“I wished I had three hearts like an octopus. Then maybe it wouldn’t hurt so much if one got broken.”
Following on from the hugely successful Darwin’s Dragons, Lindsay Galvin has done it again – a gripping Victorian mystery filled with natural history, art and the essential connection between animals and humans.
My Friend the Octopus is the brilliantly layered story of 12-year-old Vinnie Fyfe. The daughter of a stylish milliner in London, Vinnie’s life is suddenly turned upside-down when her mother takes her to Brighton to stay with Aunt Bets while she tends to important business in Paris.
In Brighton, Vinnie experiences a whole different life – baking, exploring the beach, new friends, and most of all, the aquarium. The creatures there are like nothing she has ever seen before, especially the giant octopus. Known as the “devil fish”, it behaves in ways the keepers don’t entirely understand. Vinnie is enthralled by the monster and slowly builds a relationship with it, using her skills as an artist to create the most wonderful sketches of her unusual friend.
This historical adventure is absolutely fascinating and so engaging. Vinnie and her friends, Charlie & Temitayo (with her governess Mrs Heap), unravel issues of Victorian working conditions, gender roles, racism and the popularity of seaside towns. There is so much to explore that readers or classes sharing the story can take any number of avenues. Every detail is well-researched, right down to the bathing machines on the beach and key details about the milliner business.
As time goes by, Vinnie discovers just how much she’s capable of, encouraged by Aunt Bets to “get doing”, and also realises just how much she’s been missing out on in her sheltered life with her mother. Will Vinnie be able to leave this new life behind or is the aquarium where she’s truly meant to be?
Thank you to Chicken House Books and Laura Smythe PR for this beautiful book!
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Books by Kate Heap:
(An extract from Darwin’s Dragons has been included in Contemporary Children’s Literature, Years 5-6)
Available to pre-order: