Friendship is difficult enough to explain — let alone within the confines of the 32- to 40-page limitations of the picturebook genre. Which is probably why I haven’t cared as deeply for any picture book about friends as I do about the Frog and Toad early-readers (which incidentally span over 250 pages in total, so it’s not exactly a fair comparison). Well, at least that was before I discovered Tao Nyeu’s Squid and Octopus.
I’ve always wondered why Arnold Lobel chose a frog and a toad for the characters in his brilliantly successful treatise on friendship; and now, thanks to these two special cephalopods, I think I am beginning to understand. Just as frogs and toads are often mistaken for each other, people sometimes have trouble differentiating between squids and octopuses. Yet, when you put each pair of “lookalikes” together, they are complementary to, yet quite distinct from, each other — something that you can probably use to describe any given pair of friends.
Here, the author has shrewdly broken down the book into four mini stories; so we get four charmingly quirky yet heartwarming vignettes, which altogether provide a deeper insight into the characters’ individual personalities, as well as their friendship, than a single long, continuous story. It’s also amazing how complete each mini story reads, and how much you learn about Squid and Octopus: they share, they argue, they make up, they cheer each other on and up, and they understand each other perfectly.
And oh, the illustrations — I love them so: the adorable characters, the intricate little details and attention-stealing side scenes, the refreshingly original colour palette that is limited to perhaps four main colours yet manages to pack such a big punch… Suffice it to say, it all makes for a very special book that I’m having trouble returning to the library. Guess I might have to buy a copy for keeps.