Octopus Alone by Divya Srinivasan
Octopus lives in a bustling reef filled with all sorts of sea life. She watches the activity from her cave and three little seahorses come and visit her. But Octopus just wants to be left alone, so she changes colors to hide and heads away from the reef. As she travels away, the seahorses continue to follow her, watching her change colors and hide until Octopus finally leaves in a cloud of ink. Eventually, Octopus comes to a very quiet part of the ocean where she can be left in peace with only silent jellyfish floating by and the drama of a whale zooming to the surface. Nothing bothers her or watches her, so she falls fast asleep. When she awakens, she starts to think about life in the bustling reef and she returns, ready to play once again.
This is a shining example of a book where the writing and illustrations work seamlessly with one another. The story of an introverted octopus who just needs a little time alone will speak to children who also feel that way at times. Best of all, there is no lesson learned where being alone is dangerous or wrong, instead it is embraced as a time to see other beautiful things and recharge. This is one undersea world where quietness and alone time is just fine, perhaps even spectacular.
The art in this picture book shines and glows. Octopus and the other sea life pop against the dark blues and blacks of the watery background. The art has a wonderful internal light that gives it a real sense of being underwater. When Octopus heads out to be alone, the moment when she sees the whale is one of the most powerful and beautiful in the book. It is handled with a lovely pause in the text and bubbles galore in the illustrations.
This is one glorious look at an underwater world that will speak to introverts and children who may feel shy at times. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from copy received from Viking.
When No One Is Watching by Eileen Spinelli, illustrated by David A. Johnson
With all of the discussion about quiet and introverted children in classrooms right now, this book could not be more timely. For those of us who were shy as children, you will recognize yourself in these pages. Told in first person, the young female narrator finds it easy to be herself when no one is watching. She is able to dance and spin when alone, but finds herself off to one side when her extended family gets together. Alone she can be brave and imaginative, when on the playground with other kids she leans alone against a wall. As the book progresses, another child suddenly pops out in the illustrations. It’s a new best friend, who is quiet and shy too. Together the two start to not care about who is watching them at all.
Spinelli does a great job of explaining the freedom of being alone, the imaginative play and the activity that happens when a child is comfortable and free. She contrasts that clearly in her poem, where the girl who had been brave and active is now quiet and unsure. Happily, Spinelli does not make this way of feeling seem wrong or strange. Rather, she has created a character who is shy but willing to make friends and starts to naturally progress to being more sure of herself.
Johnson’s illustrations have a marvelous texture to them. The main character pops on the pages, dressed in bright colors with wild curls and tumbling shoelaces, she is engaging and shining. The other characters fade into the background, until Loretta, the new best friend appears and is just as bright as the protagonist. It’s a subtle and successful look at connections between people.
A strong book that looks at shyness in positive and understanding way, this book will be embraced by children looking for someone just like them in the pages of a picture book. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from copy received from Eerdmans Books for Young Readers.