Writing: Children’s Lit

Collaborating with a friend who was also an exceptional artist, I wrote a children’s book entitled The Tale of Otto the Octopus. As the artist in question worked primarily in watercolours and had a fascination for undersea life (with cephalopods being particular favourites), we elected to use an undersea theme for the book.

I had recently read a news report about an octopus in a German lab that had ben behaving oddly: surfacing in its tank to squirt jets of water at the lab’s light fixtures. I was inspired, and my mind was off down the rabbit hole: coming up with interesting, spooky reasons for why an octopus would do such a thing. It was from this imaginative tangent that Otto was born.

Though The Tale of Otto the Octopus was meant to be a children’s book, I wanted to write it with language that would push the young readers to discover new words.

What follows are some excerpts from the book alongside some of the early sketches from the illustrator, Sonomi Tanaka.

“Aquila Aqua Sciences was an interesting place indeed. Inside its watery halls, marine biologists busied themselves each day with observing, analyzing, and accounting for all the various wonders of the world’s seven seas. There were sentient sponges and there were sea stars; there were colourful corals and there were curmudgeonly crabs. They had mantis shrimps, and mollusks, and manatees. Some even spoke rumours of a whale shark, a colossal elephant of the oceans, swimming around somewhere in Aquila Aqua Sciences’ vast, winding network of tanks and pools and waterways.”

“Aquila Aquinas had been born in the water. Through an unexpected little turn of events, he had popped out of his mummy’s tummy in the waves at the beach one day, a good few days before he had been expected. As his mother told it, the newborn Aquila swam right up to her as if he’d been swimming his whole life. When he was a child Aquila loved being in the water, and the only way his parents could keep him from running down to the beach every day was to put a pool in their house’s backyard. Every morning, Aquila’s parents would wake to the sound of their son swimming back and forth across the pool, doing front stroke and back stroke, up stroke and down stroke, instroke and outstroke.”

“Lucien the Librarian loved to read. He had read every book there was in the town library, and he had even read a good many books that there wasn’t. So when young Aquila Aquinas came to ask him about the oceans, he knew just the book that would have the answer. Lucien wound his wiry body between the narrow stacks of warm smelling books with Aquila in tow. His hands tick-tick-ticked along the colourful spines until they stopped at a book that was a green aquamarine, and he pried it loose with his long, spindly fingers.”

“With this new knowledge, Aquila went to work fixing his parents’ pool. Where once was the chemical chlorine, he added sea salt. Instead of scrubbers, he inserted sea sponges. Every day for a week he would head down to the beach with empty pails and return with buckets brimming with different anemones and urchins and algaes. It wasn’t long before that pool didn’t resemble much of a pool at all. Aquila had even started spreading sand around it to make it more homely for all of the ocean life he’d brought home.”

“When he could find time, Aquila would sit for hours in the undersea grotto, watching Otto prowl around the pool, a vivid shock of crimson moving along the brown rocks. The time spent sitting in the sea grotto endeared Aquila to Otto. Though the cephalopods were the most challenging and confusing of the creatures that frequented Aquila Aqua Sciences, Master Aquinas felt that he could at least understand Otto. As the octopus had settled in the grotto and never left, Aquila came to believe that Otto was happy there. He was very surprised when Otto started acting out.”

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