Leo the Late Bloomer was a great favourite of mine as a child in the seventies, and glancing around the internet, I see I'm not the only one who remembers this classic American picture book. As far as I can tell this book is no longer available in the UK, but when my first child was born my mother kindly ordered me a copy from the US, bringing back floods of memories. By now that nostalgic present is almost unreadable, it's been so well-thumbed and fought over at bed times.
I can remember clearly having this book read to me, and how I patiently waited, night after night, for Leo the tiger to bloom, frustrated on his behalf that he couldn't read, write or eat neatly like his animal friends. I think all little children can relate to that as I did, especially if they have older brothers and sisters. And then what hope (okay, perhaps I'm making this bit up) was felt when he finally and triumphantly mastered these things! As with all childhood memories, I've no doubt embellished my fragmentary recollections. But I do have one strong memory, a response from my three-year-old self, circe 1976, now finally delivered to the illustrator after 33 years of being deep-frozen in my headbox:
Why, oh why, do all the tigers look exactly the same?
This really confused me. I can remember seeing the difference between Leo and his parents when they all sat together because of their sizes, but when they were spread out across a double page, uncertainty returned. And it must have really bothered me too, because the same feelings of bemusement come back today when I read the book, and prompt me to explain, 'now, remember, this one is Leo...
A small -- a very small -- blemish on an otherwise perfect book.
Leo the Late Bloomer is still available in France, and I was delighted to see it's one of the titles in my three-year-old's school book club. This means we'll soon be getting our fourth copy of this delightful tale of frustration, patience and triumph.
Leo the Late Bloomer (which is heartily recommended, especially if you have already got your copy of Jack's Tractor and just need a little something to go with it), by Robert Kraus and Jose Aruego (Illus.) is published in the US by Windmill Books through HarperCollins, and in France as Léo by Ecole des Loisirs.