Cowboy and Octopus are two brand spanking-new characters in children's literature, and my, what clever little cutouts they are. Cowboy is a paper doll, while Octopus has been snipped from the comic pages. They are the latest concoctions from the fun-loving, award-winning pair of Jon Scieszka and Lane Smith, well known for such books as Math Curse and The Stinky Cheese Man. (And in case you're wondering how to pronounce the writer's last name, it's Shess-ka, rhyming with Fresca.) Cowboy and Octopus are friends, somewhat in the vein of Arnold Lobel's Frog and Toad. And while this is a picture book, it consists of seven little mini-episodes, or chapters, all bearing the trademark quirky humor of Scieszka and Smith. For instance, when our two heroes meet, Cowboy asks Octopus: You wanna be friends? When Octopus says yes, the two shake hands . . . and shake hands, and shake hands and so on. The two friends amuse each other (and their readers) with such things as knock-knock jokes, Halloween costumes and a surprise dinner (cowboy beans, of course). Scieszka confesses that they had to ditch a chapter called The Boy Who Cried Cow Patty. This is, after all, good, clean (and sometimes strange) fun.

Smith's collages are zany and wonderful throughout, with comic book touches and all sorts of background patterns, as well as scraps of photography, fabric and newspaper articles thrown into the illustrative mix. There's even a red plastic barn with a few animal figures.

This is truly a wacky and original book for all ages, one with the potential to make teenagers and toddlers snicker equally hard at its jokes. Here's one of those bedtime favorites that parents can easily enjoy reading over and over again it sure beats the more traditional little sheep frolicking through a meadow.

As in all good Westerns, our two heroes eventually disappear into a brilliant sunset together, with the words Adios Amigos etched into the skyline. I wouldn't be surprised, however, to see these two funny guys back together again in a sequel.

Alice Cary rides the range in Groton, Massachusetts.

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