Onstage they’re known as “two-handers”: stories with two main characters in which the drama (and the comedy) comes mostly from the interplay between the two. Sure, other characters might show up from time to time, but it’s mostly a two-man show. Frost and Nixon. Frankie and Johnny. Vladimir and Estragon. Sometimes the form moves to the screen: André and Wally, or Wallace and Gromit, or Jesse and Celine. For the length of the story, it’s just these two people we care about, and we track the shifting dynamics between them as closely as we would follow the twists and turns of a spy thriller.
We know how to watch these two-handers, in part, because children’s literature has long excelled at the form. Kids look to books to teach them how to manage in the world, and the give-and-take of friendship is an endlessly rich topic. And so from Frog and Toad we learn how to apologize for an unkindness. From George and Martha we learn when to cooperate and when to stand our ground. From Elephant and Piggie we learn how to help one another (and to fear the void).
Add to the ranks of great kid-lit duos the slimy pair at the heart of Snail & Worm, from author-illustrator Tina Kügler. (Disclaimer: Kügler and I went to the same high school in Wisconsin.) In this book, the first of a new series, Kügler reminds very young readers the joys of being silly with a pal. Both Snail and Worm get a little scared sometimes—they are just invertebrates, after all—but everything works out just fine in these “three stories about two friends.”
Kügler, who’s worked as a storyboard artist, draws with energy and verve, and portrays complex concepts as fluidly as she does simple ones. (Her earlier book In Mary’s Garden, co-written with her husband, Carson Kügler, explores knotty issues of creativity and inspiration.) Snail and Worm are charming, whimsical characters in a cheerful pencil-and-collage environment. A former kid’s bookshop owner, Kügler also has an encyclopedic knowledge of the world of children’s books, which makes her the perfect illustrator for Nightlight, Slate’s monthlong blog about young people’s literature. Enjoy her illustrations all through August!
Nightlight is Slate’s pop-up blog about children’s books, running for the month of August. Read about it here.