Friday, February 10, 2012

Cowboy & Octopus by Jon Scieszka--Tikatok

Bibliography: Scieszka, J. (2007). Cowboy & Octopus. New York, NY: Viking.

Summary: Cowboy meets Octopus.

Cowboy and Octopus play.

Seven stories about friendship, a good joke, truth, beauty, and beans (Viking).

Tool: Tikatok

Tikatok's tagline is "Every child has a story," and this tool allows to children to write, illustrate, and publish their own picture books. Owned by Barnes & Noble, the tool is geared toward creating an end product that the parent will then purchase for his or her child--an actual bound book. However, making a digital storybook in Tikatok is just as fun because the presentation mimics a physical book complete with turning pages, copyright and dedication pages, and a front cover. Tikatok provides different options for different age levels--"StorySparks," which provides story prompts and structural tips on storytelling and is intended for younger children, and "Start from Scratch," intended for older children capable of telling a story on their own.

With Cat & Bear, I really wanted to mimic the collage approach Smith takes in his illustrations for Cowboy & Octopus, and Tikatok was great for that. Because you can use either the tool's clip art or import your own images, I was able to create a collage-like effect with a mixture of photographs and cartoons. Actually, the limited clip art selection was the only problem I had with Tikatok; older children may feel that there are not enough images to support their out-of-this-world creativity. Overall, however, I had a lot of fun creating my own digital storybook, and I would highly recommend this tool for elementary grade educators.

Review: The most recent collaboration between Jon Scieszka and Lane Smith is a bit of a departure from both writer’s and illustrator’s usual styles. While Scieszka’s writing is always snarky and Smith’s illustrations are always, well, a little bit gross—-think the Time Warp Trio series or The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales—-Cowboy & Octopus is surprisingly...charming. The creators’ aim with this book seems to be different than with their previous projects. First, it is intended for a younger audience than this duo usually attracts. Second, while Scieszka and Smith are known for celebrating “being different” in their work through their sarcastic alterations of fairy tales, historical events, and even poetry (see Science Verse), in a twist, Cowboy & Octopus shows how diversity and camaraderie go hand in hand (or in the case of Octopus, in hand in hand in hand in hand in hand in hand in hand in hand).

Of course, just because their latest offering is about friendship does not mean that Scieszka and Smith have gone sugary sweet. Rather, this book more closely resembles the beans that Cowboy serves Octopus in the story “Chow Time”: molasses is a key ingredient but doesn’t overpower the bacon. In Cowboy & Octopus, Smith’s illustrations are definitely the “meat” flavoring Scieszka’s [extremely] short stories. His paper-based collages utilize photographic images of everything from sheet music to the aforementioned beans. The brightly colored pictures are a refreshing change from the charcoal-based artwork usually associated with his Scieszka illustrations. The collage element still leaves room for wackiness, however, which Smith utilizes in his choice of images: Cowboy, for example, is a paper doll, and Octopus is cut out from a comic book (both drawn by Smith).

Scieszka also maintains his signature strangeness but tones it down for younger readers. His short stories about the unlikely friendship between the two characters are odd and make little sense, reminding me of the joke in which an orange and a banana are taking a bath, and when the banana asks the orange to please pass the soap, the orange says, “What do I look like, a typewriter?” The point of the joke, however, is that it doesn’t make sense, much like a friendship between a cowboy and an octopus doesn’t make sense. But it works, and at the end of the day, the two amigos set off into Smith’s pixelated postcard sunset. Grades 1-5.