A squirrel. His doorstep. A mysterious green ball. A creature emerging from that ball. So begins Otto and Pio, a charming and quirky story of unexpected friendship from Montreal-based picture-book creator Marianne Dubuc (Up the Mountain Path; Mr. Postmouse’s Rounds).
The creature, which looks to be a miniature yeti, is unable to speak beyond saying his own name, “Pio,” and crying out for “Mommy.” Otto, the squirrel, figures this hatchling must be lost and sets out in search of Pio’s mom. What ensues is a playful subversion of Are You My Mother? conventions.
While Otto puts up posters and enquires with his woodland neighbours, Pio – who is growing at an alarming rate – makes himself at home in the treehouse, performing little acts of kindness.
With more than a dozen picture books to her name, Dubuc has established herself as one of the finest talents in Canadian children’s literature. Her whimsical sensibility is as much a signature as her soft coloured-pencil illustrations. A two-time Governor General’s Literary Award winner, Dubuc is highly acclaimed both within Canada and internationally.
Most notably, Dubuc has a knack for the adorable. Her work is always sweet but never saccharine – and Otto and Pio is no exception. From the duo settling down to sleep in a tiny hammock to an apron-clad Pio cooking soup for his friend, this book is squeal-inducingly cute.
Eschewing standard picture-book templates, Otto and Pio explores form in creative ways. Dubuc moves effortlessly from full-bleed two-page spreads to as many as three illustrations on a single page. The result is a visually balanced book that feels fresh and engaging.
In many ways, Otto and Pio is like coming home to find a pot of a soup simmering on the stove – both a comfort and a lovely surprise.