October 26


Also An Octopus by Maggie Tokuda-Hall – Review by Jen Vincent


Every story starts the same way…

with nothing.

If you are a writer and/or you write with students, you know the truth of this first line from Maggie Tokuda Hall’s Also an Octopus. Writers make something out of nothing. They pay attention to the world, notice things, capture ideas in their writer’s notebooks. Then they bring those ideas to their writing.

But every writer goes from a blank piece of paper or a blank screen…to something.

I’ve seen writers stare around the room or put their head down in frustration at not knowing what to write. I’ve maybe even done that myself! Also an Octopus is a reminder that we can find story ideas everywhere. They can be real and right in front of us or made up and pulled from the depths of our imagination.

Now, raise your hand if you’ve ever read a book and found yourself in the pages.

Me too.

As a writer, I found myself in the pages of Also an Octopus and I imagine most writers will. I also imagine anyone who maybe isn’t a writer might also find themselves in Also an Octopus too.

Because Maggie takes the idea of writing a story and helps us see that it starts with nothing and then you add some ideas in along the way. She throws in characters and gives them a goal. And then something goes wrong…but someone saves the day! See how easy she makes it seem to write a story? And fun! This is the same exhilaration I feel when I’m writing and revising. I try something and then I might add or change ideas or throw in a twist. It’s exciting when it all comes together.

Now, with Benji Davies’ fantastic illustrations we get to follow along with the author’s advice for telling a story but then we also get to see the reality of it from the illustrations. Which goes back to living the life of a writer. Sometimes we have grand ideas for stories and we know exactly how a story is about to unfold, but what comes out doesn’t quite match what we had in our heads. This happens to me all the time! It’s important to remember that writing has it’s ups and downs. The characters in the illustrations and how they interact with the narrator help us see that.

The more I write, the more I learn about what the writing process looks like for me. I love Also an Octopus as a way to start a discussion about writing and to help remind me that writing is hard work but also it’s also creative work. It’s important for it to be meaningful and worthwhile but still enjoyable. I’m so excited to share Also an Octopus with student writers because it gives us a glimpse into the life of a writer but also doesn’t taking writing too seriously.

As a writer, I quickly fell in love with Also an Octopus and I’m sure you will too! It’s a wonderful meta-fictional story about how to write a story. If you’ve enjoyed the books How To Read a Story written by Kate Messner and illustrated by Mark Richard Siegel or How This Book Was Made by Mac Barnett and illustrated by Adam Rex then you might also enjoy Also an Octopus.

Jen Vincent is a Technology Integration Specialist in a K-8 district in the northern suburbs of Chicago. She believes in teachers as writers and is a proud participant in Teachers Write, a summer writing camp for educators. She tweets at @mentortexts and blogs at www.teachmentortexts.com.