Austinite’s picture books focuses on octopus who just wants to be alone


Octopus is at the center of a flurry of undersea activity. A bevy of persistent seahorses just want to play, jellyfish shimmer in the water, and a hungry eel bares its teeth.

It’s all too much, and she wants a moment to herself. So she swims far beyond the reef, into open water where she is gloriously, happily alone.

Until she realizes just how far she’s gone.

“Octopus Alone” is the second impressive picture book from Austin artist Divya cq Srinivasan. An illustrator and animator, her work has appeared in The New Yorker; in videos for They Might be Giants, Disney and the Sundance Channel; and in Richard Linklater’s film “The Waking Life.” She’ll be at BookPeople Saturday to talk about “Octopus,” a sweet, empathetic paean to both striking out on your own and appreciating the comforts of the familiar.

Srinivasan’s debut effort, “Little Owl’s Night” (Viking, 2011), was dubbed “exceptional” by the New York Times and “the best picture book of the year” by the Boston Globe. “Octopus” features her distinctively crisp, colorful artwork, along with lyrical narration of Octopus’ adventure:

“Sea snakes slithered in and out of holes. Among the swaying anemones, baby dominos played hide-and-seek, while clownfish chased butterflies. Tiny fish ate algae from a big fish’s scales, leaving them sparkling clean.”

The result is a deceptively sophisticated book that works on many levels, from the details of Octopus’ adventures to the larger life lessons contained in pushing past comfort zones. (Aimed at ages 3-5; young elementary-age children would also enjoy)

Grace Parker is all about pushing past her comfort zones. An avid surfer, she desperately wants to win a scholarship to the nearby University of California at San Diego — for the waves as well as an escape from her overbearing parents.

Lindsay Scheibe’s “Riptide” takes us into Grace’s world, from the ever-hopeful attention of her best friend, Ford, who hopes Grace will reciprocate his romantic intentions, to the stifling environment at home.

This is Scheibe’s debut, and she elevates her story of a 17-year-old’s summer choices with the subplot of Grace’s parents, including her explosively angry father. Many teens complain about harsh parents, but Grace’s father veers solidly into abuse territory, even hitting his daughter. Sadly, her mother denies the abuse.

The ocean offers Grace respite, and through her descriptions of time on the water (complete with a glossary to help neophytes grasp insider lingo), Scheibe draws us in to a fully realized world.

“For the first time in my life, I’m inside the barrel of a wave,” Grace tells us. “Amped, I let out a tribal yell. The rush is incredible. Zooming through a wall of water, still breathing like normal, I enjoy the magic of feeling free and alone.”

Hear more Sunday at 2 p.m., when Austinite Scheibe reads and signs “Riptide” at Book People. (Ages 12 and up)

* * *

In the wake of the inaugural Young Adult Book Festival in Round Rock earlier this month, the busy folks organizing the 5th annual Austin Teen Book Festival are rolling out the big names for their 2013 lineup.

The keynote for this year’s festival will be Maggie Stiefvater, author of the “Shiver” trilogy about werewolves, the Welsh magic-inflected Books of Faerie (including “Lament” and “Ballad”) and her newest series, The Raven Cycle.

Lunch speakers will be best-selling YA literary darling Sarah Dessen, whose “The Moon and More” publishes next month, and “Rats Saw God” writer Rob Thomas, who also happens to be the creator of “Veronica Mars” (and the force behind Kickstarter’s successful campaign to raise nearly $6 million for a “Mars” movie).

And the closing speaker will be Holly Black, co-author of “The Spiderwick Chronicles,” which was made into a feature film in 2008. Her forthcoming “The Coldest Girl in Coldtown,” a mash-up of vampires and dystopia, publishes in September, just before the festival.

No doubt there’ll be more announcements to come before the festival — a joint effort of the Austin Public Library Friends Foundation, BookPeople and Badgerdog creative-writing programs — arrives Sept. 28 at the Austin Convention Center. Until then, keep up with the goings-on at austinteenbookfestival.com.

Sharyn Vane’s column on books for young readers appears regularly in the Statesman; swizda@austin.rr.com



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