Picture Book Review: Ooko by Esme Shapiro
Ooko has everything a fox could want: a stick, a leaf and a rock. Well, almost everything . . . Ooko wants someone to play with too! The foxes in town always seem to be playing with their two-legged friends, the Debbies. Maybe if he tries to look like the other foxes, one of the Debbies will play with him too. But when Ooko finally finds his very own Debbie, things don’t turn out quite as he had expected!
A quirky, funny, charmingly illustrated story about finding friendship and being true to yourself.
In Esme Shapiro’s distinctive debut picture book, readers are taken on a rather unpredictable, entertaining and sweet journey with a lonely fox named Ooko. Ooko, as we learn from the description, lives under a log and has, in his possession, a rock, a leaf and a stick…but sadly, no friends. Where will Ooko be able to find a friend to call his own? Ooko, to his delight, observes some other different looking foxes (actually dogs!) playing with their two-legged human friends and runs off to make a friend. It shouldn’t be too hard, right?
However, after a girl is told to run upon Ooko’s approach, he determines that he the only way he will make a friend is to look like the others fox-dogs. So, Ooko tries on a variety of costumes: he sees a spotted fox-dog and proceeds to paint himself with dots; he adds a cotton candy ‘hat’ to make himself fluffier; and he tears flaps off of a beach umbrella to give himself the clearly more desired floppy-eared look. In a great turn of events, Ooko is welcomed into the home of a woman who- due to her eyeglasses not working- believes Ooko to be her beloved dog Ruthie. As Ooko gets a big taste of life as Ruthie, however, he discovers that that life with humans- and their bizarre way of playing games- is not fun. At all.
With a bold and unconventional illustrative style, Esme Shapiro has done a wonderful job in her debut. Funny, a little eccentric without going over the edge of quirk, Ooko is quite delightful. Shapiro does well to keep the text relatively short, allowing the humour of Ooko himself and the bright illustrations to really propel the story. I can see Ooko being a straight out sweetly funny friendship or ‘be yourself’ read for a young storytime audience, but for a preschool (or older) group, the appeal of Ooko’s riotous misunderstanding of dogs, humans and foxes might be particularly awesome.
Overall, Ooko is a very strong debut that leaves a lasting impression. Shapiro’s artwork and illustrative style is truly eye-catching and memorable, and the story itself is packed with wonderfully kooky moments. Readers who enjoy picture books by authors and illustrators such as Zachariah OHora, Liz Wong, Mac Barnett, Peter Brown, Yuyi Morales, or Jon Klassen might especially adore this title.
I received a digital copy of this title courtesy of Tundra Books via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. All opinions and comments are my own.