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Uplifting Picture Books That Don't Preach
Octavia And Her Purple Ink Cloud
Octavia And Her Purple Ink Cloud
by Donna Rathmell and Doreen Rathmell, illustrated by Connie McLennan
Sylvan Dell,(May 2006)
Octavia Octopus lived alone in a small, secret cave in a colorful coral reef. She had many friends, so she was never lonely. She and her friends played a game called "how to hide from a hungry creature."
Octavia clapped all eight arms when Paul Porcupine Fish puffed up to show how he could confuse a hungry creature. He was so big and prickly that Octavia knew Paul would be safe.
--Octavia and Her Purple Ink Cloud by Donna Rathmell and Doreen Rathmell, illustrated by Connie McLennan, p. 1-3.
Octavia the Octopus and her friends like to play a game--"how to hide from a hungry creature." But the game is not just for fun; it's a survival skill. Each of Octavia's friends know how to hide from predators well, but Octavia finds herself unable to do it right; she squirts the wrong-colored ink. She tries over and over again, until finally, when threatened with real danger, she gets it right and is able to stay safe. Octavia and Her Purple Cloud combines story with information to help kids learn in a fun way.
The Rathmells often bring in good word choices, helping to create a strong sense of setting, such as "he swayed in the water like he was part of the plant." I also liked Octavia's delight in and enthusiasm for the other sea creatures' skills; it helped make her likable. It's emphasized many times that the various sea creatures will be kept safe, which may reassure young readers. The sea creatures each have familiar human names as well as their specific breed, which helps make them seem more personable. There is very little character building.
Information about octopi is seamlessly integrated into the story, allowing readers to learn without realizing they are. We learn that an octopus has eight arms, squirt purple ink clouds to hide from predators, and live in coral reefs--and we learn ways that many other sea creatures, including sea horses, porcupine fish, flounders, sea turtles, and more keep themselves safe from predators. I found the various creatures' ways of hiding very interesting. It also helped that Octavia seemed so interested in watching the other creatures hide.
One thing that became tiresome and predictable, at least for me, was Octavia doing the same thing numerous times--getting the ink color wrong--and then having the same reaction "Oh no, I'd better practise." This happened five times before she squirted the right color. Also, having a character sigh, moan, whine, etc. detracts from the focus of what they're saying, especially if it happens repeatedly in a short span of text. I would have liked to see something else happen, to make it less predictable, or to happen at the most three times. It also felt slightly preachy to me, to be told that the character has to practice.
Tension is built up well when a hungry shark comes looking for food. All of the other creatures can successfully hide, but the reader isn't sure whether Octavia will be able to, because of her past lack of success. The authors/illustrator also add to this tension by having the result come after two page turns.
I wanted another sentence or two about Octavia and her sea creature friends, after the shark left. since the story focused on them, it was weird (for me) to have the ending be just the shark leaving. I wanted to see some celebration. However, that's a personal take. The ending is still clear (and happy).
McLennan greatly enhances the story with her beautiful illustrations. She uses a rich, bright palette with Octavia a bright orange, a lovely deep turquoise and blues for the sea, and many yellows, greens, and browns. The sea creatures are realistically depicted, but in a way that will appeal to children, with small smiles or facial expressions, in a way that's not overdone. McLennan also brings a sense of texture on Octavia's skin and various creatures.
Broad expanses of deep blue or turquoise sea help bring an openness to the illustrations. Octavia always stands out as the visual focus point, in part because of her bright color, and in part because of how well placed she is on the illustrations. Octavia often appears half off or partially off the page, and this also draws focus to her, and helps bring a lovely visual variation, as well as the feeling of almost being right there in the ocean with her. Often Octavia's tentacles will point to the action or the creature she's conversing with. The point of danger is underscored by the sea being white instead of blue or turquoise, and her limbs as well as the shark standing out much more.
Octavia And Her Purple Ink Cloud is an enjoyable book that helps you learn at the same time. Recommended.
-Added July 08, 2008
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