Posted in picture books

“If only humans were as easy to understand!”: Leo and the Octopus

Leo and the Octopus, by Isabelle Marinov/Illustrated by Chris Nixon, (Sept. 2021, Kane Miller), $12.99, ISBN: 9781684642779

Ages 4-8

“The world was too bright for Leo. And too loud.” Leo is a boy who feels like he’s on the wrong planet. Other kids don’t understand him; he doesn’t understand them. Stressed and lonely, everything changes the day he meets Maya, an octopus who looks like an alien! And Leo feels like an alien, so this should be great! Once he reads up on octopuses, he discovers how interesting they are, and decides that maybe Maya could be his first friend. The octopus and the boy form a friendly bond, which helps him understand a day when Maya is overwhelmed by all the attention she’s getting at her aquarium tank.

Author Isabelle Marinov was inspired to write Leo and the Octopus by her own son and turns in a sensitive and accurate portrayal of a child on the autism spectrum. The storytelling is gentle, respectful to both Leo and Maya and their growing friendship. The two characters develop a very sweet relationship that helps Leo grow: he recognizes when Maya is distressed and takes action to relieve her stress, and he learns to reach out and discover another friend in the course of the story. Soothing colors make this an easy read that all kids will love. Endpapers spotlight Maya and Leo interacting across the spread. A must-read, must-have to teach empathy and understanding to others as well as to provide kids on the spectrum with a child they recognize on the page.

Leo and the Octopus has a starred review from Kirkus.

Posted in picture books

Under the Sea books for your favorite fishy fans!

The weather’s warming up, so why not start thinking of ocean-y fun? I’ve got a couple of fun, new books that are perfect for fans of sea life!

Shark Nate-O, by Becky Cattie and Tara Luebbe/Illustrated by Daniel Duncan, (Apr. 2018, little bee books), $17.99, ISBN: 978-1-4998-0496-6

Recommended for readers 4-7

Nate LOVES sharks. He’s got shark posters and books, spouts shark facts all day, and pretends to be a shark, chomping his way through the schoolyard and the dinner table. But Nate has a secret that’s keeping him from fully realizing his full shark potential: he can’t swim. And his school swim team is named The Sharks! Luckily, Nate has the tenacity of a great white, and takes lessons, determined to get on the team and show his brother – who’s also on the swim team – who the real shark is.

This is a fun story about overcoming fear. Nate loves sharks, but he’s got to learn how to swim; his first lesson doesn’t go so well – he feels like a “great white wimp” – but he doesn’t give up, and works harder, until he’s good enough to make it on the team and compete at the swim meet. The art is kid-friendly, with a great cover: Nate casts a shark-y shadow as he stands at the tiled floor of a pool area; the endpapers show wavy, bluish-green water with a single shark fin navigating the spreads. There’s a spread on different kinds of sharks, with fun facts (the blue shark eats until he throws up – and then goes back to eating). Kids, parents, and caregivers alike will enjoy reading this one.

 

Inky the Octopus: Bound for Glory, by Erin Guendelsberger/Illustrated by David Leonard, (Apr. 2018, Sourcebooks Jabberwocky), $17.99, ISBN:9781492654148

Recommended for readers 4-8

Based on a real-life story, Inky the Octopus is a rhyming tale about an octopus who escapes his New Zealand aquarium tank and heads out for the open sea. When we first meet Inky, he’s bored, maybe even a little sad, with his fish friend, Blotchy, for company. But he spies an open drain and that’s it: “Out of this tank, I must be free/I must explore the open sea!” Inky gets ready to make his escape, asking Blotchy to come with him – an invitation that his friend politely declines. The next morning, the discovery is made: Inky is gone, free to experience life in the ocean.

The real-life Inky escaped from his National Aquarium of New Zealand tank in 2016, when aquarium keepers came into work and noticed that the octopus wasn’t in his tank. It appears that he slipped through a small opening in his tank, maneuvered across the floor, and slid down a 164-foot-long drainpipe that led out to Hawke’s Bay. There’s even a real-life Blotchy, but he’s another octopus, not a fish. While there are other children’s books about Inky, including 2017’s Inky’s Great Escape by Casey Lyell and Sebastià Serra, Inky the Octopus is officially endorsed by the National Aquarium of New Zealand.

The artwork is adorable and the rhyming text gives a nice cadence to storytelling that allows for dramatic embellishment (at least, when I read it: he’s an octopus, he’s got eight arms, give him some grand gestures!) Inky has big, sweet eyes that will appeal to readers and have them falling in love with the sweet cephalopod, rooting for him to make a run for it. Information about the real-life Inky at the book’s conclusion adds a nice learning opportunity for readers.

 

Sea Creatures from the Sky, by Ricardo Cortés, (Apr. 2018, Black Sheep), $16.95, ISBN: Ricardo Cortés

Recommended for readers 4-8

A shark’s tale of being kidnapped by aliens! Kind of. A shark speaks directly to the reader in rhyme, confiding in us a true story that happened to him: he was kidnapped by aliens from the sky. Now, remember: when a shark looks up, that’s the sky. We know it as the surface. As the shark notes: “There is something else/and that’s no lie. It stole me from the ocean, and took me to the sky.” The poor shark sees a yummy fish, goes for a snack, and discovers – whoops! – the fish has a hook. And those aliens were terrifying: “In ships they steered? Faces with beards? Heads with two ears? It was all just too weird.” To add insult to injury, no one believes him. What’s a poor shark to do?

I loved everything about this story. The art is just beautiful, from the endpapers that could be a starry night sky or the surface of the water at night; the combination of realistic and almost dreamlike renderings of sea life, from the hazy, colorful jellyfish to the crisp spread of rays making their way through the story, to the black-eyed protagonist whose tale will make you chuckle and yet, feel for his plight (gender pronoun is mine; the character has no determined gender in the story). It’s a look at preservation and oceanography from a different point of view, and makes a realistic-looking shark less threatening, even likable. Kids will appreciate the misunderstood predator; how many times have kids been called out for exaggerating a recollection that is absolutely true from their point of view? Sea Creatures From the Sky provides a good jumping-off point to discuss point-of-view storytelling and what exactly the humans were doing with the shark when they “measured, probed, and spoke in strange code”. This one is a must-add to storytimes and books where sharks and undersea life are popular. Which, really, has to be, like every collection. Kids LOVE sharks.

Ricardo Cortés illustrated one of my baby shower gifts, Go The F**k to Sleep (no, I’ve never read it to the kiddo, but it did comfort me on many a sleepless night), and its child-friendly companion, Seriously, Just Go to Sleep.

 

Posted in Toddler Reads

Retro Review: Nick Jr’s Oswald’s A Nice Quiet Picnic/The Big Parade

Oswald (A Nice Quiet Picnic/The Big Parade). Directed by Ken Kessel. NickJr, 24 minutes. HIT Entertainment PLC, Nicktoons Productions. 2001

Toddlers and Preschoolers will love the early 2000’s cartoon, Oswald, based on the series of books by Dan Yaccarino. The show ran on Nicktoons from 2001-2003; parents can still find the show on the NickJr channel. Yaccarino served as producer on the show, assuring that the look and feel of the books carried over. Each episode runs approximately 24 minutes and contains two episodes that run about 12 minutes each.

Oswald

The show follows the adventures of Oswald, an octopus, and his friends in the city of Big. Each episode contains the same characters: Oswald (voiced by Fred Savage), his dachshund, Weenie, who looks like an actual hot dog (voiced by Debi Derryberry), and his friend, Henry, a penguin (voiced by David L. Lander) appear in every episode. Other friends show up from time to time. In the episode A Nice Quiet Picnic, Oswald, Henry and Weenie go on a picnic; as more friends show up, the group tries to figure out how to feed everyone when there are only three sandwiches. The episode highlights the value of sharing, as Oswald continues to invite friends to the picnic as he encounters them in the park, despite Henry’s protests that there is not enough food to feed everyone; it also focuses on teamwork, as the group of friends comes together to feed everyone at the picnic. There are repetitive phrases and counting exercises throughout for toddler and preschool audiences, and simple songs round out the episode.

In The Big Parade, Oswald hears parade music from his window and is excited, believing that a parade is coming to town. He and Weenie fetch Henry and their friend, Daisy (voiced by Crystal Scales) – an actual Daisy flower – and find a spot to wait for the parade to pass, talking excitedly about their favorite parade performers; in particular, the acrobats, the jugglers, and the Grand Marshall. When they learn that there is no parade, and that the music was coming from a friend’s radio, they decide to make their own parade, each character assuming their favorite role. As with A Nice Quiet Picnic, there is a great deal of repetition, this time, reinforcing the roles of the parade performers. The episode teaches children to deal with disappointment, as the group does when they realize that there is no parade – they turn a letdown into a positive situation.

The artwork is the same as the artwork from the Oswald book series, with bright, vibrant color against a calm backdrop of City. The skies are blue, the grass is a calming green, and even Oswald’s apartment building is an inviting backdrop of light color, all assuring that the main characters will stand out. The characters speak calmly, in quiet, soothing voices.

The series is not very interactive, but it does provide good storytelling with characters that may be known to young audiences; it also serves, for those audiences that are unfamiliar with Oswald, as a bridge to reading the books. It may be a fun idea to have an Oswald day where audiences can view a two-story episode and talk about the themes of teamwork and what to do when you feel sad. Have Oswald books available and on display for parents and children to read and take out after the read-aloud. There are Oswald board books available for younger audiences. The Oswald mini-site on the NickJr. webpage offers printables that attendees could color.

NickToons and the now-defunct Noggin network also ran episodes of Maurice Sendak’s series, Little Bear and Bil Cosby’s Little Bill; these shows were based on series of books and could also be of interest to younger viewers and readers.

The Oswald series of books by Dan Yaccarino includes early readers, board  books, and 8×8 books. Titles include Oswald’s Camping Trip; Counting with Oswald; Colors with Oswald and Henry’s First Haircut.