Title: Leo and the Octopus
Author: Isabelle Marinov; Illustrator: Chris Nixon
Genre: Children, Picture book
Themes: Autism, Friendship, Acceptance, Understanding
Publication Date: January 7, 2021
I received a paperback copy in exchange for an honest review, thanks to the author and publisher.
Leo feels out of place in this world. Everything just seems too loud, and making friends can be hard. That is until one day at the aquarium, Leo meets someone like him. An octopus named Maya. This is when he realizes that maybe he isn’t alone in the world after all.
I was graciously offered a physical copy of Leo and the Octopus, and I was very excited to read it. Such a sweet story with a powerful message.
I am a teacher of special needs and have sisters who also have special needs, so when the opportunity to review a children’s book based on a boy with autism, I jumped at the chance!
The story itself is sweet and simple. A child feeling out of place and finding friendship with an animal is so realistic that I couldn’t help but fall in love with Leo. Following his journey to finding a friend, I’m certain, can be very relatable to many children and adults. After all, animals, especially misunderstood ones, just want someone to reach out and show some compassion. This is exactly what Leo does with Maya. What I also loved is how Leo doesn’t just stop with Maya, the octopus, but he also is able to share this interest in octopuses with another child.
When looking at the illustrations, I can’t help but smile. Each page is colorful, yet still subdued enough to not be overwhelming. Facial expressions on the characters are clear and can easily be discussed with children. Lastly, the choice of making some words in bold shows emphasis on certain key phrases or vocabulary.
This is a great book to read with children and help them understand that making friends can be challenging for some. That sometimes we just need to have some understanding and that can make a big difference in someone’s life.
Another great aspect of this story is the idea that even a huge, seemingly scary animal has feelings. When looking at Maya, it’s easy to assume that she’s either scary because of her size or is just something that lives in the sea. Especially at aquariums (or even zoos) where animals are caged in or stuck, it can be easy for children to assume that the animals are nothing more than stuffed animals that can move. However, with a story like this, it’s plain to see that animals of all shapes and sizes can have feelings of discomfort and may need help from us, which I think is a powerful message to share with children.
Overall, I loved this book and can see myself reading it to my son, once he’s a bit older, and having discussions about how sometimes people can make friends easy, some need more help, and what we can do to help.
I would recommend this picture book to young children and to parents to read to their youngsters about how being different is okay, and how can we show acceptance and care to everyone.