Leo and the Octopus by Isabelle Marinov & Chris Nixon

Published by Templar Books, 2021.

Leo and the Octopus has been a big hit in our house since it arrived last week. Sam likes it for the terrific story – so much so that we’ve read it each night this week at bedtime. I love it for its sensitive depiction of a young boy with Asperger’s Syndrome.

Leo is neurodiverse. He finds everyday life too bright and too loud. He also has difficulty in understanding emotions and reading facial expressions. He doesn’t understand other children and they don’t understand him. One day on a visit to the aquarium he befriends a giant Pacific octopus called Maya.

Leo is delighted when he discovers that Maya changes colour according to her mood – it makes understanding her so much easier! Edgar, the octopus keeper, suggests that Leo visit the aquarium every Friday and Leo excitedly declares Friday to be Octopus Day.

Leo and the Octopus is a brilliant book for building empathy; it really raises awareness of what life is like living with autism. The book’s portrayal of Asperger’s Syndrome is accurate and perceptive. For Leo there is discomfort in the everyday; he is upset by the noise of the vacuum cleaner and the washing machine. A siren or a dripping tap can be too loud. We learn about other aspects of Asperger’s Syndrome too. For example one of Leo’s coping strategies is to retreat inside his cardboard box-den to read. We discover that he has an encyclopaedic knowledge of many subjects and can establish friendships through a shared interest.

Leo and the Octopus is a gorgeous book. It has a striking cover with brilliant neon orange lettering and an octopus set against a collage of patterned marine plants. This use of pattern and texture continues in the book’s illustrations which have been drawn in a lovely colour palette of greens, blues and reds.

The book explores connection and friendship. I also enjoyed discovering more about octopuses; I had no idea that they could solve puzzles or that they have been on Earth for so long (since before the dinosaurs!).

Rating: 💙💙💙💙💙

Suitable for children aged 3+

Thank you to Templar Books for sending me this book to review.

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