Octopuses! Strange and Wonderful
2015 Eureka Honor Award (for excellence in Nonfiction for Young Readers),
California Reading Association
Also, OCTOPUSES is on the 2015 Kansas State Reading Circle Recommended Books list
It took me a long time to arrive at the subject of octopuses, and I'm glad I finally got there! What amazing animals! Smarter than all other invertebrates, smarter than fish and reptiles, perhaps as smart as cats and dogs.
My research led me to books and science journal reports written by octopus experts.
A Canadian researcher, Jennifer Mather, looked carefully at my words and at Meryl Henderson's art, and we as a team tried to make the book as accurate as possible.
As usual, I learned a lot in the process. One basic thing: octopuses do not have tentacles. Before, I used the words "tentacles" and "arms" as if they were equals, but they are not, and octopuses have arms only. (This led me to omit from my book's "To Learn More" section an otherwise good book about octopuses, for children, because it had this title: Tentacles! I wonder how an author, editor, and publisher can allow such a mistake to be published.)
Another thing learned: for decades I felt clever and well-educated when I used the word "octopi" as a substitute for "octopuses." "Octopi" is incorrect! As my book explains on page 4, "octopi" would be o.k. if this animal's name came from Latin. However, the Greeks, long ago, were the first to name this animal. And the plural of the ancient Greek word "octopous" is "octopodes." Even some dictionaries are inaccurate on this, and I have no illusions that people will give up saying "octopi" and switch to "octopodes." By the way, it is perfectly o.k. to say "octopuses."
In two other "strange and wonderful" books, about snakes, and frogs, I asked artist Meryl Henderson to create a scene that hid several animals. Readers of the books have fun trying to find them. Since octopuses are such masters of disguise, I asked Meryl to do the same with these camouflage experts. For pages 18-19 I wrote these words: "Can you find the five octopuses hidden on these pages?"
When the art arrived for my inspection, with some trouble I found the five--and then found another! Meryl had hidden six in a colorful underwater scene of ocean floor, corals, plants, and aquatic animals, so the wording was changed, challenging readers to find six. A little map on page 31 shows where all six are, but don't go there until you have them all, or give up!