Octopus Shocktopus by Peter Bently and Steven Lenton
One day, we found an octopus had come to live on top of us."
With a delightfully daft and absolutely unique premise, Octopus Shocktopus is a picture book like no other! This is all about what happens when an octopus inexplicably appears on the roof of a family's home. We see how they adjust, how the neighbours react and how the whole community is impacted. I don't want to give too much away because I had no idea what was coming next the first time I read this, and that definitely added to the fun.
Although the story is hilarious and whimsical, a message about tolerance and acceptance is gently woven through it. The octopus looks miserable until he is included and feels welcome. Mrs Antrobus initially insists, "I don't like that octopus! An octopus just looks all wrong. An octopus does not belong." By the end of the book, even she considers the octopus an asset to, and an integral part of, the seaside village of the story.
Octopus Shocktopus is a story with a concept so original, it makes you marvel at the mind that created it. I would LOVE to know how Peter Bently got the idea for this book! This was the first book I ever read by Peter, but it's enough to make me conclude he is a genius. The text rhymes all the way through and is a joy to read aloud. We recently bought Peter's retelling of The Hundred and One Dalmations, also illustrated by Steven Lenton (review coming soon). It's also fantastic and I'll be making sure we get hold of more of his books.
As with everything I've seen that Steven Lenton has worked on, the illustrations are incredible. They're colourful and lively, full of amusing details and ever so slightly eccentric, with a charming, retro quality. We always spend ages looking at the Octopus Shocktopus endpapers and discussing what's going on in them. We love the squawking, astonished seagull from the cover who reappears at the back of the book.
Steven's octopus is remarkably expressive; his eyes and eyebrows alone communicate what he is feeling - and do so unambiguously. We also have Shifty McGifty & Slippery Sam: The Diamond Chase, which is another book illustrated by Steven. That story contains multiple penguins who don't speak, and look identical, but Steven manages to give them all a distinct personality. Again, this was achieved through their faces alone and is something for which Steven certainly has a flair.
Octopus Shocktopus won the Picture Book Category of the 2020 Teach Early Years Awards. and between them Peter and Steven have amassed lots of other accolades. Peter won the Roald Dahl Funny Prize for Cats Ahoy! and King Jack and the Dragon was an American Library Association Notable Book of the Year. He has written approximately 70 children's books (wow!) and many have been translated into several languages.
Steven illustrated The Nothing to see Here Hotel which won the Sainsbury’s Children’s Book Award and was shortlisted for a 2020 Lollie's Laugh Out Loud Award. Head Kid, written by David Baddiel and featuring Steven's artwork, won the 2018 WHSmith’s Children’s Book of the Year and was shortlisted for the National Book Awards.
Steven writes his own books as well as illustrating ones by other authors. We also have Princess Daisy and the Dragon and the Nincompoop Knights which is brilliant, and I plan to review it soon. Steven is launching a brand new series for children aged 5-8 in spring 2021 called Genie and Teeny and which he has written and illustrated himself.
The Guardian recently reported that only 5% of children’s books had black, Asian or minority ethnic main protagonists in 2019. The characters of Octopus Shocktopus are as diverse as the world we live in, and the family at the centre of the story is mixed race. As with all Nosy Crow picture books, this comes with a free audio recording that can be listened to by scanning a QR code.
To quote the book, Octopus Shocktopus is, "something quite spectacular, miraculous, tentacular," and I can't recommend it highly enough. It's one of my all-time favourite picture books. While this is a wonderful story for any time of the year, there are some festive scenes, so it's ideal for Christmas too. If you can't get a gigantic octopus for the top of your own house (we live too far inland), then this is the next best thing!
Title: Octopus Shocktopus
Author: Peter Bently
Illustrator: Steven Lenton
Publisher: Nosy Crow
Publication Date: 2nd July 2020