“ Paperback / Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt / Published: Jan 1999 / Language: English „
When I was five years old a teacher brought this book to class. It made such an impression on me that I have thought it often over the years. When I found a used copy available on Amazon I snatched it up for my own children. A new copy sells for £10.35 and I would have paid this if I had to, but I was able to get a used one for under £4. At the moment there are no very cheap used copies though. After all these years, this book can still bring tears to my eyes, but it always brought hope as well.
Leo the Late Bloomer is about a tiger cub who just can't do anything right. He can't read or write or draw, even though all the other animals his age can. He makes a terrible mess when he eats and he doesn't speak at all. His father is clearly disappointed, but his mother loves him just as he is. His mother believes there is nothing wrong with her cub - he is just a late bloomer. Leo's father waits impatiently for him to bloom. he waits and watches but Leo isn't blooming. Finally Leo's father stops paying attention to him at watches the telly. But one day, when the time is right Leo blooms. He can do everything he couldn't do before, he just needed a bit more time. He could read and write, draw beautiful pictures and at last he could speak. His first sentence : "I made it !"
The illustrations in this book are a real joy and add a whole extra layer to this simple story. The text is short, in large print and on every page but one printed over a white background. The vocabulary is quite simple so this would suit a beginning reader. I feel the most difficult word is blooming, but children should be able to pick this one easily enough. The pictures show us so much more of what is happening though. They show all the other animals writing the name of their species - while Leo can barely scribble. They show Leo covered in berry stains while the other animals politely eat at the table. My sons loved the picture of Leo in a hole while the other animals made snow sculptures.
When I first heard this story I was overwhelmed. I believe the teacher kept me after class as I hopefully asked - would I bloom too? She was a wonderful teacher who took the time to try to encourage me. I was an early reader and actually very good academically, but I was messy and clumsy and never really felt adequate. This book very nearly cut my life short. I was excited I ran the entire way home. I was normally quite good with traffic, but this time I didn't stop - I raced right in front an oncoming car. Thankfully the man had good brakes. I've know idea what he thought of my " Sorry - I'm a late Bloomer" comment shouted out as I ran on. I could wait to tell my mother there was hope for me. I held on to the message in this book for dear life for many years. This book gave me hope and made the world a brighter place.
My own sons haven't reacted as dramatically to the book. They are both pretty confident sorts, but the youngest at times feels discouraged that his brother can do so many things he can not, like read or build things. My oldest is less confident with drawing though, so this book has pointed out that we can't rush these things, just do your best and enjoy it - the rest will come. I think most children feel discouraged at times and this book can really give a child a sense of hope. It can help them to feel better about themselves and to give themselves time to bloom. Although I can't say this book was life changing for my boys, both enjoyed it. It is a fun story to read and the illustrations had them laughing out loud.
As an adult, I can't help thinking Leo's father was a bit of a twit. All the same this book has an important message for parents. From the moment our children are born there seems to be a race for them to develop faster than their peers, or barring that at least as fast. Mothers are often made to feel inadequate if their child takes a bit longer to walk or talk or learn whatever other skill their peers are on. But children aren't like buns. We can't pop them in the oven and say they will be ready in exactly 18 minutes. Each child needs to grow and develop at their own pace. There is very wide range of normal and pushing a child to master a skill before they are ready usually only makes things worse. We can all learn a lesson from Leo's mother, just to wait, and believe in our children, and to allow them to grow in their own time.
I would recommend this book to any parent. Most of us will have times when our child could use a burst of confidence, but more importantly, I think most of also need to learn not to rush things. It doesn't really matter if our child walks, talks reads, or draws sooner or later than most of their friends. What matters is that they do learn and learn without pressure. Of course there are times with developmental delays that extra help may be needed - but I recommend this book even more then to give that bit of extra confidence as well.