by JAN MYHRE & r & & r & Cowboy and Octopus & r & by Jon Scieszka & r & & r & & lt;span class= "dropcap " & C & lt;/span & hildren's book author Jon Scieszka (pronounced SHES-kuh, rhymes with Fresca), the man behind The Stinky Cheese Man, The Math Curse and The True Story of the Three Little Pigs, is at it again. His newest picture book features seven exceedingly short stories about a cowboy and an octopus, aptly titled Cowboy and Octopus. These silly short stories delve into the development of a most unlikely friendship between these diverse characters. Beginning with a broken teeter-totter and a handshake to the eighth power, and moving on to the unlikely pals' shared postcard-sunset conclusion, the book invites readers to identify the many kindnesses as well as misunderstandings that go into becoming friends. For example, even though Octopus hates baked beans, he licks just one to show his appreciation for Cowboy's cooking skills. And miscommunication during Octopus' building project results in a painful outcome but brings about a lesson learned.

Illustrator Lane Smith (Squids Will Be Squids, Three Pigs and The Stinky Cheese Man) employs delightful collage techniques, using a paper-doll cutout for the cowboy and an octopus snipped from a comic strip. Their stances never change throughout the book, and the result somehow brings to mind Flat Stanley. Photography and watercolors add to the visual mix. Some parents will recognize the toys of their youth on the pages: The Tinker Toy teeter-totter and swing set will certainly spark memories and conversation.

Just last month, Librarian of Congress James H. Billington appointed Scieszka as the inaugural National Ambassador for Young People's Literature. For my money, it's none too soon, and this first-time-ever position bodes well for children's literature. As a former teacher (turned full-time author), Scieszka has a penchant for education, along with his gift for writing children's books. His foray into telling stories with words and pictures has impacted children's literature through his sheer popularity. Consequently, he can exert considerable influence regarding the appreciation for and promotion of young people's literature at the national level. He'll be a great ambassador.

Parents may also check out Scieszka's Website ( for a delicious romp through his wacky world.

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