Everybody needs a friend.
If you are sitting on a teeter-totter, it just won't work right without a friend on the other side. When you need help, the first person you call is a friend. Cooking a great meal of beans and bacon is treat unto itself, but if you can share it with a friend, it's all the more tasty.
Advice is best given by a friend. You can trust him. If your Halloween shark costume isn't scary, a friend will tell you, just like he'll tell you the tooth fairy costume is downright terrifying. If your hat looks like it ought to come with a free bowl of soup, well, a friend will kindly tell you that, too.
And so it is for Cowboy and Octopus. Several short stories show how friends are with one another. They help. The play. They give advice. They are honest. They shake hands, and shake hands, and shake hands, and shake hands, and shake hands, and shake hands, and shake hands, and shake hands.
A person can't hold it against Jon Scieszka and Lane Smith for not producing another Stinky Cheese Man. All-timers, real classics, are few and far between. But Cowboy & Octopus is a fun read nevertheless. Scieszka's writing gives you that little half-grin, wondering, "Was that the joke?" Then you glance at the next page and realize "That was the joke!" Then you reread it, smile growing into giggles, and realize how truly funny it is, wondering, "Why didn't I see it in the first place?!?" Smith's illustrations are as quirky as ever. This time he uses a cowboy and octopus cutout (do they make cowboy and octopus paper dolls?) and creatively puts them into different situations.
All that's missing is Smith's fingers holding the characters and bobbing them up and down, while Scieszka narrates in dopey voices:
"This dang thing is always broke." (Cowboy bobs up and down.)
"Hello. I think I can help." (Octopus enters, bobs up and down.)