from the cream of the children’s graphic novel crop (and beyond!) to create a collection so packed with detail and delight that you’ll find yourself flipping to the beginning to read it all over again after you’re done. Mind you, I wouldn’t go handing this to a three-year-old any time soon, but for a certain kind of child, this crazy little concoction is going to just the right bit of weirdness they require.
Fifty artists are handed a nursery rhyme apiece. The goal? Illustrate said poem. Give it a bit of flair. Put in a plot if you have to. So it is that a breed of all new comics, those of the nursery ilk, fill this book. Here at last you can see David Macaulay bring his architectural genius to “London Bridge is Falling Down” or Roz Chast give “There Was a Crooked Man” a positive spin. Leonard Marcus offers an introduction giving credence to this all new coming together of text and image while in the back of the book editor Chris Duffy discusses the rhymes’ history and meaning. And as he says in the end, “We’re just letting history take its course.”
In the interest of public scrutiny, the complete list of artists on this book consists of Nick Abadzis, Andrew Arnold, Kate Beaton, Vera Brosgol, Nick Bruel, Scott Campbell, Lilli Carre, Roz Chast, JP Coovert, Jordan Crane, Rebecca Dart, Eleanor Davis, Vanessa Davis, Theo Ellsworth, Matt Forsythe, Jules Feiffer, Bob Flynn, Alexis Frederick-Frost, Ben Hatke, Gilbert Hernandez, Jaime Hernandez, Lucy Knisley, David Macaulay, Mark Martin, Patrick McDonnell, Mike Mignola, Tony Millionaire, Tao Nyeu, George O’Connor, Mo Oh, Eric Orchard, Laura Park, Cyril Pedrosa, Lark Pien, Aaron Renier, Dave Roman, Marc Rosenthal, Stan Sakai, Richard Sala, Mark Siegel, James Sturm, Raina Telgemeier, Craig Thompson, Richard Thompson, Sara Varon, Jen Wang, Drew Weing, Gahan Wilson, Gene Luen Yang, and Stephanie Yue (whew!). And as with any collection, some of the inclusions are going to be stronger than others. Generally speaking if fifty people do something, some of them are going to have a better grasp on the process than others. That said, only a few of these versions didn’t do it for me. At worst the versions were mediocre. At best they went in a new direction with their mat
I have a new favorite picture book – BUNNY DAYS by Tao Nyeu.
Here’s why. Exquisite Illustrations. Gorgeous design. Frameable dust jacket (!). Surprising Text.
I’m not an artist and while I *wish* I had the language/vocabulary to talk about BUNNY DAYS in a way that does it justice, I don’t.
BUT, what I do have is a deep appreciation for spare lines and meaningful use of color, and a general intuitive sense of “what works” from a design standpoint.
BUNNY DAYS has all this in spades.
Suffice it to say, that I think this book is absolutely Caldecott worthy. (Perhaps Jules over at Seven Imp will do an interview with Tao??? Check here (scroll to the bottom) for a snippet by Jules about BUNNY DAYS.)
In the first chapter, “Muddy Bunnies,” curved lines abound. In the hills, in the repeating shapes of flowers, in the arch of tree trunks. The pallete is soft: “retro” blues, oranges, greens and browns. White is used with intention.
The composition varies – double page spreads, spot illustrations on a sea of white set off by a few carefully placed clouds, and so on.
Bunnies abound, each with a personality of its own. One sleeps by a tree, another basks in the sun, arms spread wide, another leans in to study a small green frog.
I could go on about how the “feel” of each chapter is different because each has its own color palette – distinct from the others and yet complementary - so that one chapter seems to lead easily to the next.
I could talk about the quality of the paper, the whimsy of end papers filled with tumbling bunnies, the dust jacket that is an actual POSTER (!) and the full-color casewrapped (I think that’s the term) illustrated hardcover.
Besides the stellar illustration and overall design, there’s the humorous and original story line.
- Muddy Bunnies swish swashing in the (delicate cycle) washer. Bunnies that dry on the line all day, all night, then hop off, happy and ready for a brand-new adventure.
- Dusty Bunnies dozing deep underground while Mrs. Goat vacuums up… grass, leaves, bunnies. “WHIRRRRR goes the fan” A few quick fixes by Bear and all is well again.
- Bunnies without tails and tails without bunnies. Poor Mr. Goat turns to Bear again. Of course, Bear knows what to do! In the end, “everyone is happy.”
Want to know more? Drop in here – Tao Nyeu’s website.
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