Cowboy and Octopus
by Jon Scieszka, illustrated by Lane Smith
review copy compliments of an impulse purchase
"Oh, goody! A new one by Jon Scieszka!" I thought, as I picked up a copy from the display. I thumbed through it. I wasn't amused. The illustrations looked weird, and not at all Lane Smith-ish. But then I remembered my experience with Don't Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus. I didn't fall in love with that book until I read it to children. So I bought Cowboy and Octopus, and last week I read it to my fourth graders.
It's hysterical. The illustrations are perfect. The kids were rolling on the floor laughing, and I would have been, too, but I was wearing a skirt. The chapter? story? where Cowboy hits Octopus on the head with a hammer is my favorite. I had to go back and reread it before the kids got it. Octopus says something like, "I'm going to hold all these pieces together and when I nod my head, you hit it." Bad sentence construction results in hilarious confusion over "it."
I think the kids liked the scary tooth fairy Halloween costume the best. Or maybe the page with the photographs of the beans. "Those are real beans!" someone said, and not a half a breath later came, "Beans, beans, the musical fruit..."
Scieszka should win a Pulitzer Prize for his ability to channel his pre-teen self and the accompanying sense of humor.
**Edited to add this from Fuse #8, via bookshelves of doom:
I also read aloud Those Shoes. (I reviewed it here.) It, too, was a hit. I held up the book, and just based on the cover, my students knew pretty much what the story was about. They'd all been there, wanting something they couldn't have, or not having what everyone else seemed to have and feeling left out. They were surprised by, but completely satisfied with the ending, and they were sure that the main character had done the right thing by giving Those Shoes that didn't fit him to his friend whose feet were smaller than his.
The next day, a student in another class came to school wearing a pair of way-cool orange sneakers. I was holding the recess door as the students came in from lunch recess, and as the end of my line passed by me, this kid was leading the next line of students. I complimented his shoes, which caused the last few kids in my line to turn around and look. I looked at my kids and they looked at me. I pointed and said, "Those Shoes!" and they nodded and replied, "Those Shoes." So in one day, this book went from story to insider lingo for a coveted article of clothing. Not bad. Not bad at all.
I also finished Clementine last week. (Last year's 5th graders loved her, too.)
Last week was a darn good read aloud week in my classroom. How to Steal a Dog (review here) is up next.