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LEO AND THE OCTOPUS (Isabelle Marinov, Chris Nixon 3-7yrs)

The world was too bright for Leo. And too loud.
“I must be living on the wrong planet,” Leo thought.

In Leo and the Octopus (Templar, 2021) Leo struggles to make sense of the world. He doesn’t understand the other children in his class, and they don’t seem to understand him. Sometimes it feels like he is living on an alien planet. But then one day, Leo meets Maya. Maya is an octopus, and the more Leo learns about her, the more he thinks that perhaps he isn’t alone in this world, after all.

Isabelle’s text navigates the world and friendship through the eyes of a child with Asperger’s and Chris’ illustrations are bright and eye-catching, especially the neon detailing on the cover. Together they depict a subtle yet accurate look at how it feels to have autism, helpful for neurodiverse and neurotypical readers.

DRAMA LLAMA (Rachel Morrisroe, Ella Okstad, 3-7yrs)

‘One day a worry comes to stay, and simply will not go away!’

Rachel Morrisroe and Ella Okstad’s Drama Llama (Puffin 2022) sees Alex Allen – a super worrier – with a seriously silly llama problem. The more Alex worries, the bigger the llama grows! Rachel’s snappy, energetic verse is dynamic and fun, while Ella’s illustrations— of the bright, pink, fluffy llama — are hilarious.

The ending has a powerful takeaway about living with a llama, rather than getting rid of it completely, meaning readers will not only be full of smiles but also empowered to share their worries.

TALKING IS NOT MY THING (Rose Robbins 3-6 yrs)

Talking Is Not My Thing (Scallywag Press, 2020) is a celebration of all the different ways that people communicate, highlighting that for some non-verbal children, talking just isn’t their thing. Rose’s gentle storyline, sparse text and endearing characters show us that there are still plenty of things the autistic main character can do. She can still have fun with her sibling and importantly, she can still make her needs known, including through body language, drawing pictures, making gestures or using flash cards.

The use of speech bubbles – to share what the autistic character is thinking – is clever, and the main character is empowering because she has chooses when she needs help, and when she doesn’t.

I TALK LIKE A RIVER (Jordan Scott, Sydney Smith 3+)

I wake up each morning with the sounds of words all around me.

And I can’t say them all . . .

The first person voice in I Talk Like A River (Neal Porter Books, 2018) is powerful and honest, combining with Sydney Scott’s emotive illustrations to create an empowering story of a child who is as quiet as a stone, who gets ready for his day without a word. At school he hopes he doesn’t have to speak because his words tangle in his mouth. But throughout the story, his parent helps him to see that his bad speech day is temporary, not fixed or permanent. “When the words around me are hard to say I think of the river all around me. Even the river stutters like I do,” says the child.

This touching book for children who live with speech difficulties, is also relevant to children who have felt different from their friends and/or who might know someone who struggles. This is a stunning book, both visually and metaphorically, that leaves a lasting impression.

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